Dear Poet, Welcome to the 21st Century…

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A few months ago, I was pondering the idea of posting my poetry online. For me, poetry has always been a solitary activity. I would scribble rhymes and metaphors onto paper, close my notebook and I would never read it again, never mind letting other people read and comment on it. Then, I decided that if I ever wanted to publish a poetry book (which has always been a dream of mine), then people would ACTUALLY have to read my poetry, right? Now, social media has its advantages and disadvantages. When you post something online, it is there forever, you lose control of where it can be shared or saved. This scared me a little, when I thought about my vulnerable musings being there for the whole world to read.

I lost my way as a writer for a long time. I have spent the last seven years of my twenties living my life, experiencing the good and the bad, I would write from time to time but never took it seriously enough. I do believe I am finally in a place not only to write again, but I actually have something to write about. Poetry has been the way I have expressed myself from the age of five. I’m not exaggerating here. From the moment I started school, even if I couldn’t articulate and write my thoughts down yet, it was there. I would make up stories in my mind and I had a lot of imaginary friends. Once I knew what rhyming was, I quickly started making little poems up and I loved it. I actually remember my first poem I wrote down on paper, I was seven years old.

In March this year, I created a poetry account on Instagram @EmmaJanePoetry, I wrote a poem on paper, typed it up, placed it on a colourful background and clicked upload. I could feel my heart thudding in my chest as I waited. What have I done? What if people don’t like my poetry? What if people are mean and say hurtful things? What if I’m never taken seriously as a poet or a writer because I have posted these words on an Instagram page? My stream of worries disappeared when I saw what happened next. Slowly but surely, people not only started following me and reading my poetry, they commented on my writing ability, told me that my words spoke to them, made them feel something. I had personal messages from people commending my poetry and asking when I was releasing a collection. I’m no Rupi Kaur, I have 387 followers. But I don’t want to be an Instagram influencer, I don’t want fame and fortune. I just want to write poetry and have someone to share it with. I want people to read my work and Instagram is a good place to start.

I’ve just watched a poetry documentary on YouTube about the ongoing debate between academics and young people who disagree on whether the Instagram effect on poetry is a positive or a negative one. It’s what inspired this blog post. I believe that there is space for everyone in the writing world. Commenting on whether poetry is “good” or “bad” is completely subjective. Poetry is personal for the reader. Yes, there are people on Instagram posting two or three line quote-type musings and calling it poetry. Let them. Poetry has never fit into one box. I have read some classical poetry that academics rave about and I thought it was useless drivel. But hey, that’s my opinion.

I think the real problem here is not about the definition of what a poem is, it’s about technique. As a Creative Writing graduate myself, I had to study poetry, learn about technique, different styles, how to create imagery in a poem. I took the time to learn about my craft. I think some writers are angry that young people, with no writing skills, are stringing a few generic phrases together, posting them online and calling themselves “a poet.” I get it, I really do. But like I said, there is space in the writing world for everyone. Spending time ranting about it just makes you an insufferable snob in my opinion. Compare this idea to art. You have your Mona Lisa portrait, that is considered to be one of the greatest portraits in the world alongside a modern piece of art, a few crisp packets hanging on a piece of string. One person may love classical art, so they deem the crisp packet art as rubbish, unworthy and unoriginal. However, some modern artists may respectfully admire the Mona Lisa but prefer unique and unconventional representations of art such as the crisp packets. Poetry is no different. We all like different things.

What I have noticed since I became a part of the Instagram poetry community is there are some extremely talented poetic voices out there, that would have never had their work read without social media. They may not have the confidence to go marching up to a publishing house and say, “publish my poetry please.” By sharing their work, they are receiving a positive response from their readers and this increases their confidence in their writing ability, what’s so wrong with that? Artists and writers want the same thing, to get their work “seen.” We live in a world with social media at the centre, we can choose to embrace it or ignore it, the choice is ours.

