1. Don’t be afraid to be alone
It’s probably harder than ever to be alone—which is really not the same thing as loneliness. And I don’t mean you can’t live in a dense, bustling and always-online city, as I do, nor do I mean avoiding community. A friend shared this article, which puts it well: artists must “[put] themselves in a state where the opinions of others do not bother them and where they reach a heightened sensitivity for the larval ideas and vague questions that arise within them.” If you’re afraid to be alone, you’ll just end up writing what others are writing.
2. Allow yourself to be surprised
We’ve all read poems whose first lines spoil their endings. But achieving surprise is less straightforward than it appears. I try by starting to write a poem once I have an inkling of an image, without knowing where the poem will turn or how it will end. My least surprising poems occur when I set out to write about this theme or that upsetting experience. Approaching obliquely, however—such as reading lots of things that are adjacent to the theme, or writing about something else altogether while upset—sometimes gets the poem to where it needs to be without taking the usual routes.
3. Waste a lot of time
Read a lot, even if it’s not literary. Read slowly and over and over again. Drop a book halfway if you want. Let your writer’s block block you because writer’s block is your mind telling you to rest. Don’t rush to write or publish or make a name for yourself. Sleep in. Don’t let even poetry be simply another credential or commodity. We live in an age where everything in us is squeezed out for use and I think the best way to resist that is to waste some time.
4. Hang on to every word
So many things that I’ve written and even published are now lost forever. The abundance of words in the digital age means that most of these words are ephemeral. I say use digital to keep words. Set up a workflow to automatically save every significant draft. Create a document graveyard of cast-off words and phrases you can resurrect later on. Whenever you get something published online, save it with the Wayback Machine (thank me when Obscure Journal 27’s website goes dark). And your own published work may even be revised and remixed down the line.
5. Always ask yourself if you’re having fun
We know it’s never constantly fun (sometimes, quite the opposite!). But if you’re consistently not enjoying yourself in one way or another, then what are you writing for?
Tse Hao Guang (謝皓光) is the author of The International Left-Hand Calligraphy Association (Tinfish Press, 2023) and Deeds of Light (Math Paper Press, 2015), the latter shortlisted for the 2016 Singapore Literature Prize. He edits or has edited the collaborative e-journal OF ZOOS; UnFree Verse (Ethos Books, 2017), the anthology of Singapore poetry in received and nonce forms; literary food writing anthology Food Republic (Landmark Books, 2020); and the new edition of Windham-Campbell prize-winning poet Wong May’s 1969 debut, A Bad Girl’s Book of Animals (Ethos Books, 2023). He is a 2016 fellow of the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program and the 2018 National Writer-in-Residence at Nanyang Technological University. Poems and essays appear in Poetry, Poem-a-Day, The Yale Review, Poetry Northwest, Entropy and elsewhere. Website
Tse’s residency is generously supported by the National Arts Council of Singapore.
Image (c) Daryl Qilin Yam
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