#ArtLitPhx: Four Chambers Press call for full-length manuscripts

Four Chambers call for manuscriptsLocal literary publisher, Four Chambers Press is now accepting full-length manuscript submissions in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction through July 31st, 2017. Poetry should be between 60 and 160 pgs; prose should be between 30k and 80k words. For full guidelines, visit our website at http://fourchamberspress.com/submit.

From their press release: Four Chambers Press, an independent community press based in Phoenix, AZ is now accepting full-length manuscript submissions in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, hybrid, and all other forms of contemporary literature through Monday, July 31st, 2017. We also pun frequently on the idea of being a heart. Namely: that we’re lovable; somewhat cheeky; an occasional flirt. But we also take the responsibility of literature and book publishing very seriously. We will bleed for this if we have to. Our hearts beat for this. We don’t care where you come from or what you do. We’re interested in building something that’s going to outlast us. We want to feel something together. We’re interested in you. Writers of all backgrounds and skill levels are encouraged to submit. No fees.

Authors Talk: Timothy Liu

Timothy Liu (and Karthik)Today we are pleased to feature author Timothy Liu as our Authors Talk series contributor. In his podcast, Timothy is interviewed by Karthik Purushothaman, one of his graduate students, about his newest book, Kingdom Come: A Fantasia, which released March 1, 2017.

Kingdom Come A FantasiaThe pair discusses the book as a hybrid novel, and they explore the way it blends poetry and prose. Timothy also shares his process for this novel and reveals how he completed the first draft in 2008 after writing every day for three months. Karthik then asks Timothy about his inspirations, and Timothy talks about the different books that he kept on his desk while writing and how they influenced the book.

Finally, Timothy discusses the concept of time, “the idea that the act of writing can somehow change our past,” and the “weird belief that time can flow in two directions.”

You can read Timothy’s poems in Issue 4 of Superstition Review, and you can purchase Kingdom Come: A Fantasia here.

Guest Post, Donald Morrill: Nonfiction Fact and Poetic Fact

Donald MorrillIn December 2002, a justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was castigated by his colleagues for delivering a legal opinion in quatrains.*

The case involved a woman who sought damages from her estranged, much older fiancé because he had lied to her about the nature of her engagement ring (not to mention its value). The majority of the court denied her claim, declaring that she, given the difference in their ages, had relied foolishly on his assurances.

But the poetic justice dissented. And thus sangeth:

A groom must expect matrimonial pandemonium

When his spouse finds he’s given her cubic zirconium.

Given their history and Pygmalion relation

I find her reliance was with justification.

One of the justice’s colleagues observed that “every jurist has the right to express him or herself in a manner the jurist deems appropriate,” but he was concerned about “the perception that litigants and the public at large might form when an opinion of the court is reduced to rhyme.”

Reduced to rhyme.

Perhaps the offending justice is merely a bad poet (though he defended his work, accurately, I think, by declaring: “You have an obligation to be right, but you have no obligation to be dull.”)

His critics, however, seem to be suggesting that the musical properties of verse are insufficiently serious for the task at hand; and that the characteristic virtue of poetry—to condense and transmute whatever it wishes into memorable, indestructible language—somehow harms the facts, stripping them of the gravitas appropriate, in this instance, to an instrument of law.

Yet there is a venerable legacy of serious nonfiction in verse. For instance, Lucretius in his treatise On the Nature of Things, from the first century B.C., presents in hexameters a full-scale exposition of the Greek Philosopher Epicurus and the atomic theory of Democritus. There is also Ovid’s satirical but no less serious handbook of seduction, The Art of Love.

So maybe poetry, or even merely verse, is not the problem here. Maybe the justice’s quatrains—his creative nonfiction, if you will—are unsuitably creative because they employ the wrong poetic techniques. If he had written his dissent in a less galloping meter or even in verse libre, if he had chosen fewer polysyllabic rhymes, or had used slant rhymes, or had dispensed with rhyme altogether, perhaps his colleagues, and the guffawing public they imagine, would not think his verse a diminishment.

