When people ask why I wrote The Joy of Poetry, they’re usually shocked when I answer, “I was asked to.” The publisher, L.L. Barkat of T. S. Poetry Press, contacted me on January 1, 2014, and asked if I’d like to write a book. She already had the title picked out. I signed the contract that day.
How did such an amazing opportunity happen? The short answer is that it was a blessing, pure and simple (Ronald Wallace: “Blessings / occur.“) But since I love to hear how other writers work, I’m hoping you will, too, as I share the details of my publishing journey. This post (and the three that will follow) are not really a guide for “How to Do It, ” though. It’s more like “How I Did It This Time.” If I were to get another book contract tomorrow, my process might be different.
As with most good publishing stories, writing The Joy of Poetry started long before that New Year’s Day communication with my publisher—all the way back to the many writerly things I was already doing as part of my writing life. I participated in online writing communities, especially Tweetspeak Poetry. I occasionally submitted poems to contests or journals. I’ve been in a writing group for a decade, and I sometimes visit others. Scribbling quietly has its place, and believe me, most of what I scribble will stay quiet. But there’s also a place for getting your words and yourself out there.
Also, I should mention, especially after reading a recent post from Ann Kroeker about writer moms, that I do not have young children competing for my attention while I write. One chick has already flown the coop, and the other attends a boarding school, so I am living in a pseudo empty nest. Which gives me both time and opportunity to do a project like this.
That’s the only part of this story that was easy breezy, though. The rest? Let’s just say it didn’t go as planned.
After my mom died, many people approached me about writing a book chronicling her decades-long struggle with cancer. I declined, knowing the publishing industry was not clamoring for the tale of another woman (without a platform) who bravely faced cancer. Although my mom was proud of my poems – even way back in second grade when it was all by assignment – poetry wasn’t her jam. The idea that I might use poems to tell her story would have made no sense to her. It didn’t make sense to me at first either.
I’m also grateful this book was essentially an “assignment” from my publisher, since I write by assignment for a living in my work as the managing editor of The Wacoan. Otherwise, this book simply would not have been written. Why? Because I had no idea I was so passionate about the joy of poetry until someone asked me to write about it. And other than the poems I’d already posted online, I had no plans to write about my mom, whose experience with cancer features prominently in the book, until I was given the opportunity to rewrite the book. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
For now, just know that if the book had all been my idea, I think I would have given up.
“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro