While Wordsmith Wednesday tends to focus on fiction writing, from time-to-time I find it compelling to write an article about poetry. This is because many of the people who visit my blog are from the poetry communities I participate in, but even more so because poetry is the handmaiden of superb writing, whatever the genre.
For today’s post, I would like to reflect on a few reminders that can serve poets as well as fiction, or for that matter, non-fiction writers.
Don’t shy away from poetic forms. The discipline of adhering to prescribed forms such as those that define rhyme, meter and syllable count can serve as an aid when you run up against a brick wall. I turn to a haiku, an etheree, a quatrain, tercet or any number of “recipes” for writing when it seems as though my muse has gone into hibernation. This has never failed to help me jump-start my writing. There are a number of Internet references to teach you about form. Try Luke Prater’s Word Salad at http://lukepraterswordsalad.com/
Write quickly but revise with care. Poetry deserves the same careful attention as prose. Often, words and ideas rush in at you and it pays to jot them down as they come. First drafts of poems will often pour out in mere minutes. I’ve dragged myself out of bed in the middle of the night and jotted down almost-illegible epics that I don’t recognize in the morning. But then the work begins. I once read about a poet who excused himself from a writing conference because he had to revise a poem. He returned hours later and when asked how it had gone told his colleagues that he spent a few hours before deleting a comma and then, a few hours later, added it back in. I hope my days will be a bit more productive than that, but you get the point. I belong to an online poetry critique group and the advice I receive is invaluable. But, as with fiction, remember that you have the final say.
Sensory details make your writing come alive. Many beginning poets use their craft to probe emotion, to champion causes, and to express their opinions. Indeed, these are functions of poetry. But to be more effective, it behooves you to pepper your writing with devices such as metaphors or similes that employ those delicious sensory observations that you have picked up in the course of a day. I strongly suggest that you keep your senses, all of them, on high alert and then in the evening, take a few moments to jot down a dozen or so things you remember in your writing journal. You will be amazed at the inspiration you can cull from this exercise–for poetry or fiction.
Don’t quit your day job. Most likely you will not get rich selling poetry. You will not find an agent to represent your tome or make the NYT’s best seller list. You will find joy in the writing process. You’ll find that your prose takes on a literary quality whatever genre you dabble in and you can build up a platform for marketing your work if you engage in Internet poetry communities. There are a myriad of these that invite both seasoned and budding poets to post their work. A few of my favorites include Poetry Potluck: http://jinglepoetry.blogspot.com/; One Stop Poetry: http://onestoppoetry.com/and Poetic Asides: http://blog.writersdigest.com/poeticasides/All of these sites offer prompts and a forum to post or link your work. I also post a writing prompt on Monday morning which invites both poetry and short fiction.
Today I’ve been considering the sources we poets turn to for poetic inspiration–so today’s Wordsmith Wednesday is for poets although I’m sure that it can be useful to prose writers as well. I’m going to short-list some of the sources I turn to to be inspired in my writing. I’m hoping that you will add to it in the comments section.
Nature–look for details, metaphors, lessons that are present all around us. When stuck, it often helps me to take a walk. I’m blessed to live in a place that is replete with nature’s offerings.
Reading–read other poets. Their work often tickles my creative muse. I’ve mentioned some of my favorites in my list of recommended reading.
News sources–look for the seeds of story-poems hidden in the newspaper, on the Internet or on TV news broadcast.
Poetic Forms–do an Internet search and check out poetic forms. For me, the discipline of a form can jump-start and idea.
Spirituality–look to metaphysical/religious ideas and writings such as the Bible or holy books of other spiritual traditions. Look within at your own spiritual experience.
Relationships–these evoke emotional reactions that are often begging to be expressed.
History–check out historical events as well as your own history. There are stories to tell.
Mythology–although this is not an area of expertise for me, I’ve read much poetry that draws on the classical myths, stories that transcend time.
Science–a wonderful well-spring of poetic inspiration.
Art–Use painting, sculpture, photography and translate your experience into words.
Writing Prompts–those of us who participate in writing communities have a wealth of material tossed out at us on a daily or weekly basis. Check out some of the sites on my blogroll. I’d love to see you link up to my own Monday Morning Writing Prompt.
Political issues–need I say more? My personal viewpoint is to stay away from personal attacks and stick to the issues.
I hope these will be helpful to you, especially if you are feeling stuck right now. There are more–help me expand the list if you will!
For today’s prompt I’d like to focus on details. We’ve all been taught that it’s those minute sensory excursions that bring our writing to life, whether poetry or prose. Engaging the five senses allows the reader to share the experience. And so I encourage you to write a short poem or paragraph in which you involve as many senses as you can. It can be helpful to go someplace with a paper and pen (or laptop) and turn on your powers of observation–a coffee-house, thrift store, the mall. If you’re snowbound go someplace in your own digs or your memory. I’m working on a poem now that I hope to post later today or tomorrow using a memory trip into an old lady’s closet. Have fun with this and link it in comments if you would.
Since the first writing conference I attended (2004, I believe) I have been involved in writing critique groups. It was for that conference that my work was first accepted for work-shopping and I was sure that I had arrived. A published author led the two-day process and there were about nine of us who submitted work to the other members of the group for critique. It became a turning point for me as a writer. I came to accept the fact that my novel was not quite as brilliant as I perceived it to be.
A few of us from that group went on to meet on a regular basis. Since then I’ve participated in several other critique groups. Here are a few things I’ve learned that have been helpful (in my opinion and from my hands-on experience).
Don’t submit your work before you’ve finished the first draft. It is important for you to have a clear idea of your story line before opening it to critique.
As a group, decide on guidelines at your first meeting. How many members will you have? Will you submit your writing before the meeting? Will you read work aloud at the meeting? How many manuscripts/how many pages will you discuss?
Be sure to balance your positive and negative feedback. Your goal is to build up one another, not destroy. One time a fellow-writer told me, “I would never read this novel.” That discouraged me to the point that I gave up working on it for a few months until I figured out that she was trying to tell me that the prologue was a turn-off.
Give specific advice. For example, instead of saying “This moves too slowly,” try something like “Consider using active verbs instead of passive voice,” or “That long sentence drags down the narrative–maybe if you wrote that paragraph in a few clipped phrases it would be more suspenseful.” Avoid general statements such as, “That just doesn’t work.”
Learn to listen to suggestions without trying to defend yourself. One group that I have been a part of had set the rule of “silence” until all critiques had been given. But take good notes while you listen. I bring a copy of my manuscript and jot down helpful advice in the columns.
Understand the differences between genres. If you write literary fiction, for example, don’t expect the same complexity of characters from your friend who writes sci-fi. And visa versa.
Don’t revise immediately after your meeting, except for grammatical and spelling errors. Definitely do not make significant plot changes. Remember, your story is YOUR story.
At the same time, be open to suggestion. My writing has been much enriched by plot twists or questions posed by members of my critique groups. Ask clarifying questions if needed.
There is a time for critique and a time to write. Understand what works best for you and realize that your needs change at different points in the writing process.
And finally, be grateful to your fellow writers. It was through this process that I have met some of my dearest friends. Don’t forget to celebrate one another’s successes!
As I get more and more immersed in the world of poetry, I’m forgetting other things that I’ve committed to. Yesterday I spent a lot of time reading wonderful poetry from Jingle’s Poetry Potluck and then met in person with my PA group (Poet’s Anonymous) to critique each others’ work. The bottom line: I forgot to post a writing prompt to jump-start the week for those of us who may be stuck.
So, for today, try writing a short piece of prose or poetry, perhaps memoir, about something you forgot that had unintended consequences and post a link in comments if you will.