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Take the risk

30 Jul 2019
Ivy Alvarez writes about the power of deadlines, failure, and risk-taking

Risk is something many an artist takes in their creative life. You apply for that grant or send in that poem, so you can continue making art, or to publish your work so it can meet its readers.

You take the risk so you can change, and grow, and enrich your life to be a better artist.

Sometimes you succeed. Oftentimes you do not.

One needs to call on an inner strength, that crucial sense of self-belief, to keep going in the face of all the Noes one encounters.

Photo by Ian Kim on Unsplash.

When I first began, I wrote both short stories and poetry, receiving much encouragement, until one cold day, when a short story of mine failed to receive a prize which I, a poor student, was counting on to win.

Devastated, I stopped writing fiction, and decided to concentrate on poetry. Anyway, I thought, poems are quicker to write.

Another thing I learned was the more poems I write and send out, the quicker they are to return from literary journals. However, the more poems I wrote, the better my writing became.

Over the years, the ratio between Noes to Yeses has been shifting, and that’s been a tremendous boost of confidence.

I have come to consider the deadline as my friend. When I meet one, it helps give me a sense of achievement. It drives me forward.

On 28 August 2018, I uploaded my application for a writing residency so I can focus on a writing project.

I had been unsuccessful once before. My records showed the last time I applied was two years earlier.

Michael King Writers Centre - photo via

On 3 October, when I received an email letting me know I would be staying in Devonport for four weeks for a Summer Residency at the Michael King Writers Centre, I felt incredibly fortunate and thankful for the Centre’s existence, for such tangible support for writing and for art.

This wasn’t the first time I’d applied for a writing residency. I have been both successful and unsuccessful before. It won’t be my last.

But this particular residency — bearing what I believe is the greatest gift any writer can ever receive: the gift of time and space — came at a crucial time when I needed it the most.

During those 28 days, I drafted a new poem daily.

It’s a practice I’ve been working on for about ten years. For one month of the year, I write a poem a day.

It is discipline, and it is fun. I can play and experiment. The sheer volume of writing I need to accomplish means I can’t be precious about what flows out with the ink to land on the page.

I feel like all those years of practice had led up to that month at the Michael King Writers Centre.

To risk is to gain rewards, even in failure. Especially in failure. Failure is invaluable to an artist. It clarifies goals and personal statements. Is your project, your idea, your art worth it enough for you to try again, and fail, and try again?

Because once you get what you have worked so hard to achieve, it is then you see what all that effort has taught you. And these hard-fought victories, both small and large (I can’t deny it) they taste so, so sweet. 

Ivy Alvarez - photo supplied.


Ivy Alvarez is the author of Disturbance (Seren), a verse novel recently adapted into a musical, which premiered in  July 2019 in Tokyo to positive reviews. Her latest poetry collection is Diaspora: Volume L (Paloma Press, 2019).