“Sit down. Take a deep breath. Let’s talk punctuation in poetry.”

There is nothing better than chatting about poetry—that is until we get to “grammar.” In hushed tones, “Do poems NEED grammar? Is it required? What about semi-colons? What about…?”

Hush. This is a very common question. I’m not saying it’s easy to know which punctuation mark, if any you want for your line—but let me explain the options.

First. No, you do not need punctuation. Second. Maybe you want punctuation? This is the traditional and most chosen option.

“But what does it DO?” It all depends on sound. Poems are meant to be read out loud. For thousands of years, longer, we have spoken in rhyme, sung melodies and stories, OUT LOUD. Yes, before there was written language, but also, because of the sound of words. So, punctuation, or lack of it, is all about when to breathe and how a word gets accented at the end of the line.

So—no punctuation and perhaps no capitalization creates a mad rush of sound. A WHOOSH. I would sail right down the page no pausing even if punctuation might be grammatically correct and you would hear passion and lack of air. And if that mad dash and fast pace is what you want terrific! Lucille Clifton is an amazing example. In “the garden of delight” she does not use punctuation or capitalization. Her first stanza:

for some
it is stone
bare smooth
as a buttock
rounding
into the crevasse
of the world

When I read it is a passionate downward rush. There is nothing wrong with lingering from word to word—but that varies by individual. Usually, punctuation shows someone else how to read your poem.

Punctuation in poetry comes down to three techniques. One: no punctuation and no pause. Two: Slight pause and continuation to the next line. Three: End-Stop which halts the line and creates a complete pause.

So, Scenario One, we basically covered. No pause. That means the line is enjambed and the first line is read without breath to the next line. This builds speed. You still want to end an enjambed line on a strong word though. Our minds are tricky and they will pick up if you end on a weak word like “a” or “an.” If it is vital for your poem do it! If it is not—refrain.

An example of enjambment would be several lines in Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Love Song.” This is a translation from German, but the enjambment is fairly accurate from the German

How shall I hold my soul, that it may not
be touching yours? How shall I lift it then
above you to where other things are waiting?
Ah, gladly would I lodge it, all forgot,
with some lost thing the dark is isolating
on some remote and silent spot that, when
your depths vibrate, is not itself vibrating.
After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?


Where there is no punctuation, it is enjambed. Having lines that alternate create a mild tone and cadence.

Scenario Two—the slight pause. This is slightly dramatic, gives a breath. I would say that the punctation to do this (and there will be some discussion and disagreement) is the m-dash. That is the double—line that is two hyphens. It works beautifully to merge end-stop and no punctuation. When reading, there is a lingering on the word and then a quick enjambment. This is the true in-between. The other, which I feel would be more controversial in-between is the ellipses. That’s the dramatic… Yes—it can be end-stop. But I think in the middle of the poem in provides a slight pause that leads into the next line, much like the m-dash. The colon and semi-colon are also argued about. They create a larger pause—but cause a continuation. Emily Dickinson’s “After great pain, a formal feeling comes – (372)” is a terrific example. The dashes can be read as end-stops or as I read them, slight pauses.

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

Scenario Three: The End-Stop. Okay then—what does that do? It stops your line. Of course, right? But, when you read out loud, it creates a place to breathe. A real pause. The comma is arguably end-stop. There is a breath—a long one, but not as long as if a period or question mark was there. So, before we get confused, these are the end-stop punctuations: the period, the question mark, arguably as mentioned the semi-colon and colon, the ampersand sign, parenthesis (arguably), slashes, brackets []. and what seem to be also called brackets or less and greater signs < >. Of course, there are more, but these are the main ones. All these punctation marks create a huge LINE ENDING pause.

So, you want to end on a very, very strong word. It will resonate and be emphasized. “Are you the new person drawn toward me?” by Walt Whitman is made up of entirely end-stop lines.

Are you the new person drawn toward me?
To begin with, take warning, I am surely far different from what you suppose;
Do you suppose you will find in me your ideal?

Try reading a poem you’ve written out loud. You’ll hear natural breaks and rhythms. You can choose to go with these, or you can break the sound with any of the scenarios above. Make sure you are CHOOSING though—there are happy accidents, but it’s best to know why you are breaking or not breaking your line.

