Tag Archives: writing advice

Writing Poetry as Therapy for a Broken Heart

I think it’s fair to say that I am not alone in experiencing the dread and pain that comes with a broken heart. While a lot of people turn to chocolate, movies, best friends, or alcohol to help them cope (healthily and unhealthily), I have to say what has worked best for me during heartbreaks is writing poetry.

I will admit to writing terribly sappy “he was the one and now I am forever alone in sadness” poetry and then burning said poetry because it was too awful to read after I had written it, but after the initial pain of a breakup I still find that some of my suppressed feelings, that I have convinced myself are gone, resurface when I work on poetry unrelated to my own past pain.

Take this untitled piece I wrote with the idea of a first date going nowhere (still untitled):

His bouquet of oaths fades
to withered branches
waning as time passes
into dried sticks
and potpourri.
Decay perfumes the air
while his promises are forgotten.

Read and reread the poem and I think you will agree, the image of a first date fading to nothing is really not apparent but hurt feelings towards a partner or ex partner for broken promises is the more obvious theme of the poem. When I wrote the poem, I was not picturing my past, my past relationships, or any feelings I harbored over past breakups yet there they are.
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Being Oral: The Cure to Common Writing Mistakes

While I will never claim to be the world’s best writer nor the world’s best editor, I am employed as a reading and writing tutor, so I have a little bit of insight on how to catch writing mistakes that plague not just student writing, but common mistakes that are found in blogs, emails, and self-published works across the internet.

One major turn off for a reader that writers across the board seem to make is repetition.

Yes, I get it, the point you want to make is strong, and for emphasis you say it again. That’s a style point, but I’m not talking about repetition for style here. May writers will say something in one paragraph, then say the exact same thing in a second paragraph to seemingly link the two ideas together, but what the reader gets is just a lot of repetition that turns them off.

Another, harder to spot (at least if you are the author) form of repetition is repetition of word choice. We’ve all had a friend who seemed to favor one word in conversation (I knew a guy that said concur way too often. Maybe he was just a really agreeable sort of guy?).

Like this guy. For seriousness, I have met more than one person with this problem.

Want to stop this in your own writing? Read your work out loud. I’m not kidding–you see, our brain divides up language seemingly into two components, one for oral language (also known as Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills, or BICS for short) and the written or academic component of language (or Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency, known as CALP in shorthand). In general, most people have way higher BICS proficiency than CALP, and hearing words spoken rather than seeing them on the page helps find repetition and other errors that the writer’s eye alone cannot spot because we tend to be more skills in the oral realm of language.

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Understanding Hemingway’s Advice to Writers

Ernest Hemingway

I have always found that being familiar with an author’s life and lifestyle makes his or her works more interesting to read. Although my father, an engineer who rarely reads literature, was fascinated by Hemingway enough to have named one of his cats Ernie, I only recently, post-college, came to know Hemingway more intimately. I sort of stumbled into my infatuation with him after reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, a book, which my mother gave to me as a gift, about Hemingway’s life during his first marriage, narrated in the voice of his first wife, Hadley Richardson. After reading about him from the perspective of someone he both loved passionately and betrayed immensely, I needed to read more about him. His life and lifestyle are as engrossing to me as his writing, and the following quotes can be considered some of the best, most simple pieces of advice to fellow writers from one of the greatest, Ernest Hemingway.

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.”

Just think of all those times we’ve felt emotionally hurt or betrayed and we didn’t know who to turn to, so we picked up a book to be distracted from the world as long as necessary. (Or is it just me doing that?). A book will never let me down. Unless I’m reading something extremely uninteresting, I am happy and content whilst reading.

“My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.”

As I said in a previous post about a Robert Frost quote, emotions have to pour out of our hearts through our fingers and into the words we’re writing. Write what you feel without thinking too much about what you are writing. In simpler terms, just write.

“The first draft of anything is shit.”

I think this is important for writers to remember: we’re never going to be happy with anything we’ve written the first time we’ve written it because it is never going to be perfect the first time. That is what revision is for. A first draft is exactly what it means. It is the bare bones, the plan, the blueprint of the story that will be developed into something wonderful over time. Don’t be so hard on yourself; we’ve all heard the saying “practice makes perfect,” and writing is not an exception. The only way to be good at writing is to write more.

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Children’s Books: A Break from the Adult World

Writing for children can be refreshing. Unlike stories aimed at an adult audience, the world inside a children’s book doesn’t always have to make “sense.” Animals can talk. Beds can fly you to different dimensions. A bear can be best friends with a little boy.

Many authors have taken breaks from writing for adults to dedicate children’s books to their own children or grandchildren.

Aldous Huxley wrote The Crows of Pearblossom as a Christmas gift for his niece in 1944.

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Ian Fleming wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which was adapted into a film in 1968, for his son.

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Upton Sinclair wrote The Gnomobile for his grandchildren in 1936, which, like Fleming’s book, was also turned into a film–a musical by Disney.

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These books weren’t necessarily characteristic of these authors. Fleming, for instance, was known for his James Bond series, and The Gnomobile was much more humorous and goofy than Sinclair’s usual work. But that’s where the refreshing part comes in. Writing a children’s book can be a, hopefully fun, escape from the sort of pieces you usually write.

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Broke this Summer? Become a Ghost Writer.

What does an English major do for money in the summer? I, for one, have ghost written in the past as a way to secure summer income (since tutoring is really nonexistent in the summer months).

I have ghost written teen romance novels set in the horse racing world,

As he taught her to ride his large black stallion, he leaned in for a kiss and whispered “you ride so well.”

fantasy novels, involving werewolves and princesses,

At least there were no vampires or creepy pedophilic romances.

and, of course, potato diet cookbooks.

