Posts Tagged ‘advice for young writers’

Seven pieces of writing advice from the speakers of The Business

Monday, May 26th, 2014

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (1)

Last week, I was extremely flattered to be invited to speak at The Business, an event run by the University of Edinburgh and hosted by their Writer in Residence Jenni Fagan. The event was designed for budding writers who were keen to know more about the ‘business’ side of being a writer. I was asked to speak alongside publishing megastars like Francis Bickmore and Jenny Brown (!!!), and my topic was, essentially “is a Creative Writing PhD right for you?”

I think my talk went OK: the best part about it was definitely making my supervisor, Alan — who was hiding at the back of the room — blush quite a lot as I talked about what a brilliant mentor he’d been. But much better than my barely coherent ramblings were the talks of the other speakers. I hand-picked some useful advice from each of them for your reading pleasure…

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (4)

1. Jenny Brown of Jenny Brown Associates, literary agent:

“Don’t write to trends.”

I’ve seen Jenny Brown speak on many occasions, and she always manages to make her advice to writers fresh and relevant to what’s going on in the book world at that very moment. However, this piece of advice is always in there and I think it’s something a lot of young novelists (in particular) need to hear. “You can never get on top of a trend,” she says, “because by the time you get your novel out there, you’ll have just missed it.” Instead, she advises, you should concentrate on writing a great novel that you love, and that your agent will love. “I don’t pick books based on genre, or based on whether or not I think they will be commercially successful,” Jenny said. “I mean, those things are factors, but at the end of the day if I love your book, that’s the main thing. All the books I’ve picked to represent, I have loved.”

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (6)

2. Chris Hamilton-Emery of Salt, publisher:

“We need more narrative non-fiction.”

Did you know that the market for non-fiction is far larger than the market for fiction? “Fiction is declining,” Chris revealed, and he picked up on a point that Jenny had made about her love of nature writing. “Jenny said she was disappointed not to see more nature books. I agree. I wish more young writers would break into non-fiction earlier.” He said that for every fifty novels that landed on his desk, he’d see only one non-fiction work. (He also mentioned poetry’s market share: less than 1% of the entire book market. But then, we knew that, right?)

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (8)

3. Francis Bickmore of Canongate, publisher:

“The hair shines with brushing.”

Francis gave his own seven rules for writers, all of which were great, but this was by far my favourite. He said it came from a friend of his, another publisher, who’d been listening to one of their writers moaning about how many edits they were needing to do on their novel. “The guy’s response was, ah yes, but the hair shines with brushing. The hair shines with brushing. I think it’s Flaubert or something, and it’s so true.” In other words, edit, edit, polish, edit, polish and then edit some more. Make your writing shine.

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (9)

4. Stuart Kelly of The Guardian and many other places, critic:

“If you’re not interested in writing a novel that changes what the novel is capable of, get out of the business.”

This was probably my favourite piece of advice from the entire event. It’s something I might nick, except I’d replace the word ‘novel’ with ‘poem.’ What Stuart was saying is that the best novels are the ones that really push the boundaries of the form: one of the audience members gave the example of Jennifer Egan’s Visit from the Goon Squad, which happens to be my favourite novel ever, and really does do what Stuart’s talking about. “It’s not enough to just mention Twitter here and there,” Stuart said. “I’m talking about really experimenting with what this form can do.”

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (10)

5. Peggy Hughes, of Dundee Book Festival, promoter:

“Perform your work in public.”

Peggy, aka the most-loved person in Scottish arts administration (no joke, she’s awesome) was in attendance to talk about the role of literary festivals in the writing business. She revealed that she routinely attends poetry readings, open mics and other literary events in order to scout for potential talent to book for her festival. “Go and read at these things,” she said. “You never know when someone like me might be sitting in the audience thinking, I should book this person.”

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6. Kevin Williamson of Neu! Reekie!, promoter:

“Embrace the improbable.”

Kevin’s talk was mostly about his whirlwind experience at the helm of the Creative Scotland-funded cabaret sensation that is Neu! Reekie! He talked about having his face put on a new whisky brand’s label, meeting Richard Hell and somehow managing to get Primal Scream to play at one of his gigs. But it wasn’t just half an hour of how cool Kevin Williamson’s life is: he also talked about how rewarding community work can be for writers, talking a bit about his experiences teaching the poetry of Robert Burns in Scottish prisons. “All the things that have happened to me have been pretty improbable,” he said. “When Neu! Reekie! started we had no idea where it was going to go. So just embrace it, just go with whatever comes to you.”

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (12)

7. Jenni Fagan of the University of Edinburgh, writer:

“Pace yourself… and get off Facebook.”

Jenni is in the middle of developing her novel The Panopticon (which is good and you should read it, by the way) into a film script, so she fielded a lot of questions from the audience about that side of things. However, she warned that “98% of all films never get made,” and pushed the importance of focussing on the writing first and foremost. “I got off Facebook because I found that I was looking at things like the best way to peel a banana, and then from that I clicked on to a really cute photo of a koala bear… and then before I knew it I’d spent a whole hour and all I’d done was surf a bunch of crap.” She says writers ought to focus on removing anything from their lives “that takes you away from words,” but she also noted the value of pacing yourself, and knowing that everything does not happen at once. “I have this idea for another novel,” she said, “but I am pretty sure I won’t start writing it for maybe another five or ten years. You just have to let things take their course.”

Incidentally, if you have any questions about Creative Writing PhDs, keep an eye out for a post on the topic in the next little while!

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. 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!

Procrastination Station #122: Christmas edition!

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

1384578

I haven’t done a PS post in ages, but I have still been saving up cool and interesting links to share with all of you. So this one goes out to all the folks who’re stuck in work on Christmas Eve. Have a cheeky gander at this stuff and the time will fly by! Merry Christmas!

The conversation about money (or privilege) is the one we never have. Why? I think it’s the Marie Antoinette syndrome: those with privilege and luck don’t want the riffraff knowing the details. After all, if ‘those people” understood the differences in our lives, they might revolt. Or, God forbid, not see us as somehow more special, talented and/or deserving than them.

If you read nothing else in this post, read this: on writers, money and lies.

Buildings inspired by books.

