The first draft (rules from Copyblogger)

    A handy poster about how to tackle your first draft. You can download it as a PDF from … [Read more...]

Poetry workshop: Revising a poem

Revising a poem is a patient process. You can rework the poem over a period of days or weeks or even months, and still not feel like you’ve “nailed” it. But here is a list of elements and questions to use as a guide. Is this the best title? Now you have written the poem and know what it’s about, look hard at your title again. Does it suggest another layer? Is it too long? Will it catch the reader’s attention? Look at my post on titles and apply what’s there (in fact, use all of the workshop … [Read more...]

Poetry workshop: figurative language

One of my favourite quotes about poetry is by Paul Engle: Poetry is ordinary language raised to the nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words. There are two ways of looking at the words in a poem. One is that every word must earn its place. This is why many poets revise by cutting and trimming – their focus is to hone the language until it says exactly what they want it to say. The second is to think of … [Read more...]

Poetry workshop: The stanza break

A lot of new poets do one of two things – they either write all of their poems in blocks with no stanza breaks, or they use lots of stanzas (or verses) without understanding why they’re doing it. I was in the first group for a long time. It was as if a stanza break with all that white space was too scary, too much of a decision! There is always a case for a poem with no stanza breaks. You might want something that feels totally cohesive and complete, or a stanza break or two may create pauses … [Read more...]

Poetry workshop: the line break

Where to break a line can be one of the most perplexing decisions for new poets. Is there a formula? A set of rules? No, not really - the decision-making process simply develops over time and with practice. But there are quite a few guides to help you. One is about line length. A longer line creates a sense of flow and slowness, it tends to be more rhythmic and "calming", even musical. Whereas short lines create a sense of pace, they are often less rhythmic and sometimes even jerky. … [Read more...]

Poetry workshop: First and last lines

We hear a lot about the first line and first paragraph of a short story or first page of a novel - how important it is to engage the reader and hook them into your story. It's no different for a poem. From your first line, a reader can and does make up their mind about whether to read the whole thing. A generous reader might give you three lines or a stanza, but especially if your poem is on a blog or webpage, it's too easy to click on to the next one. You may well resist this opening of … [Read more...]

Poetry workshop: The title

Why should a poem have a good title? What can it add? Why is it important? Many poets wrestle with titles and end up using what is called a "label". So their poem is about whales, and they call the poem Whale. Or after trying a few different titles, they decide to call it Untitled (or to be clever and call it Untitled 23). A poem without a strong title is a missed opportunity. A good title can do a number of things: * It can act like the first line of the poem and pull the reader in * … [Read more...]

What makes a great verse novel?

The first verse novel I ever read and loved was Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. The second (four years later, in 2003) was Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. But in between those two, I read a lot I hated. And I’ve read more since then that I thought were just banal, chopped-up prose. It was hard to complain about them, though, because I didn’t really know what a verse novel was “supposed to be”. However, in the past 6 months I’ve had to tackle this question in considerable depth, because I chose … [Read more...]

Reader’s question: when is it plagiarism?

Flannigan writes: When is it plagiarism? Recently, I was getting on with my writing, and I was doing well, too. Getting the words in, doing something different. Inspiration poured from books I’d read and things I’d seen. It was fun. I was having a laugh. But I missed reading. So I’d decide well, I can do both. So every day, I’d read a chapter of my book, and then write a bit. I’d write, read, write, read, write, read. It got to the point where I was reading a chapter of a book, and … [Read more...]

Why writers need to research the past AND the here and now

You might be writing something set in the present day, in your home town or city, and feel you have no need of research. But today’s readers are drawn to stories with details and descriptions that feel authentic and that can be visualized – it’s part of the way our culture has become so much more visual. While I’ve written a number of historical novels now, and honed my research skills through trial and error, I’ve also come to realize that even my contemporary stories improve with realistic … [Read more...]