Poetry Not for Wimps

poet is the amen

She said in no uncertain terms, “I hate poetry, it simply bores me and is for wimps”.

Then she wrote a poem since she had an ocean of words to tell her story, and it felt overwhelming, so she thought to try her hand at telling the truth, stripped down and naked through a poem.

She wrote another poem and sent it for me to read. She published that poem. Then she wrote a third poem and read it out loud to a group of writers. Everyone sat stunned.

Not a wimp in that room.

Most people feel like poetry is a breed unto itself, a woman’s preference, a form that does not demand as much as a novel or a memoir from the craftsman. Think again.

Poetry doesn’t have to conform to limits or formats. Poems can be as long as a book, such as Paradise Lost, or simply two lines long, like Ezra Pound’s In a Station of the Metro. It can be 300 pages long as in the revolutionary Dante’s Inferno. Poems don’t have to rhyme or follow any kind of structure or they can be rigidly formatted. Poetry is limitless in its possibilities. For many, poetry is probably the most flexible literary genre.

Introduction to Poetry—Billy Collins

 I ask them to take a poem and hold it up to the light like a color slide                                                  or press an ear against its hive.                                                                                                                     I say drop a mouse into a poem and watch him probe his way out, or walk inside the poem’s room and feel the walls for a light switch.                                                                                                   I want them to waterski across the surface of a poem waving at the author’s name on the shore.                                                                                                                                                               But all they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it.       They begin beating it with a hose to find out what it really means.

billy collins

For those writing 250 pages of something they may get lost in, or have dropped the thread and are trying to stitch the chapters together, stop. Open a new Word Document and try a poem that captures the heart of the book you are writing. It will rearrange the furniture of your thinking so that when you go back to your novel or memoir, or your non-fiction piece of brilliance, you have new crisp eyes to see with. Or maybe like our woman who hates poetry, you will discover the power of your own words in a new way.

And then again, just listen to a bit of poetry that sends your body into a visceral convulsion that rearranges your very cellular nature.   When you hear this poem read by its author, Dominique Christina, winner of the Women of the World Poetry Award, I assure you, you may think differently about a poem from this moment on. This poem is NOT for wimps.

A Cosmic Grid

 

Torus

I am here in Costa Rica holding The Writer’s Experience, which is for the rejuvenation of writer’s so they can express their highest inspiration. We are only on day three and what is happening here has cosmic implications. What does that mean?

It means that as we are all congregated in a space, littered across wooden tables, kittens on our laps, dogs at our feet, peering out at the rising tide, headphones in with fingers furiously pouring inspiration onto a blank page as the vibrational frequency is configuring a grid of joy and love and creativity that places a cocoon of light and energy over all of us. We are all drawing from this universal pool of inspiration and only writer more, better and with such raw honest as a result.

The more we write the more furious the drive for expression becomes. We have become a perfectly synchronized symphony of the heart. This is what community is meant to be. This is why the human being is built to be a pack animal. This is what is possible for the entire planet. We are only one small piece of the puzzle doing our part to live our highest expression of Joy. For us it is through the vehicle of writing. We have plugged our hearts into Nature and Nature has turned us all from a 110 outlet to a surging 220. I am speechless.

Portal

Stories are Alive

Tell stories quote

“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”

― Madeleine L’Engle

 Stories carry energy. Even songs you hear over and over are stories, especially country western sagas of lost love, lost dogs and no truck. Ballads stick with us because they are stories we see in the musical composition. And stories used to be passed down as powerful sources of information and truth from one tribe to another.

But things have changed drastically in the age of the nuclear family. We have lost our tribe and we have lost our storytellers.

So, when I go on and on about the power of story, I am being literal. There is energy in every story: Energy that the storyteller infuses into the telling, energy of the person hearing, and depending on the message inherent in the story, the story itself is alive with meaning and with a vibrational signature all of its own. Story is a powerful change agent.

