Ten Years Learning How To Be A Poet – Part Five: How To Write About Real Life In Poetry

Writers often take inspiration from real life. A lot of my poetry draws on points, and people from history, as well as members of my own family. Some of those poems can be incredibly personal, not only the ones specifically about myself. I’ve written about my mother shaving her legs, the death of certain family members, friendships breaking down, and assault. I’m very lucky when it comes to those close to me, as they don’t take issue with me mining my life (and in turn their own) for inspiration. However, it still raises the question of how personal is too personal, and at what point (if at any point) does a poet cross the line about what they should or shouldn’t write about?

There’s a piece of writing advice, “write what you know”, which has been taken further in recent years to ‘don’t write outside your own lived experience’. There are (of course) exceptions when it comes to fiction, fantasy being a clear example. Writing what you know becomes redundant in the sense that none of us knows how magic works, or what goes on in a world carried about by a great, cosmic turtle. Fantasy, and pushing the boundaries of the known go hand in hand, but there is a difference between creating a detailed, anatomical description for the new race of gnomes you’ve invented, and writing a novel from the perspective of a person who has lived a life utterly removed from your own. For the sake of this post, I will not be going into my thoughts on the issues regarding writing in the voice of a different race/genre/class, that isn’t the post I set out to write. What I want to talk about is weighing up how to use your own experiences in poetry, and how there is room to stretch a bit beyond those experiences when the poem calls for it.

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How Not To Write – Doing Battle With Perfection

Have you ever sat down and written the first three lines of something, only to hit the backspace like a maniac a few moments later? It’s so easy to throw out work if it doesn’t seem to be going in the direction that you want it to, and often that can lead to us spinning in circles, rewriting the same sentence over and over again.

I know this because it’s something I do repeatedly. For example, I’m currently holding my 70,000 word manuscript over the metaphorical bin because I can’t see how it will end. The plot is rambling and half-baked, I’ve got characters that aren’t where they need to be, the whole thing feels like a failure. In short I want to throw it away and start from scratch.

But!

If I do that there’s a good chance I’ll never actually get finishing the damn thing because next time I hit a snag in the draft, I’ll want to start over all over again. Instead I’m going to remind myself of a Neil Gaiman quote that I love, get my head down, and finish that draft one way or another.

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“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish.

You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.”

Neil Gaiman

The same applies when writing a blog post.

Yesterday I read a post called 31 Posts in 31 Days on a blog called Always Find The Silver Lining, run by Dominique. In it she finished by asking if anyone had any tips on what to do on those days where you don’t feel inspired or you’re struggling to write.

This a topic that lots of bloggers have tacked before. There are infinite suggestions across the web of things you can do if inspiration is hanging back. Read a book, take a walk, look out of the window… the list is endless and quite frankly, not a huge amount of help when you are stuck for something to write. So instead I thought I’d take the topic on from a different angle and passed on some advice I’d been given, by a Creative Writing Lecturer at Bath Spa University, when I said I was taking part in NaPoWriMo*.

Not everything you write will be good.

It was an honest comment and one that I’m incredibly glad to recieve because I’ve carried it forward with me.

At times we can sit down and write exceptional pieces of work with seemingly little effort. The words spill out with such ease that it can feel like we’re somehow cheating. Then on other days, each word will be a fight to pin down. They will clank against each other, sit awkwardly on the page, and refuse to string themselves into the shapes we want. This is the unfortunate truth about writing and it’s those days where we most want to throw the towel in and not bother finishing that story, poem, or article. It’s also those days where it’s most important that we sit back down and finish, no matter what sort of shape the final product produces for itself.

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Now, I’m not saying that it isn’t important to try and make each post better than the last. My site in itself is an example of how skill improves over time. I’ve got better at writing because of how much I have written over the years, but progress is not a straight line and treating it as such will only lead to frustration.

