William Wordsworth expresses a simple concept that can be difficult to execute: being yourself. Read more
“If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you.”
I believe this is a truth that goes beyond writing. When we surround ourselves with positive, supportive people, we in turn become more positive and supportive, fostering a nurturing environment that is conductive to achieving our fullest potential — as writers and as human beings. Read more
They say it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. We can say the same thing about writing: it’s better to write badly than to write nothing at all.
Jodi Picoult offers some insight that summarizes this idea in a clear, concise manner:
“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” ― Robert Frost
Emotions are fickle. Sometimes they’re clear and brilliant: we’re happy, sad, frustrated, or angry. But emotions can also be complicated, layered, and conflicting. Sure, we’re happy, but we’re also kind of annoyed about something. We’re sad, but we also have something to be glad about. When emotions are textured and gritty, they are difficult to describe. Read more
When I read Mina Loy’s description of poetry as “prose bewitched,” I felt like someone had captured the true essence of poetry for the first time.
We often struggle to define abstract or obtuse concepts. One of the greatest and most challenging questions of all time is, what is art? Although dictionaries attempt to define art, no definition quite captures its essence, so artists and thinkers have tried to define art in their own words for centuries.
Like art, the definition of poetry has been explored by writers, thinkers, artists, and poets themselves. So what is it? What is poetry?
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary gives us plenty of definitions for the word poetry:
- the writings of a poet : poems
- something that is very beautiful or graceful
- metrical writing : verse
- writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm
- something likened to poetry especially in beauty of expression
With all due respect to Merriam-Webster, I don’t think any of these definitions do poetry justice or truly convey an answer to the question, what is poetry?
I thought I’d take a stab at defining poetry:
Poetry is a linguistic art form that can be written, spoken, or performed. It focuses on the aesthetics of language. It is often composed in verse as opposed to prose and is more concerned with evoking an image or emotion (or both) over clearly communicating a thought or idea. Poetry makes liberal use of literary devices, such as alliteration and metaphor. It is the musicality of language, the rendering of abstract thoughts, ideas, and emotions, rendered with words and sounds. It is pictures painted with words.
As you can see, I can’t capture the essence of poetry any better than a dictionary. Poetry is all of these things and none of these things. There’s a magic in poetry that is difficult to describe in words, even though poetry itself often uses words to create magic.
What is Poetry?
I think we need poetry itself in order to truly convey what poetry is. Mina Loy said it well, so let’s revisit her explanation of poetry:
“Poetry is prose bewitched, a music made of visual thoughts, the sound of an idea.” — Mina Loy.
Do you ever write poetry? Which poems and poets are your favorites? How would you answer the question, what is poetry? Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment, and keep writing poetry!
We’ve all read books, articles, and poems that we completely forgot about once we were done. But some written works linger. They haunt us or stimulate our thoughts. They provoke our emotions.
That kind of writing is special.
When you create an emotional connection between your writing and your readers, there’s a lasting impression. That’s what happens when you write with passion.
Those two works, along with dozens of others, became threads in the tapestry of my world. That’s the power of writing that slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart, as Maya Angelou described. This kind of writing affects people, influences them, and shapes their lives because it’s imbued with passion.
Maybe your readers will enjoy your work but get back to their lives as soon as they’ve closed the cover on your story. Or maybe you’ll make a difference. Maybe you’ll change lives and make some small (or great) change in the world. There’s no right or wrong way, but when you write with passion, you certainly increases the chance that your work will stick with people.
Quotes on writing: source
“It has never been easy for me to understand why people work so hard to create something beautiful, but then refuse to share it with anyone, for fear of criticism.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
Putting yourself out there isn’t easy. When you share your work, you open it up to criticism. What if people don’t like it? What if it gets a negative review? What if nobody reads it?
I share my writing all the time, thanks to this blog. In the early days, shortly after I launched Writing Forward, I would sometimes wake up in a panic the day after I’d published a new post. Had I said something stupid? Misspelled a word? Misplaced a comma? A few times, my fears were realized. I’ve published posts with typos in the headlines, and I once spelled a famous author’s name wrong — in a headline.
Putting your work out there is risky, and it can be scary.
Here’s the thing: you’re going to make mistakes. Sometimes, a piece you thought was brilliant will turn out to be a dud. Other times, a piece you thought was dull will catch fire and go viral. Some people will like what you’ve written, but there will be others who don’t like it or who don’t care to read it at all. You never know how people are going to respond until you share your work.
Share Your Work
I’m of the belief that not every piece of writing should be shared. Some of your projects won’t turn out the way you had hoped. There’s no reason to force a piece to publication when it’s not ready or if you it’s not up to your usual standard.
However, there’s a difference between holding on to a piece of writing because it’s not polished and holding on to a piece of writing because you’re nervous about how people respond.
