Creating a Text – Ernesto Priego
What phases are involved in the creation of a text?
To describe the phases involved in the creation of a text is not easy for me, because the process itself is never easy. Well, you could say that sometimes, in very rare circumstances, it is, but then it’s always a bit deceptive because there is a lot of work to be
done after that.
I write what you could call different types of texts, from poetry I try to write with a
particular publication in mind, to poems I write directly on my blog template, to academic papers and essays, as well as general commentary for my blog (and, also, music reviews for magazines and blogs). So each of these demand different processes and therefore
different phases. I will only focus on the phases I go through when I write a poem.
I have to say that the best time for me to write poetry is the morning. I usually will have had an idea, which most of the times has the shape of just a sound, a mood or a common-place phrase (it can be something I heard on the street, or a line from a
song, or something I read that stuck with me). This idea will have been lingering somewhere in my mind for some time, sometimes all night. When I wake up I
usually go directly to my laptop and write some words on my notepad. Then I will go to make tea and toast.
But I will come back to it. I will look at what I wrote and most of the times I just delete it all. Then I start writing again, without stopping, until I feel there’s a unity of thought in the text. I will read it aloud, and then most of the times I realize the line breaks are not working or that some words have been repeated or that I’m just repeating myself and writing something I have already written several times before.
So depending on the result, I may just delete it all or continue working at it.
There is no fixed rule for the phases I go through. I guess the only common denominator is deletion. I delete a lot. I make a conscious effort not to go for words that I know I like perhaps too much. I try not to fictionalize too much, though. I try to translate personal experience as much as possible, and for me writing is something that has to be part of the
experience itself. I know that this is a dangerous thing to do when writing poetry. Many bad poems are bad because of this. But I also think that many bad poems are bad because they are too artificial, too detached from any sense of authenticity or vital importance.
I usually have dreams with words. There are no persons or recognizable physical objects in these dreams; it’s only letters, words, different kinds of fonts dancing around. So what I mean by “experience” here has to do with an experience of language, not necessarily in the sense of something that is “lived” in the traditional definition of “living” (doing things, encountering situations, et cetera). I believe that things we read and listen to and remember happen to us, and that they are stored in our bodies as significant experiences.
So for me honesty, emotional and intellectual honesty is an important factor. Sitting at the laptop for what can be hours facing a single poem, interrogating myself whether it is doing what I want it to be doing, that’s the process for me. I usually get hungry while doing this, because I do it in the morning without having had “proper” breakfast. But I like this
physical feeling. So I struggle with the poem in formal terms. I will have a dictionary at hand, but sometimes I don’t even look at it.
I suppose one must exercise and discipline a poetic or linguistic ability to experience language as an autonomous phenomenon and not as a mere means to an end in order to follow this process. Language must be experienced as something that can be worked with but that will allow certain things and won’t allow others. So “inspiration” in this case does not come from the “external world” necessarily, at least not in the traditional sense. “Inspiration” for me comes from language itself, from the way I experience it as an individual with a particular life story.
Waking up in the morning having thought/experienced a phenomenon expressed as language, trying to express it with the keyboard, looking at it, thinking about it, deleting most of it, giving it another go, consciously avoiding common-places and clichés, getting rid of unwanted repetitions, playing around with line breaks and kinds of stanzas, thinking about the significance or non-significance of the blank spaces and indentations, font types, caps and symbols, thinking of the poem as visual and not merely linguistic, thinking of the poem as something that must interrogate you as much as you interrogate it, letting
it do its own thing even if you don’t want to . . . and finally accepting the fact that the poem has its own rules and that we are nothing but a humble medium of something larger than ourselves (language; poetry).
Something like that.
Ernesto Priego is a translator and poet; his latest collection is Not Even Dogs. He blogs at: Never Neutral.