Posts Tagged ‘writing’

The following is the Preface from my book, “A Poet’s Primer,” where I show would-be and current poets how to write utilizing new or classic poetic forms, such as English sonnets, haiku, kyrielles and almost 40 others. I also describe meter, rhyming and flow, as well as the importance of being poignant. At the bottom, I’ll leave a link to the book, in case you want to know more.

A Poet’s Primer- Preface

With rap, slam poetry and prose so popular these days, I set out to learn and master many of the oldest poetic forms that have been evolved through the centuries, some developed in or before the Middle Ages.  I learned some newer forms as well, and created my own format.

Forms can be based on a wide variety of patterns (or non-patterns), such as stanza and line counts, syllable counts, meter, rhyming scheme, theme and a “turn” or poignant finish.  The familiar haiku format of five, then seven, then five syllables in its three lines transcends meter and rhyme.  It requires a theme of nature or the seasons and may include a “cutting word,” which cuts the stream of thought during reading for any one of a variety of purposes.  An English sonnet, on the other hand, is fourteen lines, typically in three quatrains (four-line stanzas) and a couplet (two-line stanza), which uses classic meter and a strict rhyming pattern.  A sonnet sometimes employs an unexpected turn, called a “volta,” that may change the feel or even the theme of the poem, and the final couplet often serves to sum up the subject or purpose of the poem in two lines.

One can only master these forms by employing them, both with successes and failures guiding the education process.  I’ll steal a quote often used by Robert Keim, the inventor of the blitz poem.  He intimates that poet Theodore Roethke once said, “Sometimes an apparent constraint can serve to free the imagination.”  To be confined by a stringent format forces a writer to think outside of their normal vocabulary, past cliché or colloquialism, and in so doing, may find passion or poignancy where it may otherwise have been lacking.  Often the difficulty is in employing a format that guides the reader to your point without their noticing, that flows from the lips without struggle and in the case of rhyming work, that they are as natural in speech as any conversation would be.  If you accomplish these things with your poem, you have indeed mastered the form.

My readers, students, friends and family who follow my poetry often ask, “You know so many forms, how do you choose one?”  My answer is always, “It depends.”  Truthfully, form, meter and rhyme schemes all play a part in the feel of a poem.

Sometimes I decide I haven’t written with a certain form for a while, or need to create an example for an article.  I am an “ekphrastic” poet, meaning I derive inspiration from a visual art, namely my photographs, so I might start by looking through my photos to find something whose inspiration somewhat matches the feel of the form on which I’ve pre-decided. 

Sometimes it’s the opposite- I am already inspired and look through the various formats at my fingertips until, hopefully, I find the form that most closely fits.

Occasionally that means looking up new forms I’ve yet to try, though that number is shrinking.  If I have a lot to say, or am telling a story, I’m not going to select haiku, a sijo or another very short form.  If it is serious or deep, I might not want to pick a limerick style or Dr. Seuss-like rhyming format.   Even so, I might start with one form and discard it for another part-way through.

In this primer I will describe over forty formats and I’ll try to bring a little history or explanation to them when I’m able.  I will also include examples of each, nearly all of which will have come from my own hand.

For more information about how to write in poetic form:

See my author page on Amazon:

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The single largest issue with the book industry is that readers are deluged with mostly mediocre work by a myriad of self-published writers.

How is an author to know if they are any good? Readers flock to receive free books, seemingly addicted to free reading, and move on to get more, no matter how much they enjoyed the read, and never leaving reviews. Traditional publishers are no longer able to find and sign excellent authors among the millions of pedestrian writers on the market, and it seems as though they aren’t all that interested anyway, unless the work is from a celebrity.