You pick one store. Make it an indie. Maybe the one closest to your house. Make sure they have a website. Make sure your book is available on their website. Make sure the store is willing to ship books to customers. Link to your book through the store’s page. Tell the store you are doing this. If you have a big enough following and sales result, they will surely notice in a hurry anyhow. Even if not a single customer finds them through you, they will be happy. They will be happy with you.

from There Are Exactly Zero Defensible Reasons For Authors To Link To Amazon. Teaching you how — and why, though you probably already know — your should team up with indies and save bookselling!

An old train transformed into a bookshop. Yep.

Intellectual Lisa, with her penchant for museums and libraries, is an outlier in her family, in her whole town. But her basic brain power could easily have come from Marge. Although, unlike her mother, Lisa would never put her dreams aside. (Oh, Marge, your life of quite desperation depresses me so. How could you throw so much away, no matter how hot that Mr Plow jacket is?) How did Lisa manage to escape the domestic trap that ensnared her bright, brittle mother?

I am Lisa Simpson. You are Lisa Simpson. We are all Lisa Simpson.

Why we abandon books.

As a child, the island seemed so vast and full of wondrous possibility. Today, it’s just another beautiful, yet remote location. I know there are no mythical beasts tromping through its forests. The people living across the bay on Sandy Hook Drive are just normal folk with lives that are probably as mundane as mine. There is no more mystery, and very few days dedicated to discovery.

On wonder and creativity: There’s Bigfoot in Them Woods

This gorgeous e-book is beautifully illustrated with portraits of, and full of facts about, amazing women who’ve changed how we look at the world.

The images on this page would be unsatisfying to most horror fans, as the hallmark of modern zombie films is now life-like, over-the-top gore. It will serve us better, though, to first explore the origins of this time-honored creature that began as an obscure Haitian folk myth but is now one of our most revisited horror archetypes. It may first seem that history has little connection to our fictional flesh-eating friends, but they have complex origins, too little discussed and too often ignored by historians and horror fans alike: here we hope to provide the first step in the exploration of the phenomenon.

Find out where the shuffling, blood-spattered Walking Dead zombie really came from in Haiti & the Truth about Zombies.

The twenty most spell-binding university libraries in the world.

I find it interesting that the two male heroes of The Hunger Games are so different from one another, and that they embody such different ways of being men. While Gale is the character we might typically think of in a story like this one—a story with plenty of violence, high stakes, and sacrifice—Peeta is not.

This article has uber-spoilers, so if you haven’t yet finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy, steer away. But if you have, read this piece, for it is amazing: Gale, Peeta and Masculinity in The Hunger Games.

Courageous people expose their insecurities for the camera: the What I Be Project is some amazing photographic storytelling.

Atwood is a polymath. She has ideas about how to fix almost everything and takes pride in her rugged resourcefulness – unlike so many namby-pamby authors who wouldn’t have a clue what to do if the lights went out. When she walks down a street, for example, she likes to point out to whomever she’s with what, in the natural world, they could eat, should the need arise. “I just want them to be prepared.”

If you still haven’t read the Maddaddam trilogy, you need to do so right now. (If you have no plans to read it, we can never be friends.) Check out this interview with the sublime Margaret Atwood, and see if you’re not convinced.

You want to read this new poem by Freesia McKee. Trust me.

“My investigation file expanded from one inch to four inches and then to eight inches. The contents included personal data about Moore and his associates, printouts from his website, copies of relevant articles and reams of information on other involuntary porn stars who were featured on his site. I’d found others, and I knew it would be difficult for law enforcement to ignore folks from all over the country.”
Charlotte Laws took on the infamous internet predator Hunter Moore, and, well… she’s a total badass.

Here’s a map of London’s independent bookstores. You’re welcome.

I suspect the vehement dislike of tattoos is really a fear of women’s skin. When a woman makes her own mark on it, she isn’t quite as available to receive whatever fantasies you might want to project on to her. If skin is a screen, and a woman writes on it, she is telling the world (or even just herself) that her own standards of attractiveness are more important to her than the standards of anyone else.

I am violently in love with this Guardian article on women and tattoos. I mean really.

You’ve seen these amazing mother-daughter artistic collaborations, right?

[Beyonce] a work in progress, as are we all. In 2010, she gave an interview saying she was a “feminist in a way,” because she valued her female friendships deeply. Earlier this year, she claimed she was a “modern-day feminist.” Now she is straight up embracing the term in her music and claiming her right to tell women to both bowdown and encouraging them to be self-confident from the moment they step out of bed… in the same damn song! I rock with that because her feminism is complicated, and ours is too. Tell the truth.

I’ve loved reading the various voices rising above the wall of stupid that went up in response to Beyonce’s new record. This might be my favourite.

Life advice from Amy Poehler. Worth passing on!
Speaking of Beyonce: I FREAKING LOVE THIS RECORD SO MUCH.
OMG Watsky. You may have jumped off a lighting rig at a gig like an IDIOT, but I can’t help but still love you.
Cool.

Merry Christmas everybody!!!

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. 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!

Dear poetry newbies: dealing with negative criticism

Monday, November 4th, 2013

You suck

A version of this post first appeared at One Night Stanzas in October 2008.

How do I tell the constructive from the negative?
This is tricky - particularly if you’re new to receiving criticism or if you feel particularly proud of the piece of writing being criticised. If either of these things apply, then you’re very likely to see any criticism as an attack. And don’t get me wrong: even constructive criticism can feel that way sometimes, but look out for the positives. There’s a definite difference between “cut out stanza four, it’s no good at all” and “if you cut stanza four, the poem would be better”. The suggestion is the same, but the delivery is crucial. The first statement is concentrating on what’s wrong with your poem, while the second is a suggestion for making it better.

Another way to work out whether something is constructive or negative is to look at how universal the critical statement sounds. Offering a personal opinion is usually fine; making sweeping generalisations isn’t. For example, if someone says “this doesn’t really read like poetry to me”, they’re just offering their opinion. If they say “what you write isn’t poetry”, they’re assuming that all your readers will agree. There’s a big difference between “this isn’t to my taste” and “no one will like this.”

Some negative criticism can be deliberately well-hidden, too. Statements like “I’m sure there’s a good poem in there somewhere” or “I think I understand” are very ambiguous. If it’s ambiguous, it’s not really helpful either way, so give your critic the benefit of the doubt and ask them to be more specific. You should soon be able to tell whether or not this is criticism you should be taking on board.

