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By Dave Hood
When writing a poem, a good poet will choose words for their meaning and their sound. Memorable poems have a pleasing sound. A pleasing sound is like music to the ear. The poet who composes free verse can select several poetic devices to create a pleasing sound, such as alliteration, assonance, rhyme, repetition. The best writers also use these poetic when writing fiction or creative nonfiction. In this post, I will discuss the poetic devices poets (and writers) use to create a pleasing sound. The following will be covered:
It refers to the poetic technique of repeating the initial consonant sound in two or more words on a line. Here is an example of alliteration from Jane Kenyon’s poem This Morning: “…Sunflower seed and bits of bread scattered on the snow.” The words “sunflower”, “seed”, “scattered”, “snow” begin with the consonant “s.” She also uses the words “bits” and “bread.”
It is the poetic technique of repeating the same vowel sound of words on a line, in order to create a pleasing sound. A vowel is “a, e,i,o, u.” A poet can use long vowels, such as “o” in snow, or use short vowels, such as “u” in lunch. Here is another example of assonance from Jane Kenyon’s poem This Morning: The cats doze near the snow. The words “doze” and “snow” have the same vowel sound. Onomatopoeia
It is the poetic technique of using words that sound like the words they mean. Examples: whir, buzz, moo, thud, crackle, and so on. Poets use these poetic devices less frequently than alliteration or assonance. Example: Under the light of the stars, we roasted hotdogs over a crackling fire.
It is the repetition of the same sound of words in a poem. Three popular types of rhymes are slant or off rhyme, internal rhyme, and end rhyme.
Slant Rhyme or imperfect rhyme
A poetic technique that creates near rhyme or off-rhyme. Emile Dickinson was the first modern poet to use this technique. The poet selects words that have the same consonant sounds and different vowels (e.g. cap and cup), and places them close together on a line. The poet can also select words with the same vowel sound (e.g. talk and walk; snug as a gun) and different constants, and place them close together on a line.
A poetic technique in which one word rhymes with another word on a line. This is a popular type of rhyme for writing free verse.
Example: We talked and walked along the beach.
A poetic technique in which the poet rhymes the final syllables of words and places them at the end of lines. Here is an example for Robert Frost’s Dust of Snow:
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
You can see how “crow and snow” rhyme, and how “me” and “tree” rhyme.
If you intend to use rhyme in free verse, use it selectively. A good rhyme doesn’t make the reader think “here’s a rhyme.” Instead “good rhyming is a feat of skill with words.” (Western Wind, Page 177) Often, when two words rhyme, the meaning of these two words interact to create something different.
Free verse poetry does not have to adhere to a particular rhyme scheme, such as “ABAB,” which means that lines 1 and 3 rhyme and lines 2 and 4 rhyme. In fact, many free verse poems have no rhyme at all. And yet, poets use rhyme on occasion.
It is a poetic technique in which the poet repeat words or phrases in a poem. The poet can repeat words or phrase at the beginning of lines, at the end of lines, in the middle of lines. Repetition is a way to create emphasis. It is a way to create energy. It is a way to draw attention to an idea. It is a way to echo the sound of words.
Poets use two types of repetition: Anaphora and repetend.
The poet repeats the opening words or phrase at the beginning of two or more lines. Here is an example from Mary Oliver’s When Death Comes:
When death comes like a hungry bear in autumn….
When death comes like the measle-pox….
When death comes like an iceberg between the shoulder blades…
The poet repeats words or phrases at different locations in a stanza or poem. Repeating a word or phrase gabs the reader’s attention. It is a way to add emphasis to an action, person, place, thing, event, experience.
For instance, James Fenton writes in the poem “In Paris With You.”
…I’m one of your talking wounded. I’m a hostage. I’m wounded…I’ve been bamboozled…I admit I’m..
See how Mary Oliver uses repetition to write in the poem, Spring,:
My life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities,
it is also this dazzling darkness…
Poet, Debra Spencer, uses the device of repetend in “The Discover of Sex”:
We try to be discreet standing in the dark
hallway by the front door. He gets his hands
up inside the front of my shirt and I put mine
down the inside the back of his jeans. We are crazy
for skin, each other’s skin, warm silky skin…
Learning How to Use Sound Devices
You can get into the habit of using sound devices–such as alliteration, or assonance, or repetition ——by learning how they are used and by practising how to use them. Here’s how: On a daily basis, open your writing journal and use these sound devices to describe the things you see, hear, feel, smell, touch, remember. For instance, suppose you passed a stinking sewer during your day, you could write: I strolled past the stinking sewer and wondered where the stench started. (Example of using alliteration)
As well, when reading poetry, short story, essay, or article that you feel is well written, analyze the piece of writing for these poetic device of sound. Answer the question: What poetic devices did the author or poet use to create such a pleasing sound?
How should you add sound effects your own free verse poetry? Some poets compose word by word. Other poets compose line by line. Many write out the entire poem, and then add sound effects during revision. I recommend that you write the first draft, and then revise for alliteration, assonance, repetition. If you also desire to create a few rhymes, add them.
Free verse poetry doesn’t require you use alliteration, assonance, rhyme, repetition. However, if you read the free verse poetry of great poets, such as Mary Oliver, you’ll quickly discover that these poets use these poetic techniques to construct memorable poems, poems that have deep meaning and pleasurable sound when read aloud.
For additional information on alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, repetition, rhyme, read the following:
- Good Poems for Hard Times by Garrison Keillor
- The Poets Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux
- Creating Poetry by John Drury
- The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes
- Western Wind by David Mason and John Frederick Nims
Unlike traditional poetry, poets who write free verse aren’t forced to use a particular metrical pattern. And yet, some modern poets, such as Robert Frost, have used traditional forms to compose their poetry. Frost wrote in blank verse, a traditional form, which requires each line to be written in iambic pentameter and have no rhyme.
On occasion, contemporary poets write poems in one of the traditional forms, such as a sonnet or blank verse or epic or elegy. This is one reason to learn meter. Another reason is that meter is part of rhythm. And so, if you intend on using rhythm in your free verse poetry, you ought to understand meter.
As well, all good modern and contemporary poets know how to use rhythm and meter. Furthermore, a good poem includes rhythm.
In this article, I’ll discuss meter and rhythm.
Meter in Traditional Poetry
Meter is Greek for “measure.” In English poetry, poets use three common types of meter. In accentual meter, the stresses are counted and the syllables are variable. In syllabic meter, the syllables are counted. A poet who uses syllabic meter develops a pattern by having the same number of syllables on each line of the poem. In accentual-syllabic meter, both the stressed and unstressed syllables are counted.
The poets of Europe, Canada, and United states use accentual-syllabic meter. The metrical pattern is developed by counting the stressed and unstressed syllables on each line. In traditional poetry, poets must compose poems that comply with a particular metrical pattern. For instance, Robert Frost, one of the most popular modern poets, wrote poems in blank verse. He was required to write each line in iambic pentameter, without rhyme.
How do you learn meter? You must first understand that every word in the dictionary has a particular sound, determined, in part, by the number of syllables in the word. Some syllables are stressed, others are not. For instance, cat, dog, bird–each have one syllable. In traditional poetry, meter is identified by the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in words, which create a pattern of sound.
