Carter Vance: From the Outside In

People finding out that I write poetry are oftentimes surprised, for any variety of reasons. Perhaps they don't think it accords with the other edges of my personality or perhaps it's because people with the set of other interests that I have are generally not seen as the poetic type. But, most of all, many are surprised at this because my academic background is not in any of what would commonly be called the creative arts. As a student of previously Psychology and now Social Work, it can sometimes be difficult to find the time, inclination, and, indeed, inspiration to pursue creative writing, having to work it in around my academic and professional pursuits rather than as an inherent part of them.

Experiences beyond those of the typical background of writers have much to bring in terms of informing the mediums their practitioners take on, and indeed we may in some sense have the advantage of novelty on our side. The key, then, is the maintaining of a balance between the various interests you have, being able to take constructive criticism on stylistic grounds into account and most of all asking what you bring to table as something of an “outsider” in terms of unique perspective.

You first might consider that, regardless of what you're pursuing in academic terms, you're probably already doing a lot of writing! True, you and perhaps others might not think of it as being creative, but, it's generally true that creativity is borne of the guidelines and limitations of what, why and for whom one is writing. In other words, it is ultimately about being able to convey one's ideas in a holistic and clear manner given the constraints of the form and instructions one is given.

Of course, writing is a medium like any other, where it is possible to improve and refine one's technique and style over time, and so it behooves one to first take stock of one's position regarding it; where you are coming from, in other words. What has your background, academic, professional and personal, made you passionate about? Is what you want to write about in a creative setting connected to your academics and your other passions, and how so? In other words, what can you bring in that someone without your specific academic background could not, and more specifically how would it differ from someone specifically training to be a writer as such?

Obviously, the answers to these questions will differ quite a bit depending on the exact program you are in and your own life outside of it, but they are important ones to ask regardless. You may also want to take up an analysis of the creative works that you have personally responded to in the past, and what exactly it was that made them so impactful. This is not to say one should merely copy the techniques of others, but this is often an immensely useful exercise to get a handle on how what one considers “good writing” really comes together in a concrete sense.

Nevertheless, as in anything else, getting better requires dedication and effort put in, and I can speak from personal experience that the satisfaction one gets from writing is directly proportionate to the time committed to the task. Thus, I've always found it good practice to dedicate a set section of time to writing each week; not long, just an hour or so, but the concentration it provides can help immensely. Moreover, get into the habit of recording the snatches of ideas, or particularly adroit turns of phrase that might come to you during the day. Some of the best and most creative ideas come to us because of our daily collisions with the realities of life, and it's a shame that so many of them remain ephemeral. The traditional way of accomplishing this would be via keeping a notepad, but typing out a quick jot on one's phone works just as well and seems a bit more apropos to our modern age.

The most important thing to remember, though, is that you are already a writer in your own way, with your own unique voice and style, regardless of if you define yourself as such or so. The perspective you bring will, of course, not be the same as theirs, but this should be a benefit rather than a detriment.  The interest you take in creative writing, just as with any other form of artistic expression, and how far you will ultimately go with it, is determined by the dedication you are willing to bring to bear.

So, how have you come to writing, and how do you keep it in balance with your other interests, needs, and obligations?

Carter Vance is a student and aspiring poet originally from Cobourg, Ontario, currently studying at Carleton University in Ottawa. His work has appeared in such publications as The Vehicle, (parenthetical) and F(r)iction, amongst others. He received an Honourable Mention from Contemporary Verse 2's Young Buck Poetry Awards in 2015. His work also appears in his personal blog Comment is Welcome. 

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