Poetry, in its official get-up, is a matter of lines and line breaks, of course, and the interplay of these with sentences draped down the page, through the stanzas, across the pauses. It’s a spectacular confinement, and at its best, a delicious, necessary unsettling of the language.

But we also know that poetry appears in prose, as prose, perhaps as often as it appears in verse, as verse. It’s something other than just lines. So we might assert, for the sake of argument, that verse is to poetry as nonfiction is to creative nonfiction.

Nonfiction prides itself on trafficking in facts. But many poets assert that poems should be factually accurate, even when fictive. So what happens to the status of a fact once it is introduced into a poem? Is there such a thing as a poetic fact? If there is, can it be introduced into nonfiction? How is its status changed by doing so? And how does it alter the status of nonfiction?

Poetic writing consorts with a lyric consciousness, of course, and with the metaphoric—saying one thing by saying another, saying one thing in terms of another but in a more controlled and sharpened way than the metaphoric slip-slop of ordinary speech. A poetic fact—not a fact made poetic—embodies more than one kind of perception. It registers more than one kind of measurement. And it inspires in us a devoted restlessness among those perceptions and measurements, because it also welcomes the possibility of discovery at its edges. It presents—and verges on presenting something more.

Let me give just one example of a poetic fact, though they abound, of course—a line from “Chimes” by the wonderful poet Robert Dana:

Every day I live I live forever.

The statement is true, undeniably factual in several ways but not like My heart beats sixty times a minute now.

Both lines might be verse, since they both scan, but only the first is poetic, or poetry.

We might wonder how, then, a poet would rewrite the versifying justice’s opinion in order to include poetic fact and whether the law would still be the law if that were to happen. We nod yes when Ezra Pound says poetry is news that stays news. But if the newspaper were poetry, we certainly wouldn’t need a daily edition. (And can you imagine the 11 o’clock news as a poetry reading?)

***

Consider now Norman Maclean’s masterpiece Young Men and Fire. It is a book of nonfiction fact, relating the story of the death of a dozen smokejumpers—and the unlikely survival of three others—in a forest fire blow-up at Mann Gulch, Montana, in 1949. Maclean meticulously replays, rethinks, re-imagines and researches the last thirty minutes of the doomed men’s lives—setting this quest for comprehension against the backdrop of what was known about fire at the time of the disaster and what has been learned in the 38 years afterward. The book brims with historical documentation and scientific data about fire fighting, about burn rates and the effects of wind; it contains maps and photographs, diagrams, transcripts and mathematical equations; and it also draws on his and others’ intimate knowledge of the local landscape, gleaned from lifetimes spent in the Montana woods.

As he writes: “In a modern tragedy you have to look out for the little details rather than big flaws.”

The word “tragedy” should cue us here. Maclean is also drawing on a lifetime of teaching Shakespeare and the Romantic poets, and this is where the poetry comes in. His book is haunted by the search for compassion and understanding about the earth and our place on it. While acting as a factual detective, Maclean is also confronting the problem of identity, which, even as he faces old age and his own mortality, remains unsolved for him—unsolvable for us all.

It is probably not surprising, then, that the book was left unfinished at his death, though it is, most assuredly, complete.

Maclean’s task lay beyond the power of nonfiction facts alone, so he turned to poetic facts, of which the book contains many. Consider, for instance, this passage from the concluding pages, which illustrates how he extends nonfiction fact with poetic fact. About the doomed men running up the steep mountainside from the fire that will consume them, he writes:

The evidence, then, is that at the very end beyond thought and beyond fear and beyond even self-compassion and divine bewilderment there remains some firm intention to continue doing forever and ever what we last hoped to do on earth. By this final act they had come about as close as body and spirit can to establishing a unity of themselves with earth, fire, and perhaps the sky.