The foot/feet is the unit of measurement for meter, which is made up of stressed and unstressed syllables. Each foot has a particular rhythmical pattern. In traditional poetry, there are five basic rhythmic patterns, which are used to create meter:
- Iambic- one unstressed and one stressed syllable. Each unit has two syllables. Example: hotel
- Spondee-one stressed, followed by another stressed syllable. Example: Nightmare
- Trochee foot- One stressed, followed by one unstressed syllable. (Each unit has two syllables) Example: Rainfall.
- Dactyl-One stressed, followed by an unstressed, followed by an unstressed. (Each unit has three syllables)
- Anapest- One unstressed, followed by another unstressed, followed by a stressed syllable.
Length of a Line (Measured in Feet)
In traditional poetry, there are several types of line length:
- monometer-1 foot
- dimeter-2 feet
- trimeter-three feet
- tetrameter-four feet
- pentameter-five feet
- hexameter-6 feet
- heptameter-7 feet
- Octometer-8 feet
Each type of metrical pattern has a particular number of feet and rhythmic pattern. For instance, iambic pentameter has five feet per line of poetry, each foot consists of one iambic ( One stressed and one unstressed syllable). So, the poet would select words follow this “unstressed/stressed” pattern. For instance, Robert Frost, who wrote poetry in blank meter, selected and ordered words on the line according to iambic pentameter.
Using Scansion to Identify a Metrical Pattern
How do you learn to identify various patterns of meter and rhythm? Use a scansion to analyze and identify the metrical pattern in a poem. Begin by breaking each word into syllables on a line. For each word, mark the unstressed and stressed syllables, and then identify the metrical foot on each line. You should see a pattern. Iambic pentameter is the most common type of meter in traditional poetry, because it resembles the metrical pattern or everyday language.
Even though modern poetry doesn’t have to follow a particular metrical pattern, such as iambic pentameter, you should have a good understanding of meter, especially iambic pentameter. All good contemporary poetry has rhythm–and meter is one of several ways to create rhythm.
It is the most common type of metrical pattern in poetry, because it sounds most like speech. Shakespeare used it in his plays, John Milton used it to write Paradise Lost, T.S. Eliot used it to write The Wasteland, Robert Frost used it to write blank verse. Each line has ten syllables. These syllables are divided into five feet. Each foot must have one unstressed syllable and one stressed syllable. In other words, the line will have five feet of iamb. The rhythmic pattern or beat is: da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM. For instance, “the dog, the cat, the bird“ follow this pattern. If you are intending to write poetry with rhythm, it is important to understand iambic pentameter. You can use it as a guide to write your own poetry.
Rhythm Modern and Contemporary Poetry
What is rhythm? John Dreary, the author of Creating Poetry, writes: “Rhythm is the rise and fall and surge and abatement of words–the melody.“ Rhythm is the flow of words on the page. It is the beat you hear when you read a poem. It includes some pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables, which create a pattern of sound. You can use several techniques to add rhythm to your poetry. These include line length, line breaks, meter, repetition or refrain, and parallel structure.
The length of a line can alter the rhythm of a poem. If you write a long sentence on a line, you’ll slow down the pace, and add more syllables to the line. If you compose a line with fewer words, you’ll speed up the pace, and typically add fewer syllables.
In a row boat,
on a quiet lake,
a boy fished for trout. (faster pace)
In a row boat, on a quiet lake, a boy fished for trout. (slower pace)
Where you place line breaks will also alter the rhythm of a poem. A line break tells the reader to pause. You can add a line break in many ways, such as by adding:
- White space. Add space between words, between lines, between stanzas. White space tells the reader to pause.
- Enjambment. Divide a phrase or clause on one line, and then restart on the next line. The purpose is to create a sense of forward motion.
- End-stop. Add a period or coma at the end of a line. Both tell the reader to pause.
Another way to add rhythm to your poetry is to use meter. A simple way is to count the syllables on each line. This is called syllabic meter. For instance, you might want to create a syllabic pattern with 7 syllables on each line. If you do this, be sure to read your poetry out loud to see how it sounds.
You can also use one of the popular metrical patterns such as iambic pentameter. Or, you can create your own metrical pattern.
Refrain or Repetition
Repeating words or phrases is an easy way to create emphasis and to create rhythm. Songwriters use refrains or repetition in their lyrics.
Poets also use repetition. For emphasis and to create a sound effect, they repeat a phrase or line throughout a poem. For instance, Dylan Thomas repeated the refrain “Do not Go Gently Into the Night” four times in a poem by the same name.
Two popular types of repetition used by contemporary poets to create rhythm are:
- Repetend. Repetition of a word or phrase at different locations within the poem.
- Anaphora. Repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of two or more lines in a poem.
You can also create rhythm by using parallel structure. It requires that you use the same grammatical form words, phrases, clauses that have the same grammatical form, such as verbs, nouns, verbal or prepositional phrases. Use also for coordinating (and, or, but, for, nor, yet, so) and correlative conjunctions (Not only…but also, either…or). Parallel structure is a simple way to create rhythm.
(Nouns in a series)
The dog, the cat, the man
departed from the flaming house.
(Participles in a Series)
Blowing snow, gusting wind….
(Parallel structure for Coorelative Conjunctions)
Not only did he slip
but also broke his leg
Tips for Creating Rhythm
Think of meter as a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables on a line. Some modern and contemporary poetry have a particular rhythm patterns; other poems have an irregular rhythm matter. Here are a few suggestions on how to add rhythm to your poetry:
- Be sure to read your poems aloud to hear how they sound. Remember, at the end of each line, you have a pause.
- Consider using some form of rhythm. The most popular is iambic pentameter, which is based on five feet. Each foot has one unstressed syllable, followed by a stressed syllable (u /). This metrical pattern sounds most like every day language. If this is too complex, use a syllabic pattern. Instead of counting stressed and unstressed syllables, count the syllables per line. For instance, you could write a poem of three stanzas, each stanza has five lines, and each lines has 7 syllables.
- Use repetition to create rhythm. You might repeat a word or phrase in different places of a poem.
- Alter your line length to change the pace. Long lines are used to slow down the pace. Short lines speed up the pace.
- Always use parallel structure. If you are not sure of parallel structure, find yourself a grammar book, and then study “parallel structure.”
- Break lines where you desire the reader to pause or where you desire to create emphasis.
- Always revise your poems for rhythm.
- Remember, in free verse poetry, you create your own rhythmic patterns.
For additional information on learning about meter and rhythm, read the following:
- Creating Poetry by John Drury
- Good Poems for Hard Times by Garrison Keillor
- The Poets Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux
- The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes
- Western Wind by David Mason and John Frederick Nims
- The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland
Most modern and contemporary poets write free verse poetry. Unlike traditional poetry, which is based on a particular metrical pattern and often a rhyme scheme, the free verse poet writes poetry without rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Read any collection of modern or contemporary poetry, and you’ll quickly discover that the poets have composed their poetry as free verse.
Many contemporary poets have written memorable free verse poetry–poems that will stand the test of time. A century from now, readers will view these free verse poems as works of art. Read the poetry of the poet laureates, such as Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, Donald Hall, Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, Louise Gluck, Rita Dove, and you’ll experience something delightful, something memorable. These poets have written poems about anything you can think of, such as war, happiness, death, misery. Here’s a good free verse poem by poet laureate Rita Dove called “Golden Oldie:”
I made it home early, only to get
stalled in the driveway, swaying
at the wheel like the blind pianist caught in tune
meant for more than two hands playing.
The words were easy, crooned
by a young girl dying to feel alive, to discover
a pain majestic enough
to live by. I turned the air-conditioning off,
leaned back to float on a film of sweat,
and listened to the sentiment:
Baby, where did our love go?-a lament
I greedily took in
without a clue who my lover
might be, or where to start looking.
She writes in the first person, shares an anecdote or story, uses the poetic device of allusion, creates a conversational tone with language that all readers can understand. At the end, she shares a universal truth about youth. This poem has meaning. Good free verse poetry has meaning, like an illuminating quotation by a famous person.
In this article, I’ll provide you with an overview of free verse poetry. The following will be covered:
- Types of free verse
- Building blocks of free verse
- Voice and style of the poet
Types of Free Verse
Free verse poets have written about any subject you can imagine. From love, to hate, to death, to a personal experience, to a fleeting moment. For instance, the poem in the introduction is a narrative. It tells a story. It could also be an anecdote. Once you start reading modern and contemporary poetry, you discover that poets write various types of free verse. Here are some of the most common types:
- Narrative poem. The poet tells a story. Often, there is rising action, climax, and resolution, like a short story. The poet composes the narrative by using simile, metaphor, imagery, vivid description, line breaks, and so forth.
- Prose poem. The poet uses complete sentences and the techniques of poetry, simile, metaphor, imagery, and vivid description. Stanzas become paragraphs. The language of the poem is lyrical.
- Anecdote. The poet describes some incident or experience or event that is humorous or interesting, and ends the poem with some insight. Poets also use anecdotes to illustrate a truth.
- Image poem. The poet writes a poem about an image, and relies on language that appeals to the sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing to describe the image. The poet also composes the poem using line break, simile, metaphor, and so forth.
- Meditative poem. The poet begins by describing a scene. This scene triggers a meditation in the mind of the poet. The poet then returns to the initial scene with better understanding or resolution. The poet composes the poem using line break, simile, metaphor, and so forth.
- Lyrical poem. A traditional form adopted by many modern/contemporary poets. The poet writes a poem expressing personal thoughts and feelings about an idea, person, experience. The poet uses imagery and description to create a mood. The poet also uses sound effects to make the poem sound lyrical, like music. These sound effects include alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, internal or end rhyme.
- Confessional poem. A poem that is autobiographical. The poet writes about personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Instead of looking outward, observing the world, and then writing about it, the poet peers inward to the psyche, writes about the world in relation to themselves. The poet composes the poem using line break, simile, metaphor, and so forth. See the poetry of Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell, Jane Kenyon.
- Elegy. A traditional form adopted by some modern/contemporary poets. A poem that laments the death of a loved one, such as a friend. The poet composes the poem using line break, simile, metaphor, and so forth. See “Oh Caption! My Caption” by Walt Whitman and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickenson
Unlike a traditional poem, such as a sonnet or blank verse, where the poet must follow particular rules, such a particular number of lines in a stanza, a particular metrical pattern, and a particular rhyme scheme, the free verse poet can compose a poem in any way he/she desires, without adhering to any rules. However, if the poet aspires to write good poetry, or memorable poetry, or poetry that is worthy of publication, then the poet must follow the conventions and guidelines of free verse poetry. A good free verse poem uses the following building blocks or techniques:
Syntax and grammar. Poets use a variety of syntax, such as fragments, simple sentences, compound sentences, periodic sentences, and parallel structure. They follow the rules of punctuation and the rules of grammar. They use both action verbs and concrete nouns . They write in the active voice instead of the passive voice. (The noun performs the action of the verb.) They use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. (to avoid wordiness and repeating an idea that can be presented by the right verb or right noun.)
Line breaks and Line length. Poets use line breaks such as white space, enjambment, or end-stop (period or comma) to indicate the reader to pause, to create emphasis, and to create rhythm. They write short lines to speed up the pace, and long lines to slow down the pace.
Figurative Language. Most good free verse poetry includes simile or metaphor. A simile makes a comparison using “like” or “as.” A metaphor makes a comparison with “is” or “of” by stating that one thing is another. Example: She is the devil in disguise. And when required, the poet also includes symbolism and allusion and personification.
Figurative language can make a poem pleasurable to read. It can clarify meaning. It entertains the reader. It turns the ordinary into something meaningful, something memorable. Often an abstract idea can be made concrete to the reader by using similes or metaphors. Example: Love is a drug….We are addicted to love. In the poem, “Golden Oldies”, poet Rita Dove uses the technique of allusion to make reference to pop culture. She writes: “Baby, where did our love go?” It is a famous song by The Supremes, who were a popular singing group in the 60’s and early 70’s.
Appropriate word choice or diction. Free verse poets choose words for their meaning (denotation or dictionary meaning), implied meaning (connotation), and sound (rhyme, alliteration, assonance). Example: The boy sat on the soiled sofa/sipped a cold soda/ read a comic book. Most free verse poets use everyday language, words that you’d here in a conversation. The following poem by Louise Gluck is a good example of how poets can use everyday language to create a powerful poetry:
I was born cautious, under the sign of Taurus.
I grew up on an island, prosperous,
in the second half of the twentieth century;
the shadow of the Holocaust
hardly touched us.
I had a philosophy of love, a philosophy
of religion, both based on
early experience within family.
And if when I wrote I used only a few words
it was because time always seemed to me short
as though it could be stripped away
at any moment.
And my story, in any case, wasn’t unique
though, like everyone else, I had a story,
a point of view.
A few words were all I needed:
nourish, sustain, attack.
Imagery. Good free verse poets use language that appeals to reader’s sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing. The poet uses imagery to show the reader what happened or what the poet experienced with his/her senses. Imagery brings a person, object, image, moment, experience to life. Imagery recreates what the poet experienced or imagined as a the scene in the mind of the reader. Imagery helps to create “word pictures.”
Symbolism. On occasion, the free verse poet uses symbol, metonymy, or synecdoche. A symbol refers to something other than its literal meaning. Some poets use well-recognized symbols. ( Examples: cross, dove, bible) Others create their own. (A blooming yellow tulip in the garden can be a symbol of birth or springtime.) Metonymy is a figure of speech in which the poet replaces the word of one thing with the word or phrased that is closely associated with it. (Example: Crown instead of Monarch) A synecdoche is a figure of speech in which the poet substitutes the “part for the whole.” This part or attribute or characteristic is used by the poet to refer to the entire person, place, thing, object, and so forth. (Example: The teenager purchased a “set of wheels.” Wheels refer to a car or truck.
Sound Devices. A memorable poem has a pleasing sound when read aloud. This pleasuring sound is created with particular poetic devices, such as alliteration (repetition of consonant sound of two or more words on a line or lines) and assonance (repetition of vowel sounds of two or more words on a line or lines). When required, poets also use onomatopoeia, internal rhyme, or end rhyme. Free verse poetry is meant to be read for its meaning and sound. Both invoke an emotional reaction.
Rhythm. A good free verse poem has rhythm or beat. This rhyme is based on the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables on a line. Meter can be part of rhythm. For instance, a poet can include rhythm by using a particular metrical pattern. Though a free verse poem doesn’t have to comply to a metrical pattern, such as iambic pentameter, many modern and contemporary poets rely on “syllabic meter” to create rhythm. For instance, the poetic might create a poem in which each line has the same number of syllables.
Poets also use other techniques, such as parallel structure and repetition, to create rhythm.
Line break is also an important way to create rhythm. The poet can use white space, enjambment, or end-stop, such as a period or coma.
Poets also create rhythm by changing the pace. The poet can speed up or slow down the pace of a poem, make it fast or slow, smooth or interrupted—even irregular by using different lengths of line. A long line slows down the pace, while a short line speeds up the pace. Usually a longer line has more syllables than a short line.
Point of view. Free verse poetry can be written from different poets of view—first person (“I”), second person (“you”), or third person (“he/she”). Before selecting a point of view, the poet should determine how he/she is going to present the poem to the reader. The poet has two choices: First, the poet can turn inward–and then write about thoughts, feelings, perceptions. Secondly, the poet can turn outward—and write about other people, objects, things, events, topics in the world. If the poet turns inward, to the psyche or self, then the poem is usually written in the first person (“I.”) If the poet turns outward—to view the outside world, the poet can still write in the first person. However, usually the poet writes in the third person using (“he/she.”)
Sometimes the poet writes in the second-person point of view using “you.” In this case, the poet is referring directly to the reader. Example: You smoke your cigarette/ You read your paper/You sip your morning coffee/You ponder how another day will unfold/You’ve learned that a day can play out like a football game/ Often you don’t know who will win until the very end.
Sometimes, the poet invents a persona, and then composes a poem as if he were someone else. For instance, the poet might write a poem in the voice of someone dead or alive or famous. Most free verse poems are written in the first-person point of view (“I”), or the third person point of view (“he/she”).
Appealing Voice and Style. Voice and style are used interchangeably. They refer to tone, word choice/diction, and sentence variety. A good poem has a respectful tone, is constructed with everyday language, and a variety of sentence structures, such as fragment, parallel structure, simple sentence, compound sentences, and more. For instance, here is a poem, written by Ted Kooser, that is like a conversation:
Flying at Night
by Ted Kooser
Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on the water. Below us
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.
Voice and Style of the Poet
Whether you write fiction, poetry, personal essays, voice and style refer to the same thing. The most important aspects of style or voice are tone of the writing, word choice, and sentence structure. Every particular writer has a unique voice or style that is expressed on the page. Voice or style is what the readers hears when they read a writer’s work. Style or voice is developed as the writer gains more experience. In other words, the more the poet writes and learns about poetry, the more polished the style. Favorite poets will have a voice you like. Several elements create the poet’s voice or style. These include:
- Subject Matter. The subject you choose to write about will contribute to the voice of your poem. For instance, if you desire to write about grief and death, you’ll probably want to use a serious, respectful, melancholy tone.
- Word Choice. The types of words you choose, the sound of these words, and the meaning of these words will contribute to your voice. A good poet uses everyday language, which can be understood. A good poet also writes poetry that has a pleasing sound when read aloud.
- Sentence Types. The sentence types you use are part of your voice that you express on the page. You can use different types of sentences, such as a fragment, simple sentence, compound sentence, complex sentence, fragment, and so forth. A short sentence speeds up the pace, where as a longer sentence slows the pace.
- Grammar. Poets are told to use the active voice, concrete and specific details, concrete nouns, and action verbs. Each contributes to the voice of a poem. You should following these suggestions to help create a pleasing voice.
- Figurative language/Poetic Devices. In part, your style is determined by the poetic devices you use to create your poems. You might use alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia to create a particular sound. You might also use simile, metaphor, imagery, symbolism to create an entertaining poetry and to explain. Many poets prefer particular poetic devices over others. Most good free verse uses simile or metaphor.
- Tone. The tone of the poem is determined by the poet’s attitude toward the reader and the subject. The best tone is friendly, conversational, respectful. Write your poetry as if you’re talking to a friend.
- Point of View. The personal point of view ( “I”) is more intimate. Use it to write about yourself. The third person (“he/she”) provides some narrative distance. Use it write about the world around you.
- Life experience. Every writer is socialized by the world in which he/she lives. Religion, the mass media, education, family, personal experience shape the writers view of the world.
The four most important aspects of developing style are tone, word choice, sentence variety/syntax, and poetic technique.
For more information on writing free verse poetry, read the following books:
- How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch
- The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland
- The Poet Laureate Anthology, edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt
- A Poet’s Guide to Poetry by Mary Kinzie
- Creating Poetry by John Drury
- The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes
- The Poet’s Guide to Poetry by Mary Kinzie
- Making Your Own Days by Kenneth Koch
- In the Poem of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit
The Internet is a gold mine for writers. You can find countless resources to improve your writing and advance your writing practise. For instance, on the Internet, you can do the following:
- Find writing prompts that inspire your creativity
- Search for freelance writing jobs
- Create a free blog where you can post your writing and create a writing platform
- Join an online writing community/ writing groups
- Find out how to submit to writing contests or literary publications such as Tin House
- Read and learn how to write poetry, short stories, personal essays, and more
- Enroll in online creative writing courses
- Purchase books on creative writing
- Create a web presence and writing platform with social media
- Learn how to self-publish your fiction or creative nonfiction
- Read poetry, short fiction, personal essays from popular literary journals
In this post, I’ll identify some of the many websites that you can use to find this information.
The purpose of a writing prompt is to provide inspiration and help you explore and practise your writing. You can use a writing prompt to kick start a freewriting session of 10 to 20 minutes, writing about anything that is associated with the prompt. If you searching for writing prompts to inspire you, check out these websites:
- First 50 Words ( http://www.first50.wordpress.com ) The author of this blog, Virginia Debolt, provides you with a daily writing prompt for your writing practise. She suggests that you write ” often, write about anything, everything, what you see, what you learn, what you’re thinking, what you read.”
- Easy Street Prompts (www.easystreetprompts.blogspot.com) On this site you will find video prompts, photograph prompts, and word prompts.
Creating a Free Blog
Would you like to create a blog, where you can post your writing and create a Web presence?
Here are the best free blogging platforms:
- WordPress- http://www.wordpress.com
- Twitter- http://www.twitter.com (micro-blogging)
- Tumblr-www.tumblr.com (micro-blogging)
These blogs are easy to setup and post content to. Creating a blog is an easy way to establish a Web presence, share your writing, and build a writing platform.
Join a Writing Community
The online writing community offers many services to writers. You’ll create a profile and then post your poetry, short fiction, personal essays, and so forth. You can also join a writing group, obtain free reviews, and free advice. And you can join various forums, where you can discuss different aspects of writing with others. Many of these online writing communities offer free online courses and advertise writing contests. Here are a few popular online writing communities that you should consider joining:
Are you searching for a freelance writing job? Here are some good sites to find work:
- Freelance Writing Gigs – http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/
- Freelance Writing Organization–http://www.fwointl.com/ This site has job listings and 5,200 free writing resources and links.
- Media Bistro– http://www.mediabistro.com/
For freelance writing jobs in your area, use Google to search for websites in your area.
Enrolling in Online Creative Writing Courses
If you are interested in taking a course in creative writing, such writing personal essays, poetry, short stories, screen writing—- there are a myriad of universities in Canada and the United States offering online courses and certificates in creative writing. This means that you can study from your own home, instead of having to fight traffic to attend a lecture.
