Even if I had structured hours in which to write, let alone an entire day, I would mostly spend the time reading and taking notes and slowly circling and circling and circling around the actual writing. If you could separate the “writing” part from everything else, from research and reading to taking notes and sketching, the “writing” never amounts to much time. I write in bursts; every so often I’ll go through a phase where I’ll produce an entire project in a short amount of time and then go back to slowly gathering material and ideas and quotes and see what comes out of them all.
But, I don’t think you can really separate writing from its adjacent work. Like a lot of poets, I have a full-time day job. And like a lot of poets, I have probably too many commitments on the side: I run a small chapbook press with my wife, I write book and art reviews, I do contract freelance work when I can find it. So my writing process is really a gathering process throughout every day with occasional writing bursts in the cracks, when they appear. I try to filter most of what I do (with the exception of my day job) through a broad filter of my poetic interests. If I was a venn diagram, I’d be at the center with a mess of intersecting circles with subjects like space, visual art, sculpture, translation, architecture, language, etc. The broad, abstract nature of these interests allows me to relate whatever I happen to be reading or doing to my writing work in some way. To be more specific though, I’d say my writing practice is a way of working through the physicalities of language and how those aspects manifest in different ways, from sculpture and drawings to spoken and written language.
Writing art reviews and considering visual art is helpful in this regard. And reviewing books is also good practice, especially when the book being reviewed is one that speaks specifically to my work. Overall, I’ve found prose is a useful tool in that it contours thinking through language in ways that are very different than poetry, and it forces me to try and explain ideas and follow them through instead of a very poetic impulse of mine to obfuscate and blur and symbolize and then revel in all the possible readings!
I always have multiple books in my bag with me along with my sketchbook and notebook, and on a good day, I’m constantly writing things down and taking pictures with my phone and noting references to track down later and books to put on hold (I work at a library). The whole writing process is partly following various threads and seeing where they lead, say, reading Renee Gladman’s collection of architectural drawings and then an interview with an architect and then part of an art history textbook with a focus on ancient developments in monumental sculpture. The other part is just enjoying what comes my way, whether it’s a book I happen to stumble upon or a movie I end up seeing and figuring out how it relates to my own work.
Let it be said: I have no idea what I’m doing! I guess I’d call that writing.
Torin Jensen is a poet and translator living in Denver by way of Washington, D.C., Boise, and Missoula. He holds an MFA from Boise State University, and he's taught creative writing for BSU, the DC Public Library, and The Cabin Literary Center. His poetry and translations have appeared in numerous journals including The Volta, Asymptote, Radioactive Moat, Circumference, and the Harriet Foundation Poetry Blog, and he's the author of Phase-sponge [ ] the keep (Solar Luxuriance, 2014). His criticism has appeared in One Good Eye, Yes Poetry, and Entropy and he's the co-editor of Goodmorning Menagerie, a chapbook press for experimental poetry and translation.