When I first began the creative writing course that I recently undertook, I had never written poetry in my life. It would seem with advice given and texts read though, that absolutely anybody can write if they feel the urge, but a few rules and tools must be employed if you want to write anything of any note.
One of our first exercises was that of emulation, which helped me personally as it gives you a framework in which to work. Quite often, how a poem looks on the page is extremely important as to the impact it will have on the reader as he/she digests the material. We looked at Battle Cry of the Ant and were given the task of emulating the style of this poem with a poem of our own[i]. I decided upon a poem about a dog, which is probably my most favourite animal. I remember reading this to a friend of mine in Norfolk over video phone and knew that I had struck something correctly when my poetry hating mate suddenly told me that I was describing a dog within the first four lines (although poetry is a real art form and I still do not really see myself as a poet)! I have since come to realise that in order to progress and carry on writing well that we have to use similes and metaphors for imagery, which we all actually use in our everyday speech. We all do this quite naturally as images and pictures are how we visualise information that is directed towards us. One major rule to remember here though is that a lot of these metaphors are actually very cliché which really do not make for very strong writing. These clichés need to be sifted and sorted and superfluous ones thrown into the “toxic language dump”[ii]. A good writer will recognise this and do it automatically. A particularly good example for the “toxic language dump” would be “she stuck to him like glue” which most people would recognise, as well as its meaning, but it would not make for a stand out line in any piece of writing.
Therefore, we are told by many writers (all of them really) that to carry on writing, reading is actually an extremely central exercise. Reading widely can show us many different techniques and tools that are employed in the craft as well as giving us the inspiration for ideas of our own. A quote that I found from the very famous Stephen king on his website tells us that “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write” which to me would be excellent advice[iii]. I myself have always been an avid reader (many genres) and find now that I am often wondering how I may use someone’s style with regards to my own work.
That is to say, that you need to use the style of something, not outright copying, as no one would learn anything from copying verbatim, as well as the fact that it would be outright plagiarism. Another writer offering advice, Anne Lamott, would actually use a metaphor to show us exactly what writing is like as she describes that “writing is like driving a car at night, you only see as far as the headlights but you can make the whole journey.”[iv] This use of the metaphor is something that even non car drivers could make sense of with the picture that it puts into our minds. In this way we can see that writing anything is just done piece by piece and that by constantly reading alongside our writing we will be able to get better and better as we take on board the different styles, techniques and tools that are shown to us by all the other writers around.
There are certain exercises that can be tried too and many of these writers will throw a few out to get new writers to try. Janet Burroway uses this tact by presenting the reader with certain texts (poetry and prose) and then setting some exercises to get the reader to try and undertake these techniques. A good example is a piece of prose by Earnest Hemingway titled A Clean, Well Lighted Place where she sets the task to write something similar in say a different persona, or writing an inner monologue coming from the protagonist’s interior dialogue. By doing an exercise of this nature the novice writer will learn how to “show” a character through sensory detail. [v]
These sensory details are extremely important and are in fact concrete details that a reader will recognise. These types of details are what are needed to bring a piece of writing to life as told to us by another writer by the name of Donna Levin when she tells us about “Killer- diller details”[vi]. This is almost like an unwritten contract between reader and writer whereby the reader knows that the book will be one of fiction, but wants it to sound realistic in order to make him believe it for the duration of the story. I know from my own reading experience that if something does not grab you within the first few pages that the book will get put down and not read.
It is certainly good advice that other writers offer to budding novice writers that throughout any writing undertaken you must continue to read and to do this act widely. As Stephen king says on the website I visited if we “omit needless words”[vii] then we will find a rich and rewarding past time in writing which is something that is coupled with everything that we experience in life, even if the work is one of fiction. All the advice given is after all based on the experience of people that have got themselves writing regularly and is just their story to show us budding writers that with a bit of hard work and listening to the advice on offer that we too can find the path towards a very rewarding past time and way of life.
[i] Brignull, T. “Battle Cry of the Ant” – taken from Morgan, E (ED)(2003) “Reactions4: New Poetry.” UEA, Pen & Inc. Press.
[ii] Poet’s Companion. “Simile and Metaphor”
[iii] King, S. Quote from website for “On Writing : A memoir of the Craft”. http://www.stephenking.com/library/audiobook/on_writing.html
[iv] Lamott, A. (1994) “Bird by Bird :Some Instructions on Writing and Life”. New York, Pantheon Books.
[v] Burroway, J. (2007) Imaginative Writing : the elements of Craft” Second Edition. Penguin Academics, Printed in USA. Longman Publishers, attn. Mraketing Dept., 1185 avenue of the Americas, 25th floor, New York, NY 10036.
[vi] Levin, D. Article adapted from her book “Get That Novel Sorted” and “Get that Novel Written”.
[vii] Op. Cit King, S.