Providing you have an Internet connection and credit card, you can enroll in online education courses from anywhere in the world. For instance, all universities and educations institutions I visited on the Web offer a plethora of creative writing courses, which you can take online. For instance, the University of Toronto’s Continuing Educations program offers online courses in creative writing poetry, fiction, and screenwriting courses.
There are countless educational institutions around the world where you can take creative writing courses online. Here are five places to checkout:
- Continuing Education at the University of Toronto
- University of British Columbia
- Continuing Education at Stanford
- Online Writing Classes from Creative Nonfiction Magazine
- Gotham Writers Workshop
Resources for Writers
One of the best sources of information is the Poetry and Writer website, a print-based magazine that also have a Web presence. All writers should visit this site on a regular basis. Here is what you can learn on this website:
- Find our who is offering writing contents and competitions.
- Find out where to contact a literary agent via the Literary Agents database.
- Obtain details about contact information, submission guidelines, and the types of writing small press publish by accessing the Small Press Database
- Discover where you can attend a writing conference, workshop, or residency
- Search for jobs in the arts, writing, publishing. (Some are Internships, which don’t pay, and most are in the United States.)
- Obtain advice for writers about writing contests, literary agents, publishing your book with the small press or larger publisher, book promotion and publicity, MFA programs, literary organizations that you can join.
Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction Literary Journals
There are many online/print literary journals where you can read fiction, poetry, personal essays. Check out these Literary magazines:
Please note that these are just a few of the popular literary journals that you can read.
If you are interested in reading poetry by the best poets from around the world, obtain how-to advice on how to write poetry, learn poetry terms, techniques, and genre, read articles about poetry, visit the following:
Are you interested in reading creative nonfiction, such as short personal essays of less than 1,000 words? You can read them at the Brevity, an online literary journal.
Purchasing Books on Creative Writing
Do you live some place where you don’t have regular access to creative writing books? You can purchase them online at the following:
In fact, most of the books on how to write poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction that I’ve used were purchased online at Amazon. Here are a few of the books I recommend that you can purchase at Amazon, books you won`t find in your local bookstore:
- Truth of the Matter: The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction by Dinty Moore
- You Can`t Make this Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything In Between by Lee Gutkind
- Story Craft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction by Jack Hart
- Creative Nonfiction: A Guide to Form, Content, and Style by Eileen Pollack
- To Tell the Truth: Practise and Craft in Narrative Nonfiction by Connie D. Griffin
Craft of Writing
- Elements of Style by Strunk and White
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser (Writing Creative Nonfiction)
- The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life by Priscilla. (A great book for learning how to write creative nonfiction, especially the various forms of the personal essay.
- Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale
- Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway. (Everything you require to write creatively, such as showing and telling, writing with sensory imagery, similes, metaphors….
- Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway (Includes how to instruction, exercises, and anthology of short stories)
- On Writing Short Stories, edited by Tom Bailey ( Two parts: How to write and an anthology of short stories)
- Poetry Repair Manual by Ted Kooser
- Writing the Life Poetic by Sage Cohen
- The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio (Excellent book to learn how to write poetry)
- The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayers
- Creating Poetry by John Drury
- In the Palm of Your Hands by Steve Kowell
Create a Web Presence with Social Media
Do you want to create a Web presence? Here are a few popular social media platforms where you can create a profile, network with others, and promote your writing skills, expertise, and work
- Google +
Learn How to Publishing an E-Book
Are you interested in self-publishing? A great place to begin is at the Self Publishing Review. At this website, you can obtain advice and find resources on self-publishing. You can join a social network, read their online magazine, and find out how to self-publish. The Self-Publishing Review also provides book cover design and an e-book publishing service. It can design a cover for your book for a fee. It can also convert your book of fiction or nonfiction to an XHTML file, the format of an e-book, for a fee. (For a book of 200 pages, the cost is $200) And then you can upload it to Apple iBooks, Barnes and Nobles Pubit, Kindle, or Kobo-Self-Publishing. To find out more, check out The Self Publishing Review .
Another self-publishing service to look into is Outskirts Press. It offers the following services:
- Copy editing
- Cover Design
- Private Label ISBN
- Publishing packages
- Marketing solutions
To find other useful writing resources, you can carry out a search with Google.
What is writer’s block? It is a psychological state in which the writer is unable to begin, or continue, or end a piece of writing. Sometimes a writer is blocked for a short period of time, such as a few days. Other times, the writer is unable to write for weeks, months, years. The writer who is blocked might feel there that there is a lack of inspiration. Or the writer might feel unable to develop an idea into a poem, or essay, or story. Or the writer might feel that their work is not good enough for publication. Whatever the reason for the mental block—the writer is unable to write.
Many writer don’t believe in writer’s block. In “The Poet’s Companion,” a splendid book on how to write poetry, author Kim Addonizio, who is a well-known poet and writer and instructor of creative writing, suggests: “We don’t believe in writer’s block. We believe there are times when you are empty and times when you are full” of ideas to write about.
However, many writers, including myself, believe that sometimes writer’s are blocked. Grief, depression, addiction, anxiety, illness, fear of failure, self-doubt, burnout, and the internal critic who demands perfection or undermines your confidence can empty the well of creativity, leaving you with a lack of inspiration and a blank page.
Some writer’s also believe in the “muse”–some sort of higher power that provides them inspiration to write. This is just myth, just like Greek mythology. The ancient Greeks believed in the various Goddesses of the muse, who provided a select few creative geniuses with inspiration. In my view, it is the writer who must find inspiration and continually write, even when he/she doesn’t feel like writing. The writer creates his/her own muse.
By nurturing creativity, you can bring an end to writer’s block or prevent it. For a writer, creativity is about uncovering ideas to write about and then applying techniques of fiction to craft a complete story, or using various poetic devices to compose a poem. Sometimes a writer might have a good idea, but he/she doesn’t know how to begin, to develop , or to end the piece of creative writing. Or the writer is stuck in the middle of a piece of writing. Or the writer might not have any ideas. And so the well of creativity is empty.
How do you nurture creativity and prevent writer’s block? Here are a few suggestions:
- Maintain a work-life balance. There must be time for work, time to socialize, time for fitness, time for solitude, and time for play. Often people who are burned-out have spent far too many hours writing—and forgotten to attend to other aspects of their life.
- Keep a writing journal or writing note book by writing in it each day. What can you include? Anything related to the art and craft of writing. You can freewrite, make a note about something eventful, write down the word and meaning of a new word. You can experiment with the techniques of fiction or poetry, such as simile or metaphor. You can write about an overheard conversation, something on the news, a memory, your anxieties, a movie, song, poem, someone you loath, what happened in your day, a fleeting moment, something you’ve learned. You can add photographs, news clippings, recipes, quotations, anything that is inspirational to your writing journal. Not only will the journal keep you in the habit of writing, it can also supply you with ideas to write about.
- Go on an artistic date every week or so. Author Julia Cameron, who wrote “The Artist’s Way,” suggests that you can find ideas to write about if you go on an artistic adventure by yourself each week or so. You might visit a bookstore, buy tickets to see a music concert, attend an art gallery, visit a craft show–do something new.
