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So You Want to Be a Writer?
Getting Into College and Achieving Your Goal
Places to Submit Your Work
Poems & Poets You Should Read If You Think You Hate Poetry
Examples of Great Writing
Glossary of Poetic Terms - All those confusing definitions in one handy-dandy spot. Dazzle your teacher by using a "zeugma" in your next paper!
Magnetic Poetry - Create poems online.
Rhyming Dictionary - This site will help you with those tough ones (and prevent you from using all those easy ones!)
So you want to be a writer?
If so, first you need to identify what kind of writer you want to be: journalist? novelist? playwright? poet? Some writers do it all, but most focus their efforts in a specific genre. Decide where your heart (and your talent) is, then go from there. Don't feel you aren't a "creative" writer if your gift or interest doesn't lie in songs or stories or scripts. I spent many years writing commercials and brochures for radio stations, grocery stores, and banks and, believe me, it takes a lot of creativity to make pork roast and certificates of deposit sound interesting, week after week! As with most careers, it's often the nuts-and-bolts writing that pays the bills, while the "fun" stuff gets saved for the weekend. Do your best whether you're writing the Great American Novel or the quarterly report, and you'll be rewarded.
If you are passionate about writing, make sure there are people in your life who know that so they can encourage and provide you with opportunities. I'm a writer today because of teachers, librarians, and other adults who noted my interests and abilities and cared enough to nurture and guide me. I'm also blessed to be from a family in which talent was appreciated and supported. Even so, I was pretty clueless when the time came to choose a college. There were no professional writers in my family, and none in my small rural community, so unless you are fortunate enough to have a guidance counselor familiar with writing programs, you may be just as unsure as I was about where to head after high school.
While I ended up at a college that was a great fit and equipped me well for my career, I wish I'd had more information to draw from as I was making that decision. I missed out on a lot of valuable opportunities (internships, scholarships, summer programs, etc.) simply because I didn't know they existed. To thank all those who helped me become a wordwoman, I'd like to "pay it forward" (if you don't know that phrase, read the wonderful book Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde!), by providing resources here that I hope will be helpful.
Whether you're doing it for love or money, working with words is tremendously satisfying and a lot of fun.
- Learn how a poem is born by reading interviews with poets on Brian Brodeur's blog, How a Poem Happens.
- Check out Your Daily Poem's Poet Profiles to learn where poets go for their inspiration, how they got started on the poetry path, and the craziest topic they've ever tackled.
Getting Into College and Achieving Your Goal
Unfortunately, most colleges are ridiculously expensive. If money is no object, apply to the school of your dreams. But if you're like most of us, cost is a MAJOR factor in determining where you'll go to college. Here's my best advice:
- Focus on getting the absolute best grades you can from middle school on.
- Pour heart and soul into preparing for the SAT (the broader your vocabulary, the better you'll do).
- Never miss an opportunity to win accolades for your work; enter every worthy competition you come across--and create a resume that details every prize or award so you can include that with your college applications.
- Get to know your guidance counselor and make sure he/she is aware of your passion and gift for writing.
- Start looking for scholarships in your sophomore year. Community service is often a major component; consider starting or volunteering with a literary-focused organization.
- Earnestly and aggressively pursue financial aid at the school of your choice. You'd be surprised what they can do if you're in need and have lots of potential.
- All scholarship possibilities begin with a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form, which should be submitted as soon as possible after January 1st of the year you want to enroll in college. You'll need several documents to complete this form, including your, and your parents,' tax return. If you're filling out the form online (definitely the easiest way), you'll also need to apply for PIN numbers for yourself and the parent or guardian who will be signing the form. That takes a few days, so get that out of the way first, then you can work on the form while you're waiting. (There's a Save option, so you don't have to fill in all the information at one sitting.) It's time consuming and detailed, but not difficult. NOTE: The FAFSA is a free form and service, administered by the U.S. Department of Education. Do not be led astray by a copycat organization that charges a fee to do the same thing. Also note that you can submit your FAFSA using information from the previous year's tax return but, when you go back and update it with the current year's info, you will invariably be tagged for "verification," which means supplying mounds of extra paperwork to the financial aid office of every college you've applied to. My recommendation? Wait for the completed tax return of the year you're applying; just encourage your parents to file as soon as they possibly can.
