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Posts from the ‘Craft’ Category

Want to be a better literary citizen? Six things I learned by sending my poems out into the world

Happy National Poetry Month!

After a long hiatus, I recently started sending my poems out into the world again and in doing so, I learned several things that are helping my literary career that I wanted to share with you.

First, the reason I hadn’t been sending my poems out is because it always felt like drudgery to me. All that left brain work made me feel overwhelmed. Plus, I’m a busy business owner! I mean, who has time for one more thing to do, right?

After hearing one of my poetry mentors say she, too hated sitting down to send out her work (and she’s a HUGE award-winning poet), I didn’t feel so bad. What works for her, she said, is to sit down once a month or so and do an afternoon of submissions. I thought, “I can do that.”

I chose a Saturday and sent out 20 poems to eight different literary magazines. I created a short artist bio that I could use for each submission. Then I found a simple Google Sheet online from another poet that I used to track my submissions, including the name of the poem, where it’s been submitted, when I submitted it, when they typically reply, a column to note if it’s been accepted or rejected, and a column for the magazine’s website link.

Normally, my left brain would be balking at these types of activities, but it was kind of fun.

Next, I basically forgot about all this and went back to work on my other projects. Over the next two months, I got several rejections and six acceptances (six poems in two magazines). Pretty cool!

What did I learn?

Track your submissions. Whether you’re sending out poems, short stories, novels, photography, or paintings, you’ll save so much time if you have a simple tracking system and an artist bio ready.

Treat it like a job. Submitting your work is part of your job as a good literary citizen. We create work so others can read it and benefit from it, right? If you’re not sending out your work, you’re not enriching others’ lives.

Ask for what you want. A wise person once told me, “If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.” People are not mind readers. We must ask for what want in our lives. For artists, that includes sending your work out to be seen and published. If we don’t send our work out, it won’t be published. Ever.

Have no emotional attachment to outcome. When I was a young poet, I took rejections hard. Each rejection was like an ice pick in my heart. Over time, I developed a thick skin and just keep sending my work out. Eventually, I got a poem published, and then another, and another. If I had let my emotions get the best of me, I probably would have stopped sending my work out, and my poetry life might have dried up. As artists, I firmly believe we need that interaction with our community to help us grow and become better humans and artists.

Find passion for your bigger projects. I’ve been working on a novel which is a very long, time-consuming process. But now, by sending my shorter works out and getting some published, it gives me a little reward, a hit of pleasure, while I keep slogging away at my larger work. This feeling of satisfaction gives me more pleasure and passion for my bigger project, too. It’s like a little zap of energy.

Join an artistic community. This will sustain your muse and feed your passions. At the end of January, I joined a poetry community and subscribed to a newsletter where I receive poetic inspiration, writing prompts, lesser-known places to submit work to, and more that has helped me become a better poet and literary citizen. (If you’re a poet and would like a free month of this newsletter, let me know. The two poets who put out the weekly newsletter gave me a few links for friends and I have one left).

I hope my experience helps you see the importance of putting your work out into the world. If you’re working on a novel or memoir, look for opportunities to submit shorter works such as poems, short stories, or flash fiction, etc. to literary journals.

Another benefit is you’ll start building up your artist resume, which might come in handy when your book is ready for publication.

Activity: Write in your journal about what it means to be a good literary citizen. I’ll share my ideas in my next post.

You can see some of my poems at

My Poetry Book

How to write riveting sex scenes that leave your reader wanting more: creating chemistry, part 2

How To Create Chemistry Between Your Characters

In most cases, your characters aren’t going to meet and then just fall into bed together. If they do, then you’re probably writing hard-core erotica or porn and that’s not what I’m discussing today.

Even if your characters don’t have sex, maybe there’s some heavy petting or flirtation that occurs and you’ll want to build up to that as well.

So how do you build chemistry and anticipation between your characters?

A sex scene is the culmination of everything your two characters have done, said, and been through together from the moment they meet.

Chemistry is that feeling of connection between two people. I like to call it the charged energy between two people. It’s a draw to someone else that makes you want more of them.

Read more

How to write riveting sex scenes that leave your reader wanting more: the language of love, part 1

Have you ever read a sex scene in a novel and cringed?

