Archive of Articles about Writing

7 Easy Steps to a More Pretentious Poem

 

Shhh.... I'm writing a great poem!

Shhh…. I’m writing a great poem!

This lesson works best with an example, so let’s start with one of the simplest and most well known poems of all time.

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you.

This a simple poem. It is short, sweet and lacks pretension. Let’s fix it.

Step One: Add old time words nobody uses in real life

Roses doth be red,
Err violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
Thus so art thou.

Step Two: Add complex terms for simple words

Grandifloras doth be damask,
Err viola are azurite,
Sugar is ambrosial,
Thus so art thou.

Step Three: Add some foreign words and italicize them

Grandifloras doth be damask,
Err Viola are azurite,
Tener azucar ambrosial,
Thus so art thou.

Step Four: Add something technological so people realize you’re living in a new age

Grandifloras doth be damask,
Err Viola ping azurite,
Tener azucar ambrosial,
Thus thou art interfaced.

Step Five: Add some other modern stuff such as abbreviations and slang

OMG Grandifloras doth B damask,
Err Viola ping azurite,
Tener azucar ambrosial,
Thus thou RT interfaced sandwich girl.

Step Six: Mix up the line endings

OMG Grandifloras
Doth B
Damask, err
Viola ping
Azurite, tener azucar
Ambrosial,
Thus
Thou
RT interfaced
Sandwich girl.

Step Seven: Take out the punctuation

OMG Grandifloras
Doth B
Damask err
Viola ping
Azurite tener azucar
Ambrosial
Thus
Thou
RT interfaced
Sandwich girl

There you go. One gloriously pretentious poem in seven easy steps.

Writing Your Way Out of a Wet Paper Sack

A Wet Paper SackHas anyone ever told you that you couldn’t write your way out of a wet paper sack? It really isn’t that difficult. The important thing remember that this is not a job for a computer. You are much better off using a pen or a pencil. You should press down very hard when you write. That will be helpful because, as you remember, the paper sack is wet. You can use that moisture to your advantage. Wet paper sacks tear more easily than dry paper sacks. Keep that in mind at all times. The key to writing your way out of the wet paper sack is to write in such a way that the wet paper begins to tear. Once you’ve torn a hole in the wet paper sack, you’re halfway out of it.

Write on the side of the wet paper sack (either from the inside or the outside depending upon the size of the sack you find yourself in). Press down hard, preferably with a pencil or a high quality pen. This should get the paper, weakened by the moisture, to tear. Once it begins to tear, you will probably want to increase the size of your letters. Writing with small letters is great in the beginning, when you want to establish a hole, but tiny handwriting will become an impairment later on. In the later stages, You will want to write large, swooping letters because this will help to open up the tear in the sack. The larger the tear, the easier it will be to write your way out of it. Towards the end, you might want your letters to be several inches, or even a foot or so high. This will broaden the hole until the entire sack tears away.

Avoid felt tip pens. A felt tip pen or a marker may prove to be insufficient for the task at hand.

Now you are almost done. In the final stages, it is important to remember that you are writing your way out of a wet paper sack, not acting or dancing your way out of a wet paper sack. Those tasks require an entirely different skill set that we won’t go in to here. Keep your pen or pencil in hand. Use it to remove the individual pieces (wet paper sacks tend to fall apart). Place the pencil over the remaining pieces of wet paper sack and let your prose flow. Write with a slight flicking motion so that the paper seems to almost fly off your pencil. Be diligent. Make sure that every piece of paper sack is off of you. At that point you will have written your way out of a wet paper sack. Congratulations! You can proudly tell all of your friends that indeed, you do have this skill and have proven it.

You might want to have someone film your escape from the sack so that you can avoid having to perform this act multiple times. As important as the skill is, writing your way out of a wet paper sack isn’t particularly enjoyable, so you will probably prefer to perform this task only once.

 

10 Ways to Annoy the Hell out of your Writers’ Group

Holistically and organically?

Holistically and organically?

A writers’ group is a collection of writers who get together to discuss each other’s work. Each writer submits a piece to the group and as a group, suggestions are given, issues are discussed and an effort is made to provide guidance to make each piece better. This is the model of most creative writing programs, as well as many independent groups. If everyone works together, it can be a wonderful experience for all involved. Unfortunately, there is usually some jerk in the group that ruins everything. This is a guide to how to be that jerk.

