Posted by: jeannineatkins | April 13, 2011

Have Another Cup of Strong Tea, Please

I usually count myself among the world’s slowest writers. I gaze long and closely at scenes, and when I move on, it’s at a meandering, a word I prefer to sluggish, pace. I was once a shy girl in the back row taking note of daredevils and drama queens, though they weren’t called that then, and I continue to be more about long-looking than plunging ahead.

But today I’ve got a stack of roughish drafts of poems and I’m planning on wide strides as I look for connecting images and themes. As I think about pacing, there will be chopping, best done with the speed of pulling off a Band-aid. Why draw out the pain as I cross out words, lines, and stanzas on the way to what really matters?

I’m thinking of how artists sometimes begin with gesture drawings: a model may pose for half a minute, sometimes two, while artists quickly wave hands holding charcoal or soft pencil to catch a sense of motion. They begin in rush, timer clicking, then may work out a likeness slowly. At some point they may go back to the original energy, trying not to entirely cover those tracks with information about surfaces and shadows. Now I’m thinking of my rough draft as the artist’s blank page, making or looking for the lines that convey if not speed at least motion.

Loosening my attachment to what’s there may give me a better grip on what could be. But working relatively fast is a little bit scary. There will be deep breaths taken. And extra caffeine consumed. I’m thankful for the reassurance of computer cut-and-paste: nothing that’s done today can’t be undone, if I choose, tomorrow, where work likely will be done at a more leisurely pace. With time to revere some small, still details.



  1. Lovely glimpse into your process, Jeannine. Are this roughish poems for a novel or a collection?
    I love the meandering way of working too, though for me it seems to be followed by an explosion of speed, then exhaustion, and then more meandering. 🙂

  2. “Now I’m thinking of my rough draft as the artist’s blank page, making or looking for the lines that convey if not speed at least motion.”
    As a fellow slow writer, I love that image!
    I hope your day had some satisfying chopping away moments as well as some good forward movement.

  3. Thanks so much, Jeni!

  4. Yes, I’m working on a collection of poems set in the past.
    I like your work style! (Except for the exhaustion part, which I expect is necessary.)

  5. Thanks, Lorraine. So nice to have your around! Should we get caps that say, “Slow writer?”

  6. Multiple cups of hot, strong tea (sweet, too, if you prefer) and deep breaths. You can do it, Jeannine. You know you can.

  7. Angela, you are too sweet! Thank you!

  8. I love your process posts. You are able to make graphic and concrete such intangibles as making choices, making connections, and questioning attachments. Go forth, pull off those Band-Aids and stride widely, Jeannine!
    The cap idea is neat. How about, “Slow writer. Pass on the left!”

  9. Thanks, Toby. I’ll be sure to save you a cap if they’re made! Meanwhile, if you hear a big “Ouch” harking down from Mass, you’ll know it’s temporary, necessary pain. And I am starting to see what’s underneath the bandage doesn’t look so bad.
    Have a great weekend. Spring!

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