- A Testament from Dixie (2/24/2015) - Since the release of my book The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics, the subsequent book tour has bolstered my resolve in one thing: Georgia is the seat of ...
- The Southern Collective Soundcloud (12/9/2015) - Hey my fellow collectives, just wanted to bring it to everyone’s attention that I will be getting our Soundcloud page up and running soon. For those who are not familiar ...
- Book Review by Clifford Brooks at Cutthroat Magazine (2/6/2016) - A Review by Clifford Brooks The Blue Demon Chad Prevost The Wing & The Wheel Press, Chattanooga, TN, 2014 ISBN-13: 978-1936196845 86 pages Chad Prevost’s thoughtful and dynamic use of ...
- Noetic: “Brown Penny” by William Butler Yeats (Analysis by Clifford Brooks III) (6/21/2018) - Please follow and like us:
- All Things Write Program (7/27/2018) - “Writing is a symphony when written right; a wonderland with enough wonder.” Join Clifford Brooks III and Celeste Duckworth, for All Things Write, where we will decipher the mysteries of ...
Poet | Writer | Teacher
Expect difficult people, but expect more of yourself.
Difficult people are a close third with death and taxes as unavoidable forces in life. The brighter you burn, the harder you work, the closer you come to your purpose – the chance you’ll encounter difficult people leaps exponentially. I’ve met a few difficult people, and I’ve been difficult more than once. The place I write from is one where I’ve been on both sides of the argument.
Manipulative individuals don’t like paperwork. The more someone urges you not to worry about a written agreement, the faster you should run away. Protect your investment. It’s good business. Publications, speaking engagements, advances on new projects, artwork commissions, and copyrights all require a contract. Keep your grip tight and legit from square one.
A quality attorney is quintessential to avoiding costly headaches. My dad told me, “Cliff, contracts save family and friendships.” True friends and real family will agree. Difficult people change the rules to suit their comfort level. Contracts keep everything clean. Signatures cannot be argued. Your art is your child. Contracts act as the kid’s health insurance.
Be empathetic, but not a pushover. Stand firm. Do not not be ashamed to say, “No.” If you get that “U-Oh Feeling,” something Greater is suggesting you take a moment to reflect. If it is a pain in your ass, and the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, you owe it to yourself to decline.
The best way to avoid difficult people is to surround yourself with good ones. Choose friends that keep your ego in check, understand your moods, gifts, foibles, and in spite of it all – loyal to the cause. There’s a natural, easy flow in relationships unburdened by pettiness. If a relationship is work, that’s to be expected. If it’s a chore, then you need to lighten the load.
Don’t let people rattle your cage. Don’t let the bastards get you down. I’ve written extensively on the chinks in my armor of self-esteem. If you can’t grow stronger, you’ll grow jagged – or give up. I try every day to be better than my mistakes. I fill my time with good works. Difficult people fill their emptiness with your anxiety. Why that’s true has no good answer. The only answer they deserve is, “No.”
Often the easiest way for a rebel to get in print is by following the rules.
To increase your chances of getting published, just follow the rules and use good manners. This is not a trick. This is proven effective. I cannot tell you where inspiration comes from, but I can tell you what will increase your chances of getting published.
- Follow the Submission Guidelines: Really. Submission guidelines are there to streamline the process. Read them carefully. Accept them as gospel truths. If you do, you can be sure the submission gets a fair shake. If you don’t, the work is immediately dismissed.
- Less is More with Your Bio: Keep bios short and sweet. Some mystery is good. Add three-to-five previous publication credits, one sentence that describes you outside of letters, and the link to your website.
- Make Cover Letters Professionally Unique: Again, less means more. A genuine greeting, note of gratitude, and specific reasons you enjoy a publication and/or what drew you to their door are good ideas. “Genuine” is the word of the day. A succinct show of respect goes far.
- Let Us Know if It’s Published Elsewhere: Simultaneous submissions can be a headache for magazines. If your submission is accepted elsewhere, immediately tell the others. Magazines often plug in content as it’s accepted. If failure to communicate prior publication requires editors to redesign the next issue, that leaves a bad taste.
- Be Patient: Patience is a super power, and appealing to – everyone. Editors make effort to respond to you in good time. Don’t follow up about the status of your submission until the specified time frame is past. Getting fussy or rude does no favors, and may eliminate any chance of acceptance now, or in the future.
Make sure the magazines you choose to submit publish material in your wheel house. If there’s a theme they want, be sure to match it. If you see an error in formatting once the issue comes out, kindly let the journal know, and they’ll be happy to make it right. In the event they pass on your work, do not take it personally, and do not rage on the editors. Good manners and an eye for detail will do wonders for your submissions. It’s an art form unto itself. I hope this helps you navigate creatively choppy waters.
The name of the game is quality poetry.
Poetry is a finicky game. Write what you know. Make it accessible. Treat it like a job. If you don’t love what you’re writing, no one else will. Show, don’t tell. Think about you audience, but not too much. All of these rules are true, and a few seem to conflict with one another. Feeling your way along in the dark can often feel like you are left on a dock without a mentor to help you along. Never feel you’re an orphan of words. Creativity doesn’t have to be a one-player sport.
Folks say, “I don’t know how to play well with others. I am an introvert.” I believe artists are all introverts to some degree. A majority of our time involves us in a room alone, or insulated in a crowded room, by our imagination, playing pretend with invisible people. This vivid internal world is crucial for a believable work of art that connects with other people. To balance the internal with a foothold in accessibility, it behooves the artist to adopt a workshop. The key to success is picking teammates who both challenge and support you.
Do not begin any project concerned about how your work will be received. That heavy priority will either daunt you from starting, or force out something so bland that it appeals to no one. Write it for you, keep your eye on the ball, and hunker down every day with excitement for the craft. Abandon fear, and live by the mantra: If I am the only one who reads this, that’s okay. If leafing back through the pages of your hard work gives you peace, you’ve achieved more than most people will in a lifetime.
Visit a few writing groups and online resources for a group that appeals to you personally and professionally. If you get that “uh-oh feeling” of negativity with any part of a group, walk away. Don’t huff off if you hear something other than, “You’re a genius!” Yet, don’t suffer envy, spite, or bullying. Think of your art as your child. Do you want the kid handed everything and blindly coddled? No. Do you want the youngster pushed around by their peers? Also no. Be patient. There’s a team out there perfect for you.
Like all games whether in football, the boardroom, or writing group there will be oodles of men and women who will not like you. Healthy competition breeds better material. Constructive criticism fleshes out your foibles and soft spots in a safe environment to increase your skill. On the other hand, unfair play is everywhere, and if you feel your work is bashed for the reason of keeping you insecure on the sidelines, calmly move on. It is not important for a jerk to know why you bounced from their negativity.
I suggest you meet at least once every two weeks to stay on-point and focused. Email each member you work for the next meeting well ahead of time to allow them an opportunity to study your material. Make sure each session is started with talk about life in general, laugh a little, but be sure to huddle up for the first round of edits before your creative energy is melted away in small talk. The product is the point. Don’t lose sight of the prize.
Set rules for the group that all agree upon. A time limit for each member’s work is helpful, but be flexible if one needs more attention. Understanding and patience goes a long way. Breakthroughs take time, and epiphanies can come out of nowhere. There is an alchemy to creative writing that makes our ball club mystical above-and-beyond eye-and-hand coordination. Yet, we need to bring the same dedication that an NFL player possesses, and wear a thick skin to process criticism without emotional bruising.
The game of poetry is an arduous, prophetic, and profitable. Do not let solitude lose you in the process of writing your first draft. Have faith. Be brave. Forgive yourself, but don’t cow down to anyone – including yourself. A rugged determination is one cornerstone of any successful player. Be your own quarterback, but be sure to build a solid team around you.
With understanding, "odd" becomes "unique."
Living with autism is unique. Like all diagnosis, there is a wide spectrum of varying degrees of those with autism. I am “high-functioning autistic.” It is a condition that today allows me the focus, tenacity, and attention to detail I require to succeed as a writer. It’s toughened me up without evicting my artist’s childlike wonder.
Autistic people are not close-talkers or big-hug-giving folk. Personal space is a big deal. For us: The smaller the party, the better. Our brains translate the external world in shock waves. As people move around the room, various conversations, the smell of awful cologne, lights intensely florescent, someone’s high-pitched laugh- autistic people ingest it all at once, all the time. However, sensory overload can be purged through writing. That’s exactly what I do with poetry.
