Zingara Poetry Review is celebrating National Poetry Month this April by publishing a poem every day of the month. My poem “Seventeen” was published on 4/2/18 as part of this. I appreciate the chance to contribute to this feature!
April is National Poetry Month, which presents a great opportunity to infuse your poetry writing and reading activities with new energy. In case any of you might be wanting to do that, I present the following sources for poetic inspiration:
National Poetry Month Homepage: https://www.poets.org/national-poetry-month/home
2018 Poetic Asides PAD (Poem-A-Day) Challenge: http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2018-april-pad-challenge-guidelines
30 Days, 30 Poems Challenge: https://www.tweetspeakpoetry.com/2018/03/17/30-days-30-poems-challenge-national-poetry-month/
10 New Poetry Collections to Read During National Poetry Month: https://lithub.com/10-new-poetry-collections-to-read-during-national-poetry-month/
NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month): http://www.napowrimo.net/
30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month: https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/learning/issues_in_depth/30PoetryIdeas.html
Poetry Super Highway Prompt-A-Day for National Poetry Month: http://poetrysuperhighway.com/psh/ (check the tab for "special projects" and then "a poetry writing prompt a day" to locate the prompts and other info)
Good luck and positive vibes as you celebrate National Poetry Month!
If you’ve ever struggled with establishing a strong methodology for creating content on your blog, then you should check out this awesome post from Jeff Goins’ blog called “4 Essential Elements to Writing a Great Blog Post.”
Goins contends that by establishing a little bit of structure in your blog writing process, you will become more creative within the constraints and be easily able to produce great articles and ideas for your blog, Check it out.
To me, great writers need to be efficient and committed. They force themselves to be productive under time constraints despite the distractions of daily life.
Great writers do good research. Writers often include fictitious details in the tales they create, but they do enough research to make their work believable. They gather enough knowledge to sketch an authentic picture in readers’ minds.
Great writers possess amazing imaginations, They can do exercises to bolster their imaginative prowess, but having the preexisting talent to imagine & invent is a huge benefit.
Finally, great writers have confidence. Putting your creative vision out there for others to criticize can be scary. But writers must be brave and willing to take risks in order for their work be distinctive enough to make a mark.
Remember it's humor – of course, I would NEVER look menacingly at a coworker...
Let’s be real - writers are an interesting breed. Creatives are often a little weird. And most of us revel in our own personal version of eccentricity…whatever that may be. I encourage you to accept the quirky preferences you have when you write. Relish them, embrace them, nurture them. Just make sure you keep writing!
Jack Milgram developed an entertaining infographic about 20 famous writers and their most bizarre habits. I think you’ll find it interesting. You can check it out and other infographics by Jack at Custom Writing.
Everyone has something “different” they do when they create. Or maybe it’s something they don’t do. Some oddity that defines their process and influences their art. So…what are your quirky writing habits?
To get short stories or poems published, a good cover letter is important. It’s the first part of your submittal that an editor sees, and therefore can make the difference between a great first impression or getting lost in the slush pile.
As an editor at 2 Elizabeths, Elise Holland has seen countless cover letters - some good, while others could use improvement. Check out Elise’s guide on how to develop a simple, yet effective cover letter here.
Writing is a process that goes through many stages. Revision is the catalyst that helps it progress from stage to stage. It’s not just changing a few words, adding a sentence here or there, or deleting material that’s unnecessary. Revision is a chance for a writer to actually re-vision a piece…in other words, to see a piece with new eyes and visualize it in a different way, all with the hope of seeing improvement.
There’s a short list of questions I ask myself when I’m writing and editing, whether it’s poetry, fiction, essay, or other. These questions help guide me towards clarity.
What is it that I’m really trying to say?
What words will express my thoughts without ambiguity?
What analogy, metaphor, or simile might make this concept clearer?
Are the images vivid & fresh enough to have an impact with readers?
Can I say all of this more concisely?
Am I using big fancy words just to use them?
Have I said anything that’s offensive? If so, can I eliminate it or soften it and still get my point across.
It’s not a perfect list, but I believe maintaining the habit of going through these questions improves each piece of my writing.
