How to Write a Poem (and Why This Will Help You Become a Better Writer)

how to write a poemRecently, I re-read a little book I created some years ago.

It’s a book of poems.

I collected my poems and then ‘published’ them in a book I handcrafted myself.

It made a special gift for my loved ones.

I’m not what people call ‘a poet,’ but I do tend to write poems now and then. Especially at key moments of my life.

The poems I created some years ago trigger memories, emotions and sentiments.

They are like condensed journal entries.

 

Do you write poems?

Not? Well, maybe you should.

Writing a poem means paring down your experience to just a few words or phrases.

 

This is great training for whatever else you write.

I know that my own writing has been shaped and improved by writing poems.

When you write a poem, the challenge is to capture a moment, a feeling or a fleeting thought. Here is one of my poems that invokes a moment when my son, Sebastian, went to visit his new-born half-sister.

 

Little Red Car

He waved to me

As he got onto the plane

Lifting his skateboard high

In his luggage

The little red car

For his new sister.

At the big old house

He used to play with it

In his room halfway up the landing,

Pushing it over the blue vinyl

With gold flecks

He was little then

And liked to crawl into my bed

At night.

When I pushed him out of my body

And gathered him to my heart

All wet and tiny

No one told me

He would become a man

The very next day.

 

Some simple suggestions on how to write a poem

 

First of all, it’s important to let go of any ideas of writing a ‘good’ poem. Your poems are memories frozen in time. They don’t need to be important to anyone else.

Here are a few pointers that make writing poems enjoyable:

 

Focus on a particular moment

 

Poems work best if you focus on a moment that expresses an emotion or is a metaphor for an idea.

Such moments occur every day. We just need to notice them.

Imagine you see a cicada shell on the ground. At that moment you might remember that cicadas emerge from years in the ground – and then only live and sing for a couple of weeks. Here is what Zen poet Basho made of such a moment:

Shell of a cicada

It sang itself away

completely

The more details you use, the more vivid your poem will be. Sensory details help your readers to identify emotionally with your poem.

Here are some questions to elicit sensory details:

 

If your poem is set in a location, what do you see?

What colors are there?

What do you hear?

What do you taste or smell?

 

If a person is the focus of your poem, what details are telling?

What do they look like?

What do they say?

What do they see?

 

Here is a short poem with rich details by William Carlos Williams

 

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

and which

you were probably

saving

for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

 

The fun of found poems

found poetry

A found poem uses words from non-poetic contexts and turns them into poetry. It’s like a collage. You can find scraps of sentences in your everyday life and put them together to make a poem.

Here is where you can find material for your language collage:

  • instruction books
  • recipes
  • scraps of conversations
  • horoscopes
  • textbooks
  • dictionaries
  • graffiti
  • phone messages, notes you’ve written to yourself
  • shopping lists
  • billboards

Here are two examples of found poems. The first one is by William Whewell who found the following poem in a treatise of mechanics:

 An Elementary Treatise on Mechanics

Hence no force,

however great,

can stretch a cord,

however fine,


into a horizontal line

which is accurately straight.

 

The poet Hart Seely found poetry in the speeches and news briefings of Donald Rumsfeld. Here is one of his tongue-in-cheek poems:

 Unknown

 As we know,

There are known knowns.

There are things we know we know.

We also know

There are known unknowns.

That is to say

We know there are some things

We do not know.

But there are also unknown unknowns,

The ones we don’t know

We don’t know.

 

If you want to create a ‘found poem,’ make sure you carry a notebook around with you. Jot down any interesting bits of language you find. You’ll find that your ordinary life turns into a treasure hunt!

 

 Editing: the crucial phase

 

The most important part of writing a poem is to pare it down to the essential. When you edit your poem, you need to test every word to see if it can be left out.

If you are lucky, you might end up with just a few words.

Here is a celebrated poem by William Carlos Williams where most of the content is pared away, and only a few poignant words remain:

 

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

 

 

What about you?

 

Do you write poems? If so, please share your poem so we can all enjoy it.

Or maybe you have a favorite poem someone else wrote?

Please share your poems and thoughts in the comment section.