Some of us refuse to share our work because we’re hard on ourselves; nothing we do is good enough. Some of us are perfectionists — we’ll spend years revising and editing but never quite living up to our own perfectionism. Some lack confidence; they believe nobody cares what they have to say. Some are simply afraid of failure — the possibility of negative reviews or low sales is enough to prevent them from sharing their work.
The lucky among us never struggle with these thoughts. They gladly put their work out there for all the world to see. But everyone else needs to learn how to to put their egos aside. Most people will have no interest in what you’ve written. Many won’t like it. Some will leave negative reviews.
But don’t let that stop you, because if you don’t share your work, you’ll never find the readers who will hang on to your every word, who will leave glowing reviews and tell all their friends about your writing. We all have to learn to take the good with the bad.
A Worthwhile Risk
The point is that as a writer, sometimes you’re going to have to take risks and put yourself out there, even when you’re scared. And if you blow it, if it blows up in your face, you pick up the pieces, get back to writing, and then put it out there again. And again. And again.
So keep writing, and then go forth and share your work.
“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt,
and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”
– Leonardo da Vinci
What is Art? What is Poetry?
For centuries, people have been asking the question what is art? Is art a question? An answer? An expression? A statement? Maybe it’s sheer entertainment.
It’s a question we all must answer for ourselves, especially artists and writers.
I believe the best art entertains while it provokes thought or emotion, but that’s just my personal opinion. You might seek art that makes you laugh or fills you with awe. Some prefer art that is masterfully crafted, regardless of the content or messages it communicates.
Poetry That is Felt
In the world of art, poetry is particularly tricky to define because it can be so many things. Consider Dr. Seuss’s frolicking stories written in meter versus the social-political poetry of Adrienne Rich or the tribute poetry of Robert Frost and you soon realize that poetry’s purpose is really the poet’s purpose.
When Leonardo da Vinci talks about a painting as a poem that is seen (as opposed to read), I think he’s making on observation about art, something similar to the idea that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” A single painting can express ideas and emotions that would take a thousand words or more to convey in poetry or prose.
But when he talks about poetry as a painting that is felt rather than seen, he digs into the heart of what poetry can be–text that moves people emotionally. I would expand on that to note that often poetry (and other art) provokes emotions that are difficult or even impossible to put into clear words. Sometimes you read a poem and it makes you feel or understand something, but you couldn’t possibly explain it in concrete terms, and if you could, it would take an essay–or even an entire book–to convey what the poem communicated in a few lines.
That’s the magic of art and poetry. Ultimately, it is a form of communication that is almost psychic in nature.
What does poetry mean to you? How do you define or identify art?
“A writer who waits for ideal conditions
under which to work will die
without putting a word to paper.”
– E. B. White
What are your ideal writing conditions? Is it quiet or are there stimulating background noises? Are you alone, curled up in a chair with a pen and notebook, or are you in a bustling café, gleaning inspiration from fellow patrons and a tasty meal or cup of coffee? Are you already rich and successful with all the time in the world to dedicate to your craft or are you a starving artist, hungry to get that first publication credit, desperate to complete that first novel?
Inadequate conditions are one of the many excuses that would-be writers use to explain why they’re not getting any writing done. Their schedules are too full, their bank accounts too empty. They’re too tired or not inspired. They haven’t found the perfect story idea. They don’t have a comfortable chair or there’s too much noise–too many distractions.
Every excuse–every reason not to write–is just that: a distraction. Writing is the cheapest and most accessible craft in the world. All you need to get started is a pen and notebook. If you have a fancy computer and state-of-the-art software, all the better, but owning these tools is not essential. Anyone can rent computer time in a local library (Ray Bradbury rented typewriters when he first started his writing career).
Ideal conditions may happen someday. Your personal responsibilities will dwindle. You’ll have a spare room you can convert into your own personal writing studio. You’ll have spare cash you can spend on tools, equipment, and weekly trips to a quaint café. In the meantime, why let all these excuses stop you from doing what you love?
If you really want to write…if you truly want to become an author, you won’t let anything get in your way, least of all, imperfect conditions.
Writers Must Read and Write a Lot
Stephen King’s statement is one of my favorite quotes on writing. It should be repeated often and expressed in as many ways as possible.
Writing begins with reading. It is through reading that we learn how to tell stories, how to choose words and craft sentences. The books we read will inform and inspire the books we’ll write, and there’s a lot we can learn from the authors who have gone before us. How can we write if we don’t read?
It might seem obvious: if you want to be a writer, you have to write a lot. But a lot of would-be writers are struck with an idea and think they can become published authors overnight. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say things like how hard can it be to write a book? Anyone can write a book. You have to do a lot of writing before you’re experienced enough to write a book that people will pay to read–unless you’re some kind of prodigy, which most of us are not.
Stephen King’s sage wisdom on reading and writing a lot is the foundation upon which all writers can build their habits and practices. So what are you waiting for? Pick up a book, read a few chapters, and then dig into a nice, long writing session.
How often do you read? How much do you write? Do you have any favorite quotes on writing? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!