A much-loved obstacle to my process.

A much-loved obstacle to my process.


Welcome, Poetry Friday Friends,

I know it may seem a little odd, but today I greet you not with a poem, but with two quotes I’ve been thinking about.

The first is from the photographer Sally Mann’s memoir Hold Still:

“Maybe you’ve made something mediocre–there’s plenty of that in any artist’s cabinets–but something mediocre is better than nothing, and often the near-misses, as I call them, are the beckoning hands that bring you to perfection just around the blind corner.”

I love the reminder here that producing something–anything–is worth the time. Sometimes I fall into the trap of feeling that the time I spent writing was wasted if I haven’t produced something I could share. Mann reminds me that I need to change my definition of progress. Progress can sometimes be the terrible poem or terrible draft that ended up crumpled on the floor. My favorite part of the quote is actually “blind corner.” There you are writing badly, again and again, and then, surprise, all that struggle and learning pays off, and you had no idea it was coming when it did.

The second quote I want to share is from the painter Chuck Close:

“All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.”

In a way it’s quite similar to what Mann says, but for me, this quote puts the emphasis on what’s happening during the process and the near-misses. That’s where the creativity lives and grows. It may be inching along, or going in the wrong direction, or striking hard and fast like lightning, but it’s happening while the artist is working, shooting film, painting canvas, typing words.

This week I was working on a poem about a lawyer at work. (I’ll explain another time.) I started off with a fairly clumsy and boring draft. I went back in. This time as the lawyer’s brain filled with facts, it became a carefully packed grocery bag and in the end an artichoke came out. I liked the artichoke, but I didn’t really think it worked for the subject. Okay, something full, but not a grocery bag, a tool box? That seemed promising until it was time for him to pull things out, and I realized I didn’t want him using a wrench or a screwdriver on anyone in the courtroom. I went back in, and this time his mind was like a map covered in streets and dotted with points of interest, and his argument was like giving someone directions. I could not possibly have come up with this staring at a screen. It was in the process, the work, the near-misses that I came to something better. It’s too early to say yet whether I’m done, but I do feel good about my progress.

Please leave your link below, and if you like, share some thoughts on process or even a favorite quote. I look forward to reading your posts.

Happy Poetry Friday!


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45 replies
  1. Ralph Steinglass
    Ralph Steinglass says:

    Thanks for sharing a really amazing truth. As we struggle to improve our art, or writing or music , progress is often hard to recognize because it is incremental and at times invisible. But it is good to remember and enjoy the process, no matter how slow it seems.

    • Liz Steinglass
      Liz Steinglass says:

      I guess we need to remember that all process is progress whether it feels like it or not. We should just feel good about sitting down and doing it. It’s hard to remember!

  2. Robyn Hood Black
    Robyn Hood Black says:

    Thanks so much for hosting, Liz! And that’s one beautiful office assistant. (I have one like that who likes to type if I forget to push the keyboard drawer back in when I leave the room.) Great post. I had the good fortune to hear April Pulley Sayre in a workshop once, and I wrote down something she said: “Some manuscripts are just compost for other manuscripts to grow” – or something akin to that. I love that image – so true!

  3. cbhanek
    cbhanek says:

    Thank you so much for hosting this week’s PF virtual get-together, and for making it possible–especially in light of the context of your provocative “get with it” post– for us to get the get-together going tonight:) Thank you for sharing those two “cut-to-the-chase” quotes, to which I totally relate. Analysis paralysis, procrastination from fear of failure, perfectionism…I am so there!..By contrast, I love the freeing idea of pursuing progress in the process, of fearlessly practicing “near misses” leading to proud “perfection” pinnacles around “blind corners.” …Quotes that comes to mind: “Better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” …”You gotta be in it to win it!”…and finally(?)..”Just do it!” God bless you! Thank you! I need your post!

  4. Brenda Davis Harsham
    Brenda Davis Harsham says:

    Thanks for hosting Poetry Friday. My first draft is never as good as the 8th. 🙂 I love how encouraging your words are to those of us polishing, grinding, throwing out and starting over. By the way, I’m a lawyer, and my head is always full of pictures. But I like your analogies a lot. Have a great weekend, Brenda

  5. Tabatha
    Tabatha says:

    Hi Liz! Thanks for sharing what you’ve been thinking about. Was it a Poetry Fridayer who shared a quote about first gathering the sand and THEN you can think about shaping a sand castle with it? Gathering the sand is part of the process/progress too. I enjoyed hearing about your lawyer poem. 🙂

  6. Heidi Mordhorst
    Heidi Mordhorst says:

    Love love love the artichoke –> screwdriver –> directions progression–and the progress. Your observations are so apt for the Found Objects project; none of my drafts are anything like polished or finished or even worthy, really, but each of them has taught me a little something. I note, though, that you’re not sharing your three lawyer drafts, while we are letting all our Found Object drafts hang out, baby. What part of the process do you think sharing the mediocre work is?

    Thanks for hosting, Liz!

