Archive for the ‘Being A Writer’ Category

Dear Poetry Newbies: do you need a creative writing qualification?

Monday, February 11th, 2013

The World Is Your Oyster Now

A previous version of this post appeared at One Night Stanzas in September 2008.

There are a lot of people out there who will tell you that in order to become a successful writer, you will definitely need some kind of creative-writing-specific qualification. However, there are also a lot of people out there who will tell you that you should avoid creative writing qualifications like the plague. Personally, I decided to go down the qualification route: I have a MSc in Creative Writing and I’m soon to complete a Creative Writing PhD. In light of this, I thought I’d stick my oar in on the subject.
I’m not going to say a definite yes or no either way — you may or may not want or need a creative writing qualification. You may not know right now. You may have people telling you what you should or shouldn’t do on all sides. At the end of the day, the ‘to study or not to study?’ question is yours to answer… but I can offer some pros and cons, dos and don’ts to help you.

Creative writing courses: Pros

- Courses provide opportunities for quality workshopping and mentoring.

- Seminars and tutorials are often run by experienced writers (or former writers).

- You learn about writing, editing, drafting and publishing processes… on some courses you can also learn about how writing is marketed, distributed and sold.

- Opportunities for publication may well be open to you.

- You’re surrounded by other writers like yourself who understand your ambition and won’t try to discourage you.

- You get honest, useful feedback on your work, and help to implement changes.

- More and more courses are springing up all the time, and more and more people are taking them - this means more choice when it comes to where and when you study, how you study and with whom.

- Being part of a course-group often provides opportunities to attend writing-related events, and to meet people in the writing business.

Creative writing courses: Cons

- Creative writing is a very specialised field and you may find yourself with limited career options when your course has finished.

- Creative writing is sometimes looked down upon, or not always well-respected - by businesses and even by some academics.

- There is a common belief that creative writing cannot actually be “taught” and so courses are a waste of time.

- Courses of all kinds can be very costly, particularly if you enroll at a prestigious institution.

- Some courses are run and taught by individuals who do not have sufficient knowledge or experience of the field.

- Workshops can often be less constructive in a long-term course situation, because cliques and animosities can develop between classmates.

- Some writers (even some editors) reserve a certain kind of snobbery for those with creative writing qualifications.

- Because more and more people are studying creative writing, qualifications of this kind are becoming less unique and as a result, less respected.

Dos and don’ts.

DO find a highly-rated course at a good institution. Yes, it’s expensive to go to a good Uni or college, but you generally do get what you pay for. Make sure the qualification you get is going to be legitimate and useful.

DON’T take online creative writing “Masters” or “Degree”, particularly if you have to pay for them. They are generally worthless on paper. (Some online short courses are good, but generally aren’t accredited — so you don’t end up with an actual qualification at the end.)

Probably DON’T take creative writing as your first University degree. By doing so you may back yourself into a corner when it comes to career options. Take a more open-ended degree and specialise in creative writing later, or take a creative writing module or postgraduate course.

DON’T feel that you have to rush into taking a course. If you finish high school or graduate from your degree and you want to do other things first, do by all means. If you want to produce some more writing first, do. No hurry.

DO make sure you can afford your chosen course. If you can’t, look around at other courses - but DON’T just enrol “because it’s cheap”. There may be a reason for that. At the same time, DON’T assume a course is really good because it’s expensive. Do your research.

DO make sure that, if you’re required to have “writing experience,” you have some. You may well be in a class with people who have a fair few publications and projects under their belt. If you’ve only ever written three poems, look for a course designed for beginners.

DO vet the course-organisers and tutors before you apply. Do they sound like they have the right experience/type of writing/research interests to teach you?

DO vet the course, too. Does it go in the direction you want? Does it look unprofessional, or too academic? Trust your instincts, get on a course that will benefit you personally.

DO search around for funding, from student loans, grants, bursaries and scholarships. DON’T run up your course bill on a credit card or via a personal loan unless you’re sure you can manage it.

DON’T take the word of people who say you must or must not study creative writing. Listen to their advice, but DON’T feel obliged to act on it.

DON’T start a course if you already think you might find it too hard, or you might drop out. It can be really costly.

DO vet “free” courses very, very carefully.

DON’T assume that taking a course will make you a writing superstar… but also DON’T assume that, just because it won’t, it’s worthless.

I’d love to hear what you think about the benefits and disadvantages of creative writing courses. Have you done one? Give me your feedback!

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

The Next Big Thing: my first collection

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

huge_typewriter

You’ve probably seen this meme/questionnaire thingy doing the rounds of literary blogs lately? I have, and was kind of dreading my inevitable tagging. However, I found that filling in the answers below actually made me feel quite uplifted and hopeful about the scattered, half-finished MS that is my forthcoming first collection of poems (it has a working title, but it has a kind-of rude word in it. I’m not sure if I’ll have the bottle to keep it, or if a publisher could stomach it, so I’ll keep it secret for now). Thanks very much to Andy Philip for the nudge! You can see his answers here, at his blog Tonguefire.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
It’ll be my first full-length collection, so I feel a bit like I’ve been working towards it ever since I began writing. However, the central themes that are coming to define the working MS really started to emerge last summer, when I did a writer’s retreat on the Greek island of Hydra. It was July, and much too hot for me to be outside between the hours of about 10am and 5pm, so I was almost literally walled inside this one-room cottage with the Selected Poems of Adrienne Rich, and a notebook. I think it’s the most productive I’ve ever been.

What genre is the book?
Poetry. I’ve been experimenting, writing much longer poems than my usual, but I’m still not sure of them. They may yet end up on the cutting room floor.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I’d love to see a poetry collection — though not necessarily mine! — become a series-of-vignettes movie, like Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, one of my favourite movies ever. Like The Mermaid and the Sailors, this book is going to contain a lot of strong women. I can totally see Annette Bening “playing” one of these poems, she’d be great.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Oh dear, I’m really crap at this. I remember people sending blurbs for The Mermaid and the Sailors that said things like, “these are poems about x, y and z,” and I thought, “are they? Oh yes, I suppose they are.” So you may have to wait until the book exists properly, and ask someone who’s read it. The closest I can get right now is, “a collection of poems about women… and maybe anger.”

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
See my first answer! There are some poems going in here from as long ago as 2010. But there are also still some to write. I never, ever think anything’s finished. I’ll probably need someone to prize it out of my hands at some point and say, “for goodness sakes, it’s done.”

