Friday, May 11, 2012

How Our Writing Trails Along After Us

Most writers get excited about the work we’re doing right at the moment. That work usually feels like the most urgent, authentic, and developed. Our previous work often seems to us out of date, sophomoric, passé, even at times something we would like to forget or walk away from.
The writer André Breton, in his “Preface for a Reprint of the Manifesto” of Surrealism, distanced himself so much from his earlier writing that he proclaimed, “Those [books] attributed to me do not seem to me to exercise any greater influence on me than many others…” Our earlier works sometimes seem to us as if another person wrote them, a person much less wise than we are now.
But the reality of the writing world is that it can take years, sometimes decades, to get a work published and publicized. When I worked with the poet Bill Zavatsky on translating André Breton’s principle collection of poetry, Earthlight, it took me and Bill seventeen years from the time we first sat down at a café on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village to begin the project, till we finally held a printed copy of the book in our hands. There were many reasons for this long gestation period—our personal lives intervened; it was difficult to get the rights from Breton’s French publisher; Bill moved to Texas for two years, making it impossible for us to meet (this was before Skype and email).
We usually have to edit and submit and publicize older work that feels like it’s not our most mature. It’s as if our writings are younger siblings trailing along after us, embarrassing us with their lack of grown-up knowledge and behavior. Sometimes we wish those juvenile writing would just get lost and leave us to our more urbane current work. But, like younger brothers and sisters, they won’t. They keep following us, wanting our attention.
So, give them that attention. While the less-current work you are sending out, or publishing, or reading from may not seem that fresh to you, remember that it’s new to your readers or audience. When you read from your recently published but not recently written work, inhabit again the emotions and ideas that sparked it. Open up to that hurt and laughter. If you devoted that much time and energy to write them, those earlier works must still have a claim on you, and their energy and innocence might even be able to teach something to your more sophisticated current self.

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout
Putting Together a Book Manuscript
Working with a Writing Mentor
How to Deliver Your Message
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?
Why Write Poetry? 
Poetic Forms: IntroductionThe SonnetThe SestinaThe GhazalThe Tanka

Praise and Lament
How to Be an American Writer

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