you know, or something you
don’t know? Let me answer by going sideways. Write about what hurts.
I attended Colorado State University at the turn of the century (sounds so long ago when I phrase it that way), studying English Literature and Creative Writing. I had already published poetry but wanted to hone my skills, so I took a senior workshop course under the state’s poet laureate, Mary Crow.
The class was excellent. I submitted poetry and the class workshopped each piece. Later, Ms. Crow went over my work, praising some and making spot-on suggestions for most. One poem caused her to pause. She handed me the poem—no comments on the page—and said, “This subject isn’t worthy of you.” She was right.
So, what makes poetry (or prose) worthwhile? Craft matters, of course. What about the subject matter?
One of my writer’s groups discussed one member’s difficulty with a novel. The subject was autobiographical, and the writer in question kept restarting the project. Perhaps the subject was wrong: “Maybe you’re too close. Maybe you need a little distance.”
I disagree. I think that if a subject makes you uncomfortable, touches a raw nerve, and leaves you conflicted, then that subject is worth exploring. If the act of writing becomes painful (more so than usual), then the emotion may well find its way to the page. If too painful, you won’t finish, but if you finish, the work will be important because it’s important to you.
My advice—poke a wound.