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Neil Hilborn: Writing Authentic Poetry, OCD & Validation

Joining us this week out of Minnesota is Neil Hilborn, a College National Poetry Slam Champion. In August of 2013, Neil’s poem “OCD” went viral, garnering over 7 million views to date, making it one of the most-viewed poems on YouTube.

Neil is also the co-founder of Thistle, a Macalester literary magazine, and has run numerous writing workshops with college and high school students. His work has been featured in publications such as Borderline Magazine and Orange Quarterly, and his debut full-length book, Our Numbered Days, is now available.

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  • Neil shares how the popularity of “OCD” on YouTube took him completely by surprise
  • We talk about how it’s the authenticity and connection of a performance that really matters
  • The moment of truth and humanity in a performance is what connects with people
  • Neil shares why he think it’s important for artists to talk about mental health
  • “An artist’s duty is to tell our own stories as genuinely as we can” – Neil Hilborn
  • “Get that brain garbage out – then you can sit and write about what you want to write about” – Neil Hilborn
  • We talk about the fear of our art not being perfect
  • Neil shares that the performances that went badly are the ones that have helped him the most
  • “Failing publicly can be really helpful” – Neil Hilborn
  • We talk about how writing for yourself and not anyone else is where the most authentic work comes from
  • Neil talks about the importance of having editors you trust who will help decide what your best work is
  • We talk about where the important validation comes from as creatives
  • “The trap is relying on the validation of others to form the entirety of your opinion about yourself” – Neil Hilborn
  • Neil tells us about his writing process and finding the balance between authenticity and relatability


  • Get out and grind without any expectation of a reward
  • Always be working to get better at what you do

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