Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Reviving Old Work

We've recently had some of our possession shipped over from Scotland after languishing in a loft for over 8 years. We thought we were going back, we still don't know. There were old letters and photographs, books like Richard Hugo's, Edwin Muir's and Sorley MacLean's Collected Works, a Scots Dictionary, my notebooks for my Italian and Scottish Gaelic studies. But one of the real surprises was a pile of old poems. I mean old, dot matrix print-outs from 1991-1996.

Most are crap, but it's interesting to see though my style has changed, but my subject matter hasn't. Two poems I'm trying to revive from this mess are on similar themes I've been working with lately: my exchange year in Norway 30 years ago and a trip I took island-hopping around the West coast of Scotland. My writing style has pared down a lot in the past 25 years. I'm having to cut a lot of extra words, description that doesn't do anything and sometimes focus the direction of the poems. We'll see if I'm able to make anything from them.

I used to write more third person, fictional poems which I don't really do anymore. And lots of miserable love/ falling out of love poems. And poems that sounded poetic but didn't say anything. I might try and do some free writing from the vocabulary or rewrite some of the poorly executed ideas. It really is a laugh to read over them and I'm glad I didn't throw them out. Like my journals from 35 years ago, I like to see growth and change and am not embarrassed about who I used to be, naive of course, but weren't we all.

I received three rejections on Friday evening in my Inbox, bam, Bam BAM. Not a nice start to the weekend. All three were from magazines I've tried before. One was quite a big magazine so I didn't expect to get in, but second rejections for the smaller ones smarted. But I dusted myself off and sent the poems out again. It would be nice to get a couple of acceptances before the end of the year, it's been a quiet few months. And I wait.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Chasing My Tail

I don't know where the week has gone, but I know I haven't written much. I've spent the morning making cookies for my daughter's Christmas fund raiser, so that gives you an idea of the kind of things I've been up to. I don't think I've done a single prompt since I wrote my last post, until I managed one today while I waited for my son at the physio.

I'm missing the flow of the poetry writing course I've been doing, editing while waiting for the next prompt to appear in my inbox, writing on that and then reading the other poets' submissions before I post my own rough draft. I just haven't been able to get myself into a similar rhythm this last week on my own.

I did send my Scottish collection out to another publisher with a heavy heart because it feels like admitting that the other publisher probably won't take my collection. I know this is a possibility anyway because it's unlikely that I'll get an acceptance from my first submission, but I do like to cling on to a bit of hope. I like the look of this other publisher as well, so hopefully something will come from one of them soon.

I've been chasing up a few submissions the past few weeks, ones that were over six months or even a year with no response. One admitted it had been 'buried in our process' so they're hoping to get to it in the next few weeks and another that I've had to chase through social media is going back to check and see what's happened. Others haven't responded so I'm assuming that there's an issue with the address or they're too busy, so am submitting those poems elsewhere, if I haven't already.  It's amazing how much an up-to-date website can help writers submitting their work. A note saying you've fallen way behind in your reading or that if you haven't heard back from us in six months, feel free to submit your work to other journals, is so helpful when you're waiting for responses. 

I try to double check email addresses and such before sending queries as I have had times when they've changed procedures or closed the magazines after I've submitted and my poems have fallen into a limbo. It's a frustrating process. You don't want to annoy the editor with query letters too soon, but it's nice to not be wasting your time, tying up poems for six months or more if they've lost a submission or never received it.

I've had a few poems published in the short poem journal Shot Glass JournalIt's nice to see the magazine strives to have a mix of US and international poets. Enjoy.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Prompting Myself

Though a lot of my writing books are still annoyingly in a loft in Scotland I still have a few that have writing prompts and suggestions for writing exercises. This week I've been trying to pick one a day to do a writing practice with.

This week has been crazy with appointments for the kids so I haven't done one every day, but I have managed four and will hopefully do another today.

One issue I've discovered is I that I can't just pick a prompt that appeals to me, I need to just pick one at random or if it's in a book that has them daily, pick the one for that day. I was trying to find prompts with a subject I had in mind, forcing them too much to fit into my idea and it showed. I'm going to try and be more loose and open with my prompts in the future and hopefully this will take me to unexpected places with a lighter feel to the writing.

I'm still editing my Finnish collection, changing the order, reading it out-loud as I edit, adding poems. I've also started writing my blurb for it which I always find difficult. How to sell yourself without it feeling forced or cheesy or unnatural, without falling into tropes or cliches?

Besides the blurb, I love the work required to bring together a collection. Tinkering to improve poems that are already done. Trying to establish an arc between the poems, weeding out the ones that don't fit. Bringing it all together. I'll print it out soon and give it another look at ordering and read-through. It should be ready to send out in a week or two.

But then there's a question of what to do with it. My Scottish collection is still at my first choice publisher. I could send this one out to some of the other potential publishers, but it feels a bit wrong. Publishers usually want to publish your follow up books, so ideally it'll come out with the same publisher.

It is also in a sense chronological with my other books. My first book, already published covers years from 1988 to around 1994/5, the Scottish collection covers years 1993-2010 and the Finnish collection covers years 2010 to the present. It would feel off to me if the Finnish book was published before the Scottish one.

I'm crazy, I know. In reality, I'd be happy if either was accepted for publication, but I'd really like the Scottish one to be published first. I guess I'll finish the Finnish collection and go from there. Maybe it's time to send out my Scottish collection to some other publishers.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Post-Course Slump

Once the prompts stop, there's this emptiness. What do you do in the morning if you're not trying to write to a prompt? How do I start a poem on my own again? 

Silliness, I know. I have a bunch of books to look up my own prompts from. I can still sit down every morning and write regardless. I have been trying to when schedule permits. But there is a sense of loss when a good course closes down. The pressure of deadlines, the camaraderie of the other students' responses, their own writing and the discussions of writing in general, the push to write.  

The community is what I miss most. Writing is a solitary pursuit a great deal of the time. Finding a good writing group or course, one that fits your needs, your schedule, your style can be difficult. Writing groups can go for years at a slow trot, but sometimes you get a really good mix of people who just click, who know how to respond and encourage you to improve your writing and it's like a burst of adrenaline. 

Once the course stops or the writing group ceases to be as useful, what is a writer to do? Find another course or group, continue to slog on until you can build up your own momentum. 

I've created writing groups from members of courses that have really worked well. In Scotland we had a good fiction group that was formed after a course. It lasted for several years until we moved abroad. We met once a month and shared full chapters. It was a really positive and creative atmosphere. It's been nice to see a couple of the members get worked published since then. 

I'm slogging on until February when the next course begins. I decided against the more intensive course in January because it is more structured, but starts with the basics. While it never hurts to go back and reexamine the fundamentals, it's not what I want to do right now. If you're interested in the course, check this link though be quick as it has limited places and a high interest from members of the previous courses.

I've written 22 poems from the 31 prompts from this last session. I may continue to revisit the ones I haven't completed yet over the next week or so, but I'm pretty happy with that number. I'll continue to tighten those poems up and send them out for submissions. I'm also still working on the my new collection. And still waiting on the old.

And I might even crack out a prompt or two of mine own, just to keep the juices flowing.