What’s your delivery?: Poet, novelist or somewhere in between

So as threatened, if you’ve been following my guest post this month – part of identifying yourself as a writer is knowing exactly what is it that you write. Perhaps you’re prone to poetry. Maybe you’re more of a storyteller. Or you could be one of those who likes to share the truth or pop culture or the ingredients of a soup can. Even if you’re just logging your own life in a pretty binder, how you tell your story is your word nerd fingerprint.

So here’s my suggestion.

Don’t impede your own creativity or your opportunities for publication if you desire it, by locking in on a specific genre or type of writing too soon. Oh, and before I forget, if you’re leaning toward fan fiction – lean the other way. Your own story is better than hijacking someone else’s creation and attempting to wrangle scenarios and characters not born from your pen. And it’s hellishly difficult to publish the stuff anyway. Get your own story.

Before you dig in and spend months penning a novel, more months editing it, and even more months building your collection of form reject letters, consider this: Write a poem. Write several. Send them off to magazines. Get a few wins under your belt. If you’re an expert in a field, write an article. Write several. Send them off. Nonfiction is even easier to publish and the market ranges from articles for kid’s mags to LinkedIn. Join a blog site and blog. You’ll get free feedback and you may even gain a following, which will help you later if you decide you really want to write a novel. Short stories are an option too. And you can take collections of short works on a similar theme and publish a short run chapbook.

I’m not discounting novels, as I myself write them. But I started with lyric poetry. I published poems. Then a nonfiction article. Then a few short stories. And then a novel. I continue to write poems and short fiction because I enjoy it, and not every idea lends itself to 150 thousand words. Granted I am a bit of an anomaly, but I’m never bored and I don’t suffer from writer’s block because I don’t wait for the perfect topic or character or even two words that rhyme – I just pick up a pen, or open up my laptop and go.

Of course, I do have my preferences, the top three of which I will share with you:

Formed poetry. Don’t roll your eyes. Formed poetry is a writer’s ninja warrior workout and some forms like sestinas will pretty much prepare you for your next Mount Midoriama. I believe this so strongly I am actually going to challenge you to google the form and write one, then come back and post it in the comments. I double dog dare you even. Unlike free verse, which lets you write anything you please, formed poetry will discipline you, sharpen your vocabulary, and stretch your brain cells.

Character sketches. If you plan to write short stories and novels, character sketches are your best friend. Not just for your protag and antag but for even minor characters as well, detailed character descriptions will help you stay on track through your work. Go beyond the usual skin tone, eye color and build. Does your main character sneeze in the sunlight? Does your villain have a nervous tic? Is one of your supporting cast deathly allergic to strawberries? What are your character’s dreams, goals, phobias? Flesh them out as much as possible, and you will have believable beings even if they are in unbelievable situations. I also recommend this technique for world building.

If you are writing a longer novel, spend some serious time creating the world. If it’s a real place, make sure you know it well so your reader doesn’t punch a hole in it. If it’s fabricated, continuity is key. I even suggest that you allow yourself the luxury of backstory. While you don’t want a glut of “information” in your novel – backstories create behaviors and intent. And should your novel be successful, or even really fun to write, you can go back to your sketches to spin off other stories.

Blogging. It’s not dead. Your blog is your tool for feedback, for networking, and for getting your own thoughts and opinions out of your head and onto the screen where you can deal with them. It is a multipurpose item that will add flavor to your website and allow your fan base to see you as a human. And you control what you share, as much or as little as you desire about whatever you desire. If you do blog, be sure to post regularly – at least once a week—and answer comments if they merit a response. I’ll concede a Facebook page if you are active on it, but twitter does not a writer make. For that matter, neither does Instagram. Save those for your personal social time.

The rain has stopped, and since there is still light in the sky and a roll of fluff around my middle, a walk is in order. I’d take you with me, but typing and walking don’t mix.

Until next week,

Tammy Boehm, Associate Editor