 

 The key is knowing that not everything you write will be fantastic. Some days it just won’t work. More often than not you have to work through a bit of sludge to get to the gold.

So if you take anything away from this post, make it this. The next time you want to hit backspace or delete, hit save instead. Come back to it later and finish it then. You never know when that piece of awkward, clunky writing might prove to be the inspirational that you’re looking for.

DraftsA while back I decided to go through the drafts piling up on my WordPress as the number was getting close to three figures and I thought it could do with a clear out. Unfortunately I’m one of those people who’s terrible at titling documents.

Turns out this is a great way of playing inspiration roulette.

Pick an untitled, see what crazy nonsense I was spewing, and throw myself into a free write. Like I said earlier, it might be terrible, it might be great, or it might be just okay.

The point is that I’ll be finishing the things I start, and that will teach me far more than hitting delete.

Retro Typewriter Machine Old Style


*National Poetry Writing Month

How To Create A Blogging Schedule – Three Tips On Building A Schedule For Writers

meOne of my main focuses this month has been to create some sort of schedule for Writing and Works to try to get more organised with my posting. This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to tackle this challenge, in fact I’ve put together a few schedules over the last seven years, but in the end they all fell apart. Despite these failures, the fact remains that having a blogging schedule helps to grow your audience and it can help keep you on track when inspiration is running low. Having a plan can also keep you from running out of steam and it lets your readers know what to expect. For example, there are some blogs that I visit on the same day each week because I know they will be positing something that I’ll be interested in on that day. I know their schedules and I follow them as a reader.

So, today I am going to go through three points that I’ve found helpful while trying to build a blogging schedule. You might have other tips to add but these are the ones I find myself coming back to over and over. These are my key points.

1. Daily Prompts.

The Daily Post puts up a new prompt each day and these can be a great source of inspiration for bloggers. While some prompts have guidelines for responses such as word counts or the media that should be used, The Daily Post leaves your options wide open. You can write a poem, a story, an article, or you could even create a piece of art to match up with the word of the day. Furthermore, if that day’s prompt doesn’t inspire you then you can generate a different one and take that instead. The options are very much endless.

The downside to using daily prompts, and this is if you only use the current day prompt, is that you can’t plan ahead and schedule a post in advance. It’s a read and respond situation. For some this is perfect and most days I find that I can churn something out that hits the mark. Other days I don’t want to write for that prompt or I just don’t want to write at all, and this means there isn’t a post for the day. As a blogger you are less prepared to deal with surprises in your posting schedule and less able to adapt. This is why just using the daily prompts doesn’t work as a sustainable plan in the long run.

2. Link Ups And Blog Hops

Often with link ups and blog hops you’ll have the same issue of having to create a response in a set amount of time as you would with daily prompts. However, there are some link ups that fall outside of these limitations. The Weekend Coffee Share hosted by The Part Time Monster  is a weekly link up, but the point is to simply write about your week as if you were having a chat over a cup of coffee. In theory you could prepare a post for this a couple of days in advance and schedule it to go up over the weekend. You could also build the post over the duration of the week and then edit it on the day you want to post.

Finding these sort of link ups not only provide you with a community, but it gives you structure to your week which really helps if you’re like me and find the idea of daily posting rather daunting. You could schedule your whole week around link ups and blog hops if you wanted, for example:

Monday:

Dverse Poets Pub – [Mondays are Haibun or Quadrille nights with a prompt to help you get started.]dverselogo

Tuesday:

Dverse Poets Pub – Poetics Night – [Another prompt based poetry night but not limitations of the from used.]

Wednesday:

Friday Fictioneers – [The prompt for Friday Fictioneers is released.]

WWW Wednesdays – A book review link up. [What have you read? What are you reading currently? What are you going to read next?

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Thursdays

Dverse Poets Pub – Open Link night or Meeting The Bar. [The events alternate the same as Monday nights.]

