I don’t do ‘books of the year’ round ups: after all the selection process is subjective and a different mood or change in circumstances will influence choices. I do keep a rough tally of achievements though and my 2017 in numbers: 45 poems accepted for publication, I wrote 42 reviews and was longlisted for the Saboteur Reviewer of the Year Award, 36 blog articles (including 2 guest posts). Last year I had 44 poems accepted for publication and wrote 55 reviews. Reviews fluctuate according to requests and I don’t want to review every book I read otherwise reading will become a chore. The level of poetry publications is more consistent. But I did two things in 2017 that I’d not done before. I presented a paper, “Poetry and ‘the Jungle'” at the Jungle Factory Symposium at Leicester University in March and I have an essay, “Spoken Word as a Way of Dismantling Barriers and Creating Space for Healing” forthcoming in “Verbs that Move Mountains” (Sabotage, 2018).
So I don’t look backward, but I do look forward, which means making plans or resolutions. Here are some general guidelines I always use:
Don’t start resolutions in January
The mornings are still dark, the weather’s usually damp and, even if you’ve dodged the post-Christmas lethargy, it’s not an ideal circumstance to create a fresh, new you. Instead use January to plan and prepare for when the mornings are lighter and it feels more natural to start new resolutions. Instead, jot down ideas or try and note one observation each day and keep these notes to one side to use as ideas to kickstart poems during NaPoWriMo in April. Winter nights are more conducive to reading and editing.
Ensure you are in control
“Get more poems published” might seem like a great resolution, but you don’t get to decide whether your poems are published or not. What you can do is submit more poems for publication or better research poetry magazines so you don’t send your sonnets to an editor who is looking for sestinas.
Rejections are part of being a writer, but there are ways of mitigating them. You can thoroughly research poetry magazines and submission call-outs to check that you are sending your work to the most appropriate outlets. You can join a workshop or writers’ group to ensure you’re sending out the best version of your poem. And you can ensure you are sending out more than one submission at a time. If you send out one batch of poems to one editor, a rejection means 100% of your poems have been rejected. If you send out 12 submissions and 1 is rejected, there are another 11 with a chance of acceptance so that 1 rejection doesn’t sting as much.
Rigid resolutions are less likely to be kept and may prevent you exploring new opportunities that may arise. Be realistic in your time scales too. If you plan to write more each day, don’t beat yourself up if a family emergency prevents you from writing.
Keep an eye on trends, rather than exact numbers. I know I’m likely to write approximately as many new poems this year as last year. I don’t know if I will get more poems or fewer poems accepted, but I know I’m going to try just as often.
You can’t be a writer if you don’t read and don’t just read in your genre. Occasionally pick up a book out of your comfort zone. Staying within your comfort zone means you won’t develop as a writer. Getting out to readings also means you’re supporting your local literary scene (and if you think your local literary scene isn’t worth supporting, perhaps you could do something about that).