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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lessons for Serious Writers Or "What They Didn't Tell Me in Grad School"

Well...maybe they did tell teach me  these things when I was a graduate student pursuing my Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry.

And maybe, like so many students, I was too busy reading, writing,  working, teaching classes, taking classes, raising a family, voting, cleaning, shopping, flossing, connecting and disconnecting etc., etc., etc.,  that I somehow missed these lessons. Or learned them and then had to re-learn them.

Regardless. If you are a serious poet pursuing the craft on your own or in a formal setting or simply a writer who has "been at it" for a while but needs to be reminded of some essentials...here are some lessons to visit and re-visit from time to time.

1) Read outside your comfort zone. 

2) Create and maintain a habit of writing. Be nice to your Creative Process Muse. Take her--or him--out to lunch once in a while. Buy flowers. Tell your Muse how much you appreciate all his--or her--efforts. Give hugs.

3) Write against yourself. Watch out for those linguistic "ticks" that we fall into--turns of phrases, images, syntactic patterns that you repeat over and again. Think of these repetitive "safe havens" as mere place holders for what you really want to write about.

4)  Respect what you can not yet do in your writing but are attempting to accomplish. You will get there. Keep trying. (Just look at the early work of some of the great poets.  They were not all perfect all the time. But they kept working and their vision was eventually realized.)

A corollary to #4: No matter how accomplished you become, do not become derivative of yourself. Keep it new.

5) Figure out what kind of relationship you want to have to the public relations side of writing, publishing and pubic readings. Do not conflate "famous" with "good poetry."

6) As importantly, understand that you will have to promote yourself, your books, your readings and your publishing house. Learn how to write a press releases. Learn how to write copy for your book. Learn how to set up readings. Once you learn these skills, keep polishing them.

7) If you want to get published for the first time and hoping to go with a small press, make sure you communicate to the publisher what you are willing to do to promote your book and the press it represents.

8) When giving a reading, practice beforehand. Time yourself.

9) If you are given a time limit for a reading, stick to it. Look at your audience. Smile every now and then. Give them a little bit of time between poems to let your words sink in. 

10) Be generous.  To other writers. To community organizers.  To anyone who loves poetry. It's a big world out there and people do not have to show up for your readings; they do not have to publish your work; they do not have to buy your books. And if people love poetry, let's be really really nice to them and congratulate them on contributing to the making of a vibrant literary culture.

11) If another writer does something nice for you--gives you information, networks for you, sets up a reading for you, introduces you to an editor...whatever...try to recognize it as a gift. And reciprocate in some way.

 12) Be kind. And be courteous.  Be polite.  People have long memories.

2 comments:

karmenghia said...

This is exactly what I needed to read today. Good advice for life in general. I have forgotten to do something nice for my muse lately and she has been working overtime...

Lois Roma-Deeley said...

So glad to hear this! Try writing a little about your creative process. What helps to get you writing "in the zone?"