Do you ever take the time to just… think? Award-winning poet Rebecca Goss shares her five top tips for finding inspiration, staying motivated and facing your writing insecurities head-on.
This new year, I have no doubt many resolutions have been made to drink less and exercise more, but January also sees people making promises to themselves to carve out time for an activity that enriches them. If you see 2020 as the year to focus on something creative, writing poetry could be a rewarding way forward.
1. Sometimes, avoid the white screen
Starting to write does not necessarily require you to sit at a desk and face a blank, white page. Such an expanse of white space can feel daunting and uninspiring if you come to it cold. Starting to write also means starting to think. I value my thinking time as a writer more than ever. Make some time to think about your writing, and the things you want to write about. Try and keep this thinking time as undisturbed as possible: when you’re in the bath, walking to the shops, walking the dog, or sitting alone on public transport. Don’t feel pressured to write anything down, just think about ideas, things that have moved or excited you.
2. Be open to unexpected inspiration
Switch to a different radio station, pick a different podcast. Watch a film you know nothing about beforehand. Read or listen to stuff ‘outside your comfort zone’. Don’t feel that to write poetry you must read only poetry. Read fiction, non-fiction, news articles, memoir and essay. Let yourself be stimulated by new and different knowledge. Acknowledge any impact of this on your ideas for poems.
3. Listen to the words
Pick a recent favourite poetry collection, re-read it, but also read some, or all of the poems aloud. Listen to the music of what you are reading. Hear the pauses the poet is guiding us to make. Enjoy the feel of the words in your mouth. Have you discovered anything new about the poem by doing this?
4. The challenge of restraint
I know a prose writer who writes every day, 500 words a day. He stops at word 500, no matter what. Even if the narrative is at a tense and exciting stage he still stops. He told me that it is so much easier to go back to a half-finished paragraph than a finished one. I’ve always been fascinated by this work ethic, and it might be interesting to apply it to poetry. For one week, choose a daily word limit (my suggestion, no more than 300 words) and stick to it. Perhaps write in prose at this stage and use prose as an early draft for your poems. Or start thinking about the prose poem. You may come up with a sequence of prose poems in one week. Whatever you write, you will have amassed 2100 words in seven days. Even if you see them as notes to go back and sift through, and I can guarantee there will be some gold in there.
5. Share a poem
Select a poem by someone else, a favourite or something you’ve read recently and really enjoyed and send it to a friend. Preferably a friend who does not read poetry. My grown-up step-kids don’t read much poetry, but I often send them poems I like. I love their responses. So honest and refreshing! Sometimes they see things I don’t see, and I always want to go back to the poem. It makes you think harder about why you like the poem in the first place. Just one link in a WhatsApp with the appropriate emoji, and you’ve shared some poetry love.