Poetry and personal blog – Spilling my guts to strangers

Writing Lessons

There are certain lessons I learned as a young writer that have stayed with me all these years and loom as large now as they did way back when.

In order of appearance:

1. RECEive. I remember spelling that word wrong on a paper I wrote for class in grammar school.  When the teacher gave it back to me after she graded it, she bent down over me as I was sitting at my desk until we were face to face and said, really loudly, “R-E-C-E. R-E-C-E.  R-E-C-E.  R-E-C-E.” To this day, every time I write the word “receive,” I say to myself,  “R-E-C-E.” I doubt that I’ll ever spell that word wrong again.

2. -er I try to make sure that when I say something is bigger, for instance, I also mention what it is bigger than. My high school teacher, who gave me quite a few lessons in writing and life, reinforced in me that when you use a comparative word, it begs the question of what is being compared. So it’s not enough to say “I have a better understanding now,” but rather “I have a better understanding now than I did before.”

3. Reveal yourself. When I took a creative writing class in college, I wrote several short stories. (I didn’t consider myself to be a poet at that time.) One story in particular had mostly dialogue, which prompted the professor to suggest maybe I look into being a playwright. It wasn’t until the end of the semester I wrote a character study that was introspective, had a sensitive subject matter, and quite emotional. The prof told me that this is the kind of writing I should do, that the style seemed authentic to who I am, and that to be a writer is to reveal yourself.

4. The basics are keys to innovation. After college, I continued to write diligently and was a subscriber to Writer’s Digest magazine.  Although I didn’t consider myself to be a poet, the first article I would turn to when I got my monthly issue was the poetry column, which at that time was written by the great Judson Jerome. I ended up buying his book, The Poet and the Poem. I feel so blessed to have the original hardcover. I’ve seen it being offered for less than a dollar on Amazon, but it is the one book no one could ever pay me to give away. For me, there is my poetry before reading that book and the poetry after.

While I was well acquainted with meter before reading The Poet and the Poem, I really understood how essential meter is after reading it. I spent countless hours applying it to my own work. I began to broaden my experimentation with  poetic forms, learning that each one demands that the writer flex different muscles. Most importantly, I came to understand that each poem must tell a story in some way–linearly or otherwise–or simply be about something. Yes, it is possible write a poem about nothing in particular. I’ve done it: it’s not ideal.

These lessons learned have given me everything I need to be creative. It’s possible to think outside of the box when you have a firm grasp of what belongs inside of it.

What lessons have you learned over time?

© Sweepy Jean and Sweepy Jean Explores the (Webby) World, 2012.

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Comments on: "Writing Lessons" (49)

  1. You had some great teacher experiences (well, except for the in your face one). Shared this essay all over.

  2. You are among the writers I truly respect in the blogworld ~ writing to express feelings and reflections is great but writing ‘correctly’ makes reading more worthwhile.

    Thanks for these precious lessons. I haven’t really given time to practice writing poetry so I could only appreciate it in terms of how I interpret it 🙂

    One of my favorite lessons is the use of past participles 🙂

  3. I love your writing and your poetry is always so innovative. I dont have any formal education on writing poetry. I discovered I like writing poetry but I feel I am limited in my choice of subject unlike you who can write a verse on anything and everything.

  4. Some great lessons learned…something we all should consider applying to our own writing. You are a wonderful writer…thanks for sharing your wisdom! When I write I always think in the back of my head “show not tell”…and also the words of Strunk and White, from that classic book Elements of Style, ring in my head: brevity, brevity, brevity!

  5. I can see why you are such a great editor. Lord knows how much you saved me through the years. Queen Nef

  6. I just did a 26 lesson post! That is more than I can say about my learning! 😉

    I loved the title of writing lessons; as a child I was the only one in my house who showed an interest in writing; all were very technical oriented in my house. But I got the encouragement from my parents to just keep doing what I loved and here I am…

    Loved the post Adrienne!

  7. What fantastic tips you’ve given us here! Yes, it is essential for writers to have staunch control over the basics and to look to other writers, as you did with this book on writing poetry, to stretch our style and make us grow.
    Blessings!

  8. I read this twice! Your RECE lesson reminds me of my own various spelling challenges 🙂

  9. I envy your poetic training. I tired taking a class last fall but I was too buried in finishing the book I didn’t pay attention. One day I will go back. What I learned (all while I was writing the book) was to trust myself. I didn’t when I started writing and I listened to everyone but myself. Now, I trust in my gut. While writing the book I took a lot of writing classes and workshops. Some were amazing, others, not so much. I bought books, and only look at two on a regular basis. I know this is the path I had to walk to reach the place I am now, but the most important lesson learned was to have faith in myself. Thank you for sharing RECE with me, that word continues to torture me. 🙂

  10. I am very new to writing and mainly incorporate writing about my personal experiences into my blog as a form of self expression. The more I do this the more I discover how much I want to write correctly. Thank you so much for sharing your lessons learned … much appreciated!

