For writers who aren’t white, able-bodied, middle-class, allocishet, neurotypical, with minimal-to-no caring responsibilities, no harmful addictions and not a victim of abuse or trauma, it can take a lifetime to confront the discomfort of living in a world made more often to exploit or ignore than support you.
As Virginia Woolf says, (paraphrased) you must have money, a room of your own, as well as time, to write. While this is the enduring model of writing success, it is not the only one. We know that any barrier to entry–white supremacy, ableism, racism, capitalism, patriarchy or otherwise–is reinforced by people who choose to do nothing when they very well can do something.
While we can’t help with providing time, a room, or even money, unlike our friends at Literature Wales, we can help to keep the barriers to publication open, as much as we can. We can be transparent about the process to afford you the best chance. So, here are the five tips for new or emerging underrepresented writers looking to publish.
1. Find your creative peers.
What published middle-class writers tend to have more than writers, say, from working-class backgrounds, isn’t only time and money, it’s peer groups that give them a leg up in the writing world. Very little literary success is individual. As well as childcare, cleaners and/or family members who share (or do all) the housework, these writers often have a network of mentors and readers. Published middle-class writers are usually involved in wider creative networks, informally or otherwise.
Often they’ve benefitted from a lifetime of being around people who read, if not write, who can talk fairly knowledgeably about books and writing. These peer groups can be hard to find if you don’t already have friends or family members who read for pleasure, or have parents who are friends-of-a-friend of a published writer who knows an editor who might consider your work. And perhaps you didn’t go to the kind of school with the kinds of teachers that could or would invite poets into the classroom.
You’re not alone if these peer groups weren’t or still aren’t readily available to you. But peer support can take any shape, and it doesn’t have to be fellow writers to start. In fact, in can be anyone whose opinion you trust. And when you’re ready, and if you’re inclined to share, there are lots of writing groups out there and many online.
It’s important, at some stage, to have someone whose opinion you value read and encourage your writing, and to find people whom you can talk to about, or share in, the experience. While a middle-class white man from a heteronormative family might get heaps of encouragement from society, sometimes for doing the bare minimum, you might have been denied any such thing. Take a leaf out of mediocrity’s book: acknowledge your work, and share it confidently.
While Poetry Wales doesn’t have a mentoring scheme (yet!) or writing groups of our own, we do hold writing workshops where you can receive feedback from a published poet and your peers. We also regularly hold free-to-attend events (or events by donation) where you can spend the evening listening to the latest contemporary poetry as well as meet fellow poets.
2. Learn that rejection is the beginning, not the end.
As far as writing goes, and in fact, any opportunity that doesn’t yield the result we initially hoped for, there is no such thing as failure. While someone might accuse us of pandering to millennials, the latest news is we’re all in our 20s and 30s now, with life-and-death situations to think about.
Rejection isn’t the end. The difference between someone with access to many resources and someone with access to fewer resources, is that the person with access to more can afford to take more chances. In fact, they have been conditioned to take more chances because they rarely face any real repercussions. They have socioeconomic resilience, corroborated by their friends and families.
Even if they lose some of their resources, they retain the mentality of a person who has them. People with access to many resources (and perhaps most who are able to present that way) can, for example, financially and psychologically afford to have a long line of failed businesses, and an equally long list rejected poetry. It’s not that they’re better at business or writing, it’s that they’re more likely to have made multiple failed attempts in a supportive and positive environment; they can afford to submit to several paid contests year-upon-year. They can afford to take a convenient Friday off to go on a city break to recover from a break-up that inspires their next poetry collection.
To shield yourself from losing confidence, see every declined poem as a stepping stone, because that is what it is. It’s proof you’re sharing, and sharing is half the battle. Submitting as much as possible is giving yourself more chances, more chances for both success and “failure”. Remember: rejection is part and parcel of the publication process. It’s not game-over.
