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NPM Daily / Distractions in the Writing Process


Jessica Poli is the author of two chapbooks: Glassland (JMWW, forthcoming) andThe Egg Mistress (Gold Line Press, 2013). She is the Editor of Birdfeast, a Poetry Editor at Salt Hill Journal, and is currently an MFA candidate at Syracuse University. 

It’s 12:09 a.m. I have 11 tabs open on my laptop, I’m waffling between 4 different playlists for background music, and I just finished watching 3 episodes in a row of The Walking Dead. It’s been almost a month since I came home from AWP in Seattle, and I haven’t written a single line of poetry.

Distractions are everywhere to be found for a writer trying to ignore the fact that they’re not writing. The common reaction is to try to get rid of them—invest in a word processing application that doesn’t allow you to open Facebook, or go old-fashioned and lock yourself in a room with nothing but a pen and paper. This is not without good reason—at one point you do, in fact, need to tune out everything around you and just get the words down.

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about that time before you start writing—my last few weeks, for example. And I’ve been realizing that for me, at least, distractions can be (and often are) part of the process. At some point, one of my 11 browser tabs will catch my interest in a way that might make a line of poetry zap through my head. When Syracuse isn’t hurling snow at me, I like to walk or bike around my neighborhood, and more often than not those walks will trigger something that will eventually end up in a poem. Hell, even an episode of The Walking Dead might strike me in a way that makes me need to write a zombielicious sonnet. This all seems like pointing out the obvious—writers making observations of the world and then, well, writing about them—but I’ve noticed a small trend in writers feeling guilty for some of this “wasted time.”

A standard small-talk question within my MFA program is some variation on “So, have you been writing a lot lately?” This is always a tough one for me to answer, because I tend to write in waves; I’ll spend a few weeks not writing a word, then churn out ten poems in a couple coffee-hazed days. What interests me is the idea that not writing is somehow bad—that if a writer isn’t producing or editing work regularly, they’re failing in some way. This isn’t necessarily everyone’s attitude or reaction to a writer not writing. But try and answer the above question with anything involving a “No,” and there’s a solid chance you’ll be shot a sympathetic look or a concerned “Why not?”

Making a habit or ritual of daily writing is one process, and I’m not saying it’s a bad one. What I will say is this: embrace whatever process gets you results. And if that process includes the occasional Netflix binge, don’t feel bad about it. Embrace your distractions, the things that get you away from that blank page or blinking cursor. For me, the most valuable time I spend isn’t with a pen in my hand; it’s the time right before that, the time leading up to whatever made me want to pick up the pen in the first place.

My distractions today are Fleetwood Mac and spring cleaning. I dare you not to write a poem today.

Just got my copies of the newest issue of Whiskey Island, and holy guacamole is it good. I have three new poems in it; here’s one of them, plus a killer by Ruth Baumann. And with so many people I love in here (Caroline Cabrera, Chris Emslie, RJ Ingram, Kyle McCord, Karissa Morton, Gale Marie Thompson, Corey Zeller and more), this is definitely my favorite issue of anything I’ve ever been in. If you haven’t already, order this thing.

midnight city books

Our press has a website, finally! Check it out for short amounts of info, our hopes and dreams, plus links to excerpts from our first forthcoming title.


I have some new Alexia poems in the very first issue of NightBlock, which should be your new favorite magazine. Other work in the issue from Matt Bell, Taylor Collier, Bruce Covey, Caroline Crew, John Gallaher, Lily Ladewig, Nate Pritz, Yanira Rodriguez, and Joshua Young.

Here's to our 2014 Poetry Contest winners

There’s a section of my poem “Winter Enchiridion” over at the Sonora Review today, which won third place in their contest. And Justin Carter for the win! Good company to be in.

in which I am hopelessly in love with my new tattoo.

done by Lisa Orth @ Alleged Tattoo in Seattle.