Now go forth! To enjamb or not enjamb—that is no longer the question!

What Makes a Good Poem?

When you think of poetry, your mind might go to the classics. Perhaps to Homer’s The Odyssey or to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales — both epic stories told in meter and reflected in the tropes of modern storytelling still used today.

Or maybe when you think of poetry your mind travels to the sonnets of Shakespeare and the religiosity of Donne’s work.

Perhaps you are like many who only recently discovered the beauty of poetry on Instagram, seeing the blaring white background of a poem in a picture, the black typewritten words of Rupi Kaur or Nikita Gill sitting on the screen.

Poetry has always provoked emotion. It pricks at the corners of our minds that long to feel. It wakes up sentiments in our hearts that have long been hiding under a pillow, attempting to ignore the alarm clock screeching to wake them up.

But what makes poetry work this way?

What makes ancient Italian sonnets as heart wringing as modern free verse? What brings readers back again to read the words of Emily Dickinson for the one hundredth time and elicits an audible gasp when hearing spoken word read aloud?

As the poetry editor of borrowed solace: a journal of literary ramblings, I have read a lot of poems. Each reading period, we receive hundreds of unsolicited poetry submissions for consideration. Much of the poetry is good. It fits the form of what a poem should be and uses intricate language, leaning on literary devices to create a vivid image. But not all of the poems we receive are great — we have about a 5% acceptance rate when all is said and done (which is quite high considering how few prose pieces are accepted.)

So what catapults a poem from the slush pile to the accepted pile with a note slapped on the side it’s a favorite of the bunch?

More often than not it’s what isn’t said.

With poetry, less is more.

Being able to evoke strong images and bring out even the most buried of emotions in the reader is a feature that I believe poetry excels at. That blaring white background is where the real work in poetry takes place. There’s more reading between the lines than ever in a poem — the actual words on the page are few and far between.

The poems that do not make it into the journal are the ones trying to tell a fiction or nonfiction story in poem form.

I don’t need the whole sordid tale to be included in a poem, I need the moments that make the heartbreak clear, the milliseconds of elated joy that leave the speaker speechless. I don’t need the whole story, I need the best (or worst) parts.

As someone who also writes poetry as well as prose, this can be hard. It’s often so much easier to spell everything out, to leave the “he saids” and the “she looked” in a poem that is trying to tell a story from start to finish. If you struggle with this, maybe the experience or topic you’re jittering to write about isn’t meant to be a poem. Maybe it wants to be a short story. Maybe it needs to be a personal essay.

Poets who succeed today at writing the best poems are not the ones writing epics in iambic pentameter. Maybe that’s an experiment worth attempting, but it’s not what will capture a reader’s spirit upon reading a sparse few stanzas.

Learn how to utilize what’s not said. Learn how to capture the moments and images that beg to be captured and leave the rest behind. Find the essence of what you want to record and record that essence, but leave behind the rest.

That is what makes for a good poem.

Previously published in Bookishly.

Why You Should Read Poetry

I used to have an aversion to poetry. To me it was an odd form of writing, prose’s ugly stepsister that no one actually wanted to read. If someone did want to, or actually liked to, read poetry, I always thought they were the artsy types – people who were able to see beauty in places where it wasn’t actually present. The type of people who liked poetry also seemed like the type who went to an art gallery to admire crazy abstract artwork that they somehow found a whole story told within (I can’t say I’ve ever quite understood abstract artwork either).

When I started college, this all changed. As an English Literature major, reading and analyzing poetry is a huge part of what I do. At first, this scared me – I wasn’t sure I could get over that aversion and actually find something to say about the poems we studied in class – but eventually I came to love poetry.

In one of my early British Literature classes, we were tasked with taking one of Shakespeare’s sonnets and finding an unstable word within it. This word was supposed to be one that had numerous meanings. It was a word that, depending on its interpretation, could change the meaning of the entire poem. My word ended up being somewhat of a failure. I got a good grade on my essay, but my focus was too narrow – there were only a couple different interpretations of the word I picked (the word was tempest, I believe) and so it fell a bit short. Going over the assignment in class, however, and hearing the different ways our professor was able to perform this task in an entirely different sonnet made me realize how wonderful poetry could be.

