One year ago, University of Stirling student Shannon Ellis sent me her newly published anthology of poetry, elements of an adored mind. “I hope you enjoy reading my labour of love as much as I enjoyed creating it” is stylishly handwritten on the inside cover.
It is a beautiful book, exuding care and intimacy. However, as much as I was ecstatic for Shannon, I couldn’t nudge the terrible, intense jealousy that persistently crept up on me. Her mind had manifested itself on pages that could be read by hundreds of people. My writing was not nearly as well crafted as Shannon’s, and I certainly didn’t have the confidence to share my words with strangers.
Now, Shannon has had a long time to think about her own publishing experiences, and it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows as I had presumed. Her constant and tiring perseverance through a very difficult creative period was something I had never acknowledged.
I talked to Shannon about her own publishing experience, and she shared some tips for aspiring writers and artists during the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s been a year since elements of an adored mind was published. Has the excitement subsided yet?
“When I think about it, it really doesn’t seem like a year ago since the release. Obviously a lot has happened in the world since then! It is also almost exactly a year ago since I did my book signing in my hometown.
“I think the excitement and joy will always be there in some way, but the hype and anticipation that was going around at the time of release is definitely less so. I think because of COVID-19, that momentum of keeping things going and sustaining motivation was affected.”
Tell us a bit about your inspirations for elements of an adored mind.
“I’ve always wanted to publish a collection of poetry, and with my poetry Instagram I think it allowed to me to try different things out in terms of formatting and seeing what I liked and didn’t like. I actually thought of the title in passing and thought to myself that it would be a good fit for a lot of my poems.
“The idea is based around a journey of emotions represented by weather elements. The book is separated into six parts: the sunshine, the wind, the clouds, the rain, the thunderstorm, and lastly the rainbow. I guess there is a play on words there too. To me, elements of an adored mind means finding that appreciation for yourself despite struggles and hardships, and taking time to nurture and learn some inner self love.
“Each section of the anthology represented a time of my life. My feelings, events that have happened to me, or the people in my life and our differing relationships are all included. The positive parts focus a lot on friendship, love and reconciliation whereas the darker elements focus a lot on absence and abuse, strain, heartbreak and familial issues.
“I wanted the book to finish with a hopeful and optimistic ending so the idea of weather elements worked very well (calm before the storm idea and also fresh starts after the storm, motif of rainbow, etc.).”
Which poem is your favourite and why?
“That’s a tough question, they’re all like my babies! I think a few of my favourites have to be ‘remnants’ and ‘buttons’. I just love the imagery I was able to create with them.
i’d rather unbutton your mind than your shirt,
unzip your lips, wait for your brain to fall out and
spill all over meShannon Ellis, ‘buttons’.
“With ‘buttons’ I find it very sweet and pure, and with ‘remnants’ it spoke to feelings I couldn’t identify or say without saying it in poetry. Another one that I often think about is ‘father’. It has a lot of emotion and personal trauma in it that I was able to express and largely let go of or come to terms with because of writing that poem.”
Many people would say you are living the dream. Do you agree?
“Definitely not! I think the concept of being published can very often be idealised. It doesn’t always go the way you think it will, and it won’t always be a raving success! There is a lot behind the scenes which is difficult, time consuming and stressful. It was an experience I wasn’t fully expecting but one that I treasure wholly.
“There are some things I wish I had known before heading into this. Publishing is a complex world especially when you’re paying towards it yourself! I think next time self publishing would be an option for me that previously I didn’t know enough about, although it was something I loved despite all that. Especially when it all fell into place and my illustrator Ruben Ramires really made it a beautiful piece with his artwork, so it came to life more towards the end.”
What advice would you give to someone who wants their work published?
Do your research! There are so many avenues to go down and it can get overwhelming, so finding writers who have done it before can be really helpful for advice.
Also, don’t rush the process. When the time is right publishing will fall into place!
Were there any negative consequences to publishing your work?
“I think for me at least, the main negative has been the feeling of expectation to keep going, to top what I’ve done now. I’m very introverted so marketing myself is not natural for me! It has been difficult to maintain attention for the book.
“I also found writing after the book more difficult as I compared myself a lot to other writers and felt I had to come up with something completely new. The book published a lot of my best work so I guess I felt a little creatively starved afterwards, especially with the COVID-19 situation. My motivation and inspiration definitely continued to dwindle. I must say though, becoming a part of Brig has really helped with this!”
Motivation is definitely hard to maintain right now! What keeps you going?
“I think other writers definitely inspire me. Keeping up with poets I love is really helpful to maintain some motivation for my own work. I also find trying to read more for pleasure often gets me in the right mind for writing.
“I think the main thing is not forcing myself to write. If I have a block, I have a block, and trying to force creativity is going to make the situation worse in my experience. Taking things slow and trying to let things emerge organically definitely keeps me on the right track.”
i felt the shaky breath of my mother
when she tried to say goodnight
without shedding a tear.Shannon Ellis, ‘father’.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would you say?
“I think my main piece of advice for any aspiring writers out there is to focus on yourself. Comparing constantly will only obstruct what makes you unique.
“Remember why you started writing, and what you love about it so much. When you do that you will find that your work benefits so much more than it would when you stress out. It makes you feel like writing is a chore rather than a passion.
“It’s ok to get stuck or have long periods of time without new work. It won’t last forever! There’s no time limit for you to write, and some of the most credited writers out there didn’t write their best known works until much later in life! There is so much expectation to create constantly nowadays. Move at your own pace and you will find people who want to follow you no matter how fast your journey goes!”