Ollie Lambert, a teen who created The Poetry Challenge on the Movellas website, explains the appeal of sharing poetry online
Find out more about how sites such as Movellas are kickstarting teen poetry
Why did you decide to join Movellas and what do you get from the site?
My time on Movellas all started last summer, in the holidays. I was at home with nothing to do, so decided to try my hand at some creative writing – a sort of spur of the moment thing. I had done creative writing before, but only as school work. I enjoyed myself, writing the first couple of chapters of what turned out to be a romance novel. It got to the point where I really wanted some feedback on my writing, but I knew that if I was to ask family or friends for their opinion, it might be biased.
A good friend of mine who wants to pursue creative writing as a career had told me about the site before and how she enjoyed sharing her writing on there and getting honest feedback. I decided to make an account and try my luck. If other members liked my story, then it would give me the confidence to carry on writing as a hobby, and if they didn't like it, well, there would be no harm done, but it would be good to be writing for a real audience.
After a day of having my account open with my story up, I was already receiving favourable comments. People were favouriting my writing, fanning me, and even asking for more. I found myself with the unexpected problem though - writers' block. I could always wait a while and try again later, but the feeling all the supportive comments gave me, and the fact that people thought I had a real talent was amazing.
My other passion is for music. I love composing and I write songs, which of course have lyrics. I had the idea of posting my song lyrics as poems on the site, to see if other people liked them. By now, having not only a story, but poems on my profile as well, I was accessing a wider audience. I did wonder whether or not everyone was just being nice, and if they tended to avoid criticism on the site, so that they would only get flattering comments about their work in return, but if you scroll through the site you can see that users in fact do not fight shy of constructive criticism.
I started to write more and more poetry and I even ended up co-authoring with the most popular user on the site, to write a couple of poems for her story. In the end, I set up a sort of game on my Movellas blog. It was called The Poetry Challenge. People would leave a comment on my blog requesting a poem on a specific subject/theme and I would write it for them. I suppose, if I have a strength, it has turned out to be being able to write poems to order. I can write a poem in about five minutes. Some might say that poetry should not be rushed. However, this constraint imposes its own sort of discipline, I think, and the more prolific you are, the more useful feedback you get. For the poems I choose to write, I do take my time though, proof reading at least three times, for example, before publishing them on Movellas. The Poetry Challenge became more and more of a challenge, as time went on, as opposed to the game it was originally meant to be. People were specifying subjects ranging from "a panda during deforestation" to "paperclips" and "My Big Toe"!
However, by the time the biggest poetry competition on the site ever was being advertised, I had already written 70+ poems, thanks to The Poetry Challenge. I entered the competition, and could hardly believe it when I won second prize. There are lots of competitions on Movellas, whatever genre of writing you are into. I started to get interested in writing as a profession, asking people like Jordan [the site editor] what sort of things publishers are looking for. From what I gathered, nowadays if you have a wide fan base prior to contacting a publisher it doesn't mean you will succeed in getting your work published, but it may help. I already had/have over 120 fans on the site, with some of my work reaching nearly 10,000 views, but I had read somewhere that having a twitter account based on my writing hobby, might bring my work to a wider audience. I created one (@Ollie_Lambo if you're interested) to see if this was true. I followed a couple of publishers and writers on twitter, and a lot of them followed me back. I don't think this made a huge impact on my writing itself - I have 400+ followers on twitter now, but I have only made contact with about 20 of them. However, of course the conversations I have had with these writers about how one gets work published have been enlightening, and so, thanks originally to Movellas, I began to feel part of a community with a shared interest. This is important, because writing is essentially a very private activity and it is easy to feel isolated. I decided I wanted to share the information I was collecting, as I thought there must be other teenagers out there looking for advice on how to get published.
This is when I created my blog (ollielambert.wordpress.com) which includes writing tips, interviews not only with established authors and journalists, but also young writers, just starting out. It also contains some book reviews of mine, just so that people can get a taste of my writing and evaluation style. Obviously the site is in its early stages and needs to be developed further, but it shows that Movellas has been a source of inspiration, both in my writing and in motivating me to think about the process of writing itself. It is also a very reliable site, and my parents are happy for me to be using it, as it is run by a team of people who oversee it very closely, to make sure it is not open to misuse. They are easy to contact, are interested in user feedback and always respond to messages. There is no doubt, when I compare the first poems I wrote to more recent ones, that Movellas has improved my writing, and I think this is largely because it provides the spur simply to keep on writing. A music teacher once told me "An amateur practises until he gets it right, but a professional practises until he cannot get it wrong." I think that is true of creative writing, too.
Why do you write poetry - and did you do it before you joined the site anyway?
I didn't write anything voluntarily before joining the site, but actually, since joining Movellas, I have also joined a Saturday morning creative writing workshop at school. Why I write poetry is a more complicated question. I suppose I like the fact that it seems to distil experiences and emotions; to communicate ideas in a powerful, yet economic way, and having tried various styles of writing, the feedback I got on my poetry from Movellas encouraged me to develop this particular aspect of my writing.
Which of your poems do you think are the best?
My most popular poem is a piece called "Dedications". In it, each of my fans get their own chapter, dedicated to them which includes a very short, normally four-line poem. It is my way of saying thank you to all the people who have taken the time to read and criticise my work. Of course, I am aware of the fact that some people may be fanning me simply to get their own poem.
Personally, I don't like to include this in my collection of poems, because
although statistically it is the most popular of mine, with nearing 60 likes and almost 10,000 reads, that doesn't mean it is the best.. Other popular poems are one called "Star Gazing" and "Bring Her Back To Me". "Star Gazing" is a poem I wrote when my ex-English teacher invited me back to read at an event held at school for last year's National Poetry Day. "Bring Her Back To Me" is one of my earliest publications on Movellas. A set of lyrics I had written for one of my songs, and decided to try out as a poem. With 27 likes, this is my most popular poem on the site. My family likes "Paperclips". I wrote this because it was requested by a user in the Poetry Challenge. It's short and quirky.
Do you read other people's poetry on the site?
Towards the beginning of my time on Movellas I used to read a lot of poems on the site that I had to locate myself, offering constructive criticism, and (hopefully) helpful feedback. Nowadays, because of the way Movellas works other poets on the site ask me directly for advice. I enjoy reading poetry on the site, and of course it's free.
Do you buy poetry from bookshops?
Not until recently, but reading other people's work is an important way of developing one's own skills, so occasionally I buy an anthology, and now I get given them as presents by family too, and of course Movellas gives poetry books as prizes.
Why do you think poetry is so popular among teenagers online?
There are some obvious reasons why poetry is so appealing to young writers online:
It's free. Teenagers have no income, and therefore what little money they have through pocket money, has many demand made on it. Poetry anthologies are not necessarily top of the list. You can't know if you enjoy something or not until you try it, so this is something that gets you reading, without using up all your allowance. Also, we were brought up with e-books etc., so we like the convenience of literature online, rather than in paper format.
It's an opportunity to meet other writers of the same age and compare work from a diverse range of people. Without the internet, the only way to access constructive criticism would be through people you know personally, (eg family, friends) who you can't count on to provide unbiased feedback.
We all know how hard it is nowadays to get published in book form. Movellas offers you that chance to be published, no matter what your level of experience. It is a place for people who want to share their work and develop at the same time. Accessibility is key. Especially among the younger generation. With the internet, publishing is easier than ever before. You don't have to wait months to hear back from a publisher, or worry about constant rejections, which can be off-putting. Instead you can load your piece onto Movellas and know that people will read it within days. This makes writing online very attractive to young writers.