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
In the past two or three years, I’ve widened the focus of my life. I’ve forced myself to get out of my comfort zone in my work, in my slowly-growing activism, and also in my cultural intake: what I read, watch and attend. I always used to tell my own stories — old family anecodotes nicked and turned into poems, experiences I’d personally had. Now I want to tell stories about bigger things. I’m really interested in class now, and privilege. I feel a real desire to write more about those things.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The MS isn’t finished yet… I’m still not sure what’s definitely staying in, and what’s going. But there might be a poem about donkeys. There’s a poem about Allen Ginsberg’s mum. There’s a poem where I answer back, quite cheekily, to Carol Ann Duffy. I’ve also written a series of haiku set in the knicker department of Marks & Spencers in Carlisle… but I’m pretty sure I’ll chicken out with that one!

Will your book be self-published or represented by a publisher?
That remains to be seen! To be honest, getting a first collection placed at the moment seems to be a bit of a nightmare, so I’m not really thinking about it too much. I’m keener to end up with a collection I can be really proud of.

The writers I have tagged are:
Colin McGuire
Helen McClory
Char Runcie

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

Dear Poetry Newbies: 10 Poetry Myths You’ll Probably Have Heard

Monday, January 7th, 2013

An earlier version of this post appeared at One Night Stanzas in September 2008.

When I was a just-starting-out poet, I used to avoid telling anyone what my hobby was. Why? Well, because whenever I told anyone, all I ever seemed to get was negativity and disbelief. (”You write poetry?! Why?!”) Later, I realised that people react this way because over the years, they have come to believe in a whole load of poetic untruths… strange myths that have built up around the craft of creative writing, and poetry in particular. You’ve probably encountered some of the poetry myths below, so read on to see how you can beat them.

1: All poetry is boring.
You hear this all the time, and OK, it’s partly right - yes, some poetry is boring. I mean, I’m of the view that even the most notoriously “dull” poets (even my less-than-favourite, Mr Keats) were and are still capable of producing brilliant work, but that’s beside the point. The point is that most poems - and I mean at least 85% of all published poems - are far from boring. Some poetry is interesting because it addresses an issue, some because it uses language, form, rhythm etc in original and fascinating ways. Some poetry is interesting because it’s funny, some because it’s experimental. Some poetry is interesting because it’s just plain bad (check out William McGonagall’s greatest work, for example - it’s gained a reputation for being a really good bad poem… if that makes sense). But no one will ever know how interesting poetry really is unless they get out there and read it. So here’s a challenge: go forth and read poems, until you find one - any one - that you think is really interesting, for whatever reason. Buy the book, copy the poem out, or print it. Next time someone says to you “why do you like poetry? It’s boring!”, show them your ‘interesting’ poem, and explain why you think it’s awesome. Hopefully, it’ll open their eyes a bit!

2: Poetry is difficult.
When people say this, what they generally mean is that they’ve found a lot of the poetry they’ve encountered hard to understand. This may well relate back to their English class experiences, where pupils are generally taught to break down and analyse a poem, rather than just enjoy it. When people don’t know any better, they assume all poetry has hidden layers which need to be ‘de-coded,’ and that poems are designed to be a challenge. I like to point the ‘poetry is difficult’ crowd in the direction of Philip Larkin’s “This Be The Verse” (warning: strong language!), because it’s one of the most plain-speaking poems I’ve ever come across… I mean, what’s difficult to understand about that?! You might also want to keep a straightforward, what-you-see-is-what-you-get poem to hand, so you can easily bust this myth when you hear it!

3: Poetry is full of “deep meanings” and stuff.
This one is really popular, and can be tricky to bust. Because poems are so strongly associated with this process of studying and analysing, people don’t realise that, when they’re written, they’re supposed to be like any other piece of art - something for the reader to enjoy, essentially. There are a lot of poets around today who deliberately write poems that require no ‘analysis’ whatsoever - ‘accessible’ poems, where you can take just about everything at face-value. (The most high-profile writer and promoter of ‘accessible’ verse is probably Billy Collins, who writes poems about smoking cigarettes, forgetting things and listening to “Three Blind Mice”, among other things!) But you don’t necessarily need to hunt out a simplistic, accessible poem in order to bust this myth - any poem can be interesting and enjoyable, whether you know its deeper meanings or not. T S Eliot’s epic The Waste Land is stuffed with weird references and metaphors. If you don’t know what some of them are, that certainly doesn’t make you stupid… but it also doesn’t make the poem a total dead loss either. It is fine to read poems simply in order to enjoy the weird and wonderful sounds, words and phrases they make (”The corpse you planted last year in your garden, / has it begun to sprout?” or “at the violet hour” or “what the thunder said”, for example), even if you have no idea about the meaning. A poem is supposed to be enjoyed, so don’t sweat it!

4: Poems aren’t relevant these days.
I’ll admit that when people say this, I generally want to stamp my feet and yell ‘no no no no no!’ at them. This is a blinding untruth - there are heaps of poems which are so relevant to today. In fact, there are poems which even transcend time and space (no, really) - they’ll still be relevant in a million years time!
Firstly, there are loads of poets out there who write about our world and its happenings as they are right now - even as they happen. There are hundreds of poems about major recent events, and loads of poets inventing new styles for the 21st century (how about poetry based on Google searches?!). There are also poems out there which have been around for decades or even centuries, and which can still speak for all of us when we need them to. The film Four Weddings and a Funeral used a poem by WH Auden (written in 1938) to express grief at a modern-day funeral, for example (simultaneously making it one of the most popular funeral poems around), and that’s only one example of thousands and thousands of poems that can still communicate with a 21st century audience, regardless of when they were written. And thanks to the internet and other resources, poetry is more accessible, experimental and relevant than ever before… fact!

5: Writing poetry is a waste of time, because you can’t make a career out of it.
Er… what? Yes you can make a career out of it… people do. OK, not millions of people, but still, it’s not impossible. And not many people make a career out of, say, playing hockey, or knitting, or skydiving… but some people do. And we still play hockey, knit, skydive, and do a million other things, even though we know we may not make a career out of any of them. Would you tell a bunch of guys playing football at the park that they should stop doing it because they’ll never make a career out of it? No - so why is poetry different? Why is poetry only worthwhile if it generates income?!
I can’t answer this question - but I can tell you that it is 100% OK to write poetry, regardless of your reasons. Maybe you need a theraputic outlet for your feelings; maybe, like many people, you just can’t not write. Maybe it’s just a hobby you have… or maybe you do eventually want to try and make a career out of writing. As long as you set realistic goals for yourself and don’t allow other people to pressure or distract you, writing poetry is as natural an activity as playing sport or driving a car or being a compulsive shopaholic. It is never a waste of time. Ever.

