Becoming the Living Poet

Marketing for Writers

Posted on: May 22, 2009

Alligator Wrestling by Dean Mullin

Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators. – Olin Miller

Today I signed up for Naomi Dunford’s Free Marketing for Writers and Wordsmiths E-Course. Even if you’re not a writer you might want to follow that link because Naomi has turned her website, Ittybiz into a smorgasbord of free e-courses of late. You’ll find marketing for consultants, techies, designers, bloggers, and my personal favorite – Touchy Feely Airy Fairy Woo Woo Service Providers – many of whom I am following on twitter right now and loving every minute of it.

I’ve already received Naomi’s first email and so far it looks promising. It talks about identifying a target audience to whom you are going to sell your writing. About this illusive target audience Naomi writes:

We slave away with grammar books and style guides, honing our writing skills into something with poise and spice and eloquence, and hope that they will figure out that we can change their world with the sheer force of our prose. Before we starve, preferably.

I’m in such a weird space career-wise right now. I’m leaving my life as a web content writer and SEO analyst to go and be a poet, and am really starting to wonder if I’m not being too all or nothing about this. I’m happy I’m going to graduate school because it’s going to give me a ton of time to write as well as internship opportunities and a shift in perspective, but I’m wondering if this whole academia or bust attitude is going to work in the long haul.

Lately, as the blind panic has started to give way to reasoned contemplation of what I want the future to look like, it occurred to me that a lot of my fear has to do with what life will be like three years from now when I get out of graduate school. In some ways I’ve already resigned myself to failure, and that’s a shame.

I’ve spent so much time over the last two months thinking about worst case scenarios and whether the decision to be a poet was worth facing them, that I haven’t spent much time envisioning the life I want and charting the steps I’m going to take to get there. I figured out that I wanted to go to graduate school because I wanted to learn how to teach poetry and have a degree that said I had learned as much, but beyond that….

I’m already pretty darn certain that I’m not going to be able to just be a poet and nothing else, but I want to find a gig that is truly compatible with the poet lifestyle. Right now I’ve got my eye on being a poet/teacher. In the past I’ve considered being a poet/editor. Now I’m wondering if maybe I would be happy being a poet/freelance writer.

When I was applying to graduate school and writing essay upon essay about my future career goals, teaching poetry at the university level seemed like a simple, concrete career goal that the admissions committees would understand and respect.

Now that I’ve actually been admitted to graduate school I realize, with a start, that we are not in personal statement land anymore.

There are three minimum requirements for becoming a university creative writing professor:

1. Get an MFA or PhD in creative writing.
2. Publish a book.
3. Be really lucky.

Right now I’m on step one. Step one will not be easy, but it will certainly be the easiest of the three tasks to complete.

In spite of the neat little numbered lists I can fabricate, my future feels very fuzzy to me right now. I know I’m on the right path, but there’s a fork up ahead and I don’t know which direction I should take.

Sometimes I wonder whether being a professor is what I really, truly want and I find myself wondering:

Am I suddenly questioning my resolve to be a professor because I’m afraid of how distant step two feels from where I am as a poet right now or am I genuinely questioning my path?

The thing that I find most comforting about the three step path is that it can lead many different places.

I chose the MFA program I chose because its focus is on, not just the craft of writing, but also the business of writing. Right now I am very interested in both becoming a better poet and learning to be a writer in the world who eats and pays rent, and the program doesn’t see those two goals as being inconsistent or mutually exclusive. I know I’m going to learn a lot from my MFA program and I’m finally in a place where I’m ready to both seek out and receive the resources I need to become a better poet, and a more professional writer in general.

The step after the MFA, the process of trying to publish a book, is going to require me to face almost every self-doubt and self-sabotage demon I have living in the bungalow that is my mind. It’s going to take everything I’ve got, but if I’m willing to work on myself as a writer to become the person who can not only produce words, but also edit and promote them, I’ll get there. To be fair, to some degree I’ve already learned a thing or two about self-promoting from being a web writer, but at this time I have no idea how I’m supposed to apply what I’ve learned to poetry.

So once I have completed the first two steps required for becoming a poet/professor, I’ll probably have the confidence and organization to be a freelancer, and I’ll probably have a good start on having the professional contacts required to be an editor.

I just hope I make it that far. Before I starve, preferably.

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4 Responses to "Marketing for Writers"

Keely, I am so impressed by your courage in making your dream happen. You WILL make it happen! This blog is just one step along the way. School is one step. Life is full of uncertaintly and we can never predict the future. At least you are writing. You will always have that, no matter what else happens. Going for what you want and making the life you want is truly the only way to live. I admire you!

You comment was so nice to read! Thanks, NancyJo. I totally needed that.

Wrestling with alligators was a big theme for me in graduate school. I saw the academics and academic writing as very reptilian, only caring about what was right in front of their noses, one linear step after another. Probably won’t be quite so bad as that in an MFA program.

The life of the artist and the business person has been so separate in the past, but it seems there are more and more of us who are blurring the lines, and expressing ourselves in new ways. I suspect there are many more ways to be a poet beyond being a professor that are only just starting to become possible. Enjoy the dance, and YEA for you for following your heart and dreams.

Thanks for sharing the link to that e-course!

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