A few weeks ago I attended a writers’ retreat that ended up being one of the most creatively intense experiences of my life. I dug deep into my own soul—and with the help of a few insanely brave writer friends—dragged what I found there out into the light.
It was cathartic, but it was also scary as hell.
Sometimes looking into your own wounds—those deep, dark ugly wounds you’ve been carrying your whole life—is like looking into the abyss.
As writers, we always hear about how we should mine our own dark places for creative gold, how all the hard experiences we’ve gone through will be fuel for our writing fire. I truly do believe that…but yet…
Today’s guest post is from Fred Johnson, who is an editor for Standout Books, where he helps authors take their manuscripts from good to perfect. He’s had poetry published in Zetetic, Spark: A Creative Anthology, The Incubator, Iota, Belleville Park Pages, Smoke, and Spring 14. His personal blog can be found here and he can be found on Twitter as @FredBobJohn. You can also find out more at the Standout Books Blog.
Poetry is big and confusing and I don’t get it. As a form, it’s remarkably fluid—just when I think I’ve grasped what it is and how it works, I’ll discover some poet who throws the whole thing on its head. Whereas contemporary formalists like Glyn Maxwell argue that poetry without strict form is like a table without legs, the bleeding edge throw words all over the page, dismissing grammar, form, spelling, and linear sequence. How do I know where to stand? It’s all too much to keep up with.
About ten years ago I worked for a startup that launched a social media site for published authors. This was the first place where I really started to meet writers and come in contact with people in the industry. In the spring of 2008 one of the topics being bantered about on our website was the question of self-publishing. Specifically, did the rise of it spell tragedy for good literature everywhere?
Nearly a decade later I can’t believe how worked up people got about it, and how worked up some people still are today. Because the fact of the matter is that self-publishing is here to stay, and it’s probably the best thing that’s happened to writers since the invention of computers.
Every morning when I open my inbox a landslide of emails from the online writing community pour out. Blog posts, newsletters, classes and programs and retreats. And then I jump on social media and the wave continues: Advice and instructions on character development, plotting your plot, finessing the end and then going back to that first page and polishing your opening hook until it sparkles and shines and catches the eye of every agent with an email address.
The online writing community is built upon the giving of good advice. I totally get that. As a writing coach with a writing blog, I’m one of those writers handing out pieces of that advice. It definitely has a place, and it definitely can be helpful.
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