What I wish I knew before I became a professional poet

Some people say that becoming a poet isn’t a choice you make. Maybe you’ve written all of your life, and keep getting drawn to poetry: reading it, writing it, and performing. The poetry world has a lot of traditions that other writing sectors don’t. When you make the choice to be a professional poet, to publish a collection, perform your work to audiences, and enter competitions regularly, those traditions start to effect your day-to-day life. I started out writing microfictions, which are super short stories that fit on a page. The more I wrote, the more these pieces seemed to turn into poetry, or prose poetry as it’s often called. Making the leap to calling myself a poet was a nerve wracking experience. I felt like a fraud at first, worried that I didn’t understand line breaks, and couldn’t figure out if I should rhyme. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Performing your work is important

Finding an audience for your work might not happen instantly. One thing you can do to help this process along is performing at open mic or spoken word nights. Taking your writing to a new audience is always a good thing, and you’ll get the chance to network with other poets and performers at the event, so it’s a win-win.

Break the rules

We all know there are rules to writing poetry. One of the reasons I was so intimidated by the term “poet” at first was the fact that I’d never quite understood how to write poems in particular formats. From speaking to other poets, I’ve found that while it’s good to work in the format that works for you, it’s also a good thing to bend or break the rules from time to time.

Write what you know

Some of the best poetry I’ve read or heard performed has come from the heart. When a writer shares their personal experiences through their work, they’re connecting with the audience in a new way. Writers who are always brave in putting their own experiences on the page include US page poet Emily Wolahan and British performance poet and trans activist AJ McKenna.

Don’t be afraid to make stuff up!

Sure, writing from your own experience can make a powerful poem, but so can using your imagination. If no-one ever stepped outside of their comfort zones, so many works of art would never have happened.

Find a support network of other poets

The poetry world can be a lonely place, especially as so much of a poet’s time is spent writing or working alone. So reach out to other poets you admire, network at events you go to, join workshops and classes. Having friends who are also poets can be fun and beneficial to your work. I co-founded a poetry magazine with some of my poetry friends. Exciting things can happen!

Don’t quit

As with any artistic endeavour, at times it might be tempting to quit. But don’t. Give yourself some time off, but if your dream is to be a writer, and a poet in particular, don’t be put off by rejections or set backs. They’re a normal part of the life of a writer, and don’t mean that your work isn’t good. Just keep writing!

[Image via Focus Features]