Social cues are frustratingly hard to translate. The way a person’s tone clashes with their body language will linger as confusion long after the conversation is over. Prolonged eye contact is unnerving. If a sudden sound shocks someone with autism, it pisses us off – bad. We are far more sensitive to smells, the texture of food, the fabric of our clothes, a change in daily routine.
Once a psychiatrist explained autism to me, the peace it gave me still goes strong today. Diagnosed in my 40s, I do not see the years before misspent or maligned. Life is life, and far more of my years have been happy. Today I use appropriate coping skills. I pray. I connected with Autism Speaks and work to educate people. When something “odd” is understood, it becomes “unique.”
Here’s a list of men and women throughout history who thrived, or thrive, with autism.
- Dan Aykroyd – Comedic Actor
- Hans Christian Andersen – Children’s Author
- Benjamin Banneker – African American almanac author, surveyor, naturalist, and farmer
- Tim Burton – Movie Director
- Lewis Carroll – Author of “Alice in Wonderland”
- Henry Cavendish – Scientist
- Charles Darwin – Naturalist, Geologist, and Biologist
- Emily Dickinson – Poet
- Paul Dirac – Physicist
- Albert Einstein – Scientist & Mathematician
- Bobby Fischer – Chess Grandmaster`
- Bill Gates – Co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation
- Temple Grandin – Animal Scientist
- Daryl Hannah – Actress & Environmental Activist
- Thomas Jefferson – Early American Politician
- Steve Jobs – Former CEO of Apple
- James Joyce – Author of “Ulysses”
- Alfred Kinsey – Sexologist & Biologist
- Stanley Kubrick – Film Director
- Barbara McClintock – Scientist and Cytogeneticist
- Michelangelo – Sculptor, Painter, Architect, Poet
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Classical Composer
- Sir Isaac Newton – Mathematician, Astronomer, & Physicist
- Jerry Seinfeld – Comedian
- Satoshi Tajiri – Creator of Nintendo’s Pokémon
- Nikola Tesla – Inventor
- Andy Warhol – Artist
- Ludwig Wittgenstein – Philosopher
- William Butler Yeats – Poet
I use the idea of an accordion to illustrate my style of editing.
The Accordion Principle of Poetry is the literary philosophy I use to polish my work. I never consider a poem finished after I wrap up the first draft. Instead, I hustle words on the page, let it breathe, and then return to it later with fresh eyes. It is time to edit. This is when my accordion comes into play.
I use the idea of an accordion to illustrate my style of editing. First, remove words (compress) without losing the lyrical essence. Take time to look at each line, then slide it over to a friend or colleague for their impression. Does the condensed version say everything you feel? Remember, it takes greater skill to say it with fewer words than with many.
Next, use free association to dash out (decompress) and attach new ideas, descriptions, references, or whole stanzas. Again, relax and take a moment to read the new product. Often surprises await that hide beneath the surface. Let the same individual/editor as before read what you built for feedback.
Repeat this process allowing time to whistle out of you the true meaning. Like learning the accordion, never rush your composition. Let it find you. Forcing a point will stunt your poem’s growth. Never limit yourself.
Here is a poem of mine I recently used as practice:
Breaking the Steady Bender
I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. During these fits of absolute unconsciousness, I drank – God only knows how often or how much. As a matter of course, my enemies referred the insanity to the drink, rather than the drink to the insanity.
Edgar Allan Poe
It is not romantic,
nor necessary dark magic,
to be a drunk.
friends fear your
late-night phone calls.
They do not fear you.
You, a callus next-of-kin,
foul – father, brother, son,
the family sees their tree
has another apple
into a stupor.
You, the causality
of moral torpor.
An alcoholic apathy
was my altar,
a fetid womb.
God and the poet’s
pulled me out
of that tomb.
It is true.
I didn’t expire
in the addled
by and by
is the worst way
I set out to create a poem as a bookend to “Judas Noose Tavern” in my first book. The tone of “Judas” left a forlorn feeling that addiction can’t be overcome. The idea of closing the circle never occurred to me until I cleared my head for inspiration. After I looked at the finished product I:
- Felt that the title and quote only worsened the hopeless feeling achieved in “Judas.” I didn’t like that.
- There was a judgmental tone towards the “you” at the beginning I found unattractive and counterproductive.