 

About the author:

Mary Jaksch is Editor-in-Chief at WritetoDone.com and Creator of A-List Blogging. After creating two super-successful blogs of her own, Mary has dedicated herself to teaching students to grow profitable blogs that attract attention. Take her fun quiz to see how much you know about what makes a blog successful.

Thanks to Bigstockphoto.com for Brunette Lying on Grass
Found Poem on Flickr.

What Are YOU Writing?

picture of person writingWhat are you working on right now?

A novel? Your best article ever? A poem? A film script?

Maybe you’ve just finished something you’re really proud of? Or you just can’t tell whether it should get a Pulitzer or be thrown into the trash?

Here’s your chance to share and discuss with each other what you are writing about.

Whet our appetite with the opening paragraph of your future bestseller or give us a link to your best article. Tell us: what are you writing at the moment?

Who knows, your piece might even attract the notice of a major publishing house!

Here are some guidelines:

 

Writers:

 

State what aspect you’re working on. For example, you might want to say, “Here’s a link to my article “Whatever.” I’m currently working on eliminating superfluous words.”

 

Commenters:

 

* When commenting, first list everything you really like about a piece.
* Only then offer careful suggestions.
* Treat each other with respect, friendliness, caring, and honesty.
* Remember that we are all still learning.

 

Now it’s over to you. Take a deep breath. Then jump into the comment section and bring out your treasures!

 

About the author: 

Mary Jaksch is Editor-in-Chief at WritetoDone.com and Creator of A-List Blogging. After creating two super-successful blogs of her own, Mary has dedicated herself to teaching students to grow profitable blogs that attract attention. Take her fun quiz to see how much you know about what makes a blog successful.

Image: Writing courtesy of Bigstockphoto

 

Do You Worry About Your Writing? How To Stop And Fall Back In Love With It

picture of woman happy with her writingDo you feel insecure, anxious and doubtful about your writing?

If you’re not careful, these emotions can take over your life.

Many writers spend too much time fretting over unanswerable questions:

  • “Is this story brilliant or terrible?”
  • “Is this novel going to get published?”
  • “Will I ever be successful?”
  • “Am I just fooling myself?”

Worry and doubt are not only painful, they are deadly to a writing career. As author Gary Korisko points out, doubt can keep you from new projects, force you to abandon good work, and prevent you from sending your work out.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Much of our worry comes from misconceptions about what it means to build a writing career.

We all have ideas about book marketing, the publishing industry, and what makes a writer successful, but where do these ideas come from? They’re often based on hearsay, or things we’ve simply imagined, with little basis in the real world.

Becoming aware of a few basic realities can eliminate a lot of pointless worry about your writing.

Here are four facts that can help you stop worrying, and renew your confidence so you can enjoy your writing life.

 

#1. Failure doesn’t mean anything. 

 

Yes, rejections and disappointing sales hurt.

When they start building up, they can feel downright devastating — but only if we think they actually mean something. But do they?

Here are some of the things we tell ourselves about failure. None of them hold water.

  • Failure means you have no talent. We should ask Herman Melville, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Margaret Atwood, and John le Carre about that. They all experienced repeated failures in their careers — and they are all now recognized as among the greatest writers of their generation.
  • Failure means this specific work isn’t good enough. Even if you’re fairly confident of your writing skill, you may question the value of a particular story, poem, or novel when it starts racking up rejections. That would mean that Stephen King’s Carrie, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and George Orwell’s Animal Farm weren’t any good, either — they were all rejected dozens of times. So we can chuck this idea, too.
  • Failure means we’ll never make it. It can feel like this sometimes. But again, all it takes to dispel this idea is a quick look at some authors who failed again and again before they became successful.

So what does failure mean? Nothing.

Failure might sting—but it tells you absolutely nothing about your talent or your future.

 

#2. Everyone else is confused, too — at least some of the time.

 

“Every writer – every person who shares their art — doubts the value of their work at some point in their career,” writes Claire DeBoer. You might be surprised if you knew how many successful writers have felt the same way.

After his first highly successful book of short stories, Junot Diaz went into what he called a “no-writing twilight zone,” when he seemed to be stumbling in the dark. “I wrote and I wrote and I wrote,” he said in an article in O Magazine. “But nothing I produced was worth a damn.”

