Essays on Being a Writer
by Susan Ioannou
A welcome gift for
the aspiring author
About the Book
Table of Contents
About the Book
As a writer, if you thrive on encouragement, this book is for you. From three decades of editing, teaching, and writing fiction and poetry, Ioannou knows well the thorns and honey of the literary life. “When we write, we are up against the wall. Who am I? What do I feel? What do I think? Writing forces us to be alone with our thoughts, to work through the wrinkles of our own living.” At the same time, when the lines are flowing, there is no greater high—what keeps a writer addicted.
These pages bring ample light and balm, support and inspiration. What’s more, there’s laughter too, as fable and satire poke gentle fun at foibles and absurdities on the literary scene, and remind all writers of the importance of holding true.
“Writer, editor, and teacher Susan Ioannou shares the wisdom of her experience in this collection of essays that arevariouslycautionary, encouraging, satirical, and pragmatic . . . reflections on the submissions she received while fiction editor at Cross-Canada Writers’ Quarterly are amusing as well as admonitory (and, unfortunately, do not seem to have dated one bit).” Bernard Kelly, paperplates
“Thanks so much for Holding True, a ray of sunshine . . . it’s going to be very useful in my Reading and Writing Poetry course, especially in dealing with young-writer anxieties. Lots of hard-earned but encouragingly expressed wisdom.”Dr. John Reibetanz, Victoria University
“Writers’ Horror Stories” and “Frog’s Progress: A Fable” were selected for reading by Jonathan and Marlene Dean on the National Broadcast Reading Service program Stone Soup Anthology.
Table of Contents
Why Do We Write?
Beyond myths to real-life reasons
On Being Real
Despite doubts, the value of writing
The Ideal Poem
A personal standard of perfection
Out of the Narrows
Towards a new classicism
Letting the world in
Off the Ground
Words to leap off the page
The Poem Beneath the Poem
Glimpses of the creative process
Fiction and Poetry
The advantages of difference
Confessions of an Ex Fiction Editor
Turn-ons and turn-offs
Off the Street
The writer in a Creative Writing Department
Academe and the New Writer
How useful is theory to practice?
Know Your Critics
Determining constructive criticism
Poet’s Progress—A Theory
Five stages in poetic development
Louis Dudek: Among the Books Around Us
Time, Solitude, and the Writer
Multiple kinds of time
Writers’ Horror Stories
Writing’s inevitable pitfalls
Confessions of a Little-Magazine Editor
Realities of small-press publishing
The Inner Competition
In search of humility
Frog’s Progress—A Fable
A satire on the “career poet”
Go It Alone
Finding a path through the words
A Room of Her Own
Creating and the post 9/11 writer
A Patchwork Quilt of Imagination
What poetry means to me
About the Author
from ESSAY 1, Why Do We Write?
“Why, then, do we write? In my case, as I gaze round my living room at yesterday’s papers heaped on the coffee table, overdue books spilling off the buffet, a sweater here, a half-empty mug there, the answer is simple: life’s randomness. I want to defy it and be in control in my 8½" x 11" world. Just as the ancient Greek for ‘poet’ meant ‘maker’, I want to create order by manipulating words to my will. In this cluttered room, something must do my bidding. Taking charge with a pen grants my psyche both confidence and an illusion of safety: symbolically, at least, I control life.”
from ESSAY 8, Fiction and Poetry
Of course, comparable complaints [to those about fiction] could be made about poems. They may be so private or arcane in their allusions that they shut the reader out, or so dulled by cliché and imprecision that they bore. Nonetheless, the frame of lyric poetry is narrower and imposes tighter limits on how much can be said in that smaller space. Where the fiction writer fans outward, the poet zeroes in on only the key elements we are to see. With a well-written story, we are pleasantly absorbed in ambling through the trees to get to the clearing on the other side. With a good poem, we inspect the delicate complexities of a leaf or inhale a whole new universe through a flower.”
from ESSAY 12, Know Your Critics
“Blanket negative criticism can be devastating to the young writer searching for a voice, especially when aimed at the very basis from which that writing flows. Fashions change, cliques die. Neither offers a basis for lasting aesthetic judgments. Bad critics declare success or failure in terms of how a piece matches or differs from their favoured school or movement—a ‘for or against us’ mentality. Good critics look at each poem or story individually to weigh if it succeeds or fails in its own terms. When a writer sets off on the wings of fantasy, the question is not whether fantasy is an acceptable mode of writing, but if that specific creation convinces in its own right.”
from ESSAY 14, Louis Dudek: Among the Books Around Us
“Dudek’s thought gave comfort in other ways. A man of lofty ideas, he still had both feet on the ground. He could see beyond the flashes in the pan of fashion on the poetry scene. He was particularly sceptical of contemporary fame, describing it in Epigrams as ‘merely the privilege of being pestered by strangers’ and ‘like sugar, a pure white poison’. He knew that young writers especially were vulnerable to such ‘mere noise’, when in Ideas for Poetry he wrote: ‘A popular success poisons the minds of aspiring young poets by making them hanker after an illusion, where they should be sharpening their eye for what is genuine.’ With his larger view, he also recognized, as stated in a Scrivener interview, ‘The culture is still developing, and people are quite gullible, so they go for some new golden calf in every decade. We just don’t have a sufficiently mature criticism.’ ”
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Copyright 2008 Susan Ioannou
Order InformationHolding True: Essays on Being a Writer, eBook, by Susan Ioannou (Toronto: Wordwrights Canada, 2010), eISBN 978-0-920835-36-4, $7.99 (suggested retail price).
Holding True: Essays on Being a Writer, Paperback, Second Printing, by Susan Ioannou (Toronto: Wordwrights Canada, 2017), 209 pages, ISBN 978-0-920835-29-6, $17.00.
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Updated June 2017