- Read widely and deeply for pleasure. Not only should you read books on the craft of writing, but you should also read the best poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction available. Marvelous contemporary poets include Mary Oliver, Charles Simic, and Billy Collins. For a list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th century, see www.modernlibrary.com/top-100/100-best-novels . Or select and read a novel from Time’s 100 All-time novels. You can find countless other poems and poetry at The Poetry Foundation. You should also stay informed–by reading magazines and newspapers. All aspiring writer’s should read literary journals and The New Yorker magazine. Reading can be a pleasurable escape, an easy way to discover new ideas, a simply way to learn, and one of the best ways to expand your vocabulary, providing you look up the meaning of a words you don’t understand in a dictionary.
- Make fitness part of your daily routine. Take vigorous walk or engage in some other aerobic exercise each day. Do yoga. Pump some weights. Join and attend a fitness club. Take a bike ride. Physical exercise, especially aerobic, will build self-confidence, clear your mind, and release tension from your body. It is one of the best ways to combat stress and refresh a tired mind.
- Find an hour each day for solitude or personal time–away from the solitude of writing. This quiet time can be used for personal reflection, to meditate, to take a walk in the woods, to rest, and so forth. The purpose of solitude is to provide you with a break from the stresses of life.
- If you are unable to write because of burn-out, you must take a break. When you’re burned-out, you won’t be able to give your best effort. The break will reenergize you. You might take a trip, go on a vacation, or just stop writing and use the time to in leisure activities you enjoy. How long? It all depends. Once you’re feeling refreshed, you can begin writing again.
- If you don’t have anything to write about, do some freewriting. There are two types: Focused and unfocused. Unfocused freewriting is about sitting down with a pen and notebook, and then writing about anything that pops into your mind. Focused freewriting involves sitting down and writing about a particular topic. For instance, you might freewrite about why you cannot write. And when you are freewriting, answer the journalistic questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how.
- Find an outlet or enjoyable leisure activity. Play baseball, tennis, squash. Do some cooking. Socialize with a friend. Take up photography, learn how to play the piano, or some other musical instrument. What every you do, be sure that you are doing something enjoyable that is not about writing.
- Sometimes you must continue to write even when you don’t feel inspired to write, unless you are suffering from burnout. Why should you continue to write? The act of writing will provide you with inspiration and content. This material can always be revised or discarded. Writing each day will also keep you disciplined, and allow you to capture ideas or expand on them.
For more information on preventing writer’s block or finding ideas to write about, read:
- The Writer’s Idea Book: How to Develop Great Ideas for Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Screenplays b y Jack Heffron
- A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion & Lively Muse for the Writing Life by Judy Reeves
- Where Do You Get Your Ideas: The Writer’s Guide To Transforming Notions into Narratives by Fred White.
- The Right to Write by Julia Cameron
- Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- The Artist’s Way By Julia Cameron
Have you always desired to become a writer? A writer is a person who writes either as a commercial writer, which is a writer for hire. Or the writer is a literary writer– inspired to share something important with society, or add something to literature or culture. The literary writer is not a writer for higher, nor does this type of writer earn a salary. The literary writer is often a starving artist until he/she becomes recognized by the establishment. The literary writer frequently toils at a job to pay the bills, so that he/she can write in the evening or on weekends. Writing is a labour of love.
To call yourself a writer, you must write on a regular basis. Ideally, you must write each day. Writing must become a habit, a daily ritual, work you do to achieve some purpose–such as publishing a book of poems, short fiction, memoir, or personal essay. Despite good intentions, many aspiring writers never embrace the writing life. Just ask a few MFA graduates if they are writing. You’ll be shocked to learn that less than 50% are still writing anything five years after they’ve graduated. Why is this so?
Self-doubt, procrastination , “the internal critic” usually prevent the aspiring writer from writing anything meaningful. These obstacles are usually rooted in false belief or myth. These myths prevent the writer from remaining dedicated to the writing life. Writer Valerie O. Patterson has identified several of these myths in her article “10 Myths about the Writing Life,” published in the November/December 2012 of The Writer Magazine. I have expanded on her seven reasons with explanation and three additional reasons why people fail to write and fail to embrace the writing life. Here are ten myths of writing and the writing life:
- A writing room is required to write. This is just not true. While it would be nice to have a writing room, many people just starting out don’t have the space to write. Perhaps, you live in a small one bedroom apartment, or share a house with many other people. All you really require to write is a private space, such as a coffee shop, park bench, bedroom, your car, any space free of noise and distraction. Any quiet place where there is inspiration is acceptable.
- You require the tool of computer to begin writing. This is also not true. Hemingway, Wolfe, Carver, Faulkner, T.S. Eliot—and many, many other writers never had the luxury of crafting their fiction, personal essays, or poetry with a computer. To write, all you require is a pen and pad of notepaper. As well, you should own a thesaurus and dictionary.
- Writing requires inspiration. Many aspiring writers believe they have nothing to write about, and so they wait for inspiration to motivate them to write something memorable. To become a writer, you must get into the habit of writing each day. If you wait for inspiration, you might never write. And so, you must seek out inspiration—tapping into memories; reading a wide range of books and magazines; embracing popular culture; taking an artistic date; doing some freewriting; keeping a journal.
- The lack of time prevents you from embracing the habit of writing. This is just an excuse. Each day, you must find time, or make time. That means you must make writing a high priority. It should be at the top of daily to-do list. Either you schedule time, or you find a few minutes each day to write. For instance, you might write for 15 minutes while drinking your morning cup of coffee, or for 15 minutes while you are computing on the subway, or for 15 minutes before you drift off to sleep in the evening. Suppose you write for 15 minutes each day. This works out to 2 hours and 15 minutes each week. This collection of time provides you with more opportunity to write than if you don’t write at all.
- Your first draft must be your best draft. Writing is a process. First, you discover an idea. Then you write down the points you wish to make. Then you write an opening, write the content, and end with an important point. Many aspiring writers believe that this first attempt is all that is required. Read any profiles or biographies of published authors of poetry, fiction, or personal essays—you’ll quickly discover that Most writers revise their work many times over before they create a memorable piece of writing, something that is worthy of publication.
- A Master’s in Fine Arts with a specialty in Creative Writing (MFA) is required to become a writer. Read the biographies of many great writers, and you’ll learn that many of them never graduated with a MFA. In fact, most writers are self-taught. They’ve learned the art and craft of writing on their own. And then acquired additional knowledge, skill, expertise by enrolling in a few courses, workshops, writing retreats, or by joining a writing group.
- You must be a published author to call yourself a writer. This is just not true. Many aspiring writers who craft memorable work have not been published–but this doesn’t mean they never will publish. The act of writing makes you a writer. The habit of writing each day means that you are a writer. And with the birth of digital publishing, you always have the opportunity to self-publish. Many great writers have self-published their work , including Walt Whitman.
Other Myths of Writing
Other myths that prevent people from writing include:
- Great writers are born, not made. In other words, the ability to learn the art and craft of writing poetry, fiction, personal essay is genetically determined–and cannot be learned. You can learn the craft of writing by learning the rules of grammar, spelling, punctuation; by expanding your vocabulary; by learning the variety of sentence structures; by learning the different types of paragraphs; by learning how to write into a structure. You can learn the art of creative writing by learning some creative thinking skills, such as brainstorming, asking what if, and shifting your perspective. Two important cognitive tools to help you: Learn how to tap into your memories and develop your imagination. You can also learn how to write creatively by learning the technique of showing and telling a story; by learning how to write similes and metaphors; by learning how to write concrete, vivid, significant descriptions; by learning how to write sensory imagery, using language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. You can also learn the craft of writing by teaching yourself or by enrolling in writing courses. A few good books to help you learn the craft of writing: The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale, The Writer’s Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long, Woe is I by Patricia O’Connor.