It took Diaz years to come out of this difficult spell, but when he did, he wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Sue Grafton, the author of the bestselling Kinsey Millhone series of detective novels, has a similar experience every time she writes. In an interview she said, “When I start a new book and I’m dismayed and distressed and can’t find the story line, I’m always thinking, ‘Uh-oh—maybe the juice is gone, and that’s why this is so hard.’ ” And yet, her bestsellers keep coming.

Almost every successful author has had spells of feeling ‘lost.’ So when you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing, don’t despair. Remember that it’s just part of the writing life.

It will pass.

 

#3. Publishers and agents don’t have a secret key to success.

 

Writers often think that publishing professionals know a bestseller when they see one, and could — if they chose to — list the qualities that will lead to success in the marketplace.

If this were true, every agent would only represent bestselling authors, and every book published would soar to the top of the charts.

Instead, the history of publishing is littered with rejected manuscripts that later became bestsellers, and giant advances on books that never sold.

I’m not saying publishing professionals don’t know what they’re doing; just that the market is unpredictable, readers are fickle, and the qualities that go into creating The Da Vinci Code or The Hunger Games are simply not that clear.

In short, you can stop wishing you knew the magic formula. There isn’t one.

 

#4. You can choose to “have what it takes.”

 

Many writers worry about whether they have the right stuff for success.

They ask themselves:

“Do I have enough talent?”

“Have I had the right training? Am I interesting enough? Smart enough? Educated enough? Lucky enough?”

But anyone who has been in the publishing game for awhile knows that natural talent, luck, and education are not the essential ingredients for a successful career.

The main thing you need to succeed is something you can choose to have: perseverance.

“Writing is a life-long journey,” writes Mary Jaksch. “To keep going, we need to overcome obstacles, fight the dragons of doubt and fear, find nourishment along the way, and taste the joy of being creative.”

As Jaksch makes clear, there is nothing mysterious about this. All you need is the will to work hard, develop your skill, and keep submitting your work, even when the going is tough.

Do that, and you already have what it takes. The decision is yours.

 

Worry plays no useful role in a writer’s life.

It doesn’t help us write better, nor does it increase our chances of success. In fact, it can get in the way of success by stifling our creativity and diverting our attention away from our work.

The next time you feel yourself sinking into worry mode, remember these four basic facts about the writing life.

  • Failure is meaningless.
  • Confusion is normal.
  • There’s no secret formula.
  • The most important quality is perseverance.

Post these facts where you can see them. Imprint them on your brain. Live with them so you can stop worrying and start writing with joy.

How do you nix worry and get on with the business of writing? Share in the comments!

 

About the author:

Jill Jepson is the author of “Writing as a Sacred Path: A Practical Guide to Writing with Passion and Purpose,” and the Writing a Sacred Path Blog. Receive her free weekly strategies for writers by email. 

Image: No worries courtesy of Bigstockphoto

 

The Secret of Crafting Engaging Messages: Words of Influence

Woman blowing magic starsWant to capture an audience’s attention?

It’s more a matter of what you don’t do than you think.

As children, when we learn to speak our language, we’re also learning to argue. Nearly everything our parents say to us is a correction, an explanation, or an argument for why we shouldn’t put that in our mouths, or why we should go to bed now and not in half an hour.

It’s no surprise that we begin practicing the fine art of objecting, contradicting and basically giving our well-intentioned parents a damned hard time. We’re no sooner given an argument than we begin picking it apart to hand back our own argument.

At first, kids aren’t so hot at this argument thing. But they watch and learn, and soon, they begin to get crafty. Savvy. Before you know it, they’re two steps ahead of you, winning more arguments than they lose, through some excellent manipulative tactics.

How can you win, as a parent? The same way you win over your audience.

To engage another person – from 3 to 102 in age – you have to stop arguing and start captivating. You have to stop battling to retain authority. You need to regain control of your audience’s attention. You need to weave enchantments in the air before their very eyes – enchantments so magnificent that they’d never look away.

And as with most magic, this is both simpler and more difficult than you might imagine.

 

Interrupt the Pattern

 

Magic is predicated on a simple idea: what you expect to happen doesn’t.

A bunch of flowers turns into a bird. A coin disappears into a handkerchief. A woman gets sawed in half to no ill effect. A dropped ball doesn’t fall, but hovers in midair.

