Lucky You

Today’s guest post is by Lauren Camp, whose poems “Walking” and “Empty and Full” appear in The Quotable Issue 13, themed “Luck.”

I teach very accomplished adults about writing. This doesn’t mean teaching them how to write creatively, so much as helping them to believe in the value of their life experiences. I encourage them to put their pens to paper, and later, to share their words. And yes, sure, I help them become aware of whatever techniques and approaches might be used to craft these experiences.

I recently began a new workshop, eight afternoon sessions. In the first class, I asked for introductions. The usual — tell us your name and why you’re here. One of the students, a woman I’ve worked with before, announced that she would like to learn how to leave herself out of her poetry.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this. There must be all sorts of advice columnists out there suggesting you go broad. That you don’t write about yourself.

Think about that: the idea that you should eliminate yourself from your writing.

Ahem. Something about that just feels wrong. And why not leave yourself out of your life, too?

This advice is hard for beginning writers. Heck, it’s hard for me, and I’ve been writing for years. Why can’t a writer re-enter and shape the parts of her life with her pen or keyboard? Why should he leave out the juiciest parts of what he knows? The better approach, it seems to me, is to offer your life, what you see and feel and do, but also widen beyond yourself, so others have a way to connect to your experience or emotion.

When I explained this in class, I asked if perhaps the woman wanted to reframe her statement to say, I want what I write to be more universal. She seemed enthusiastic about that possibility, and enthusiastic that she could still exist in her own poetry.

My two poems in this issue of The Quotable came to me because I was paying attention. To my life.  To what I saw when I was driving. To my environment and its rituals — whether I am part of them or not. To what I read. To what I remember.

My writing process is fairly straightforward: I come up with a kernel of an idea and put it down on paper. Then, I wait and wait and wait for it to shake out to something more interesting than the me of it, the part I already know.

It’s luck when I get that extra part, and it is also work. The poem doesn’t exist without it. I have to know when to move lines around, when to start over, when to put it away and wait some more.

Writing is all about luck: the luck of living the experience, and the luck of realizing it is an experience. And finally, the luck of having the patience, skill and determination to turn that experience into something more: something that will enrich you, the writer. It doesn’t hurt any that it can also touch others.