Q for the Poet

From time to time, someone asks a question that makes for a great blog post. Today's Q comes from AmbiguityLotus.

"I was wondering--how do you get past the attitude/feeling of, 'My poems aren't good enough for publication?' I'd like to hear your thoughts about that as that's how I feel most of the time, aside from being intimidated about the process!"

First of all, I don't know any poet who hasn't had that feeling at some point. It's like the flu—no matter how many shots you get, it never really goes away.

I carry with me the same fears that I had in grad school when I was surrounded by talented people who never thought their work would see the light of day. Later, when I was starting a family and not writing regularly, I felt as if I would never get published. I lacked those small successes poets have that encourage us to keep trying. Then my college cohorts started getting published in good journals, reading in cool venues, and getting grants. Let me tell you, it was a wake-up call! I felt life was passing me by. I did the only thing I could do with young kids in tow—I started this blog.

So here I am, blogging away two years later. Not a moment goes by that I don't a tinge of self-doubt, as if I'm getting away with something. Posting poems was (and still is) a great way to get immediate feedback when I couldn't attend workshops.

Poetry is subjective and personal, so it's hard not to be intimidated about the process. But the best defense against doubt is hard work and persistence. Getting published means swallowing a lot of rejections. Try not to make it personal. On any given day, you may find the right reader at a journal or zine who will give you the chance for publication. Keep busy. Try not to let self-doubt creep up on you. Use it as a motivator. Do something every day to keep you moving toward your goal.

Does that help? I welcome comments from other writers about how to keep fear and self-doubt at bay.


Collin Kelley said…
Good post! I think blogging has helped my poetry enormously and I have no regrets. I think once you have a few publications under your belt and your first book/chapbook comes out, the fear abates. Or it should.
Odessa said…
great post january! thanks for the advice.
Maya Ganesan said…
I've gone through this a couple of times - definitely know the feeling.

Confessing works...especially on a blog. Post up a couple of poems and see the feedback you get - if it's positive, then you'll know it's publishable material.

Working with an already-published poet, too, is great. Show them your work and request a critique.

And read. Read a ton of poetry - anything you can get your hands on. Reading a lot of work by a famous poet - someone whose work you know is respected and people think is amazing - slowly influences you. You start to write in a similar style - and you can always add your own flavorful "me" touch to it, which makes it your own.

Speaking of writing and poetry, I was wondering...
How do you overcome writer's - well, poet's - block?
Anonymous said…
Thanks for kindly taking the time to answer my question, January! I think I left you another one at that same post there. Not sure if you ever got it though...

Hard work and persistence are the very core of who I am. I guess I should definitely apply that to getting published then! I mean, what have I got to lose? I still have poetry no matter what, and no one can ever take that away from me. I also like what you said about getting published--one has to swallow rejections and move on, because there will be a right publisher out there who happens to come along and find your work absolutely wonderful. Thank you for reassuring me.

Yes, I'm doing something everyday to keep moving forward. I keep writing and reflecting. :)

@Maya: I like what you said about reading a ton of poetry. That definitely helps me mull over the styles of other published poets, which helps me to temporary play dress-up with the poets' styles, then add my own twist and flavor to my own style. :)

I've tapped into a way to avoid poet's block. It works the majority of the time, so it has served me well.

I'll reflect on it, and put it together for you and for everyone else on here. I love to share. :)
Maya Ganesan said…
Thanks, A-lotus!

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