Writing myself sane

Manukan beach cr Judy DarleyDo you ever write as a form of therapy? Writing for health is a way to take control of your world, and make sense of it. In a candid guest post, Fiona Sinclair offers an insight into how writing poetry has impacted on her emotional and physical wellbeing.

I have had a stop start relationship with writing.  I first began when I was twenty. I remember my excitement at being published in ‘Purple Patch’ which had just started and I received a charming letter from Geoff Stevens.  I recall too getting paid £5 for a poem from ‘The Lady’ magazine no less!

Life events overtook me in my late 20s and I found that great unhappiness crippled any desire to write. Free to resume my life in my 30s, I went to university. Funnily enough, studying great literature thwarted any return to writing on my part. I felt humbled by writers such as TS Eliot and Seamus Heaney. It seemed as if everything been written about the human condition. So why bother?

Going on to teach English at Secondary school level eroded my love of literature. Reading became homework and to teach well I simply had no free time.

Unleash your creativity

Ironically it was becoming ill that started me writing again. It was discovered that I had suffered from, amongst other things, depression for decades and once a course of CBT (Cogntive Behavioural Therapy) and medication kicked in, it opened the floodgates.

However I made a deal with myself that if my work was rubbish I would not bother. The world did not need, I felt, another bad poet.  My first poems were sent out to modest magazines. Some wrote back encouraging letters and a few took my work. By this time ill-health, both physical and mental, meant that I was only working part time so I was able to write for longer periods of time but I was still only averaging a handful of poems a year, since school work still needed to take precedence.

Nevertheless as my work improved I began to be placed in better magazines. By this I mean the live list of magazines on the Poetry Library website. These are the periodicals any aspiring poet should aim at.

Find balance through writing

It was when I developed a balance disorder and became housebound that, ironically, I was able to write every day.  Writing saved me, giving me a vital outlet when I was unable leave the house for three years. During this time the poems that were to form my first pamphlet ‘Dirty Linen’, simply poured onto the page. They charted the life I had led with my beautiful but flawed mother during my 20s. I published as I went along, in magazines such as the now defunct ‘Poetry Monthly’ and ‘Snakeskin’.

I always seek publication of every poem I write. It is the only means I have of judging if it is any good. When it is accepted I then place the poem in a file that will form my next pamphlet or collection.

By the end of that year I had a complete narrative and sent the MS to publishers I found in The Writer’s Handbook and online.

There were, of course, many rejections. Then, one Saturday while I sat watching Strictly Come Dancing, the phone went and it was Doug from Koo Press, Scotland. We spoke for an hour and he explained how intrigued he had been by my story. All through our conversation I kept thinking ‘but are you going to publish my pamphlet?’ At the end of the call he confirmed that he was. I can scarcely describe the feeling. For the first time I felt like a proper writer.

Strive to improve your writing

I received mixed reviews for Dirty Laundry. But I accepted that the reviewers were correct about my style, it was much too baggy and prose-like – a fault I still tend towards.  Clearly I needed to improve my technique so I acquired a copy of Steve Kowitt’s In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop.  This was revelatory. I suddenly understood the concept of ‘show don’t tell,’ which has become my mantra.

A Game of Hide and Seek coverMy next two mini collections, A Game Of Hide And Seek and Wonderland were accepted by Indigo Dreams Press. They  were fabulous products, being glossy – like ‘proper books’ but again, even though I had improved some poems were still too longwinded. Influenced by poet Sharon Olds, I had taken to writing in block form, not giving a thought to my poor reader. I think part of my problem lies in the fact that my poems tell stories hence their predisposition to being prose-like. However I know that my strength is my language – I have a way with similes often employing black humour as well.

My first full collection was recently accepted by Lapwing Press and on initial sight of this beautlul book I burst into tears – overcome by seeing the culmination of seven years’ work. I have since revisited the’ baggy’ poems from my first two collections and have re-written them, cutting them down to quarter of their original size. There is something rewarding about severely editing work in this manner! I try to remember my first publisher’s advice that I am creating art and must not be bogged down by facts.

Mix with other writers

When I was able to get out and about, albeit with some strong medication, I began to attend a local poetry meeting in Canterbury. My aim was to mix with and listen to other writers. The ‘SaveAS’ poetry group have been instrumental in encouraging me to read my world aloud, which terrifies me to this day; the group also organises book launches. Such launches are an ordeal for me but I know that every poet has to get out and self-promote in order to sell books. Kent, where I live, doesn’t have many such venues but I do my best to read my work out where I can. I even undertook a speech/reading with the WI recently, which was quite an eye opener!

The fact is that I am an average poet in the midst of many fine writers. I’m suitable fair for small presses, although it still amazes me that they choose me over any other writer. I know that neither Blood Axe or Faber are likely to come knocking, however I think of myself as a work in progress and want to continue improving making my work a viable proposition to small publishers.

Moreover, writing every day is good for me. It gives me a routine and orders my thoughts. It still seems to work as therapy. I would not say that I enjoy writing. In fact, I have to force my poor old brain to get working at times. However the results are pleasing and I get a strong sense of accomplishment.

Fiona SinclairAbout the author

Fiona Sinclair is an ex-English teacher. She is the editor of the online poetry magazine Message In A Bottle. Her work has been published in numerous journals. Fiona’s first full collection ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ will be published by Lapwing Press, Belfast in September. Her pamphlet ‘Write Me Into Bed With Casanova Craft’ was published in May 2014 by Original Plus Press. Fiona loves handbags and Fred Astaire. Find out more at www.fionasinclairpoetry.com.

If you would like to share your own writing journey on SkyLightRain, get in touch! Just send an email with a line or two about your proposed guest post to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.