Thursday, February 24, 2005

Notes to Self

On Kelli Russell Agodon's blog is a priceless quote from Poet Laureate Ted Kooser. All writers should make a note of this:

“I've inadvertently written lots of poems that meant nothing to anybody else, and I've mailed those poems to editors from coast to coast, hoping that they would be published, only to realize when they were rejected that I'd written them just for myself. I'd been delighted by what I'd written but I hadn't thought enough about the person reading it."

Thinking about you, the person reading this, isn't an act that can be exactly simultaneous with thinking about me, the person writing this. When I write, I'm writing Note to Self, with a kind of dramatically heightened voice that is often mysterious to me. It isn't always the same voice. But it isn't your voice, as how could it be? It's only later, in reviewing said Note to Self, that I can compare the voice I channeled (using this metaphorically, you understand) with what I hear of the voices around me. I hear those voices in the written conversation we call literature (in its widest sense). I compare Note to Self with poems I've recently read, blog entries, articles in the newspaper, and I judge whether or not Note has any social skills. Is Note a team player? Or off in a corner, singing to herself?

I've made myself a new guiding principle for writing and publishing in 2005: don't send recent Notes to editors until they have been reviewed by Later Self.

Of course, if Walt Whitman had made such a rule, we wouldn't have Leaves of Grass. If Emily Dickinson hadn't been so ironclad (or timid) in following such a rule, we might have had a very different Dickinson. Publication changes the work, opens up a dialogue. Thinking over such examples, it seems to me all rules should have some flex. There's always going to be a Note to Self dropped whole and perfect from the sky, ready for the world -- or the need to protect what's perfect from public view until it grows self-sufficient. But as a flexible guideline, keeping Notes to Self from the world can spare us all a lot of trouble.

Of course, this guideline is anathema to blogging.