Repeat After Me

Today's mantra.

Today’s mantra.

No dilly-dallying today. I am on my desk at exactly eight o’clock, ready to start working.

When I quit my job some years back and turned my freelancing into a full-time business, I made the same mistakes a lot of people do when they start working for themselves: I thought that life is going to be easier from that point on, that I have all the time in the world, and that the money would come. I’m my own boss, is what I often found myself saying, and not without a hint of smugness.

Nobody ever tells you that since you’re all you have, you’re also going to be your own workhorse. That the day doesn’t end, because you’re thinking about not failing 24/7. That it would take awhile before you get a profit, and that sometimes you can’t even give yourself wages. Doubt becomes a constant companion, looking over your shoulder, asking, “What the hell are you doing? You’ve really stepped in it this time.”

But you know what? I love it. Sure, I work until I’m ragged. But I look at everything around me and all I can think of is: Mine. This is all mine.

Besides, the real work—our life’s work—is sitting on my desk, as is yours, I would imagine.

In this article in The New Yorker, Rebecca Foresman interviews Stephen Dunn:

How long do you have one poem in the works? Do you let drafts sit before looking at them again?

I’m often working on a poem six months to a year. I begin with the premise that a good poem is a very difficult thing to write, that it’s unlikely I’ve succeeded, even though I have many ways of deluding myself in this regard. It helps to have a few good, severe readers who have your interests at heart. I have a few.

If the process is a long or circuitous one, does revisiting an old draft demand forgiveness of your earlier ideas, efforts, self?

I’ll quote myself here. In my self-guided interview in The Georgia Review, I said, “Now, now, I often tell myself, no weeping. There’s always time to revise.” And there is, without regret or any need to forgive myself. I tend to resist even the smart things I might say. There’s usually something better, waiting in the nether world of the white space. My revision practices are ones of refinement, movements toward greater precision.

Stephen works on a poem for six months to a year. A year.

We’re not alone.

Good morning, M.


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