Get Inspired with These Writing Books

I’m always reading books about writing. Here are a couple I have finished recently.

The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop by Diane Lockward, Wind Publications, 2013. I may have talked about this book two years ago when I first started working my way through it, but I’ve got to mention it again now that I’ve made it to the last page. This book is fantastic. On days when I had no ideas, I turned to The Crafty Poet and never came away disappointed. Lockward has filled this book with poems, prompts and essays by poets about their craft. The poems themselves are wonderful, but we’re encouraged to use them as springboards for our own work, using some of the same techniques. The exercise I just finished offered a poem with no punctuation or capitalization. I had never written such a poem, but trying it made me feel so free I plan to do it again. Other prompts work with places, sounds, word, line breaks and much more. I’m not sure what I’m going to do now that I have finished this book. I may have to go back to page one and start again. Lockward offers a great poetry newsletter at dianelockward.blogspot.com. I also recommend her books of poetry. I’m currently reading What Feeds Us and loving it.

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr, HarperCollins, 2015. This is the book all my memoir-writing friends are rushing to read this year.  Having read and loved Mary Karr’s memoirs—The Liars’ Club, Cherry, Lit–I expected to love this book. She has received mostly five-star reviews on Goodreads, so maybe I’m just cranky. It is a good book, inspiring and educational, like a master class in the memoir, but I felt handicapped reading it because I haven’t read all the memoirs that she discusses in depth. It was like trying to pass a literature course without doing the homework. Future readers, check the table of contents and read the works mentioned there, as well as Karr’s memoirs. Then you will be prepared for the in-depth analysis in this book. I had expected a how-to for writers, but this is more an exploration of the memoir genre. However, Karr does offer considerable advice about voice and revision, truth and memory, and dealing with family and friends. If you’re a Karr fan, read this, but do your homework first.

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About this blog: I have been doing this blog under various names for eight years, compiling almost 400 posts. Combine that with columns I have written elsewhere, and I think it’s time for me to put together another writing book. What do you think? Would you be interested?

Meanwhile, time is zooming by. Let’s go write.

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Poem Not Right? Write It Again

You non-poets, stick around. This will work for you, too.

I’m not a great reviser of my poetry. I tend to throw lines on a page and consider it done. If it works, it works. But last week a prompt from Poets & Writers gave me a way to make an okay poem much better. The prompt was to take two favorite lines from a poem that needs revision and write a villanelle. Now, a villanelle is a form in which you write five three-line stanzas and end with a four-line stanza. What makes it tricky is that you are supposed to repeat the first line at the end of the second and fourth stanzas and the third line at the end of the third and fifth stanzas, then repeat them both as the last two lines of the ending quatrain. Confused yet? There’s more. The first and third lines of each stanza should rhyme while the second lines all rhyme with each other. Ready to give up? I hear you. For a great explanation and examples of villanelles, click on http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5796.

But wait, you don’t have to write a villanelle. In this exercise, the villanelle is just a tool, like grabbing a different screwdriver from the toolbox. And you have choices. In my revision, I didn’t do the rhymes, just the repetitions, and I liked what I got. Using the villanelle form forced me to think a little harder about what I was trying to say and to choose lines that said it better. However the repetitions became too . . . repetitious. So . . . I started a whole new poem, using the best of the villanelle, with fewer repetitions, and now I really like my poem. It took a while, I got a little sunburned because I was working out on the deck, but now I get it. Keeping only the best of the poem, cutting and adding until all the lines are good, I think I finally am saying what I was trying to say.

They’re only words, friends, tools to express an idea or a feeling. If the words aren’t quite right, reach into the toolbox for other words. You can always save the rejected lines for another poem. If you insist on keeping only the words from that first blast of inspiration, it’s like trying to tighten the screws on a bookshelf with a flathead screwdriver when what you really need is a Phillips-head. You’ll never get it tight, and it will always wobble.

Now go write.