My motivation comes from acknowledging my writing has value, making a commitment to write, and making sure I find time to do it. This has culminated in me building good habits that help me write consistently, whether I feel a surge of inspiration or not.
It’s easy to blab about writing you’re going to do someday. I’m guilty of talking about a novel I claim I want to write, but doesn’t exist even in outline form. But if you’re always yapping about writing and never actually doing it, then your goals will never get accomplished. You must sit down and write consistently to build a habit.
Some experts say you need to write daily. That’s a good idea and one that makes it harder to forget to write, but it isn’t easy. Other habits can also work. Choose to write every other day, on a half day on a weekend, for thirty minutes of weekday nights after everyone else is in bed, or as part of a lunch break at work.
It’s not about following someone else’s concept of when and how much you should write. It’s more about building a routine that works for you and keeps you writing consistently. Once you build this habit, writing gets easier, and you’ll fall into a productive mode more quickly and easily – which is a beautiful thing.
At times motivation arrives with fanfare and magical forces guide my pen or keystrokes. But those times are fleeting and rare. If I waited around for that blessed inspiration, I’d never produce new material or content. My advice is to develop an ongoing habit as a substitute for an emotional flurry, then take advantage of your uber-motivated moments when they do happen. Developing a consistent routine is a practical form of motivation that pays dividends.
To me, the most important step is finding your own original voice.
I went for years following the guidance of teachers, blatantly mimicking the cadence of writers I admired, trying to be the next [insert name of cool author or poet]. And don’t get me wrong - studying the work of others and incorporating parts of their style into yours is good for growth. But it cannot replace the spark that happens when you find your own voice as a writer.
Voice in writing blends several factors: word choice, formality, sentence length, the proportion of dialogue versus description. It involves every aspect of writing. These choices all mix together to create both pizazz and substance.
So developing a writer’s voice - in general and for individual characters - can be a struggle. One thing that helps is reading as much as you can from varied authors. Check out a variety of strong voices - like sampling a bunch of ice cream flavors from a tiny spoon. Identify voices you like, try to reverse engineer their essence, and then sprinkle in your own peculiarities.
Once you have fine-tuned your own voice, you are no longer pretending. You will be confident, free, and authentic. To find your voice, you must shed any fears being different. You want to be different, to be more than another creative writing clone. The literary world needs originals. Originals who dare to produce value. Originals who bring out our better nature. Originals who connect us with something larger than ourselves through the conduit of their wordplay.
Some folks find their voice right away. For others, it takes years of hammering away at their craft. But once you discover your creative voice, you will have taken a huge step towards becoming the writer you’ve always wanted to be.
Searching for inspiration? Take a look at these fresh writing prompts posted over at the Submittable blog. These prompts could provide you with a great starting point to spark your creative endeavors, and towards the end of the post, they provide a useful link to other prompts they’ve provided in the past. Check them out, find one that grabs your attention, and get to writing!
I am happy to announce that I’m one of 110 up-and-coming poets who have been included in this anthology of Minnesota’s Best Emerging Poets compiled by Z Publishing. Maybe one day I’ll stop being emerging and finally become established. That's the goal, at least.
Nowadays creativity has become a grab-bag term, like diversity and hope, that can mean so many things that it runs the risk of meaning nothing at all. To me, creativity is the genesis of original concepts or innovations that relies primarily on our imagination. It’s our subconscious forming a representation of what’s not obvious to the traditional senses. I don’t think creativity starts with a eureka moment; I don’t believe ideas are spontaneously generated inside an intellectual vacuum. We mentally wander down a long and winding road while interacting with the world in order to produce a groundbreaking new idea.
Check out this very informative Q&A between Terrapin Books publisher Diane Lockward and author Karen Paul Holmes on resubmitting a previously rejected poetry-book manuscript.
Since I have several manuscripts written but no book deal yet, I struggle with the question of whether I should bother sending a book that’s been retooled back to the same publisher. This Q&A hit home and gave me some great insight on this subject.
I sometimes discover having writer’s block is a caveat that I need to fix some other aspect of my life.
Writer’s block is horrible and unproductive. We all hate it and bitch about it. But part of it could just be that your mind or spirit is in a really bad place at a certain point in life. If you’re in a shitty mental state because of money problems or relationship issues or day-job drama, it doesn’t matter how much effort you put into writing or creative endeavors. You have to fix bigger things than your writing and then go back into it with the passion it deserves.