6: Writing poetry is “emo.”
Personally, I don’t tend to dignify this kind of thing with a response. It comes in two forms from two different types of people. One: those who reckon that anyone (of any age) who writes poetry must also be histrionic and hyper-sensitive, and two: those who think that any young person who writes poetry is a nitwit, because “youth poetry” is for some reason associated with sobbing goths writing in their journals. Both of these standpoints are equally ignorant and ill-informed.
Basically, saying all poetry is “emo” (whether you mean “emotional” or “to do with emo pop-culture”) is a massive generalisation… and it’s a meaningless one, too. It’s like saying writing poetry is “gay” (even more ignorant!) or, I don’t know… “tall.” Does everyone who falls into a certain category write poetry? Nope. Does everyone who writes poetry fall into the same category? Er, nope. Is applying daft made-up categories to poetry something only done by idiots? You decide.

7: All poems are about love or death.
Or nature. Or war. Or space travel. Or animals. Or ghosts. Or crazy made-up creatures in their own fantastical world. Busted? I think so!

8: Poetry is for old people.
I’ve had cheeky students say this to me a time or two, and, although it’s not quite what they meant, they are sort of right. Sadly, there are people out there in the poetry community who don’t see younger poets as ‘real’ poets… TS Eliot once said that you can’t be a serious writer until you are at least 25, and lot of people believed him.
Viewing age as a deciding factor in how good someone’s poems are is prejudice, plain and simple… it is NOT something you should pay attention to. Poetry is an artform that’s open to everyone - regardless of age, gender, sexuality, nationality or anything else. You do NOT need to be on the planet a quarter of a century before you can write a poem (or understand one). Anyone can write poetry and anyone can read it, and I’m convinced that there’s a poem out there to suit everyone… not just old people!

9: All poetry has to rhyme.
I think this myth is less common than it used to be, but you do still encounter people who genuinely believe that if it don’t rhyme, it aint poetry. People who say this are similar to those who say things like “poetry is just prose with line breaks” (though a bit less annoying), and, as with the “poetry is difficult” myth, the best way to bust this one is just to produce some examples. Find a poem you love that does not rhyme. Tell the myth-confused person in question why it’s a great piece of literature. If you have to, find a dictionary definition of ‘poetry‘ for them to go with it!

10: No one reads poetry anymore.
OK, I saved the best til last. People LOVE to do this whole “poetry is dead” speech. Martin Amis even went so far as to say that poetry had died, been buried and had its obituary written. It’s probably the most common myth you’ll encounter on your poetic travels - it’s all over the press, and spun out by just about every miserable, procrastinating writer under the sun at some point. But guess what… it’s not true!
Heaps of people still read poetry. People still buy it, listen to it, go and see it live. And I mean thousands of people. Problem is, a lot of them are all the same kind of people…
Poetry has not died, but it has become a bit enclosed. The people who still take an interest in it tend to be poets, editors or publishers themselves, or people involved with academia - students, tutors and other scholars. Your average bricklayer or bank manager or nurse doesn’t tend to read poetry too often… and why? Because of the other nine myths, of course! People really do believe them!
But it is possible to get more people reading poetry. One: read poetry yourself. Buy poetry books, go to poetry readings. It helps the poets, the publishers, and your own writing, so what’s to lose? Two: keep writing. The more poetry there is, the more choice there is; the more evidence to contradict the myths that poetry is difficult, limited, boring, etc. And three: introduce people you know to poetry. Got a friend who’s fed up at work? Find a short, funny poem and text it to them with a quick ’saw this and thought of you.’ Email your partner a daft love poem. Make up a print-out of a load of your favourite poems as a present for someone you know. Write a poem to scribble in your granny’s birthday card. Hold a poetry reading in your living room and get all your friends to bring a poem each - be it one they wrote, or just one they like. Test people - ask them if they think these myths are true, and be prepared to bust any they say ‘yes’ to. You have the power to poem-ify people’s lives… just squash the myths!

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

Guest post: why I don’t give in to submission by Mark Antony Owen

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

pile of magazines

The other day on Twitter I was chatting with Mark about a poem he’s written recently, and he happened to mention that it’s his policy never to send his poems out for publication in magazines. As this is a bit of a break from the usual poetrythink, I was intrigued to find out why… and thought you might be, too. So I invited Mark to write a guest post! Enjoy…

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The thinking goes like this: if you write, you write to be read. And as a poet, I certainly want to be read. So why don’t I submit my work to respected journals and sites? Or rather, having had five poems accepted for publication and only one rejection, why did I stop submitting? My thinking goes like this …

Poetry journals, in print or online, can be a great way for readers to discover new writing, new poets. At their best, they’re a platform for excellence – a filtration system that keeps the ‘bad’ writing from the ‘good’.

But journals can also skew one’s view of a poet or their work – as I discovered by accident.

Having read some print and online journals, I found several poets whose work I admired and whose collections I went on to buy. What was shown of their work was, I found, representative of their style and subject matter. Bottom line? One happy reader/customer. But there were also poets whose output I initially rejected as a result of seeing their work, in isolation, in journals. Poets whose collections I later dipped into in bookshops, only to find I actually quite liked other of their poems.

Frankly, I felt a little bit misled.

Now of course, it would be terribly unfair to journal editors to castigate them for having their own literary preferences and choosing to publish only those works which they deem to have merit. And anyone who reads a particular journal for long enough will surely get to know an editor’s tastes and can then decide whether or not these match their own. But the fact remains that journals can only showcase a poet’s work as a ‘slice’ – at first, anyway. And that slice may not cut it for everyone.

So we come to my reason for not submitting. Is it fear of rejection? Is it fear of the agonising wait for a response that might be a rejection? Is it artistic arrogance? It’s none of these. It’s simply that I don’t believe my own poems stand up well individually. By which, I don’t mean each poem isn’t readable or even rewarding in its own way. I mean that I conceive my poems as details in a larger canvas. Yes, you can appreciate them close up. But I prefer them to be seen within the context of a collection. I just think they work better that way; and it’s completely unreasonable of me to expect them to be seen this way if they’re being published in ones and twos across various journals.