That semester we wrote three essays total, and I wrote two of mine on poems. The class really made me realize how wonderful poetry can be, and it got rid of my aversion to the artform very quickly. I’ve since learned that poetry is a beautiful means of communicating and that poems tell a story in a way that nothing else can. If you have an aversion to poetry like I did, you should give poetry a try. Here are six poets you should read to start off with, but by no means should you stop there!

Emily Dickinson

If you’re familiar with American poetry at all, then you have probably heard of Emily Dickinson. She wrote more, though, than “Because I could not stop for Death – He Kindly stopped for me -” the poem that everyone seems to cover in high school and always associate with Dickinson. Reading her poetry is a real treat with all the different ways she uses punctuation and capitalization – something that for a long time was always fixed when her poetry was published but is now left as is. To start off with, read her poems “1129” and “1053” (none of Dickinson’s poems have titles, but are numbered instead).

Herman Melville

Everyone knows Herman Melville for “Moby Dick”- considered the quintessential American novel – but he also was a poet. I am partial to older poets and poetry, probably due to my literature studies, and I love to read Melville’s poetry because of the historical aspect. He’s writing around the time of the Civil War, and his poetry covers different topics that relate to the tensions across America during that time. Read “Shiloh” and “The March into Virginia” for a different look at history.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

I have a book called “The Treasury of American Poetry” that I purchased at a thrift store that has introduced me to tons of new poets and poems that I have fallen in love with. One of the poets in this book is Edna St. Vincent Millay. She writes in sonnet form at times, and other times her poems are only a couple of lines long, but they are all breathtakingly beautiful. Start off with “I Shall Forget You Presently, My Dear” – a poem that I love so much it has been underlined in my book and turned into artwork to hang on my wall.

Ogden Nash

Ogden Nash is another poet that I was introduced to through “The Treasury of American Poetry.” His poems vary in length, and are all on very interesting topics. To start off with, read “The Anatomy of Happiness” for an amusing take on what it means to be happy.

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes is one of those poets who everyone has heard of. He was a hugely influential writer during the Harlem Renaissance and his work is an important part of literary history. I remember studying him in high school and I’ve studied his work again in college. Hughes is a poet who, like Herman Melville, writes about the time in which he was living. Reading Hughes is like taking a glimpse into the past – often the parts of America’s past that are sometimes shocking to look at. One of the poems that stuck with me from high school that Hughes wrote is “I, Too.”

Yusef Komunyakaa

I was lucky enough to meet and get to hear from this amazing Pulitzer Prize-winning poet last December (he is an alum of my university and was published in our literary journal in the 1970s) and his work is spectacular! For some of his most anthologies poems, read “February in Sydney,” and “Facing It,” but to read some of his newest works, take a look at his collection called “The Emperor of Water Clocks.”

Whether you are a tried and true fan of poetry, or tend to stay away from the literary form, poetry is really worth your time. Taking a look at some of the more well known and lesser known poets throughout American history is always a good place to start, and may just make you become a poetry enthusiast.

Originally published on Odyssey.

So You Want to Be a Poet

So you want to be a poet. You have decided that you’re going to become the next great Instagram poet and land a lucrative book deal. You want to bring poetry to the masses and maybe even get on stage and perform some spoken word. Great! Poetry is finding its way back into the hands of the general population (and they’re liking it) which makes this little poetry editor’s heart happy. But before you embark on your poetry writing journey, there are probably a few things you should do.

Read some poetry

I know, I know — this one seems painstakingly obvious, but there’s a surprisingly large amount of people who wake up one day and decide they would like to be a poet having never even liked the art form much in the first place. Don’t be like those people. Read some poetry. Figure out if you like villanelles or free verse, modernists or romantics, 21st century or 20th-century poets. Read deep and wide until you feel like you’ve read so many poems you can quote some word for word. Study poets and their lives. Read from underrepresented groups. Meditate on the single word that strikes you in a poem, spend hours thinking about the ending couplet of a sonnet that won’t let you go.

