Anticipation, persistence and um… hairy legs

Although there were a couple of crappy things that happened in February – family illnesses and me managing to dent my husband’s car (don’t ask!) I was just thinking today that I would miss February. I think it’s because I actually like really like this in-between time of year. I’m all about anticipation. As Kipper the dog in the all-time classic Kipper’s Christmas Eve by Mick Inkpen (a wonderful name for a writer, don’t you think?) says:

Which is best I wonder? Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? Presents or expecting presents? Who knows?

He too, like me, comes to the conclusion that expecting presents i.e. anticipation is better than gratification. (Though gratification has its good points too!)

February was also a fairly productive month for me, which made me happy. Despite being ill on and off I managed to finish a couple of short stories and send off quite a few submissions. And yes, another reason I like February is because of the whole ‘love’ thing. Any excuse to eat chocolates and to go out for a meal with my husband is appreciated. I also got to have an actual real meet up with local friends, which was lovely too. 🙂

I’m hoping that the odd submission will ‘take’ (although, I know the chances are always slim) but in the meantime, while I’m trying to patiently wait for the results – I’ve been waiting for a year to hear about one submission! – I am squeezing as much pleasure as I can from the knowledge that all this creating is helping to move my writing forward. And today I was reminded (by a meme on Twitter, of all things) that:

Through readiness and discipline, we are the masters of our fate.

Bill Paxton

Also, as I flicked through my lovely Mslexia diary – a gift from my most trusted supporter, my husband – I spotted this quote from the most excellent Octavia Butler:

We don’t start out writing good stuff. We start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.

Which coincidentally chimed with me as I’d been creating some art on a similar-ish theme:

At the swimming pool, by Marija Smits

At the swimming pool, by Marija Smits

 

And although I can’t make myself taller (why do I always picture myself as taller than I am in reality?!) I can simply persist. And the (inevitable?) good outcome of persistence will surely have to put a smile on my face. Right?! 😉

 

Anyway, whether you will spend your March fasting or feasting I hope you manage to pack in lots of creative loveliness.

New Year’s Resolutions? No thanks. I’ll do ‘Sustainable Positive Habits’ Instead.

 

The years go by... photo by Marija Smits

The years go by… photo by Marija Smits

 

Oh dear, my title has given away all the exciting stuff I was going to explain. Never mind. So yeah… I haven’t really ‘done’ New Year’s Resolutions for a few years now, and that’s mainly because those huge, rather amorphous resolutions like: I’m going to lose weight! Get richer! Become famous! (<– the last being something I’m not very interested in but still you get the drift) are simply that: unquantifiable, vague desires. So instead I’m dismissing the vagaries and set-up-to-fail resolutions and instead keeping going with my (probably not that exciting) but overall, positive habits. These are:

 

  1. Listening to my body more. Part of this involves continuing to go swimming once a week and doing two HIIT (high-intensity interval training) sessions a week because my body needs and appreciates it. Since September (when I posted my ‘Publisher’s Bum’ post) pretty much without fail I’ve kept up with this routine. So I’m pleased about that. Another part of this listening habit involves me dealing with the RSI in my wrist. To that end I’ve ordered myself an ergonomic mouse and I’ll see how it goes. The final part involves questioning myself more at dinner times, and whether I really really need to eat the kids’ leftovers and finally, continuing to listen to my body when it’s telling me to sleep and rest (and actually acting on that) which I mostly do already.

 

  1. Listening to my family more. My youngest still needs me and though my oldest child, my soon-to-be ten-year-old daughter, doesn’t ‘need’ me in the same way as she used to, they (and my husband) want to share and spend time with me and I want to do the same with them. So this habit mainly involves being fierce about protecting family time and reminding myself to listen to their cues.

 

  1. Listening to the voice of the ‘stern but fair headmistress’ in my head more often (just one of the many voices of the Wild Woman). Thankfully my inner critic isn’t too shouty anymore but I really do need to be more respectful of the headmistress. She’s the one who tells me to stop being such a magpie about shiny new creative ideas and FINISH THE CURRENT WORK. She also tells me to get off Facebook and knuckle down to the to-do list. The stroppy (and yet creative) part of me thinks she’s a party-pooper, but deep down I have great respect for her. Because it is only by finishing things that I can truly grow as a writer and artist.

