With the Christmas break just around the corner, there’s a temptation to down tools and forget about writing until the new year. Here poet and CWP tutor John McCullough offers his top writing tips to keep you maintaining your writing practice through the festive season. They’re relevant to both poets and prose writers.
1. The biggest tip I have is to work on improving your use of technique through reading a wide range of contemporary poetry. Think of it as a craft and put in the hours looking closely at how to employ the tools of your trade in a modern way rather than sounding like Keats and co. It’s not about being a literature academic. It’s about your brain absorbing thousands of examples so it’s able to select from a range of approaches when it’s trying to solve each little problem you come up against in the writing process.
2. Hunt out honest critical feedback: everyone needs to make a lot of mistakes in order to grow and develop. I certainly did! When a writer you trust does read your work carefully and suggests how it might be strengthened, don’t just block your ears: absorb what they say and think about how you might refine your approach.
3. Think of the long game – keep phrases, images and observations you like in a notebook. I often extract my favourite lines from poems that don’t work and try them again in a different piece.
4. Go to poetry events and get to know other people at the same stage as you. It makes the whole business less lonely and more fun, and you can support each other and spur one another on.
5. Don’t beat yourself up about not having written the perfect poem you feel you should write. Find out what energizes you, what makes you feel most alive when you write about it. There’s no such thing as good subject matter: whatever fires you up is the right subject for you.