There it is. The collective sigh when learning that the lesson for the day is on poetry. I know. I've been there. But hang with me a bit.
Poetry may seem like a unpopular and dying art form, but it can help writers of prose in some extraordinary ways. Think about it. What makes poets different than other writers? They deeply reflect on life and write their observations and reflections on paper. Hmmmm. Sounds the same to me. But what poets do that is so extraordinary is that they have the capability to communicate strong emotion in very few words. What takes a novelist 80,000 words to communicate, a poet can say in about 40 lines. That's talent.
While reading a lot of poetry is great, writers can learn more by actually writing it. Have you ever tried to write a good poem? It's not as easy as it looks. Poets spend hours playing with language. They ponder over every word: it's sound, it's meaning, and it's placement. Every word counts and must have a reason to be on the page.
If novelists poured over every word like a poet, they would spent their lifetime completing just one novel. That may not be realistic, but as writers, we can (and should) play with language. Seek for just the right word to include in a sentence. Is there one word that could replace five words? Use it. Consider the purpose for each element in a story. Does each chapter move the story forward? Does each paragraph? East sentence? If it doesn't, cut it. Use simile and metaphor to paint a picture with your words. Consider how words sound, if appropriate. The writing of a story is as important as the story itself.
So don't be tempted to toss that book of poetry into the fire. Take time to read poems about subjects you enjoy or ones that are similar to the topic of your book. Don't read through them quickly. Pause as you read every line. Absorb how the poet crafted each line and notice what role each word plays. You will begin to notice that tightness in the novels you read and your writing will be stronger.
WRITING PROMPT: Write down the theme or idea of your book on a piece of paper or in a black MS Word document. Your theme should be 1-2 sentences about what your book is about. Try to communicate that theme in a 20-line poem. It doesn't have to rhyme, but it can. Then spend some time playing with the words. Does every word have a purpose? What emotion does each line communicate? What power does the poem leave with you when it is finished? Read over that poem before you begin working on the next chapter of your project. Take note of how that excited changed your writing or approach to that chapter.
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