 

  1. Listening to the hands of time more often. Okay, so this seems like a pretty gloomy habit. But there is only so much time to go around. It’s one of the most precious resources any human has. So learning how to make best use of it is worthwhile.

 

  1. Listening to quiet more often. This simply sometimes involves exiting cyberspace and leaving behind the noise of the internet with all its attention-grabbing headlines, tricksy ads, outraged voices, and shouty ‘me, me, me’s that make my head spin, and then tuning into my own voice. (The whispers of the Wild Woman perhaps…?) What is it trying to say? What am I thinking? How am I feeling? Better still, going for a walk in a wood where the trees grow so thickly that you can hear the sound of silence… or along the side of a lake so mirror-like it is as though the Lady of the Lake may well emerge from the waters… ah well, for me, those are some of the best experiences in the world.

 

Swan on lake, photo by Marija Smits

Swan on lake, photo by Marija Smits

 

So on that rather quiet note I will leave you to your own listening. I wish you all the best for 2017. Thank you, loyal readers (all 11 of you + my wonderful husband!) for continuing to drop by to read my reflections.

Save

Save

Why I blog, why I read (and don’t read) others’ blogs, and a giveaway.

 

'Patience' zentangle art by Marija Smits

‘Patience’, zentangle art by Marija Smits

 

I’ve been blogging for 4 years now and I think it’s safe to say that my blog has made very little impact (if any) on the blogging world. The voice of my ego (which happens to sound a lot like the voice of Ichabod Muffin) is incredulous and says: What! How can the world NOT realize how AMAZING your blog is?!! (Shush, Ego/Ichabod. You’re too loud.) And then the HSP (huge) part of me says: Phew! I’ve got away with another year of quiet, unchanging, anonymity. However, little impact or not, this is still a good chance for me to reflect on why I blog and why I read others’ blogs.

 

Reasons to Blog

So why do I blog? Well, first, there are the ‘selfish’ reasons, i.e. reasons to do with the ‘self’. The creative part of my ‘self’ simply takes great pleasure in producing a blog that is, in my eyes, appealing to look at and read. The egotistical part of my ‘self’ desires (and enjoys) the validation/praise that readers and commenters provide. Then there is the ‘altruistic’ reason (although I know too, that there is an argument that altruism is a selfish act too). Anyway… I read a fair few blogs and there have been times when, coming to the computer, I’ve been sad, downhearted, or somewhat soul-weary, and a ‘something’ that a blogger has written, or an image they’ve shared, has made me feel better, lighter, and somehow, understood. In my own way, I’d like to ‘give back’. So if any of my words or images I’ve shared here have made someone else felt understood, then that really does make me happy. (Okay, so maybe this is a ‘selfish’ reason after all!) And lastly, there is the bullishly practical/selfish reason of building a platform – my blog being a teensy area in the vastness of the internet where people interested in my art or writing can have a look around and get a sense of who I am and my creative output (hence the list of publications, gallery, About me etc.). Lastly, there has been the beautiful bonus of finding community with other like-minded individuals. And I’m ever so grateful to wonderful Maddy for creating such a warm writing community in the #WhatI’mWriting crew. 🙂

 

Reasons to Read Others’ Blogs

Okay, the ‘selfish’ bit first. There are some blogs/websites that I visit because they are so full of useful information about writing or art. Kirsten Lamb, Emma Darwin, Cathy Bryant’s Comps and Calls. I am ever so thankful that I can greedily take priceless info. from these wonderful people who choose to share their knowledge with the world. (Though I do aim to try to give back to them in some form i.e. buying their books/leaving comments/spreading the word about their sites etc.)

Then there are the blogs where I feel refreshed and comforted by the beautiful images and for getting a glimpse into a gentle person’s life. I feel a kinship with these bloggers, partly, I’m sure because the sensitive part of me recognises in them another sensitive soul. Jane. Maddy. Alice. Rachael. Sophie. Helen.

Then there are the blogs that I visit because I simply greatly admire these writers; they also offer up fascinating insights into various aspects of the writing world, creativity and humanity: Ana Salote, Rebecca Ann Smith, Angela Topping, Sarah James, Becky Cherriman, Adam Roberts, Matt Haig.

