Saturday, November 9, 2019

Tobi Alfier - Growing as a Writer in 2020


We’re not gonna talk about New Year’s Resolutions – (quit smoking at midnight, bum a cigarette off the bartender at 12:15). Plus it’s too early anyway. You’re probably still finishing off the Halloween candy, if you can find it. I can’t find ours (Jeff hid it somewhere).

It’s never too early to think about how you’d like to grow as a writer. Some of the options need to be thought about since they involve time, and/or money. They’ll need to be included in your budget for next year. Some involve sending samples of your work. You’ll need to think about that as you write.

Growth does not mean your voice as a writer will change. It means getting stronger and learning new things. I can look at an old poem of mine and know when it was written because I didn’t understand line breaks until I workshopped with Kevin Young.

And…just because you learn something, that doesn’t mean you have to DO it. It’s just that then you’ll have choices, where now you don’t. Now it’s like you’re writing a poem without a thesaurus—you might not look at it anyway, but you can’t look at all if you don’t have it. I’m a huge proponent of choices. A couple of little things to start thinking about:

  1. Read anything and everything. You’ll read words you’ve never heard before in ways you’ve never seen before. Then you might want to try it. I’ve written before about “Bluets” by Maggie Nelson. Some people are bigger fans than I will ever be, but it did give me ideas on ways to write. I wrote my Landlady series of poems after reading this book. My poet friend James E. Lewis was going to write a collection of “green” poems.

I can look at my old work and think “oh, that was my Erica Jong phase”, or ”that was my Diane Wakoski phase”. I didn’t sound like them, but the words I used could have been their words. I wanted to learn to write with more passion. I knew there was a difference in my writing; to anyone else reading the work, it was my voice.

Free Refill

I would like a free refill on my heart.
It is empty, a quadrant of lime flattened against
the frozen remnants of sweet syrup
and cold calculation.  Come fill me up,
why can’t you truly be of aid to the suffering
and not just the thirsty?

Waiter come quickly!
I need a free refill, my body is carrying
blood and water but the contents are dead.
I smile as if in shock, the happiness being
the absence of unhappiness but nothing certain,
I do not trust it, and only the sign in the window
makes me trust you.

How can we measure how much we love?
We say the oceans are not deep enough,
infinity is not wide enough, we love more than all
the stars in the sky and when we don’t love
we are a stray at a picnic begging for a crust
of bread it is pathetic.  I for one will not be pitied.
Waiter, I need that refill along with a side
of all I remember, all I’ve lost
and, I suppose, the check.

(Previously published in Spot Lit Mag)


  1. You may wish to form a book club. You’ll hear four or five points of view on what you read. And it doesn’t just have to be books of poetry or fiction, it could be the current Poets and Writers or the current Cholla Needles. Getting together to read someone else’s work will get you comfortable reading out loud. If you’ve never read at an open mic, this will give you practice. As you meet, you’ll develop a level of trust and knowledge about the other participants. Maybe it will grow it into a networking group where you look at your own poems. The people who just say what they feel no matter how harsh will have to learn how to be more diplomatic; that’s a skill you should have before you go to a workshop so it would be a win-win to have a group.

One time I was at a class and there was a guy in there whose poems were horrible!!! Oh my goodness they were the worst things I’d ever read. When it came time for me to talk, what did I say to him? “you certainly have a consistent voice”. That was true. Let the teacher, or the workshop leader say the hard stuff, if they want. There’s no reason for another participant to cut anyone’s legs off at the knees. And you know what? Just because I hated his work, that doesn’t mean someone else wouldn’t have liked it. Being in a networking group will help you practice that it’s not about you, and it’s not about your ego. They will find their niche, or they will be rejected. Just my opinion. I’ve heard some workshops are brutal. They will never get a dime of my money—I don’t want to be like that.

These are two of many things that will help you grow as a writer. Over the next weeks, we’ll talk about workshops, extension classes, privately run classes, even voice lessons…NONE of these are to make you write different. They’re to help you write and read better.

From David Kanigan, and I feel exactly the same way:

2:39 a.m.
Lying in bed. I Can’t Sleep. Apparently, I still haven’t Live & Learned enough.
The window is open. It’s me and the crickets, and my thoughts that fill the night. And a passing car in the distance.
I hear / another year rustle by like the night’s /  one car. (Beckian Fritz Goldberg)
8 years ago today, well, not exactly today, but close enough, this blog was born.
I jump over to FB to re-read a comment on my last post: Tethered to Nothing.
This comment coming from a thoughtful (very), quiet (very), semi-anonymous Follower.
Tethered by community. Tethered by the community you have created with your posts.”
And then the soft ah-ha.
Tethered to Nothing?
No.
Tethered to you. All of you.
And grateful…

Have the very best week xo

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.


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