Someone just made a really mean remark to my face. What should I do?
First of all, step back and try to be as objective as possible. Don’t just tell them to get lost, and don’t allow yourself to say the first thing that comes into your head - you’ll doubtless regret it later. Instead, think quickly but carefully about how you want to react. If the criticism needs an immediate response, buy yourself time by saying “I’m not sure what you mean,” “can you elaborate?”, or even “sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.” (This can be a good tactic, because while it’s easy to say something hurtful once, having to say it again can make people think.) As your critic rephrases their remark, you may come to realise that they didn’t intend to be hurtful in the first place, and you could well be glad that you didn’t just snark them off! However, if you’re still hurt by their comments, come back with a neutral response like, “that’s an interesting angle on it, I’ll think about that”, or “well, I appreciate any feedback.” That way, you can bring the issue to a close and escape from the conversation… or at least change the subject!

Someone’s left a negative comment on a forum/my blog/a poem I posted online. What do I do?
If someone else has written ill of you, that doesn’t mean you should do the same - so don’t take to a blog or forum-post and vent spleen yourself. Instead, try to get the comments in question removed. If this means communicating with the original poster, don’t get personal - just make the request as reasonably as you can. If it means speaking with someone higher up the foodchain, don’t be too long-winded or dramatic… just point them in the direction of the trouble, and explain briefly why you think they need to intervene.

If the negative comments are on a smaller scale - say, if a mean commenter has wandered into your deviantART gallery and decided to leave a few choice words - the best thing you can possibly do is just ignore it. This can be really hard, but an angry response of any kind means that your negative commenter has won. If you’re itching to write something scathing back, snap your laptop shut or turn off your monitor and remove yourself from the situation. Go away and do have a cup of tea, or have a rant about it to someone. Don’t go back to your computer until you’re cool, calm and collected; until you know that you won’t even be tempted to dignify your attackers with an answer. (NB: this is hard. I have not always succeeded in staying nice. However, I’ve always regretted it when I’ve given in to snark!)

My work got a really negative review, and heaps of people have read it. What do I do?
This can feel like a huge deal at the time, but it really isn’t. If you’re a writer, bad reviews are part of the job-description, and trust me, they really don’t hurt your career as much as people might like you to think. Any review is just the opinion of one person, and them saying “this person’s writing sucks, nobody should read it,” is kind of like saying “rum-raisin ice cream sucks, nobody should eat it.” Sure, rum-raisin ice cream might be an acquired taste, but are people really going to stop eating it because one guy told them to? Nope. Are people really going to totally boycott your site, book or pamphlet just because one guy told them to? Nope. People have brains in their heads, and they want to make up their own minds, so the best thing to do about a bad review is ignore it and move on, ASAP. Think about it this way: this person who hates your writing has just told a whole load of other people that you exist. They might not have known that before. Your reviewer (if they’re even half-decent at their job) may also have sparked the curiosity of a few people. Chances are, even a bad review will get you more readers than no review at all. It really is true what they say: all publicity is good publicity, so really, you should be raising a glass in honour of your evil reviewer!

Argh! I snapped back at someone because they were negative about me, and how it’s got out of hand!
OK, so someone was mean about you so you were mean back, and then all their friends started being mean about you too, and they’ve all written heaps of bad stuff about you and you’re totally out of your depth. Or maybe you responded angrily to a negative commenter and now they’re really upset and threatening to get back at you somehow, and you’re worried about what they’ll say/do. Or maybe you’ve said something you now regret to someone important, and you’re terrified about the consequences it could have. I understand - never fear, it happens all the time, and these things are usually pretty easily solved.

Situation 1: they were mean, then you were mean back, now everyone’s being mean. No one’s in the clear here, but someone needs to take responsibility, and that someone might as well be you. Get in touch with the original negative commenter, and apologise (sincerely - no double-edged comments). Say you’re sorry, you didn’t mean for things to get out of hand, and you want to move on. If they’re even a half-decent person, they’ll accept your apology, and hopefully get rid of any nasty stuff they’ve written about you. If they don’t accept your apology, I’m afraid you’re just going to have to walk away, and console yourself with the fact that you were able to behave like an adult in the end. It may be worrying to think that there is snark about you all over the internet, but trust me, as long as you haven’t done anything actually criminal, it’ll probably never make a difference to your future.

Situation 2: you were mean, and now they’re threatening vengance. OK, realistically, what is this person going to do? Even if they’re threatening to harm your career prospects as a writer, those threats are probably pretty empty (I once had a reasonably well-known poet insinuate that no editor would ever acknowledge me if she had anything to do with it. So far, no evidence of this…), because trying to wreck other people’s chances doesn’t do your own chances any good at all. The best thing to do in this situation is to take back what you said, however hard that may be for you. Remove the comment you made, and apologise. If that doesn’t work, you’ll just have to take your chances. Again, I reckon I can guarantee that nothing drastic will come of it.

Situation 3: you said something you now regret to the wrong person. Easy: get in touch with them, apologise, and explain. If you don’t have a way of contacting them, find out. And if you can’t find out, move on. Yes, unfortunately people do have long memories, but sometimes you just have to chalk these things up to experience. The only thing you can really do is hope that your two paths cross again in the future, and you can make a better impression second time around.

Some stuff to remember:
- Not everything that sounds negative is negative. Read or listen carefully before you respond. Bear in mind that the internet comes without body-language, which makes up about 90% of all communication. Comments that sound rude could just be sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek. If you’re not sure, ask the commenter to elaborate.

- People are entitled to hold an opinion about your work, and they are allowed to say what they think. If you have a problem with this, then maybe you’re not ready to put your work out there to be read. Think carefully about whether or not you want other people to criticise your work - if you’re not confident, don’t feel rushed into submitting to magazines or posting your work online.

- If you think you’re constantly getting negative feedback, then maybe you need to adjust your negativity radar. It may well be that you’re not great at taking criticism, and so everything feels like a personal attack. If this is the case, you have to force yourself to be more positive. 90% of feedback is useful, so try and see the usefulness wherever you can. See all reviews of your work as publicity, and bear in mind that for every person who doesn’t really dig your work, there’s bound to be another person out there who’d like it.

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. 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: writing in the face of adversity.

