There are times, as I’m working on Devotion, when I feel like I’m writing hundreds of prose poems as opposed to a straightforward story. Well, in a way, that’s exactly what I’m doing, though if the book is to work, it will hopefully flow as a narrative even though it’s being put together like pieces to a puzzle. Or another way I’ve come to think of the structure of this book is as stepping stones across a stream. I can’t move from one until I have my footing on the next. But–in the end–hopefully the reader will be aware only of the stream, not the stones. I’ve joked with friends that this feels like death by prose-poem. Each one polished and as good as I can make it–though how it will fit into the whole of the project is something I won’t know until I’m done. As a process, it’s the most difficult I’ve ever undertaken.
But what it makes me think of, on a daily basis, is looseness when it comes to the writing itself. The worst thing a writer can do when she sits down to write (other than to not sit down to write) is to think to herself: now I’m am writing. Because from there, at least for me, it spirals into a chorus of useless thoughts: I wonder if so-and-so will like it; I hope my publisher thinks it’s good; gee, will this excerpt well in The New Yorker? Maybe I should show so-and-so and get feedback. And on, and on and on. Those thoughts are such a waste of time and creative energy. What’s more, they’re the enemy of looseness. By looseness I do not mean laziness. By looseness I mean a creative undertaking that is flexible, without self-censorship, focused but light. I think of great athletes and the way they warm themselves up, shake out their limbs. They maintain concentration but avoid seizing up. Sometimes, as I sit at my desk, I realize that I’ve worked my entire body into a pretzel. My legs are crossed tightly. My feet have fallen asleep. My shoulders are up to my ears. My jaw is clenched. Is good work going to get done from that place of tension?