Monday, August 24, 2009

What I Learned (Which Isn't Much) as I Completed My First Book and am Now Onto the Second (at Least the Construction Stage)

  • You'll be lucky to have a handful of people who truly care about your work while you're writing, revising, putting together a book, etc. If you have more, you're even luckier. And if you do have a handful, try and keep those folks around, stay in touch with them, and try to keep building. A community doesn't always have to be massive.

  • Trusting your own work is one of the most important things people forget. Advice is a tricky thing. But essentially, whether reading the work aloud or publishing it, once you're done with all the construction and draft stages, it's your name and voice and time attached to the work. Along with that trust, pride should make an appearance.

  • "By the end, your poems should be how you want them to look, how you want them to sound, and how you want them to feel." By the end, I said. This is some of the best advice I ever received.
  • Take risks. There's nothing better than remembering a room full of people judging you because you took a huge risk that ultimately failed. Sure, they should've been judging the work, but you're the one reading the poem with the piece of paper in front of you. No, risks aren't always successful, but they're eventually necessary if you want to write something people will remember reading.
  • John Keats is dead. You will not be the next John Keats. As a past professor said, upon a student in a public forum complaining he had no published work and was always getting rejected, "Let the critics sort it out when you're dead," or something to that degree. Spending a year on a poem to show the world how smart you are will only get you a lot of rejection and most likely depression along the way. I've witnessed such a situation.
  • Blogs aren't a bad thing, but don't take them as the new Harold Bloom medium of poetic and literary criticism. I've been introduced to so many new people and writers through blogs. I've traded manuscripts with writers after getting in touch with them through their blogs. I've written poems because of discovering others and their work through blogs, and their work inevitably ended up influencing my own.
  • Though I technically feel a bit odd for saying this, because mine's not even out yet, "The first book is not the be all end all." I plan on being in this for a long time: writing, hopefully teaching, etc. A plan doesn't always translate to inevitability. But how many established contemporary writers talk about how they only love their first book at this point in their lives? I wouldn't be able to name one, and it's usually the opposite. I am proud of my first book, I like it very much right now, and I will try to get it into the hands of as many people as possible who may be interested. But it's too easy to sit on something like that and not move on. So, basically, keep moving on, even if the forward progress doesn't actually feel like there's a destination attached to it.
  • One of the best reasons to publish poems, stories, reviews, etc: Discovering others' work in journals that you may not have discovered elsewhere. Seek these writers out elsewhere. Don't be afraid to try and get in touch with them.
  • There's probably much more I can't think of right now. Maybe I'll go back to this later and add more. Feel free to add your own in the comments section or comment on what I've said above. This is only one man's opinion.