Friday

#FreewriteFriday – Found this a while back but I can’t remember where and it still works as a hashtag. Write a post from beginning to end without putting your pen down or going back to edit. You can tweak a little once you’re finished but the idea is to keep it as pretty much in the original condition. As you’re using a hash tag and not a link up you can schedule this in advance.

Flash Fiction Challenge – Hosted each week by Chuck Wendig. He provides the prompt and the word count, you crank out the story.

Saturday

Weekend Coffee Share – As mentioned above. This is a weekend blog party where you write a post and you can link up on Part Time Monster’s site and you can add the hash tag #WeekenedCoffeeShare to find more contributors on twitter. It’s a really fun, friendly community and it’s a nice chatty style post for the week. *Can also be done on a Sunday*

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Sunday

Sunday Photo Fiction – Write a story of 200 words based off the photo prompt.

I could go on and list hundreds more events but we’d be here forever so I’ll leave it at that. There is of course a downside to this sort of planning and I’ll touch on it in my final point as well. Having a schedule that is too rigid can be just as bad as no schedule. It can stifle creativity and in some cases leave you stagnating. It’s important to find a balance in your blogging, and that’s my point for the number three in this list.

3.Forging Your Own Path

The top piece of advice I can offer is to sit down and think about what you love to write and what you’re posting already. Set out the days of the week of a piece of paper and work out for yourself what makes sense when it comes to a blogging schedule.

I know that I can write a piece of freewriting each Friday. I know I can write a poem for DVerse poets most Mondays because their prompts work for me. These are key points in my week that I know I can hit. I can put this as concrete markers in a schedule because the chances of me not wanting to write those posts or not being able to are incredibly low.

You also need to learn your limits. WWW Wednesday is a weekly prompt but I do it once a month on the last Wednesday of the month because I know I will always have material to work with that way. I don’t always read a book a week, but some weeks I’ll read three. My reading fluctuates and I know that once a month is the perfect regularity for me to write a book review piece.

Featured Image -- 4635I also allow myself some flexibility. I have learnt that I’m not very good at keeping to a schedule when it comes to writing a series. Both Headquarters and Solitary Creatures are currently sat on the back burner for the moment because I’m focusing on my novel, but if I do write a post for them I’m probably going to bank it rather than hit publish. That’s because I now know it’s better for me to stockpile those chapters and schedule them, then it is to try and force myself to write a new one each week. The editing and planning it takes is just too much stress alongside the rest of my writing. This was a hard lesson to learn but one I eventually got my head around.

In conclusion, finding a way to merge all three of these points is what I’ve found works best for me. The regularity of blog hops and link ups gives me a basic structure while the freedom to add alternative posts, as and when, keeps me interested in writing and stops the blog from stagnating. Working on non-prompt material allows me to schedule posts in advance and shift my focus from sitting at a laptop writing new content every day to writing chapters for my book without sacrificing my blog. I’ve still not managed to completely grasp posting in advance as many of you will know, but then again I’m still learning too. As with last week’s post on Seven Tips from Seven Years of Blogging,  this piece is just as much for my own benefit as anyone else.

If you don’t pinpoint your weaknesses you can’t fix them, and that’s what I intend to do. Over the last seven years I’ve learnt a lot about blogging and to celebrate the seven year anniversary in October, I’m doing a weekly series of posts about those little bits and bobs I’ve picked up. Next week I’ll be tackling one of the toughest things I’ve tried to do here on writing and works, and that was organising guest posts. In the meantime I hope you’ll stick around and check out some of the poetry and stories here on the site. Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

Confusion: How To Rewrite An Old Poem #Throwback Thursday

I’m throwing back to one of my earliest poems on this blog today. In 2012 I posted ‘Confusion‘ and it reached the great heights of exactly two views. That’s two views in the entire time it’s been on this site. It’s a nice reminder sometimes to go back and check the stats on those early pieces just to show myself that I have managed to build something of an audience in the last seven years.