Through life, we come to recognize patterns of behavior and expect them to occur. Objects don’t transform into other objects. Objects don’t disappear. People sawed in half tend to remain that way, and are fairly distressed about the process. And gravity is a law.

Now, a small child isn’t amazed by magic tricks. Young kids haven’t been in the world long enough to establish an expectation of what will happen based on the patterns they know about the way things are.

For all a child knows, gravity may not always work. Flowers just might become birds.

Grown-ups have been around long enough to recognize that flowers don’t become birds. That dropped objects fall. And when the opposite happens, they’re amazed.

They’re also captivated.

This is called pattern interrupt: you take a premise that your audience has always held to be true, and you disprove it. To use this technique in writing a sales page or a marketing piece, it would go something like this:

What if I told you that there really were twenty-six hours in the day – if you knew where to find them?

Everyone knows there are twenty-four hours in the day. Always have been, always will be. We frequently complain about the fact. And yet – what if this were true? What if you could get 26 hours from your day?

What if the pattern could be interrupted?

Incorporate that sense of possibility into your writing, and you have your audience’s attention.

 

Build Rapport – the Right Way

 

You’ve likely seen every good entertainer do this next trick, from singers to comedians to street performers.

“Anyone here from New York City?”

This question usually gets a round of applause, especially if you happen to be in New York City at the time. Any question that applies to a decent percentage of your audience will do – “Anyone out there have kids?”, “Anyone out there hate Mondays?”, “Anyone here wish they didn’t have to go to work tomorrow?”

The comedian then goes on to tell a little story about hating Mondays, or parenting kids, and whoever hates Mondays and has kids in the audience feels a bond. It’s instant, and it creates rapport in its simplest form.

When writing engaging sales and marketing, you need to get more sophisticated than this – but not much more.

You already know some things about your intended audience. You may know they’re largely middle-aged working women, for example, or stay-at-home parents, or entrepreneurs, or hairdressers.

Use that to build rapport. Tell them what you know about them. What they like, what they don’t like, what they wish they could do, what they wish they didn’t have to do, what they did today, what they’ll do tomorrow, how it feels when they run up against their biggest challenges.

Keep this information at least tangentially related to your service, product or offer, and something interesting starts to happen.

Your audience begins thinking of a question. And that question is: can you help me?

They’ll feel you know them. Understand them. Sympathize with their problems and know how hard it is to be them when it’s hard – and just how great it can be when it’s great.

And of course, since you clearly convey the sympathy and compassion, the question comes all on its own.

Yes, that’s what I’m going through. You understand… I feel it. Can you help me?

The answer is, of course, yes. You can.

Here’s the important part: you didn’t have to convince anyone. You didn’t have to ask, “How can I help you?” Readers did that work for you, simply because you created rapport with people who just want to be understood and sympathized with.

Show your audience that you understand where they’re coming from, and they’ll do half the work of sales for you.

 

And, Not But

 

One final trick from the magician’s dossier: never say ‘but’. Always say ‘and’.

Classically, this is an improvisational actor’s formula. It works equally well in pretty much all aspects of life, especially sales and marketing.

Our minds are hardwired for argument, and you don’t need to look farther than a 6-year-old to figure out which of the most argumentative words in the English language are top of the list:

But I don’t want to!”

“Can I have dessert if I eat five peas?”

Why do I have to brush my teeth?”

And, of course, the classic “no”.

Give any piece of your writing a good look. You might be surprised to see how often you use these argumentative words. You probably used them in what you consider a positive way – for example:

“I know you think you don’t have enough time for this, but let me tell you why you need to make time.”

You’ve likely seen that around the internet on all sorts of websites and blogs. And it sounds positive, right? Positive it may be, but it’s still an argument.

When you’re trying to engage a reader, you don’t want to argue. You don’t want to put them on the defensive. You don’t want to make them feel they’re wrong. You just want to draw them in.

And you can do that by switching out argumentative words for engaging ones.

 

Instead of “but”, use “and”.

The horse flew up into the sky.

If you think “But horses can’t fly!” you’ve created an argument. If you say “And it flew so high that the stars started to worry they would be bowled over,” you’ve created a story. Far more engaging, far less argumentative, and a far better reason for anyone to keep reading.

 

Instead of “if”, use “when”.

If we go out to eat tomorrow, we’ll go somewhere nice.