All hail the glorious potato!

While I was paid to write these and other various projects, my name was never on them, and that is the glory of being a ghost writer, in my opinion.

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My (Terrible) Writing Abroad

Well, I’m back. Did you miss me? Of course not! I left a bunch of posts to be posted while I was away. While I was abroad in Taiwan, I did have internet access at regular intervals, but being in a new environment, working, and trying to get along with my group, I didn’t really have much of a chance to write, either in the blog or on personal projects.

I brought a book to research with me and, in a month, I made it about half-way through. There’s just something about a new environment that keeps me from settling into a pattern that would be conducive to writing.
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Questioning a Quote: Do We Adhere to Quotes too Easily?

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.

– Robert Frost

While searching for inspiration to write a short story about a year ago, I stumbled upon this Robert Frost quote. Frost (1874-1963) is most well known for writing the poem “The Road Not Taken,” which is one of the most well known, most commonly taught in schools, most often quoted, and most wonderfully and widely interpreted poems ever written.  (It is also quite popular as a tattoo!)

Robert Frost
Robert Frost

Because Frost wrote a poem so well known, there is the almost inevitable mistake of trusting that what Frost is quoted as saying is an absolute statement of genius, and, from time to time, I am one of those people that succumbs. Because I admire Frost, I did not question the logic of his quote, and sloppily wrote the quote on a post-it note to go with the other motivational quotes on post-it notes above my writing desk.

Looking back on my years of writing, I have written countless short stories that have produced no emotion from within me, and the lack of emotion was visible when friends read those stories, too. For years I was struggling to reproduce the emotional response I gained from a short story I wrote when I was nineteen in a creative writing class. The story was written six months after I had major surgery, and it was about the days I spent in the hospital under drugs, in horrendous pain, and in a physical state that most people will be lucky enough to never experience in their lives. Because it was so fresh in my mind, the emotions came pouring out of me; I cried as I wrote the story. When I finished it, I panicked that it was too personal, so I rewrote and presented it as a fictional piece. I’d gotten sick and lost my voice on the day I was supposed to present it, so I asked a friend to read it to the class. I nearly cried (I blamed my cold for my sniffling). In the workshop, people commented on the emotions they felt from hearing the story in its earliest draft. It has been four years, but I can still remember the emotions contained within the four walls of the classroom on that February day. Knowing that my own words written on a page can produce such strong emotions makes me want to write all the more.

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A Writing Exercise to Help Fill that Blank Page

Sometimes, getting started is the hardest thing about writing. You have ideas, seemingly brilliant, written down in some hidden file on your computer or inside a creased notebook, but when you actually sit down to write–nothing.

Even though I love writing, it can feel like an enormous weight at times. Not the act of writing itself, but the pressure of having to fill up all that emptiness with something that actually matters. A fellow contributor recently shared an article with me published on Cracked.com with some writing advice that made sense and an exercise to help writers stuck in a rut.

First, if you’re not enjoying yourself, just quit. This isn’t news to all of you, but, still, I think sometimes we all need to be reminded. Writing shouldn’t be an agonizing chore. If you aren’t enjoying the process, then it’s more than likely that your readers will not either.

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Freedom in a Pen Name

There have been many writers throughout history who use pen names to disguise their true identity. Charlotte Bronte published her pieces under the name Currer Bell, while her sister Anne went by Acton Bell and Emily went by Ellis Bell. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wrote under the name Lewis Carroll, and Theodor Seuss Geisel is known to children everywhere as Dr. Seuss. The list keeps going.

But what’s the point of these pen names? A pen name is useful for a few different reasons. If the topic you are writing about is controversial or if characters in the piece resemble friends and family (or even yourself), then a pen name can remove the anxiety of having your own life looked at through a magnifying glass.

Some authors use their real name and a pen name, depending on the piece. A historical writer interested in dabbling into fantasy or science fiction writing may use a pen name for the latter so that fans aren’t confused by the different style and focus. A writer may even decide to create a pen name that appeals to their chosen audience, like J.K. Rowling, whose name is actually Joanne Rowling; Rowling changed the name on the cover of Harry Potter after her publisher explained that their target audience–young boys–would be more prone to grab it off the shelves if a girl didn’t write it.

Interestingly enough, Rowling’s most recent book was written under another pen name, Robert Galbraith, which she used to write The Cuckoo’s Calling, a mystery novel. In the Sunday Times, Rowling admitted:

Being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience. It has been wonderful to publish without hype and expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.

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Facing the Inevitable Rejection Letter

Rejection is an inevitability if you ever plan on actually submitting your writing for publication. The only thing writers have control of is how they react to it.

Sometimes that’s difficult, because rejection may be harsh and critical. A rejection slip sent to Rudyard Kipling from the San Francisco Examiner read:

I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.

(Credit: electricliterature.com)
Yeah, this guy had a lot of time on his hands. (Credit: electricliterature.com)

Sometimes so harsh that you may think the editor spent hours writing up that letter, like the one pictured to the right, sent to Gertrude Stein in 1912 by publisher Arthur C. Fifield regarding her manuscript for Three Lives.

Remember, rejection isn’t the end of the world. Rejection doesn’t even mean you or your writing sucks. There are lots of reasons why something you submit might be rejected. For one, the publisher might have a similar piece already in the process of being published. If you’re lucky, you may get a rejection letter that suggests you try again or offers advice on how to better the piece. So don’t sweat it. And just work on getting over it.

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