I try to not rely on writer’s block as an excuse. My writing voice is virtually the same as my public speaking voice, and through my consultant work, I do some form of public speaking daily.
So I look at it like this - I’m rarely at a loss for words. I never get speaker’s block. I don’t wake up, discover I have nothing to talk about and sit around silently, for days or weeks or months, until inspiration arrives, until a moment feels perfect, until all the crap life throws at me has somehow died down. Nope, I keep on talking, and I probably talk too much for my own good.
So if I have to, I use my speaking voice to pull me out of writer’s block. I give myself random speaking prompts - much like Table Topics in Toastmasters - and challenge myself to speak for 1 to 2 minutes on a subject. That often sparks an idea verbally that can translate to writing something new. Yeah, I probably look silly talking to myself in a room all alone, but I don’t care. If it gets me writing again, it’s well worth the cost of seeming a little bit crazy.
Listen to your inner voice. Grab your markers and create.
Maybe it's silly, but I believe that everyone is born creative. We all get handed a box of markers in pre-school or kindergarten. But then we mature and the world snatches away our markers and replaces them with textbooks, bills, and responsibilities. Ugh. Years later we recall how fun creativity is. It's that little kid inside...and we want our damn markers back.
But we doubt ourselves because that's what adults do. We overthink everything. Can I really write a screenplay? But I don't know anything about sculpting? My recipe for cookies can't be good enough to sell, can it?
But asking whether you can do something or if there is a pot of gold at the end of the creative rainbow isn't that kid voice begging for markers. That's your adult voice who wants to tediously analyze the situation and find a way to get your inner child to shut the hell up.
The kid inside is not trying to hard sell you on the merits of creativity or trying to calculate the benefit/cost ratio of following your passion. He or she just wants to make something. Something freaking awesome that will amaze anyone who sees it. That voice doesn't care if an idea fails, or if it doesn't fit the needs of some hypothetical market. It wants you to make something honest and real, and it believes you'll succeed if you try. It knows there's something you haven't sketched, or sang, or stitched that needs to be spawned, some match that needs to be struck into a new flame, and that fire needs to burn. Now.
So improve your creativity by listening to that little kid talking inside of you...before he or she loses their voice. That voice will die if you don't listen, and it will take a piece of your soul with it when it does. Reach for your markers. Make something new. Don't second guess the impulse or doubt the merits of trying. Allow yourself a chance to be creative. They're just markers. You weren't scared of them as a kid...so don't fear them now.
You could ask fifty different writers and get fifty different answers. Yet we all know bad writing when we see it. Bad writing evokes zero emotion. It fails to connect ideas. Bad writing may tell a story or make a statement eloquently, but it fails to make that narrative or point something a reader can relate to.
That foreshadows my answer to what makes a good writer good. I believe a good writer uses their skill to connect a reader to the story (or point of the essay, or meaning of a poem, etc.).
Good writers build their writing in a manner that can be understood. They write in their own unique voice - not mimicking someone else, or saying things that seem stylistically acceptable to stodgy intellectuals. And good writers don't always play it safe...they take risks to make that connection with their target audience, even if it means saying or doing something not politically correct or trendy.
So what do you think makes a good writer good?
Mine is unclear thinking. Clarity clears a straight path between A and Z. The story, poem, or essay feels consistent and clear. When it seems like one train of thought, and not a mash-up of parts done at different times and moods, a finished work feels cohesive. Some obtain cohesion via many rounds of editing.
Unclear thinking makes messes. Unclear thinking yields awkward, ineffective, meandering trails of ideas that abandon readers in the woods, lost and confused, or in the desert, thirsty and begging for water. These messes are hard to tidy up and are sometimes unfixable.
I need help and hacks to achieve clarity of thought. Sometimes I make mental maps, outlines, index cards, cover walls with post-it notes, or keep journals for specific writing projects with pages of character, setting, and plot developments.
But whatever you do, however you do it, I believe that structure needs to be there to avoid the scourge of unclear thinking in your writing.
So what’s your biggest writing challenge? How do you overcome that obstacle?