The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Back in Iowa (Old Habits, Bad Habits)

with 2 comments

The workshop met yesterday for the first time.  I won’t see my new writer friends until next Monday, and by my new writer friends I’m talking about the local PhD student with blue dreadlocks and armloads of tattoos, the physicist from New Zealand, the handful of local writers, the comedy writer from LA, the criminologist from Canada (the Canadian Criminologist!), and of course the workshop leader, who ain’t no slouch.  Some of us want to change gears in our academic disciplines, some of us want to get back into writing and found this to be a no-pressure but demanding avenue, and I want to continue to be the best writer I can be.  So that answers my question from Sunday night about who the hell takes these particular courses.  I guess as far as all of Iowa is concerned (and not just Dyersville):  If you build it, they will come.

Even though I won’t see my new writer friends for another week, my most pressing concern is how am I going to find any time to get work done between now and then?  More on that later.

I’ve realized ever since I got my acceptance letter to the workshop that this was going to be a big sea change for me.  Thus far, that has manifested itself in interesting ways.  First, I’m using a new type of journal.  I’ve made no bones about my quirky journal habits in the past, nor has a writer friend of mine, so when I jump out of my groove it has to be for a good reason.  See, in 2004 when I was first at Iowa for the Summer Writing Festival, I thought it was cool as hell that one of my classmates used a honkin’ huge hardbound journal–8.5″ x 11″ and about 2″ thick.  Said she used them all the time, and they could be picked up on the cheap at Borders.  So I bought one.  I busted it out in spring of 2005 as I was starting at Northwestern and made an inscription on the inside cover:  If I can fill this journal, I can be a writer.

But damned if I can’t fill the thing.  I’ve written a metric ton in it, and have pretty much relegated it to my poetry journal since the pages are so big and I can write entire poems on a page and annotate and edit without running out of space.  But the problem is that I’ve written so damn much in it that I’ve reached the last third of the journal and it’s too hard to keep open when I’m writing.  I have to exert physical effort when I’m writing to keep it open; plus, I’m losing space on the pages since I can’t reach the inner expanses of each page.  So what to do?  The size is still perfect.  The hard binding means it can absorb a good deal of daily wear and tear.  My students’ jaws drop when I whip it out.  This is like trying to replace an old flame.  There’s comfort and familiarity there.  But if I’ve learned anything, it is that sometimes you have to clear the decks and start anew.  And I did.  Last week, I bought a new journal with the same page sizes, but only about half the thickness.  It’s working pretty well thus far.  Plus, and I can’t stress this enough, it is spiral bound and will stay open on it’s own.  I preach this consistently to my students.  Buy something that will stay open by itself.  It will make it a lot easier to write in and transcribe from.  Don’t waste money on a flashy, expensive journal.  Practicality overrides prettiness.

photo (1)

This ain’t one of those new-fangle pre-written journals… I had to put that writing in there myself!

And don’t get me started on pens.  This is a huge change, too.  For years I’ve used the Pilot V7 fine point pens in all kinds of colors.  But I get pissed when the tips bend.  And my students have been telling me for years that my handwriting is too hard to read.  I blame their laziness with cursive and my pens.  I can only change one of those.  So I bought a multi-color pack of Pilot G-2 07s.  Damned if they’ve made my handwriting any better.  Still, new pens and a new style of journal both go a long way towards getting me out of my regular habits as I broach new territory.  But change is good, right?  Allow yourself to evolve to meet and adapt your circumstances.  It’s good to tweak your orbit a little bit.  I never used to use pencils in the editing process, but was so self-conscious about my sloppy handwriting when I was digging through piles of manuscripts at The Skids in ’11 that I started using pencils.  Now they are indispensable to me when I edit.  And my students are thankful that they don’t have to decipher my notes.


Elegant and professional, the Pilot Precise v7 are the Vanna White of pens.



Blue-collar pens that will get the job done, the Pilot G-2 07 are the Budweiser of pens.

That brings me to my next habit, which I now realize is something that has been working against me.  See, I have a simple philosophy with poems that I employ everyday, which is the frequency with which I read The Writer’s Almanac.  It goes like this:  I read the first three or four lines of a poem, and if it doesn’t interest me, I delete it.  No harm, no foul, right?  Except this has become my default setting now with handling poems.  I even tell my students to do the same thing.  Why read poems that you don’t like or aren’t interested in?  Shitcan them!  And what’s more, don’t write poems that you don’t like!  Sounds good, and it serves me well.  Well, it served me well.  Until I sat down in workshop yesterday and looked at the poems my new writer friends submitted and promptly started to feel pretty awkward when I was flipping through poems looking for what interested me and ignoring the rest.  I guess this means that I need to start spending more time with poems and seeing where the craft is in each one.  That’s going to take more time and more patience.  And dammit, it’s probably going to take more knowledge of poetry.  Here’s another fine mess I’ve gotten myself into.



Written by seeker70

June 17, 2014 at 10:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Thanks for the link back, Jeff. Did you happen to be in Iowa at the same time as Amber Dermont? My first workshop ever was there with her – on short stories, in 2009 — she was AMAZING.

    Pam Parker

    July 5, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    • Thanks for checking in, Pam. I Googled Amber to be sure I knew who you were talking about. I’ve seen her around here and there, like at the Korean restaurant I ate at the other day. If I see her around again, I’ll introduce myself and tell her you said hello.


      July 5, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: