Ideal Conditions for Writing? Hear Ye, Hear Ye!

What are ideal conditions for writing? Far be it for me to offer advice, but since you didn’t ask, I’ll relent.

First of all, it is a myth that poetry, unlike it’s more verbose cousins (novels, plays, essays) is best written on paper. Sure, many famous poets wax poetic (what else?) about blue ink on long yellow legal pad, but me, I find the blizzard-like beauty of Word-.docx white just as enticing. Why? To preserve erasers. Nothing gets revised as many ways to Sunday as a poem suffering birthing pains. The confetti of eraser sheddings gets bothersome.

Writing position? As the Poles say, in their poetic way, on your dupa. (If you’re Polish and notice a misspelling, please forgive me.) I love Mark Twain, but never understood his elderly habit of writing in bed. Isn’t there a famous blues song, after all, called “Don’t Write in Bed”? (Ear worm works its way into my cochlea.)

Writing atmosphere? We cannot control the high and low pressure systems the Weather Gods (and their inept interpreters — read: meteorologists — on TV) send our way, but we can adjust ambience. For me, poetry is best written to classical music. Reason? The aforementioned ear worm. It doesn’t turn and do its night crawl when the music lacks lyrics.

Music with lyrics is like someone reading over your shoulder. Or worse, someone whispering another man’s poem in your ear while you are trying to compose your own. Have you ever tried to recall a song while another is playing? It puts the caco- in cacophony, let me tell you.

Some of my favorites? I love the Estonian wonder, Arvo Pärt, and his tintinnabulation. Kind of like Poe’s bells, bells, bells, only Pärt does it with more than bells. Like Bach, he’s also fond of repetition. Wave upon wave of musical refrain and echo and repetition. Are these not musical tools in the poet’s toolbox, too?

When Pärt is not around, I go with Johann Sebastian himself. Or Sibelius, whose music has a nice Finnish to it (don’t groan–the Bard is fond of puns, too, and no one groans).

Finally, before I sit down to classical music at the word processor and begin to write, I like to read good poetry for at least a half hour. Wonderful word play by masters sets the tone. Inspires. Fools you into saying, “Shoot. I can do that!” And, make no mistake, this conceit must be present, even if it is a wild conceit.

Results may vary, as they say. As will definitions of “ideal.” As long as you have some, that’s all. As long as you could write this column, too.



  1. I can’t bear Poe’s jingles. All that self-conscious manipulation of sound…cloying and annoying. Swinburne is less famous than Poe but almost as irritating with his relentless sound-wanking. You wanna affect your reader in a profound way? Don’t hit the bells over and over and over, and don’t chew the scenery.

                            for Mick
Poe wrote “To Helen,”
    considered by many
    one of the great love poems.

    I don’t get it.  “Nicean barks”
    & “the glory that was Greece,”
admirable phrases, I admit,

but to paraphrase Tina Turner,
    what’s love got to do with them?

    Poe visualizes Helen as a statue
    in a niche, all marmoreal ‘n shit.

    A Poe event: mice have invaded
    our home.  My love?  She
    baits the traps with organic,
    salt-free peanut butter.


  2. You just proved that there are many Muses. I know yours does a good job. Mine also prefers Classical music or silence, but my first drafts are always on paper. I believe I contact my subconscious better that way, but it may be because I have my feet up, too. When the weather is just right (rare in Kansas City), I sometimes enjoy writing outside to the music of the birds. Alarie


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