This is as far as we are able to accompany them. When the fire struck their bodies, it blew their watches away. The two hands of a recovered watch had melted together at about four minutes to six. For them, that may be taken as the end of time.

If this were not enough, a few sentences later, Maclean writes, in what is the concluding passage of the book:

I, an old man, have written this fire report. Among other things, it was important to me, as an exercise for old age, to enlarge my knowledge and spirit so I could accompany young men whose lives I might have lived on their way to death. I have climbed where they climbed, and in my time I have fought fire and inquired into its nature. In addition, I have lived to get a better understanding of myself and those close to me, many of them now dead. Perhaps it is not odd, at the end of this tragedy where nothing much was left of the elite who came from the sky but courage struggling for oxygen, that I have often found myself thinking of my wife on her brave and lonely way to death.

It is a thematic coda, of course, but at the very end of it something wholly unexpected flares up. Maclean has mentioned his wife only once before, briefly, telling us of her death from lung cancer, and that there is a valley near Mann Gulch named for her. (Another place where fire can make its strange appearance.)

These few details become supreme poetic facts because they allow the nonfiction facts about the nature of fire—and the facts about the smokejumpers’ deaths, the strange solitude of their deaths—to also stand metaphorically for the obscure solitude of Maclean’s grief at his wife’s lonely death. These poetic facts revise our understanding of the book by suddenly multiplying the dimensions of its assumed subject. The nonfiction book of nonfiction facts is called Young Men and Fire. But the poem it also becomes by virtue of that final passage could be called Old Man and Ashes.

Thus, we might assert that creative nonfiction—if we can now think of it as a form of poetry—is the most impure, and thus capacious, of poetic forms because it allows the broadest range of rhythms and “content.” It honors the nonfiction fact, reveres and seeks the clarity of definition that nonfiction fact aspires to, but, like Maclean’s fire, it knows and submits to the earthly reality that, in a moment, a fact of that sort can become quite something else.

 

NOTE

* “Justices Call on Bench’s Bard to Limit His Lyricism:” The New York Times, December 15, 2002, Adam Liptak

Four Chambers presents: Poetry and Prose for the Phoenix Art Museum

fourchamberspress

Call for Submissions:

Up to Three Works

Any Style Genre or Form

Somehow Inspired By Work in the Phoenix Art Museum

Deadline: Sunday February 1st

Guidelines and Forms Available Online at: http://fourchamberspress.com/chapbooks/phxart

Four Chambers—what people may or may not know is an independent community literary magazine based in Phoenix, Arizona, also a figurative heart—is looking for local authors to write work in response to exhibitions and collections housed in the Phoenix Art Museum so they can put together a boutique chapbook and stage a live performance in the gallery during Art Detour on First Friday, March 6th (submissions for which close Sunday, February 1st 2015).

Art Loves Literature

Sometimes–in all the hubbub of giving greater visibility to the literary arts and encouraging their larger participation in the cultural scene–people don’t have the opportunity to enjoy art as much as they’d like to. To stop for a moment. Breathe. Smell the roses. The important things in life get missed.

So when things come up and literature doesn’t get to spend as much time with art as it would like to, art can get a little sad.

“I mean, I know literature’s been working really hard to create another space in this city where people can come together, have meaningful interactions and build sustainable forms of community and relationship—we’re all so busy trying to do our own thing—it’s just that, well,” art pauses, looks off into the distance and then down. “We just used to have so much fun together. Literature really understood me.” Art sniffs, quavers, and looks up with sad, shining eyes. “I just miss it.”

What happened? Art and literature made each other so happy. They had such a long history. And now, art is completely heartbroken, literature is lonelier than ever, it has no idea what happened, and it has no idea what to do.

