Thursday, April 11, 2019

Writing rules - do they inhibit creativity?

Two members of Writers Abroad, on opposite sides of the North American continent, discuss this age-old topic.
Part 1 (Part 2 will be posted next week)
SB: M, You recently said that perfection can be a barrier for a writer, can you expand on that?
MS: I’m really referring to my own work which I often compare to that of others, I feel my work could be more polished.
SB: What do you mean by polished M? Do you mean in terms of the rules of writing?
MS: Yes, and no. It is so beneficial to belong to Writers Abroad and have this wide and diverse membership read my work and offer suggestions for the many ways to change and improve it… but… my concern is that the heart of the work could get diluted. In striving for perfection, will the story lose some of its soul?
SB: I know exactly what you mean. IMHO, as long as the critiques and reviews are suggestions, they can be taken or otherwise. Who is making the rules anyway. There is a trend now for the writer to be much more true to themselves.
MS: In what way S?
SB: Personally, I feel there are times to forget about grammar – for instance, and this is just an example. Let’s take sentence structure, there could be times when, say, a series of two-word (or even one-word) sentences will add to the texture, to the tension, to the rhythm of the work.
MS: Interesting. When I submit a piece for review that is in the first stage of creation  I’d much rather hear about how my work makes a reader feel, than to know I’ve missed out a semi colon for instance. After that, when the work is not as vulnerable, I’m all for suggestions on sentence structure and writing rules, like show, not tell and so on. Then, of course, there’s this polish that many publishers state in their calls for submission.
SB: Oh yes, when it comes to polish, I’m inclined to look at it a bit like a painting – you know how you can overwork a painting – there has to be a time to leave well alone. Over polishing can take the shine right off. You can take all the perfection away by trying to make it more perfect. But observing the rules – and then breaking them can also work.
MS: Ha S! Like your Picasso analogy? 
SB: Aaaah, the story goes that Picasso had to go to art school and learn all the rules (and there are good examples of how he executed those rules as a student) – but then he was true to himself, and look at his success. Looking at his work, I do see all the deep understanding of those rules. Not visible. But understood.
MS: Back to the rules (you see how I have to keep bringing you back on topic!) – are we still talking about grammar here, or rules laid down by publishers.
SB: Gosh, M. Publishers’ guidelines are a whole n’other kettle of fish. They all seem different. Fonts, formats, etc etc etc. But I think once you find a good fit with a publisher, they will respond very kindly once they see the spirit of the work. But they can still be tricky. I understand Margaret Atwood still, after a lifetime as a successful author, has to negotiate small stuff with her editor (trading a comma with a semi colon for instance). It’s the writing world.
MS: But what about self publishing – I’ve had great success with mine. At least I could be true to myself with that.
SB: And that’s the nutshell of it M – being true to ourselves – but also being happy to consider the invaluable suggestions made by our WA members and our teams of beta readers. Happy Birthday by the way.
Part 2 next week. Join M and S as they take this discussion further, maybe addressing some of your comments and feedback.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

My Love Affair with Poetry

My Love Affair with Poetry - Scratching the Surface



From an early age I loved story books - especially where the stories were told in verse. I was raised on Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses in the 1940s. In the 50s I subscribed to a magazine (6d per fortnight) called Sunny Stories which contained ‘jolly’ poems along with ‘splendid’ stories. In the 1960s, my children loved the Ladybird rhyming stories: Bunnikin’s Picnic Party, Ginger’s Adventures, and Smoke and Fluff. We especially loved Smoke and Fluff, the tale of two naughty kittens. I can hear us reading together until we no longer needed to turn the pages as we remembered every predictable melodic syllable.




Predictability helped remembering. Being able to retell the tale. Throughout history it was easier in verse. Storytelling was as important then as now. And listeners often loved that they already knew how the tale went, finding comfort in its predictability.

These days we may more often look for poems that are thought-provoking and surprising. Have you noticed how poetry is currently serving many more purposes with wider and wider audiences? In many forms and platforms too. e.g. The Nationwide Building Society is going great guns with its spoken word performance poetic advertising, so is The Royal Navy to mention just a couple.
And just look at the popularity of rappers like Nicki Minaj with:
I said, excuse me you're a hell of a guy
I mean my, my, my, my you're like pelican fly
I mean, you're so shy and I'm loving your tie
You're like slicker than the guy with the thing on his eye…
If that’s not poetry then I don’t know what is.
I won’t talk about well known poets like Emily Dickinson, John Donne, Alfred Lord Tennyson or Dylan Thomas in this blog - instead, I’d like to give a mention to songwriters who were poets, like Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and, of course, The Beatles. Naming but a few of those who often write/wrote the poetry first. They sure found the form, the language and the melody, and in that, their music.

Poetry can be experimental. Phrases can be spare. Message essences are captured. Then up will pop that spark, followed by a flame which gives us the light to see reason and our own view. Causing us to stop and think. Like therapy. Poetry has a job to do and it does it in so multifaceted ways. Open to interpretation (like a painting.) You don’t necessarily have to understand it either. As a reader, it becomes yours and yours alone. To enjoy the sounds, the rhythms, and yes, the melody.  Always there to be revisited. To be rediscovered.
My love of poetry has never wained through the decades. I have explored the old poets and the very new. The war poets, the romantic poets, the rappers, the translated and the balladeers. I’ve also found an abundance of prolific local poets. I’ve collected books of poetry from Burns to Betjeman. I dip into them - read and reread. On occasions, in just a few lines, I’m transported to unimaginable places and times.
I’ve participated in poetry workshops with well-known and lesser-known poets. I’ve also held poetry workshops myself (I’m one of the lesser-knowns!) in an effort to pass on my love of the art form. Over the years I have written much more poetry than prose. With some publishing successes along the way e.g. in the 2009 anthology below: 


Composing poetry helps with my fiction writing too. I often edit by turning prose into a poem and back into prose (I find that a good exercise).

I hope I’ve inspired you to read some poetry, we don’t necessarily have to understand it all to enjoy the language and the melody. Or write something, I dare ya! Post a few lines in the comments.

Mary Oliver, the much loved American poet, died on January 17th this year. So I will leave you with the opening to one of her works and hope it helps you to understand this love affair I have with poetry.

Morning Poem

Every morning
the world
is created. 
Under the orange 

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again 

from Dream Work (1986) by Mary Oliver 


All lyrics and images used in this blog are available on public domains.

Poetry by S.B. Borgersen can be found on Amazon, Lulu, ArtAscent and at The Foundation for Public Poetry. Links can be found on Sue’s Writers Abroad profile and the website sueborgersen.com.

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