My Advice to Poets, Part I- Getting Started

Originally posted on May 9, 2011 at 11:26 AM

1. Decide why you are writing (or want to write) poetry.

There are many reasons: as an emotional outlet, to be heard, to become well-known, to get paid, to be respected in the poetry community, to flex creative muscles, as therapy, for pleasure… All of these are worthy motives, and all of them have different “rules.” The advice I’m giving here is based predominantly on getting published/going pro. It’s important that you remember that. If you’re writing for the sake of getting feelings down – almost like a diary – who cares if you get it critiqued? That’s not the point; there’d be no reason to. I know that. So for the record, I’m just addressing people with goals similar to mine in this post.

2. Read & attend readings.

You can’t expect to be read if you don’t read. You can’t expect to be known if you don’t get out there. Plus, surrounding yourself with poetry opens you to it more, and you’ll find yourself being more prolific and more inspired.

3. Join a poetry organization (that doesn’t critique) first.

Don’t decide you’re going to start doing this incredibly emotional thing and then jump into the mosh-pit. Find a supportive community that doesn’t tear people down or make them feel inferior. Grow your confidence, find poet friends, and use this early time to build your voice.

4. Then join a critique group.

Critiquing poetry is just as important as critiquing prose. If you’re really serious about going pro and finding publication (after you’ve got step 3 down pat), you need a trustworthy partner or group to give you feedback. If you can’t find a critique group, start one.

5. Never be afraid to write a poem.

Seriously. Never hesitate. The worst that can happen is it sucks, you tear it up, and no one ever sees it. No harm, no foul. The best that can happen? It’s awesome. Don’t let fear talk you out of doing things you want to do. That includes writing poetry.

6. Don’t ever, EVER be ashamed of your early work.

Going along with #5, keep in mind that everyone starts somewhere. When you’ve outgrown your early talent, the lure is strong to look back and mock your first attempts. But don’t. The courage to try is enough to be proud of. That being said, know what writing level you’re at. Don’t step too far beyond your bounds. More on publication and venues on Wednesday.

7. Consider carefully before posting your own poetry on your blog/website.

This practice, like self-publishing novels, can and sometimes does work (in fact, I have found several that do), but it often doesn’t. The temptation to write a poem and stuff it on your blog is too high. If you’re going pro (see #1), you should critique and edit your poetry before publication, including the internet. Slapping up new stuff prevents that, and once it’s up, it’s up. Things on the interwebs never go away. Plus, putting it on your own blog (before it’s published) prevents you from building publication credits with that work, because most venues don’t accept previously published work. So don’t shoot yourself in the foot by putting every poem you’ve ever written online. Choose a select few as samples, and only put up the others as they’ve been published and the rights have reverted back to you.

8. Try to avoid perpetuating these myths.

9. Have fun, experiment, and never stop creating.

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