Read some work on crafting poetry

This article is a good start, but there’s a lot of wonderful books on poetry craft. A good place to start is a book called How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch. While not a literal craft book — it is focused on getting its reader to fall in love with poetry, after all, not write it — this book gets into the nitty-gritty of what exactly makes a poem. It’s an excellent read for the aspiring poet and is, as the author puts it, a book of readings. This will definitely help you with that first point above, read some poetry! As Hirsch puts it, “Poets speak of the shock, the swoon, and the bliss of writing, but why not also speak of the shock, the swoon, and the bliss of reading?”

There are numerous other wonderful poetry craft books. If you are interested in writing prose poetry (what’s that, you might ask — well maybe you should read a book all about it!) take a gander at The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry. While you’re at it, go ahead and read all of the Rose Metal Press Field Guides — any writer can use a field guide to help them navigate writing. Or maybe take a look at Poetry and the Fate of the Senses by Susan Stewart to examine poetry through the ages and how it captures our senses in a way no other form can.

Collaborate

Hands down one of the best experiences of my writing career was taking a collaborative poetry class during my senior year of college. This class forced me into collaboration with my writing. We wrote poems as an entire twenty some odd person class, we wrote poems in partnered pairs, we wrote poems with the newspaper, we wrote poems on a recorder back and forth at a picnic table in the Colorado sun.

When you’re new to writing poetry, like I was at the time, collaboration can open your eyes to a whole new way of both reading and writing poetry. This class shaped my beliefs about what is the most essential and beautiful part of poetry. It helped me understand why poetry is such a uniquely wonderful form of writing — one that has been around for hundreds of years and yet can be fresh and new each and every time I open up a new book of poetry.

Maybe take a poetry workshop or class

If you like the idea of collaborating but don’t know where to start, enroll in a class. Check out your local college, community center, or writer’s group. Here in Colorado, we have poetry book stores and co-ops that frequently have events geared towards adding arrows to participants’ poetry quivers. If you’re in an area that doesn’t have a large poetry scene, look into starting a group! There might just be a gaggle of poets you encounter at work, school, or church that you didn’t even realize were fellow writers. Or maybe check out online offerings — I recently attended a workshop online from Iowa City Poetry from several states away, or you could look into enrolling in a Master Class or other online class. There are tons of options if you simply look!

Finally, write some poems

This last part will probably be the hardest, most infuriating step of all. The actual act of writing is hard. It’s even harder when you’re first starting out and don’t yet know what your voice sounds like. Sure, you have a voice. We all do. But each person’s actual, physical voice is different — some are melodic, some are a deep bass, some are a high soprano, some are scratchy, some are grating to the ear. Just like your speaking voice, your writing voice is unique. At first, it may not seem like it. Most writers — poets or otherwise — start out by modeling their writing after other writers. That never really goes away, even after years of writing, but your words start to standout as time goes on and drafts are created, trashed, and created again.

Once you have been writing poetry for a little while, your work will start to be compared to other writers less and merely influenced by them. The few strong and true fans who are with you through it all will be able to pick your poem out of a figural police station line up. “That one! That’s _____’s poem!” They’ll say when they read a literary magazine you’ve been published in. You’ll get there after much trial and error. It takes time, frustration, tears, and a good amount of sticktoitiveness, but you’ll get there.

So, you want to be a poet

Then go for it. Believe that the world is yearning for your words as much as you are yearning to write. Read some poems, collaborate, study craft, maybe meet some other poets, and start writing. The best poetry starts with an idea and a dream; and ends with putting pen to paper. You can do it!

Originally published in The Creative Cafe on Medium.

A Recommendation…

This week I have a blog and website I would like you to check out. It provides good resources for writers, editors and readers. 


I frequent this website to see the new content posted on the daily life of a writer, an editor, their personal experiences within the publishing industry and community. Writers in the Storm blog is all about what other authors and writers have learned and they share it with you.

https://writersinthestormblog.com/resources/

A lot of writers may feel alone, but they are not. This blog proves that authors, writers, editors, and readers all share experiences and it can shape our view and helps us find the way treading through the literary waters.


So take a time of solace and read an article or blog or two, do you share some of the same experiences?

All About Masterclass: Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing

Nicole and I have been trying out Masterclass lately. It was definitely Nicole’s idea, and she’s the one who set everything up, but we’ve both been enjoying learning about writing from a variety of different people. The first Masterclass that we tackled was from Margaret Atwood and was all about–you guessed it–creative writing.