Attend sporadically

Most writers’ groups have rules about attendance, but once you are there, what are they going to do? Do they seriously have the stones to kick you out? I think not. Writers are usually nice people — exploit that.

Bring the whole novel

Most writers’ groups try to keep the length of the things they are discussing to a reasonable level. After all, most members have jobs or kids or classes. Some members even want to spend time on their ownwriting. They can’t be expected to read and critique hundred of pages a week… or can they? After all, the main reason the group exists is to serve your needs.

Don’t worry about the genre

The science fiction writer’s group is the perfect place to present your nihilistic seventies romance. If anyone makes a fuss, tell them that they’re stifling you.

Don’t waste a lot of time reading the other member’s work

Try to limit any review to the five minutes before the group meets. Make a show of marking up the paper with red lines or a highlighter. Just pick random passages to mark. There’s always something wrong with everything if you look hard enough.

Keep an eye out for typos or spelling errors

Some writers think that a writers’ group should focus on character, plot, themes and other esoteric things. Stick to the basics. If you find a spelling error or a grammar error, focus solely on that. Make sure the discussion lasts twenty minutes at least. By discussion I mean you prattling on, interrupting other people whenever they try to take part.

Keep other criticisms as vague as possible

Look for statements that sound intelligent but mean nothing. String them together for as long as you can. Sample Rant: You need this story to feel more real. It doesn’t speak to me yet. When I read it, it feels like a story. It’s as if someone wrote it down and expected me to read it and come away with some sort of impression. I shouldn’t have to know so much about the characters in order to get them. They should be a part of the page. The whole thing should function holistically and organically.

Don’t say anything positive

People only attend a writers’ group to hear criticism, especially your criticism. That’s how you bring value to the group. Take as much time as you need to make sure they know just how badly written their work is. If you’re lucky, you just might get to see the moment when a writer’s spirit is crushed. You can usually catch it in their eyes, so be alert.

Bring your political agenda with you

Everyone should share your views, so share your views with everyone. If you’re reading a story about an African hunting expedition, for example, never miss the opportunity to advocate vegetarianism and declare that hunting is murder. Never move on. Never let it rest. Their story should be your story.

Don’t ever accept criticism of your own work

When other people point out problems with your story, they’re really just being petty. They can see how much better your writing is than theirs, and the only way they can deal with it is by pointing out minor, imaginary flaws. Anyone who brings these things up clearly has an ax to grind. Argue every point. Make it personal.

Leave in a huff

Tell the group they’re idiots and you’re never coming back. That will make your appearance the next time mean so much more to them.

31 Poems in 31 Days is coming this October!

We're at the top of the slide! Ready to Write?

We’re at the top of the slide! Ready to Write?

Long-time visitors to this site will remember 2007-2010, when I ran a 30 poems in 30 days event in September of each year…

I’m doing it again! I couldn’t quite get my act together for September, so I’ll be doing it in October instead, and making the appropriate change to 31 days.

The goal is simple. Write 31 poems in 31 days. I’ll be providing prompts each day, but you can write about whatever you like. The prompts are just there to help.

If you like, you can post your poem in the site comments for each day. If you prefer to post elsewhere, that’s absolutely fine, but I would appreciate any note letting me know what you are writing and taking part.

Those who follow my Facebook group Free Verse for Fun are welcome to post poems there. Some of my prompts will be form-related, but for this event I think we can wave the group standard.

See you October 1st!

 

Write poetry as often as you can

There are many excuses not to write. Try using writing as an excuse not to do other things.

This is a problem faced by all sorts of writers, poets included. There are many people in this world who think that they can be a poet or a writer. After all, learning to write is one of the first things you are taught in school. Most people know that they don’t have the skills to be a surgeon or an engineer, but almost everyone thinks they have the skills to be a writer or a poet. Most of them are correct. They can write. Nonetheless, they haven’t got what it takes to be a true writer or a poet, no matter what their writing skill is.