Poetry is changing. I know that by posting my poetry online, I am accepting that this is the 21st century and culture is adapting to be part of the digital world. We now have many platforms to share our words with millions of people. Why not utilise and use it to share our art, whatever that may be? We live in a society that likes to put labels on things. It makes us uncomfortable if we don’t categorise or explain something. If someone ever branded me as an InstagramPoet or an InstaPoet, I would politely correct them. Not because I would be ashamed of that label. I would tell them that yes I publish my poetry on Instagram, a social media platform. I also post it on Facebook, my blog and Twitter. But I think of that little girl, with her notebook and pen, writing poems about her imaginary friends and I smile. I always have been and always will be, no matter where I share my poems, simply… a poet.

A Published Poet Part Two

Last year I entered a Mental Health Poetry competition with Make Our Rights Reality (MORR), my poem Did You Know made it in the top 25 and the prize was for my poem to be published in an anthology. The digital anthology has been released, the physical anthology will be out after the lockdown in the UK is lifted.

Did You Know is a poem I wrote about my darkest time a few years ago, when I was suffering with depression. It is a letter I wrote to let those around me know how deep in depression I was. Poetry for me has always helped me process my emotions. Many of these poems stay in a notebook or on my computer, as I once found them too personal to publish. But I saw this competition as an opportunity to make my voice heard amongst those who have suffered with mental health issues.

I am really pleased with this poem. I can look back on the words I wrote and be grateful that I no longer feel that way. But knowing that this anthology will be read by other young people who may be suffering with their mental health and my poem may make them feel less alone, makes me proud.

Did you know?
by Emma-Jane Barlow

Did you know that in my darkest moments,
I imagined a world without my heart beating and I smiled?
Every day, I wished for a way out, searching for salvation,
a path that would lead me towards the light.

Did you know that before I shared the positive picture that you liked,
I was drowning in desolation on the bathroom floor?
On the edge, pierced with panic in my chest, the walls crumbling around me.
Trapped, desperately watching my dense tears descend to the ground.
Alone, clock ticking, waiting for the storm to pass.

Did you know the immeasurable time I spent fighting with my own mind?
A damaged wasteland, a toxic atmosphere, somewhere you would never want to be.
The countless moments I spent revisiting old conversations.
Analysing every-spoken-word, every-emotion-felt.
Exhausted by the endless cycle of never-feeling-good-enough.

Did you know the infinite seconds, minutes, hours that I struggled to find silence?
Wanting just a fleeting moment of peace amidst the chaos of my unruly thoughts.
Every day, I dragged my legs through the mud until the sun set in the sky.
Sleeping, my only sanctuary, my only safe space away from the bleak.
In my dreams, I was free from the demons that held me hostage.

Did you know that despite the glimmer you saw in my eyes, inside my soul was breaking?
The mask I wore was due to the fear of being misunderstood by a disapproving world.
When it slipped, the eyes would stare, the voices would whisper, the fear returned.
No one recognised the hopelessness in my heart, the desire I felt to eliminate the darkness
that was growing inside me, once and for all.

Did you know that although I am walking on solid ground today,
I am waiting for it to dissolve, without warning, beneath my feet once more?
I see the light, I feel the light, I am the light. I can finally breathe without pain.
Yet I know that one day, when I’m not watching, my demons will return.

View the full anthology here: http://makeourrightsreality.org.uk/young-people-use-poetry-to-speak-out-about-mental-health/

A Published Poet

We are living in uncertain times at the moment. What better way to unite people than with the power of poetry? One of my writer friends had an idea to create a pandemic poetry collection and raise money for charity. She asked me if I wanted to contribute and of course I said yes.

Blue Rose is a collection of poetry with 21 poems and 14 contributors. All proceeds of the book will be going to Samaritans. It contains the different perspectives of the current global pandemic, words from different writers about the significant time in our history we currently find ourselves in.

It’s an eclectic collection, my poem entitled “Positive Pandemic” is in there and many other talented, poetic voices, positivity shines through the page as you read this fabulous collection, I highly reccommend it. If you would like to purchase a physical copy of the book, you can buy it for £7 on Amazon, alternatively, you can download the Kindle version from Amazon for £3.50. Link below.

https://amzn.to/3dKWBPZ

Darkness & Light Poetry Collection

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For the last few years I have been writing poems about my life.

I always planned to create a poetry collection but it wasn’t until recently I decided to group them together and start editing. Darkness and Light is a collection of
emotionally-driven poems about the struggles and joys I have experienced in my life so far.

