Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
After Page One: Process

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A guest post to motivate, encourage and inspire...


First Lines

The first poem I published as an adult was titled “Silence.” I found it on my laptop, and, strangely, I did not remember writing it.

As a novice writer, I thought that good writing was created by generating ideas and churning on them. Grateful for a relentless brain, I was always producing and refining. It was tedious work, and it produced many pages. But, that’s not how my best writing happens.

Instead, sometimes, first lines of stories and poems just show up—
unannounced. They offer intrigue and originality. Most often, these lines appear when I’m not writing and when a pen and paper are beyond my reach. They appear in the shower or in the middle of the night, ringing inside my head like a catchy tune. I repeat them until they are committed to memory so I can write them down later.

Eventually, I noticed the pattern—that the loveliest lines form when my mind is quiet. It’s as if my brain finds a few moments of silence, allowing thoughts that had been brewing someplace deeper to rise to the surface.

What surfaces might be a phrase or a concept, like the idea that grown children leave one by one, creating an imbalance in the family members left behind. The idea excites me, and I embrace it, making connections as quickly as I can. Leaving breaks up pairs. It means a single scissor, a single sock, or a single chopstick—things that don’t work well on their own. I gather those pairs that aren’t really pairs, and sort them, choosing those that connect the concept but also add rhythm and sound. I am careful not to overwork the words. Then, as quickly as they appeared, I leave them alone, overnight, perhaps longer. When I revisit the writing it is to rework the words. I am conscious of them now, and the process is more mathematical, cutting and slicing, metering and measuring the language for the greatest effect. I control these words; I don’t have to wait for them to show up.

I have experienced this writing phenomenon more than once. While at first it frightened me, I now understand that I am writing subconsciously. The words are not formed by my brain churning on them, like overworked pastry dough. They are fresh and random—birthed from someplace much deeper and perhaps, more wise.

As a mother writer, it is my children’s experiences that move me most. Sometimes, I don’t allow myself to ponder these experiences. I just let them be, like I’m stirring a pot inside, allowing the ideas to commingle. Other ingredients fall into the soup—things people say or don’t say. It all mixes up; it stews. Then, when I’m in the shower or have just turned out the light, the kitchen timer rings. Right away, the words must be served up on the page, without the brain changing them. The emotions have been stewing for a long time, but still they come out raw.

Julianne Palumbo’s poems, short stories, and essays have been published widely. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks Into Your Light (Flutter Press, 2013) and Announcing the Thaw (Finishing Line Press, 2014) and the founder of Mothers Always Write, an online literary magazine about motherhood.

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