Even with all that, you may come up thousands of dollars short for tuition at your dream school. If that's the case, spend your first two years taking core courses at a good, but inexpensive, junior college. Rack up great grades and more accolades, then apply to that school of your dreams. And if you still have to settle for whatever is the cheapest path to a diploma, don't sweat it. If you're a great writer, no one will care where you went to college. Honest. Just look for an accredited college or university that offers:
- introductory, intermediate, and advanced level courses
- intense study of both classic literature and writing technique
- a broad mix of genre instruction; you don't want specialization at this point, you want exposure--to everything from playwriting to arts reviewing
- internship opportunities; you'll learn a lot from real time spent at a magazine, radio station, newspaper, ad agency, PR agency, or theatre
- teachers with impressive writing credentials; besides being fun, you want to study with someone who has actual by-lines or books to back up their alleged expertise
- a heart for the arts - Not every school is arts-oriented; make sure the one you attend offers ongoing arts events, a literary magazine, visiting lecturers, department competitions, or some other tangible evidence of their commitment to a quality arts education.
Places to Submit Your Work
Canary - an environmental zine that focuses on the natural world and threats to that world. Accepts poetry, short fiction, and essays
Cricket Media - lots of contests for all ages for stories, poetry, essays, and art
Hanging Loose Magazine - for high school age students; poetry and short stories
Skipping Stones - for ages 8 - 16; essays, stories, artwork
Stone Soup - for ages 13 and younger; stories, poems, book reviews and art
Teen Ink - for ages 13-19; all genres of writing plus artwork and photography
Poems & Poets You Should Read If You Think You Hate Poetry
Edgar Allan Poe
Poetry 180 - a collection of poems selected specifically for high school students by former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins
Your Daily Poem - wander around through the archives; you're sure to find something you like
Bennington College Young Writers Award - for grades 10-12; categories in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction
Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series - For North Carolina students only. In this series, poets in middle school, high school, or college are invited to apply to be mentored by, and read with, a distinguished NC poet.
Manningham Student Poetry Awards - for grades 6-12
Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers - for grades 10-11
Poetry Out Loud - An annual spoken word competition for high school students. You can't use original poems, but this a cool opportunity for slam enthusiasts. Your English teacher has to register you.
Scholastic Art and Writing Awards - for grades 7-12; categories in visual arts and writing.
Creative Writing Prompts - Clever and crazy ideas to help stimulate your brain and your word output.
Glossary of Poetic Terms - Every poetic term you can think of (and a lot you didn't know existed!), defined and with examples
Online Thesaurus - Find the exact word you want or avoid repetition of the same word
Poetic Forms - Definitions of various poetic forms such as sonnet, haiku, ballad, limerick, cinquain, and more.
Purple Pencil Adventures - Writing coach Debra Eckerling offers lots of writing prompts in her blog
Rhyming Dictionary - For help with those pesky words like "orange"
EXAMPLES OF GREAT WRITING
Like a memorable scene in a movie, great writing stays with you long after you've finished the article, book, or poem. It's a phrase so descriptive, the image comes alive in your mind. . .a metaphor so perfect, it's permanent. Here are some examples I love:
- "The car made more noise than a tambourine salesman riding on railboard tracks." - Sean Dietrich in his 11/30/23 blog post, "Santa Went Down to Georgia"
- "She was using a pair of children's plastic [scissors], which was like cutting through a rain forest with a pair of nail clippers." - Katherine Valentine in her novel Grace Will Lead Me Home
- "Eleanor's smashed silver hair made her appear as though a mutilated rat were clinging to her head during a flood." - Sean Dietrich, in his novel, The Incredible Winston Browne
- "His arms were too long for his shirt sleeves and his hands dangled out like big price tags." - Fred Chappell, in his novel, I Am One of You Forever.
- "...she had to do something about the feelings spinning inside her like yarn on a loom..." Melissa Tagg, in her novel, Like Never Before
- "The dusting of flour on her eyelashes reminded me of snow on a Christmas tree." Karen Stolz, in her novel, World of Pies
- "Paint bubbled on the hood, and a crack spidered across the windshield." - Virginia Smith, in her novel, The Room with the Second-Best View
- "He was laughing so hard his big belly must have been shaking like Jell-O in an earthquake...." - Jimmie Ruth Evans, in her novel, Flamingo Fatale
- "Fallen rock lay along the roadside, like solid tears from the mountain's face." - David Baldacci, in his novel, Wish You Well
- "Corals pout like the lips of giants, and point like the fingers of skeletons." - Sy Montgomery, in her nonfiction book, The Soul of an Octopus
- "Questions bolted around his head like piglets let loose on a farm." - Phaedra Patrick, in her novel, Rise & Shine, Benedict Stone
- "Clara refused to allow the worm of homesickness to dig its way into her beautiful day." - Lauraine Snelling, in her novel, Dakota Dream
- "The raft-like treehouse seemed to be floating over shrouded vaporish waters; it was dry there, however, for the mild rain had not penetrated the parasol of leaves." - Truman Capote, in his short story, The Grass Harp.