When we are “burning to say something” it is because we are keeping the story and its energy just cycling in our bodies. The stories lay dormant and when un-birthed or untold they can become part of an illness, a malaise, or some sort of disturbance in the force of who we are. Stories need to do their work and then be passed along so that they can affect more people who need to hear that very thing you are burning to say.

Story is one of the most ancient ways of communication, like music, like poetry and art they are essential to the survival of our culture. And now there are no tribes to pass along the wisdom that comes from living, so each and every one of us are keepers of pieces of the puzzle of life and carriers of truths that our one life has given us. We must all plant the seeds of our experience, our angst, our joy and our wisdom so the next generation has somewhere to hang their hat.

“Stories come alive in the telling. Without a human voice to read them aloud, or a pair of wide eyes following them by flashlight beneath a blanket, they had no existence in our world. They were like seeds in the beak of a bird, waiting to fall to earth. Or the notes of a song laid out on a sheet, yearning for an instrument to bring their music into being. They lay dormant, hoping for the chance to emerge. Once someone started to read them, they could begin to change. They could take root in the imagination and transform the reader. Stories wanted to be read. They needed it. It was the reason they forced themselves from their world into ours. They wanted us to give them life.”
― John ConnollyThe Book of Lost Things

 

The Silent Killer

editing

I know.  You are thinking that I am about to say a few more words on writing true crime but no.  This time I am addressing the one thing we as writers feel compelled to do but this impulse can kill the creativity of a book in a heartbeat.  The silent killer?  Over editing.

There is so much said about wanting to edit your work as you go and I for one want to say:  The kiss of death lies in editing too soon and too much. So, as I launched into writing about this controversial subject for all writers, I stumbled on an article that doesn’t need me to reinvent the wheel to improve upon and I am passing it on to you.  This is sage advise for all writers.

Danger: Over-editing

martin-LR-1Award winning author Gail Gaymer Martin talks about the dangers of over-editing.

One of the plights of a novelist or writer is wanting to perfect your work so completely that you can‘t move forward. I’ve known numerous authors who’ve never completed a novel because they continue to rework the first three chapters until they literally take the life from it.

There can be too much of a good thing. Editing is necessary to create a story that moves forward with every page and every paragraph, but over-editing can be a killer, like over-eating or over-dieting. Weight control is a balance of healthy food and realistic portions. Editing is the same.

The author must balance adding more flourishes to create a rich scene that is often skimmed by the reader or pages of dialogue that becomes too much chitchat, or the opposite, cutting so much out of the novel that it becomes bare bones and loses reality, emotion, and depth. So what can you do? This is the question I was asked by a reader who follows my Writing Fiction blog.

The question:
Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed! I’ve written my beginning over and over again. I have even gotten to 15,000 words but keep getting frustrated. How do you move on without going back and constantly editing? I am a perfectionist, but that seems to be hindering me in my writing. Any tips?

My response:
Over-editing can hinder a writer’s progress and allow someone with talent to never finish a book. It’s a kind of discipline that you have to learn. A novelist’s voice is important. Readers know the tone and rhythm of your writing, and they connect with it. When you strip it to the bones or pile on unnecessary fat, you’ve changed your style and voice and can disconnect with readers.

Editing is to make the book the best it can be, but, sometimes you will reach a point where you lose judgment and do more damage than good to a novel. When you spend all your time tweaking the novel, you are not moving forward. You’ve become stagnant, and when standing still, you get nowhere.

Remember that all books need an editor, traditional or self-published. Think of your work as a first draft and know that if the book is to be published, an editor will help you polish your work with fresh eyes. Self-publishing means hiring an editor to work with your book, and traditional publishing means numerous editors—your senior, copy, and line editors—will go over your book with you at no cost.

Over-editing not only takes the life from the book, but it also steals energy and creativity from the novelist. The book becomes boring and loses its spark. Don’t let that happen. Learn ways to help you move forward.

