Dorianne Laux on revision


Probably 90 percent of what any artist does is practice. We practice and we fail and we fail. You set your pen to the page every day, and of course, you’re hoping something grand will happen. But the chances are slim, and you know that going in, but you go in anyway. That’s faith. You keep hitting the page, hoping that something’s going to fit, something’s going to happen, something’s going to bloom up out of it. And the more you practice, the more that possibility of success is present. The more you do anything, the greater the possibility that something might actually come of it. So you constantly live with failure, and yet, you know that that failure is teaching you something.


B.F. Skinner discovered this thing, intermittent reinforcement, where you can reward somebody at random intervals. It might be the third time, and the next time it will be the twenty-fifth time, and the next time it’ll be the first time, and the next time it’ll be the eighty-seventh time. You can’t know when the reward is going to arrive, but that’s what keeps you going. It’s going to come sometime. And that’s all I care about. I don’t care if it comes the hundred and fiftieth time as long as it comes, and it’s a very powerful thing. Any time you happen upon a poem, your spirit, your entire body, is filled with this energy of that magic that has happened, and you’ll do anything to get back to it. You’ll do anything to find it again.


I don’t worry anymore about writing. There are times that I go through dry periods. I never go through a block. I’m always writing, but there are times where I’m just not on my game, and I’ll use that time to read some new poets, go see some art, walk down to the river and just stare at it, or have a conversation with my sister, or whatever—do whatever it is that I do in my life, hoping that I’ll get filled up enough. And something will happen, some juggling will happen and boom.