I ran across the writing of William Stafford a few years ago. I love his approach and his views on poetry and writing and the experience of being receptive to ideas. It seems healthy. It seems appropriate. I was wandering around Portland the other day and found a copy of his book You Must Revise Your Life from the Poets on Poetry series. I love even the implication of the title. To become a better writer, you must become a better person.

Also, check this out:

Yet another attitude I find necessary: most of what I write, like most of what I say in casual conversation, will not amount to much. Even I will realize, and even at the time, that it is not negotiable. It will be like practice. In conversation I allow myself random remarks–in fact, as I recall, that is the way I learned to talk–so in writing I launch many expendable efforts. A result of this free way of writing is that I am not writing for others, mostly; they will not see the product at all unless the activity eventuates in something that later appears to be worthy. My guide is the self, and its adventuring in the language brings about communication.

from “A Way of Writing” accessed here: http://ualr.edu/rmburns/rb/staffort.html

The idea of “launching many expendable efforts” has been very liberating, validating, and helpful to me. Primarily, perhaps, because I have been doing this for many years. And I love the idea that it’s not a waste of time. It isn’t. I have a constant barrage of teenage commentary that suggests otherwise, but those are different stories.

It all points to process. To get something great you need to start. To get something great you need to make things that are less than great first. A basketball player doesn’t make all his shots, and yet, the misses are hardly a waste of time. You could play with that analogy for a decade inserting start-up companies, menu items, titles for shows, lyrics for songs, etc. Stafford says somewhere else that you “need the bad poems” and I love that too. This is also validating.

When you see your efforts as a part of a necessary process, nothing is a waste of time. As a teacher, I don’t always know how to translate that idea to students. And some, even after all my attempts (or should we say “expendable efforts”) don’t accept the premise. Why take notes if I don’t get points in the gradebook for it? Why write something down if nobody gives me candy for it? Blah blah. Ugh.
Check out this phrase too: adventuring in the language. I love that so much. This is what reading and writing and communication is all about. Happy adventures.

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