I had been thinking about variety the other day when I posed a question to my colleagues: how do we get out of ruts? I often find myself gravitating towards not only the same themes and subjects, but the same types of poems. My answer to this has been to challenge myself to push against these in any way possible, whether it is formally, tonally, or via subject changes. And, while these poems seem challenging and dissimilar at the time of writing, there is no denying the fact that at the end of the day I am still writing the same kinds of poems: meditation pieces that dwell greatly on the contrast between the imagined and reality. Is it worth the bother, and the stress, in trying to escape myself?
The resounding answer seemed to be that being “stuck in a rut” was more of a psychological space than an actual problem. The fact that I am treating it as a problem and allowing it to bog me down is the actual issue. We are, as writers, writing ourselves in every piece, even if we try to separate ourselves out.
At first, I wasn’t sure I trusted this answer. Aside from just being stubborn, I couldn’t ignore that struggling against “the Patric poem” had produced some of my better works. After mulling this over, and fighting against my own dissociative thought processes, I realized that I had conflated two ideas into one. Pushing my comfort zones is different from removing myself from my own work. The “stuck in a rut” poems were not occurring because I was rehashing myself, but simply because I needed to write bad poems and they happened to be similar. And my good poems were not successful because I was unmaking myself, but because I was pushing myself harder to play with the language and form.
While it is hard to be proscriptive in when it comes to writing, I do think that the idea of a rut is detrimental, that it introduced the danger of giving us the permission (like writers block) to not work as much or as hard as we should. But, it is also dangerous to fall into the habit of contentment. We may always be writing ourselves, and our type of poems, but I think it is important to push our writing to growth.