Teaching Poetry

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“In high school your teacher made you analyze a poem and then told you that you were wrong, correct?”

Applause. Nods. Agreement.

If at all possible, stop doing this to students. That is why so many people dislike poetry. They feel it’s too hard to understand and when they try, they are told they are wrong.

In my class, I allow students to choose which poems they want to read. Then I ask why they chose those poems. They all have their own reasons, looking for something interesting, the shorter the better, some element they can relate too.  And I ask them what they got out of it.

Not what it meant. Not to analyze it. What did you get out of it? No wrong answers, no judgement.

My students have told me that I’ve allowed them to love poetry, to appreciate it for whatever they feel it adds to their lives.

We go over the elements, the possible meanings; but, mostly, I just want them to love poetry again. And it works.

I’ve taken away the fear of being wrong, of being stupid, and gave them the sheer enjoyment of language.

Deeper meaning will come – at their own pace – and when/if they want it to.

The Secret to Successful Short Stories

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I spent much of my time in grad school trying to please a certain teacher and understand the secret formula for a short story.

Up until that time, I’d only written novels (or novellas), longer pieces of work in which I developed the characters and followed a plot. These felt full and complete.

Writing one small selection vexed me.

So I read and read and researched and attempted one time after another to create a successful short piece.

I suppose there is no formula and  no one right answer, which is what I was looking for – the correct answer.

Of the things written in grad school, the one instructor I attempted to satisfy deemed them mostly unworthy.

It wasn’t until near the end of graduation that an instructor said “half of that story was the best he’d ever read.”

He didn’t tell me which half.

However, almost all those stories have been pulled out, dusted off, and accepted with few edits. Hence – dear teachers – they were good! I had learned something; I had accomplished something.  (I must be doing something right, over 30 published in the last few years!)

There may not be one right answer, and there’s no secret, nor is there a hidden formula. Short stories need to get to a point, need to have conflict, need to show a budding of growth – perhaps.

 

 

Study the Masters….

faulkner“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.
Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”

 

 

Some people feel they should not read others or study the masters because it will influence their voice; however, experts recommend that is where you begin in order to develop your voice. Finding your voice takes time and it takes writing, regardless of who you read.  But you do, without a doubt, need to read far and wide.

Weathering the Storms

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Is there anything worse than a bad review?  Probably, but we don’t think so when we get one.

But ask yourself why you’re upset.

1. Is there some truth to the review? No – then forget it! Yes – then what is it?

One woman relayed that her one star review mentioned grammar and punctuation errors. She said, “I know there are some, but there’s not that many!”

It seems she knew she put out work that was not of a superior quality; she can’t be upset when someone calls her on it.

2. Is it someone who just wishes to malign you? Accept that there are going to be haters. Everyone has them. Remember this quote: “Well behaved women rarely make history.” If someone dislikes you – you might just be doing something right.

3. Someone told me – it’s only the writer who reads all the bad reviews. I think that’s supposed to make us feel better. But it’s true. When you look at reviews, do you search out every bad review there is? or do you read maybe the top five or ten of all the reviews?

I, personally, read a few of each. A few of the five star, a few of the three star, and a few of the one star – critical readers can tell if someone has an ax to grind or if they have real concerns.