Book writing lesson from a poet

I heard Margaret Atwood (both a novelist and a poet) on the New Yorker’s poetry podcast with Kevin Young. She said: “Novelists look as if they’re working. They are working. Poets, when they’re working, don’t look as if they’re working. … Staring out the window, going for a walk, sitting in a cafe. ‘What are you doing? Why aren’t you, you know, working?’​ “I am working.”

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My book-writing clients don’t like to hear me prattle on about white space and looking out the window being part of the work. Of course they don’t like it! They want to get their book done. They’re not here to be poets. I know. 

But I think that we book-writers can learn something from poets who stare out the window that can help us get that book done, tooParticularly in this season of summer.

For instance, if we’re working on a book, we are not always procrastinating in the moments when we are not putting words down on paper. Sometimes we are reacting to an instinct to allow a chemical reaction between time and a part of the story so it’s ready to tell. 

And sometimes, we just are procrastinating. Fine! You caught us! But if we are, I mean… it’s summer! A season of rest can lead us to create things later that we wouldn’t have otherwise had the capacity for. 

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As for me this summer, I am still showing up to write, even on days I don’t feel like it. But not to make myself suffer. When I’m not feeling it, it’s more like the way I show up to a party. Maybe it’ll be fun?

I tell myself: Here’s what I’m gonna do: make it a goal to talk to one person here and then if I’m still not having fun, I can leave.

(Just know that if you ever see me at a party, this is what I’m thinking. That includes parties I throw 🥳.)

I don’t usually leave the party, but if I do, well, I’ll try again at the next party. 

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I think the middle of summer (and incidentally also the middle of winter) are moments when we can stand to baby ourselves a bit more than usual. What is the worst that can result?

I made a couple of videos where I talk through some aspects of what I mean by “babying” yourself while still staying engaged with your writing work.

When You Write Something Bad 💩, Don’t Fall For This Myth 

A Mistake You’re Probably Making if You’re Writing About Yourself

Maggie

PS: Many thanks to Holly Wren Spauldingand Suzi Banks Baum who’ve taught me so much about poetry, summer, and winter over the past year or so. Can’t thank them enough!

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