- My beating my demons by the end speaks from a haughty place not true in me or constructive for the reader.
I let the discomfort settle over me, and for weeks I stared at the poem. One day it hit me to go back to the spark that lit my inspiration – I wanted to bookend “Judas.” To do that I used the sobriety and poetic growth of the last twenty years since “Judas Noose Tavern” came into existence, and the storyteller perked up. I thought, “What if this poem is written by Bacchus? What if he got tired of the boozy, party-fueled scene and retired? What would he remember, and what warning/hope for others would he impart?”
The childlike wonder sat up, my fingers sped ahead, and this is what I created:
Bacchus sits back with his dignity intact
and reminisces about good luck:
“It isn’t romantic, instead sadly tragic,
to waste one’s life as a drunk.”
Sour consequences and fictitious offenses,
the Lord of Libations speaks of regret,
“Dashell Hammett wrote well. Joplin sang true.
a blacklisted falcon and screeching brunette.”
“Barrooms breed black eyes, and a fool’s folklore,”
taps his smoke growing dour,
“Shotgun claimed Cobain; needles Bird’s ‘nevermore’.”
Bacchus detaches from the past to this hour.
“A family sees their tree has another apple
watering itself into a stupor.”
No good reason except bad timing,
the fate of a slack-faced interloper.
Rock back, rock forward, “An alcoholic apathy
was my altar. Kerouac shared that fetid womb.”
Bacchus blew smoke rings around lost chastity.
“Jesus and the Mary Chain
coaxed me out of that tomb.”
Blue eyes hovered over his ocean view.
Peaceful, humble, healthy, subdued,
a respite being rescued enjoyed by too few.
Do you miss it? Not the women? Not the old crew?
The decommissioned deity is asked every day.
“Not a bit. I got a good one. Good company was overdue.”
Bacchus listens to Bach, breathes deep, then smiles.
No one to argue or harangue over mountains for miles,
and he whispers before a nap, “Good folks, I didn’t expire
in the addled by and by because death-by-cliché
is the worst way to die.”
As you can see:
- I dropped the title and drudgery of Poe’s quote.
- The scene is far more panoramic, and the judgmental over/undertones are removed.
- I brought back the spirit of “Judas Noose Tavern” by highlighting folks who succumbed to alcoholism and drug addiction.
- There are bits salvaged from the original.
Is the poem a done deal? No, but it’s close. Some of my thoughts are to clean up some of the loose rhymes, add people in the last stanza who did face down their demons, and tinker with the title. Am I unhappy with the original? No, it’s an opportunity do improve.
A cool gift to give your reader is a poem that shows your internal machinery. Do not change a poem from a magazine publication to book “just because.” However, never feel locked-in to a poem because it’s been published. Poetry breathes. Let it breathe.
Few poems in my experience end up expressing what I initially set out to say. There is an ethereal quality to poetry more song than prose. Channel the spirit of Weird Al Yankovic, and accordion your poetry to life.
The toolbox of constructive thinking and healthy living includes both religion and philosophy,
Carl Jung said that everything before 40 is practice. I believe it. Through trial and error I think I’ve collected the proper tools to steer clear of chaos. At 44-years-old my main objective is to stay on a positive path of productivity and self-improvement. God is my guiding light. Stoic philosophy is my steady companion. Clear self-awareness is my compass. I believe a firm foundation for right living begins in a marriage of philosophy and religion.
It’s a tricky business to claim a philosophy. Like picking a faith, philosophy comes with countless options, flavors, and accessories. My combination platter of sanity contains generous helpings of the Stoics and the Episcopal church. As a fan of the Stoics, my philosophical footing is firmly in their camp. In 2018, I converted to the Episcopal church. Yes, there are points of historical and ideological contention between the two. So there is between people. So there is within ourselves.
