Unsolicited Advice and Other Things You Don't Want to Hear

Photo Credit:Untitled Photograph [Woman Writing]  by Mr. StabileToday I want to address the would-be poets out there. More specifically, I want to offer some advice to all of you who have ink coursing through your veins, but who can't find: a) the time b) your voice c) your muse d) your pen.

The nuggets below are put forward with the sincere hope that you not fall prey to the same delusions, counterproductive thinking and wastes of time and energy that I did on my way to becoming the middlebrow hack you are now reading. That being said, I do not doubt that you will stumble upon every one of them as well as new and imaginative ones of your own, and that's okay. Think of it as paying your dues.

  • Sit down, shut up and write...or don't. Just stop whining about it.
  • If you have ever said, "I really want to be a writer, but I don't know what to write about,"* you should probably look for a line of work that doesn't require you to actually say something...pantomime perhaps, or corporate public relations.
  • If you have even ten minutes a day to waste on TV, you have time to write.
  • Can't find your voice? You'll find it on the college-ruled pages of a 99¢ composition book.
  • Your muse? It lives under one of the keys on your laptop. Just keep in mind that muses are notoriously reclusive, and refuse to suffer fools, so you will probably have to tap-tap-tap on those keys until your cuticles bleed before you get an answer, and even then you might not like what you hear. Continue to write anyway.
  • Inspiration is a will o' the wisp. It is elusive as well as illusive. Ask any writer you admire and she/he will tell you that it's not the writing; it's the re-writing. It's all about the slog, the long haul, the craft as opposed to the art. Get used to it.
  • Writing requires the discipline to work even when you would rather be doing something--anything--else up to and including smacking yourself in the face with a halibut. Embrace your inner ascetic.
  • Even if--especially if--you deleted every word you wrote on a given day, eat a peanut butter cup or five, and remind yourself that this is the way we learn.
  • Writing is like making love; everyone thinks they're good at it. Most are mistaken, but this will not prevent them from being roundly unimpressed by your talent and achievements. Try not to care.
  • Hoard writing cues (snippets of overheard speech, quotes from texts, ineffable feelings, funny sounding words, odd childhood memories--anything that gives you that weird tingle at the base of your skull, so that when you sit down to write, you won't fall victim to the Terror of the Blank Page.
  • Eventually you will hit a sweet spot and you will write brilliantly and effortlessly. It will not last. These are moments writers live for and if you get a handful of them in a lifetime--heck, if you get one in a lifetime, count yourself lucky. 
  • Read, broadly as well as deeply.
  • When you find a text that knocks your socks off, try transcribing it. You will be amazed at what you missed in your reading, and you will get a better feel for the rhythms of exceptional writing.
  • Take pride in your rejection slips; use them as motivation. It's okay to hold grudges.
  • Back away from the computer, pick up a pencil and get to work. Now.

*Actual quote from an actual student, said with no discernible irony.

Below is a grab bag of books and other resources from Harris County Public Library's collection that may help get you started.

The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach / Robin Behn & Chase TwitchellCover Art: Finding Water by Julia Cameron
The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity / Julia Cameron
Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance / Julia Cameron
The Practical Writer: From Inspiration to Publication / edited by Therese Eiben & Mary Gannon, with the staff of Poets & Writers Magazine
On Creativity and the Unconscious: The Psychology of Art, Literature, Love and Religion / Sigmund Freud
The Demon and the Angel / Edward Hirsch
In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop; A Lively and Illuminating Guide for the Practicing Poet / Steve Kowit
The Courage to Create / Rollo May
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Poetry / Nikki MoustakiCover Art: Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge
Elements of Authorship: Unabashed Advice, Undiluted Experience, & Unadulterated Inspiration for Writers & Writers-to-be / Arthur Plotnik
Letters to a Young Poet / Rainer Maria Rilke
The Poetry Lounge: Self-expression through the Spoken Word 1, 2 & 3 [DVDs] / written, photographed & editied by James Seligman
On Writing [DVD] / Sleeping Giant Productions in association with Bravo
The Artist's Muse: Unlock the Door to your Creativity / Betsy Dillard Stroud
Poet Power!: The Practical Poet's Complete Guide to Getting Published / Thomas A. Williams
Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words / Susan G. Wooldridge  
Poet's Market / Writer's Digest Books

If you have any comments, suggestions, or advice, please drop me a line via the comments link. Thanks for reading.

Photo Credit: Untitled Photograph 20090905_5 [Woman Writing] by Mr. Stabile



Excellent post - as always!

Excellent post - as always! Keep up the great work.

Thanks for the kind words,

Thanks for the kind words, Greg. I will try not to let you down.