I would describe the collection as a raw and honest collection of poetry exploring the emotional complexities of modern life through the lens of a young woman’s experience. The collection is a balance of both an idealistic and realistic view of the world, compared with the ideology of darkness and light. There are themes of love, sex, struggle, heartache, pain, mental illness, relationships and happiness.

At the moment, I am working on the second draft of poems. I currently have 30 poems but plan to add more before I am ready to publish it. I don’t feel like the collection is complete yet, I still feel like I have more to say. A lot of writers hate editing. But I am one of the few writers that loves this part of the process. I am thoroughly enjoying rewriting and organising this collection.

I have thought about whether or not I would like to submit it for publication or self-publish it on Amazon. I think I am leaning more towards the latter. I want my book of poetry to be published, not to make me any money, but to share my poetry and my experiences with the world. I’ll save the dream I have of seeing my book in Waterstones for the novel I will one day write (I just have to complete one first). I will keep the blog updated with the writing and editing process and will hopefully be announcing the publication soon.

NANOWRIMO 2018

TBWD NANOWRIMO

I think you have to be a special kind of crazy to attempt NaNoWriMo during your first year of teaching. Well, I think I might just be the right amount of crazy to attempt it.

I completed NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2014. I wrote 50,000 words in one month. I wrote my first adult novel and it was a great achievement. I wanted to prove to myself that I could complete a longer piece of writing, as I was used to writing poetry and short stories. Over the last few years, I stopped writing. Life happened and I stopped putting pen to paper. The ideas were always there but my motivation to actually write them disappeared.

This year, I have started to slowly put pen to paper and write again. I have had an idea for a children’s book for a little while now and I’ve decided to use National Novel Writing Month to begin writing it. I am not going to give myself a target of  50,000 words. With my crazy teaching schedule, it wouldn’t be achievable. Instead, I’m going to give myself a more manageable goal of 5,000 words. Although, I would be amazingly happy if I even reached 1,000! The whole idea is for me to START writing this children’s novel. No pressure. Just a chance to fall in love with writing again.

For The Love Of Writing.

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Today I wrote a short story, for fun! This may sound like a simple task for a writer, as writer’s write, right? Well, I did write A LOT once upon a time. I had notebooks full of ideas, I had motivation to put pen to paper and I really enjoyed the craft of writing fiction and poetry. I did a three year degree in creative writing because I loved it so much. I completed an adult novel a few years ago (it now sits in the bottom of my desk drawer). I was moving onto writing a children’s novel when, well, life happened.

I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with my writing muse over the past couple of years. It wasn’t a writer’s block that stopped my flow of ideas and writing, but a life block. A lot of circumstances in my life should have pushed me towards writing but instead, it pushed me further away from it. Writing was at the bottom of my priority list and I didn’t realise the negative effect of doing so. Writing is a big part of who I am and by not doing it to freely express my thoughts and ideas, I was losing a piece of myself. Over time, I could feel the idea of me being a writer and writing becoming a memory, a version of myself that I could never get back.

Last week, I was in Cardiff with my partner, when I came across The Writer’s Toolbox in Waterstones. I had seen it previously and never bought it, but something was pulling me towards it. With the help of The Writer’s Toolkit, Best Writing Prompts Daily Facebook page and reading some of my old writing (to remind myself that I’m not terrible). I was inspired enough to write something today. The ideas are there. They never disappeared. It was my inner critic, the confidence in myself that I was a great writer and I had something to say that stopped. For some reason, one day, I just started to question if my writing was any good. This nagging self-doubt stopped me from actually writing. It caused me to stop doing what I loved. I don’t want it to happen again.

I shouldn’t care if my writing is any good or even if it has an audience. I just need to get back to the reason why I started writing to begin with. I need to find the joy in writing again and today I accomplished that. I’m starting my NQT year in a few weeks. Which is the first year of primary teaching. I’ll have my own class, a lot of responsibility, a lot of challenges ahead.

But I need to make time for my writing. Writing fiction or poetry for me is an escape. Such as reading a book, playing a video game or even doing a jigsaw puzzle is for others. I love to lose myself in a fictional world that I create. I love to take my feelings and emotions and turn it into a beautiful poem. This will not be a fluke. I will make sure that for the love of writing, I continue to make time for it.  I must, I am a writer after all and that’s what writer’s do…. WRITE!

