Hi Penumbra Readers and Friends,
I’ll introduce myself quickly! I’m Dottie, a visual artist and writer. I’ve had the great pleasure of interacting with the Penumbra community in a few different ways—through being selected as one of the first Penumbra Press Chapbook authors (still surreal), joining the writing club, submitting my artwork, and now writing a blog post. Let’s see how this latest venture goes!
It seems like the perfect time to reflect on the story of how I accidentally became a poet, and I find myself a believer in good timing these days. April 1st will mark exactly a year since I picked up writing again after years and years without even daring to consider myself a writer. It also marks the beginning of National Poetry Month. Connected? Oh yes.
Basically, last April 1st, in an unassumingly kairotic moment, I logged into an old Instagram account. I’d forgotten it even existed, but past-me had followed some writers on it at some point, and as soon as I opened it up, I saw that they were participating in a National Poetry Month challenge called “Escapril," where the account @letsescapril provides 30 poetry prompts, one for each day of the month. What were the odds that I’d learn about this challenge on the day that it began? I don’t know, honestly. But the prompts were gorgeous and I decided to honor the coincidence by trying to see if I could just make one poem happen. I told myself that no one would ever have to read it, that whatever happened was between me and the notes app, so it was allowed to be terrible.
Well, I wrote the poem. And then I wrote the next one, to my genuine surprise. And I am a sucker for a good streak, so of course I had to continue. (For reference, my Duolingo streak is at 539 days as I write this. Please send help.) I finished the month out and explored every prompt, and over the course of 30 poems and 30 days, with the support of a community of writers also partaking in the challenge, I learned to really look at words and to allow them to look back again.
Once the challenge was over, I did not keep writing a poem every day. That wasn’t sustainable long term, but over the past year I have used the same methods for writing that I practiced during last April to write some poems at a slower pace that I’m really happy with.
Everyone writes differently, but my favorite way to work is to throw every scrap stream-of-consciousness thought I have on any given day into a Google Doc titled “Lines,” as they come. It can be a single word or a series of lines that already flow together. Some of it makes no sense at all. It doesn’t have to. Some lines are used quickly. Others stick around for a lot longer. Sometimes I notice a whole poem in there that appeared over a number of days from thoughts that I didn’t know were related until I read them in order. Other times, it’s more intentional, and I search through and rearrange and collage different pieces together or improvise off of different elements I’d made notes on prior. It’s a lot less pressure than staring at a blank page and trying to come up with a whole poem on the spot. It reminds me of toning the canvas for a painting or starting with the big shapes of a drawing or sculpture before honing in on the finer details. This is essentially my entire process, all secrets spilled!
Now, maybe unsurprisingly, I’m working more and more on figuring out how best to integrate my visual and written practices. My art and writing feel really connected and like they feed off of each other. They explore similar themes: namely anxiety, the surreal, and a search for gentleness. I don’t know what this integration will ultimately look like, but I’m excited to find out.
I think the biggest takeaway I can parse from all of this, though, is to follow the weird coincidences that point you in the direction of the goals you are afraid to have yet. You just may end up finding some motivation along the way and writing a whole chapbook less than a year after you were afraid to even pick up the proverbial pen. (Weirder things have happened!) I will say, also, that another big part of me finding writing again, has been through falling in love with reading again. If you feel you aren’t ready to write yet, read, read, read. And then, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself wanting to take part.
I hope some of you will take part in some writing during National Poetry Month and keep at your current practice, or join me in accidentally stumbling into one! I’d love to hear about it if you do!
Dottie Lo Bue
I’m sure you clicked on this wondering what type of advice you’d be getting. Is it advice on how to get published specifically with Penumbra? Is it advice on how to get published elsewhere? Advice on writing, photography, painting, drawing, or any other type of creative content?
The short answer to all those questions is Yes.
Yes, to all of questions above. To be specific, though, this is going to be a blog about advice on being a creative type, and all the different aspects of that. We’ll cover how to publish, here and elsewhere, tips on the various means of creation, and much much more.
You see, all of those various mediums and topics still boil down to one key, one specific act, that leads into all of the others. You can’t submit anywhere until you have finished creating your project. And those projects take time. So, without further ado, here is the first piece of advice in a long series.
Get to work.
It doesn’t matter if you goal is to be the next great author, or be the cover shot of national geographic, or even something as humble as 10 likes on Twitter. Before you can do any of that, you have to make something.
That is the single hardest step, the step that so many people get stuck on. We overthink things, we plan when and how we’re going to do them, but the key component is starting.
You say you don’t have the time? Well then, sorry, you won’t ever be an author/photographer/musician until you make the time. None of that can be achieved without making the effort.
Now, I know time is in short supply, but you have to make the time. If you can carve out 5 minutes a day writing, that’s 5 minutes you didn’t spend before. They don’t even have to be subsequent. Waiting for an elevator? Write a sentence or two. Picking something up? That’s another sentence or two. I’ve even “written” by opening a google document and putting on voice to text while on a long commute. It wasn’t very good, and there were plenty of misunderstood words and no punctuation, but that was 10 pages of something to work with later.
Take a picture of anything with your phone. When you have a minute or two, try and edit it. Sure, your picture of the shampoo bottle you took while waiting for your shower to warm up isn’t going to win any prizes, but it’s a good chance to practice editing on it. Look at the lighting, see how the contrast effects the photo.
There are countless little moments of downtime where you can spend some of it working on your craft. Now, I am not saying this is something you should do every single second you have some downtime. We need to give our brains a chance to rest. But some of the time, even if it only adds up to five minutes a day, that can be a huge stride in the right direction.
Many of us are our own worst critics. This helps defeat that. Is that line I wrote terrible? Well duh, I wrote it while I waited at a bus stop. But now I have a line, and maybe if I tweak it a bit, its suddenly not so terrible. I have this foundational step to build off of.
Is this photo even worth keeping on my phone? No, it should be deleted, it’s not even worth the memory. But now I know taking a picture from that angle of that object is bad. Maybe if I tried it from the other side, it wouldn’t be so terrible.
These little bits add up. 5 minutes a day is roughly two and a half hours a month. For many of us, that is much longer than we spend working on our craft now. And that is what’s important.
Now, this blog won’t always be tips for beginners, but this is a foundational first step. Keep this in mind and go out there and create!