Further Advice for Writers
I spent this past weekend in Calgary at the Writers Guild of Alberta Annual Conference. I was really honoured to be asked to present on Transactions with Beauty, on the actual transactions we have with beauty, and on blogging. I was pleased to repeat my mantra:
I took very few photos, but if you’re interested there are a few on my instagram feed. My plan was to take photos of my brilliant writer friends, but that was just not meant to be. Plus, there was a wonderful professional photographer taking photos, so I’ll look forward to seeing those.
It’s going to take me a while to process all that happened this weekend, but I think I came away with some ideas for future posts. And I’m now also mentally ready to turn back toward my novel with the goal of finishing the first draft by the end of the summer. It’s close. But I’m waiting to be struck by some metaphorical lightning at this point. Could happen.
I’m also looking forward to cleaning the cobwebs from my Tibetan bells, and getting properly into the garden. It’s time.
I came away from the conference thinking about the ways that we, as writers, can lift each other up. I think just sharing our experiences is helpful. Especially the more grisly stuff. It reminded me to look up a recent interview with the South African writer, Antjie Krog. When I first read it, I laughed out loud. Something so refreshing about it. It ends like this, but you should read the entire interview, too, here.
What advice would you give to people starting out in a writing career?
I have no advice for younger poets in this technological age – coming from a time where the poem was what mattered, not the poet, her looks, her recipes, her relaxation methods, her self-doubt, his marriages, his Facebook page, agent or public utterances. That is why I didn’t answer some of your questions, those that I thought: jesus, what the fuck?
[Editor’s note: Those questions unanswered included “What do you dislike most about yourself?”, “What are you afraid of?”, “What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?” and “How do you relax?”]
I love her contrariness, I love her jesus, what the fuck? I love the way she responds to being asked the wrong questions. When she was asked to contribute an essay to a series defending poetry, she responds by saying:
“I have never felt that poetry needs to be defended. Poetry for me is great because it is uncontaminated. It is triumphantly powerful because it places people in a heightened state of consciousness, with enlightening consequences. It's as if you break through the mirror for a moment and touch the riddle. As if you're standing on the threshold of breath. As if you get oxygen out of cold trees and advance suddenly. That's why poets write, for their own survival. That's why readers read, for their own survival. To retrieve something from their mortal lives. And there is nothing powerful enough to rob poetry of this.”
My advice to writers, I suppose, is to feel free to not answer the question in the expected ways. My advice is to set aside those questions and comments that have to do with your looks or your recipes. Ask your own questions. Answer them however you like. Be contrary. Be feisty. Write for your own survival, your own delight.
In the same piece defending poetry, Krog also writes:
“People can quarrel about whether poetry ought to be relevant or personal, or whether praise poetry, rap and slam poetry are really poetry. There are poets whose work was tremendously in demand, who were awarded Nobel prizes but were then forgotten. There are others who were unknown in their lifetimes, whose work will make them eternally known. There is poignant work being done in other languages, there are poems which have given five minutes' help to someone in the direst need or sorrow, there are long, impressive poems which are never read by anyone, there are poems which are remembered only because of music, there are histories which have survived only because of poetry, there is poetry which lies at the bottom of desk drawers and will never be published but which were a place of fresh air to the writers who were infatuated with them. We can debate about this or wonder at it, but the oxygen-giving quality of poetry can never be removed from it. Poetry is fundamentally a self-delighting inventiveness, something that takes pure pleasure in making use of language to catch something of the world.”
Try to catch something of the world. I like that. Your writing is oxygen giving, don’t forget that either. Write, as Krog says, for your own survival.
Try to catch something of your very own corner of the world today, in words, in photographs. In something ordinary, the way the light shines on the seed pods, caught in the cobwebs in your rusted out Tibetan bells. The bells that an old library friend dug out of her shed one summer ages ago that she’d purchased for a dollar or two at a garage sale and dusted off and gave to you because she just knew you’d love them. The bells that speak of being understood and seen. And the delight on both sides at this exchange. Every time I look at these rusty old bells, I’m happy.