Advice from Norb Aikin
There are two types of writers, in my experience: those who just do it by themselves whenever they can for whatever reasons, and those who will scour and scrounge for every piece of advice they can soak in, hoping to apply it to the grand ideas in their heads of novels and stardom. Back when I started, there was no internet and no easy sourcing of ideas…we had to rely on rare interviews of novelists, poets, and other types of writers, though perhaps months or decades-old biographies or random newspaper articles. And most of the time, that advice was very specific and helped only a handful of writers in the vast underground of the hopeful.
So, growing up like that, I relied on myself and my instincts rather than taking the old, stale quote-unquote advice we get when we’re young and impressionable. Sure, we learn spelling and sentence structure and punctuation and all that when we’re young. And when we’re older, we’re force-fed the same old poets and writers from decades and centuries gone by, which turns off so many to the written word itself (and that’s a damn shame). I had no advice and decided I wasn’t going to adhere to the unwritten “rules” of writing because they didn’t fit what I wanted to say.
That said, I sometimes get asked on Writing.com for advice when it comes to poetry or blogging, and I have no idea what to say. I know they come to me because I’m looked at as somewhat of an expert of pro (winning multiple Best Blog and Best Poetry Collection Quill Awards will do that to you), but the reality is this: what works for me may not work for you. Everyone is different, especially in terms of their approach, work ethic, and adherence to what they’ve learned about writing. And of course, I’m only going to share what has helped me to become who I am as a writer because I think maybe, possibly, it might help you. But- and this is a big but- don’t hold me responsible if what I’m about to say doesn’t do wonders for you.
Here’s what I’ve learned, from starting out as a teenage poet with more leftover angst than I knew what to do with to the grizzled, cynical ol’ piece of work I’ve grown into. Take anything you’d like, and leave behind (or share) what you feel won’t help you; I won’t be offended.
1) The Obvious…Read!: I know it’s one of the biggest clichés when it comes to writing, but it’s so important. Whether it’s other blogs, or magazine articles, or other contemporary poets, you need to have more background than what you know in order to make any sort of difference or impression on your readers. Perspective goes a hell of a long way.
2) Stay Vigilant!: Inspiration is all around you! And many of my poet friends agree…the minor details of everyday life can spark lines and titles and more. Maybe it’s a piece of gum stuck to a public trashcan that reminds you of a favorite childhood memory that involves strawberry bubblegum. Maybe it’s the cashier at a drug store or gas station, and a tiny interaction brings to mind an explicitly specific song lyric that pulls lines out of you that you had never heard (even after listening to the song a thousand times before). Pay attention…words are waiting to be written by you.
3) Make Time, Or Don’t: Don’t let someone tell you what the rules are. What you were taught last semester, or five or twenty-five years from ago…yeah, that doesn’t matter. I don’t write every day, and you don’t have to either…so long as you make what you write count. Personally, I have all the time in the world, but writing (as a love) is something I can’t always do…forcing it is just disingenuous to the craft. Sometimes, it’s just not possible, and there’s no reason to feel bad about it. Life happens. Same with word counts; some days you have it and some days you don’t. Just don’t beat yourself up over it, especially during events like NaNo and NaPo.
4) You’re Not The Same: Most people know what every common object in this world is, even if they don’t read poetry or blogs. It’s lazy to succumb to the easy adjectives and metaphors, and you’re an individual! Let that shine in your word choices! It’ll help you stand out from the norm. Trust me on this one…it’s worked for me for a long, long time and it makes a tremendous difference (based on reviews and critiques I’ve gotten).
5) Find Your Tribe: Finding a place where you’re not scared, but comfortable, to share your work is absolutely essential. Feedback is always important and you want people who will give it to you straight, without slicing you or your work up sideways. For me, it was Writing.com; maybe there are local writing groups or clubs in your area you can confide in. The advice and confidence can carry you a lot longer way than you think!
6) Network Network Network: In this day and age, you need a Social Media presence. And you can make it work for you…follow those who follow you (make sure you vet them a bit first), and follow who they follow. You’ll grow your circle of writers immensely, and that’s actually how I met my publisher and began to grow my @Fivesixer Twitter account. This article by Kasey Anderson offers great #WritingCommunity tips on navigating Twitter and I learned a lot from it. Also, having a Facebook author page and an Instagram account will help you build an audience.
7) Get Polished Before You Get Published: Make sure you know what you’re getting into, my friends. Don’t be like me: short attention span and large excitable streak. You’ll get caught up in the excitement of thinking you’re awesome but your work needs more eyes on it than yours and your editors. Beta-readers and even people you trust who can point out simple overlooked errors can help you out, even with layout questions and issues. Take on the idea that you’re never as ready as you think you are, and you’ll be in the right frame of mind to ask your friends, family, and publishers to doublecheck your baby before it gets presented to the world.
In conclusion, these are just suggestions that’ve worked for me in my long journey. There’s really no manual for writing, and the longer you do it the more you’ll learn. Just make sure you do you and be you, while being open to suggestions and fate and the occasional person telling you whatever you’re doing sucks…there’s someone else out there you don’t even know who is building inspiration from your words, comments, and Social Media shares.