Writing as a career – a review

new-poem-200715Strange business this writing stuff; we get so involved in the creative process that the other jobs, seemingly more mundane or prosaic get pushed back.

To be a writer one simply needs to write. To be a prolific writer one needs to write a great deal. We can dedicate our whole lives to writing and ignore the mundane; forget washing, cleaning and even to a large extent eating.

We can become writing machines putting all of our thoughts on paper, tablets, computers or dictaphones.

So it really is true that anyone can be a writer.

There are of course some really big “buts” coming:

  1. You can spend your whole life writing to the exclusion of all else BUT it doesn’t make your writing good.
  2. You can spend your whole life writing to the exclusion of all else BUT it doesn’t pay the bills.
  3. You can spend your whole life writing to the exclusion of all else BUT it doesn’t feed the family.
  4. You can spend your whole life writing to the exclusion of all else BUT that isn’t very professional.

So if you are no longer satisfied with your status as a happy amateur, if you want to find a wider audience or swim in a bigger pond then you’ll need to become proactive, make some changes and embrace some of the things you haven’t done yet.

In my case I began the process by looking at what I could do along with my writing to start to develop a career doing this thing that I love. I’ve always been something of a teacher, I love the feeling I get when I’ve helped someone learn something new, gain confidence or learn new skills so passing on my love of writing to others was an obvious choice.

Over the last 12 years or so (from long before I considered writing as a career option) I’ve produced and delivered a good number of workshops for writers. More recently, as a serious career step, I created several new workshops ready to deliver to anyone from the age of about 8. I got myself bookings and ran workshops and readings with consistently good feedback and towards the end of the year it was time to stretch myself again. I’ve still some areas to push a bit more to consider myself more professional and these include:

  • Producing some proper publicity materials
  • Actively promoting my workshops to new organisations and schools
  • Developing communications through a mailing list
  • Developing some new workshops and materials for 2017
  • Developing a new market in staff development and inspirational talks
  • Developing a longer term plan – something to carry me through the next few years

So what else?

  • I’ve started submitting some work to publishers
  • I’ve started entering some work into competitions
  • I’ve taken my work to new audiences
  • I’ve learnt to make audio recordings of my work and use those recordings for publicity etc.

These might seem like simple everyday tasks, and in reality they are, but in the development of a writer they are either milestones or hurdles to be passed before moving on to the next level. Perhaps some of these are made more difficult by the writers’ biggest hurdle “the fear of rejection” even though rejection is common for even the most successful writers. It is important to see each rejection as what it is, i.e. that the particular piece of writing in that particular form didn’t meet the needs of the person rejecting it. It might be that the writing was not good enough but assuming that you are serious about developing as a writer then you’ll want to improve the writing and make it better.

Occasionally a plan doesn’t quite work as anticipated, for example when the “sound guy” at your biggest gig of the year forgets to press the record button. The most important thing in those situations is to keep on moving forwards and not to be held back by worries about what might have been.

So as we head into a new year I’ll be concentrating on these areas but of course none of that is worth a minute of your time unless you continue to create new writing – there’ll be more about new writing in my next post.

 

What kind of poet am I?

For a quite while I have been struggling with how to describe myself as a poet.

People are perhaps familiar with the terms “performance poet” or “page poet” and then there are   the “slam poets” and those with specific styles like “punk poets” or “beat poets”.

When I refer to myself as a “poet” people invariably ask me what I do. Well of course I can say that I write poetry but of course I do more; but do I perform?

Picture of Seamus reading with a large Union Jack projected in the background

Reading at Eroica 2016

In essence I feel that performance has an element of putting on a persona, or being something different from what you are when you are away from the stage or microphone – it conveys an element of acting. I realised that when I’m in front of an audience or a microphone I’m not acting. What the audience gets is me, Seamus Kelly the poet, telling you things in my own words, with my own emotions and with my own character; the same one you’d find if you talk to me about art, politics or bike racing. It isn’t a performance and I’m fairly clear that I’m not a performance poet.

As for being a “slam poet” I’d not count myself in that group, I’ve done a couple; but over a period of over 10 years I don’t think that qualifies me as a slam poet.

I do write poetry on some sort of page, in a notebook, on a computer, on a tablet and a couple of times on a phone and I’ve turned some of them into a collection in the form of a book for people to read. So all my poetry exists on the page but far more people have heard my poems from my lips than have read them on a page so I’m pretty sure I can’t really be a page poet.

Picture of Seamus with presenter Nicky

Pictured after the show at Roche Valley Radio

I’m certainly neither a punk poet or a beat poet.

So what kind of poet am I?

It might seem strange to be vexed by such a question but I know that others have the same dilemma and some very well known poets have had issues around being categorised as performance poets when they are just being themselves and not putting on an act. This has actually exercised my mind on and off for some considerable time but today I think I’ve come up with the answer.

Eroica set 2016 A

Set list for Eroica 2016

What kind of poet am I?
I am happy to define myself as a “live poet” – that means you can see or hear me read, recite, whisper, shout or otherwise vocalise my poems in my own voice, with my own personality, my own character and no acting. What you see and hear is “live poetry”

Next time I’m asked I know what to say:

 

 

“Seamus Kelly, Live Poet!”

 

Comments and questions very welcome….

Eroica Set List grows

With just 2 weeks today until Britain’s most handsome festival of all things cycling and vintage my set list is taking shape. Like myself it has become a bit larger than it ought to be and over the next couple of weeks it needs to trim down a little.

