Lessons from Writing Poetry

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In writing, I’m constantly trying to learn new things, experiment, and push myself past limits that fear places on me. Thus enters my journey of writing flash fiction, which morphed into writing poetry.

Poetry, particularly spoken word, has always inspired me. It moves me, and ignites the desire to write. But as an art form, it’s also intimidated me. In the last four months, I’ve been on a journey to explore anything that scares me, because I refuse to be limited by fear. So it was perhaps natural, that I eventually explored writing poetry. But there was more at the heart of exploring this avenue than just conquering a single fear. I’ve conquered several, and learned quite a bit along the way. So here’s a list of things that have come from this adventure, that perhaps you’ll find useful, and perhaps you’ll be inspired to dabble in poetry or flash fiction too.

  1. Economy of words – I learned to clean up my word use. Every word counts when space is limited. Instead of using two or three sentences to convey the same idea in two or three different ways, I learned how to make the most impact and say the same thing in three or four words. I plan to use this in making the most out of my novels. Say it once, and have it hit hard.
  2. Lyrical metaphors – There are times that a beautiful metaphor can serve double duty in writing, sometimes serving both a literal and a deeper metaphorical meaning, or convey more emotion with an image than coming out and saying it directly. I love it when I see other authors do this (Markus Zusak does this beautifully), and I enjoy when it comes out in my writing. Poetry has given me a chance to hone in on this particular skill.

If you haven’t read anything by Markus Zusak, well, you’re missing out. Let me give you two examples of lines from different books that have haunted me long after I finished reading them. In The Book Thief, there’s a passage about Jews being marched past a town toward a concentration camp. In describing one of the men in the procession Zusak writes, “His eyes were the color of agony…”

In The Messenger, the protagonist is carrying a tower of books home, and the line in the book says, “I didn’t know words could be so heavy.”

There are so many lines like these sprinkled throughout his work, and he really does it in a lovely way.

  1. Vulnerability – I wrote a post in October about being vulnerable in your writing. I’m not one to just learn a lesson. I take it and try to expand upon it, and poetry has allowed me to be more vulnerable in my writing than I knew I was capable, and I plan to take that and use it in writing fiction, creating more depth in my characters.

I can’t say that these are the only things that I’ve learned from writing poetry, I’m still processing the experience and contemplating how to work these into writing the types of fiction that I love: horror and psychological thrillers. But these are important lessons, and I’ve enjoyed the journey.


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