There are also writer friends that are going down the self-publishing route: Emily Organ, Suzie W and Nicola Young, and I enjoy visiting their blogs to see how they are doing (and knowing what is involved in publishing I am constantly inspired by their conviction to go down this route because rather like single-handedly running a business, self-publishing requires a lot of focus, energy and determination).

Then there is the altruistic reason: I enjoy reading the blogs of up-and-coming writers (you probably know who you are!) and seeing how they are doing. If I can give them a snippet of information or a publishing tip that could be useful to them, that makes me happy. (Okay, yes, probably another selfish reason!)

Lastly, there are the blogs that I simply like to visit because they’re beautifully arty, Amy Hood Arts, Georgie St. Clair, Emma Howitt or funny and quirky, like Muddled Manuscript and Turning Up in Devon.

 

Blogs I Don’t Like

This probably breaches all kinds of blogging etiquette but still… I thought it would be honest to also talk about the blogs that I don’t visit. So, what don’t I like? Well, having to read a fair few manuscripts for the day job I don’t tend to visit blogs where writers share a lot of their prose or poetry. Because, you know, my editor’s hat suddenly pings on, and I go into editing mode (not really fair to the blogger or all the other day job manuscripts or freelance editing work that I need to be spending time on!).

Then there are the blogs where after a second or two of clicking on their URL I get bombarded with ‘sign up to my newsletter’ or ‘buy this’ or ‘buy that’. Often, their blog posts are more advertorial than article. Or perhaps more personal than it is necessary to be. (Being able to grab people’s attention and some of their time in this world of information-overload is a monetizable skill, and sometimes oversharing gets this attention. Look at some ‘celebrities’, for example, Kim Kardashian. I’m not exactly sure what she’s famous for. But she can sure as hell get a lot of people taking time out of their busy lives to focus on her. And that skill, it seems, can be turned into dollars.)

Now, I understand that people need to make money and that blogging can be a great way to do this, but as an HSP if I feel pressured or overwhelmed by the marketing (or simply not in tune with the blogger) then I do the thing that I do when cold callers come a-knocking or phoning. I harrumph. Then I get cross with myself and think: Hey! They’re just trying to make a living like the rest of us. So I try to empathise, but obviously, I’m also thinking that my time is precious… And then I get myself into a right old HSP muddle, and that’s when I have to step away. And so no, I won’t be signing up, or buying this or that. And it is then that I return to all the other wonderful blogs that I mentioned above that don’t overwhelm me.

 

The (kind of) Ironic Giveaway

So on that note (and yes, I realize there’s a certain amount of irony to offering this after I’ve just expressed all the above) but still… I’m doing a giveaway to celebrate my 4th blogiversary.

Zentangle 'Patience' + copies of The Forgotten and the Fantastical

Zentangle ‘Patience’ + copies of The Forgotten and the Fantastical

 

So here’s the deal. Simply comment on this blog post and I’ll put your name in a hat for the giveaway draw. The first name I pull out of the hat will get the above original Zentangle artwork I created over the past few weeks and a copy of The Forgotten and the Fantastical (in which I have two stories). Two runners-up will each get a copy of The Forgotten and the Fantastical. If you would like to spread the word, i.e. share this post, ‘like’ my Facebook page (those 99 likes are crying out to become 100, right?!), or follow me on Twitter or…

EGO (in voice of Ichabod Muffin): SIGN UP TO GET EMAIL NOTIFICATIONS OF BLOGPOSTS

The HSP part of me: Oh do shut up. You’re making my arse twitch.*

…then feel free to do so. Or not. I am absolutely okay with that. The last thing I want is for someone to sign up to my blog and then regret doing so days or weeks or months down the line.

So that’s basically it.

If you can’t think of anything to comment on, simply let me know what blogs you enjoy reading (or you could, like me, breach blogging etiquette and tell me what you don’t like reading). Or you could let me know which one of my posts has connected with you in some way. Or you could offer me Viagra or an excellent way to optimise my SEO. Or hey, maybe you could dream up an offer of a Viagra-enhanced way to optimise my SEO. Yeah, that would be cool…

Okay, enough! The giveaway will run until midnight GMT on 30th October 2016 and I’ll announce the winners shortly afterwards. (This offer is open to anyone living in any country, but if someone outside the UK does win, the books would be emailed over as PDFs. I mean, have you seen the price of international postage?!)