Today we are going to share our thoughts on the Masterclass so that you can hear a bit about what Atwood teaches in case you are interested in Masterclass. Or if you are interested in learning more about creative writing, like we always are!

Nicole’s Thoughts:

Atwood had an interesting perspective on short stories and how to start them. She doesn’t think about structure until she was about ¼ into her stories. She writes out her skeleton and then she goes back to add information to support the story structure. You put up the frame of the house and then go back to pick out the siding, color of the shingles, the size of windows and curtains, etc. Because to her, the story is what happens and that is the plot and structure is how you tell the story.

Atwood also talked about starting the story right there in the middle of the action. What is breaking the main character’s pattern? Pick one event that makes the main character’s life no longer perfect and that is the place you start. For then onwards, every action the mc does, reveals the character and everything the mc does, should build their character. They are there to interact with the events of the story, if you have a character that does not serve that purpose, consider getting rid of him or her, or maybe merge with another one. Characters should all serve a purpose, and their purpose in the story should not be wasted. 

Addey’s Thoughts:

I definitely think that Atwood had some unique and clever ways of looking at writing. She is, of course, an amazing and successful writer, and I don’t think writers can every go wrong listening to those who have made a career out of writing.

The first thing that stuck out to me when watching her Masterclass is something that Nicole also mentioned–a story needs a break in a pattern to get it going. In order to write something good and unique, you need to start from somewhere slightly off-kilter and different than the typical “pattern.”

Atwood also started out with the idea of never starting with an idea. This is an interesting concept to me because it seems to be the exact opposite of what I’ve always thought to be true. She encourages immersing yourself in writing and getting something on the page. Atwood says that is where your story/idea comes from.

So those are few things that stood out to Nicole and me in Margaret Atwood’s Masterclass. There are countless other tidbits of useful information for writers that Atwood weaves into each short lesson. We’re definitely still new to exploring Masterclass, but we’ll take you along with us and let you know what we find out!

Tackling the Writing “To-Do” List

Lately I’ve been feeling like there are so many things I want to write and read!  The creative drought I was experiencing at the beginning of quarantine (and, similarly, the beginning of this year) is now officially over.  While it can be sad and depressing to have no inspiration or motivation to write, it can also be overwhelming when the floodgates open and writing ideas are pouring in nonstop!

Because I’ve gone from one extreme to the other lately, I thought I would share some of the tips and techniques I have been using to make sure I am getting writing in but not feeling like I’m drowning in ideas with no good place to start.

Make a list of all the things you want to work on.

In addition to some poems, blog posts for borrowed solace, and a book idea I have been working on, I also recently started writing on Medium.  We are also in the process of finalizing the content for the virtual workshop we are having tomorrow (Seeing What is Invisible: A Mystical Writing Workshop at 7 pm MST in case you haven’t heard!) which involves some planning, reading, and writing.  It’s a lot!  So for now I am settling for making a list of things I want to write about.  Maybe it’s a phrase that comes to me that would be an amazing opening line of a poem, or an article I want to publish on Medium about close reading (English nerd alert) but either way, I currently have them in a running list of topics/writing starters stored in a chaotic Google Doc I created.  It’s not neat or organized by any means, but it’s better than nothing.

Pick one thing off of said list to work on at a time.

It’s definitely been helpful for me to work on one thing at a time and try my best to finish one thing before moving on to another.  Granted, that’s not really how writing a book works, so there are exceptions, but if I am going to start a new article or a blog post, my goal is to finish it entirely before moving on to another thing.  Same thing goes for poems.  There will always be edits and revisions to be done after I deem something “complete” (nothing is every truly complete for us writers, after all) but getting that first draft to a point where it is at least coherent and has a clear beginning, middle, and end helps me keep my sanity.

Read or write every day.  You don’t have to do both (unless you want to!)