Let me be clear – I’m not knocking (or rejecting) journals. I’m simply saying they’re not for me or my work. At least, not now I’ve found my style and have a broad creative vision for my writing. You might think: ‘If you don’t submit, how will you be read?’ Good question – and one to which I don’t have a good answer. All I know is that I’m not about to give in.

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Mark Antony Owen is a poet who writes exclusively in syllabic metre. His poetry draws on that world where the English countryside bleeds into ordinary suburban living – a world he refers to as ‘subrural’.

Mark builds around details of subrural life to create economical poems; each obeying one of nine self-developed forms or variations on these – his subjects often painted a little darker than they really are.

From autumn 2013, Mark will self-publish ‘Subruria’: a multi-volume collection he describes as part sketchbook, part journal, part memoir.

You can find out more at Mark’s website or follow him on Twitter.

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Want to write a guest post for One Night Stanzas? Email me a short, informal pitch to claire [at] onenightstanzas.com and we’ll talk!
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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

Dear Poetry Newbies: how to write a poem RIGHT NOW

Monday, December 17th, 2012

At the rehearsal 02

An earlier version of this post appeared at One Night Stanzas in September 2008.

Writer’s Block is every poet’s worst nightmare. It takes advantage of the times you’re too busy or happy or miserable to think about sitting down to write, and then it digs its claws in. Sometimes, it only lasts a week or so before it gets bored and wanders off to find another victim – other times it sticks around for months, preventing you from putting pen to paper in any kind of meaningful way.
As you can probably tell, I like to visualise Writer’s Block as a small, annoying, fanged, furry creature. Why? Because that way, I feel more like I can beat it, squash it, call in my imaginary pest-control. I can get rid of it any time I want – and so can you. In fact, if you want to, you can write a poem – and a good poem – RIGHT NOW.

Read poetry.
I say this all the time – in fact, everyone says this all the time – and it may sound like a cliché, but it is the most important thing you can possibly do as a poet. Reading other people’s poetry teaches you to write better stuff, but it also gets you fired up and gives you inspiration when you need it. When I want to write but can’t find the ideas, I read other people’s poems until I find a line that makes me think “I could expand on that,” or even “I could’ve worded that better.” When I want to write but nothing sounds any good, I turn to poems I really enjoy and admire, to ‘remind’ me how it’s done. Using other people’s poetry as a jumping-off point for an original work is not plagiarism, and poets do it all the time. Can’t find a poem that inspires you? Get to a library, bookshop or thrift store and look around until something leaps off a page at you (it will, eventually, honest). You can even try looking online – check out this page for some great online poetry sites.

Read poetry you don’t like.
I got this one from a former creative writing tutor, and funnily enough, it works. Everyone has a poet they really, really hate – often one whose work they’ve been forced to analyse in school. Who’s yours? Maybe you have a few? And probably the last thing you want to do when you’re feeling creatively challenged is look at the poetry of someone whose very name gets you foaming at the mouth with loathing. Well, try it. Drag out Wordsworth’s Daffodils or Keats’ Grecian Urn or whatever your least-favourite poem happens to be, and read it over once again. This time, ask yourself: why do I hate this poem? Is it because it’s actually a bad poem, or is there another reason? Do I hate it because I don’t fully understand it? Because I associate it with something negative? Or is it just not to my taste? Think about what puts this particular poet on your personal blacklist… and then do the opposite. Try to find good bits in the poem – is there a particular line that stands out from the rest? Does the basic idea of the poem appeal to you? Has the poet used any unusual words or created an interesting metaphor? Analyse the poem fairly – and from a personal point of view (none of this textbook-style, “what are the hidden meanings?” stuff). Once you’ve worked out why you can’t stand this poet – or once you’ve realised that actually, maybe they’re not a total imbecile – you can start to think about your own work. Write the antithesis of a Wordsworth poem, or try putting yourself in Keats’ shoes and writing in his style. Reading your most hated author really can inspire you, honest. Try it!

Read absolutely ANYTHING.

Noticing a pattern here? That’s because reading = writing: fact. The more you read, the better you write, and although obviously poetry is the best thing to get you into a poetry-writing frame of mind, just about anything that involves the written word can inspire you. I once wrote a poem inspired by a Louise Welsh novel, and another inspired by a newspaper cutting about a grassfire. Hundreds of people have written poems inspired by letters they’ve read, sent, received. I know one poet who wrote an ode to her telephone directory when she realised it was out of date, and started reading through it. Reading other people’s words can be really inspiring – no matter what they are. Try grabbing whatever written thing is nearest to you – be it a novel, a how-to book, a pamphlet or an instruction manual. Read it over, pick a line you like, and imagine it is the title of a poem. Write that poem.

Freewrite.
This is something I do with my students when they’re feeling at a loss for words. If you ask me, all words are good words, and just about anything can be a poem or story if you’re willing to shape it into one. Basically, you start with a blank sheet and a pencil, you count to three, and then you start writing. You write anything, and you keep writing without stopping until the page is full. No stopping to think, no trying to turn the writing into any kind of coherent shape – just write. One pupil of mine, a twelve-year-old boy who found creative writing “really hard,” started free-writing about what he’d been up to at the weekend (camping in the woods with his mates, apparently), and ended up with the first few paragraphs of a great adventure story. Another, Lisa – fourteen and very shy – was mad with her sister and free-wrote a letter to God asking why He’d decided to make the two sisters so different. It became a weird and wonderful poem for her school portfolio. Many students (me too) find it hard to stop at just one page. Freewriting is writing, after all, and when you’ve been struck by the pesky Writer’s Block, it feels brilliant to be putting pen to paper.
NB: Freewriting is NOT about trying to make ‘a poem’ or ‘a story’ or even a ‘good’ piece of writing. It could turn out to be garbage, and you have to let it, and not be annoyed with yourself if it does. But chances are, it won’t – I bet you find that something emerges.

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

Dear Poetry Newbies: 10 Commandments! What to AVOID when sending your poetry to magazines.

Monday, December 10th, 2012

Rules

An earlier version of this post appeared at One Night Stanzas in September 2008.

1: Thou shalt not lie.
I know I keep banging on about “being yourself,” but it’s important! So when it comes to sending off your work, not lying means not pretending that you haven’t sent your work elsewhere if you have, not making up imaginary writing credits or other frillies to spice up your bio, and not using other people’s material without crediting them or asking their permission. OK?

