Saturday, August 6, 2016

Reflections on writing daily and writing in groups.


When the Poets Union began in Melbourne, I stopped being a solitary writer – except for the obvious fact that we all confront the page individually – and became a poet who flourishes in, and even seeks groups. It wasn't particularly thought out; in fact for such an introvert it's surprising - but I look back and see how the Union led to workshops, readings, conferences, collaborations in both writing and performance.... Eventually I found myself teaching in Professional Writing courses, and before I decamped to Northern NSW had formed a private support group with Jennie Fraine and Leah Kaminsky, which we managed to keep going for decades, even when we all lived in different countries for some years. It involved writing together, even when 'together' meant being in different locations and sharing the results by email.

Then came a 7-year stint facilitating a writers' group at a local Neighbourhood Centre. And contacts I made on a visit o/s saw me joining MySpace to listen to a friend's music and finding it full of poets from all over the world, who were delighted to find each other. Later we all ended up on Facebook. Someone taught me, long-distance, how to use Blogger, too. And I found online communities of blogging poets, three of which I now participate in regularly, and for one of which I'm now on staff. Online contacts led to collaborative anthologies – some published, some still in the pipeline – with other poets (some knowing each other personally, others online only but nevertheless forming strong connections). And most recently I was simultaneously invited into Project 366 and a private online workshop group with some women I have come to know well, albeit only online, delving into our psyches in depth via a study of archetypes, and expressing it all in poetry. 

And that's the condensed version!

The 366 experience

All that preamble was by way of indicating that writing frequently, and with others, is not new to me. I guess it also indicates that I have no objection to writing often, even daily. I don't always write daily, but it's usually several days a week at least; and there are some months of the year – such as this month – when I respond to invitations from various sources, to create a poem a day. My poems get posted to one of my blogs, and shared with the members of the groups they're written for, when that applies (and on Facebook, and tweeted). Most often, but not always, they are written to prompts, or as exercises. In the groups, reading and commenting on other people's work is expected. Encouragement is preferred to in-depth critiques, unless people specifically request that. (I do also belong to a small, secret fb group created for in-depth workshopping. Oh, and I'm in some other fb poetry groups too, but they are more easy-going.)

I enjoy all those activities, but have found Project 366 particularly delightful, and different from the others in some obvious ways, and some intangible ways I'm still trying to put my finger on. So for me the thing to reflect on is what makes this particular experience so valuable to me? 

The freedom to post drafts is part of it. Things I write and blog for other groups are clearly drafts too, theoretically anyway, when first posted. (And I do go back and tinker.) But they tend to be responded to as finished works. I guess that sort of happens at 366 too, but there is a higher awareness of the fact that these are first drafts. It takes the pressure off. I don't know if that's a good thing! It just is. (And – not a new thought, of course – there can be a freshness about first drafts which is lost in later revisions.) 

Someone mentioned, in the posts I read here earlier today, other groups where people take themselves very seriously. I love that Project 366 people don't, in that self-important way, though we do take the work seriously – perhaps more so than those others. And the work is terrific! Reading other people's contributions is at least half the fun. The threads that sometimes arise add to the pleasure. I think these things can happen more easily in a smallish group like this, posting to the same blog, than in wider online communities of dozens or even hundreds posting links to their own blogs.

It's time-consuming, for sure, and it's probably insanity for me to volunteer further involvement, particularly as I don't plan to drop anything else I'm doing – but life is short, and I live for these pleasures. I'd be cross-posting sometimes, of course, as I did in June, with things I write for other groups. But that didn't seem to be a problem. In fact, I was fascinated to note that writing more often had more unprompted poems arise, and more poems altogether (even more than one a day). Logically one might expect the opposite effect – but what's logical about art?

I suppose it's worth noting that I'm not greatly attached to print publication any more. It's lovely when I get invited to submit to something, and then I certainly do, but I'm not very actively seeking it these days. I usually give competitions a miss, too. I've embraced the online poetry world; and not bothering with all that other stuff is one kind of time-saving for me. In saying this, I'm thinking about the poets Kit mentioned, to whom the idea of 366 was anathema. Maybe they have a different attitude to airing their drafts publicly. I've become at least as interested in process as result. So I am thinking that is probably what the Project might have to offer the world – the chance to see our collective process at work. (Sorry if I'm stating the obvious. Just kinda thinking aloud onto the paper here – I mean screen.)

As a reader/viewer, I like the experimental nature of some 366 posts, too. And, as I've noted elsewhere, the way that some works unfold over time. And the translations, whether from one person or two. All of which have to do with process.

What would happen if it was weekly? Would we lose spontaneity? Would we get precious? Would we keep the same level of communication? Would we actually have more communication if there was more time for it? I suppose there's only one way to find out.

Inviting some people for a month only, theoretically only four poems (though more would be possible) seems a bit unsatisfactory in that context. A Project 52 would appear to be a lot easier time-wise (unless other things get built in, such as mentoring) but I wonder if I'd like it better. My time in 366 felt like play, and like dancing.


  1. I agree it would be a bit weird to have guests in Project 52 ... I think it would have to be a group for the duration ... as spectacle, that would deprive it of the main source of 366's oxygen - i.e. the monthly guests ... so ...hmmm.... this is an important train of thought...

    .... maybe the thing is to have a new Project 365 - hopefully with an almost completely new crew - and have Project 52 attached to it in a cross-posted kind of way ... and maybe allow some crossing / have a fairly porous border between the two ?

    but where are participants for the year for a Project 365 for 2017 coming from?

  2. I hadn't realised guests were the main oxygen source! Interesting. Only a long-hauler would get to see that. I asked on an earlier post, but I think you didn't see – now that I'm doing a bit of behind-the-scenes admin stuff, could I please graduate to a regular for the rest of the year? Efi did invite me at the end of June, and I said no cos so busy, and also I thought it was against the rules. But I miss it!

    I would like to be one of the 'almost new' crew for the new 365.