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Walk away

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

Here are a few phrases you’ll probably encounter a lot if you decide to tell people that you want to be / are a writer. Perhaps you’ve already heard some of them…

“Don’t be ridiculous. How are you going to support yourself?!”
“I used to say that when I was your age… you’ll see.”
“But writing’s just a hobby, isn’t it? ”
“Great. But what’s your real job?”

Sound familiar? I’ve had responses like these countless times from people who genuinely can’t understand why anyone would want to even try to make their living from writing. I think you can apply them to just about any other creative endeavour, too — try telling people you want to be a painter, fashion designer, musician, sculptor or actor, and you’ll probably hear similar things. This kind of response can be incredibly demoralising, particularly if it comes from a trusted friend, family member or personal hero. Often you’ll hear things like this from people who are older and supposedly wiser than you, which can also leave you questioning yourself. But no matter how often you hear these phrases, please, please don’t allow yourself to be disheartened by them. Many people can’t understand the possibility of an equation like writing + hard work = paying the bills. But that doesn’t make it a scientific impossibility!

Great. But what’s your real job?
OK, so the person who asks this question is probably assuming that your writing doesn’t make you much money, and as a result, you probably have another job which helps keep a roof over your head. This is a reasonable assumption to make - many writers do have a second source of income, either out of financial necessity or because it directly facilitates their writing. This is particularly true of poetry, I’m afraid. Poetry is an integral part of our everyday lives - it’s in the nursery rhymes we sing to our kids, it’s in greetings cards, advertising, and jingles on the radio. But despite this, not many people actually make the conscious effort to read poetry - to buy poetry collections, attend poetry readings or seek out new and exciting poets locally or online. Poetry just doesn’t sell well, which means that it does not generate too much income - and as a result, most poets do “real” jobs throughout their lives. William Carlos Williams worked as a doctor his whole life (he wrote short bursts of poetry in the few spare minutes between appointments), and Philip Larkin kept up his career in librarianship in spite of his rise to poetic fame. Most of the poets I know work in literature-related environments - some are English teachers, some University tutors, some work in bookstores or write copy for medical journals. Lots of poets support themselves by setting up or working for small publishing firms, which not only helps them survive - it helps poetry survive, too. But yes, I’m afraid it’s true - 99% of poets have to work at something other than their writing, which means you will probably have to, too - at least for a while.

Don’t be ridiculous. How are you going to support yourself?!
So you probably are going to have to get a “real” job, and therefore - although this isn’t very nicely worded - it is a fair question. When you’re not frantically scribbling, what are you going to do?
Well, you’re a creative person, and so I’m guessing that the thought of a 9-5 office post or a low-paid table-waiting job probably makes you want to scream. But you can relax, because you do not need to do those jobs! Teaching is a popular one. You don’t necessarily have to do a teaching degree and end up in charge of a class of thirty kids - just think about what you’re good at; what skills do you have that other people might want to learn? You write, so I’m guessing your language skills are pretty good; or perhaps you play flute, or whizz through long division? Pick a skill, work out a step-by-step teaching strategy, and then make bright, bold posters and advertise yourself (“Want to learn French? Get lessons from a native speaker!”). Alternatively, you could look around for private tutoring agencies and firms in your area, and see if they could take you on. That’s how I ended up working as an English tutor and lecturer; that’s how I paid my bills and supported my writing for over five years.
There are other ways, of course, if teaching doesn’t float your boat. Working in a bookstore may just sound like another dull retail job, but give it a try. Chances are, the people who work there are into words in the same way you are - particularly if the store is an independent one. A good poet friend of mine worked for the huge chain bookstore Waterstones, and surprisingly, loved every second. He got to work in the poetry department, and he went through there like a dose of salts, insisting that they order in more books by Charles Bukowski and other hip writers, writing enthusiastic reviews for poetry books to make people buy them, and making suggestions for cool literary events for the store. He also took the time to chat with the customers about the books they were buying, and had a great time meeting loads of like-minded people!
Basically, your “real” job should always be something you don’t totally hate. Creative people can wither in soul-crushing corporate workplaces, so make sure your day-job isn’t affecting your writing in a negative way. If it is: quit. Go work in a cool café, deliver leaflets or posters, become a carer for the elderly (old people are amazing, and good, caring people are always needed), walk your neighbours’ dogs, drive a pizza van. Do something you like, and when you’re not doing it, write. Don’t let anyone else tell you how you should support yourself.

But writing’s just a hobby, isn’t it?
So, you mainly need the “real” job because writing does not tend to generate a regular income - if you go through a bad patch with your writing and have no financial back-up, you could end up with no rent-money at the end of the month. However, writing is not just a hobby - it can make you money, if you know how to work it!
Poetry’s tricky to sell, as we’ve already discovered. However, some magazines do pay for poems. It’s not generally a lot, but it’s something - and the day of your first paid magazine gig is a momentous occasion! You can also get paid for reading your poetry to an audience, so try and get yourself on the bill of a local poetry reading. Many of these events charge a small entry fee, and more often than not, that goes to the poets. If your scruples allow, you can also try touting your poetic wares to greetings card companies or other product manufacturers… obviously you won’t be writing your best or most complex work, but you’ll be writing and making some cash!
Other forms of writing are more lucrative than poetry, thank goodness! You can make cash-per-word writing freelance magazine articles, reviews etc, and there are heaps of websites out there with advice on this kind of thing - just type “freelancing for beginners” into Google (but watch out for scams… don’t part with any cash for online writing courses or the like - you should be able to get all the info you need for free). You can also write for a specific market - as I said earlier, medical writing can generate income, as can travel writing and writing for other specialist areas.
If you’re feeling courageous, you can also send your work off to poetry contests with cash prizes (though with most of these you have to pay an entry fee… make sure it’s worth paying to enter!) or read up on grants and other funding for writers.

I used to say that when I was your age… you’ll see.
Whatever you do, do NOT be discouraged by negative responses from other people! This “you’ll see” response is particularly nasty, because it implies that you’ll fail, or that you’ll regret pursuing your writing at a later stage of your life. Yes, you should be sure that writing is really what you want to do, but chances are if you do decide to follow that path, and if you stay smart and true to yourself, you’ll have no regrets whatsoever. As for the “don’t be ridiculous” comment - writing and creating are not ridiculous exercises. If you ask me, slaving away at a PC or photocopier for eight full hours of your waking day is much more ridiculous than creating something really cool and unique and sending it out into the world for people to enjoy. And if someone asks you what your “real” job is, tell them it’s writing - you just happen to have another job on the side.