Picture of my developing set list for Eroica 2016 in notebook

My developing set list for Eroica 2016

There are a poems that have been heard around the country, poems that have only been heard close to home and a few that have never yet been heard in public. The task challenge in finalising a set list is to appeal to the audience, to get over whatever messages are intended, to give the audience a range of emotional experiences and of course to do the things we love to do. For my Eroica set the questions include:

How many poems about cycling? (currently 5 or 6 on the long-list)

How many political poems? (tricky just days before the referendum, 1 or 2 on the shortlist)

How many personal and family poems? (a few that have wide enough appeal)

Can I risk the really serious subjects? (can I avoid them – no – so yes there’s a few in the long list)

Can I risk making the audience cry? (can I even stop them crying)

Should I give them something to laugh or smile about? (of course – even if just to stop them crying)

How many old ones?

How many new ones?

How many can I fit into a half hour set with room to breathe, to listen, to digest, to laugh or cry and to chat with the audience?

So here I am in the middle of the night adding and subtracting from the list, a mini-referendum for each poem; in or out?

And as I think I’m nearly there I wonder about finishing one or two of the bunch of poems still under construction, but it gets late and “what if they aren’t ready, what if they won’t be good enough?” and the poet tries to get some sleep.

Superheroes of Slam – Huddersfield 7th October 2015

After an introduction by Julian Jordan who reminded us that slams are the blood sport of poetry and explained the rules and scoring the slam got underway:

IMG_1759
Dave Morgan opens the slam performances

Dave Morgan (above) was up first, the most difficult slot in a slam and a chance for the judges to settle. I was fourth or fifth and unlike my previous go at a slam I didn’t feel too nervous.

After an interesting first half with really diverse poems 5 poets with the highest scores had qualified for the final. I wasn’t either too surprised or too disappointed to find myself in the other half; realising that my style lends itself more to a different and less competitive style and learning more about what it takes to deliver a potential winning poem.

The final saw many high scores but at the end the highest scores were awarded to Rose Condo who, in agreement with the judges, I felt was the strongest performer of the night. Rose will now have a place in the Manchester based final of the Commonword Super Heroes of Slam.

IMG_1767
Slam winner Rose Condo

Julian was right; this is the blood sport of poetry but it was also a great night out and credit to the newish venue Bar 1:22 in Huddersfield which is likely to find itself hosting spoken word more frequently in the future.

I said in a previous post (3rd August) that entering the slam would be stepping outside my comfort zone  trigger some creativity and give myself a deadline.

All of that turned out to be true but as the day of the slam approached I stepped much further outside my comfort zone, gave up that day job, started establishing my own creative business and re-registered with agencies do some part time teaching.

I’m writing as much as I can, creating some new workshops, developing new images for sale, making and remaking contacts and getting out on the poetry scene as much as I can.

It is a bit scary, it is exciting and although outside of the norm, out of my comfort zone and a bit precarious it has made me feel rejuvenated, more comfortable and sane than I’ve felt for ages and I find myself looking forwards – wondering just how far I can go rather than whether to go at all.

So if anyone needs a facilitator, a compere, a poet, needs some workshops, needs some commissioned writing, wants some new images or just some inspirational words just give me a shout….

info@seamuskellypoetry.co.uk
www.imagesbyseamuskelly.co.uk

The Business of Writing

Funny thing about all this poetry; the more you get involved, the more you perform, the more you hear and the more you read the more you tend to write.

Nothing prompts a flurry of creative activity like having a looming deadline, a performance or a workshop to deliver.

I’ve usually got a few things on the go, anything from three to half a dozen; when a deadline looms at least a couple of those will get finished.

Once the writing starts then it multiplies, even when you’ve not got a pen, dictaphone or a computer to hand stuff is still happening in your mind – if I seem a bit distant sometimes that might be why. Finishing one or two of those “on-the-go” poems inevitably leads to more than that number of new ideas filling pages of the notebook – and it is almost always a notebook.

Some of the time I’ve also got other, non-poetic, writing on the go as well, at the moment and for the last year or so that means a couple of rather large stories that somehow keep rolling around in my mind and bit by bit start appearing on paper or on a memory chip. The current ones involve; bikes, a revolutionary tale, some elements of steampunk, some dark stuff, a fair few struggles and a bit of hope; all the things you tend to find in fairly lengthy stories.

One has the working title of “Circling the Darkness” which I liked so much I almost nicked it for a poem but it has far too much material in there to fit into a poem (unless it were one of those single-poem books). There’s a picture of the notebook where it started here:

They don’t have verses or stanzas but tend instead to have chapters and they don’t necessarily come in the right order. And they have characters who don’t necessarily end up the way they were first envisaged. they have plots which can go off unexpectedly to new area and they may at some time in the future have endings, just maybe. A bit like poems they might start off with a title but I expect that like poems the title, the one they end up with, will come along at the end of the process which in these cases might be a very long time away.

The business of writing would take much more time than there is available, even if you stopped doing everything else so I’ve come to the realisation that in the end it really does need to be treated as a business or a project. It needs to be allocated to certain times, it needs to have some kind of targets (for motivation – you might even call them deadlines – although that might be a title for a collection of poems….), it needs to be organised and to be considered successful it needs to have some kind of an end result.

So I’m looking at a project management approach to some of my writing. The project won’t always be something like “To produce a poem about xxxx”; it is often likely to be to work with the idea of xxxx and if there is a poem or a story in there then write it.