Techniques to help you avoid over-editing

  • Set a Deadline:

Traditional writers sell a novel and then are given a deadline which is part of the contract so authors make sure they meet their deadline. Even if the book isn’t sold, make a decision when you want the book to be written or when you want the proposal to be ready for the submission to a publisher. Deadlines help you move along. Assign yourself so many words a day. If you spend the time editing, you will have to continue to add  words. Give yourself a penalty if you don’t meet the deadline. No chocolate the next day. No TV in the evening. When you lose something you enjoy for not making the deadline, you will think twice about over-editing.

  • Read  Work Aloud:

Aloud is the key. Listen to your novel either by reading aloud or by using a text to voice program. I use Natural Reader and find it very helpful in not only catching typos or the wrong word (meet instead of met, slide instead of slid) but also spotting overworked words, awkward sentences and redundancies. I highlight the area I want to look at when I finish listening or make note of the page and then look at only those sections later.

  • Use a Critique Group:

While the group is only as good as its members, hearing other’s opinions of your novel can help you discover areas what needs clarifying, cutting or reworking in some way. What’s clear in your mind can be confusing in someone else’s. Ask them to view the action and dialogue with your character’s personality, values and beliefs in mind. Is it realistic and consistent. People change but only in time. Input on your work is important, but not from mothers, siblings or good friends. They aren’t always honest so as not to hurt your feelings. . .or their opinion is skewed because they love you. Critique groups are best when they are fellow authors. When those readers don’t find an error or problem in some of the scenes, don’t change them.

  • Make a List of Common Problems:

When you’re working on a list of specific problems, you will not get stuck in a rut. As you discover areas of weakness, focus on those and once changed, let it be. Too much backstory, lack of description, overuse of dialogue tags, not enough white space on the page, or redundancy. For example, keep a list of words you overuse. As you listen to the novel or skim the pages, notice words that jump out at you because you’ve used them over and over. Use a thesaurus and find alternatives for the same idea and use them. Cut as many adverbs as possible. Adverbs are a weak way to make your character come alive. Avoid adverbs in dialogues tags. Make the sentences come alive with the words you select rather than telling the reader if the character is excited, suspicious or angry and don’t use too many adjectives in your descriptions, but don’t cut them bare-bones.

  • Walk Away:

Give yourself a break from the novel. Put it aside for a few days and allow yourself to un-attach from the story. When you go back, you can look at it with new eyes. What looked bad might be fine. What seemed amazing might be so overworked making it lose its spark.

  • My Editing Method:

I write without editing until I’m done for the day. When I return to the novel, I go back to what I’d written and reread, making a few changes or highlighting a section I’m not sure about or one that needs some research. Then I continue to write, adding more to the story. When I stop, I go back and fix the things I highlighted early that needs work, or I wait and edit the next day. But each day I only edit what I’d written the day before. Once I have five or six chapters written, I edit again, and then move forward with the novel. I always leave a note to myself where I will start when I finish writing for the day or if I’m taking a break. Writers must learn to turn their internal editor on and off as needed. Sadly, too many writers work so hard perfecting the first chapter they never get anywhere, and what they’ve written becomes overworked and loses it’s spark. Part of creativity is spontaneity.

What techniques do you use to avoid over-editing? Let us know in the comments below.f

© Gail Gaymer Martin 2014

TreasuresofherHeart VLDMulti-award-winning novelist, Gail Gaymer Martin is the author of contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and women’s fiction with 55 published novels and nearly 4 million books in print. Her novel’s have received many national awards, such as: the ACFW Carol Award, Booksellers Best and RT Reviewer’s Choice Award. CBS local news listed Gail as one of the four best writers in the Detroit area. She is a cofounder of American Christian Fiction Writers and serves on their Executive Board. Gail is a member of Advanced Speakers and Writers as well as Christian Authors Network and is a keynote speaker at women’s organization events as well as a workshop presenter at conferences across the US. Gail lives in Michigan with her husband.

Visit her website at:www.gailgaymermartin.com where you can read about her latest release, Treasures of Her Heart, available as a trade and eBook.