Monday, May 10, 2010

Writing for the Lint Pickers

Making the Boat

I am going to tell you about my friend Liza.

Okay, her name isn't really Liza. But if I told you her name, then I wouldn't get to write about her. And I want to write about her, because Liza used to do something deadly to her creative self, and maybe you are still doing what Liza used to do.

She would make these beautiful poems. Truly beautiful.

Then Liza would go to another poet friend who would read her poems quietly and seriously, as if she really cared about these beautiful poems.

It would start small.

You should take out the last three lines.

Liza would feel a little sad. She especially liked the last three lines.

The language here is too wide open.

Liza liked wide open language.

I just don't get the point of this poem.

Liza liked a little mystery.

By the time their "sharing session" was done, Liza felt like the dumbest poet on earth— which, if we listen to Julia Cameron this week, we will understand was exactly what Liza's friend was hoping. Maybe not consciously; she spent the time reading the poems, she took the time to share her critiques.

But, in the end, Liza's friend was like the playwright's friends that Cameron discusses...

The feedback from the playwright's jealous peers? Mainly lint picking. How is the playwright to understand the size of what's been done when the comments all address the creative lint?

I'm not saying that it's bad to have friends who can tell us where we need to cut three lines (or maybe even ten), but if that's the only kind of feedback they ever give, we need to do what Liza finally did. Find a new place to share.

Making the Boat, photo by L.L. Barkat.

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Anonymous Lyla Lindquist said...

Went looking for the quote, but couldn't find it and no time to read the whole book again this morning... Suzette Haden Elgin writes in that the word "but" can be like a giant eraser. "This is really good, but you should take out the last three lines." Whatever came before is erased by the "but."

The lint pickers reminded me of that this weekend...

8:38 AM  
Anonymous Lyla Lindquist said...

Whoops, managed to delete the title of Elgin's book...

The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense.

(So then you could say, "Hey, thanks for the nice comment, but you stupidly forgot to include the title of the book.")

8:41 AM  
Blogger Louise Gallagher said...

I always compare it to the birth of my children -- I did not ask people if they thought they were beautiful. and if someone said, she's loving but.... Well, I just gave them a gentle kick in the butt and moved along.

The world is filled with lint pickers. The trick is to surround yourself with those who can weave magic from a skein of wool.

And you LL are a weaver of magic and mystery and delight!

8:54 AM  
Blogger Jennifer @ said...

Ouch. Liza could just as easily be me. I felt that.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Cassandra Frear said...

Yes, we do have to recognize what (and who) is good for the writer. We have to take a step back to evaluate what (and who) energizes us, or not. Then we have to make changes.

However, this may mean we'll be swimming against the current in our lives and in our culture. Many of our best decisions won't be quite as simple as not asking someone to look at our work.

That said, I like your example here. It's a very good one and it aptly illustrates your point.

10:27 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

this makes me tremble a little.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Erica M said...

Excellent post. I also like Lyla's point about the giant eraser. Something to keep mind while talking to my parents!

12:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Balance - to have someone not only pick on the negative, but bring out the positive as well. Those who will not only help me weed but also water my soul. Those are the kind of people I want to hang out with. It is the kind of person I am striving harder to be - especially with my children.

1:31 PM  
Blogger sarah said...

so true and so sad. this is why I don't let anyone critique my poems before I send them out. because poetry is so deeply subjective, even down to language and word choices and the feel of the sounds on your tongue.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

L.L., Thanks for this. I guess I just have to start writing by faith. Poems have been a kind of mystery to me. I just don't pick up on things that other people pick up on, I notice. That part of my brain/thinking is not developed! :)

Anyhow, I'm still here, and I still am determined to get going in poem writing. I know you'll be an encourager. I have to admit, I'm still kind of grieving over the lost poem in the lost blog. The only other one I wrote was in the fourth grade with the help of my mother.

4:24 PM  
Blogger Billy Coffey said...

I've known a lot of Lizas. Used to be one, in fact. And sometimes, I still am.

6:13 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I do hope Liza never gave up the writing of poems...

11:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a lint picker
find errors
with a snicker
and a red ink pen
striking the paper
'til it bleeds
between the lines
the lovely looping
words of venom
spreading lies

12:05 AM  
Anonymous Monica Sharman said...

Gotta say, thank you very much for the ways you've interacted with me over my RAPs. It's one of the reasons I kept at it.

And anyway, no need to pick the lint. It all comes out in one clump in the dryer's lint basket, anyway.

8:57 AM  
Blogger MOLLYC said...

I love your story about "Liza." It is so true. But it is also a problem for writers: who do we go to for advice? How does criticism affect our writing? Thanks for sharing this. molly

6:54 PM  
Blogger ~*Michelle*~ said... eyes just were opened to a few lint pickers in my life.

thank you.

10:28 PM  
Anonymous Like a Bubbling Brook said...

I have to try not to be that same "lint-picker" with my children sometimes.

What a wonderful reminder to be oh-so-careful of the words I speak.

BTW, I used to follow your blog a couple of years ago. It's nice to find you again!

Jaime G

11:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

huh... powerful advice, I think you're right

7:00 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

I finally did try my hand at it again, L.L.

8:05 AM  

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