Over time I will check back with blog posts about this process of evolution. Immediate changes are an increase in patience, improved listening ability, and fewer bouts of anger. Seneca says, “All cruelty springs from weakness.” Marcus Aurelius tells us, “You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” James 1:19-20 reads, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for a man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
There is a portion of one letter from the Apostle Paul I want to highlight: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (Galatians 5: 13-15)
Belief and logic are not anathema in my mind. They are an inspiring odd couple. Reality is best met straight on with an arsenal of reason in a leap of faith. How can you fail to be fired up to read:
“It’s time you realized that you have something in you more powerful and miraculous than the things that affect you and make you dance like a puppet.” – Marcus Aurelius
“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca
“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?” – Epictetus
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.” – Viktor Frankl
I challenge you to do a bit of deconstruction and re-evaluation. Looking outside my two pillars of Stoic thought and Christian faith I pick up other ideas like Rene Descartes‘ bit about, “I think therefore I am,” and, “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” There’s the good ole standby of Socrates, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Circle back to the Bible, and in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “but test everything, hold fast to what is good.”
I am not suggesting anyone throw out what they know to be true. Keep what is good. Think about it. Follow your gut. Here I share my baby steps down a peaceful way in the woods that is far from lost.
Faith is the foundation of my new life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
Faith in God bolts me into reality with a beautiful view of the ocean. I grew up in a Southern Baptist congregation. The preachers of my early and teen years never condemned anyone or shouted about damnation. Both men were brilliant, happy, eloquent storytellers who conveyed a constant message that God is love, not a tyrant. Though my church attendance was insisted upon by my parents, I never disliked the experience.
In college I stopped going to church. No dramatic falling-out event with God caused my absence. Campbell University and later Shorter University surrounded me with the Spirit, even if I failed to notice at the time. I felt too busy for an hour of worship Sunday morning. In retrospect, I know bad decisions, hard times, and rising frustration grew from my soulful alienation. That being said, my life has largely been one of joy. Only in the last few years has the tide turned into a series of unfortunate events.
Last year I hit as close to rock bottom as I care to get. A moment of clarity shed light on the fact that God was the only one left who didn’t deeply distrust me. My mother suggested an Episcopal church ten minutes from my home, and after sitting through one sermon I was hooked. An overwhelming peace engulfs me when I attend, and now it goes with me into the world. Here are the 5 ways faith improves my life:
- The Ability to Accept Forgiveness: I am good at hating myself. Self-loathing locked me into addiction. If I could get high enough to forget the monster in the mirror, that beast didn’t exist. In my chemically-enhanced forgetfulness that creature grew fierce. The love of Jesus Christ gave me permission to retire my Hyde, love myself, and accept not only His forgiveness, but my own.
- The Removal of Doubt: Due to my autism and history of intemperance, I developed a crushing case of doubt. I overthought everything. Prayer, parents, priests, therapist, and trustworthy friends prevent me from losing sleep over situations outside my control. A clear mind provides sound conclusions. In the event a decision collides with confusion, I know God will provide insight.
- An Unmatched Sense of Peace: For a million reasons, I accepted that Drama and its sister Chaos were permanent members of the artistic ideal. They are not. When I got out of the way and let God take the wheel, the relief gave me clarity to abandon bad habits, conviction to walk away from poisonous people, and resolve to protect my newfound peace at all cost. You can be dramatic, or you can be successful. You cannot be both.
- The Cultivation of Patience: If I develop any personality trait as a superpower, please let it be patience. Patience blossomed once I accepted absolution, settled my hobgoblins of doubt, carved out drama, and took up the philosophy of: All good things come to those who wait. That doesn’t mean apathy or inaction. It means keep on keepin’ on and stop thinking the world’s clock runs on my time.
- An Unbelievable Level of Productivity: Spiritual due diligence makes space for productive activity. I move deliberately, confidently through the day with a schedule mapped out with scripture study, quiet meditation, necessary naps, time with friends, dates with my sweetheart, writing assignments, reading hours, and gym visits. I get everything accomplished with minimal interference from my “monkey mind.”
God is good. If I get cocky and topple off my cloud, it is not the Lord’s wrath. Negativity befalls me as a consequence of unwise action. Taking everything personally is vain. People lash out. Stress stems from being alive. Fretting about the next hour, afternoon, or tomorrow solves nothing. I find solace in the lives of saints. Good people in life increase serenity. Striving for perfection is folly. There is great wisdom in the word of God. I sleep deeper knowing Mother Mary is always with me. Jesus is just alright with me.
My life as a writer is not unique, but the joy it's brought is unique to me.