Something that has bugged me a little bit about everyone being in quarantine is the idea that we all have so much more free time than normal.  Sure, I am at home, but I am still working full time (my workdays are sometimes more hectic and stressful than they were pre-quarantine) and juggling my normal chores and obligations.  Small group may be virtual and hangouts with friends may be over a Facebook video call, but they didn’t just up and disappear!  Because of this, I often find myself getting to somewhere around eight o’clock at night not having focused on my writing or reading tasks for the day.  I could spend half an hour on two things (I am a grandma and go to bed at nine o’clock most nights) or I could spend a really great hour devoted to just one thing.  My choice is to spend time on one thing!  That might be reading instead of writing one day, which is fine!  I am currently reading a book (and keep getting more in the mail to add to my reading list—they just show up.  I wonder who is ordering them and then forgetting about them… *It’s me*) and I am also reading and giving feedback on a draft of a story from Nicole.  Both of those things take time, so choosing to just read one day is A-Okay with me!

Take Breaks.

Most importantly, if you are jugging too many writing to-do’s, take breaks!  You don’t want to get burnout.  It is very real and it is very un-fun.  So take a day where all you do is binge watch the new season of Dead to Me (anyone else?  That show is absolutely bonkers and absolutely incredible all at once) and get back on the writing train later in the week.  It’s okay for your writing life and it’s definitely okay for your sanity.  You deserve it.

I hope these tips are helpful for you if there’s a lot of writing in your future!  And, just to shamelessly plug the workshop yet again, don’t forget to sign up for Seeing What is Invisible: A Mystical Writing Workshop happening TOMORROW, May 16th, at 7 pm MST.  Click here to sign up—hope to see you there!

“Pull up a seat. Take a sip. You can write.”

Whenever I give writing advice, I acknowledge the other writer’s anxieties and insecurities. We all have them. So, for advice and conversation—let’s set them aside. Pretend we are sipping lattes—or if you prefer, a bottle of your favorite brew. The first question—what about writer’s block? The second question—I can’t concentrate what should I do? The third question—how do I get inspired? The fourth—the almost, but not quite secret one—I have a disability, but I want to write—can I? Well, take a swig, because my answer is mostly, passionately, the same for every question.

First, writer’s block doesn’t exist. It exists in the mind of the writer—paralyzed by fear, by “I’m not good enough?”—negative thoughts. Throw those out and write with colored ink for five minutes. Throw in a peppy sticker. Doodle your character, maybe sit in the grass and daydream. That counts as writing! So, then you write. Question two and three—concentration and inspiration. Colored pens or fonts, colored paper, fancy journals, stickers, music. Everyone is unique and you have to find your individual blend. Recently, I had problems keeping a regular journal—I have kept a journal for over twenty years, so this was a profound problem. I found that I could use a “junk journal” and write daily. A “junk journal” can be made or bought—but I write on scraps, old bookmarks, coffee filters—all intended to break up that blank white page. I suggest breaking up the blank page for inspiration, concentration, and writer’s block! Beware, as we change, our needs change too. So maybe you’ll need a different cushion, different pen, new drink… I guarantee anyone can make it work and find their blend.

Now, fourth, the definitely not secret question—yes, if you have a disability, you can most assuredly write. I am Bipolar, have pretty much the whole gamut of anxiety disorders/attributes, and I still write. So, for everyone that confesses they have a hard time with grammar, reading slowly, concentrating because they are manic, ADHD, or are simply too energetic, get out your notebook. I couldn’t read for four and a half years because of a medication I was taking—it saved my life, but it took away a lot of what made me “me.” I couldn’t write or watch TV. But I could absorb what went on around me, got plenty of material, and listened to music. This means that there are ideas even in woe. I was taken off the medication, my literacy came back, but I was slower, had trouble with words, sometimes, I still do. But, I write.

We overcomplicate and belittle ourselves. My answer to this—as by now you figured out—is colored pens, magnetic poetry boards, grammar books, the thesaurus, the dictionary, sleep, and giving myself permission to write. Take another swig of that imaginary drink, look me in the eyes—be gentle with yourself. If you cannot write a page, write a sentence. If you cannot write or read a sentence, write or read a word. Congratulate yourself. Congratulate and reward yourself for every victory. You are a writer if you can pick up a pen or pencil, or speak into a computer program—if you love words.

Now, finish your drink. Pick up your pen—you’ve got this. Go lay in daises, listen to music, and write like the galaxy needs the hum of your verses—because it does. Write.