However, after re-reading the poem I’m not entirely surprised that it didn’t do particularly well. It was very much a teen angst piece with little concern for line breaks and rhythm. So instead of simply re-blogging my old poem, I’m going to try and workshop it in this post. I’m not sure how that will turn out so you’ll have to let me know in the comments if this was a complete flop.

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First, let me say that this was when I was just starting to write poetry on a regular basis, and I thought that stream of consciousness poetry was super cool. You see all those short, rambling lines. Yeah, a lot of my poetry was like that. It’s taken a while for me to learn that sometimes smaller poems are better, and longer but fewer lines convey more.

Also. I know I wrote build instead of built. That little squiggly red line is annoying me too.

Stanza 1: Wow This Poem Makes Me Cringe!

Really this poem could have been wrapped up in the first stanza. It was about someone who I was friends with, who had admitted they’d fancied me for a while. Quite frankly, I was more concerned with my own emotions about this than his and I was callous in how I handled things. I didn’t fancy him, I did adore him as a friend because he was a fantastic friend and a perfect gentleman, but there was no spark for me. In the end I suggested we go out only to break things off two days later. I made the mistake of thinking that it was more important to have some love me that it was to wait for a relationship where I loved that other person just as much.

Anyway, beside me sharing far too much personal information, let’s move on to rewriting this poem. We’ll ignore how I start every line with a capital letter.

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The short lines were supposed to be edgy and punchy, but in reality I think they make the poem appear too broken. I was using punctuation to convey the emotion of the piece rather than the actual writing and you can see this from the start in those first six lines. Capture 4

The description also doesn’t do justice to the person it was written about. I spat out a series of statements with more focus on what would sound dramatic rather than what told the story. I was telling not showing. A rookie mistake.

The person in this poem could be anyone. Even though I was writing about a real person I didn’t bother to relate to anything that happened between us. I turned this person into a shadow without a face and put the focus entirely on myself and my own emotions. It was a selfish poem, plain and simple.

 

Stanza Two: How This Guy Stayed Friends With Me I’ll Never Know

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Apart from being full of clichés such as ‘we’re best friends’, ‘don’t say/you want more…don’t knock/on that locked door.’ This stanza also says nothing new in the poem. I quite literally repeat myself after the fourth line and it reads as lazy.

The rest of this stanza, well, I’m imagining myself in some Shakespearian style dress, hand raised to forehead, uttering my protests to the rafters above me. I’m so over dramatic in this piece that it makes me laugh as I’m going through it. Who knows what anyone else would think when reading it.

Then there’s the last seven lines. Those wonderful, angst filled, cruel as anything, seven lines. (For those of you noticing the repetition there, yes, I’m still using repetition far more than a writer should.) When I wrote this poem I should have gone back through it and asked myself on every line ‘Is this required? Does it add to the poem? Does it convey the tone I want to convey?’ The answer for the end of this stanza was no. At this time, despite being self-admittedly unfair to this guy, I was still torn by his revelation. I was working through my own emotions as well. This stanza doesn’t suggest that. It almost suggest I laughed in his face.

 

Stanza 3: Thank God. I’m Starting To Wish I Never Started This Post

last stanzaPlain and simple, this was my pathetic attempt to paint a happy face on the end of this poem. It fits with the rest of the piece because the whole poem is only a very shallow look at the emotions that lay behind why I was writing it. I was confused and worried that I was about to loose a friendship, but at the same time I was worried about not finding a boy who’d want to date me, never mind one who’d love me. This was the wonky full stop on the end of a very wonky poem. I needed to end it and end it fast and those the final three lines were as much to assuage my own guilt over the whole episode as they were to bring the poem to a close.

The New Poem: You Can’t Polish A Turd But You Can Start Over

Five years on, this is my second attempt to write a poem about my teenage emotions. Hopefully I can make it a little better than it was before. Instead of focusing on the format telling the story, I want to focus on the imagery in each stanza. This second version should pain a more human picture but I suppose I’ll leave that up to you to decided. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the brand new ‘Confusion’ below.

