The Blog of John Hewitt

Write about changing your opinion – 31p31d

A hand explores

The reward is worth the risk

Personal Therapy

Poetry can be excellent therapy. It allows you to process the events in your life, both good and bad. Some people shy away from writing personal poems because they either don’t think their life is important enough to write about or because they fear opening up those emotions and rehashing painful moments in their lives. Writing about yourself and the things that happen to you can be difficult.

Processing Events

Learn to process the events in your life with poetry. You don’t have to start with the most painful events in your life. The problem with writing about major traumas is that is so difficult to capture them in words. When something horrible happens to you, words often seem inadequate. You can save writing about those events for when you are feeling particularly brave and strong. Start small. Start with the little stresses and minor conflicts that make up most days. Many times, it is the smaller moments in our lives, not the larger ones, which are the most telling and interesting.

You are a Character

One of the keys to writing about the events in your life is to accept yourself as a character. When you are writing about yourself, you are essentially writing a persona poem, and the persona is you. A person reading your poem is going to be viewing you as a character in the poem. They may understand that you are writing about yourself, but they will still be viewing you as a character that they are trying to interpret and connect with.

First or Third

Some people find it helpful to write about themselves in the third person. Using this technique they move even further toward viewing themselves as a character. This technique allows them to step outside of themselves and view the events in a more detached way. Some people are comfortable with that process, while others prefer to stay in the first person. I, for one, like to stay in the first person.

Honesty as Policy

Some people wonder how honest you have to be when writing about yourself and your life. They fear that if they veer from the exact events, that they will be lying. This depends on your point of view. I try to be as truthful as possible in my poems, but the problem with being utterly truthful is that you may not be comfortable letting other people read your poetry, especially those who might be involved in the events. In reviewing my old poems the other day, I came across one that I know would be very hurtful to a friend if I released it, so I left it sitting on my hard drive, unread by the world. I could fictionalize it a little more but in the end I would rather keep it private and let it be true than change so I could publish it.

There is no doubt that writing about yourself comes with a certain degree of personal risk, but I believe the reward is worth the risk. Not only do you get to process the events of your life, but with luck you get an interesting character to write about.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Write about moment in which you changed your opinion about something. It could be something important, or something minor. The change is important. We often hold beliefs for years and years, only to find that a small change in circumstances alters everything.

If you are writing your poems somewhere other than this site’s comments, please take a moment to let us know you did the assignment and how you felt about it.

Write a poem about something you gave away as a child – 31p31d

Something given...

Something given…

Entry 1 in 31 poems in 31 days…

Where Poetry Came From

As long as there has been language, there has been poetry. Most of the earliest surviving texts were written in verse, but the poetic tradition stretches back to before the days of the written word, when stories and history were passed down orally using storytellers who used such devices as meter, rhyme and alliteration to ease the task or remembering and reciting tales that in many cases took days to tell.

The Evolution of Poetry

Over the years, history has become an academic pursuit rooted far more in prose than in verse. The age of the epic poem has passed. A book length poem is an anomaly these days. Poems tend to be shorter and less structured than in earlier times. Poetry forms are rarely used and such poetic devices as rhyme and alliteration have fallen out of favor, especially in the English Language, which lacks some of the lyrical qualities of languages such as Italian, Spanish and French.

For Love, Not Money

Poetry, in today’s world is at best a minor niche in the writing industry. Best selling books of poetry are few and far between. The major markets are dominated by fiction, self help, political and business books. Most new books of poetry sell fewer than a thousand copies and those that reach the tens of thousands are considered highly successful. This is a standard that falls far short of the fiction market, for which you need to sell a half a million books to be considered successful. Most book publishers don’t even publish poetry anymore. Those that do so continue to do it mainly out of a love for poetry rather than an expectation of profits.

A Small World

Poetry is not, however, without its fans. There is a small but thriving poetry community. If you live in a city of reasonable size, chances are that you can find at least one poetry reading happening in a given week. There are also poetry festivals and poetry slams (competitive poetry events) that take place in some communities. The Internet is also a thriving place for poets, with the blogging format making it easy for the average person to publish their poetry quickly and easily.

Just Like Chess Fans

Poetry is not a business. Your chances of making a living as a professional poet are about the same as your chances of making a living as a professional chess player. Both are activities that many people enjoy doing, but very few people pay to see. The only difference is that it is relatively easy to prove whether or not you are a good chess player, but whether or not you are a good poet is a much more subjective question.

Why You Should Write

The point I am getting at, in a very roundabout way, is that the best reason to write poetry is because it is something you enjoy doing or at least it is something you get some sort of emotional or spiritual benefit from doing. There is no other good reason to write poetry. If you want to be rich or famous, you’ve come to the wrong field. If you want to express yourself and join a small but thriving community of people who like to do the same, poetry is one way to go. If you love to write poetry, do it. Always try to improve, but don’t worry about whether you are “good enough” or if you “have what it takes” because poetry is about the journey far more than the result.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Write a poem about something you gave away when you were a child or when you no longer felt like you were a child. Try to think of an object that had some emotional significance to you. Avoid a description of how you felt about the event then or how you feel about it now. Try to make the significance of the event come through in your descriptions of the item and the cause of giving it way.

Feel free to post your poem in the comments or on your own site with a link back to here. This will give other people the opportunity to read your poem.

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!