I recently completed a collection of nine poems that roughly cover my daughters’ lives from birth through high school. The project took about four months to complete. My vision was that theseI recently completed a collection of nine

I recently completed a collection of nine poems that roughly cover my daughters’ lives from birth through high school. The project took about four months to complete.

My vision was that these poems be ordered chronologically1. I wanted each poem to give a different perspective, build on the one before, carry the reader though the girls’ lives. But, the final draft of the last poem turned so nostalgic and emotionally sweet, that I ground to a halt. The collection had turned into a struggle and was now ending in an overworked cliché. So, I did what I have learned to do any time a bit of writing turns into a slog – I cut it, just as I had several poems before it.  Only then did the lights come on and a door open that I had not seen. Now, with the ending gone, I saw my freedom. I printed all the poems and laid them out on the ping-pong table where I write and I reordered them, an order which allowed them to breath and find their own space. Once I made this decision, the collection fell2 into place.

Writing is like this. As writers we can come to see that what we thought was useful structure is really self-imposed constraint that does nothing toward producing or realizing the final piece. Like all epiphanies of the craft, once this is spotted, nothing can happen until the structure (or whatever it is we’ve imagined) is thrown out. Also, like other realizations, once the thing is resolved, the piece is released, progress gushes and the writer has trouble keeping up. The piece jumps ahead toward the finish and you are off, bounding along again.

1An artificial constraint which once appeared attractive and helpful.

2 Normally “fell” would suggest effortlessness. Never true in writing. By “fell” I mean the next steps became rather obvious and natural and the piece (rather than I) regained control.