Confusion

You can redraft a letter, but not a conversation.

That’s why I write things down,

so I can trim the words back

and find what it is I’m trying to say exactly.

 

Some days you make my heart overflow

but you’ve never given it a reason not to.

You are kindness and compassion incarnate,

willing to walk me home drunk at two am

knowing it’s going to be a mile back to yours alone,

and you smile the whole way there.

 

I wish I could love you that much.

I wish I could paint it in overnight.

 

But instead, I ask you not to trust me with your heart.

I’m clumsy enough with just the one.

It’s been cracked more times that I can count

and I don’t think I can juggle two.

Not when I’m so likely to drop them both.

 

I will still cycle to your house in the summer.

I will share your sofa and hear the stories

of who you meet and the girls that are yet to come.

I will leave your heart for them to care for.

It doesn’t need scars from me

and you deserve more than me playing make-believe.

 

 

Why Am I Even Doing This? – Tips From Seven Years Of Blogging

I started this blog seven years ago and in that time it’s growth has been small but steady. I’m not a fantastic blogger. I take breaks too often, forget to post, throw up stuff before it’s probably ready, but over the past seven years I do seem to have to have gathered a group of followers who comment and like regularly. Who offer the sort of support that helps in the moments when I’m wondering why I even bother to pick up a pen or sit down at a keyboard. Today I wanted to write a post about how to blog successfully. I wasn’t sure that I’m qualified to write that post so instead I’m going to write a post that lists seven of the most important things I’ve learnt during my time on WordPress. Hopefully they will be of use and for those of you who make it to the end, it might even be an enjoyable read.

1. Tags Are Vital But Don’t Overdo It!

We’re going to start at the basics. I apologise. I know it’s a little boring.

When I started blogging I didn’t know what tagging was, and when I realised how important it was to tag your posts I went overboard with them. WordPress is set up so that a post with anymore than fifteen tags gets cut from the reader, and if you post too many different ones you might also get marked as spam. My top tip? Think about the tags you use to find blogs that you want to read. Pick three or four general tags and maybe two specific ones. All my posts are tagged ‘writing’. ‘Poetry’ and ‘flash fiction’ are two others than I use fairly often because I know that the people who want to read that genre will be searching for that in the reader. These tags work for me and once I found them I stuck to them.

*Top Tip* If you’re stumped for tag ideas you can search for the ‘hot tags’ on wordpress and find a list of what’s being used the most at the moment.

Know your audience and aim your tags.

 

2. Link-Ups and Blog Hops Are Ready Made Communities

Places like the DVerse Poets Pub and Friday Fictioneers are ready made communities that are always will to welcome new people in. Not only that, they are a fantastic place to find inspiration. I get the best feedback on my posts from people in these groups and after a while you start to make connections with those who comment of your blog regularly.

Of course you have to play your part. You can’t simply post and ignore the rest of the entries while still hoping to get everyone coming back to your blog. As with anything it takes a level of commitment, but I’d say it’s worth it. Why not find yourself a blogging event using the Daily Post’s event listing? You might find something you really enjoy.

Take the time to find groups that suit you and get involved with commenting on other’s submissions. This is a great way to boost traffic and make new blogging friends.

 

3. Proof-Read Your Work

This may seem like a painfully obvious point, but I’ve lost count of the times where I’ve read a blog and all I can see are the spelling mistakes and punctuation errors riddled throughout the post. I’m well aware that my own blog has fallen short on this front before, but it does take a person out of your writing so it’s something that should be taken seriously. It takes five minutes to double check that you start sentences with a capital letter and it’s easy enough to read through a piece and check that your whole paragraph isn’t one single sentence. The last thing you want is someone avoiding your blog because it looks like a five year old wrote it.