This sets up an argument right off the bat. Will we go out to eat? Maybe, maybe not. If we do, then we’ll do this. If not, then that. Two possibilities.

When we go out to eat tomorrow, we’ll go somewhere nice.

This creates a sense of anticipation – and story. Something is about to happen. Oooh, what will it be, I wonder?

 

Instead of “why”, ask “how”.

There are all sorts of variations of this question bandied around online:

Why wouldn’t you take this deal?

I can give you forty answers to this question, and none of them work out well for you. I’m also arguing with you again, and I don’t want to argue. I want to dream, and I want you dreaming with me.

How would your life be different if you took this deal?

I can give you forty answers to this question, too, and all of them begin with the premise that I’ve already decided to take the deal. All the stories I come up with are enjoyable fantasies, and it’s easy to feel good about them.

Which is the point – helping people feel good.

Use the ideas above, and your audience won’t even realize you’ve pulled off the most difficult feat in marketing: capturing their attention without ever activating their desire to argue with you.

Before they know it, they’ll be throwing money into your hat – and you’ll know you’ve performed your magic well.

How do you craft engaging messages to connect with your audience? Share in the comments!

 

About the author:

Learn how to improve your writing skills so you can build rapport with readers and fill your magical hat with money in the Damn Fine Words writing course for business owners. Opening to new students soon, you’ll learn content-creation tricks and techniques from copywriter and Top Ten leading blogger James Chartrand. It’s Write to Done approved!

Thanks to Bigstockphoto.com for image: Making magic.

Do You Make these Common Grammar Mistakes? Take the Quiz to Find Out.

common-grammar-mistakes.jpgHave you got a good handle on grammar and common word usage?

Take this quiz to see how sharp your grammar skills really are.

(If you’re reading this in an email, you need to click on the headline to access the quiz online.)

Warning: This quiz is just a little more challenging than the usual fare, so be sure you have plenty of time (about 20 minutes). It will show you whether you make common grammar mistakes.

Instructions:

There are twenty questions in this quiz.

Read each group of sentences carefully. Choose the correct sentence or best option.

Once you’ve clicked on your choice, you’ll automatically be taken to the next question.

You can assume punctuation is correct. (Yeah, yeah, go ahead. Rip me a new one in the comments if you think I’ve made a mistake. I’ll be delighted to give you the award for the sharpest eyes in the blogosphere.)

Be sure to read the explanations when you check your score. The explanations appear after you’ve completed all the questions.

Good luck!

quiz grammar 1

1. Was or were? Can you spot the correct sentence?

quiz grammar 4

2. Which option is correct?

quiz grammar 5

3. Spot the winner: which choice is correct?

quiz grammar 16

4. Can you find the right word here?

quiz grammar 9

5. Was, were, or where? Can you find the correct answer?

quiz grammar 10

6. Can you spot the appropriate word?

quiz grammar 11

7. Which sentence is correct?

quiz grammar 17

8. Who stole the boots?

quiz grammar 14

9. Which sentence is correct?

quiz grammar 15

10. Which statement describes the event correctly?

quiz grammar 2

11. Why did she leave work early?

Quiz grammar 3

12. Office-speak: which sentence is correct?

quiz grammar 7

13. Can you spot the correct sentence?

quiz grammar 8

14. And the right answer is ...?

quiz grammar 12

15. Less vs. Fewer: can you spot the right sentence?

this job stinks2

16. Isn’t parallelism something from high school geometry? (Which is the correct sentence)

rowing team2

17. If a capital has a capitol, should it be capitalized?

architecture 2

18. Which sentence is correct?

architecture 4

19. Which is the correct sentence?

email 2

20. Is it e-mail, email, or E-mail?

 

I’ll look forward to your questions and comments! Oh, and please do share this quiz on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or other social media.

About the author:

Leah McClellan is fascinated by language and grammar, and she loves helping writers at any level. Sign up today for her free six-week course at Simple Writing .

The quiz was set up by Mary Jaksch, the Editor-in-Chief of WTD, using the Viral Quiz Plugin.

Thanks to Bigstockphoto.com for images: Quizzing, Prize, Mountain top, Spy, Laptop, Shopping, Office bag, Charity, Annabelle, Warrior, Ninja.