As I wrote in the introduction to this essay, I have discovered over the last couple of years a faith in my writing. This faith is composed of those outlined above, and I think to a greater or lesser extent my writing exhibits it. I think an interesting question might be how I got to this place where I feel confident in and trust my abilities with writing. There are two things, I think, that contributed to this building faith.
First, the sheer amount of new writing I have done over the past three years has contributed greatly. Only considering poetry, I have probably written 400 to 500 pages worth of material. Including critical essays and responses, that number moves close to 700 pages; if I include the literature essays and blog posts I have written, that number probably gets close to 1000 pages worth of new writing. As I write those numbers I think I might be underestimating them. This sheer volume of writing serves two purposes. For one, as described above, the investment of time into the production of writing creates enormous learning opportunities, whether that writing is successful or not. Second, much of that writing—not all, but much—received careful and considered feedback from both peers and faculty; this feedback was invaluable in creating greater opportunity for learning how to read and consider my own work. As I worked through these last three years, I have recognized in myself a shift from wondering whether a piece of writing was worth anything—and by association whether I was worth anything as a writer—to having an idea what my peers would say about it, to recognizing how best to convey my ideas. My confidence grew, in other words. I began to trust that what I wrote had merit, began to have faith in myself and my writing. I think this accumulation of experience with writing is of great importance to my growing faith in writing.
Second, the project of a full-length poetry collection, and the transition from that project back into new writing, further contributed to this growing confidence and faith. On the first subject, culling those 400 or 500 pages worth of material down to about 70 required a big step back from the poems. Emotional involvement with the poems can cloud judgment in regards to which ones belong together, as well as which ones are promising enough to pursue. Fully half of the poems in that initial draft were cut, and to good end. Those left were joined by new poems, and each poem in the final collection were revised on the order of ten times or greater. This, too, required learning how to look at and consider each poem not as something I birthed, but as something I built, and as such was open to improvement. In other words, I learned better how to look at these poems as an outsider. I am still learning this lesson, but have made big strides in the course of producing the manuscript. This skill—and it is a skill—built my confidence as I became more able to see how a particular poem was working or not working, and thus ways in which to create more successful revisions. Making the transition from the intense scrutiny and revision of my work back to creating new work was both welcome and slightly bumpy. Welcome, because I had been working with the same material for several months in a row; slightly bumpy because I hadn’t written much new material which did not get used in the manuscript over the same time frame. When I did begin to get past the initial repellence of the blank page—I will not call it writer’s block—I began to see myself writing poems which were better at the initial drafts than some of the poems I had spent so much time on. One of them is even getting published next fall, after two revisions. The skill I learned in all those months rewriting and revising paid off in being able to see where the poem wanted to go, and what shape it wanted to go there in. My confidence grew with the new writing, and my faith in myself and my material grew with it. Is there a danger of ego here? Well, I still get routinely rejected, so I hope not.
I want to address one more way in which my faith has grown this year. And that is my faith in humanity as outlined above. Organizing and MCing the Tunnel Traffic reading series confirmed for me that people are still excited about writing, and that they seek it out. Some weeks we had a small turnout, but for many others we had large groups. Finding an audience like that confirms that the audience is there, and their reception to the works presented confirms that their humanity and empathy are not going to end anytime soon.