SFBM- Tell me about your latest book and why you wrote it.
DB- Gathering the Self: Poems from the Heart is a collection of thirteen poems penned between 1982 and the present, followed by a commentary about each poem. I explore the ways writing can be used to uncover truths about the self which don’t reveal themselves without a fight. In addition, writing is a heck of a lot cheaper than therapy.
I’m curious about the person that I am: the contradictions, complexity, and unexpected surprises that emerge from the digging into the self…but only if I am willing to listen to my own words, telling me what I would often rather not know.
SFBM- What kind of challenges did you come up against while you were writing?
DB- The biggest two challenges were paring down the writing and making it intelligible to the reader. I’m too wordy. I discovered, partly with the help of a good editor and partly from practice, that two out of three words could be thrown out without losing any meaning. In fact, it’s a chance to clarify the writing. The result also has more “snap.”
Making my meaning intelligible to the reader was also a challenge. As a writer, we tend to be immune to misunderstanding our own work. After all, we wrote it. Again, my editor helped me to see my own work from the eyes of an outsider. When she marked “Don’t get this!” in the margins, I could see that others might not “get” what I had known all along. Nor should they be expected to! It’s the writer’s job to present material in as crystal-clear a form as possible. That skill came with practice (and not a few trips back to the editor!). I learned a great deal in the process. The editing was also a chance to refine my meaning, which often evolved along the way as I worked and reworked the writing, gaining a better understanding of exactly what I had to say.
SFBM- Can you attribute your writing skills to any teacher you have had in the past?
DB- I remember a high school English teacher who somehow had the rare skill of making me want to work hard to produce a piece of writing that she would like. My mother was also a writer and had a great influence on me as a child. There were skills and awareness that I didn’t realize I had absorbed, until I began writing in earnest myself.
SFBM- What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
DB- For me, self-doubt gets in the way of my creativity. You could call it an “anti-Muse,” there not to help and guide me, but to thwart my every effort. Or we can name it ‘Fear’ and be equally accurate. I am quite convinced most of the time that my writing is the most execrable product on the planet.
A great aid in overcoming this self-doubt has been contact with the writings of others, especially those who write about the process of writing. There I discover that every artist since Adam has faced a similar fear, and that it is in fact part of the process. If I’m afraid, then I must be doing it right, and if I’m truly terrified — well, that’s when I guess I’m really on top of my game!
SFBM- Does ego help or hurt writers?
DB- Ego is neutral. It can be used either as helpful ally or self-inflicting weapon. Without some ego, it’s hard to get anything done; ask any rock star. But too much ego can get in the way of honest and likeable writing.
In my case, I inherited a bad case of narcissism that I believe it is my task in life to overcome. I am either grandiose (his Puffiness) or despicable (I’ll have the worms, thank you), and there is no Mr. In-Between. My tendency is to regard every word dripping from my pen as if manna from the lips of God. When I write from that place, the writing is always crap and the reading of it truly unbearable.
Any work I might produce that sizzles is usually generated from a place of sincerity and honesty, and sometimes feels as if it is writing itself. If I could figure out how to locate that point on a map, I’d be in heaven. I’d build a summer home there. Meantime there are at least ways to encourage that sensibility, to entice the Muse. I am still working on that.
SFBM- Has publishing your first book changed your process of writing?
DB- The process of writing and publishing, and that of having competent editors help clarify my writing and make it more concise, has developed habits that spill over into everything I write — poetry, prose, fiction, even marketing copy. The concepts are universal.
When my editor highlights a paragraph with “this seems preachy to me,” I am at first wounded, but quickly healed when I realize hey, it felt preachy to me, too. When she highlights the first three stanzas of a poem with the comment, “This is fun!”, then the next two with “This is not,” it forces me to see that it wasn’t fun for me to write, either, and to recognize the next time that I find myself bogged down in not-fun, and just throw that writing into the trash can. Usually whatever is painful to write, feels like pulling teeth, is equally painful and unrewarding to read.
These skills stay, once they’re learned, and soon become incorporated into the process forever.
SFBM- What was your hardest scene to write?
DB– At one point in an upcoming novel, I am writing from the narrative of a Catholic priest who is about to sexually molest one of his acolytes. I was sexually abused as a child by a trusted counselor, and for that reason the scene was very difficult to write. And thinking about putting this into a book put me into a panic. Revealing the writing to the world was revealing my own shame. Moreover, I wanted to show the priest as a sympathetic character, so that the reader would understand his motivation and psychology. This also helped me to see that the “shadow” side lives in all of us, and to understand the humanity of the priest character…which made him much more believable.
SFBM- What does literary success look like to you?
DB- I am sitting in my room, reading a book. Nearby are several other favorites, novels, poems, writings of all stripes. Quantum physics. Tarzan of the Apes. Winnie-the-Pooh. Rumi. John McPhee on Oranges. Origin of Species. Emerson. Sherlock Holmes. If You Can Read, You Can Cook. The Stargazer’s Guide.
Nearby is also my journal, and the computer, and a notepad, and some random slips of paper I’ve written dreams on from the bedside, or little thoughts that occur at 3AM, or just scribbled groceries lists. I put down the book I’m reading and start leafing randomly through all my writings until one stays in my hand. The pen comes out of the pocket….an hour and a half later I realize I’m starving hungry.
Dreams of “making it big” or, God forbid, “making a killing,” do occasionally inflict themselves on me, but luckily, they just give me a crashing headache. My dream is to touch the hearts of others, and to be touched in return. It’s gratifying to sell a book, but even more gratifying when someone tells me they enjoyed it.
SFBM- What’s your favorite line from any movie?
DB- From “The Princess Bride”:
“Why didn’t you wait for me?”
“Well…you were dead!”
“Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.”
David Bayard inherited a love of nature, science, self-discovery and writing from his physicist father, and a writer and psychologist mother. His life has been filled with creative pursuits including a circus roustabout, lead guitar player, singer, homesteader, forester, hippie, artist, handyman, home re-modeler, woodworker, furniture maker, photographer, writer, poet, and Army Lieutenant.
David owns Samurai Woodworks where he builds custom furniture and Skyboy Photos, an e-commerce website offering custom greeting cards, calendars and photos of nature. He currently resides in Missouri with his wife, dog, and cats. His favorite hobby is meeting new and interesting people ~ and he says they are all interesting! You can read more about David and his creative works on the Skyboy Photos website.