Joy: Thoughts on Attempting to Write My First Book

I am working on my first book manuscript. Well, I mean for real this time. Let me explain. I have attempted to assemble first book manuscripts several times before, each for different reasons and to varying success. However, this time is different.

The first time I tried to assemble a manuscript, it was only a couple years into me taking writing poetry seriously. To be fair, my attempt to assemble a book should be categorized more as an experiment--an exercise--rather than work done with any assumption to have a finished project. It was a disaster, but a disaster I enjoyed trying to make.

A few years later, I assembled a creative MA thesis. Again, this was an attempt at a first manuscript, and, again, it felt more like an exercise than an actual finishing of a "book." Mind you, the poems were stronger and I had a much better sense of how poems and poetry collections worked as a whole, but my thesis was padded with clumsy experiments and imitations--pieces that never quite got off the ground.

Which brings me to last year. I actually finished a book manuscript. It was real. When I proofread the last draft, I knew it was done. Some of the poems had been published in journals I respected. It had a strong narrative arc. My poetry friends also thought it was ready to brave open submission periods. But here's the thing: I didn't really like it all that much. Sure, it was a complete work, but also a work that told a story I wasn't so interested in telling. It was my story, yes, but it felt like a narrative that was the means to getting somewhere--not an end.

When I was finishing the manuscript I abandoned last year, I had a bit of an epiphany: that I was finally arriving at my material. I am hesitant to use a word that smacks so much of religion, but the revelation arrived that I was about to start writing the book I really wanted to write. This is a strange realization to have when you think you are finishing a book project, but I was just finding my voice and story.

So here I am: plugging away on my first book. In fact, I am further along than I seem to imply. It seems to me that writing is all about failed attempts, about the muddling along until the real material presents itself. I am grateful for the many poems I have written to discover my own aesthetic, and I am extremely grateful to be crafting material I am excited about. What is the story, the material? Well, it has something to do with the word "joy." The rest, I am still working on.

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