Last week, I started talking about the value of collaboration in poetry and how Josh and I first came to work together. I left off by saying, essentially, that although I agreed to work with Josh on this project, I had given myself no time to do so.
So let’s explore that thought further, this silly concept of time. By all accounts, it appears to be a very precious commodity. If this were David Lynch’s version of Dune, I could almost hear people whispering it seductively: time … sweet sweet time.
Most of us look at time completely wrong. We all say that we don’t have enough of it, that we’ll take care of this or that project as soon as (a) we get a moment, (b) we get past some arbitrary date on a calendar, (c) work settles down, or (d) pigs fly. Now, planning ahead is a good thing—I’ve learned these past few years as a freelancer how easy it is to overcommit, believe me. But the secret is that if we really want to do something we can always find the time.
I’ve learned that a lot of the work I end up being most fond of is produced during stolen moments, periods of my life where I supposedly don’t have the time for anything.
You get a lot done when you have no time
When you don’t have any time, that usually means you’re living life with appropriate aplomb. This doesn’t mean, of course, that everything you’re doing is fun. In fact, it often means the opposite.
But hey, those miserable things you’re doing right now that you think you’re suffering through? They might make great poems some day. My 20s were a blur of self-induced panic and uncertainty. All told, I was probably doing just fine, but because I didn’t feel like I was doing “just fine” I bounced around from whimsical project to whimsical project like an overfilled and untethered washing machine.
I didn’t have the time for anything, mostly because I was stretching myself too thin with everything. Nothing felt like it was paying off, and I didn’t know how to make room in my life to actually make the things I wanted to happen actually happen.
And now a lot of those experiences are in a book. Thank god for being too busy to stop and think about what I was actually doing.
Having no time = having no time to critique your work
So, now I’ll take this post back to my work with Josh on The Diegesis. In this book, our supposed documentary of a city, I had no intention of writing about the experiences the past ten years of creative and personal self doubt had brought me. In all honesty, I’d finally gotten into a much better head space and was pretty far removed from those things (I’m going to talk about this aspect of the project in pt. 3).
But well, it happened. Working twelve-ish-or-more-hour days most of the time, my writing for The Diegesis came in stolen moments of furious flurries of tuned-out typing. My sense of honor (and Josh’s persistence) dictated that I had to show him something, regardless of quality.
We were writing a “documentary.” It was set in a city. We were going to have footnotes. Besides those things, we didn’t plan things out that much. I didn’t have time to ask questions, so I just had to operate within the “city limits” as much as I could.
I still really don’t know when it happened, but eventually we had a complete manuscript. It cohered. It told its story in its strange way. The more I read through it, the more I liked it.
But also, the more I realized that I didn’t remember writing most of it. The poems were there, and before I could try to backtrack on some of the pieces I’d put in, Josh was out shopping it to presses. Then it was accepted.
You don’t know what’s good
I had no time to self-sabotage my contributions.
In all honesty, that’s probably the biggest reason why we have this book coming out, and why everything else I’ve produced is still incomplete.
A collaborator doesn’t allow you to be your own worst critic. When your fate is partially in someone else’s hands, and when you don’t have the time to put your work through revision purgatory, you have no choice but to go with things that you would balk at every time if it were just you.
When the Heavy Feather Review cited one of my contributions as a standout in the collection, I was shocked. I’d hated that poem. I still get embarrassed to read it, actually. If I’d had my say, it wouldn’t have made it into the final collection. I told Josh I wanted to strike it, and he pushed back on me and said it needed to stay. I grudgingly listened, especially because I was too busy to really focus on the issue anyway, and dammit he was right.
Of the things I produce, I’m the last person to know what’s good and what isn’t. Everyone needs other opinions that they trust. When you have a collaborator, you can’t discount these opinions. Otherwise, why the hell are you collaborating?
In part 3, I’ll talk about the magical you/not you moments of collaborative content.