Writing Poetry to Save Your Life by Maria Mazziotti Gillan
I don’t care if you have zero interest in poetry, this book is about writing, period! Whether you are writing for fun, work, or therapy, you will learn something from this book. I know I did.
Letting go, making the pen move by itself, it’s called finding the cave. This is something I found before I even knew what it was. As if someone else was writing the material and I was just watching it appear on the screen, amazed by the content, and relating to every word.
An exercise she uses to help you find the cave is writing for twenty minutes straight, letting your subconscious take over, and that is when the pen begins to move on its own, this is when you know you have found it. Whether it’s good or bad, it doesn’t matter.
Content is more important than structure at this point. When you start to trust yourself, you will begin to write with emotion, you may even start to cry, laugh, or get goosebumps. If this starts to happen, you are in the cave. Your writing will reflect it and I promise your readers will feel the emotions as well.
The crow, which symbolizes any authority figure who is telling you every reason not to write. It is discussed in the very first chapter and is referred to throughout. The crow is full of self-doubt and may tell you things like, “you suck” or “nobody cares what you have to say.”
You must be able to push the crow away or your writing will suffer. Focus on the truth, don’t censor, write, write, write, and revise later. Don’t worry about the crow, I feel the crow in here, sometimes he comes through an officer, who is reading in my emails, and is mocking my positivity.
Other times it’s a fellow inmate who knows what I do and teases me for it. The crow has kept me away from the computer many times, but sooner or later I get him off my shoulder.
That happens either through reading or listening to something inspirational. The comments from my readers also keep that crow off of my shoulder. Those occasional direct messages, letting me know I made a difference today.
In chapter seven Maria talks about unplugging from the world, taking time for you, and removing any distractions. She calls this time rejuvenation therapy. Here we don’t have much of a choice, our access to electronics or screens is limited, but finding a place to work in peace is quiet is a whole other struggle.
For me, it’s my bunk with headphones on, a corner in education, or the basement of food service, but eventually, I’m found and plugged back in.
Read, read, read
If you want to be a good writer you must learn to read all different types of literature, and from these readings, your writings will be inspired and essentially improve. Just like my sister, ADD has been a struggle for me. It was so bad at an early age that by the end of college I had only read one book.
Partly because I was embarrassed, I was never the strongest reader growing up and I remember struggling when forced to read out loud. In fact, I still struggle today and it’s not that I don’t understand the words; I just cannot read them very fast.
My attention span has improved slightly over the years, but I still find myself only reading in spurts, and it has to be the right book. If my heart isn’t in it, my attention will wander, and from there, nothing has a chance of getting through.
In my writing, I have to lean extra hard on my emotions and hope the reader can feel it because I don’t have all the tricks that are used by Hemmingway or Stephen King.
But sometimes simpler is better, something else that is covered in this book, in chapter 13. She says, “I’ve always felt that the simpler something appears, the harder it is to do” (51). I believe most of my writings are simple, I write about what I know, how I feel, and everything is 100% authentic. If things get to complex you may only succeed in confusing the reader.
Write it down immediately, another thing I learned on my own, because just like Maria if I don’t get it on paper the thought may be lost forever.
My sister in a recent post, “The Secret to Writing on Your Blog Every day,” discussed the importance of having a notebook on hand. Just like my sis, I keep one in my pocket at all times, and it’s full of topics, ideas, and sometimes entire posts. When you feel it, you feel it, and you have to get it on paper.