Recently publishYOUth spoke with Dana Blatte, an accomplished youth writer and poet from Massachusetts! As the first-place winner of the Pulitzer Center's 2020 Fighting Words Poetry Contest and a Poetry Merit Winner for YoungArts, Dana has wonderful advice for publishing your writing. She is also the Executive Editor for Polyphony Lit, and a member of the 2021 Adroit Mentorship Cohort. Here we spoke with Dana about writer's block, her passion for writing, and her advice for her youth!
What drives your love for writing?
DB: When I was younger, my introversion played a key role in driving my love for writing. I’m very curious, both academically and interpersonally, so writing allowed me to explore worlds and people from the comfort of my home. Now, I mainly write poetry as a tool of self-investigation. I still find it easier to write my thoughts than to vocalize them, though, of course, I never stopped loving speculative fiction because I get to play with reality and other realities.
You have a large amount of experience with writing competitions, as you were the first-place winner of the Pulitzer Center's 2020 Fighting Words Poetry Contest, a Poetry Merit Winner for YoungArts, and more! Can you describe your experiences with such competitions and what you learned from them?
DB: Originally, I solely wrote for my own eyes—I didn’t even let my family members read my work. I didn’t start seriously discovering writing competitions until the beginning of the pandemic when I was a sophomore in high school. Since then, placing in competitions has been a double-edged experience. It has definitely bolstered my confidence, and it has made me much more comfortable with the idea of sharing my writing. At the same time, however, rejections always hurt, so I’ve worked a lot on continuing to write for the sake of writing. Instead of writing a piece with a competition in mind, I only try to find a potential home for my writing after I’m done.
“We Were Magic Once”, a poem of yours published by Perhappened Magazine and nominated for Best of Net, is a painstakingly beautiful rendition of human relationships. How do you craft such poems and imagery?
DB: My inspiration comes in spurts. I wrote and published "We Were Magic Once" about a year ago now, back when I wasn’t allowed to physically meet with my friends because of the pandemic. This poem emerged from my nostalgia for the simplicity and spontaneity of previous summers, so I drew the imagery from my memories. I’m fortunate enough to live in a small suburb full of plant and animal life, which is why I tend to wind so much natural imagery throughout my writing.
In general, my poems are retrospective or prospective. I love exploring the past, especially my own memories, and I also love contemplating the future. From there, I sometimes twist timelines to encompass alternate pasts or alternate futures—the what-ifs instead of the facts. That then serves as a framework for my piece, and I’ll just generate words and images to accompany it.
If you’ve experienced it, how have you been able to get past writer’s block?
DB: Honestly, I don’t. Especially during the school year, I’ll have bouts where I barely write, if at all. During these periods, I don’t force myself to write; I know that if I do, my words will only come out slow and stilted. Instead, I work on other tasks. I do my schoolwork, I listen to music, I go for walks, and I read—a lot. I wait for inspiration to return, even if it takes a while, and when it does, my writer’s block is over.
In 2021 you were selected for the Adroit Mentorship Cohort and Iowa Young Writers' Studio Summer Camp. What have you learned from these experiences, and how have they impacted your writing?
DB: Participating in multiple online creative writing programs was rewarding but hectic. Beforehand, I’d only taken a few writing classes, and they were all local and short, usually a few hours at the longest, so this summer marked my first real foray into the “formal” education side of writing. I actually attended each program for a different genre—Adroit for poetry, Iowa for more contemporary/realistic short fiction, and a third, the Alpha Young Writers Workshop, for speculative fiction—which kept my creativity on its toes. Since these programs only recently ended, I think it’s too soon to pinpoint their impacts on my writing, though they all profoundly informed my writing process. Adroit taught me to examine my poems, from each line break and verb choice to the organization of stanzas, in intense detail; Iowa taught me to build immersive environments within my stories and thoughtfully workshop my peers’ stories, and Alpha taught me to bend and break realism. Overall, all three taught me to take my writing seriously, even when under time, genre, and/or thematic limits.
When do you personally feel ready to publish your writing, and how do you go about finding a home for your pieces?
DB: I actually struggle with “finishing” my pieces, which complicates the question of when I feel ready to publish. I’m not the most disciplined at revising my poetry, so I often submit impulsively. Sometimes, these impulses do garner acceptances, but most of the time, they don’t, which motivates me to revisit my pieces with a more critical eye. As far as finding homes for my pieces, I spend a lot (probably too much) of my time on Twitter, where new submission calls crop up every day, and Submittable, but I also just talk to writing friends to see what opportunities they have their eyes on. That said, missing a submission window isn't the end of the world. It tends to give me more time to reflect on and edit my pieces, which prevents future impulsive decisions.
Finally, what advice do you have for young writers to build confidence in their writing?
DB: I think the best thing young writers can do to build confidence in their writing is to write for themselves. It’s a lot easier to love your writing when you’re not constantly holding it up to arbitrary benchmarks and rubrics. Obviously, you don’t have to always love the pieces you create—and frankly, you won’t—but you should write about the topics you enjoy and in a style that you enjoy first and apply to contests and/or publications last. Internal validation will last much longer than external validation.
Special thanks to Dana Blatte for her participation in this interview and the writing community, and feel free to follow her work online!