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Budding writer? Creative person in need of a fun job? Check out the various resources and services at Bookworm Tutors. 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!

Things I Love Thursday #82

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Getting ideas for my new garden...

What are these?  They're about the size of my head.  I would like some.

Peonies!

Peonies!
Dreaming my new garden
So, along with our new, slowly-emerging-from-a-wreck house, Lovely Boyfriend and I have also obtained two small patches of garden. Right now, they’re basically scruffy little lawns with some weedy borders around them. But I plan to turn these two little spaces into a garden of edible delights (plus a few pretty flowers here and there). I’ve never understood why anyone would have a lawn when they could have a veggie patch. Anyway, I’m pawing through books and beginning to learn a bit about plants… and in the process, I’ve suddenly become excited about garden centres.

Grumpy gargoyle

Slightly scared-looking lion,

The Toucans & Maccaws Fountain at Larch Cottage, Melkinthorpe
…but not all garden centres are the same.
Larch Cottage, at Melkinthorpe (WHAT A NAME) in Cumbria, is no ordinary garden centre. It’s basically like a magical secret garden inhabited by thousands of weird and wonderful statues, all of which come to life at night and grow huge and amazing plants. If that sounds a tad creepy then yeah, I guess it’s a tad creepy. But it’s also amazing. I mean… grumpy gargoyles everywhere, a life-size bronze lion, and a fountain covered in cheeky toucans? If ever you’re in Cumbria, seek it out (it’s hidden down a series of narrow, high-hedged roads) and see what I mean. (There’s also a cool restaurant, an art gallery and a shop full of jewellery, furniture and strange nick-nacks. Woo!)

DREAM CAR RIGHT THERE.

Pretty.
Spotting my dream car(s) EVERYWHERE
I’ve had this silly daydream for years: one day I will own a vintage Land Rover Defender. It’ll have a crappy tape-deck and bench seats in the back and rattle like a bean can. On the other hand, I also dream (well, who doesn’t?) of cruising around in a beautiful vintage Ford Mustang, preferably wearing a very, very long scarf that billows in the wind…
(But until I win the lottery, and/or get a massive concussion that causes me to forget how much I care about carbon footprints, I guess I’ll stick with the bus!)

Moomins!

The Uselessness of Everything

Pretty pretty poetry book, up soon at Edinburgh Vintage!
Cute books
I’ve been lucky enough to become the proud owner of a series of late 1960s and early 1970s Penguin paperback editions of the Moomin books. I loved the Moomins as a child and have had so many flashbacks, flicking through these super cute books and being jolted about 15 years back in time by so many of the illustrations! As I’m moving house, I’ll be parting with the series (with a tiny tear in my eye) over at Edinburgh Vintage very soon.
Meanwhile, already for sale at EV is the beautiful, minature, leather-bound collection of Burns’ Songs pictured above. My favourite part about it is the gorgeous cover with its tooled image of Calton Hill. Amazing!

The Vogrie Park Greyhound Meet!
The Vogrie Park Greyhound Meet!
Basically about 50 greyhounds all together in one place being SUPER CUTE. Lovely Boyfriend and I each got to befriend and walk one of them — his was Sam, mine was Neville. (Neville’s at the front left of the pic, wearing a blue cape!)

Found poetry on the streets of Edinburgh

At the Canny Mans

Brush your teeth, say no to drugs, say yes to marker pen graffiti

Super cool old door, Newington

I love long Edinburgh evenings
Edinburgh…
Edinburgh on a warm sunny day is basically THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD BAR NONE. This past week I have seen so many of its millions of moods, as evidenced by the photos above! Found poetry, flickering neon, juvenile graffiti (but with a social conscience!), crumbling elegance, amazing long evenings full of swifts. THANK YOU, MAGIC CITY.

I want this dog.

Snooty tall giraffe made the small fat giraffe sad.
…and Edinburgh window displays. Giving me ALL THE FEELS.
I love the grumpy, sassy-looking dogs at Pink on Castle Street. I really, really want one. Just, yaknow, to sit in my living room. They make me super happy whenever I walk by.
But oh… then there’s this INCREDIBLY SAD window display in a Morningside toy shop. The tall snooty giraffe being sniffy about his friend! And the small, fat giraffe looking so ashamed of himself! Call me infantile if you like, guys, but it’s enough to make me want to run in there, buy both of them, take them home with me and talk them into being friends again.

What are YOU loving this week?

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Budding writer? Creative person in need of a fun job? Check out the various resources and services at Bookworm Tutors. 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!

Dear Poetry Newbies: read more poetry.

Monday, July 1st, 2013

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

“People who never read poetry don’t write poems that are worth reading,” says Wendy Cope in this article about the importance of reading. I daresay that a lot of you will resent this statement, but I’m afraid it’s absolutely 100% true.

In 2007 I set up a teeny tiny little DIY literature zine called Read This Magazine. Although our print run was only 150 copies per month, as ed-in-chief of RT, I saw thousands and thousands of poems by young and emerging writers. When it came to picking out the best work for publication, about 80% of everything went immediately onto what the industry calls “the slush pile” - in other words, the “definitely no” pile.

This may seem incredibly harsh - particularly as so many of these submissions were accompanied by cover letters which stated “I’ve never had my poems accepted and I don’t know why” or “I want to know how to make my poems better.” Was I just rejecting them out of hand? Did my editorial team and I not read them with as much care as the other 20%? Basically, the truth is painful: you can tell immediately, sometimes from the very first line of the very first poem in a submission, whether or not the poet in question reads poetry. And if it’s clear that they don’t, you can basically guarantee that none of their poems will be good enough for publication.

You can leap down my throat if you like - because yes, sometimes, rarely, a poet who doesn’t read anything does get lucky, and writes something insightful or interesting which deserves a closer look. However, bear this in mind: Read This was a lot more accomodating than most magazines… we did read everything through at least once before consigning it to the slush pile (just in case), and we responded personally to everyone - particularly those people who’ve asked for help and advice in their cover letters. Furthermore, giving 80% of submissions an “immediate rejection” is nowhere near the 95%-97% mark of most major magazines and publishing houses - you think we were harsh? Try Poetry Review!