* Paying homage to one of my favourite lines from a favourite film, French Kiss.

 

Lastly, thanks to Maddy. (Apologies for all the virtual smooching, I’m definitely signing off now!)

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Writing Bubble

An Intention and Meet Starry-You

 

To date I’ve not been one to declare an intention publicly (I’m more the quiet person in the background puttering on with their work – vague intentions in my head, but never ‘out there’) so it feels a bit strange to do this, but I can see one big positive of declaring an intention of mine: that it’ll (hopefully) keep me accountable and on track to actually doing the thing that I want to do.

So here goes. I have a little dream of putting together a book – a collection of short stories in the SFF genre – and (whisper it) getting it published and ‘out there’. At the moment the whole publishing thing is not something I’m thinking about too much – it’s the whole good quality short story stuff that’s keeping me occupied!

But you see, something absolutely wonderful happened to me a short while ago. First, my story ‘His Birth’ was shortlisted in a competition. (The Wellcome Trust sponsored ‘Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities’ Creative Writing Competition.) And then second, it got awarded 2nd place by the judge Adam Roberts, who is like some kind of god when it comes to science fiction writing. And believe me, it gave me such a boost (and actually, some much-needed validation) that I started to think, Maybe I can do this. Maybe I can allow myself to consider putting together a short story collection. Maybe.

So… it’s going to take me a good long while (my writing happens at around midnight once or twice a week, or on the weekend) but I’m in no rush. The main thing is to get around 12 good short stories written that I want to include. Now, I’ve got a couple already that I want to include, but there’s still a whole lot more to write. And, there’s also the fact that only about 1 in 5 of the short stories I write are actually good enough to put in a collection. This I know because I only consider a story ‘good enough’ if my husband (aka my editor extraordinaire) really likes the story (and that only ever happens in approximately that ratio!).

So I’m going to aim to increase my publication history when it comes to short stories (no doubt there will be plenty of rejections ahead – perhaps some acceptances too!) but the main thing is that I persevere.

Inspired by Maddy’s image of her ‘Self-Doubt Demon’ I decided to draw a character that represents the opposite: the ‘Supportive Star’ (aka Starry-You in reference to the Pokemon, Staryu). Or does Sammy Star work better? Who knows? Basically, this little guy (or is she a gal?) is there to say: Well done! and You can do it! You got this! Because sometimes we all need a little encouragement when things get tough and the self-doubt demon appears…

 

Yay! You can do it! Starry-You by Marija Smits

Yay! You can do it! Starry-You by Marija Smits

 

Anyway… wish me luck, and if you ever have a spare moment please do ask me about how things are going. It will be good incentive for me to keep going!

Lastly… my blog turned 4 last month (although sadly, I was too busy to do anything about it then) but I’m creating a little something for a giveaway I’m going to run, so please do pop back in the next week or two if you’re interested in seeing what I’ll be giving away in celebration of my 4th blogiversary.

 

Some zentangle-art-to-be, photo by Marija Smits

Some zentangle-art-to-be, photo by Marija Smits

 

So, ta ta for now, and I hope to see you soon!

 

Save

Writing Bubble

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Publisher’s Bum and other Western World Woes

 

Publisher's Bum, by Marija Smits

Publisher’s Bum, by Marija Smits (painted with coffee and watercolours)

 

A Confession

First, let’s get this out of the way: I’ve been a bit dishonest. I could have titled this post ‘Publisher’s RSI’ or ‘Writer’s Wrist’ or ‘Why Exercise Is Good For You So You Should Do It’ but those titles weren’t as arresting (read: potentially titillating). Apologies to those who really don’t want to read about exercise…

Anyway, but yes, it’s true. I have ‘Publisher’s Bum’ as well as ‘Writer’s Wrist’ (i.e. RSI in my wrist) because I spend far too much time on the computer for my publishing work: writing emails, filling in Excel spreadsheets, typesetting, cover designing, writing blurbs, managing the website etc. etc. and I really must get myself a proper mouse thingy because this glide pad on the laptop is really knackering my wrist.

