The “Where” of Writing: A Writer’s Confession

A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

– Thomas MannEssays of Three Decades

When I picture a writer, I immediately picture a human being as self-conscious about writing as I am. He, or she, is probably sitting at a coffee shop, realizing that their cafe’s choice of relaxing music is not actually as relaxing as he had imagined and that there are more people in the cafe than he was wanting. We writers are always about the particulars. The gentleman next to him took the last open outlet, and so now he’s staring despondently at the 20% battery sign on his refurbished macbook pro. He’s thinking, “Well, I didn’t have much to write anyway. Guess I’ll write till this dies, then go home.” 

I say this because I’ve been similar to that “writer” before. I put the word “writer” in quotations because it’s an identity that I so easily placed upon myself when I was younger, in middle school and high school, and even in community college, but that I have had a difficult time claiming of late. Writer is a name that I feel I do not always have a right, or the time, to claim. I say that I’m a writer, but with my lifestyle, I hardly have time to write as consistently as I did earlier in my life, hence my insecurity. It is now the most exciting event when I write a poem within the span of two weeks, and even more thrilling when I’ve written two in one day. 

I did not always struggle with this confidence of identity as a writer. Growing up I let the fuel of emotions and the immense expanse of time at home via being homeschooled spur my writing. While I wrote from my pent up pubescent and teenage emotions, my bed was my place of writing. I had a gorgeous desk made of elaborately engraved wood that I’d found at a resale shop, but as a hectic, artistic person my living space was a whimsical wreck, piled with books, undone schoolwork or scratch papers of poems I’d written days before. Besides my writing, reading, some science classes and elementary math, I was a surprisingly uneducated homeschooled child. I was socially savvy, but I always felt like I didn’t know as much about the world, particularly math, as I wanted to. I took the emotional needs of my silent depression and fueled them into my poetry. Poetry became my secret self-language, reading my loyal refuge, and journaling my daily self-care duty before self-care was even cool. 

But from the age of 14 to 24, I traded emotional needs for mental and emotional stress. This stress is built up by adult responsibilities that I can hardly keep up with, much less my writing dreams. For years I told people, “I’m working on a poetry book”— “I’m writing a poetry book”—repeatedly. Over and over again. I had yet to follow through until now.

I am at the point in life where I need to channel the emotional fuel of writing into a mental fuel for writing. After community college, and getting married, life has greatly changed for me, and this last year has been the most difficult one of my writing career. Aha! I said it. My Writing Career. Because I am a writer. I’m a troubled, anxious writer, that perhaps cares too much about the perfect written representation of those in my life and every aspect of my skills as a writer. But, I finally came to the conclusion that these anxieties are cemented to the locations I chose when I wrote. 

Now when giving yourself an identity, location matters, and I soon I realized that home was not the ideal place to write; that I’d already explored most of the inspirational spots within and that I needed to venture outwards for mental writing food. This pertained particularly to my essay writing in my junior and senior year of college at UMSL. I was swimming through the ocean of school whilst being engaged, then being a newlywed. And now that I’ve been married over a year, it’s still not any easier, and I am definitely still a newlywed. My new home with my husband is a place of relaxing distractions, and I realized the sweet tragedy of not being able to write well while my husband is around, or in the space that we consider ours, shared, and special. Even moving my desk to a different spot in our office did not fix my problem. It helped with the average homework, but not a writer’s homework for her own writing. If I write at home, I use time while Jordan is at work, or out for the evening. 

But often, even then, I need a completely different location and aesthetic. The same kind of aesthetic that my imaginary writer was seeking. I’ve taken up writing at Starbucks or Picasso’s. Libraries are dangerously quiet locations where my thoughts will run away with too much before my fingers or my pen can even begin to keep up. I need the annoying music that my fictional writer friend hated. I need it to keep my thoughts in check, yet steadily moving forward. I need the comfort of knowing people are around me. Everyone is human. My writing is human, made by a human, and I can be more comfortable sharing the humanity that forever lives in my writing. 

