Blog Tour on the Writing Process

I've been tagged by the beautiful and talented Alexandria Perry to do a blog post on my process. Here goes!

1. What are you working on?

Hmmm. Maybe a better question is, “What am I not working on?” Besides prepping for classes and planning for the 2015 Massachusetts Poetry Festival, I am spending the last weeks of summer jump-starting two projects.

My third manuscript is begging for attention. In June, I arranged my poems into a kind of order. I wanted to see if I could get them to talk to one another—they’re not, not even on speaking terms. But, by beginning the process of arranging an order, I know what needs to be revised. I now have a working title, and I know what holes need to be filled. Now, I just need to do it. Ugh.

Also, there’s a project that I’ve had in the works for more than a year that. It’s a series of poems based the histories of slaves who lived in the town I live in now (Beverly, MA). The idea grew out of my need to know more about where I’m living now, where I'm raising my biracial kids in a world where President Obama is the only president they've ever known. A project like this requires time and research, so I have to figure out how to consistently work on this project. The progress will be incremental, but it’s still progress.

2. How does your work differ from others in the same genre?

This is an odd question. My first instinct is to say that’s for the reader to decide.

 Here’s the description for my second book, Misery Islands, which will be published this fall:

Misery Islands blends the geographical and metaphorical landscapes of family, divorce, and the choices we make to find out who we are truly meant to be. These poems navigate the waters of transition with exuberance and reflection, as O’Neil discovers new ways to make the ordinary extraordinary.
Again, that's for the reader to decide.

3.Why do you write what you do?

I write very much in the present, so I’m hoping the new projects I’m working on take me out of that mode. I don’t think a poet has to go far to find subject matter for poetry. The biggest thing is being willing to fail, and by fail I mean starting a poem or freewrite that may go nowhere. Every time I sit down to write, my whole body, my whole being is asking, "What am I willing to risk?"

I am happiest when I’m writing for myself, with no expectations or demands on the outcome. I'm comfortable writing poems that may never see the light of day, because that’s the writing I do for me. Of course, I’m thrilled when a line or poem I’ve published resonates with someone. But I write for me—I am my first, best audience.

4. How does your writing process work?

It changes each season/semester. And my process is certainly different from how I wrote two, five, even 10 years ago. Ideally, I try to write in the mornings before I’m fully awake, before the first cup of tea. But with two kids and a hectic schedule, I have learned to write anywhere—when my students try the prompts I give in class, or during the kids' baseball and Tae kwondo practices. Laptop or journal—doesn’t matter.

Sometimes I vent about not writing with on this blog or with poet-friends, but I try to keep it at a minimum. Insert butt-in-chair and write. There's no secret to writing. You just have to do it, and be prepared to bad poetry until you get to something good.

Next up: Carolee Bennett and Susan Rich:

Both are on vacation (and I haven’t officially heard from Susan, but I’m hoping she responds). When they post their responses, I’ll let you know. Hey, it's August!

Also, check out posts by Alexandria Peary and Laura Mullen.


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