2: Thou shalt not be rude.
Do you want these people to publish you or not?! Always be polite and respect magazine staff and eds.

3: Thou shalt not be lazy about your cover letter..
Any kind of correspondence that informs your editor that you “hav sum poems 4u guys 2 read” (or the like) is going to seriously damage your chances! And no cover letter is basically just rude.

4: Thou shalt not be negative.
Assuming that your poems will be rejected is not the way to go, and saying as much in your cover-letter (e.g. “I’m guessing you guys will just reject these”) is even worse! Don’t put the R-word in the editor’s mind… and better still, keep it out of yours, too.

5: Thou shalt not be boastful.
Whether it’s in your cover-letter, your bio or your writers’ group meeting… it doesn’t matter how many publications you have to your name. Nobody likes a show-off!

6: Thou shalt not enter into any nasty or aggressively competitive stuff with other poets.
Sadly, the poetry world contains a fair few people who like to see others fail. Please, please don’t be one of them.

7: Thou shalt not question the editor.
Unless they’re unnecessarily rude to you (unlikely, I hope) or you need clarification about something, do not try and question the editor’s decision. Pleading, arguing and mud-slinging are unlikely to change their mind… trust me, I’ve tried!

8: Thou shalt not listen to bad advice.
e.g. “you’re too young to be published” or “I never read the submission guidelines” or “why are you bothering with this? You’ll never get accepted!” People who say such things are best ignored!

9: Thou shalt not ignore feedback from magazine editors.
It’s a rare commodity - use it wisely!

10: Thou shalt not give up.
Don’t let rejection / submission fatigue / writer’s block / negative criticism get you down. Keep writing, editing, improving, submitting. You can do it!

Disagree? Think I’ve missed a commandment? Got your own ideas? Let me know!

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

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Dear Poetry Newbies: writing rules revisited

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Rules for the Teacher
^Because I just love these.

So, lately I’ve taken to digging up some old articles I wrote in the early days of One Night Stanzas and re-posting them here for your reading pleasure (mostly because I have a ton of new readers now who might not have the patience to trawl the archives. Also because — forgive the arrogance — I’ve found myself pleasantly surprised by the quality of some of the stuff I’ve got stowed back there, and reckon it deserves another look). (I’m calling this initiative “Dear Poetry Newbies” — click for all the series so far!) The other day, I went right back to the start and found this post from September 2008. In it, I wrote what my writing rules were… and was pretty shocked at myself, I must say! Some of them I still totally agree with, but others? Let’s just say I’ve learned a lot in four years!

3: No centre-justification, weird indents or funny formatting.
Centre-justification’s fine if it’s what you do, if you like it and reckon there’s a reason for it; I just don’t do it - no idea why. I have been known to use indents, but really not very often. Basically, I think I don’t use funny formatting for two reasons… one, because sometimes other people use it and ruin lovely poems by filling them with white spaces and making them impossible to read (this makes me sad). And two: because I’m too lazy - working out where an indent might ‘work’ is just too much effort, frankly!

OK… I am ashamed. I can’t quite believe I used to be One Of Those People. I’m fairly sure that much of what I meant by “funny formatting” might be better termed “concrete poetry,” a genre of which I am now a massive fan. Reading more widely — and also living with a concrete poet for two years — has taught me that actually, the white space of the page is there to be used. It isn’t just a passive background on which to hang a poem — if you want it to, the negative space around your words can be just as vital to their meaning as the words themselves. I think this “rule” was actually fatigue in disguise — running a tiny magazine, I was sick to death of reading poems where the space was used in all manner of weird ways, just not for any reason or to any particular effect. But note to self: your magazine’s slush pile does not the entire poetry world represent. Cheer up, emo kid!

4: Always ‘finish’ a poem in one sitting.
Obviously I don’t mean finish it - I edit and redraft afterwards. But I like to get the skeleton of a poem down all in one go… I’ve tried writing in ‘bits’ before, and the poems always sound disjointed. I probably should learn how to drop a poem and go back to it, it would save me a lot of anguish!

Nothing shameful about this rule, I’ve just stopped abiding by it. It used to be the only way I could work, but now — happily, I think — I’m getting much more chilled about allowing a piece of writing to shape itself at its own pace. I think that’s been one of the most important things I’ve learned in putting together the creative part of my PhD actually — poems are like people. They all have different personalities, wants, needs, and I should to respect those things.

7: No writing in dialects other than my own.
I wrote a short story not so long ago that was in Scots. I live in Scotland and have done for almost all of my life - I think of myself as Scottish, but I’ve never actually picked up the accent. The story was apparently convincing enough to win quite a big prize, but when I thought I’d have to read it aloud at the prize-giving, I realised that writing in Scots had been a big mistake! Fortunately, I got out of reading it, but I have now learned, and will never write another piece using someone else’s accent!

I’ve come a long way in four years in terms of my attitude towards my own national identity. At the point where I wrote this “rule”, I desperately wanted to call myself a Scot, but felt like a fraud — people were still telling me I was English, I sounded English, I was born in England, shut up you’re English. I felt like I had a big red ‘E’ pinned to me, and I didn’t want it, it didn’t fit me. I hated my stupid turncoat accent. I was in a place where, if people asked me where I was from, I’d say “it’s complicated, don’t ask.”
Now, when people ask me where I’m from I say, Edinburgh (true). When people tell me I sound English, I say I lived down there as a small child and picked up the accent (true). When they point out I was born in England, I tell them that my great-grandmother was Amy Armstrong of theLiddesdale Armstrongs, directly related to Johnie and to Kinmont Willie. I tell them the Scottish/English border was, almost literally, drawn with my ancestors’ blood and entrails. And if that doesn’t work, I say f*ck you, I’m Scottish.
I’m still not sure I’d be 100% happy reading a short story in Teri to a roomful of people, but I feel a long way away from the frightened little poet who wrote this “rule” four years ago. Finding where you belong is no small thing, and re-reading this was a really amazing sign of how far I’ve come in that regard.

