(Featured photo taken by Tommy Bruning)
For Alyssa Burley, second year Emerging Media major and newly published poet, the coronavirus quarantine was an exceptional creative opportunity.
Burley has been enamored with writing since she was in third grade. She’s filled numerous journals with poems and stories, but until last summer, she had no serious plans to publish.
In quarantine, Burley spent her days reading her old journals—she’s been writing consistently since third grade, so she had quite a few journals stored away. Revisiting her works, she says, was a moving experience, and in July, she asked herself, “What am I waiting on?”
Although Burley had experimented with compiling her poems at age fifteen, it was a project that she had promptly thrown off to the side and forgotten about. This time, when the idea to create a book came to her, she saw it as a meaningful way to help form connections through “a work so personal that it’s universal.”
With this, the poetry collection I Don’t Know Yet was created.
At first, Burley merely picked out her favorite poems; as the collection grew, though, she started to realize that the collected poems told a story, and as she continued, the narrative arc grew.
It was Burley’s coming-of-age story, her journey, “from being this really insecure person with mental health issues that I did not know how to deal with…to being confident and finding joy in yourself. I definitely chose the poems based on how much they meant to me.”
And since the volume was so deeply personal, Burley was not enthused about the prospect of turning the poems over to a literary agent to be revised. In fact, Burley does not often revise her own work. “I’ve found that the poems that resonate the most are the ones that I don’t touch,” she says.
Instead of seeking publication through an agent, Burley decided to self-publish her collection of poetry, a daunting undertaking that involves designing all of the pages and the cover, obtaining a copyright, and reaching out to printers and booksellers—all on her own.
“Ultimately, the process is about what you’re willing to do for yourself,” Burley remarks.
Her self-publication was a success. I Don’t Know Yet is available through Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and, in the three weeks it has been available, the book has already surpassed Burley’s original sales goal.
Burley hopes that this book will be the first in a trilogy, but she’s in no hurry to publish another. She remarks that she’ll know when the time comes, but that right now, she’s enjoying writing for herself again.
Through publishing, though, Burley has become connected with some of her biggest role models in the writing community. Although she struggles with imposter syndrome, the biggest hurdle is “taking that leap of faith” and reaching out to someone. By sending DMs on Instagram, Burley has met her current mentors, and she plans to continue networking and learning from her peers in the writing community.
Even though the busyness of the semester is picking up, Burley has made writing a part of her daily life. “When something in the world astounds me or inspires me, I just follow the way my mind moves and try to document that,” Burley said, noting that, even after writing for so many years, getting that first word down is still the hardest part.
Burley’s self-reflection on her journey to publication can be found on the lifestyle site Iridescent Women.