Time for a victory dance

The screencap above is the Scrivener corkboard view for my next poetry manuscript! I finished the very first full draft about an hour ago. The working title is Curved Tongue, Forked Road, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to stay that way for the rest of the revision process, though I’m open to the possibility that it might change.

The process so far

These are poems I’ve been writing since I made the final selections for inclusion in my chapbook. Once that was done and I started sending out We’re Smaller Than We Think We Are, every poem I wrote was considered for possible inclusion in the next book. The writing process thus began in late August/early September 2011. Since I have the practice of writing a poem a day, I began to generate possible poems pretty quickly. That’s not to say that every poem I have written per day has been worth considering. I think only about 10-15% of the poems I write I consider worth revising, submitting, or including in a book, and not all of those even end up going places. Still, if you’re drafting one poem a day, you get to the potential good poems faster than you would otherwise. The small percentage of poems that made the cut got put into a separate “for collection” folder.

After that, it was a process of writing and waiting. Not just to accumulate enough poems, but for a structure or theme to emerge. Several concepts bounced around in my head. First, I thought I’d be writing mostly about math and physics. Then, I thought I was going to write about physics and travel, and title it Everything in Transit (a title shamelessly stolen from a Jack’s Mannequin album.) Then, this past October, just after a year of writing and waiting, I developed the idea for a three-part structure, encompassing a few different things I’d been working on. This would allow me to have a unifying concept without feeling tied down to one single thing. 

As it stands, the book now has three parts. “Heartways” consists of poems I’ve written on the various incarnations that love takes (aka ways of looking at love). “Wordways” consists of the twenty-six abecedarian sonnets I’ve been working on since September, which are thematically organized around various locations within Texas (not just ways of looking at Texas, but ways of looking at words in the confines of this particular poetry form). And finally, I have “Roadways,” a section focused on travel poems. These are somewhat Texas-based, but less explicitly so than the abecedarian sonnets, and are more concerned with ways of looking at the road than looking at a particular place. The collection title Curved Tongue, Forked Road came to me almost out of the blue, and I like the way it invokes dialogue, exploration, and discovery.

Compared to getting my chapbook together, the rough draft of this collection was, in fact, easier. I didn’t develop my daily poetry practice until a month or two before I finally started getting the chapbook together. I didn’t know as much about revision as I do now. I didn’t have a critique group to help me out. And I certainly didn’t have any idea how to organize a book. Now, I am more disciplined, I have a critique group, and I have some sense of how the poems in a book should work together. While I still have a lot of work to do, having that knowledge made the first draft so much easier.

What happens next?

I have a long road of revision ahead. While a lot of the poems in “Roadways” are actually pretty near complete, the first two sections are much rougher. I’m going to work these poems by myself for a while, and then sometime in the spring of 2013, I want to work with a mentor to help me get the book in final shape for submission. I learned a lot working with a mentor for my chapbook, but I certainly don’t know everything. Plus, a full collection is a different beast from a chapbook.

Ideally, I’d like to have this ready to submit by June of 2013, but I also know I can’t rush the revision process. So I’m setting that as my ideal goal, but I’m also not going to get too attached to it. It will be done when it’s done. As long as I’m giving it the attention it deserves, as long as I’m performing due diligence, that’s what matters.

I know that when all is said and done, the final draft will not look like the current one. Some of the abecedarian sonnets will be rewritten from scratch. Some pieces that are in the first and third sections might get deleted. Poems I haven’t written yet, haven’t even thought of yet, might get slotted in. It will be an interesting journey, and I can’t wait to see what this book looks like when it’s finally done.

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