I digress. The point is that I do a lot of sitting around and not enough exercise. In September 2015 my youngest started school, so back then I thought to myself: ‘Aha! I will now be like one of those “proper” freelancers/portfolio living folks and do what I want in my free time. I will schedule some exercise time into my week.’

Of course it didn’t happen because I had a lot of publishing work to do, and you know, there’s less of an activation barrier to continuing to sit at the computer doing work than there is to actually getting off my bum and doing some exercise.

 

Mothering As Exercise

Now, at the start of September 2015 this wasn’t an issue, but gradually, it became an issue. Because there is a shift from the early days/years of motherhood where calories are being burnt up simply by breastfeeding and babywearing and running around after a young child to, let’s say, a more sedentary phase of motherhood when the children are older. In the early years there’s no time for “formal” exercise because baby and toddler and pre-schooler care IS exercise. But then they get older and those calories aren’t being used up to make vast quantities of breastmilk or child weightlifting or running down the road after a toddler/pre-schooler who has discovered that actually, they can go pretty fast on a balance bike. Hmm.

But still… I’m EATING like I’m that younger-than-now mother. I’m hoovering up the kids’ leftovers like I’m going to single-handedly rid the world of all the problems associated with the imbalance in global food supply. (Actually, I know in part why I’m doing this, it’s a) because I’m greedy and b) it’s because of history i.e. my parents indoctrinating me with the idea that as others don’t have enough I must finish what is on my plate. Also, it’s rude to your hosts to not finish off food.)

So, yeah the wobbly bits of me bother me somewhat (actually, I have affection for the wobbly bits, they are actually quite endearing and very humanizing. If I ever find that I’m taking myself too seriously I simply have to look down at my belly and squoosh it into a funny shape). BUT, the wobbly bits are stopping me from fitting into some of my favourite clothes AND, most importantly, they are indicative of the fact that I’m not as fit and healthy as I used to be.

 

The Psychology Bit

So, after almost a year of having exercise at the bottom of my list of priorities, I am finally making the psychological progress necessary to make it rise up the list of priorities.

First, I reminded myself that my good health is as important to my family as is the good health of my children, my husband and other family members. So it’s okay for me to spend time on keeping myself fit and healthy. Also, exercise actually makes me work more efficiently (as well as helping me to have a healthier mind – freer of anxiety, OCD etc.) so it’s important to build some formal exercise into my week. Also, reflecting on our eating habits as a family has been useful – I know that we lapse too easily into processed food because it’s quick to prepare.

Second, I have had a good think about what kind of exercise suits me best. I am hypermobile and have to be aware of tendons that can get overstretched and damaged (just because they can easily bend in all sorts of random directions!) so something like running, which impacts on my right knee badly isn’t going to happen (although years ago, pre-children, I enjoyed running). And by the way, I’ve probably got a post brewing about hypermobility, hormones and motherhood, but that’ll have to wait for a bit.

Third, I am now wise enough (or is that mature/experienced enough?) to know that I cannot radically change the natural build of my body. I can tone my muscles but I sure as hell can’t do anything about my bone structure. I am what I am, and that’s okay. (Although, of course, the fashion and beauty industry would like to tell us otherwise. But hey, that’s neoliberalism for you. There’s always a product that you can buy to change yourself, right?!)

Lastly, I know that at heart I’m lazy. Give me a book and a full fridge and a day off and I’ll happily lay in bed all day simply reading and eating, reading and eating. Okay, so what with having kids the whole “day off” thing isn’t going to happen, but still… my point is that inertia to exercise is very real. The way that I eliminate/reduce inertia is by making the exercise another habit. For example: I write most days. It’s not that difficult to find a 15 or 30 minute slot per day, if (health-permitting, of course) you really want to. Once writing every day (or every other day) becomes a habit, it’s a difficult habit to break. Same with handwashing after going to the toilet. It’s done automatically. So three times a week I do some kind of formal exercise (I tend to favour a bit of weightlifting and high intensity interval workout, a la Joe Wicks), a little bit of skipping, wild dancing, as well as swimming. And most days I walk somewhere. Something else that can help with motivation is having a friend, or partner, giving a gentle nudge or some words of encouragement so that you just get on and do it. Oh, and the Paralympics ALWAYS motivates me. If those brilliant individuals can overcome the challenges in their lives to excel in various sports, then really, who am I to moan?

