Today’s entry comes from the vaults. No, not the Montresor’s (Poe fans will get it), but this blog’s (equally dusty). WordPress informs me that I now have more readers (14) than I did the year I started “Updates on a Free-Verse Life” (two–me and my dog, who was forced to read it in exchange for a “Bark Less, Wag More” cookie).
That was April of 2016, when I shared 11 habits every writer should keep by looking at a list of wisdom I’d heard from sages through the ages, then commenting (as is my wont) on them.
If you’re not the type to dumpster-dive in a blog archive (and how rare is THAT blood type?), here it is again:
As is true with most things in life, there’s no shortage of advice when it comes to writing poetry. Don’t consider the source, though. Advisors are seldom names you will find in the poetry aisle. (Well, if poetry even had its own aisle, that is. It’s more likely wedged between Romance and Manga.)
In truth, books about writing are like the “self-help” aisle, which by now probably has a more euphemistic name like “pre-owned cars.” Think about it. The guy who writes a book called “How To Be a Millionaire” wouldn’t have to slog through the writing of such a book if he heeded his own advice, right?
So, without further ado, some advice I’ve heard over the years and my reactions:
- Write every day. My first thought is, “Really?” But then I remember that people get distracted. For me, writing is more fun than talking and listening, those staples of the daily sensory diet, but maybe I am in the minority (again). Thus, this is preaching to the choir (though I promise not to sing).
- Read every day. Hoo, boy. Stick it in Aisle Obvious. If you are not going to learn how to do it from the masters and your published contemporaries (or even how not to do it from poems you read and regret reading), then get out of Dodge. Sooner rather than later.
- Keep a notebook. Easy. Check my notebook shelves (once called “bookshelves”).
- No, Fool. Carry a notebook, I mean. To write ideas as they come to you. Oh. This pearl of wisdom for a guy who doesn’t even carry change or a wallet in his pocket? And what about those ideas in the shower? Or ideas jogged loose during a run? For me, all that blood flow and jostling of gray matter stirs up ideas, but I can barely breathe, never mind jot notes. This forces me to memorize the ideas as I run or shower like they’re already a poem. A Frost poem. You know. A “Whose Ideas These Are, I Think I Know” poem.
- Copy by hand the poems you love. The ones by the greats or the contemporaries you love. Wait. Aren’t there lawyers for this? Kidding. I myself would be honored if someone (other than my dog, who gives me paws) hand-wrote a poem from one of my books into their journal.
- Take chances. Live outside the box. I haven’t slept in the back yard for years, so, in a word: No. But I am willing to take chances on a 5-star hotel!
- Let poems sit for awhile after you write them. I get a lot of help with this one from poetry journal editors. They let my poems sit for six to sixteen months, then send form e-mails asking about my day job. (Editor’s Note: A bit wiser today, I can say that these e-mails seldom get as far as a poetry journal’s editor. Thanks to the 3.7 ka-jillion people sending in poetry, it is more likely returned a year later by a “reader” who’s looking at her cellphone between stanzas.)
- Cut to the bone. As long as your knife is metaphorical, sound advice. Especially for wordy sorts who jay walk across busy streets of diction.
- Never write a poem about dogs. It’s a four-legged cliché. Whenever I hear “never” followed by subject matter, it’s open season on writing about that subject matter. Never tell me never. I’m like a kid. Try reverse psychology or something. I’m easy to trick: e.g. “Ken, never write about the Reformation in 16th-Century Germany.”
- Market your poems. It’s just as important as writing them. And a logistical nightmare, too! And a pain in the ass, too! And a slow-death-by-$3-fee, too!
- When some editor says, “Close call. Try us again,” try them again. See nightmare comma logistical above. Or get yourself a secretary. I hear dogs’ rates are cheap.
See? Memory Lane isn’t as far a walk as you thought. Of course, it helps when someone teleports you there.
You’re welcome. And Happy Thor’s Day. Now grab that poetic hammer and start pounding those habits….