3. Acknowledge your writing might be cliché (and you don’t know it).
The very-well (read: over)-represented person of the opening paragraph has probably had access to an expensive education, and/or benefits from the lingo of their social stratosphere. They know all their Shakespeare references, they know what kind of music is overplayed, they’ve watched and read and heard all the classics because they’ve had easy access to them. They know exactly how to weave in a good cliché, orbit a juicy cultural reference and indulge in a deluxe selection of relatable anecdotes to make their writing “clever”.
But there are two halves to this: your writing is valid regardless, (No matter how cliché your words feel, someone always gets something from it; that someone might be you.) and if you want to avoid cliché, the antidote is to read/experience/watch/listen to as much as you can, especially contemporary work. Reading helps strengthen your inner voice, your writer voice.
While it’s overwhelming thinking we should read every poem in existence, it’s also not necessary. Quality of reading—that is, whether or not the words you are reading move you in some way—is vital. Even if you think the poem is bad, does it help you navigate what you’d like to avoid?
Although it helps [the establishment] to read the classics—the many books and poems that endure largely because of educated, middle-class academics writing about them and their importance—you don’t need a formal poetry education to write exciting poetry. Read the work of your peers where you can. Writing is the product of years of osmosis. Give yourself time to absorb, to osmote.
You can enjoy some of the finest contemporary poetry for your reading pleasure in our magazine. If you’re low-waged, you can subscribe from as little as £9.99 to access 26+ issues of Poetry Wales. If you’ve no wage but would like to access an issue, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Be open to writing a lot of rubbish.
Unless you are one of the lucky few whose writing comes perfect, you will write a lot of rubbish in between writing the good stuff. Sometimes writers are able to find a way to upcycle their rubbish, but it remains true that the rubbish needs to happen. Don’t be afraid of writing what you want to, especially now you’re reading this and have a sense for some of the pitfalls. Do not let your writing be pigeon-holed before you’ve even begun. After one clunky verse might come a much more clunky (yet charming!) verse you might call a poem.
Take comfort in the reality that writing, for most of us, is a long, drawn-out process where learning can’t be rushed. Mastering a craft can’t be rushed. Allow yourself to write freely. It’s part of the process. It is old advice, but: you can rewrite and edit something bad, but you can’t edit a blank page. Know also that sometimes you have no idea what is good or bad until someone else reads your work, especially as a new writer. Jonathan Edwards wrote, ‘One of my university tutors used to talk about the poetry canon as a giant sieve – or colander, if you will. A magazine editor might hold one sieve, and a book editor another, and prize judges and readers other sieves again. Beyond all of them stands time, that vicious git, with its sieve of tiny holes we all want to try and sneak a poem through. But before all those the writer has his own sieve and, let’s face it, most of us have crap sieves for our own work. They’re wonky as all hell, and sometimes they have massive holes and sometimes no holes at all.’
We all have inner-editors. Some are wiser than others, so learn to share your work with your peers, and learn when to step away from a poem to let time give you a fresh perspective.
Workshopping with other poets can really help to polish up your poems, and to help you find all those diamonds in the rough. Subscribers to our magazine can attend our workshops from as little as £15.
5. Humility and confidence in your writing should be balanced.
If there’s something you’re likely to have too little of as a writer from an underrepresented group or background, it’s confidence. While you need humility to learn from those before you, you need confidence to learn for yourself. To become a traditionally published poet, you must grow the confidence to send your poems to publishers.
It seems very obvious to those in the know, but if you aren’t connected to the publishing or literary world yet, you may not know that magazines like ours are seeking your work.
New writers tend to know about poetry competitions and big book publishers, but they may not know that, especially for poetry, established poetry houses like to see you have a history of publishing in quality magazines. Many magazines like ours have regular submission windows accepting poems for publication, so do your research, and submit.
Here are two posts to get you started:
If you are a new and underrepresented writer and looking to become a published poet, we hope to see a submission from you very soon. Our next submission window is June 1st 2020 to July 31st 2020, so gather your most exciting six poems and get ready to send them to us. More details can be found here.
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Views expressed are not necessarily those of Poetry Wales nor the editor.