Thursday, January 7, 2010

While You're Waiting

Many of us consume many hours of time on our manuscripts, both of individual poems and of collections. But perhaps you've made your manuscript as good as it can be. You're still likely to have time between sending out the manuscript and publication. It might be lots of time. What can you do to get ready?

I've spent lots of years of my life thinking ahead, saying, "In the Fall, what will I wish I had done with all this lovely free time?" I've spent lots of time getting ready, because often, once the big event arrives, there is no more time.

In some ways, my chapbook publication was a great dry run, a rough draft of a book publication. I remember thinking, I wish I knew more about websites; I feel like I should have one. And now, I do.

Kelli Russell Agodon has a great post of what to do while you're waiting for your book to be published. Some of it you might have already done; I spent some time during the dull spots of a meeting composing a book description, because I want to submit to Graywolf this month, and they want that as part of the cover letter. Most of us have a bio or two.

Some of her suggestions are brilliant, like this one:

"8) If you have any reviews or articles about you online, cut and paste them into a MS Word file and save them on your computer.

This just happened to me. I went to get a couple sentences from an old (positive) review of my first book and it's gone. That means I have to find it in the Way Back Machine or cached somewhere else. Had I just had it saved in a document form, it would have saved me much work."

I always assume that online sources will be there forever, and alas, it's just not so. It never occurred to me to save the article in a different file. Duh!

For those of you who are earlier in the writing process and finding the thought of a book length manuscript daunting, perhaps you'd rather have some simpler resolutions. I particularly like Diane Lockward's post on her resolutions, particularly # 1: "Write on a more regular basis. Aim for three morning sessions per week. Show up at the kitchen table. Do chores later. Or not at all."

Sometimes I look at the work of other poets, and I just feel behind, especially when I see poets who are younger than I am, who have several books with spines. I forget that the main task of a writer is to write. I think of all the poets, like John Keats, who weren't known much at all in his day. I think of poets like John Donne, who have gone in and out of favor--there are centuries where his work would have been lost to us.

We don't have much control over the publication process, although we like to think we do. We can prepare, we can send out our work, but much of the rest is out of our power. It's important to remember to write, to remember that the writing of poems is what enriches our lives, not the publishing of them. Publication, and all that may or may not follow, is extra. The task of the poet is to observe, to make connections out of those observations, and to write them down.

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