Take pride in your work. There is no such thing as the perfect first draft.

 

4. Know Your Limits. Pace Yourself.

Once again this is a failing of mine that I see again and again. If you can post four times a day, every day for a year, then well done you. However, for people like myself who can go months without posting a thing because we burnout, a different plan is in order.

If you want to post ever day then you need to plan it out. Create a blogging schedule. Look ahead for the year and maybe find some key calendar events that you want to post about. If you can create posts to schedule in advance then do this instead of throwing all you work up in one day. If I’ve posted three times in a day already but have a forth posts just screaming to be written then I schedule it for the next day and give myself some breathing space. This requires a certain level of patience that I’m not great at but in the long run it helps me.

Reducing your posting frequency can help your traffic in some cases. I’ve unfollowed blogs in the past because they’ll put up ten posts a day and none of them will be of any real content. It’s far better to focus on quality and regularity over quantity in the case of blogging.

Force creativity and you get rubbish. It doesn’t matter if you post once a day or once a week, what matters is that you love what your putting out there.

5. It’s Your Blog So Write What You Want

This is a writing blog if you hadn’t already noticed. I know the poetry and the short stories sort of give the game away a bit but I thought I’d make sure you’d caught those subtle hints.

I don’t only post stories and poems though.

I have posted articles of history, fitness, politics, current events, stuff going on in my life, and from time to time, the odd drawing.

I like to draw, so I’ll post photos of pieces from my sketchbook. I’m passionate about the past so I’ll spend a few hundred words telling you about The Celebrated Mrs Macaulay or Ditherington Flax Mill.

These things and things that make me happy just as much as writing so I include them here on this blog. It doesn’t dilute the theme, it just adds to it.

Don’t be afraid to tackle a new topic. As long as you present it well you’ll find readers who’ll enjoy it.

 

6. Read, Read And Then Read Some More

I’m not just talking about reading other blogs, though that is important as well, I’m talking about reading books, articles, the backs of shampoo bottles. [No joke. Those things can have some pretty clever writing on from time to time.]

Whatever it is you can get your hands on, read it! The best way to improve your own writing is to read someone else’s.

In my case, I consume books so quick I practically swallow them whole, and they are a huge part of my writing as a result. They inspire me and show me better ways of doing the things I’ve been doing for years.

Just remember that when you read something it will probably be the polished, final version. Don’t compare it to the scrawled first draft of something you’ve written and feel like you’re aiming for impossible standards. First efforts might take some rewriting but so did every book on your local bookshop’s shelves.

We all start at the beginning. Someone being better than you doesn’t necessarily mean their more talented. They might just be further along the road.

 

7. Develop Your Voice

Too often I will read a post and there will be nothing of the writer’s voice in it. This is something that does take time to craft, but it’s also incredibly important. People connect to the writer, not the blog.

For example, there are blogs I read over and over because I feel like I know that blogger, I like that blogger, and I want to see what they have to say now. It’s a form a friendship in some ways. If someone seems to churn out generic posts with no essence of personality then I quickly get bored, but if the blog post makes me feel like I’m standing in the room with someone, chatting away, I’ll most likely read it through to the end.

We’re social animals and we like to feel that connection so give it to your readers. You don’t have to tell them all your personal secrets, just slip a little personality into your writing style.

Your voice is important. It gives a reader something to engage with. Make them hear you, not the article.

So that’s it. The seven most useful things I’ve learnt in seven years of blogging. Perhaps you have your own list, in which case I’d love to hear it! This blog is one of my proudest creations and hopefully in another seven years I’ll still be able to look at it with the same pride and fondness. This blog is very much evidence of how my writing has progressed over time and I’ll be the first to say that there’s always room to build on what you have. Other than that I’m going to shut up as we’ve hit 1500 words and I don’t want the post running any longer.

Thanks for reading. Hope to see you in the comments below.