Joseph Coelho on Failure – The Ultimate Writer’s Tip

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It was just less than a year ago that my then 9 year old did something I felt was especially meaningful and beautiful in her development as a reader. For the first time in her life she found a poem which she loved so very much, she copied it out and stuck it by her bed.


In case you can’t read the fading words, the title of the poem is “If all the world were paper” and it is by Joseph Coelho:

If all the world were paper – By Joseph Coelho from Joseph Coelho on Vimeo.

M found it in an anthology with the exciting title “Werewolf Club Rules” – a whole book of poems by Joseph Coehlo – which earlier this year was shortlisted for the 2015 CLPE Children’s Poetry Award (CLiPPA). The winners of this award get announced next week, but because all shortlisted volumes deserve celebrating, today I’m part of a blog tour highlighting this wide ranging selection of fantastic poetry.


I’m really very pleased (as is M) to have Joseph Coehlo stop by today and share a piece he’s written for us, about “The Ultimate Writers’ Tip”. Over now to Joseph:

joe“I’m a sucker for writers’ tips – in fact I have Lester Dents Plot Map for writing pulp fiction nailed to the wall by my desk. I’ve read and re-read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ and I’ve been thoroughly depressed by Murakami’s discipline. I continually dip into various Youtube videos and blog posts and yes good old fashioned books on the subject. So when pondering this blog I found myself thinking…

 “What can I add that hasn’t been said before?” 

it turns out… quite a lot actually. So there. Why do we writers/wannabe writers/should be writers seek out “Writers’ Tips” I think it’s because we’re looking for that elusive secret, trick, way-in that will make it easy for us. Neil Gaiman summed this up beautifully in this post.

Basically there is no easy way out – you have to “turn up for work” as Jeanette Winterson says, you have to sit with the intention of writing and keep doing that until something comes and it is hard and it doesn’t always flow and now with this wonderful thing we call the internet it is that much harder.  I’ve spent many a day: writing a sentence – checking Facebook – writing a sentence – researching frogs on Pinterest for half-an-hour! – writing a sentence – watching funnies on Youtube – writing a sentence – watching a film and so on but by hook or crook I stay in that seat and by the end of the day I’ll have 500-1000 words added to the story or play or poem. So what can I add to this conversation other than WORK… WORK HARDER!!!! Well my partner recently entered the murky world of writing and we started chatting about process and I related this… 

The hardest thing any writer has to deal with is their own inner critic we can all destroy our work by judging it as it is being birthed into the world, you wouldn’t do that to a child! And you shouldn’t do it to your work. You should treat your work like a child, be proud of it, show it off, believe in it and nurture it. If you expected a newborn to score a hat-trick straight out of the womb then you’re never going to have a football star daughter! But if you believe in her, encourage her and take her to the park with a ball… well then… Beckham WATCH OUT! 

What I realised whilst chatting to my better-half was this… I think I find it easier to write than others might thanks largely to a background in physical theatre and improvisation. Bear with me… I was performing from 11 at Putney Theatre (then Group 64) and then went on to be part of BAC’s Youth Theatre working with wonderful directors and companies like Blind Summit and Gecko learning to express myself and to simply not hold back. This really is a state of mind and it took me time to realise that my expression, in whatever form, had value. That realisation in turn bled into my writing and whilst taking part in Performance Poetry courses with Apples and Snakes I wrote poems that didn’t hold back and did not apologise. As my life as a poet continued I had the pleasure of running creative projects in schools for Creative Partnerships who were big on the idea that you are allowed to fail! This blew my mind and seamlessly intertwined with all I had learnt through physical theatre and improv. The right to fail is every artists right and once you give yourself that gift you allow yourself to find the gold rather than quitting the dig because all you’re turning up is earth. That’s not to say you have a right to be lazy – but simply that you have the right to give it your best shot and to not always hit home.

The right to fail is particularly pertinent when working with young people I’ve seen amazing young writers in schools clam up out of fear of doing something “wrong” or berating themselves because what they have written is not “good enough” it took me a while to realise that these children were enacting the same fears and thought processes of adults! Society teaches us from a young age to judge ourselves and so we learn to clam up and deny ourselves the opportunity to become great artists. My poem ‘An A* from Miss Coo’ is on this very subject as the poems protagonist is constantly told “That can’t be right!/Do it again and do it right!”

My partner seemed to think these were words of worth so I lay them here for you, I hope they’re useful but if not… so be it… I’m a writer…. I’m allowed to fail”. 


Joseph Coelho’s ‘Werewolf Club Rules and other poems’ is published by Frances Lincoln. Joseph Is currently touring Pop-Up Flashback – a theatre show for 5+ featuring poetry and giant pop-ups created by John O’leary. Learn more about the show here.

You can find out more about Joseph on his website, and you can follow him on Twitter @Poetryjoe.

You can find out more about all the other shortlisted titles and poets by going back through this week’s CLiPPA – Poets’ blog tour or searching for links on Twitter using #CLiPPA2015:

Monday 6th July
Reading Zone
Hilda Offen’s poetry writing tips

Tuesday 7th July
The Federation of Children’s Book Groups blog
Morag Styles on compiling the Caribbean Poetry Anthology Give the Ball to the Poet

Wednesday 8th July
Young Writers blog
Rachel Rooney: Where I Write

Thursday 9th July
Manchester Children’s Book Festival blog
Mandy Coe and the story of Let in the Stars

Friday 10th July
Playing by the Book blog
Joseph Coelho: The Ultimate Writing Tip

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