You can dress it up any way you like, but as Wendy Cope says: if you don’t read, you are not going to be a successful poet, and the earlier you allow yourself to accept that fact, the better! Defiantly refusing to read other poets’ works will not endear you to the poetry community (as Kenneth Patchen said, “people who say they love poetry but then never buy any are cheap sons-of-bitches”), and chances are your work will remain stagnant and always sound, look and read in the same old way (so if it aint getting published now, the future doesnt look good). However, if you open your eyes to the great wealth of poetic material around you, and start taking it in, then you’ll soon begin to see and feel the benefits. It’s like the old adage ‘you are what you eat’ - you are also what you read.

But I hate reading!
OK, that’s fine. Some people will say “well, why are you a poet?”, but I understand. My sister is an artist, but finds many art shows and galleries a total snooze-fest. Forget what you learned in school - poetry is doesn’t have to be boring, and it does’t have to be difficult. I genuinely believe there’s a poem out there for absolutely everyone.

Read as much or as little as you want. Break yourself in gently. If you’re really struggling, try to read just one poem per day (there are heaps of resources out there to help you with this). Buy yourself a book of haikus and absorb one or two in a spare five minutes. Check out Poetry Archive and listen to a poem. Ask other people what their favourite poem is, and start a to-read list. Soon enough, you’ll find that you feel inspired; you might notice that you’re writing more, or that your writing looks and sounds different. This is poetic influence at work - embrace it!

What should I read?
Read what you enjoy. If you check Paradise Lost out of the library, get three lines in and want to kill yourself, stop reading. Read something that excites you, that inspires you, that makes you think “I want to write like this.” It doesn’t matter whether that’s The Waste Land or Tom Leonard’s This Is The Six O Clock News. There is poetry out there that you’ll love - but it might not be what you think. Keep reading until you find it.

What shouldn’t I read?
Basically, any reading is good reading - if you prefer novels to poetry, read novels: they can help you to write better poetry, too. Read anything; stage plays, memoirs, the phone book. Immerse yourself in words and look at how they’re put together. Absorb ideas.

(The only thing I would advise against is reading the poetry of other poets who don’t read. This will get you nowhere. It may be cheap and convenient, but avoid reading amateur poetry and try to read people who are published in some form or another. This may sound like snobbery, but it isn’t: if you want to get published, reading published poetry is the best way to understand what “makes it”, and the best way to turn your own poetry into something publishable.)

But if I read other people’s work and then start writing like them, isn’t that copying?
This is a tricky issue, and one that comes up a lot. As Wendy Cope says, a lot of non-reading poets claim that they don’t read “because they don’t want to be influenced.” However, these people are missing a massive trick: all poetry is, at least in part, stolen. Frank Zappa once said, “Adam and Eve made all the great records: everyone else just copied,” and that really applies to poetry. Every successful poet is influenced by someone - usually by a huge variety of other poets who came before him or her. Being influenced is a good thing… and it is totally possible to read and still be original. Try reading a few poems. Read until you come to a line, a stanza or a whole poem that makes you think “I could have done that better,” or “I’d have examined that idea differently” (it’s OK, you’re allowed to think this, even if the poet you’re reading is Whitman or someone equally famous and revered). When that thought arises, act on it: go away and write that line, stanza or poem the way you’d like to see it written. I bet it comes out looking nothing like the original.
You’re not copying, you’re borrowing; you’re sharing. Try it: it’s what poets do.

But there’s so much poetry out there. Where do I start?
Wherever you like. If you’re totally clueless, go to a bookshop or library, find the poetry section, and pick out a book with a cover that catches your eye. Go for a cool title, or a poet with an unusual name. Search the net for poems in a style you like or on a subject that interests you - science fiction, for example - and take note of the published authors who write in that style or genre… then hunt them down in a bookstore.
Just read any poetry you can get your hands on: if you like it, find out what’s similar to it, and read that too. If you hate it, find out what the opposite is, and try that. Dabble, mess around, feel free to loathe some poets and love others. Just read as much as you can, as often as you can. Then write.

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Budding writer? Creative person in need of a fun job? Check out the various resources and services at Bookworm Tutors. 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 by Emchy)

Dear Poetry Newbies: to blog, or not to blog? That is the question…

Monday, May 20th, 2013

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

I recently met a writer who was super, super keen to get people reading his work, and wanted my advice. One of the first things I said was, “do you have a blog?” He looked horrified at the very thought! However, I was keen to persuade him. I’ve been writing at One Night Stanzas for nearly five years now, and this blog has brought me publication opportunities, paid work, connections to cool people and all sorts of other amazing stuff. However, I know that if you’re coming to blogging for the first time, it can seem a bit like handing copies of your secret diary out for everyone in the world to read. Sound about right? If so, I wrote this for you!

PROS

- If you choose to, you can make your blog visible to everyone on the web. That means a potential audience of hundreds of millions of people - probably more readers can you could ever get publishing in more traditional ways.

- Because so many poets already have blogs, signing up for a blog gives you access to a giant online community, to which you can quickly and easily get connected. You can link to and write about other poets’ blogs and get links to yours in return, thus directing readers back and forth.

- Having your own blog means you don’t have to rely on social networking sites or subscriptions to display your work online. You also have full control over your content, layout, whether you run ads, etc.

- If you have a blog, you can give the address to anyone who’s interested in seeing your work… without having to give them print outs, write out emails or mile-long URLs, or direct them to third-party sites.

- Putting your name to a poetry blog means that people can Google you and find your poetry with just a click.

- Regardless of what some people may say, blogging is a form of self-publishing and can make a good addition to your literary CV.

- If you want to, you can make money (usually only a little) by posting ads on your blog.

- You don’t just have to post your own poetry on your blog - you can use it to promote other sites and fellow poets that you like, or tell people what you’ve been reading and what you thought of it.

- You can use a blog to provide information on where your poems have been accepted for publication, where and when you’re doing a reading, or which poetic events you’re thinking of attending.

- Some poets have even turned their blogs into fully-fledged e-zines!

CONS

- A lot of new bloggers worry that by putting your work on a public blog, they’re laying yourself open to plagiarism. The risks are small, but they are there… even if you make your blog visible only to friends or subscribers.

