Saturday, October 22, 2005

What Turns a Good Writer into a Great Writer?

Have you ever read a book where you savored every word like a sip of fragrant wine? Has a plot ever pulled you into a story so completely, you felt like one of the characters? Has an author ever made you love and hate a character, all at the same time? Have you ever read a description so vivid, you could smell the pine trees or taste the red velvet cake?

Why can come authors invoke emotions so deep that the feeling lasts for days, while others barely provoke a yawn?

Why are the works of Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Emily Bronte, Rudyard Kipling and many others still revered years after they were written, while other works disappear without a second thought?

The answer could be is that they all were either established poets or dabbled in poetry.

Webster’s English Dictionary defines a poem as: n. a piece of writing, in a particular rhythm, often with lines of a regular length which rhyme.
[1] This simple definition encompasses infinite canons of work. But there is so much more to poetry.

[1] Webster’s Pocket English Dictionary, Revised Edition (USA 1992-2001), pg 412.

I began experimenting with poetry as a way to enhance my writing. We’ve all heard the tired clichés and cringe when we read a book wrought with adverbs. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll use an adverb in a minute if I find nothing else works, but I avoid them if possible. My goal was to rid my prose of tired phrases and add fresh images. I want to write with raw emotion and invoke that same emotion in my reader. I want the reader to smell the subtle scent of a sleepy infant’s breath, to feel the lumpy knots of my Aunt Millie’s aching varicose veins, and to hear the tortured screams of a victim pleading for her life. Any good writer knows that in order to involve the reader, all senses must be used.

The poetry “exercise” as I called it, started out with the goal of finding my literary voice. Like many writers, my first novel did not sell and now lies abandoned on a hard to reach shelf in my office. I never wanted to admit that my “first born” had very little of me – meaning my literary voice was not contained in the three hundred pages I toiled over for months. My first attempts at poetry were pitiful, to say the least, but my tenacity to improve my writing skills kept me going.

I found that my best poetry at that time came to me when I was angry, depressed, or feeling cheated or manipulated in one way or another. Very few of my first poems where happy or warm, because that is not how I felt when I put the pen to paper. I still struggle with “cheerful” poetry, and I consider this an area of opportunity for me.

Poetry can as simple as a five line limerick or an epic work of hundreds of verses as is contained in the Odyssey by Homer. It can be in rigid classical style like John Dryden or in free verse like Walt Whitman.

With a little introspection and time, you will find the poet in you.


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