My life as a writer is not unique, but the joy it’s brought is unique to me. Fact is, I have recently come into my stride as a troubadour. This is not to say I discount the material produced before this epiphany-of-soul, but rather an admission that the happiness I now cherish creates literature free of fear, drama, and chemical dependence. There is a poisonous, long-standing myth that to write effectively, you must do so from a place of desperation. That is a lie. Desperation is a part of life and thus deserves a spot in your panoramic worldview, but in my tenure as word spinner, misery only begets misery, and misery gets old quick.
I adore my first three books. My struggles, ever-evolving philosophy, and triumphs are legitimately, honestly captured within those pages. Yet, during that decade of publication I was haunted by self-destructive habits, self-centered list of priorities, and toxic relationships. There were wonderful things that happened during this time, but they were often dotted with pockmarks of my bad decisions. Alcoholism from my early twenties reared its head once in a while. A new addiction to my prescription medication did me no favors. My low self-esteem and undiagnosed autism often made me incapable of gauging a tragic romance or friendship ahead of time, and/or feeling unworthy of anything better.
All of this is evident in my work. I am a zealot for telling the truth during victory and defeat. I do not point out a mental health condition or person as the culprit in my tumultuous last few years. That blame is justifiably on me. Instead of finding a remedy for my constant unrest, I threw my efforts into building the Southern Collective Experience LLC. I do not regret one ounce of energy, time, or emotion I feel God put me here to create. In its organization I ran across an army of men and women who taught me who I did not want in the company, those who I do, and provided a highly effective crash course in organizational leadership. I hold no grudges. I believe that revenge poisons everything it touches.
In August of 2018 my prescription pill addiction, binge drinking, unaddressed past trauma, undiagnosed autism, an inability to forge a healthy romantic relationship, and a crippled spirit culminated in a grand mal seizure of my sense of self. For this first time since I was twenty-two, the bad far outweighed the good. I hadn’t written a word of consequence in over a year. Many friends, by necessity, removed themselves from my erratic behavior. I raged on anyone I perceived as the enemy. In a moment of legal and divine clarity, I realized the only villain in this story was me.
I began my rebirth by finding a church that spoke to me. One unexpected blessing from that church is a priest who sits with me two times a month to talk about God, forgiveness, and jazz music. I went back to my Alcoholic’s Anonymous family that never stands in judgement. I found a therapist I met fifteen years ago, and this time focused on my sore spots instead of glazing over them with a quip or half-hearted, “I’ll be fine.” In the face of withdrawals so painful I couldn’t sleep, I began to exercise, eat healthy, and write. The writing was a hobble at first, but as my mind cleared, it grew to a steady jog.
I put God first. I do not preach. I do not stand in judgement. I let resentments go and regrets free to the past. I am sober. I have created a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly schedule that, coupled with a balanced lifestyle, has made me a happy, efficient, and productive poet. I recharge in my hours spent landscaping. I flex my nerd muscles as the church librarian. I spend rejuvenating time with my parents. I’ve reconnected with my friends. I have a woman in my life who is the beat of my heart and former Marine. (Ergo: A source of happiness with the knowledge needed to hide my body in the event of foolishness.)
Life is good. I get up early and burn off my anxiety in productive ways instead of masking them with chemicals and/or uncaring folks. I do not have the answers for anything yet, but I am devoted to figuring it out. I urge anyone who reads this who knows the suffering I’ve endured to nip it in the bud. It doesn’t get better on its own. It sucks for a while, but nothing sucks worse than regret you can’t shake off. Please let me know your stories if you have time. I’d be honored to hear about your stories to add to my life as a writer.
Writing poetry is a craft, and these guidelines will help hone your skill.
Writing poetry is a soulful craft. If your aim is to write for cathartic or therapeutic ends, and then tuck the pages away for private, personal reflection – more power to you. If your goal is to purge life in ink for the reading public, there are ways to make that noble pursuit more effective. Below are 5 ways to write effective poetry that may guide you to reach a larger audience.
- Study the Art of Poetry: Know your craft before you launch into it. It is wise to do research, remain curious, and practice constantly for anything worth doing well. You do not necessarily need a formal education in poetry to nail down the specifics, but a peer group and/or mentor is a smart move. There is no single right way, but finding your way can be as exciting as the act of creation.
- Tell the Truth: Our society is starved for writing that is genuine, honest, and vulnerable. Take a hard look at yourself before you submit your work and ask yourself, “Am I being honest?” Poetry is the truth. It’s construction and delivery is you (metaphorically) naked in front of the world. Brutal honesty with a musical twist is often assumed to be metaphor. You get the cleansing of telling it like it is, and your readers get to enjoy the thinly-veiled mystery.