- Blogging is essentially like writing a journal, and journalling is generally a very personal thing. Bear in mind that, if you put your deepest secrets and most radical thoughts onto your blog, people WILL be able to read them. If it’s on the web, it’s practically public in every way!

- Blogs are usually open for comments, and that means that some people are bound to disagree with you. There’s a common misconception that it’s OK to be rude to other internet users (especially if they’re trolling you) because you’ll never meet them and it’s fairly harmless. However, you never know who’s reading your snarky responses or watching an ongoing fight between you and an anonymous commenter (the same goes for YOUR comments on other blogs, too). A potential new boss or a magazine editor might well change their mind about you even based on something as trivial as this - so tread carefully!

- You have to be careful what you say in your blog posts, too. When it comes to putting up your poetry, you should maybe avoid things like “if you don’t like this poem then f**k you”, and take a more “I appreciate comments but please try to be constructive” approach.

- Once you start a blog, it may be forever. If you don’t want people to read your adolescent scribblings 10 years down the line, then make sure that your blog provider offers you a get-out option, and that you know how to get rid of your content should you need to.

- The same principle applies in a more general way, too - as I said before, you don’t know who’s reading, or how long their memory is. Just about everyone knows how to use the Print Screen function!

DOs and DON’Ts

- DO sign up with a reputable blog-provider and, if you’re going to be posting your work, read up on their copyright policies. Do they claim the copyright of anything you put in your posts? DO shop around.

- DON’T part with any cash to set up your blog. You can definitely find a good blog-provider who’ll host you for free. Anyone who asks for money is scamming you!

- DO look around at the blogs of other poets and writers to get an idea of how other people run their blogs.

- DO ask folk for their advice on finding your audience, writing content etc. DON’T feel obliged to act on it if you don’t want to, though. Your blog should be as much your personal creation as your poems are.

- DO be prepared for the fact that, once you put your blog “out there,” anyone can see it and comment on it. Even if you have closed comments, there’s nothing to stop people from writing their own blog post about you. Responses to your blog may not always be positive, so DO make sure you have a thick skin and a whole load of patience before you take the plunge.

- DO bear in mind that many people get bored of their blogs after a while and just let them fall by the wayside. If this happens, DON’T leave your poems posted on your disused blog - people may think that makes it OK to nick them. You might also be the victim of spam attacks if you leave your blog unattended for too long.

- DON’T feel pressured into putting ads on your blog unless you really want them there. Yes, they make you money, but you can’t always control their content, or know where they lead to when clicked.

- DON’T be afraid to tell other people about your blog. Blogging is all about connecting to other people and sharing your thoughts and ideas! However, DON’T feel obliged to link to someone else’s blog or site just because they’ve linked to yours.

- DO include your blog in your literary CV, if you feel it’s relevant.

- DON’T feature other people’s work on your site unless you have their permission.

Final note: I love blogs. I could probably spend my whole life reading blogs, geeking out on Tumblr, and tweeting cool stuff I’ve found… if, you know, I didn’t eventually get motion sickness from too much screen time, or have to pay rent. If you do decide that blogging is for you, I can highly recommend Wordpress. I’ve written in a ton of Wordpress blogs — the lovely One Night Stanzas of course, but also Bookworm Tutors, Girlpoems, Shore Poets, The Peripatetic Studio and others — and I always find it the cleanest and most user-friendly platform.

Good luck!

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Budding writer? Creative person in need of a fun job? Check out the various resources and services at Bookworm Tutors. 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!

Procrastination Station #121

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Happy Lazy Sunday!

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: I might be buying a house (I KNOW). One that will need heckof renovating. So I need you guys to send me amazing DIY/home decor p0rn like this and this to inspire me. Check out what I’ve gathered so far!

“We recognize that, in our world, a woman on the road is marked. She has been cut from the social fabric, excised at such an elemental level that when she steps onto the road, she steps into an abyss. And whatever leads up to that choice inspires in us a primal fear. A man on the road is solitary. A woman on the road is alone. This is not cute wordplay, but a radically different social experience.”

If you click on nothing else in this post, click on this article, on why there aren’t more female road narratives. Disturbing, fascinating, beautifully written.

These are super fabby book covers!

Have you guys seen Least Helpful? Really rubbish — and totally hilarious — reviews.

Totally NSFW (not really) hardcore bookshelf p0rn. (And, related: notebook geek p0rn!)

I loved Watsky’s touching post on playing the Fillmore, ambition and keeping on going (NB: links to Facebook).

I know, writers have been complaining for eons about the weight of their burden, and it’s not attractive. But I’ve been around it long enough to know that writing anything good that’s longer than a paragraph isn’t easy for anybody, except for maybe J. J. Abrams. You can’t explain how people do it. Some of the most successful screenwriters, novelists, television producers and rock-opera librettists I know are about a hundred times lazier than I am. They take long afternoon naps, play lots of pickup basketball and appear to accomplish little or nothing for months at a time. And let me tell you, their ideas do not all crackle with scintillating originality.

This is wonderful, and such sensible advice. Now I just need to listen!

The Literary Cat: a Tumblr devoted to cats posing with books. Yep.

Have you seen these wonderful self-portraits of famous authors?

Paper & Salt is super cool: they re-create meals described in great literature!

More stupid things graphic design clients say!

There’s some amazing stuff at the Bitch blog at the moment! I loved reading Five Black Female Musicians You Should Love (I’d only heard of Skin), I Want To Like Hit-Girl, But…, Patriarchy & Game of Thrones (spoilers! But the comments on this one’re interesting, too), and a really interesting take on the new Dove campaign (the video’s at the bottom of this very post! Also read the comments on this one).

Why tea is so magical.

This body language guide from Gala is really rather interesting!

And via Gala, I really liked 22 things happy people do differently and Girl Code Rules. POSITIVITY.

Seeing these portraits of adult entertainment stars with and without makeup was really interesting for me. Totally SFW!

Parents texting. SO FUNNY.

Game of Thrones fan? You must watch these! (Also, Gwendoline Christie ROCKS!)

Glowsticks + waterfalls = beautiful.
A small snippet of Neil Gaiman being fabulous.
Sue Austin is totally inspiring.
That Pulitzer? SO DESERVED.

Have a great weekend!

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Budding writer? Creative person in need of a fun job? Check out the various resources and services at Bookworm Tutors. 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)

Procrastination Station #120

Friday, April 19th, 2013

u.f.o.