Literature Loves Art

So literature, distraught, called Four Chambers. And after much heartfelt discussion—tears streaming down literature’s face, Four Chambers nodding empathetically on the other line—Four Chambers thinks the best thing literature can do is to ask local authors to go to the Phoenix Art Museum, walk through the galleries, and write something responding to the Museum’s collection of work.

This, the magazine thinks, is the way to win back art’s heart, and will show art that literature cares more than a vintage crockpot from the 1970s or a small yellow cactus in a concrete pot ever could (though both of these would make really great gifts). Then art will understand that literature is truly sorry for whatever it did wrong, people in Phoenix will have a greater sense of cultural cohesiveness and shared identity, and art and literature can continue building the long-lasting relationship they already have.

Four Chambers Loves You

“So all silliness aside,” explains the magazine’s Founder and Editor in Chief Jake Friedman, standing in front of the Art Museum dressed as a baby cupid, “If all we do is help people fall in love with art and / or literature,” adjusting his cloth diaper, shifting the bow and arrow in his hand, “if people can have a slightly more meaningful experience in their life because of this project,” a cold wind causes Friedman to shiver, a wing falling off. “Well…” Friedman shrugs. “That would be a beautiful thing.”

Individuals who are interested in submitting poetry and prose for the Phoenix Art Museum can find more details online at http://fourchamberspress.com/chapbooks/phxart.

Individuals who are interested in visiting the museum may do so for free every Wednesday evening from 3 to 10 pm or every First Friday night from 6 to 10 pm, and any other time, the Museum is open for a modest and reasonable fee. Four Chambers will also be organizing a tour at the Museum Wednesday January 6th at 6:30 pm. Selected works are available online at http://egallery.phxart.org/.

Individuals who want to read Jia’s poem can do so at http://fourchamberspress.com/chapbooks/phxart/joakbaker.

Submissions for the project close Sunday, February 1st, 2015 at 11:59 PM MST.

About Four Chambers Press                                          

Four Chambers Press is an independent community literary magazine based in Phoenix, AZ that wants to expose you to wonderful literature + give you something to do every once in a while + make your life slightly more meaingful. For more information please visit http://fourchamberspress.com.

Guest Blog Post, Andrew Galligan: Mr. Know-It-All

Andrew GalliganThanks to my immeasurable fear of poetry (I’m a poet), I’ve read a lot of prose – both fiction and non – in the last year or two.  (And believe me – I’m making no judgment on the difficulty of reading or writing either).  Piling up the paragraphs over that time, I’ve developed for the first time in my serious reading life a handful of prose preferences.  They are not genre or period related, but more or less determine whether I’ll go on reading a piece.  One potential deal-breaker, beyond careless sentence-making or writers writing about writers, is the omniscient narrator.  Perhaps jealously is at the root, but this idea of knowing everything is just perverse!

Often when a seer is telling me a story, patiently stirring that cauldron of latent symbols, I find him more prone to early, unnecessary or heavy-handed foreshadowing.  The temptation is too large to place emphasis on minor events, to pause the story and thread an extra detail into a character or place.  They may be small shovels, but they’re still smacking my face.  It’s like hearing Bon Jovi’s voice come over a nice, warming rock riff – right away I’ve got a pretty good idea where this is headed.

Regular consumers of story – book, TV, film, barroom or otherwise – are trained to search for symbols and signposts, driven by the potential self-fellating glee of “figuring it out first.”  So, unnatural emphasis always arrests the reader, drawing increased attention like a car crash under a full moon.  Emphasis in everyday life comes when and where our minds and hearts apply it, without the guidance or intervention of a third party.  The granular events of each day fall upon us organically, settling into piles in our minds as guided by our own passions, distastes, prejudices and hopes.  Within that unrelenting cascade, we can find ourselves ascribing deep meaning to a minor event, only to have that depth truncated or in some way altered by future events.  We make our own storytelling mistake.  The grain has to change piles.

omniscient narratorComing to understand people and places integrated in a story through eyes at a time – a single vision or set of views always complicated by emotion and by biased & unreliable memory – is what we experience in everyday life.  When we as readers have no choice but to see characters exclusively through their words and actions, to develop and deepen our impressions of them, we go through an iterative rigor that mimics how we come to know the real folks we collide against.  Some may find comfort in an omniscient narrator’s IV drip of information that stitches a story together, but to me it’s a prescription much less satisfying for the exact reason that we as readers lose the opportunity to do that work ourselves.  What we’ve gleaned of human behavior through the rugged course of personal living matters less than how practiced we are at reading the cards in a narrator’s hand.