I wrote this essay from the comfort of a friend’s home, in the living room, while in the kitchen just beyond my “relaxing writing playlist” were the hums of my husband and his best friend recording a podcast.  Tonight would have been date night, but I knew I needed to write, and not just for a class, but for myself. Both my husband and I got to spend tonight near each other, but all the while doing the different things that we love and that we ever crave to complete. And yet my husband was just another person in the “coffeeshop” while I put on my writer fins and waded into a world of rolling words, earbuds in, music whirling around me, music of my choice. 

Always be a poet, even in prose.

– Charles Baudelaire

My Favorite Writers – Part 1: The Physician Poet

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

William Carlos Williams was not a poet by career; he was a poet by night and a physician by day. As a doctor, he labored with humanity in its rawest form. He saw humanity in its most sorrowful moments of death and suffering and in its most joyous moments of birth and healing. This affected one of the key aspects of his poetry, the one that I cherish the most. Williams wrote with such human-centered detailing that you feel like you can step into a 3D version of his poems. He treated not only the human body and its ills, but his writing treated the heart, and has many times treated my own.

“I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it.”

William Carlos Williams

During the first year at my current university I took a course on Modern Poetry. It was then that I was officially introduced to the famous American Imagist poet that is William Carlos Williams. Unsurprisingly, the Imagist Movement focused on the imagery within a poem rather than the structure — not that you won’t find structure in Williams poetry — but the forms that he uniquely incorporates into each poem amplifies the images and details within. Take these two poems for instance: Blizzard and Flowers by the Sea.

Flowers by the Sea” was one of the first poems of Williams’ that I read, and I remember always being enchanted by the magic of its last lines: “the sea is circled and sways / peacefully upon its plantlike stem.” Williams took a concept as vast as the ocean, and with his pen he wrapped it up into something as simple and individually captivating as a flower content on its own stem.

Now unlike several of his fellow imagist poets, who felt called to the creative atmosphere of Europe or became ex-patriots of the United States, Williams never neglected his deep American roots. He was both an American physician and poet to the American citizen. He wrote about the everyday American experiences, human interactions, the human interaction with nature. Above all, he wrote about people and aspects of small-town America unapologetically. His literary focus was to create a new American way of writing.

“If they give you lined paper, write the other way.”

Williams Carlos Williams

I cannot do this great poet justice in just one blog post. This was a man who lived two full lives within his one life: a doctor who loved his community and his patients; a man who loved his friends and his wife and family; and a poet who sought to change the face of American poetry. Later, his poetry and mentoring would spur more shifts and movements in contemporary poetry.

Before I conclude, I’d like to mention one of the particular reasons I love Williams poetry: his imagist “direct treatment of the thing” — a mantra that fueled the Imagist Movement — resulted in poems that are often short, succinct, and artfully direct. One of his most famous poems is The Red Wheelbarrow, which struck me with its effectiveness of the mantra. These poems are my favorite. I can sit down, open my copy of his selected poems, and know that there are so many small poems within that will each fill me deeply with the attention the writer gave to whatever “thing” it was that he was treating — a true doctor, indeed. So for poetry readers who lean toward the shorter-in-length yet profound poems, Williams is the gem you’re looking for.

But now that I’ve shared one of my favorite poets, who are some of yours? What other modern poets do you love to read? Let me know in the comments! As usual, I’m always looking for more poetry with which to fill the time I hardly have. For now, I will leave you with yet one more poem from Williams to digest:

“THE THOUGHTFUL LOVER"

Deny yourself all
half things. Have it
or leave it.

But it will keep—or
it is not worth
the having.

Never start
anything you can't
finish—

However do not lose
faith because you
are starved!

She loves you
she says. Believe it
—tomorrow.

But today
the particulars
of poetry

that difficult art
require
your whole attention.”

― William Carlos Williams, The Collected Poems, Vol. 2: 1939-1962

For far more information on Williams Carlos Williams than I can give you — and of course, for more of his poetry — visit his dedicated page on The Poetry Foundation.