on showing your work (again)
And, today, I’m thinking about it again because of the newest interview with Monica Youn, where she says:
I think the mantra that I had in my head at all times, in all caps, was, “SHOW YOUR WORK.” If you’re going to say these things, don’t say them from some omniscient perspective. Show both what you know and what you don’t know. Show your learning process and your sources. Show the partial perspective, the inner conflicts, all of it.
Of course, there are plenty of ethical and collaborative reasons to cite your sources and explicitly name the texts with which you’re in conversation. It’s, of course, part of being a good literary citizen.1
Obviously, yes: give credit where credit is due—but also maybe just give credit because it makes your own writing process and practice so much more interesting. I love learning what (and whom) the writers I love are reading. It’s fascinating to learn what informs an author’s work, whose words are echoing around their skull. And, when a writer gives me that insight—via social media, or an interview, or in the work itself—it feels like getting to go backstage and meet the band after a good concert.
As an example: I tried to give a little shoutout to writers who have had similar concerns in my zine “Lust Empire”—which is part of a longer project-in-progress & cites writers like Kate Greenstreet, Jennifer Chang, Ana Božičević, T. Fleischmann, Sarah Manguso, & Kathleen Woodward.
In case you’re interested, you can read a scanned version for free below. Or you can buy a physical copy at the link above.
Anyway, here are some more quotations from writers about showing their work:
I […] strongly believe that citation is a form of love, so I try to build it into my work, whether in the book or online, where if you ever are curious about the structure of something or how I got there, I try to make it easy to find my references. And take it forward on your own terms. because at the end of the day, I grew up on tumblr, you know? I grew up creating my own library of references. Any of the work that I do, I'm always going to try to build in that library, because none of this knowledge is mine. I didn't pull it from the air, but I worked to discover these things and find access so I could share them with other people and use them together. It's never about hoarding knowledge, I want us to survive the world together.
I always thought of the “Notes” as love notes to the people, places, texts, and conditions essential to the writing. Foremost, they were places to proclaim love.
I recently led a graduate class called The Critical Imagination. My colleague Rachel Feder visited and spoke about “expanding the citation” – ways that as writers we might invite, include, and acknowledge collaborative energies vital to our processes.
Her ideas moved me and gave me a framework to think about generosity and reciprocity as sacred technologies that belongs in books. And I’d add, in classrooms, faculty meeting rooms, and in every space. In death spaces. In throw away spaces. And I want to think of spaces and books as zones (that can be) wired for this generosity/reciprocity so that we might increase the possibility for discernment and revelation to have places at our tables.
It's ALL Collaboration. Anyone who ever fed you, loved you, anyone who ever made you feel unworthy, stupid, ugly, anyone who made you express doubt or assuredness, every one of these helped make you. Those who learn to speak with authority to mask their own self-loathing, those may be the deepest influences on us. But they are part of us. And we have each fit together uniquely as a result, and so there are no misshapen forms as all are misshapen forms, from tyrants to wallflowers. Every poem written is filtered through the circumstances of the poet, through the diet of the poet. Just as unique is every reader of poems, for a thousand different readers of a poem equals a thousand diferent poems. We are here relying on one another wheter or not we wish it. There are no poets writing in quiet caves because every poet is a human being as misshapen as any other human being. The room can be as quiet as possible, earplugs can be administered, but the poet still has a parade of influence running inside from one ear to the other. The quiet room cannot blot them out; it can however help the poet listen closer to this music for their own creation. We are not alone in our particular stew of molecules and the sooner we admit, even admire the influence of this world, the freer we will be to construct new chords of throught without fear.
Have a great weekend—
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& CAConrad says it well: “No one inspires me more, and spurs me into writing more, than my peers.”