One appeal could be control.  The omniscient’s control allows us to implicitly and unquestionably trust what we’re told; the facts of people and place must be true as stated, and only an unexpected sequence of events can catch us off guard.  [Hey, the cat just puked up a skeleton key!].  That control engenders comfort because, for just once, we’d like not to be caught off guard.  In my own life, I’d love to control the sequence.  To orchestrate the order in which my impulses and emotions deploy, or when shit happens so I can be prepared.  If I could stipulate when I’d feel fun, intrigue, sex or horror (or all the above?!), that would beat the defeat of always reacting.

It’s probably because of Faulkner that I started to really see and feel differences in narration.  He’s certainly on the far end of the spectrum, utilizing a myriad of voices, heavy dialect, stream of consciousness and nonlinear narration (unannounced flashbacks!) that jam the reader through at times paralyzing confusion.  Most of us have enough confusion in our lives; I can certainly understand the desire not to grapple with it, too, when spending time to unwind and escape with a piece of literature.  The difference to me is how powerful the experience of reading can be when it more closely meets that everyday I claim I’m trying to escape.  What I’ve come to realize is that I read simply to try to understand my life and all its whys.   I’m there in that story for comfort, for information, for insight.  The confusion is not arresting, but familiar, and I want it so I can continue to turn the pages in search for a little more certainty I can use when I wake in the morning.

 

Guest Blog Post, Simon Perchik: Magic, Illusion and Other Realities

Where do writers get their ideas? Well, if they are writing prose, their ideas evolve one way. If, on the other hand, they are writing poetry, their ideas evolve another way. Perhaps some distinctions are in order. Distinguishing the difference between prose and poetry may not be all that simple; there are many definitions, all of which may be correct. For the purpose of this essay allow me to set forth one of the many:

It seems to me that there is available to writers a spectrum along which to proceed. At one end is prose, appropriate for essays, news, weather reports and the like. At the other end is poetry. Writers moves back and forth along this spectrum when writing fiction.

Thus, prose is defined by its precise meaning that excludes ambiguity, surmise and misunderstanding. It never troubles the reader. To define it another way, prose is faulty if it lacks a coherent thrust guided by rules of logic, grammar and syntax. It will not tolerate contradiction. Poetry, on the other hand, is defined by its resistance to such rules. Poetry is ignited, brought to life by haunting, evasive, ambiguous, contradictory propositions.

This is not to say poetry is more or less useful than prose. Rather, they are two separate and distinct tools, much the same as a hammer and a saw. They are different tools designed for different jobs. If an essay is called for, the reader wants certainty; exactly what the words you are now reading are intended to give. If, on the other hand, consolation for some great loss is called for, the reader needs more: a text that lights up fields of reference nowhere alluded to on the page. This calls for magic, for illusion, not lecture. The reader needs to be informed of what cannot be articulated. To be made whole the reader needs to undergo an improved change in mood, a change made more effective if the reader doesn’t know why he or she feels better. Exactly like music. That’s where poetry gets its power to repair; an invisible touch, ghost-like but as real as anything on earth. A reading of the masters, Neruda, Aleixandre, Celan…confirms that a text need not always have a meaning the reader can explicate. To that extent, it informs, as does music, without what we call meaning. It’s just that it takes prose to tell you this.