The reason they can’t do it is simple; they don’t do it. These people don’t sit down every day at a keyboard and try to write something. Most of them have ideas, and they might even be able to put words together in an appealing way, but they haven’t got the ability to make themselves sit down and do it day after day.

Doing something (anything) every day can be a challenge, even when the task is fun and easy. There are so many events that fill up a person’s day that even pleasurable things get pushed to the side. You may love to swim, for example, but a good movie on television can change your swim plans. That is life.

The challenge involved with doing something every day increases when that something is difficult and not necessarily enjoyable. I love to write, but there are days when it is a chore. There are times when ideas don’t come or words don’t flow. There are days when I just don’t feel like doing it. Those are the days that separate the serious writer from people who think they can write.

If you want to be a serious writer or poet, you have to stick those days out. Every poem you write helps you develop as a poet, even when it doesn’t seem like you are accomplishing anything. The person who spends an hour a month writing poetry is less likely to write a good poem every month than the person who spends an hour a week. The person who spends an hour a week writing poetry is less likely to write a good poem every week than the person who spends an hour a day. The person who spends many hours a week writing poetry, and reading poetry, and studying poetry, and going to poetry readings is the most likely to develop into a great poet.

That isn’t to say that you have to spend your whole life writing poetry to be good at it or to enjoy it. Still, you need to understand that time and effort leads to success. Time and effort separate a true writer from the people who think that they can write.

If you just want to write poetry for fun, then schedule a time each week to do it. Put aside at least a couple hours to write. If something better comes along, go ahead and do it, but schedule another time to write as soon as possible.

If you want to develop into a great poet, writing once a week is not enough time. You need to schedule more than one time every week to write, and schedule time to read and study. You need to get involved in the poetry scene and make the effort to connect with other poets and potential publishers. You need to value your time as a poet more than your time doing other things.

The challenges of imagery in your poetry

People will remember an image long after they’ve forgotten why it was there.

That one perfect line in a thirty line poem may be what makes it all worthwhile, or it may be what makes the rest of the poem bad. Keep an eye on it.

These two tips reflect both the power of vivid imagery and the problems images can present. A perfectly formed image can be inspiring, devastating, funny, melancholy, dramatic, or subtle. For me, one of the great joys of reading poetry is experiencing the vivid writing poets produce. This image from a Tony Hoagland poem, Here in Berkley, has stayed with me since I first read it.

Close your eyes,
swing a baguette horizontally
you’ll hit someone with a Ph.D.

The image sticks, probably because it is funny and sardonic and demonstrates a distinct view of a distinct community. The image the way I remember it, however, is incomplete. The full sentence is:

Close your eyes,
swing a baguette horizontally
you’ll hit someone with a Ph.D.
in sensitivity,
someone who,
if not a therapist himself,
will offer you the number of his therapist,

which — it may take you years
to figure out — is a hostile act on his part
designed to send you on a wild-goose chase
through the orchard of your childhood
to fetch the tarnished apple of your mother’s love.

Now, the short image is what sticks with me, but the overall sentence tells a somewhat different story. It is a much fuller and more melancholy image than the short version, and it describes more than just Berkeley.

No matter how well you write, most people will take away only bits and pieces of your poems. There are very few readers who memorize or even understand a poem in its entirety. If you are lucky enough to have your poem remembered at all, chances are that only one element of your poem will sink in with your reader. That element may not mean to them what it means to you.

When you write a poem, it is easy to fall in love with your own words. It feels fantastic to create a well-written line or to find a single perfect word. There are so many times when writing is a struggle, that the moments of success must be cherished.

The danger, however, is that your perfect line may not belong. Great words and even great lines do not automatically create great poems. When you edit your poetry, look hard at the lines you are most proud of.

Ask yourself if the best lines fit smoothly into the rest of the poem. Do they match the tone and intention of the rest of the poem? Do they add to the rest of the poem, or stand apart from it? What will the reader remember? Does it match what your intentions are? Read the poem without the lines you love the most. Compare the two versions to see which one comes closest to achieving your goals.

Chances are, those perfect lines belong right where they are. If not, the problem may be the line, or it may be the poem. If the rest of the poem does not live up to the best of your poem, then perhaps you need to rewrite the other lines.