Matthew M C Smith on making the hard yards on your creative journey
So you want to be a poet? You want to get your work widely-published, build up a back catalogue, a reputation, a readership? Here are some vital tips to grow as a writer...
1. Read, read, read a bit more - it goes without saying that aspiring poets and writers need to read widely and regularly. It's no good relying on your school or college education thirty years ago or rehashing the lyrics of your favourite bands. Times have moved on and limited reading can make for limited work. There's no issue with still reading Tennyson or Longfellow, Whitman, Dickinson, Eliot, e.e. cummings, Langston Hughes, Dylan Thomas, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath or Allen Ginsberg; nor an issue with writing lyrics that lean on your listening of Bob Dylan, Dr Dre or Eminem. What about writers in the here and now? Why not invest in some very recent/ contemporary poets. Recommended: Maya Angelou, Gillian Clark, Mary Oliver, Louise Gluck, Jericho Brown, Carol Ann Duffy, Liz Berry, John McCullough to get you going!
2. Try out spoken word events and writing workshops - road test your poetry at live events. It's usually a sympathetic audience and sometimes the nerves are good nerves that propel you forward. You'll almost certainly meet new buddies and sharpen up as a writer.
3. Invest - any hobby or pursuit will invariably cost money and writing is no different. If you want to improve your fitness, you may get a sports watch, pricey trainers, join a gym or running club - it can be an expensive business. In writing, purchasing books, signing up for workshops, paying competition and submission fees can make a financial impact. It can be costly to travel to events, such as open mics and spoken word events. I buy a lot of second-hand poetry books from a local Oxfam and set aside money to enter competitions or pay small fees for submitting. I know that I will rarely get paid to do a feature spot - that's how it is in this most uncommercial of fields. Some writers won't get out of bed unless they complete a grant application. There's not much money out there - see it as vocation and a passion first and foremost. Why not invest in the following? Recommended: Take out a subscription to The Poetry Society or Poetry Wales.
4. Develop a warrior spirit - however you participate in the world as a writer, you'll need guts and resilience, just as if you were playing a team sport. You will get rejections, see other people get opportunities above you, experience negativity or criticism (or other strange behaviour!), feel downhearted when you don't always get much response, book sales or getting reviews are a struggle and it all feels very slow. Recommended: follow the adreamingskin blog for writing opportunities (Angela T. Carr does a brilliant job)
5. Be anti-elitist and be open to most opportunities - the writing world is no different from the real world. There are visible and invisible hierarchies. There are places where your face, personality, or words won't fit and always other writers that are better at mingling, networking and social climbing. Have a go, have some persistence but if it's not working for you look at other opportunities. Submit widely - sometimes the smaller publishing houses will help you more, for example, nominate your work for awards, promote your work, be supportive in a personalised way. Keep it real. Remember - if you support other writers, regardless of their status, they'll be more inclined to support you! Don't just try to befriend the influential, important people! Recommended: follow other writers on social media - ones whose work you are drawn to and boost them regularly. Boost works/ projects by other writers and follow across platforms. Look at writing opportunities with indie presses, as well as the more established. Consider participating in TopTweetTuesday on Twitter, a poetry sharing event each Tuesday.
6. Keep a writing routine - even if it's ten minutes a day, do it every day. Write in your notes section on your phone, keep a small, pocket-sized journal. You could aim for a word count each day. Writing is not about divine inspiration and pure genius flowing out. It's also about being mechanical and routinistic. Recommended: Try 10 - 30 minutes writing each day, as a minimum but if you can't work like this, do it your way!
Written by Matthew M.C. Smith, author of The Keeper of Aeons.