This is because prose is a telling of what the writers already know. They have a preconceived idea of what to write about. With poetry it’s the opposite. The writers have no preconceived idea with which to begin a poem. They need to first force the idea out of the brain, to bring the idea to the surface, to consciousness. With poetry the writer needs a method to find that hidden idea. If the originating idea wasn’t hidden and unknown it isn’t likely to be an important one. Let’s face it: any idea that is easily accessible has already been picked over. It’s all but certain to be a cliché.

To uncover this hidden idea for a poem the writers each have their own unique method. As for me, the idea for the poem evolves when an idea from a photograph is confronted with an obviously unrelated idea from a text (mythology or science) till the two conflicting ideas are reconciled as a totally new, surprising and workable idea. This method was easy for me to come by. As an attorney I was trained to reconcile conflicting views, to do exactly what a metaphor does for a living. It’s not a mystery that so many practicing lawyers write poetry. See, Off the Record, An Anthology of Poetry by Lawyers, edited by James R. Elkins, Professor of Law, University of West Virginia.

The efficacy of this method for getting ideas is documented at length by Wayne Barker, MD. who, in his Brain Storms, A Study of Human Spontaneity, on page 15 writes:

If we can endure confrontation with the unthinkable, we may be able to fit together new patterns of awareness and action. We might, that is, have a fit of insight, inspiration, invention, or creation. The propensity for finding the answer, the lure of creating or discovering the new, no doubt has much to do with some people’s ability to endure tension until something new emerges from the contradictory and ambiguous situation.

Likewise, Douglas R. Hofstadter, in his Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid writes on page 26:

One of the major purposes of this book is to urge each reader to confront the apparent contradiction head on, to savor it, to turn it over, to take it apart, to wallow in it, so that in the end the reader might emerge with new insights into the seemingly unbreachable gulf between the formal and the informal, the animate and the inanimate, the flexible and the inflexible.

Moreover, the self-induced fit is standard operating procedure in the laboratory. Allow me to quote Lewis Thomas, who, in his The Lives of a Cell, on page 138 describes the difference between applied science and basic research. After pointing out how applied science deals only with the precise application of known  facts, he writes:

In basic research, everything is just the opposite. What you need at the outset is a high degree of uncertainty; otherwise it isn’t likely to be an important problem. You start with an incomplete roster of facts, characterized  by their ambiguity; often the problem consists of discovering the connections  between unrelated pieces of information. You must plan experiments  on the basis of probability, even bare possibility, rather than certainty. If an experiment turns out precisely as predicted, this can be very nice, but it is only a great event if at the same time it is a surprise. You can measure the quality of the work by the intensity of astonishment. The surprise can be because it did turn out as predicted (in some lines of research, one percent is accepted as a high yield), or it can be a confoundment because the prediction was wrong and something totally unexpected turned up, changing the look of the problem and requiring a new kind of protocol. Either way, you win…

 

Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that the defining distinction between applied science and basic research is the same as that between prose and poetry? Isn’t it likewise reasonable to conclude that the making of basic science is very much the same as the making of poetry?

In a real way I, too, work in a laboratory. Every day at 9 a.m. I arrive at a table in the local coffee shop, open a dog-eared book of photographs, open a text, and begin mixing all my materials together to find something new.

For the famous Walker Evans photograph depicting a migrant’s wife, I began:

Walker Evans     Farmer’s wife
Tough life, mouth closed, no teeth? Sorrow?
Not too bad looking. Plain dress

This description went on and on till I felt I had drained the photograph of all its ideas. I then read the chapter entitled On Various Words from The Lives of a Cell. Photograph still in view, I then wrote down ideas from Dr. Thomas’s text. I began:

Words –bricks and mortar
Writing is an art, compulsively adding to,
building the ant hill,
not sure if each ant knows what it will look like when finished
its too big. Like can’t tell what Earth looks like if you’re on it.