My local swimming pool, image by Marija Smits

My local swimming pool, image by Marija Smits

 

Exercise as Creative Endeavour

So that’s it, I guess. An exercise routine is for life, not just for Christmas. And like most creative activities, e.g. drawing and writing, it doesn’t require a lot of money to get started. (A massive bonus for me as I really can’t afford gym fees or anything like that.) Rather like any other endeavour (such as writing) that is important to our lives, exercise has to become a habit and something that we can fairly easily commit to, BUT without giving ourselves hugely unrealistic expectations (such as I WILL get published by one of the Big Five and get a six figure advance; I WILL have a body like a supermodel) because when/if we don’t attain those goals it is very easy to beat ourselves up about this so-called failure and not re-start the process. Physical activity is, in a way, analogous to the creative process. As long as one finds some form of activity that is enjoyable then it feels good to do it and the “habit” more easily becomes ingrained. Exercise, like creativity, is mainly about the process; regular physical exertion is the crafting of our own bodies through the growth of muscle tissue, blood capillaries, lung capacity and the reduction of other tissues e.g. fat tissue. And it’s also a brilliant excuse for listening to plenty of up-tempo music. Ricky Martin anyone?!

 

 

Lastly, if you’d like to recommend/share your own exercise tips (or what exercise works best for you) or healthy food recipes, or just some groovy music, I’m all ears… 🙂

And thanks again to Maddy at Writing Bubble for providing the necessary spur to write this post!

 

Save

Writing Bubble

Save

Save

Running on “empty”

 

Beautiful sunset, Bamburgh. photo by Tom Bellamy

Beautiful sunset, Bamburgh. Photo by Tom Bellamy

 

In the run up to our holiday I knew that I desperately needed a break; my publishing work was making me feel incredibly stressed (the financial and other pressures seem to be ever-increasing) and along with the usual family worries about how to make ends meet, school issues, sibling arguments, a lack of time for my own creativity, a lack of alone time and time with my husband, as well as the frustrations of the same old same old environment and routine, I knew a break was necessary. But I didn’t quite know how badly I needed the break. When we got to our holiday cottage after a mostly stuck-in-traffic 6 hour journey we immediately headed to the beach for an evening stroll. When I saw the wide expanse of white sand and the breathtaking sky – to say nothing of the amazing castle in the background – I started to cry. It was a sudden jolt to realize how ‘empty’ I had been and that ‘empty’ felt so very, well, empty. I cried on and off for the rest of the stroll, thinking about how beautiful the world was, and how lucky I was to be at this beach with my lovely family.

 

Bamburgh Castle, photo by Tom Bellamy

Bamburgh Castle, photo by Tom Bellamy

 

I had planned to do some writing during the holiday but I honestly didn’t feel like doing it. I listened to my inner voice (the voice of the Wild Woman, if you will) which told me that I needed to just be. To feel the sand between my toes, the (very cold!) seawater at my ankles and the sun on my skin. I felt rather like a sponge, which had been wrung out, emptied of every drop of moisture, but then deposited into water where I slowly began to soak up every drop of this everyday and natural beauty. At the end of the holiday I felt better; so much more refreshed.

 

I’m what you would call a fairly ‘social’ HSP, but in today’s world, with constant online socializing, news and info. dumping, as well as the whole neoliberal agenda going on in the background, which tells us that we have to ‘work harder, work longer’, time to simply be, without reporting on our every thought and act, is rare. This holiday was a good reminder that I need to stop more and pause. Because running on empty really isn’t a good idea.

 

I hope that you have all had a chance to pause this August and to feel some sun on your skin.

Save

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Poetry World

Last Saturday, I took part in ‘An Afternoon With The Small Press’ at Southwell Poetry Festival. In my “work role” as the Managing Editor of Mother’s Milk Books, I was one of four indie publishers at the event to talk about this strange thing known as ‘Poetry World’. (Credit goes to the marvellous Helena Nelson of Happenstance Press for naming it thusly.)

Ross Bradshaw, of Five Leaves Publications and Five Leaves Bookshop, put questions to myself, Di Slaney of Candlestick Press and Martin Parker of Stonewood Press, and the audience listened carefully, asked questions and whenever one of us had mentioned something particularly note-worthy they eagerly scribbled down what we’d said. Poets, especially those new to writing poetry, want to understand Poetry World, and they especially want to know how to get their poetry published.