10 Creative Things to Do Every Month as a Writer

1. Experience Art

Don’t just go and look at art—feel art. Embrace art. Study art. Art takes hard work, patience, silence, a flood of emotions, or a lack of emotions, lots of time. Realize the passion, the technique, the sacrifice art takes. Writers can learn to walk on a painting, a character from a play can inspire our creation for our own, music expresses more ways to say things in beautiful ways like poetry, and every writer can learn something from art. We are all kind of an artist except we paint with words. Museums, concerts, films, and theaters are all great places to seek inspiration.

2. Evaluate Writing & Self

I don’t think writers do this enough. Write a list of both strengths and weaknesses. Work on these, value yourself as a writer, and you should always be growing as one. Track your progress. Keep track of how much or how little you write every day.

I don’t write every day, I write in large quantities, and then I revise. It is a part of my process. Find a pattern and a process and then track whatever you do as a writer, look back at the month and see what you could do for the next month to help improve or better yourself. Things like increasing word count, or what is the difference from night-to-day? Do you write more in the morning or before bed? Do you not dedicate enough time to writing, where-else can you pull that time from? Give yourself goals to reach as a writer and as a reader.

3. Write a 2000 Word Story and Cut It Down to 300

Revision is the hardest thing the writer must do. Writers either tend to go over the word limit, or under the word limit. This challenges you to have a start and a finish. To consider the power of each word. To pay attention to style, syntax, diction, voice, scenes, actions. Everything the writer wants to include and exclude. Pay more attention to the art of your words and the beauty of the story unfolding in a short frame.

Flash writing is very hard for some writers, and easy for some. But finding the balance between word count and style is a goal to strive for.

4. Write in Another’s World

Use the rules of the world to write in. This will challenge your writing skill, we learn best as writers when we are just starting out to write like someone else. To understand the language the same way the author intended for the audience. Do you like the style? The bare language? The overloaded syntax? The rules of magic? The world building? The stage to set the setting? The introduction to the characters?

I still use this exercise to re-emerge myself in language. To follow the rules of someone else, it helps me get out of my head for a while. It helps me get past writer’s block for my own writing projects.

5. Look at and Revise What You Wrote for the Entire Month

I write everything by long hand and then type it. I date everything I write as well. I hate revision, it takes me a long time. So, I write for two weeks, let’s say about 2-4 chapters, and then I revise the last two weeks of the month. I usually rewrite when I revise, or send my chapters off to beta readers and revise based on their feedback. I rely on my beta readers for different things, and I switch between them for different projects.

Looking at what you wrote at the end of the month, and then revising, will improve time management when writing. It will be less work when you have completed the project and when the time comes for edits and publication. It will help ward off the dreaded manual overhaul, I promise.

Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.

Benjamin Franklin

6. Find a Club or Go to a Meeting

If you look online for local meetings, usually there are writing groups and clubs around town. Join one or go to a few group meeting/hangouts. Talking with other writers will teach you a lot if you already don’t do this. I have a group of writing friends and we meet once or twice a month We talk about what we are writing, any new techniques what we learned and what to try, or cool books to read. We also beta read for each other and discuss each other’s writings to help evaluate one another.

Other writers will make you a better writer, guaranteed!

7. Start a Blog or Post on Another’s Blog

Blogs are great because they are filled with advice, links, and current topics of the writing world. Blogs do take a lot of time and work, I won’t lie. But if you are a serious writer, and want to learn thing and want to share those things with others—this is the way to do it. Consider starting one if you haven’t already. It will help build your brand as an author and a writer.

Otherwise, follow a blog by signing up for the newsletter. Or if you know someone with a blog ask them to be a guest writer once in a while. A blog can also help exercise a different way of writing. Have fun with it!

My suggestion would be to post at least once a month and with insightful material and topics to keep your followers and readers interested. A blog is meant to be helpful to other writers and readers, to give encouragement, inspiration, and advice. Be truthful. Be generous. Be awesome.

8. Listen to a New Song, Watch a New Movie, New TV Show, etc.

This is all about inspiration, creativity, and imagination. Write a prompt from a song title or from the lyrics. Use a TV show to write in an author’s world different than your own. Or a movie to spark a possible plot twist in a story you are writing, or write a trope used in the movie.

