Thursday, March 10, 2011

Big or Small

I am obsessed with two projects these days: 1) writing a complex and ambitious older middle-grade novel; and 2) writing poetry, poetry, poetry. Although there is absolutely no reason for me pose this question to myself, I did ask myself this morning: which one do I love best, and why? Or, maybe: which one is more satisfying, and why?

Novels are big. Because a novel is big, it's daunting to begin it. But then because it's big, once begun, one can continue happily in its world for dozens of chapters (I'm going to write Chapter 29 today), for months and months. Every day, at least now that I finally made my plan for what is going to happen next (which I didn't make until I was well past the groping halfway point), I can settle down cozily and just write another installment - though lately the installments themselves are fairly gripping, with the swath of destruction following from certain initial events widening by the hour. I have momentum. All I have to do is to keep going. In some sense the novel is now writing itself.

Poems are small. Or at least mine, and all the ones I like, are small. I have a commitment to write one every day. Because they are small, from the time I conceive one to the time I finish it is fairly brief. And because I write so many, I can be profligate with them - dashing them off with great jollity, knowing that I can always return to revise them later, but for now, I'm sowing poems through the universe, or at least my little corner of it, with a free hand. With constant completion, there is constant satisfaction. But then every day, I do have to generate an idea; that's the hardest part, coming up with the idea. But, writing a poem every day, in such merry abandon, I don't feel that it has to be all that great of an idea.

My novel is under a contract to a publisher. That gives the writing of it a certain urgency. In some sense it is work. But it is work I love beyond all telling. Still, I know that at some point the novel will be critiqued by my writing group and by my editor, praised or panned by reviewers. There is some standard out there in the world to which I need to measure up.

My poems are under a contract to my poetry buddies, but it's a contract I can unilaterally break at any time. One of the three of us just decided to take a poetry hiatus for a few weeks; I could do that, too. Heck, I could take a poetry hiatus for the rest of my life. My poetry buddies do send me some comments on my poems, and when they say, "Wow, I'm in awe!" it feels better than when they say, as one did today, "I don't think I'll remember this one as I do some of your others." But still, I'm writing the poetry more just for me than I'm writing my novel just for me.

Of course, the answer to this kind of question - "Which do you love better, x or y?" - almost always turns out to be "Both, in different ways." I guess that's my weaselly answer here, too. I love writing big things, I love writing small things, I love writing under contract, and I love writing for the sheer joy of putting words on the page.

So now I'm going to go write my poem.

And then I'm going to go write Chapter 29 of my book.


  1. I feel inspired every time I read your blog, Claudia! Thank you for showing up so often to tickle my writing bones! :0)

  2. Claudia, I'm with Clara. I count on you for motivation. Thanks!