Welcome to the blog series, PROCESS. In this series I ask artists of various mediums about their artistic processes. I’ve decided to open the door to visual artists and composers of music alongside our writerly types because as artists, I think we are most similar in our approach to process—how we do the work. Whether it’s an outline of your daily schedule, ruminations on a brainy process, the tape and scissors approach, the need to wear pajamas to work, I want to know anything about your artistic process, even if it’s the work you do to sit your body at the desk.
-Lauren Capone, Associate Editor
Sara Peck lives and writes in Charleston, South Carolina, where she also teaches middle school writing and sells used books. Her work is found or forthcoming in OmniVerse, Versal, and Thrush, among others. A chapbook, Yr Lad, Bob, can be found here.
I realized, having sat to write this at least four times now, that I’m not all that familiar with my process, which is, yikes, maybe problematic. So this turned somewhat into a personal exercise: what do I do when I write / how do I not totally know what I do when I write? Here, on a Thursday with a twelve day old moon, is what I do know:
1. I am reliant on others. There are two things I need: things to read & things to hear. Shelley says something in his Defense about “going out of our own nature & an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person not our own.” This is so important! Writing can be this singular, sometimes alienating thing, but Shelley dissuades from a closing off, and instead encourages an opening, an opening to an other. I know how to do this by reading, by (um, sometimes) not wearing headphones. On a poetics level, too, this is important—this relationality Shelley establishes between the human and the other. This “other” manifests itself for me as people/landscape/weather in relation to where I’m standing, how I’m feeling, what I’m wanting more or less of that day. On the beach a week ago, I broke so many shells; there was nowhere else to walk. It’s like I have to collect these bits before I can write.
2. I’m into hard surfaces, floors and kitchen chairs mostly. I am on the floor now; the sun is setting. It’s this magical hour in my apartment—I also like windows and I can see the dust in the light.
3. I am a listener. My work suffers when I don’t listen. Robert Duncan starts his Letters (one of the books I will never let go ever) instructing “(BE STILL THY BREATH AND HEAR THEM SPEAK: ).” It’s like his telling me/us, come on, listen. These caps are serious. The Romantics knew it too—to participate in “nature” (Shelley’s “not our own”), pay attention.
4. I use unlined white loose-leaf paper on a clipboard. I like all that space. I usually take two or three rewrites before I type. I have three clipboards. One clipboard says on it Hello my name is Jonathan. This is not my name.
5. I work two three-quarters-full-time jobs and can’t write always when I’d like to. I don’t have any set hour(s); it’s more like when I’m both home and not sleeping or making popcorn.
6. As important as the other is, I think various absences are equally important. Someone asked me what my work was looking like these days & my initial thought was “spacey.” This is the feeling that has been most permeating my process and work lately, one of space. I will fill a page corner to corner with text, so I’ll have this hulking messy thing, and then take a sharpie to probably 90 percent of it. So as my “final drafts” grow increasingly sparse, my first drafts bloom. My hope is this initial cacophony is distilled in the later drafts. I’ve been vaguely consumed with the intersections of written poetry and musical scores, particularly reading and writing white space like a musician would read/write a rest. It’s part of the piece; we’re playing the silence, right. So I think as important as the words are, the what’s-missing-in-the-spaces is also feeling really crucial.
In Lorine Neidecker’s notes about her 1966 Lake Superior vacation, she writes: “What I didn’t foresee was that the highway doesn’t always run next to the lake (Superior or Michigan) & that you can travel almost entirely around Superior…without finding more than a couple accessible beaches. Where you can with some difficulty walk over that terrain to the shore, you suddenly find you’re on a high bluff and how are you going to get way down to the water.” And I think this is kind of how it goes for me, this dichotomy of just (ugh) trying to get to the water and also using the absence or inaccessibility of it to my advantage. And, I mean, I know she’s talking about agate and finding her own because the store-bought stones have been dyed and probably imported from Japan or Brazil her husband said, but, like, so am I.