 

Writer’s Block Or Life Block?

typewriterrrr.jpgI was reading Writing Magazine a few days ago and came across an article about writer’s block. It’s something I have always struggled with. I go through phases of no writing at all and I always blame it on writer’s block, I either have too many ideas and can’t seem to pick one or unfortunately, sometimes, I have no ideas at all.

I’m sure all writer’s can relate to this, the ongoing struggle to get the beautiful poetic voice in your head to somehow find its way to the page, to find the right words and put them in the right order and to finally turn an idea into an actual story. However, I’m starting to realize, after reading this article mainly, that it may not be writer’s block.

Every writer has their ‘perfect mood’ to write. Some wait until the world is falling apart around them to finally get a poem on the page and some have to be in a happy state of mind to even consider putting pen to paper. I am the latter. I’ve been through a lot of personal struggles and during this time, I haven’t been writing. Now I feel I am moving away from the shadows and finally feel myself again, I want to write.

Strange isn’t it? Maybe I was intentionally choosing to let life block my writing muse? The events of my life were forcing me to ignore the writer in me. I was so focused on just getting through each day and understand the range of emotions I was feeling. I was failing to do the one thing that helps me get through almost anything and that is to write about it.

I feel like my ongoing battle with depression and anxiety has not only killed my happiness, but my confidence too. I had no belief in myself that I could write anything good, so I didn’t write at all. Silly really. I shouldn’t care if my writing is good or not, I should do it because it’s what I love to do. Only now that I am on the other side of a long, dark tunnel, do I actually see what I have been doing all of this time.

Now, I don’t know if this feeling of being myself will last. So I’m going to make the most of it. My typewriter is sitting on my desk, waiting for me to carve words from my mind and piece together something beautiful. I’m going to do what I do best, I’m going to write and no amount of self-doubt is going to stop me, not this time!

The Second Draft.

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I’ve finally finished editing the first draft of 1:58 and if there is anything I have learnt from this experience of using a red pen on my own work it is this – I can be brutal. Many writers say that they don’t like to ‘kill their darlings’ but I found it quite easy to use my inner-editor to cross out sections that didn’t work, be brutally honest about my use of clichés and accept that there were parts of my novel that just didn’t work.

I had a dream a few nights ago about my novel, when I woke up I realised all of the mistakes I was making with my story and I quickly jotted them down. I’m going to make some major changes, from the name of the novel to the events that take place in the narrative. It’s still the same story in many ways and I am keeping the characters that I have grown to love but the novel didn’t excite me when I read it back. If it doesn’t excite me, then it’s definitely not going to excite a reader.

This is the first time I have completed a novel and edited my own work, so it’s an entirely new process for me. I am excited to get started on the second draft, it may take three or four drafts before this novel is ready but I’m willing to put the hard work in to really create the best story I possibly can. No one said it would be easy. Ernest Hemmingway once said “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” A little dramatic but he definitely has the right idea.

 

 

 

 

Breathing New Life Into An Old Story…

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In 2014, when I was studying Creative Writing at university, I decided to take part in something called NaNoWriMo. A writing task to write 50,000 words during the month of November. Despite my lack of belief in myself, I managed to do it. I spent a few weeks beforehand writing a plan, I had detailed questionnaires on all of my characters, I was ready to go. I celebrated when I reached the word count. I actually completed a novel! Yay me!

Then, I left the story alone. It sat on my USB for two years, yes you heard right, TWO YEARS! I guess I didn’t have much faith in my story, I thought it was rubbish and didn’t want to read it ever again. Until one day. I don’t know what pushed me to do it but I decided to read my story to myself. As I scrolled through the pages, I realised it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. Although my inner editor had already started to rewrite the story in my head, I saw a few moments in the story that had true potential.

I printed off my manuscript and took out a red pen. I highlighted sentences that worked, crossed out sections that didn’t and scanned the manuscript for inconsistencies and spelling mistakes. I’m still in the process of editing the novel but once I’m done, I’m going to start my second draft of 1:58. I’m breathing new life into an old story and I couldn’t be happier about it 🙂