10: Do not participate in petty competition or snobbery.
I know a lot poetry-involved people, and I read a lot of the opinions of poetry-involved people, and sadly, some poetry-involved people aren’t very nice. There are a lot of individuals out there who like to bitch about other writers, put down certain types of poets (often young, inexperienced ones, which is horribly unfair), deliberately try to wreck other people’s chances of success and tout their own opinions of what’s “good” and “bad” as the last word in what poetry ought to be. My final - and biggest - rule is this: ignore these people. In fact, don’t just ignore them - boycott them. Don’t read their blogs, don’t buy their books, don’t listen to their rubbish. Don’t let them put you down, and don’t retaliate to them. Often they’re people whose own successes have disappointed them, so just move on and up, and concentrate on your own writing. Don’t fall into the trap of being like this yourself. Don’t speak or write ill of others — help them instead. Turn the poetry community back into a community!

I think I’ve become more chilled and accepting about this stuff — cronyism, snottiness towards newcomers, etc — and I’m now in a literary circle that I’ve carefully cultivated and consciously edited so I don’t have to deal with this sort of shit anymore. I still know of a lot of people in the poetry community who like to curate other people’s responses to poetry, who demand that others explain their opinions and choices to them, who dismiss certain ideas/styles/genres/types of people, who engage in obvious nepotism. I know of them, but I make it my business to not know them. I’ve learned that there’s no such thing as being A Big Cheese In The Poetry Community. People who think they are this, or who aspire to be this, are just kind of funny. I still agree with what I said in this “rule,” but I might re-write it now to put the emphasis less on raging against these people and more on just ignoring them (and maybe giggling at them behind your hands) and getting on with more important business: namely, putting words onto a page. And I mean the page of your personal notebook, not the page of some prestigious journal. It’s the writing that’s the most important thing, not what happens to it after. That stuff’s all just window-dressing.

What are YOUR unwritten poetry rules?

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

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More words of wisdom: Douglas Maxwell on the writing process

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Stage mic

Roughly two years ago I posted here about my first ever encounter with the incredible Scottish playwright Douglas Maxwell. He gave a great masterclass on theatre writing — and just on writing in general — for the Scottish Universities International Summerschool, and I was blown away. Since then, I’ve got to know Douglas’ work much better — most recently, I’ve bought his new book, Plays for Young People (psst, it’s awesome), and this Festival I went to see his Dream Play at the Traverse (it was called A Respectable Widow Takes To Vulgarity. Needless to say, it was excellent). But best of all, he was back at SUISS again this year with more words of wisdom for our young writers. Here are just a few I wanted to share with you…

“[Writing] isn’t craft. This is art. There is no rule you must always follow, no matter what all those books say… and you will learn more from just doing your own work than from anything beardy fools like myself say.”

“The temptation for a writer to give up is probably the most constant temptation you’ll face — and you’ll never really break through to a time when everything you write is classic. But you must not give up.”

“You’re writing for a small audience of people like you, not Lord and Lady Such-and-Such. It all works better when you think of the audience as us. Not them — not, I’m going to shock them, or, I’m going to educate them. That’s not the way to go.”

“It’s subterranean autobiography. We’re writing about us. You can write about a world event, but what does it mean to you? Start with real life, and then drop a storybomb in there.”

“There’s nothing wrong with writing as a hobby, but if you really want to really do it you have to finish. You have to write ‘The End’, and send it out there. Otherwise it doesn’t count.”

“Who wants to read a writer who’s got a thick skin? Who says, ‘I love his writing — he’s completely oblivious to the thoughts and feelings of others’? Writers have to have thin skins, they have to be sensitive people.”

“Emotional writing is where it’s at. But when it goes badly, the blood gets everywhere.”

“You’ve got to remove guesswork — either by writing about your own life, or through research. But never guess.”

“It’s hard, because how do you find a voice? It’s a bad phrase, it’s the wrong way around. You’re not trying to find your voice, you’re trying to find a song to sing that suits your voice.”

“If you’re doing it for the money, don’t do it. It’ll kill you… you write it first and then you try to find a home for it. That’s how it really works.”

You can read more of Douglas’ tips for writers in his Playwright’s Guide To Being A Playwright.

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

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Check the ill Q&A behaviour

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

366 - 350: You can't shut me up

I’ve been to a whole load of readings and other author events this Festival – avoiding as I am every aspect of the white, male, thirty-something, rape-joke-cracking comedy side of things. And although I’ve had a creeping sense of this for a while, this Festival season it has really struck me just how badly people behave in post-reading Q&A sessions.
It’s got to the point where, on the rare occasions that the event’s chair announces that there will not be a Q&A session afterwards, I feel a palpable surge of relief. You’d think that good behaviour – particularly at a set-up as supposedly erudite as the Edinburgh International Book Festival – would be a no-brainer. But apparently not – it’s more likely to be a free-for-all of terribleness. Therefore, let me share with you my no-shit-Sherlock rules for good Q&A behaviour, wherein I will also share some of the horrors I have been [un]fortunate enough to witness.

1. It’s a Q&A… so ask a damn question
The clue to this one’s in the name, folks – question and answer. Seems straightforward, right? And yet, the most commonplace Q&A sin is most definitely Question Fail. The non-question usually comes from someone whose hand shoots up in a Donkey-from-Shrek gesture. And you can tell as soon as they start that there is no question at the end of their faltering verbal rainbow. They start with “I’d just like to say…”, or “Isn’t it interesting how…”, or sometimes “You’ve just got me thinking about…” And after a while it becomes apparent that they don’t actually want to ask anything. The speaker nods politely along, perhaps trying to engineer a possible response in spite of the fact that the non-questioner doesn’t really want one. The non-questioner just wants the microphone. And yaknow, we’ve all paid ten quid for the privilege of hearing from the speaker. Please ask them something so they can say interesting things to us!

2. It’s not all about you.
A greater awareness that there are other people in the audience would serve a lot of questioners well in general. I’m speaking now of those people – some of whom have real questions and some of whom don’t – who see the Q&A session as an opportunity for them to have a private one-to-one conversation with the speaker. They ask a (non-)question, the speaker responds, and then instead of surrendering the slippery, sweaty roving mic to the next eager hand-waver, they respond back – sometimes numerous times and often at length. Admittedly, there are some event chairs who won’t allow this sort of behaviour and who will attempt to head these me-me-me types off at the pass. But this is Blighty after all, and many chairs and speakers will simply nod politely as the precious seconds of the often-too-brief Q&A tick by. Again: dude, I have spent a whole piece of paper money to come to this event. I did not spend that money so I could hear you chat about how much you liked the voice-acting in Brave (this really happened) with a speaker whose topic had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Pixar’s totally-not-a-princess-movie. Please be quiet now. (Although yes, Brave is great. Just not now.)