A poem! By Kevin Cadwallender! At Bolts of Silk! A hat-trick of awesome!

I love Kim Addonizio, and this is SO the perfect book cover for her work!

I am so happy to see some of Stephen Nelson’s work over at Fit for Work — an anti-ATOS anthology you should, by the way, really check out.

Have you guys seen the Books and Nerds tumblr? Wall to wall bookish escapism!

The lovely, lovely Chris Scott (who once told me he’d “be the Testino to [my] Diana” if ever I become super famous, and I plan to hold him to it) recently took this brilliant, smiley photo of great poet and great bloke Andrew Philip. I really like it! Chris’ work is generally great. Check out his Author Portraits and his Flickr for more!

Life in Authoring, you totally get me through the day, SRSLY. I also just discovered Life in Publishing and Life in Small Press Publishing and now have so much less free time.

I’m always fascinated when Caustic Cover Critic points out how often the same images are recycled for book covers. Here’s a sad and elegant lady who seems to crop up awfully often…

…and speaking of covers, I just discovered Lousy Book Covers. Part of me feels super sad for the poor authors, but some of these really are lousy.

Is anyone else as into typewriters as me? If so, you should check out clickthing. It is basically typewriter p0rn.

I believe I have mentioned before that I LOVE DAVE COATES’ REVIEWS OF POETRY BOOKS. LOVE them. His review of The Great Billy Letford (as he should always be known) is an absolute cracker. But he’s at his best when bitchy: “poems to be printed on Cath Kidston merchandise.” DOES CRITICISM GET ANY HARSHER? A review to cackle gleefully at.

Apparently, “dear blank” is something EVERYONE has seen now, but it was new to me, and I loved it!

Two Beat Generation tattoos! Ginsberg and Kerouac! I approve! Also, I have been crushing on thigh tattoos lately and love these.

To be serious for a moment: you should probably read more bell hooks.

How much do you wish you’d been at this party?

Adverts are often better “edited” — some great examples here!

I can has one of these?

It wouldn’t be Friday without CAT GIFS!

Have a great weekend!

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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: feeling the stage fright and doing it anyway

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Stage Fright [EXPLORE]

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

If you’ve read What’s The Deal With Poetry Readings?, then you know that I encourage people to read their poetry aloud at every possible opportunity (audience or no audience)! But I also appreciate that getting up in front of a load of strangers and reading your poetic creations can be pretty nerve-wracking, so I have a few words of advice to anyone who’s thinking about embarking on their first ever reading…

1. Say yes.
If you spot a poster advertising a local open mic, or if someone approaches you to read at their event, grab the opportunity with both hands! As I’ve already explained in What’s The Deal With Poetry Readings?, you should aim to begin reading your poetry as soon as you feel even semi-confident, because it’s such a helpful and empowering exercise. Of course, if the idea petrifies you, the urge to say “I can’t, I’m busy that night,” or “I think I’ll just go along and watch” will be very strong… but you have to fight your fears! Make yourself say yes! Commit yourself, and don’t back out. You’ll be glad you kept your nerve afterwards.

2. Be prepared.
Please don’t get onto the stage with your notebook and then just turn to a random page. While this can work for more established readers, it’s not a good idea for a first-time gig! Find a handful of poems you love. Practice on your own, then in front of your parents/siblings/partner/someone you trust, then in front of a bigger group of family or friends. Get really familiar with the stuff you want to read — this will make mistakes and blushes much less likely!

3. Put yourself first.
Negotiate with the event organiser, if you can, about where you go in the line-up. I would actually advise you to try for an early spot — first, even, if you can bear it. OK, so opening the show might be your worst nightmare, but think: you get the audience at its best, before they’ve had time to get tired, bored or drunk, and before they’ve started thinking about going out for a cigarette or nipping to the loo. You have their full attention, and they have no expectations of you — plus, if you go first, everyone will think you’re incredibly brave and be in awe!

4. Enjoy yourself.
You’ll be surprised: reading your work to an audience is actually a really, really fun experience. Acknowledge that! Don’t get up on stage with a frown and spend the whole time panicking about the slight quiver in your voice. If your knees are knocking or you’re blushing furiously, crack a joke about first-time nerves and just carry on. Getting a reaction from the audience is incredibly rewarding, so make sure you perform for them — don’t just hide behind the mic or stare at your feet the whole time. Make eye contact — I normally pick out my friends in the audience and glance up at them from time to time, or focus on the bar staff or the guys at the sound desk (they’re normally far too busy to see you looking at them!). And smile! Flash the audience a big smile whenever they react to you, and you’ll be guaranteed a huge round of applause at the end.

5. Love your audience.
No matter what your irrational brain thinks, your audience is not the enemy. They are not there to laugh, throw rotten tomatoes or judge you harshly — people who go to poetry readings are generally people who really like poetry! Your audience will know how hard it is to a) write a poem and b) get up and read it to strangers, so chances are they will admire you for what you‘re doing. You really should love and appreciate your audience. In some cases, they’ve paid money to see you (money which may well come back to you at the end of the night!) and they’ll often come up to you after the reading to offer advice and encouragement. Don’t be afraid to chat to your audience members; their reactions can be really helpful, and I guarantee that no one will come up and say “you were rubbish, give up,” or anything along those lines. They may say things like “I couldn’t hear you very well,” or “that one poem was a bit long,” but don’t be disheartened by these comments! They can be really useful, and they’re almost always accompanied by something like “but it didn’t matter, because you were awesome!”

6. Look forward.
Everyone is nervous before their first ever reading — but I have good news for you! No other reading you do in the future will be anywhere near as nerve-wracking as the first. Many people told me this as I was preparing for my first reading — that every reading thereafter is a piece of cake — and in my freaked-out state of mind I thought, “yeah right!” However, when I got onto the stage at my second ever reading, all the problems that had plagued me at my first reading — blushing, quivering voice, being unable to make eye-contact with my audience — disappeared. I was playing to a much bigger crowd second time around, but none of it fazed me — I loved every second. So look forward! The thought of your first reading may keep you awake at night, but it’s a big milestone, and once you pass it, it’s plain sailing.

Any seasoned readers want to offer any other pointers? Tell me about your first ever poetry-reading experience. How did it go?

Check out the other articles in the Dear Poetry Newbies… series!

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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)