- You cannot write because of writer’s block. Many established writers and instructors of writing claim that writer’s block is just procrastination, self doubt, or burn out. If you are procrastinating, create a schedule and make writing a high-priority. If you have self-doubt, learn to ignore it, and write. Or, if you don’t feel confident enough to write, learn the craft and practise your writing. If you are burned-out, take a break for a few days, a few weeks, or a few months. Then get back to the habit of writing. Other ways to prevent writer’s block include yoga, walking, jogging. These activities, if done regularly, will clear your mind and help you relax. Another good way to clear your mind is to mediate. A few other great ways to prevent writer’s block are to take the artistic date. Read for pleasure and to relax. Stay informed by watching the news on television, by listening to it on the radio, by reading the newspaper, or by reading the interesting content online. Embrace popular culture, photography, music, film, art, sports…
- There aren’t publishers who will publish your work. With the dawn of the Internet, you can create your own blog and self-publish your writing. You can also self-publish your collection of poetry, short fiction, or personal essays by using software tools offered by Amazon or Apple, which will allow you create and sell a digital e-book. These books can be read on a tablet or smartphone.
Books that Address the Myths or False Beliefs of Writing
In addition, many writers have addressed the myths of writing in their books on how to become a writer. Here are a few books you ought to purchase, read, learn from, and keep on your writing bookshelf:
- The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life by Priscilla Long
- Sin And Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose by Constance Hale
- Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus
- Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
- Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Connor
- The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Karen Elizabeth Gordon
- Escape into the Open: The Art of Writing True by Elizabeth Berg
- The Story Within: New Insights and Inspiration for Writers by Laura Oliver
- Imaginative Writing by Janet Burroway
- How to Become a Writer: Building Your Creative Skills Through Practise and Play by Barbara Baig
- The Right to Write by Julia Cameron
- Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
You can become a creative writer by learning the art and craft of creative writing. You must also embrace the writing life. To do this, you must make writing be a high priority, like someone training to run a marathon or practising to win a gold medal at the Olympics. You might also have to overcome false beliefs, which are usually rooted in myth. To become a writer, you must get into the habit of writing each day. And you must read poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction on a regular basis. This sort of writing material will inspire and illustrate the art and craft of creative writing. And then you must practise your writing and attempt to publish. At the very least, you must write in a journal each day–with the hope of publishing something meaningful at some point in the future. To help you learn the art and craft of writing, you might consider enrolling in a few writing courses or joining a writing group or attending a conference or taking a journey to a writing retreat. These tasks and habits won’t guarantee you’ll publish, but you can certainly call yourself a writer.
“When you write well, revision becomes not a chore, but the essence of the writing act itself.”(Tell It Slant by Brenda Miller)
Revision is part of the writing process. You revise your work after you have selected an idea to write about, completed necessary research, organized your information, decided on what to write about, and then written a first draft. The purpose of the first draft is not to write something complete–but to get your ideas on paper. Whether you write poetry, fiction, personal essays, you should revise your work.
Revision can transform an ordinary piece of poetry, short fiction, personal essay, or any form of writing into something memorable. Revision allows you to improve on an initial attempt. It gives you the opportunity to write the best possible poem, fiction, personal essay, and so forth.
Revision is often the most creative aspect of writing, providing you take a break after writing the first draft. The first draft is just a blueprint. Taking a break and then returning to revise your work gives your mind time to see and hear the writing from a fresh perspective. Brenda Miller, author of “Tell It Slant,” suggests that your first draft is just a “discovery draft.” You should write anything you desire. A first draft is never your best work.
The goal of revision is not to make your writing perfect, because you can always revise your work. (Many writers believe that writing is never finished.) The goal is to create something that is your best work. If you write sparse prose, you might have to add content. If you overwrite, you’ll have to delete the excess. Both the sparse writer and verbose writer will have to trim, alter, rearrange their content. They will also have to change language, phrases, sentence structure, paragraphs, and sections. The writer’s goal is always to improve on previous iteration.
When revising a piece of writing, don’t think of making it perfect, revise with the purpose of making it your best work.
In this article, I’ll discuss how to revise your creative writing. The following will be covered:
- Why you should revise your work
- Distancing yourself
- Reading your work aloud and making notes
- Revising your work by doing a macro-edit and micro-edit
The first draft is always a “shitty first draft.” This is what Anne Lamott tells us in the splendid book on the craft of writing called “Bird By Bird.” No writer gets it best the first time. Revision allows you the opportunity to improve. By revising your work after writing the initial draft, you can improve your writing, such as grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, and usage. Revising your work also gives you the opportunity to improve the structure, plot, characterization, point of view, conflict, climax, resolution, theme and so forth of your story.
Some writers don’t include sufficient detail for a first draft; others include too much detail. Revising your work allows you to add, cut, rearrange, and expand the details of your poem, story, articles, essay.
Revising also enables you to see your writing from a fresh perspective–especially if you take a break from writing A break gives you a chance to add simile, metaphor, fresh language, new details, to tap into your imagination. Writer/instructor Jack Hodgins, author of A Passion for Narrative: A Guide for Writing Fiction, writes that: “The goal in revising is to achieve a more powerful whole.”
Distancing Yourself from Your Writing
What approach should you take to revising your work? Some writers write and edit as they go. But this approach blocks your imagination. It stifles creativity. It prevents the free flow of ideas from your mind to the page. Instead of writing what you are hearing in your mind, you are writing and then correcting.
Some writers reread as they go. But this approach slows down the flow of ideas from your mind to the page. It also interrupts the creative process and prevents the imagination from inventing.
Some writers craft their first draft with pen and a notebook, and then type the draft out on the computer. They write a first draft without revising or editing or rereading. It is a complete first draft. When they type out the draft on their computer, they reread and revise. I use this approach, and find it useful.
Author Susan Bell, in ” The Artful Edit,” suggests you distance yourself before revising. Here are a few recommendations she provides in her book:
- Don’t reread as you write. It slows down the writing process and creative thinking.
- Don’t revise as you write your first draft. It slows down the writing process and creative thinking.
- Write your complete first draft of a poem, chapter, section. And then take a break. The break of time allows you to approach your work from a new perspective. How long should you take? It all depends–at least one night. But many writers take a few days off, even a week, or longer, before starting the revision process.
- After the break, reread your work aloud to hear how it sounds.
- Once you have taken a break and reread your work, begin revising your work.
Many beginner writers believe that after writing their first draft they are finished. Furthermore, they believe the myth that the first draft must be perfect, and so they take forever to finish. Many writers become discouraged and abandon their writing. They find that the act of writing is like walking through the woods in the dark without a flashlight.
Writing is a process. It begins with an idea, followed by research or personal reflection. Next, the writer jots down a few points or makes a more formal plan of what he/she intends to write about. Then the writer crafts the initial draft. Once the draft is complete, the writer takes a break. The break allows the writer time to see his/her work from a fresh perspective. When the writer returns from the sojourn or hiatus, he/she begins revising the draft. The purpose of revision is to improve on the initial attempt, to make it better, to make it the best the writer can, to polish, to convert chaos to order, to make the piece of writing shine.