3. ’splaining is never acceptable…
…especially when you are talking to someone who is an expert in their field. Seriously: I can never understand folks who’ll wait until the speaker has finished unpacking years of research on a subject obviously close to their hearts before reaching for the mic and saying “actually, x is totally untrue! I read an article about it in the Telegraph!” Some cases in point: Marina Warner is one of the world’s greatest and most knowledgeable scholars of myth and folklore. She’s been publishing on the subject since the mid seventies. What this woman doesn’t know about folklore doesn’t exist. And yet, at the end of Warner’s brilliant lecture at the Book Festival, a woman raised her hand to say, “I don’t know if you realise this, Marina, but Scotland has a very vibrant culture of folklore and storytelling!” Dude. It’s Marina freaking Warner. I guarantee you she knows.
I witnessed another example of ’splaining at Alice Oswald’s truly incredible Book Festival reading. There was no Q&A session, but punters were encouraged to bring questions to Oswald during the signing. The signing queue was huge, it was 10pm and poor old Alice had just read non-stop from memory for an hour and twenty minutes. Needless to say, she was obviously exhausted. And yet, a bloke in the signing queue in front of me had no qualms about stepping up to the table to tell her all about the good old days of his own Homeric studies as an undergrad at Oxford, and by the way, did she know x and y about Homer? The woman is an expert, man! She knows.
Finally – and I really thought that in terms of ’splaining, by now I’d seen it all – at Andrew Keen’s Book Festival event, a truly ’splain-tastic gentleman spoke up at the back. Keen had just finished discussing the possible dangers of social networking for young people, a subject that his two nonfiction works have examined at length. After slagging both books horribly (and I’ll return to this in a moment), the gentleman pointed out that, “according to studies” (BECAUSE OF REASONS!), young people are highly responsible users of social media and only ever ‘friend’ people they definitely know IRL. He actually said, his white beard shuddering with indignation, “I know how young people behave, and you’ve got them completely wrong.” As a young person myself (who has nearly 2,000 Twitter followers and not a clue who most of them are), and a FE lecturer who teaches over 150 young ’uns a year (all of whom talk about “some random on my Facebook,” etc), I must say to you, sir: you are embarrassing yourself.
Everyone else: please do not be this person.

4. Do not slag the book.
I’ve witnessed this more times than I care to mention, yet I still do not understand the logic. Before the white-bearded ’splainer above began telling everyone in Edinburgh all about How Young People Behave, he first launched a massive tirade against the speaker, his books, and everything he stood for. He began with, and I quote, “I read your first book and frankly I thought it was a shoddy piece of work” (cue a lot of booing and hissing-through-teeth from the audience), before adding, “and I totally disagree with everything you say in this new book!” Happily, Andrew Keen is a long-time Silicone Valley insider, and about as hard-boiled a speaker as you get at the Book Fest, so without batting an eyelid he responded, “so you’ve read the new book, then?” When Beardy McSplain had to admit that he had not, Keen continued, “well, you’re not putting yourself in a desperately credible position, then, are you?”
However, I have seen authors panic in the face of their book being wantonly slagged in the Q&A. In an event at the Book Fest last year, the author – who I won’t name – faced a screeching elderly woman in the front row telling her that In My Day Women Like You Would Have Been Called Lazy Sluts, or words to that effect. The poor woman was just open-mouthed with shock, as were the audience.
The reason I don’t understand people who publicly attack the book (or the author) is not because I think the authors shouldn’t have to deal with it. Personally, I see hecklers as part of the public reading territory and almost relish the challenge they provide (I’ve never been called a lazy slut, though, I suppose). No, the reason I don’t understand it is this: if you hate this person and all that they write about/stand for so much, why the everloving hell have you spent ten whole pounds to come to their event? That’s two and a half pints, or a good novel, or four copies of the Big Issue! Folks – do everyone in the world a favour, stay home and give that money to a deserving charity.

5. Wait to be asked.
Just a piece of common courtesy, this. I was at an International Festival event the other day – a panel discussion featuring three academics and the chair. It became clear towards the end that the chair was trying to wrap things up for questions, but before she had even finished speaking, an extremely rude man in the front row threw out his arms towards the panel and boomed, “SO LET ME ASK YOU THIS, THEN…” Happily, the chair cut in and demanded that a) be quiet until she was done and b) he wait for the roving mic (although he really didn’t need it) – but even so, I was gobsmacked. I mean, I’ve asked questions in Q&As before – I do so quite regularly – but there is no way in hell I would ever take it upon myself to decide that I was sick of listening now and HEY LISTEN TO ME INSTEAD! Ladies and gents – be nice. Wait til you’re asked. This is the literary world, we’re civilised here! Aren’t we…?

Right – now I want to hear your horror stories. I know you’ve got them! Have you come across someone even worse than Beardy McSplain? Tell me in the comments box!

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

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In search of the perfect coffeeshop.

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

Café

Over the summer I was teaching creative writing at the Scottish Universities International Summer School. All our lovely students were from overseas and most of them had never been to Edinburgh before. The festival was in full swing, they were all finding the course extremely intensive (’cause it really, really is — but in a fun way!), and scrabbling around for a free hour or two each day to write. And they were all asking me the same question: which Edinburgh coffee shops are the best for writing in?
Weirdly, this all coincided with my procurement of a copy of David Mamet’s Make-Believe Town — a collection of essays on everything from what David Mamet thinks of screenwriting to what David Mamet did during the 1995 deer hunting season. Now, (< — classic Mamet start to a sentence right there) I love David Mamet a whole load. Although I have yet to see or even read one of his plays, his non-fiction is just so up my street. And there is one essay in this particular collection that not only spookily amplified my students’ questions… it also made me snort-laugh, and in places, nod furiously.

The essay is called “The Diner”, and in it, Mamet asserts:

“Writing, in my experience, consists of long periods of hanging out, punctuated by the fugue of remorse at the loss of one’s powers and wonder at occasional output in spite of that loss.”

This is my personal writing process in a nutshell, and so I was extremely excited when Mamet not only endorsed the behaviour I shall henceforth refer to as “hanging out” (rather than “dicking around” or “procrastinating”, which were the terms I used to use) — he actually suggests that it is a necessary and perhaps even vital part of being a writer. “We’ve got to write, and to read, and to do so, we get out of the house and get into the coffeeshop. [...] We, readers and writers, must hang out.”

