The Dead Zone

Since completing my last poetry "project," I haven't written much at all. I noticed after finishing my thesis, I took a natural, non-stressful break from writing poems to just relax—it felt to me like that was part of the process of manuscripting: finishing and resting. Digesting the poems I'd written. Letting them grow a little on their own without my constant attention or fussing.

I finished a second manuscript a month or so ago. It came quickly—once I started writing again after the thesis, I wrote a lot of poems in quick succession over a span of about 2 or 3 months. And suddenly, I had 70 pages of work, most of it linked thematically and vaguely narratively.

And again, I'm finding myself quiet. Over the last several weeks, I've read fairly ravenously. I always feel like I'm never reading enough because there's so much poetry in the world and I want to understand as much of it as I can. I also know that while working, it's imperative for me to keep reading if I ever want to write again.

Lately, I've been feeling that familiar itch, but the poems that I'm writing are shitty. Unfocused, painfully executed...nothing short of disaster. I'm trying to find my next project because I seem to write best when I write in series/sequence. Or when I provide myself with an arena to play in—that's basically how the bulk of both manuscripts was written.

I sort of know what my next project needs to be, but I'm torn in a couple different directions.

Anyone else? Do you write pretty constantly or is there a natural ebb and flow? How do you balance furious writing times with times of silence?


  1. I write pretty much constantly. I recently completed Radish King (I think it's complete--it might not be) with 90 poems, in a little under a year, but I occasionally get a week or two reprieve, and then I am so damned thankful to get the poems, the compulsion to write, out of my head for a while. It's wonderful, really. This is when I read most voraciously. Right now I'm reading The Midnight Disease, The drive to write, writer's block and the creative brain (big title) by Alice Flaherty and Running With Scissors, Augusten Bourroughs. The Flaherty book has almost convinced me that my output is a result of my eplipsy, something I've always wondered about (brain blips and other electronic wonders.)

  2. Hi, Charles--there's definitely an ebb and flow for me, and far more ebb. That you still want to read is a good sign--nothing worse than not feeling able to write or read. And, of course, conventional wisdom is that you should feel free to write crap, although I can't say I find that easy or even liberating.

    Two things that can help me: reading all over the place, obscure old nonfiction, etc., and jotting down phrases that interest me, collaging them together. Often I'm just sick of writing like me; arranging others' words can surprise me, and that (to paraphrase a recent Great American Pinup post) is my "goad"--I write to surprise myself (which is probably why there's more ebb--it's effing hard to surprise oneself).

    Also: taking on assignments, like this one from --same principle, really: doing something you'd never normally do in order to do something. (And then if it ends up crap, it's okay--you can lay some of the blame on the assignment [grin]).

    In the end, I think a dead zone's a fine thing, though--feels stark but usually something's just growing very slowly--in my case, in slower-than-real time...


  3. Whoops, apologies for the giant, unidentified link--it's to Court Green.


  4. I am not a constant writer. It is funny, I just posted this on my blog and then found your post. I have lived long enough with myself as a writer that this doesn't freak me out. As for writing things that don't work as well as you would like, I think that is fine. Performers practice their music, artists do mock-ups to prepare for a painting of any size. Poets and writers are really no different as artists. Sometimes we know exactly how to do something. Sometimes it happens by accident. Sometimes we must try it out several times before we figure it out. I have many poems that took me 6 or more years of false starts before the poem found the shape it needed.

  5. I write too much, I think, right now. And I read a lot as well, tho kind of haphazardly, I have a hard time with the "saturation" approach that a lot of folks recommend.

    I'm also realizing that my blissful MFA experience is coming soon to an end. The amount of time I have right now is pretty amazing---I'm trying to use it. But it probably won't always be that way.

  6. "READ!" is the typical recommendation I hear when going through a dry period, but reading poetry makes me want to write it. This causes frustration.

    But what I do find useful during the particularly painful dry periods, is reading non-fiction prose (I just don't read much fiction anyway), to keep my head in words without teasing me to death.

    Marathon DVD gazing helps, too. I watched a few seasons of The Sopranos, back to back, during a dry spell and it helped ease the tension.

  7. Charles: I am more of the "writing all the time" type. I wish sometimes that I wrote more in a flurry, with a project or theme in mind (a la Lousie Gluck writing the Wild Iris in 6 weeks on a retreat), because when it comes time to put a manuscript together, I have all these mis-matched poems from all over the place, to find a way to connect and order (or not connnect and not order).

    During dry spells I find it helps to turn the radio to C89.5 FM Dance Music Radio out of Nathan Hale high school, crank the volume, and shake my booty. :)

  8. I've been through a couple of major (one was about 5 years) dry spells in my life. What helps me, sometimes, is reminding myself that something is going on in there, some work is happening, whether I'm aware of it or not. Often I emerge from a dry spell with new ideas, a new voice, new risks. I try to fill short dry spells with the "paperwork" of writing -- submitting, minor editing -- and I try to journal, though that urge usually disappears when the poetry urge wanes.

    When I'm writing steadily, or what passes for "steadily" in my life, I get about one poem a week and maybe a false start or two. Sometimes when I'm getting mostly false starts, writing mostly crap, it's because I'm attempting something I don't yet know how to do. Maybe that's what's up with you?

    But silences are definitely part of it. Call it the rest between whole notes, call it cleansing the palate between sips of fine wine -- silence is important and useful. Even when (maybe especially when) it's frightening.

  9. I'm an ebb and flow type of girl.

  10. Long spells of writing and not-writing, and spring is best for me, but other than that pretty regular spike it's unpredictable. One thing I have learned in the last 5 years or so, that "write everyday" mantra doesn't work for me, if by it I mean poems. I write something everyday, and read. I just try not to worry about it too much.

  11. It's all ebb and flow. Life, love, the swift of the pen, even passion. Just look at the roll of the seasons, the rotation of the skies, the album by album development of The Doors or even The Smiths.

    If I don't read and write, I'm that much more unhappy. But you can't always be doing that, for whatever reason, and so you fumble around for something else that'll fill that space, for however long it'll last.

    And then you hope--you pray, you plead to whatever forces you adhere to--that your ink and your poems don't dry up forever, that they visit you at least once a week. Anyway, now I'm just blabbing. But at least I'm writing. Good question.