Explore a video game with one of your own characters. Instead of just reading a book for your pleasure, look for literary crafts the author used, and try to implement them into your story. Use anime for imagination. Write a short story based on the theme of the anime, or the daily life of a character, but them doing everything the opposite. Where does the story take you then?

9. Find a New Author or Blog to Read

Constantly expand your horizons as a writer. Maybe even try reading outside your favorite authors and genres, and explore other blogs. They will have tips and that can be unique to add to your skill set. Every genre has a set of techniques, and crossing genres is thrilling for both the story and the reader.

The tools you can add to your writing toolbox will always improve your style and story.

10. Write a to Do List for the Next Month

Some writers are organized and some aren’t. It doesn’t matter if your writing process is organized or messy, keep track of what needs to be done. Once you start writing a list, it may become overwhelming, but call it a master list. Take 3 or 5 things off that list to do every month. It increases productivity as well as positivity. Your brain releases endorphins when you check a box down, and it feels good to accomplish things.

Here is an example of my list for the month:

·         Revise chapter one based on critiques

·         Finish writing chapter two

·         Finish writing chapter three

·         Send both two and three to Amber for beta reading

·         Write and publish a blog post

This is an article from my blog on HubPages and you can click on the link below to read it or check out my other articles!

10 Creative Things to Do Every Month as a Writer

The Roller-Coaster Poem

So, what is a roller-coaster poem?  “Roller Coaster” would be a pretty good title for a poem, story, song, movie, anything (I’m a sucker for short or one-word titles), but that’s not what I’m talking about.  You may have read that title and thought to yourself “what the heck?” but I’ll explain.

First of all, I don’t actually like roller coasters.  That feeling of rushing down a steep drop where your stomach seems to be floating somewhere in your chest and your palms are cold, yet also sweaty, is not a feeling I enjoy.  I avoid riding roller coasters, but I love when a good poem is a roller coaster.

I’ve mentioned a few times before that I love finding something unexpected in a poem.  This comes from a poetry class I took in college that completely blew my mind and focused on collaborative poetry.  I’m not necessarily one for collaborating on work other than to get feedback and exchange ideas, but this class introduced me to the beauty that is two different trains of thought colliding together (I suppose you could call a poem written this way a train wreck poem, too, if we are going with that metaphor.  But for now, I’ll stick to roller coasters).

This class taught me that some of the most amazing literary genius comes from unlikely comparisons.  From gangly language put together with lyricism, from opposite words being clashed together, from two divergent roads unexpectedly converging out of the blue.

When this happens, I like to think of it as a roller coaster.  When riding along on a roller coaster, there’s always some sort of hint of where you are going.  You can, after all, see what’s in front of you. You may have gazed up at the metal monster you were about to hop aboard while in line and memorized some of the curves and drops.  Yet, when those curves and drops happen, and you get that feeling of your gut being suspended in air, they’re still unexpected. You can’t prepare for that feeling, even if you have felt it a million times.

I like to think that the best poems are a bit like riding that roller coaster.  We’ve all read poems before—we’ve studied sonnets or been shocked by the vivid simplicity of a few lines of free verse.  We’ve all probably tried our hand at writing a poem. Some of us would call ourselves poets, and some of us thought “never again” after writing the final line.  But what separates poems from the “never again” category and the breathtaking category?

It’s the roller coaster of reading that takes place in a good poem.  I love when I’m reading a sonnet, but it’s written in the most un-Shakespeare like language I’ve ever seen.  I love when I’m drawn into the voice and lyricism of a poem only to have it change and morph as I go (…almost like two different people wrote it…)  I love when I’m riding along with a poem up, up, up and suddenly, the bottom falls out from under me when an unexpected comparison comes to life or the so-called plot suddenly jeers left.

Part of the beauty of poetry is that you can make those sudden drops and roller coaster turns.  Throwing in a crazy word that doesn’t make any sense can make your poem come to life in a way that it didn’t in the first line.  Not all writing can handle this change, but poetry can. Poetry allows for an obscure and crazy roller coaster ride—the scarcity of language in a poem leaves room for the unexpected.

So, try it yourself!  Pretend you are two different people writing a poem.  Add in a drop here and a curve there. Take your reader on a wild ride—and send us your roller coaster poem once you’re done experimenting!

Cover image courtesy of PixaBay.