“Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use – do the work you want to see done.”Austin Kleon
If you’re coming here after reading Part I of this May Your Hunger Guide You series, thank you for reading and thank you for returning! If you’re here for the first time, hello! It’s wonderful to have you here.
I said this in Part I, but it’s worth mentioning again: I hope you’ll uncover something useful buried between these sentences. If there’s anything you read about that you’re especially clued up on and feel could do with some additional wordage for the benefit of the folks who are reading (and me!) please do make yourself at home in the comments section.
Some Words For Creatives Going Forward
Create Art That Sets Your Heart On Fire
In my years as a writer, I’ve (almost) always created works I’d want to find for myself. I’ve written the sorts of books whose margins I’d want to scribble in, made the sorts of blog posts I’d want to accidentally stumble across and published the sorts of magazines I’d want to keep instead of recycle.
But occasionally on my journey I’ve stumbled and my priorities have been scattered to the wind. I’m going to tell you about a couple of those times.
During one of my summer breaks back in my university years, I decided to write a play. I’d read an article in The Guardian about a playwright in her early twenties whose career was soaring. I found myself bristling with envy but what followed swiftly was the thought that I should try and write one myself. Before I read this article, I’d never even entertained the idea. Not once.
When I set out to write a play that sweltering summer (there was a play-writing competition I intended to enter at the end of the holidays) the idea of what I was about to do did not set my heart on fire. Yet still I made my way to the library every single damn day of that summer break to work on it.
It was a grueling process which lasted about six weeks. I didn’t enjoy a single second. My writing was stilted, dull and uninspired. Editing the play was as punishing as writing it had been. I didn’t experience any of the joy I usually did when refining my writing. I knew, deep down, that I was wasting my time, that I wasn’t gaining anything from the experience and that I was squandering precious hours of my life that I’d never get back. But being the stubborn arse that I am, I refused to put the project to rest.
When the play was finished, I sent it off for the competition and promptly forgot about wanting to be a playwright. I never heard anything back, thank fuck. Though undoubtedly the comments would have been dreadful enough to frame and put on the wall. I do sometimes imagine what the reader of my play did when they read over the opening page – pissed themselves laughing probably.
In 2017 I unfortunately had another one of those ‘I can do that and potentially boost my career’ moments. It had come to my attention that ‘Insta Poetry’ was on the rise and getting a considerable amount of love and likes. Instagram poets by the dozen were stacking up their follower numbers, getting solid publishing deals and making reputable careers for themselves. But, while I’d appreciated the work of poets such as Segovia Amil and Nikita Gill, I wasn’t particularly eager to discover everything that I could about the form, nor was I hungrily hunting down the most profound micro poems published on Instagram.* I tried to be eager, I really did, but my enthusiasm quickly fizzled out when I struggled to find much poetry I could really connect with.
*If there are Insta Poets I really should know about, please do let me know. I’m never closed off to discovering new voices and maybe I can develop a new appreciation for the form, even if I don’t create in it myself.
Still, despite not spending several hours a day devouring Insta Poetry, I thought I could use my experience as a writer to my advantage and turn my Instagram wall into a beautifully curated collection of meaningful micro poems. (At one point, I even tried to curate my wall in the same way that Insta Poet phenomenon Rupi Kaur and other poets were doing, by having a poem then a picture then a poem then a picture. That didn’t last long.)
I told myself that this was what my followers wanted; poetry that was easily digestible, yet expressive and gorgeously presented. (I used a distressed leather background for mine, if I remember correctly.) I also convinced myself that taking this approach with my poetry would draw a lot more people to my work.
I can remember the first time I tried to create a poem especially for Instagram. Initially, I felt excited, revved up. I was challenging myself to something new. But that excitement quickly shifted into something else – dread. What I was doing felt unnatural, uncomfortable, uncertain. (While it’s sometimes a good thing for something to feel uncomfortable at first, uncertain even, this was not one of those times.)
I wrangled with my words and faffed around trying to present them as beautifully as I could. When I eventually uploaded my first poem crafted for Instagram, I didn’t feel awash with pride. I felt tired, fed up and uninspired by what I’d just done. For a while I watched to see if any likes came in, then I turned off my phone. Everything about what I’d just done felt wrong.
But I kept on trying to create micro poems. I kept trying to shape my words into a form they were not willing to be shaped into. I was used to creating poetry at an energetic pace, but I found that whenever I was writing a poem for Instagram, I was doing so sluggishly. While I struggled to write, other poets were flooding the gram. I felt overwhelmed and shit about what I was doing. I can’t remember what the last straw was, but I eventually stopped trying. Initially I felt crap at being incapable of conquering the form, but before long I was back writing poems that extended beyond a solitary Instagram square, and it felt like I’d gone home after an unnecessary journey.
What I Was Listening To When I Was Writing This