In “You Can’t Make this Stuff Up,” writer Lee Gutkind, states the following: “Writing is Revision. Almost every sentence, every paragraph, every page we write we will revise and rewrite a number of times.”
All great writers revise their work over and over before publishing. Raymond Carver rewrote his short stories many times before publishing. D. H. Lawrence rewrote the novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover three times before it was published. Ernest Hemingway wrote the ending to Farewell to Arms 39 times.
All writers can learn how to revise their work. The first thing to remember is that the first draft is just an blue print. It is not your finished piece of work. By revising your work, you improve your first attempt. Often you’ll need to complete several revisions before you submit it for publishing.
How to Revise
Many writers revise as they write. They’ll write a sentence or paragraph or section, then reread it, then revise. But this is a slow and tedious process. And it prevents you from getting to the finishing line quickly. Moreover, it interrupts the free flow of ideas from the mind to the page. A better way to revise is to write the entire draft, take a break of a day or longer. Why take a break? It allows you to see your work from a fresh perspective or point of view. It’s like looking taking a photograph of a building from different perspectives. From each viewpoint, you’ll see something different. The goal of writing, like taking photographs, is to capture the best image. When you return to your writing, you’ll read it aloud and make notes of things you don’t like. Then you’ll conduct a macro-edit and micro-edit of the entire draft. Often you’ll need to revise your narrative several times before submitting it for publication. Your approach to writing and revising should be to get it down, and then work on getting your poem or story or essay or article right—making it the best you can.
Revision is about rereading your entire piece of writing, find errors, omissions, things that requirement improvement or deletion. Revision is about rewriting. You’ll approach the process of revising from a high level, which involves the entire document, poem, story, article. Editors call this a “macro-edit.” Once you have completed a macro edit of your piece of creative writing, then you’ll complete a line-by-line edit or copy edit. Editors and instructors call this a “micro-edit.”
What to Revise
After writing your complete draft, take a break for a day or more. The break from writing will enable you to see your work from a new perspective. Once you have taken the break, reread your work aloud, and make notes for improvement as you go. After reading your work aloud to yourself, you’ll complete a macro edit. All types of creative writing requires a macro edit, whether you write a short story, novel, personal essay, or literary journalistic article. Once you’ve finished the macro-edit, you’ll also complete a micro-edit, which is a line-by-line edit or copy edit. Not all of the items on this list will apply to every genre.
Macro-Editing. What does a macro-edit involve? For a macro-edit of a personal narrative essay or fictional story, you’ll do the following:
- Ensure that the beginning tells the reader what the story is about and why they should reader it. And also ensure that the beginning grabs the reader’s attention.
- Ensure that your story has a setting. It is shows the time and place of the story. It can be a backdrop, antagonist, or the mood of a story. Does your story, at the minimum, have take place at a particular time and place?
- Revise to enhance the central character. Does the central character have a motive? Character flaws? Have you develop the character with dialogue, behaviour, appearance?
- Revise to improve the structure. Is there a beginning, middle, and ending? Is there an inciting incident? Problem? Setbacks or obstacles? Climax or turning point? Resolution to the story?
- Revise for dialogue. Does the dialogue reveal character? Move the story forward? Sound like real people talking? Does each character speak differently? Is dialogue included in important events or scenes?
- Revise for style. Do you use a consistent voice? tone? diction? Sentence variety?
- Ensure that the story has a correct and consistent point of view. First person (I)?, Second person (you)? Third person (He/she)?
- Ensure that you have included concrete and specific and significant details and descriptions.
- Ensure that you have used imagery, language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch.
- Ensure that you have used figurative language, such as simile, metaphor, personification, symbolism.
- Ensure that you show the reader what happened with dialogue, action, setting, imagery when writing about important events, such as the inciting incident, crisis, climax, resolution.
- Ensue that the story has a theme. What is the implicit meaning of your work?
- Ensure that your story has an ending. And is the ending correct? Open? Closed?
If you are writing a piece of creative nonfiction, you’ll want to also ensure that you have written into a structure. For instance, if you are writing a theme-based personal essay, you’ll want to make sure that you have a variety of sections, which supports central idea.
If you are writing a collage essay, you’ll want to ensure that your “found objects,” such as a quotation, anecdote, vignette, poem, and so forth, support the central idea.
If you are writing a braided essay, you’ll want to be sure that your structure adequately reveals a comparison between two ideas or people or things. For more information, read “The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life” by Priscilla Long.
If you are writing a poem, your macro-edit will consider the following:
- Form–narrative, meditative, surreal, image, prose….
- Line break–for emphasis, enjambment, rhyme
- Diction or word choice
- Figurative or poetic language such as simile or metaphor or imagery
- Concrete and significant details
- Grammar and syntax and punctuation
- Right voice and style
- Sound, such as alliteration or assonance or rhyme
- Rhythm and meter
- Point of view-first, second, third person, invented persona
- Theme–meaning of the poem
Micro-editing. After completing a macro-edit, you’ll complete a micro-edit. Whether you write poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, you must complete a micro-edit. It is a line-by-line edit of the following:
- Grammar. Ensure that you are using correct grammar, such as Correct usage, such as subject verb agreement
- Spelling. Ensure that you are using correct spelling.
- Punctuation. Ensure that you are using correct punctuation-period, comma, dash, exclamation point, question mark, quotations
- Scenes. Ensure that you have shown and told your readers. You must write in scenes for all important events. Do you show your readers what happened? For things that are less important, do you tell your readers?
- Diction/word choice. Ensure that you have chosen the best language. What is the connotation and denotation of each word?
- Sentence variety. Ensure that you have used sentence variety, such as long and short sentence, fragments and climactic sentences, simple, compound, and complex sentences.
- Melody. Ensure that your prose have melody. Have you used alliteration? Assonance? Rhyme? Repetition?
- Rhythm. Ensure that your prose have rhythm? It refers to the patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables. It also refers to the use of repetition? And it refers to the use of parallel structure of your prose?
- Lyricism. Ensure that you your prose are lyrical? Have you used imagery? Metaphor? Simile?
- Usage. Ensure that you have used the active voice, concrete nouns, action verbs. Ensure that you have used adjectives and adverbs sparingly.
A few Suggestions about Revision
If you intend to revise and to publish, you must have a good understanding of grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage, and writing style. If you are not sure about any of these topics, I strongly recommend you read and learn the suggestions, guidelines, and recommendations presented in the following:
- The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English by Patricia T. O’Connor
- The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magical and Mystery of Practical English by Roy Peter Clark
- Sin And Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose by Constance Hale
Revision is part of writing. All great writers revise to improve their work. The best writers conduct a macro-edit and micro-edit (a line-by-line edit) of their work. Revising your work enables you to correct mistakes and oversights, to add, to delete, to alter, to move, to improve and polish a first attempt. Revising your work gives you the chance to create your best work, which improves your odds of publishing it.
Resources. For a more detailed explanation on revising a poem, short story, personal essay, and more, read the following:
- The Artful Edit: On the Practise of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell
- The Story Within: New Insights and Inspirations for Writers by Laura Oliver
- Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining, and Publishing Creative Nonfiction by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola
- Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School
- Writing Your Way: Creating A Writing Process that Works for You by Don Fry
- The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life by Priscilla Long.