- "Here she was on a fine summer evening with her piece of the world spread out before her like a picnic supper...." - Jan Watson, in her novel, Tattler's Branch
- "The Hudson River lay flat and black like a lost evening glove." - Adriana Trigiani, in her novel, The Supreme Macaroni Company
- "Her terra-cotta hair was wild and frazzly, and two blue silk bows perched in it like butterflies on a tile roof." - Fred Chappell, in his novel, I Am One of You Forever
- "The shovel gave a gasp at each contact with the sandy soil." - M. J. Stedman, in her novel, The Light Between Oceans
- ". . . . a torturous, high-speed caterpillar of traffic . . . " - William Everett in his "Desert Reflections" blog of 2/5/14
- "Close to the train tracks, there were gray zippers on the ground where flatbed and dump trucks had made impressions in the snow." - Adriana Trigiani, in The Shoemaker's Wife
- ". . . wind blowing off Lake Michigan/like boos from the rival fans." - Donna Pflueger, from her poem, "What Brings You Back to Me"
- "The bartender grinned, his teeth a quarter moon in the dimness." - Patricia Sprinkle, in her novel, Guess Who's Coming to Die?
- "His smile swings open like a pocketknife." -- A. E. Stallings, from her poem "Bad News Blues"
- . . . her cover-girl smile/framed by the golden parentheses/of her corn-silk hair. -- Richard Allen Taylor, from his poem "Calendar Girl"
- Runway lights like blue matchheads." -- Don Colburn, in the poem "As If Gravity Were a Theory," from the book by the same name (Cider Press, 2006)
- "Why move to a city where the heat hangs on to bodies like a T-shirt a size too small?" -- Otis R. Taylor, Jr., in an article published in The State
- "When I walked in them, I was the snap/of white tablecloth at a sidewalk cafe . . ." -- Elizabeth Harrington, in "I Lost My Favorite Shoes," referring to her black strappy sandals with the 2-inch heel
- "...and the dog will porpoise through the drifts." -- Billy Collins, in "Snow Day"
- "...late at night I picture it downstairs/this hallucination standing on three legs/this curious beast with its enormous moonlit smile." -- Billy Collins, in "Piano Lessons," referring to a grand piano
- "The capacity to revise determines the true writer. Suspect the finished poem. Your evil twin wants your poem to be finished." -- Wesley McNair, author of five books and director of the creative writing program at the University of Maine at Farmington
- "Kirn is such a sharp writer he gives your brain paper cuts. Never have I so happily bled to death." -- Christopher Buckley, referring to Walter Kirn’s book Up in the Air. Buckley is the editor of Forbes FYI and the author of eight books.
- "...a spill of petals floated downward, freckling the ground." -- Diane Mott Davidson, in Double Shot.
- "Venetian blinds are what hang in hell, and every day Satan says, "My, my, I see we have some dust again." -- Elizabeth Berg, writing as 13-year-old Katie in True to Form, after her priest has suggested Katie clean house as a penance for snooping at a house where she was babysitting. Katie is questioning the value of this penance to God, and also lamenting that the priest doesn’t know how many Venetian blinds are in her house.
- "I held it over the edge of the second-floor railing, opened my hand, and watched it rocket away." -- Steven Givler, from Notes of Joy and Sadness, about a bird trapped in a bathroom in his quarters in Iraq. Another great image from Steven, from his poem "Riding in the Rain," about a bicycle ride:
- "...Hissing down the road/Rooster tail rising from my rear tire..."
- "... our sable race..." -- Phillis Wheatley, America's first black poet
- "We held a funeral/for a dead ladybug/and smoothed the earth/with the belly of a spoon" -- D. Nurkse, award-winning poet from New York
- "...her overstuffed sofa/sits like a fat lady's lap/ready for stories..." -- from the poem "Mama's House" in the book Zen Fishing and Other Southern Pleasures, by Dorothy Fletcher
- "Will drove a big Winton now, with a hood as long as a coffin and a powerful, panting mutter in its bowels." -- John Steinbeck, in East of Eden
- "Gram scowls at the gamardine, her features pulled together like a purse drawstring."...It's a Disney ride of a restaurant, with a soaring ceiling..." ..."Then we have a meeting at his apartment, which turns out to be even smaller, and much tidier than mine. It looks like the inside of a Hemingway story." -- Diana Abu-Jaber, inThe Language of Baklava
I would love to do a poetry or creative writing workshop at your school! Please ask your English or language arts teacher to contact me.