But although I run a small press and know a bit about Poetry World through the publishing of other people’s poetry, I do NOT consider myself an expert on Poetry World as a poet. I have only been seriously writing poetry for about 5 years. That length of time is nothing in Poetry World. Seriously, it is just a blip (especially when you’re not actually writing poetry every day and sending it off every day). But… I have learnt a thing or two in that time. And so I thought that for those other fledgling poets out there, who are just about to strap on their poetic backpacks and head off into the realm of Poetry World, I would give them a few pointers.

My favourite accompaniment to a good book - creamy coffee and dark chocolate.

My favourite accompaniment to a good book – creamy coffee and dark chocolate.

1) Every successful hitchhiker needs a guide or two. The absolutely ESSENTIAL guide is called How NOT to Get Your Poetry Published by Helena Nelson. Seriously, if this had been published 5 years ago and I had read it then I would have saved myself a few poetic embarrassments and felt much more prepared when entering Poetry World. So buy it. Seriously. If you’re serious about poetry and getting your work published BUY THIS BOOK. It has bucket loads of information about how Poetry World works and how long it takes to get established in Poetry World. (Hint: we’re talking decades here, not months. So if you’re serious about this poetry stuff, start planning in the long term.) Also, it has lots of useful poem-making exercises. I’ll admit that at first I wasn’t convinced that I needed to read (or do) those exercises, because I don’t have any problems with inspiration, but boy, were they eye-opening! And funny. And insightful. And amazingly inspirational. And they made me look at poem-making in a whole new way. So hats off to Helena Nelson for writing this very, very good book.

 

2) Alongside the above excellent guide, I would also add that if you consider yourself fairly new to Poetry World then you should buy and read The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry. And don’t just read it. Do every single crazy, beautiful, damn exercise that Fry has dreamt up. I promise you that it will give you a good basic knowledge of how this thing called poetry works. And by the time you complete the last exercise your “poetry brain” will have grown and absorbed a huge amount of knowledge.

 

3) Now, perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself here, because if you’re new to Poetry World, it may be a little too early (like, years too early) to start sending poems off to poetry journals and literary magazines. But hey! I know about that feeling of excitement that comes with the desire to get your poems out there. So when you’re thinking that you’re ready and are looking for places to send your work, you have a couple of options. The free and electronic-only option is to visit the website known as Comps and Calls. The wonderful Cathy Bryant spends ages each month listing all the free-to-enter submission calls and writing competitions that she’s discovered through t’internet. AND some of them even pay. Yes, you heard me right. They PAY. So check it out. And then the not-free (but still, very good value), paperback option is the indispensible Mslexia Guide to Indie Presses and Magzines 2016/2017. And while you’re flicking through the magazine, dreaming of the day when you’ll get your first poem or pamphlet or collection published… do something else. Make a note of the indie presses that publish poetry and BUY some of their books. This leads us nicely on to the next point –

 

Mslexia Guide to Indie Presses

Mslexia Guide to Indie Presses

 

4) A huge part of successfully navigating Poetry World and then becoming an established part of Poetry World is READING POETRY. It is not enough to simply write poetry, one must read it, read it, read it, read it. And continue reading it. Again, I’ll have to admit that it takes me a long while to read single author collections, because although poems are (mostly) short, they are dense in the sense that a good poem can make me think about it for days. And make me want to re-read it. So a full, say, 80 page collection can take me several months to read. So, if you’re new to this, maybe start with buying a few poetry magazines. Or anthologies. One can easily dip in and out of anthologies, (Being Alive, edited by Neil Astley is brilliant, as is my own Musings on Mothering – even if I do say so myself!). And pamphlets are a brilliant and less time and money-consuming way of reading contemporary poetry. I can heartily recommend the below which I read recently; all are haunting in their own unique way:

The Density of Salt by Kate Garrett, Earthworks by Jacqueline Gabbitas, Lampshades & Glass Rivers by S. A. Leavesley

The Density of Salt by Kate Garrett (Indigo Dreams Publishing), Earthworks by Jacqueline Gabbitas (Stonewood Press), Lampshades & Glass Rivers by S. A. Leavesley (Loughborough University’s Lamplight Press)

 

(And by the way, if you’re looking to get a single author collection, I can definitely recommend starting with someone like Angela Topping, whose poetry is wide-ranging, tender and absorbing. Or Cathy Bryant, whose writing is thought-provoking and funny and witty. Or Sarah James whose writing is insightful and full of detailed imagery.)