This too goes on and on with whatever comes to mind while I’m reading. But all the time, inside my brain, I’m trying to reconcile what a migrant’s wife has to do with the obviously unrelated ideas on biology suggested by Dr. Thomas. I try to solve the very problem I created. Of course my brain is stymied and jams, creating a self-induced fit similar to the epilepsy studied by the above mentioned Dr. Barker, M.D. But that was my intention from the beginning.

Sooner or later an idea from the photograph and an idea from the text will be resolved into a new idea and the poem takes hold.

No one is more surprised than I. Or exhausted. The conditions under which I write are brutal. My brain is deliberately jammed by conflicting impulses. Its neurons are overloaded, on the verge of shutting down. I can barely think. My eyes blur. The only thing that keeps me working is that sooner or later will come the rapture of discovery; that the differences once thought impossible to reconcile, become resolved; so and so, once thought  impossible of having anything to do with so and so, suddenly and surprisingly, has everything in the world to do with it. Or has nothing to do with it but can be reconciled with something else it triggered: one flash fire after another in the lightening storm taking place in my brain.

Getting the idea is one thing but the finished poem is a long way off. And to get there I abstract. Abstraction and music are soul mates and poetry is nothing if not music. For each poem its opening phrase is stolen shamelessly from Beethoven. He’s the master at breaking open bones and I might as well use him early on in the poem. Then I steal from Mahler whose music does its work where I want my poetry to do its work: the marrow.

Perhaps marrow is what it’s all about. Abstraction, since it contradicts the real world, is a striking form of confrontation which jams the brain till it shuts down confused. It befits the marrow to then do the work the reader’s brain cells would ordinarily do. And though what the marrow cells put together is nothing more than a “gut feeling,” with no rational footing, it is enough to refresh the human condition, to make marriages, restore great loses, rally careers.

Of course abstraction is just one of the ways writers arrive at the poem with their idea. But however they come they all leave for the reader poetry’s trademark: illusion. It is that illusion that builds for the over-burdened reader a way out.

Perhaps, as you may have already suspected, a poem, unlike a newspaper, is not a tool for everyday use by everyone; it’s just for those who need it, when they need it…

Guest Blog Post, Monica Petersen: The Art in the “Shitty first draft”

SFDTaken from Anne Lamott’s essay in her book Bird by Bird, the “shitty first draft,” or SFD, tries to make the most difficult step in writing easier. The concept is simple: write everything you can all at once and get it on the page. In her words, “almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper” (25). Don’t filter yourself, or you will never get past the first paragraph. I have always hated writing my first draft out of fear of that it will be worse than a 5-year-old’s first book report. Even Lamott recognizes her fear that if something were to happen to her, she would never have the chance to go back and fix her SFD.

The SFD is important to me because it transformed the way I write. My first draft is supposed to be bad, so it’s perfectly OK if it is. The worse the draft is, the better actually because it means I have more to work with to make it perfect. After chucking everything onto the page, the ideas are there, and only need tweaking (or maybe entire paragraph upheaval) to get it where I want the work to be. The point is the SFD provides a starting place when you didn’t have one before.

After the SFD, I spend the rest of my writing time editing it, stripping the work to its barest bones, and building it back up again. I have a tendency to overwrite (and by tendency I mean 1000 words over the limit on a paper). My SFD usually contains at least double the words allowed and is plagued by repetition. My writing process consists of paring that overwriting down day after day to get it under the limit—condensing sentences, and clarifying ideas.

The same thing goes for my fiction pieces and this post. I can write pages of text, giving me paragraphs to work with. Because of all the prose I have, I can cut down the bad, horrible, and not-so-good stuff and allow the best float to the top. I can take out an entire scene to a story, or rework a character’s personality when I realize I want her to be angry with the world instead of happy to be alive. The SFD provides a canvas and base to build upon and create a better piece.

Have you ever used an SFD before? What other significant tools have you used to make your writing process easier?