• Q&A With WriteByNight Consultant John Sibley Williams


    John Sibley Williams (Portland, Oregon) is the author of six collections, including The Drowning House (Elixir Press Poetry Award), As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, University of Nebraska Press), and Summon (JuxtaProse Chapbook Prize). A nineteen-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous literary awards, including the Wabash Prize for Poetry, Philip Booth Award, and Laux/Millar Prize. He serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and teaches for Literary Arts. He also works as a poetry editor, writing coach, workshop leader, and literary agent. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Rivier University and an MA in Book Publishing from Portland State University. Follow John on Twitter and visit his website: johnsibleywilliams.com.


    Where are you from?

    I grew up just outside Boston and have since lived in New York; New Hampshire; Vienna, Austria; and now Portland, Oregon, where I live with my partner and twin toddlers.


    Where did you study?

    I hold an MFA in Creative Writing from Rivier University and an MA in Book Publishing from Portland State University, where I also managed the Marketing and Acquisitions Departments of student-run Ooligan Press. The former school provided me with valuable insights into the writing process; the latter showed me how to apply them to the publishing and marketing world.


    How did you get your start as a writer?

    I’ve been writing since middle school, at that time short stories heavily influenced by whomever I was reading at the time. But my first experience with poetry was perhaps the most important moment of my life, apart from the birth of my kids. It was summer in New York and I was sitting by a lake with my feet dragging through the current when suddenly, without my knowing what I was doing, I began writing something that obviously wasn’t a story. No plot. No characters. What was it? Impressions. Colors. Emotions. Strange images. I never took to poetry before this moment so didn’t have the language to define it. And I didn’t have any paper, so I used a marker to write a series of phrases on my arm. Then they poured onto my leg. Then I realized I needed paper. I ran back to the car, took out a little notebook, and spent hours emptying myself of visions and fears and joys I don’t think I even knew I had. Since that surreal and confusing moment by that little city lake 19 years ago, poetry has become my creative obsession and life’s work. It’s the lens through which I (slightly) better understand the world.


    Who are some of your influences?

    Oh my, dozens! Many dozens. Hundreds. But the poets and writers who have consistently inspired me in a way I cannot fully comprehend, that have changed my life, include Viktor Frankl, Carl Phillips, Octavio Paz, Gabriel García Márquez, Franz Kafka, Jose Saramago , Paul Celan, Charles Wright, Federico García Lorca, and more recently Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Ocean Vuong, and Jericho Brown.


    What is your favorite thing about educating writers at WBN?

    For over a decade one of my personal passions has been assisting emerging authors, be it with their craft or by demystifying the publishing and marketing processes. From critiquing to mentoring and everything in between, WriteByNight allows me to help authors of various genres polish their work and find their audience.


    What’s the last book you read and what did you think of it?

    As I tend to read multiple poetry collections simultaneously, bouncing back and forth between them to keep things fresh and surprising, my nightstand is always a bit crowded. I’m currently about to finish Admission Requirements by Phoebe Wang, an intimate collection of memoirish poems that speak to Wang’s unique experience as a Canadian citizen with Chinese heritage. I’m also currently reading Cutting the Wire: Photographs and Poetry from the US-Mexico Border, a powerful cultural collaboration between photographer Bruce Berman and poets Ray Gonzalez and Lawrence Welsh.


    Where do you see the world of writing and publishing heading?

    The publishing industry has changed so drastically over the past decade. The emergence of new distribution methods via online platforms and the increased popularity of self-publishing has had both positive and negative effects: it’s now easier than ever to get published yet, due to this incredible increase in published books, authors have to work very hard to get noticed. Luckily, to counteract this difficulty, we now have countless online media avenues such as bloggers and podcasters who are passionate about reviewing independent books.


    Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?

    There’s a reason “keep writing, keep reading” has become clichéd advice; it’s absolutely true. You need to study as many books as possible from authors of various genres and from various cultures. Listen to their voices. Watch how they manipulate and celebrate language. Delve deep into their themes and structures and take notes on the stylistic and linguistic tools they employ. And never, ever stop writing. Write every free moment you have. Bring a notebook and pen everywhere you go (and I mean everywhere). It’s okay if you’re only taking notes. Notes are critical. It’s okay if that first book doesn’t find a publisher. There will be more books to come. And it’s okay if those first poems or stories aren’t all that great. You have a lifetime to grow as a writer.


    Interested in working with John? Request a free consult now


    “John could not be more pleasant, personable, all-around wonderful to work with. I look forward to more with WBN.”

    — Cynthia M.


    “Loved him! Tons of great advice, counsel, and insights. I have a hand cramp from writing down notes! Plus he’s fun to talk with, personable, and knows his stuff.”

    — Beverly R.


    “[John] let me know when I lost him in vague thoughts, reined me in when I got too wordy, helped me see that all I needed to do was tell my story and let my readers figure out the rest. He constantly encouraged me to continue. I almost gave up during the COVID crisis. John gently reminded me of the impact written words had on my life and how they pulled me from near loss of reason as a child.”

    — Deborah T.


    “The session was truly great. John’s notes and feedback were perfect for pointing out the exact blindspots I hoped to get educated on. I have a very clear direction on where to go from here.”

    — Brian G.


    “John’s feedback was super helpful and overall our conversation gave me some great next steps on how to proceed towards my goals. John was super friendly and nice and I felt very comfortable talking to him! 10/10 would recommend.”

    — Aly K.


    “John has a nice way of being supportive and at the same time, presenting helpful criticism.”

    — Beth R.