    “It’s possible to think outside of the box when you have a firm grasp of what belongs inside of it.” Wow, I absolutely love this and with your permission would be grateful if you would allow me to borrow it.

  11. Very informative…thanks.

  12. Sweepy, I will never look at ‘receive’ the same way again lol. This was an interesting article with really great tips. Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

  13. I don’t think I’ll ever forget RECE either now!

  14. Sweepy, thanks to this post I will never spell receive wrong again! LOL!!

  15. […] Gage offers three ways to write better today; Sweepy Jean lists three writing lessons she learned as a young writer; and Victoria Mixon passes on 11 things her grandmother said about […]

  16. Penelope J. said:

    Enjoyed this post and particularly the part about writing poetry. I’m not a poet though I have written poems and at one time, joined a poetry group. What many people don’t understand is that writing poetry is not just inspiration from above – though that may play a part – but also hard work. Unfortunately, poetry seems to be underrated and/or misunderstood even though good poets, with their streaks of genius, must be the greatest of writers.

    • Amen, Pennie. I agree with you on all counts. There definitely is a misunderstanding and I think the future of poetry lies in people learning more about it. Thanks so much for your comment. ❤

  17. Hi, Sweepy! ~

    The writing lesson, from an essay teacher, which remains in the forefront of my mind to this day is this: “Nobody wants to read about your soapbox rantings, the things you think you’re an expert on. Blah, blah, blah! We want to read about that personal scab that you’re picking at in your private life, turning over and over…That’s what’s real and relevant!”

    Sort of like your #3, right? I enjoyed this piece — Thank you for sharing!

  18. Anonymous said:

    RECE…is what i will remember going forward…i hate it how the auto spell check underlines the word in red, everytime i type it in. Thanks SJ….

  19. ooh great post. I had a conversation with someone the other day who critiqued my writing (not that I asked him to). He laid down all these rules that I hadn’t heard of before and many of them contradictory to what I was taught when I was at school. I then had to go and check out what he was saying and he was wrong. The lessons I learnt have continued with me throughout my life, I guess I’m open to finding new ways and learning new styles but the old rules will stay with me forever.

  20. Writing for me is more of a necessity than a skill. I am blessed with a natural talent for spelling,(if I find the right keys). Spelling though is not required to be a good writer, writers have a freedom of mind, I envy. Lessons I learned in school?? I talk to much and have little to say. That from a high school teacher. Like you that lesson stuck with me forever it seems. My art teacher on the other hand; told me that I was wonderfully creative and with that creativity I could make anything happen.
    Both of those were in my freshman year. astounding how the words stick. I love your words.

  21. These are great lessons Sweepy. I always remember the I before E except after C rule. That was drummed into my head! LOL! For some reason when I was little I had trouble spelling island. I always wanted to write “aisleland!” So my teacher told me to say “Is Land” out loud before writing the word and that helped a lot. I so agree with revealing yourself in your writing and that isn’t the easiest thing to do. But whenever you do, it’s when you touch the most people. Your writing definitely does that! Great post girl! 🙂

  22. Great advice for any aspiring poet! I would also add that not only should poetry be about something, but it should also be precise in its symbolism and word choice. The goal is to evoke in the reader thought AND emotion with carefully chosen nouns and verbs, avoiding heavy reliance on adjectives. You have to pack a lot of meaning into a concise form.

    As far as grammar is concerned, my latest pet peeves include the widespread misuse of too and to, awhile and a while, everyday and every day, lay and lie…just to name a few. I am trying not to let these things bug me so much. I might need a 12-step program though – kidding 😉

    Rachel 🙂

    • You said it, Rachael! It’s painstaking work but when the words come together as they should, the feeling is indescribable. Don’t give up your grammatical standards: We need people to keep grammar alive! ;p

  23. Teachers are amazing, aren’t they? I think I owe my love for writing / expression to my high school Creative Writing teacher. She wrote such interesting comments to my submitted essays / poems and they really encouraged me to hone my skills. What stood out for me was what you wrote on ‘Revealing Oneself’. There truly needs to be authenticity to what we write and I am still doing my best to practice this. Thanks for the tips Adriene!

  24. I have always liked your style because it is clear, concise and your words simply go straight to the point. Now I understand why!

  25. This post made me recollect my former wonderful teachers. My very favorite was Mr. Denny for AP English. He worked us so hard it made me cry, but I got to exempt out of freshman English in college entirely! Shared this post everywhere, too!

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