Advice From 10 Who Made It to the Promised Land (Read: Publication)

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I there’s one thing people can’t get enough of, it’s chocolate. (Wait. Did I say chocolate? I meant inspiration.) This is why I like Poet & Writers Inspiration issue the most. In the Jan./Feb. 2020 issue, we get surveys of ten poets who scored debut collections in 2019.

These ten are asked the same questions, answered under these categories: “How It Began,” “Inspiration,” “Writer’s Block Remedy,” “Advice,” “Age/Residence,” “Time Spent Writing the Book,” and “Time Spent Finding a Home for It.”

And while there’s a lot of interesting stuff here by people you can’t help but cheer for (they made it!), let’s focus on the advice, shall we? Because if there’s one thing people can’t get enough of, it’s advice. (Um. After they’re inspired and full of chocolate, I mean.)

  • Patty Crane (Bell I Wake To): “Believe in the work, be patient, persist. Quiet all the voices except the inner one. Less is more. If you’re not sure whether the poem belongs in the collection, it probably doesn’t. Make the book the final poem. Submit the manuscript to presses whose publications you love. Keep moving forward, thinking about poems for the next book.”
  • Camonghne Felix (Build Yourself a Boat): “You’ll never get another debut! Your first is your first. Fight for yourself, advocate for your project, and trust your community if they tell you it’s not ready.”
  • Jake Skeets (Eyes Bottle Dark With a Mouthful of Flowers): “Carry your manuscript everywhere with you.”
  • Yanyi (The Year of Blue Water): “I’ve found that it is more important to love your own book than getting it published. I mean the kind of nourishing love you feel when you read the poetry you admire. This is the love that will help you edit it. It will help you advocate for it and send it out again and maybe one day read it over and over as though it is still new to you. Because it should be. Become your own reader and someone else will read it too.”
  • Marwa Helal (Invasive Species): “Take your time—or, I am paraphrasing, ‘Time is your friend,’ which is what my teacher Sigrid Nunez once told me. Trust your path and your work. Talk about it; don’t be shy about sharing your dreams. You never know who is listening or willing to point you to the next step in your path.”
  • Maya C. Popa (American Faith): “Don’t worry about how much or how little you write. It’s judicious to practice some degree of self-discipline, assuming you’re serious about completing a project. But don’t compare your practice with that of others. Trust that as long as you’re paying the right sort of attention to your life and the world, there’s a lot going on in the brain that will allow for writing to happen later on.”
  • Sara Borjas (Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff): Write toward honesty, then really write toward honesty. Stop lying.”
  • Maya Phillips (Erou): “I’d probably say be bold. Experiment with your work, and don’t edit out all the fun and the strangeness and the wonder.”
  • Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes (The Inheritance of Haunting): “Writing an abstract that articulates what the collection is about can help to communicate your work to editors while allowing you to create a map for what else your manuscript is asking to become.”
  • Keith Wilson (Fieldnotes on Ordinary Love): “Being published is a call someone else makes. It’s hard to know what to do to please others, and it’s maybe contrary to the place your poetry comes from. But someone’s first book changed you. Know that there are people waiting for yours.”

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