I am drawn to the genre of poetry because of its ability to distill an emotion and pack a large amount of impact into a few lines, making the emotion often more potent. It also has a power to say something to a reader, at the core level. I make sure that I am feeling something powerful when I am writing. I can’t write dispassionately, that doesn’t work for me.
I like poems because they’re bite-sized; you can carry a poem around in your head far better than an entire story. I like stories, too, I think they’re maybe more fun, but poems are tight little glimpses at the world—very satisfying, very compact. Every creative piece is a million creative choices—every word, every comma is a choice. If you and I were to both write poems about, say, penguins, they could be radically different.
— Mary Hedengren
It’s remarkably easy to be a writer: write. Too many people are paralyzed by some ideal of writing: they need a certain type of notebook, or a large block of time in which to work, or an address in a poetic city. That’s ridiculous. Just write. Writing is one of the most accessible forms of art to create–it doesn’t take special equipment or technical training, it doesn’t require a degree, it doesn’t take expensive materials. It does take effort and it does take thoughtfulness, but those attributes are relatively easy to develop in yourself. Be astute, think, but mostly, just write.
Sometimes there is an idea that just gets under your skin and you like to think about it. The idea and its implications are just fun to think about and you think about the plot that might result from the idea. The same is true for a humor idea, sometimes you’ll have a title of a piece that’s just funny, and you can’t help thinking about it. You’ll say it to people and the jokes that might be spun out of it. So in that regard both fiction and nonfiction are a pursuit. You think of something you like to roll around in your mind and then you make a piece out of it.
Inspiration is not something that happens, it is something you work your way toward, so that you have to continue putting those words down on paper in order to get to the point where those words means something. And when that happens, as my old teacher Richard Hugo used to say, then my Buick finds a more forward gear and then I can make a poem happen pretty quick. There are some that I’ve worked months and months on, and then there are some…that I just can’t figure out how to get out of, I can’t figure out that last step. But there are a lot of others that, ten minutes, fifteen minutes, there’s a poem. And those are miracles.
I find my inspiration by keeping lists of ideas. I harvest them from the newspaper, from websites, obscure articles on Wikipedia, from day-to-day life. One of my favorite exercises is to listen in on conversations around me, other people in line, people on their cell phones, and picking out snatches of dialogue I can use later in an exchange between characters.
My advice is take advantage of contests and these campus magazines and other opportunities to feel like a writer. Because even getting rejected—once I started writing—or trying to write, getting rejected was, in some ways, reinforcement because it meant that I was doing what authors do.
I think all my work, I can honestly say, is written for my children and grandchildren. They’re my audience, so I’m preoccupied with their faith and what they want. I don’t think I’ve written anything to discourage them. In fact, I hope it encourages them.
Reading and writing feels like the systole and diastole of your heart—they feel reciprocal to me. They are interactive, going both directions. I think we tend to write the way we read . . .I think the best writers I know are really well-read people and I know that I owe much of the best in my writing to other people—to things that I’ve borrowed.
I’m not actually all that interested in nature per se; rather, nature becomes in my work a figure for expressing certain kinds of conflict that interest me. If my poems include what seem to be the less lovely parts of nature, the less “poetic,” it’s not because I am drawn to the ugly, but rather because the tension between beauty and ugliness is a productive conflict, one that mirrors other kinds of conflict.
The cultural skepticism that is a hallmark of our media age manifests itself particularly in a distrust of language. I certainly think of language as a patently flawed system, one that we sort of agree to adopt for convenience’s sake, but which fails at every turn to communicate accurately. But that has consequences if you believe Wittgenstein’s view that we can know nothing outside of language. Certainly human life is populated by experiences that exceed language. The challenge is, how to record these moments of… for lack of a better word, sublimity without doing them violence.
I write about loss because it is a constant, in my life and in everyone’s. Loss is democratic. We have all experienced it. And when I look back at my childhood, it is defined by loss. What I have found, though, is that writing about loss is actually writing about wholeness, that what you think is empty or abandoned is actually the very stuff that makes you whole. In my losses I am connected to all the losses in the world around me. So I cannot actually be empty or alone.
— Jennifer Sinor
I always ask myself what is at stake for me in telling any story. And I believe that you must risk yourself on the page, reveal your humanity, your vulnerability, especially when the story you are telling puts other people at risk. That the more you write, the more you see the world through the eyes of a writer.
Place shapes us as much as gender, or race, or class. Who I am has much to do with where I have stood. Perhaps because I have passed through so many places as a military dependent and never stayed long in any one place, I pay attention to the details, knowing the particulars of a place are what define it, what make it precious. In terms of craft, I like the way the details of a scene create the tenor of a piece and how a writer can use the details of a scene as a way to replicate or undergird their deeper subject.
I get in the mode of writing by having a gun to my head. This puts me in the mode of writing. I used to believe in inspiration. I sort of don’t anymore. I believe in time and space, which we have so little these days . . .You know you don’t have to wait for it, for lightning to strike. Virginia Woolf is right. A room of one’s own and the time to be in it and one can write.
Sometimes you’ll have a title of a piece that’s just funny, and you can’t help thinking about it. You’ll say it to people, and then you think about it and think: what are the implications of plot, what are the jokes that might be spun of this? So in that regard both fiction and nonfiction—it’s a pursuit. You know, you think of something you like to roll around in your mind, and then you make a piece out of it.
I used to only write poems when I saw something that really impressed me, but now I’ve learned that it’s much more productive to sit down and start writing, even if I have nothing on my mind—I just start writing about anything and I always do come across something of value if I just cut it down, whatever it is I’ve written, and hopefully get a poem out of it.