I just finished reading Nancy Lynee Woo’s book, Bearing the Juice of it All (Finishing Line Press), and I’m in love. Her language is visceral and gripping, her work honest and probing, her structure both sharp and layered. When she agreed to be on The Poetry Saloncast with me and Kelly, I thought we would spend our entire interview with Nancy talking about how to make language stab and explode, to sing and to seduce. However, I was surprised to find that we spent most of our time talking about the process.
I loved hearing about Nancy’s sense of discipline, self-awareness and boldness in deciding to create. In our wide-ranging interview she spoke of how to be a world literary citizen in a way that is personally fulfilling. She discussed how she wrestles with her critic, how she invokes the muse, how she got past her initial resistance to developing a daily writing practice, and what publication means to her now.
Here Are my biggest takeaways:
1. Create a Mission Statement for Your Life
Nancy wears a lot of hats as a writer, a writing teacher, and a self-employed entrepreneur. Sometimes writing and publishing falls by the wayside. Something that has helped her is that she has created a mission statement for her life, which is “to see creativity flourishing everywhere.” Sometimes when she’s focused on teaching instead of publishing, she turns to this statement and asks, “Am I following my mission statement by helping others create?” (As someone who teaches and writes myself, I completely identify with and appreciate this advice.)
2. Develop a Daily Practice
This can be very difficult. Nancy herself admits that she’s spent a lot of time resisting the idea of writing every day. She had a voice that said “You can’t do this every day. You have bills to pay. You’re crazy.” One thing that really shifted this was the pandemic. She lost some clients, and then started the Rise and Shine morning writing group where she hosted a writing session every morning for others. This has helped her stay accountable to writing every day and helped others get inspired at the same time. One of the benefits of writing every day is that it helps poems flow out.
3. Treat it like a Practice, like Running or Yoga
Just because she writes every day doesn’t mean every day produces a terrific poem. What I found really fascinating is that Nancy says she gets a good poem about once every ten days or so, but that doesn’t mean the other nine days of writing are wasted. She thinks of the writing like a practice, like running a marathon. To prepare for a marathon you need to do lots of non-productive running. It’s not just the day of the marathon that counts, but all the hours you put in training. “There’s a lot that goes into writing besides writing,” she says, like reading and talking about writing and even free-writing. When a poem comes out full, it’s because she was writing incomplete poems for days in advance.
4. Know Why You Are Sharing Your Work
Some of Nancy’s poems are quite personal. She herself admits that when she wrote the one she shared with us on the podcast, it “flood(ed) her body with cortisol, the stress hormone. It was easy to write and difficult to read.” Yet, she points out that once the poem is written, it doesn’t belong to her anymore. “I do have a duty to share the things that I think will be a gift or a benefit or somehow interesting for others…”
5. Share Your Work on Free Forums
Should you publish on social-media or other self-publishing venues? This is an answer I found really interesting. Many of us who write “professionally” want to build our resumes, but many of us who write also develop our own followings. In some ways, when we know we have a piece that cries out for readers, we don’t really need the “gatekeepers” as much anymore.
“I got overwhelmed. I took a few years off of publishing to determine what I wanted my role to be (in the literary world)… and I’ve come around to the realization that, yes, I do want to share… I do want to practice publicly. What that means for me is that I’m letting go of a need for validation. I have a goal in the long-run to publish widely, and reach a wider audience, but I’m not going to send poems to journals that may take six months to respond. Right now, I’m just going to start sharing my work… This piece I shared on my Facebook page and am already getting responses.”
And now, of course, she’s sharing it here, with us. We’re sharing it with you.
Nancy Lynee Woo is a terrific force with language. However, what I’m struck by is that she is one who has thought, felt and reflected deeply on what she is doing. She seems to have mastered the writing process, not in the sense that everything she writes comes out perfect the first time, but that she has an equanimity about what to expect from writing, getting past the inner critic, and creating for purposes greater than success and fame. I hope by listening to this interview you too are encouraged to reflect on your “life mission” and find the best way to make creativity a part of your day.