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25 March 2009

What am I doing???? a brief history of my writing life

I started writing poems about 10 years ago, say, sometime during 1999. I even think it was spring of 1999, because I was part of a group of women writers (Julia, Beverley, Gill... where are you now?) and I remember we did an exercise about colour and I wrote a poem about purple and one of them said, "That's really good, do you write a lot of poems?" It's amazing what being complimented can do for you. I had not, in fact, written many poems but I started to, after that. They just started pouring out of me. I'm not sure many were "good" -- by good I mean that they succeeded in and of themselves. However, it was satisfying and I had high hopes. My aim was to write at least 60 because that was the minimum number of pages needed for most chapbooks. I used to list each one by title and count them up, thinking along the lines of "Only 25 more!"

That was Phase 1. Phase 2 began in 2002 when I started attending the Brussels Writers Group. I began to get a whole new level of feedback, and this was good. It was the feedback of one member, David Morgan, (now moved back to the UK) that gave me one of my biggest "lightbulb moments". Commenting on a poem, he said that he felt the biggest problem with my poetry was that it was too abstract, and he showed me an example in that very poem. I don't know how but somehow it clicked and I "got it".

I wasn't working a day job during Phase 2, my girls were still little, and I had a quite disciplined routine that I loved: walking in the morning (on the way back from dropping them off at school), having coffee at my desk and writing until midday, sometimes more; afterwards working around the shopping and cooking and etc etc etc. I started working for a charity 2 days a week and that was fine, too. I liked that balance. In 2004 I had a poem published, and then another two. I started making more submissions and got decent feedback. But then in 2005 I entered Phase 3.... The Phase of the Day Job.

Is it a coincidence that I haven't had anything published the day job began? Sometimes I wonder. It may have happened anyway, who knows. However it is statistically proveable that during the past two years I have written less and less. I carve out time to do so, though the returns seem to diminish. The girls are older now and therefore easier in many ways, including ways conducive to writing. I have learned a lot about poems. I get positive feedback from readings and I enjoy the making of poems. But it depresses me not to get published. Submitting is depressing too instead of hopeful, because now I expect the answer will be negative instead of "maybe positive". I really wonder what is the point of writing poems no one will read in book form. And yes, I do mean in book form. There's a sense of validation that comes from someone exterior wanting to publish your work, and while I know there's a fine tradition of self-publishing, blah blah blah, I want someone to like it and think it worthwhile. I suspect most writers want this, which is why self-publishing, even the kind that can be done now, remains the less desireable option.

And so I find myself arriving at Phase 4. The post-debutante phase, the post-hopeful phase. The post-naïve phase. The hard-looks-in-the-mirror phase. And what to do about it? I have no idea....

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