I have sold and given away thousands copies of my books 1 and 2 (with only a few dozen reviews left on Amazon), spent a ton of cash building a mailing list and countless hours creating and sending out newsletters and notices. Even with a 4+ stars rating on Amazon for each of them, my books don’t sell without a ton of marketing. After publishing seven novels in six years, I still only make about 10% more than I spend on advertising.  Think about that — on spending $500 and dozens of hours on marketing and ads, I make $50. I have cut that back with the expected results. I have used all the latest independent publisher tricks — promoting my newsletter, Kindle giveaways, book funneling, auto-posting social ads, and others — and Social media is mostly filled with authors connecting with other authors, or with companies selling book promotion services. What we really need are readers.

I am going to write and publish book 8 of my Pat Ruger Mystery Series in the next year or so, and I’ll continue to send out hopefully interesting newsletters, though I have even cut those back. But I feel hopeless that the market will ever come around for me.  After book 8, I will have to decide what comes next.  Will I finally be able to carve out a successful niche in the mystery genre, or should I devote my time to RV- and travel-related magazine articles?  How much time and money should I spend to promote my work?  Should I see what genres are selling and abandon my modest mystery reader base or continue to tell the stories I want to tell?  What if I’m just not that good, no matter what my loyal fans say?

I am saddened by this industry, but it’s not like it was ever easy.  Carrie by Stephen King was rejected 30 times before it was published, and Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell was rejected 38 times.  Even Harry Potter was rejected. But now it’s an impossibility to land a book contract unless you are already famous (or have a million Instagram, YouTube or TikTok followers).

It’s not entirely the publishers’ fault — there are just too many amateur writers to consider for publication. And, thus, my lament.

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I’ve been a novice.  Now I’m working on my eighth novel.  I’ve been writing poetry all my life and authoring articles and blog posts for a good portion of my career.  I have some simple suggestions to share that may seem intuitive to some but are definitely worth considering.

First, know your craft.  I would offer the analogy of building a race car.  If you have never worked on this type of car before, the task would be monumental.  Imagine starting the project without knowing about aerodynamics and drag coefficients.  You can’t depend on engineers correcting your design after the fact.  Similarly, poor grammar or disjointed plotlines can be caught and corrected by editors, but you shouldn’t count on an editor to know your intent.  Also, I believe you should know the rules before you break them, purposely.  

Next, strive to be profound. Dictionary.com defines “profound” as “penetrating or entering deeply into subjects of thought or knowledge; having deep insight or understanding.”  This should be the goal of most pieces of literary work.  Whether you are writing poetry, a short story, a narrative or a full-length novel, you should include a unique point of view, aspect, comparison or conclusion to make the read interesting. Why bother spending your time writing if you are just going to repeat or regurgitate what has already been written?  A narrative without insight is simply boring.

Be satisfied with baby steps.  Not many great books have been written in a hurry, nor many successful careers made in a day.  My first complete novel was actually my third attempt.  When it wasn’t working, I stopped, took some time, reviewed my process, changed my strategy, and tried again.  The third time was a charm.  I’ve written hundreds of poems, but I started with one, then wrote another, then the next, and so on.

Network.  I’m continually surprised at how many writers, even famous authors, take time to help novice and experienced writers alike.  The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers group is a prime example of this, but I’ve found this to be true in a variety of interactions I’ve enjoyed.   

At the RMFW Gold Conference a few years ago, after meeting several best-selling authors, I wasn’t reduced to “what was I thinking?” With their encouragement, I changed my thinking to, ”I just might be able to do this!” and finished my novel two weeks later.  I have paid it forward in various ways, such as assisting members of online writing groups and other aspiring authors.

Last, gather validators, including friends, family and colleagues.  I’m under the opinion that critique itself isn’t enough, and too much critique can truly be counter-productive.  However, readers of your genre can validate a variety of factors (or not), such as plot formation, reader interest, believability, character construction, and more.  It was especially important for me to know if something was off.  I was fortunate indeed to have a wife who had read hundreds of mystery and spy novels, so she was able to validate my plotlines and believability as I progressed, as well as several friends and family members who were extremely adept at proofreading.  Reliable validation like this should be sought and cultivated.  

Sometimes cultivation is what a novice needs most.

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