You can find bad writing anywhere, in any genre. But, as author Diana Gabaldon says, “While bad writing about murderers, spies, elves, or young people with self-esteem issues is merely boring—bad writing about sex is hilarious. So, how do you ensure that readers are riveted to the page rather than rolling on the floor or running off to find a spouse or friend to read the most memorably horrible phrases aloud to?”

I don’t know about you, but when I read a bad sex scene, I’m either rolling on the floor laughing and/or feel embarrassed for the author. In fact, there’s a certain bestselling male author that I really enjoy reading, and then one day I read a sex scene he wrote. It was so awful and cringeworthy that I couldn’t read anything by him for a long while. You don’t want your readers to have a similar experience.

When some of my writer friends found out I was preparing a webinar on how to write sex scenes, most of them asked me the same question—what do you call “it?” Meaning, of course, what do you call the male sexual organ without making it sound too graphic or corny or pornographic? I love this question.

Read more

Symbolism in literature: Is a rose just a rose?

In her poem, “Sacred Emily,” Gertrude Stein wrote, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” This line is often interpreted as meaning things are what they are. In Stein’s view, the sentence expresses the fact that simply using the name of a thing already invokes the imagery and emotions associated with it.

In literature, objects can simply be what they are or they can symbolize something more than what they are.

A symbol is anything that hints at something else, usually something abstract, such as an idea or belief. A literary symbol is an object, a person, a situation, or an action that has a literal meaning in a story but suggests or represents other meanings.

If you want to learn more about crafting symbols in your story and how to use poetic techniques to deepen your prose, please join me this Thursday, April 21 for my writing webinar Sound and Symbol: How to Use Poetry to Deepen Your Prose, which is part of the Free Expressions Literary Series.

I’ll dive deep into how poetry can add sensory engagement to your prose.

We can have general symbols—like the aforementioned rose—and we can have specific symbols.

A general symbol is universal in its meaning. Even if the symbol was removed from a work of literature, it would still suggest a larger meaning, i.e. the rose symbolizes romantic love throughout time.

Read more

Elevate your prose with poetry techniques

No matter what you write—emails, short stories, novels, or nonfiction—your prose can be more persuasive and impact your reader more effectively by using poetic devices.

Below are three blog posts to help you discover the power of using rhetorical techniques to create more poetic prose.

This Thursday, May 13, I’d love to have you on my webinar Adding Poetry to Your Prose.

You can buy the entire webinar series featuring well-known writers, including Donald Maass, Emma Dryden, and James Scott Bell, or scroll down to May 13 and grab my webinar. If you can’t make it live, you’ll receive the recording and all my handouts afterwards.

I’d love to see you there!

Until then, please enjoy these posts:

Use rhetorical devices to evoke readers’ emotions

Rhetorical devices: Your secret writing weapon

Add alliteration to make your pages pop!

How to slay writer’s block once and for all

Writer’s block. Real or imaginary?

I’ve heard different definitions of writer’s block over the years, but I think my favorite is from writer and teacher Victoria Nelson in her book On Writer’s Block. Writer’s block is often our subconscious mind’s way of letting us know something isn’t right, Nelson says.

I’ve definitely experienced this kind of writer’s block. Years ago, I was working on my memoir and I got to a point where I just couldn’t write anymore. I was totally blocked. So I stopped and thought about Nelson’s words and discussed my problem with a fellow writer. I finally realized that my memoir was focused on the wrong person! It took me two attempts to fix it but when I finally got it right, the story just flowed from me. Poof! My writer’s block was gone.

But not all writer’s blocks are created equal. A writer can experience what I call minor writer’s block. Nothing major is wrong, but when you sit down to write you feel resistance to putting words on paper. This mostly happens to me when I’m working on a project that feels scary or outside my wheelhouse—when I am stretching my comfort zone.

How do you conquer this kind of writer’s block? I’ve tried different things over the years, including: Read more

Reveal your characters through their circle of friends

Experts say we are most like our five closest friends. I think that’s true. Our friends usually have similar interests and values as we do. Looking at someone’s friend circle can tell you a lot about them.

I’ve started using a friendship circle to track my friendships as a way to see where people belong in my life—this helps me keep clear boundaries which is something I always need to work on.

Recently, I wondered what would happen if my main character Caitlin filled this out. Who are her friends, and how do they reflect who she is to my reader? I had her fill out my friendship circle and the results really helped me get a clearer sense of who she is deep down inside.

I’ll share my experiment with you, but first a bit about how to use the friendship circle. Read more