- Ask Yourself Why: Why use a sonnet? Why does the haiku fit your purpose? Why will iambic pentameter suit you? Why are you capitalizing every first letter in every first word of each line? If the form in which your write, or words you choose, comes naturally – run with it. It’s not advisable to use a poetic form to simply sport the form. The meaning will get lost in your mechanics.
- Learn Correct Grammar: Many folks who don’t consider themselves “poetry people” often think that because examples they read amount to cryptic imagery and absence of grammar. Grammar gives the reader road signs to follow and a foothold into the familiar found in prose. Capital letters note a change in thought. Commas, periods, semicolons. dashes, and parenthesis denote the poet’s thoughtful ebbs and flows. Grammar is not a detail. It is the foundation of writing.
- Less is More: My first mentor, Larry Fagin, taught me an invaluable lesson. He assigned me the task of writing poems using only monosyllabic words. What this accomplished is a habitual awareness of every-single-syllable I use, assessing their value, and thus understanding word economy. The longer the poem, the tighter the lines must be. Throw out “very” and “really.” Find the perfect word. It is our stock-and-trade.
There are more than these 5 ways to write effective poetry. In the near future I will follow up this list with others to help you grow as I do. These are a few useful guidelines that I have tested and found to be dead-bang gospel truths. I work diligently to pen my best efforts for those who do me the honor of reading them. We show, not tell. However, it is a breach of trust to show the reader nothing, and tell them even less.
There are healthy habits writers can develop that will enhance their creativity in the long-run.
Writers have a long history of not being heath-conscious folk. A total lack of attention to physical, mental, and spiritual well-being has somehow become tragically cliched to the life of a “real artist.” Misery begets only misery. I’ve produced higher-quality material at a steadily-productive rate since shifting my focus to being healthy and happy. Over the last twelve months I’ve found 5 healthy habits for writers that prove useful.
- Get Outside & Move Around: I have found exercise to be a cathartic as well as emotionally balancing practice. You don’t have to go to the gym or spend money on classes. There are countless stories of writers who get their best ideas on a long walk. Sunlight gives us vitamin D. Vitamin D aids in the battle against depression. If stress seems intolerable, I promise you’ll feel better after half an hour of exercise.
- Stay Away from Drugs & Alcohol: Moderate use of legal substances is not what I’m talking about. As an addict and alcoholic, I do not have the ability to partake with any semblance of control. If you can, disregard this step. Be wary of using words like, “I need,” or, “I have to have,” when discussing chemical use in your creative process. No matter how bad you think your writer’s block is, addiction makes it far worse.
- Create & Maintain a Schedule: We artists balk at the notion of being restricted by a schedule. Without one I waste time trying to figure out what to do next. I began keeping a schedule in September of 2018, now (just eight months later) I’ve gotten more done than in the last five years combined. Few things feel as satisfying as scratching off an item on your To-Do List. (Don’t be afraid to pencil in a nap every now-and-again.)
- Rediscover the Bliss of Books: I stopped reading because I got wrapped up in the business of writing. After my life imploded last August, the first thing I did was read the Bible. Good books brought me back to sanity. Now I read voraciously. Books are my constant vacation. I created a book club with close friends. I urge you to do the same. Kind company with Tolstoy between you is therapeutic.
- Find a Higher Power: I grew up enjoying church every Sunday. In my mid-twenties I fell out of the practice. In my early-forties I joined a new church because I realized the vacuum my life suffered in was due to the lack of a soulful home. Faith has given me more drive, strength, focus, and sense of forgiveness than anything tangible. Prayer and scripture are a part of my daily schedule. All other suggestions in my 5 healthy habits for writers are built upon this one.
These are ideas that help increase my level of chill in a mad world. I see a therapist to aid the cleansing practice of writing. I meet with my priest once or twice a month to talk about jazz and check my interpretation of scripture. Every day I spend time with genuine people, and waste no time with toxic individuals. The last suggestion I have is to clean up those things that make you the most uncomfortable. I’ll clarify these end notes soon, but please follow these links in the meantime. There are far more than 5 healthy habits for writers, but I pray that these find a way to help you.