Advice for Poets 15: Words Of Wisdom From Writers

We’ve been writing these ‘Advice for poets’ blogs because we want to help everyone out there develop into the best writers they can be. We hope that doesn’t make us sound arrogant – it’s a lot easier to write about writing than it is to actually churn out poetry, honest! Even if we couldn’t give always give you solid advice, we wanted to get you thinking and talking about poetry and how we craft it. We’d like to present some of the best pieces of advice we could find from some of the writers out there, because even though you don’t have to follow our advice, surely you know you can trust theirs?! (And we promise we won’t say ‘write what you know’.)

Ezra Pound | On Rhythm 

“Don’t chop your stuff into separate iambs. Don’t make each line stop dead at the end, and then begin every next line with a heave. Let the beginning of the next line catch the rise of the rhythm wave, unless you want a definite longish pause. In short, behave as a musician, a good musician, when dealing with that phase of your art which has exact parallels in music. The same laws govern, and you are bound by no others. Naturally, your rhythmic structure should not destroy the shape of your words, or their natural sound, or their meaning.”

This is a wonderful way of expressing something that we already know. It is never okay to throw together words without considering how they read and sound.

Stephen King | On Improving

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

Enough said.

Anne Lamott | On ‘The Shitty First Draft’*

“The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later […] If one of the characters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,” you let her. […] Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go – but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.”
From “Bird By Bird” by Anne Lamott

*Incidentally, Ernest Hemingway also said: ‘The first draft of everything is shit” which is…sort of the same thing.

Harper Lee | On Criticism

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”

As we’ve said in a previous blog about developing your confidence as a writer, you’re going to get criticism. It’s how you choose to take that criticism that will define your writing. You need a thick enough hide not to let criticism hurt you, and a logical enough brain to turn criticisms into positive things to help you improve.

Mark Twain | On Unnecessary Filler Words

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

This is especially true when you are writing poetry – cut the waste, your work will be better for it.

There are almost definitely more that we’ve missed – this is a very small selection of quotes! What we’d really like to gain from this blog is for you to let us know what you think are the best advice quotes?

Also, let’s be honest – we also want to sell copies of our collection of poems for charity, all proceeds to cancer research, and we just thought we’d better drop that in here too…!! You can grab a copy here direct from Lulu. We collected poems from all over the world, from poets from every walk of life, and the result is a really rich (and weighty!) anthology that has something in it for everyone. Every penny goes to our chosen charity Cancer Research UK, so please consider getting a copy for yourself or as a gift. 

Thank you for reading!

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