I made some big changes earlier this year, so I could spend more time on all things poetry. I don’t regret it for a moment, but changes come with difficulties, some expected and some not. I thought I’d write about how I’ve learnt from the mistakes I’ve made and the problems I’ve had, on the off chance it can help anyone else.
Having some time is amazing, but there’s often no-one to prod me if I’m not making use of it. I’ve learnt to treat my free time like a 9 to 5 job. It forces me to get up early and do something, whether it’s writing, practising, learning, organising events or whatever, because at first I wasted far too much time being lazy. It’s amazing what difference some discipline can make to your poems.
I also spent way too long doing things I thought would allow me to do what I should be doing. The attitude that you’ll just get this done first only leaves you with more random stuff to do first. I try to make time for poetry every day now, even if it’s just fifteen minutes to do a writing exercise. There will always be faff to do, but it can often wait more than your poems can or even combine with them. Why not learn your lines while cleaning the bathroom? Some people can do a lot more than I’m doing in much less time, because they’re much better than me at getting on with it. Thankfully, I’m finally getting better at this!
What am I doing?
It can be a shock when you first break out of your comfort zone. I went from knowing what I was doing, or at least thinking I did, to processing loads of things I didn’t understand, tax codes, extremely blunt feedback, events going wrong, lots more rejections, feeling way out of my depth. They can make you lose confidence in what you’re doing and I did for a while, but I got it back. Things not going to plan are just things to consider for next time. Poems or manuscripts being negatively judged can help you see the flaws in your own work. Someone giving advice on how to improve your delivery can make you a better performer. Nobody improves without making mistakes and sometimes feeling like they’re not good enough. It’s a rite of passage, but only if you stay confident and keep going for it.
I’m not achieving anything
It’s a very parasitic thought I sometimes have. I had the perfect excuse when I was pacing home from the office bleary eyed at stupid o’clock. I had no time. If I had more time then I’d get to that show, take that opportunity, finish that collection, right? Wrong. Suddenly, I had more time and still wasn’t getting anywhere, because it’s easier to hide behind excuses than confront the reasons why you make them. Things only happen if you make them happen, and initially I wasn’t. In some ways, I’m still not, but then in the last six months I’ve won my first slam, taken part in a couple of big shows, made some videos I’m proud of, made a website, started writing a theatre show, raised some money and food for local charities, gigged in quite a few different cities, met loads of really nice and successful poets and learnt so much about writing and performing. Most of all, I’ve had a lot of support and hope I’ve been able to give some back. I hope I’ve also earnt the respect of some people I really admire. Achievements just takes more time than you think they will, so the bits of positivity can easily get lost in the gaps between them. Soon, I hope to find my way into writing jobs that help other people, instead of make ends meet stuff, but it’ll happen when I’ve made it happen. I encourage anyone reading this to make a list of all the stuff you’ve achieved this year, big and small. It’ll probably be longer than you think.
Working all day and night doesn’t help me achieve stuff any faster. It just takes away my head space and makes me inefficient and stressed. Nobody does their best performance or writes well when they’re exhausted or can’t think straight. I’ve learnt to mix up my writing with decent mental breaks, to exercise a lot, to make healthy meals, to drink enough water and to try and sleep properly each night. I don’t want to ruin myself for something I enjoy, it’s much better to work efficiently than work all the time.
I should give up
Another very parasitic thought I sometimes have, but no, I shouldn’t. True, I have a lot of poetry things to achieve, but I’m chipping away at them bit by bit. I choose to build myself up with what went well and learn from what didn’t. It’s self reflection, which is more powerful than self criticism. Our minds are often our own worst enemies, especially with what we really value. Mine is, anyway. I’ve spent a long time learning how to coach mine, to recognise its trigger points and learn how to overcome them. Knowing your trigger points really helps you manage the destructive emotions that can creep in, poetry or otherwise.