    • Liz Steinglass
      Liz Steinglass says:

      Hi Heidi–I’m totally willing to share the mediocre. I’m quite sure I’ve done here many times! This lawyer poem is part of a project I hope someday to publish so I think I need to keep it off the web.

  7. Laura Purdie Salas
    Laura Purdie Salas says:

    Thanks for hosting–btw, the link in the Poetry Friday calendar goes to http://elizabethsteinglass.com/blog/ and people going there will not get to here, if that makes sense. I was looking for your roundup last night and earlier this morning and didn’t find it. Now I see it’s here and has been up a while.

    Love these quotes! This is so much what I try to focus on with young writers, the process itself. I’m bookmarking this to save and share those quotes. Happy Friday!

    • Liz Steinglass
      Liz Steinglass says:

      Laura, thanks for letting me know. I’ll have to think about whether there’s anything I can do to fix that. I’m glad you like the quotes!

  8. Michelle Heidenrich Barnes
    Michelle Heidenrich Barnes says:

    Such a great post on process today, Liz, and a great example you gave about the lawyer poem. (An interesting subject for a new collection, I hope!) It’s a post I needed to read because it got me thinking about what prevents me from sitting down to do the work. I like to think it’s a time management thing (and it is), but I’m pretty sure there’s also fear involved. Fear of frustration and writing something “bad.” Here’s one of my favorite quotes about process: “Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.” –August Wilson

  9. Laura Shovan
    Laura Shovan says:

    Hi, Liz. Your cat is gorgeous!

    The Sally Mann quote encapsulates what I’ve been hoping to do with the annual daily write-in. By writing every day and sharing that work, I hope everyone who’s participated moves a little closer to embracing the mediocre. It’s all practice, after all, and practice does move us closer to — maybe not perfect, but to what we imagine and hope when we set out to write something new.

    Poet Mike Ratcliffe is hosting the Day 26 Found Object poems at his new blog: https://michaelratcliffespoetry.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/2016-found-object-poem-project-day-26/

  10. margaretsmn
    margaretsmn says:

    I am visiting this morning empty handed. I hate coming to the party without a gift, but your post helped me to understand that it’s OK. I don’t have to produce something every week. There are some days that just making the motions is enough. Maybe I’ll be inspired and link up later. One can always hope. Have fun with this hosting. Such a wonderful group of people!

    • Liz Steinglass
      Liz Steinglass says:

      Hi Margaret, I am surprised every time by the work that happens subconsciously (or even unconsciously). Sometimes the work just needs to percolate while you’re doing something else. I often get unstuck by going for a walk or simply walking away. So, you’re not really empty-handed, after all!

  11. Irene Latham
    Irene Latham says:

    Hi Liz – thank you for these thoughts on process… I am a new-ish cello player, and this week faced something of a crisis when I realized I could not accomplish this one technique, and I was ready to heave the cello in the river! It took a conversation with my husband, who has had to come to terms with his limitations as a golfer and STILL LOVES IT, to help me find my way again. I’ve learned so much, come so far! There are pieces I love to play, and sure, maybe there are many I will never play, but that’s not why I do it. xo

    • Liz Steinglass
      Liz Steinglass says:

      Thank you for sharing your struggles with us! We miss so much pleasure if we get too focused on perfection or even feeling we need to attain a “professional” level.

  12. dmayr
    dmayr says:

    Here’s a quote from Amelia Earhart: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”

    For me, this quote is right on. If I can’t get started, I won’t even get to point where I can enjoy the process. Thanks for great discussion!

  13. Penny Parker Klostermann
    Penny Parker Klostermann says:

    Liz, I absolutely love the quotes you shared and I really needed them. I’ve been working so hard on revisions for a story that has already seen many revisions. I know it’s not one I’ll crumple up and throw away. I know it has potential, but I have to have patience with the process and that’s so hard. So your post really spoke to me today. Thanks!

  14. Violet Nesdoly
    Violet Nesdoly says:

    Your quotes are so apt, Liz and the examples of how the process works for you! Thank you — and for hosting too. (I also love your website, with its photo “toolbar’ [is that what it’s called?] at the top.

  15. Karen Edmisten
    Karen Edmisten says:

    “Sometimes I fall into the trap of feeling that the time I spent writing was wasted if I haven’t produced something I could share.”

    Yes! So true. Great post. And a beautiful photograph of your much-loved obstacle. 🙂

  16. hmmmmm
    hmmmmm says:

    Great reminders Liz.
    Here’s another:
    “Genius is more often found in a cracked pot than in a whole one.”
    (a little tangential, but related too, I think)

  17. katswhiskers
    katswhiskers says:

    I think what you’ve described here is the beauty (and sometimes frustration?) of writing rhyming picture books. The poetry takes your story places you’d never considered; whole new possibilities. Thanks for hosting this week, and for sharing your ponderings.

  18. jarhartz
    jarhartz says:

    This is a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: process vs. product. Your words add in the concept of progress. I was edging toward that but hadn’t put the word into the mix. So important. Thank you.


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