If you’re cash-strapped then borrow poetry books from your library. Or read poetry online. There are many excellent websites and blogs that publish contemporary poetry. And if you don’t know where to start, why not try this excellent blog – The Poetry Shed, run by the fine poet Abegail Morley. And oh ho! What’s that I see? A poem and artwork by Marija Smits? Go on, check it out. I dare you…! 😉

 

5) Now, I know that every poet (and writer) goes about editing their own work in different ways. Some have one trusted Poetry World friend (or if they’re lucky, a good editor) who gives them useful critiquing and works with them to get their poem/pamphlet/collection just right. Others are part of a supportive crit group that may meet every month or so, and others may be a part of an online crit group. And yet, some poets work solely (and happily) by themselves. Find what works best for you, for that stage in your journey through Poetry World, but be open to the other methods of getting feedback/useful critiquing. And knowing where you are along the path of ‘how well I take criticism’ is also useful. It can take years (and this I know from personal experience) to untangle the quality of the writing from one’s own personal worth, so if you’ve just started out in Poetry World and are feeling a bit disorientated (and perhaps a bit tender) it may not be the best idea to get your first poem taken apart and re-built by a ‘someone’. Just do the work — the reading and the writing — and you will get there.

 

6) When you’re ready to send your precious poems off into the world, (how will I know? you may ask. You’ll know, my friend, you’ll know…) then I’d suggest being methodical about the task. Set up a spreadsheet or use an exercise book and make a note of when, where and to whom you are sending off your poems. You’ll get rejections. Lots of them. But that’s okay. If you think of the submission process as the endpoint itself – then as long as you keep submitting stuff, you’re a success! I aim to always have 2, 3 or 4 submissions out there and under consideration (as I’m a short story writer and novelist as well as a poet, I have a range of stuff ‘out there’ which I bundle together under the heading of ‘writing’). Having just checked through my ‘little red book’ I submitted around 30 pieces in the past year. And 5 of them found homes. The others didn’t. And that’s okay. I obviously sent them out to homes that weren’t quite right for them (or perhaps the pieces needed another little tweak) or they simply weren’t to the editor’s taste. (Perhaps I hadn’t done my homework and didn’t really know what the editor was looking for by reading their publication thoroughly. Or perhaps I’d been lazy and taken a shortcut and didn’t buy (or read) the journal, assuming I knew what they were after.) Or… (and this is very often the way) the numbers game wasn’t in my favour. Because this whole submission lark is just that: a gamble. And one mustn’t get too serious about gambling (I know this from personal experience too). Numbers don’t care. They just are. When you send off your submission with (perhaps) hundreds of others, it’s always going to be a longshot that your work gets placed. But it does happen, sometimes. Enjoy it when it does happen and then break out the bubbly. See it as a pleasant bonus that happened because of you building your submission list (which, after some time and a few publications later may just turn into a proper publishing record).

 

7) And lastly, if I’ve given the impression that Poetry World is deadly serious and only about the end result of publication, then I’m sorry and I will have to address that. Because it isn’t. It’s full of fun and innovative ideas – Poetry Trading Cards, anyone? (I LOVE the idea of Poetry Trading Cards! Go grab some!) – and it’s also full of lovely, friendly and inspiring people, just like those who were on the panel and in the audience last Saturday. So get involved! Go to poetry festivals, go to readings at bookshops, perform your poetry (online or on the stage), or just get chatting to poets you admire on social media. And, of course, keep playing with words.

 

And a final, final p.s. I will tell you a secret. There really is no shortcut to becoming an established member of Poetry World. There is only the work, and the only reason to do the work is to love the work. And loving doing the work IS THE REWARD. But there is a longish shortcut to getting known in Poetry World. It’s called ‘becoming a poetry publisher’. But unless you have a penchant for quite literally, taking bank notes out of your own wallet, and setting them alight, then don’t do it my friend. Don’t do it.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Writing Bubble

Save

Save

Save