Holding True
Essays on Being a Writer

by Susan Ioannou

A welcome gift for
the aspiring author

Paperback Edition

eBook Edition

About the Book
Table of Contents
Order Information

About the Book

As a writer, if you thrive on encouragement, this book is for you. From three decades of editing, teaching, and writing fiction and poetry, Ioannou knows well the thorns and honey of the literary life. “When we write, we are up against the wall. Who am I? What do I feel? What do I think? Writing forces us to be alone with our thoughts, to work through the wrinkles of our own living.” At the same time, when the lines are flowing, there is no greater high—what keeps a writer addicted.

These pages bring ample light and balm, support and inspiration. What’s more, there’s laughter too, as fable and satire poke gentle fun at foibles and absurdities on the literary scene, and remind all writers of the importance of holding true.


“Writer, editor, and teacher Susan Ioannou shares the wisdom of her experience in this collection of essays that are—variously—cautionary, encouraging, satirical, and pragmatic . . . reflections on the submissions she received while fiction editor at Cross-Canada Writers’ Quarterly are amusing as well as admonitory (and, unfortunately, do not seem to have dated one bit).” —Bernard Kelly, paperplates

“Thanks so much for Holding True, a ray of sunshine . . . it’s going to be very useful in my Reading and Writing Poetry course, especially in dealing with young-writer anxieties. Lots of hard-earned but encouragingly expressed wisdom.”—Dr. John Reibetanz, Victoria University

“Writers’ Horror Stories” and “Frog’s Progress: A Fable” were selected for reading by Jonathan and Marlene Dean on the National Broadcast Reading Service program Stone Soup Anthology.

Table of Contents


Why Do We Write?
Beyond myths to real-life reasons

On Being Real
Despite doubts, the value of writing

The Ideal Poem
A personal standard of perfection

Out of the Narrows
Towards a new classicism

Wider Dimensions
Letting the world in

Off the Ground
Words to leap off the page

The Poem Beneath the Poem
Glimpses of the creative process

Fiction and Poetry
The advantages of difference

Confessions of an Ex Fiction Editor
Turn-ons and turn-offs

Off the Street
The writer in a Creative Writing Department

Academe and the New Writer
How useful is theory to practice?
Know Your Critics
Determining constructive criticism

Poet’s Progress—A Theory
Five stages in poetic development

Louis Dudek: Among the Books Around Us
A Tribute

Time, Solitude, and the Writer
Multiple kinds of time

Writers’ Horror Stories
Writing’s inevitable pitfalls

Confessions of a Little-Magazine Editor
Realities of small-press publishing

The Inner Competition
In search of humility

Frog’s Progress—A Fable
A satire on the “career poet”

Go It Alone
Finding a path through the words

A Room of Her Own
Creating and the post 9/11 writer

A Patchwork Quilt of Imagination
What poetry means to me

About the Author


from ESSAY 1, Why Do We Write?
“Why, then, do we write? In my case, as I gaze round my living room at yesterday’s papers heaped on the coffee table, overdue books spilling off the buffet, a sweater here, a half-empty mug there, the answer is simple: life’s randomness. I want to defy it and be in control in my 8½" x 11" world. Just as the ancient Greek for ‘poet’ meant ‘maker’, I want to create order by manipulating words to my will. In this cluttered room, something must do my bidding. Taking charge with a pen grants my psyche both confidence and an illusion of safety: symbolically, at least, I control life.”

from ESSAY 8, Fiction and Poetry
Of course, comparable complaints [to those about fiction] could be made about poems. They may be so private or arcane in their allusions that they shut the reader out, or so dulled by cliché and imprecision that they bore. Nonetheless, the frame of lyric poetry is narrower and imposes tighter limits on how much can be said in that smaller space. Where the fiction writer fans outward, the poet zeroes in on only the key elements we are to see. With a well-written story, we are pleasantly absorbed in ambling through the trees to get to the clearing on the other side. With a good poem, we inspect the delicate complexities of a leaf or inhale a whole new universe through a flower.”

from ESSAY 12, Know Your Critics
“Blanket negative criticism can be devastating to the young writer searching for a voice, especially when aimed at the very basis from which that writing flows. Fashions change, cliques die. Neither offers a basis for lasting aesthetic judgments. Bad critics declare success or failure in terms of how a piece matches or differs from their favoured school or movement—a ‘for or against us’ mentality. Good critics look at each poem or story individually to weigh if it succeeds or fails in its own terms. When a writer sets off on the wings of fantasy, the question is not whether fantasy is an acceptable mode of writing, but if that specific creation convinces in its own right.”

from ESSAY 14, Louis Dudek: Among the Books Around Us
“Dudek’s thought gave comfort in other ways. A man of lofty ideas, he still had both feet on the ground. He could see beyond the flashes in the pan of fashion on the poetry scene. He was particularly sceptical of contemporary fame, describing it in Epigrams as ‘merely the privilege of being pestered by strangers’ and ‘like sugar, a pure white poison’. He knew that young writers especially were vulnerable to such ‘mere noise’, when in Ideas for Poetry he wrote: ‘A popular success poisons the minds of aspiring young poets by making them hanker after an illusion, where they should be sharpening their eye for what is genuine.’ With his larger view, he also recognized, as stated in a Scrivener interview, ‘The culture is still developing, and people are quite gullible, so they go for some new golden calf in every decade. We just don’t have a sufficiently mature criticism.’ ”

[Get Copyright Permissions] Click here for copyright permissions!
Copyright 2008 Susan Ioannou

Order Information

Holding True: Essays on Being a Writer, by Susan Ioannou

  • eBook (Wordwrights Canada, 2010), eISBN 978-0-920835-36-4.

  • Paperback (Wordwrights Canada, 2017), 209 pages, ISBN 978-0-920835-29-6.

  • Return to
    Featured Titles
    Updated January 2023