And it has to be the coffeeshop. After all,

“Where else would one go? The Lounge seems to have degenerated into the Sports Bar, that is, a spot one can go to watch television. That is not hanging out; no: we cannot say it. [...] That frantic and forced consumerism of the Sports Bar will not do; neither what has become the muddled and tense obsequiousness of that proclaiming itself the Restaurant. No.”

It has to be the coffeeshop. The coffeeshop, as Mamet points out (and this is one of the parts where I furiously nodded), is more than just an establishment that sells hot, usually-brown-coloured beverages. It is a refuge for those of us who are stupid enough to have decided to dedicate our lives to the creative arts, and who therefore have little money and not much of a plan and who need a safe place to go, where we won’t be judged by normal people or told to get a real job.

“In larger towns we’ve seen the budding writer at his or her table, frowning into a notebook; and in the cities themselves, the actor and actress with their flimsy scripts — outsiders all, at home in the diner, coffeeshop, cafe.”

Having read this essay (three times, enthralled, as I almost always am by Mamet’s ramblings), I started trying to think about coffeeshops of my acquaintance that particularly lend themselves to hanging out, especially writing. I was spectacularly failing to help my students with their questions, telling them that during the Festival most of the city centre coffeeshops are out — too busy and noisy — and that they should wander Stockbridge, Bruntsfield, Morningside, Leith, and find their own preferred spots. I realised that Mamet gives numerous examples of coffeeshops across America that he thinks make perfect “hang outs” (in fact, one very sweet and only-ever-so-slightly creepy blogger made a pilgrimage to one of them)… but he gives very little information on what, exactly, might make a certain coffeeshop more conducive to hanging out than others in the same town. He mentions only that they are places “of reading, writing, gossip, mutual observation”, and that ideally, there should be a “beautiful plastic covered menu,” made all the more beautiful if it includes “that most liberal phrase, ‘Breakfast Served All Day’.” To be honest, that doesn’t give me much to go on. But I think, from the general gist of the essay, that the ideal writing coffeeshop hang-out should provide the following things:

– an atmosphere that somehow wordlessly conveys to you that once you have bought your one cup of coffee, you can sit and read/write there for as long as you like without disturbance/expectation of further purchases
– music that is not going to bug you… but probably not no music at all, as that’s a bit weird
– an unspoken hostility towards yummy mummies and their unsupervised buggy-mewling brats (so pretty much any Costa is immediately ruled out)
– long-serving staff who know your “usual”, and who aren’t hipsters
– a conspicuous absence of wifi or wall-sockets (Mamet does assert, “can we take our computers there? Thankfully not.”)
– a total ban on TV of any kind
– people-watching opportunities

(Personally I’d also add: tables that are the correct darned height for a seated human adult; soya milk at no extra charge; juice, not smoothies; properly late opening hours; dim lighting, and booths. Oh my goodness, booths. But yaknow, that’s just me.)

Based on these criteria, I had a sudden, terrible realisation. There are so few proper, decent hang-out spots in Edinburgh that I am actually a bit embarrassed on Edinburgh’s behalf.

There are a few contenders. Word of Mouth, just off Leith Walk, is pretty fabulous, though small. They’d make my list. The Cameo Bar might, too, but it depends on the time, the day and whether or not a big movie is opening. The new Forest Cafe on Tollcross Junction ticks the box for their one-cup-of-tea-and-you-can-stay-all-day vibe… that’s rare these days, so props, Forest. Unfortunately, they do lose out on the music front. Sometimes it’s super-chilled, one-man-and-his-uke stuff, which is perfect… then other times it’s an actual member of staff actually banging his actual fists on an actual piano two feet from your actual head while you’re trying to write. Just no.
Then there’s Black Medicine. There are three in Edinburgh. The biggest, on Nicolson Street, instantly loses out because of its pot-luck weird-ass music, and its UBERHIPSTER counter staff (anyone else remember the days of Kyle and Kyle? I had such a crush on the dreadlocked Kyle. It was WAY more of a hang-out in those days). The Marchmont one has been found by the yummy mummies and the laptop wankers. The newest one, Tollcross, is definitely the most promising (one of the veteran BM staff still works there! Hello, twin mohawk guy!) and may actually make my hang-out list. Soya milk’s extra, though. Boo!
Where else? City Cafe on Blair Street is technically a bar, but they have booths and dim lighting and candles and some of the staff are hot, friendly chubby tattooed girls. Unfortunately, there are TVs. Schoolboy error, City Cafe. Remember before you decided to go for a revamp and become a pseudo fifties diner? YOU WERE WAY MORE AWESOME THEN. (Also, since when did fifties diners have huge-ass TVs almost always showing the BBC News 24 channel? Illogical, Captain.)
And then I kind of run out of options. Cafe Class, also on Tollcross Junction, is cool, but you feel like you have to order more stuff if you sit there a long time. At Kilimanjaro on South Clerk Street once, one of the waiters actually demanded that my friend and I order more drinks after less than an hour, so screw you, Kilimanjaro. Favorit used to be freaking amazing (open til 3am on weekends!), but then it changed hands and now seems to be trying to imitate a Caffe Nero. And the Filmhouse Cafe-Bar is cool, but EVERYWHERE YOU LOOK there are TV screens showing mesmerising trailers for artsy movies, meaning concentration on what you’re doing (reading, writing, conversing, eating their delicious chickpea curry) is pretty darned tricky. And… that’s it. Only two (maybe three. Maybe) real proper definite hang-outs in the whole of Edinburgh.

Given that David Mamet has informed me that hanging out is, in fact, a legitimate — nay, important — activity for the budding writer, it is now really rather important that I find suitable venues in which to partake of it. Therefore, I want to hear about your hang-out spot. I don’t mind where you live — I might be coming to your town someday, and this is vital information I will need to know. I already know of one or two good international hang-out spots… the Bean Around The World in Victoria, BC, for example, might well be the best hang-out in all of Canada. But I am hungry for more! Particularly if you know of hang-outs in Glasgow, London, Portland OR, Barcelona, Krakow, San Francisco, Oslo or Vancouver (these are all places I either really love and want to go back to or am visiting sometime soon). You can also totally please yes do tell me what characteristics your ultimate writing hang-out needs to have. As Edinburgh is so surprisingly poor on the hang-out front, I may need to start my own coffeeshop just to meet demand…

Get thee to the comments box!

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

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