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.
As writers, we know that learning our craft is a lifelong endeavor. Even well-known published authors still study their craft. These craft masters want to become the best they can be.
After I earned my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, I continued my craft studies with various teachers and felt as if I got an entire second degree. I love writing. I love learning about writing. I love practicing my storytelling techniques.
If you’re a writer, I know you feel the same way, and I have a gift for you.
Some of my writing mentors and friends and I are teaching in-depth writing craft webinars this year. You’re invited to a FREE webinar on Thursday, April 1 for a sneak peek of what we have to offer. Be our guest for quick craft tips, writing exercises, and Q&As from writing pros. Topics include emotional storytelling, outlining, scene structure, poetry techniques for prose, and much more.
To sign up for the FREE Craft Collection night, please click here and scroll down to the April 1 event.
On May 13, I’m teaching a webinar on adding poetry to your prose. Other webinar topics in the series include Writing Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell, Backstory is Fore-story by Donald Maass, Emotional Storytelling by Lorin Oberweger, Dialogue as Action by David Corbett, Character Matters by Sheree Greer, Crafting Your Novel by Emma Dryden and many more!
I hope to see you on April 1.
P.S. If you miss the free event, you can check out the webinar series here.
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
It’s difficult to write about deep painful emotions, even in our characters, unless we’ve experienced them. And, even then, it’s not an easy task.
Strong emotions can be overwhelming. Sometimes we numb ourselves or run away in order to avoid our feelings. I used to do that until I realized on some level that the emotions would fester inside me until I actually did the work of processing my feelings and healing myself. The advantage of doing this when you’re a writer is that you can use what you learn about your emotions to deepen your characters. I wrote about this earlier in “Draw on personal pain to write believable characters.”
But I want to delve deeper into this subject today because I’m working on a scene in my novel where I’m trying to understand the complicated grief my antagonist has about his sister’s death and how it motivates him to do bad things.
Grief is one of the most complicated emotions because it can have shades of guilt, shame, anger, and other feelings mixed in. Read more
Developing our curiosity can serve to make us not only more interesting people but also better writers and more creative artists.
Being curious has helped me dig deeper in my writing, develop an authentic voice, and create more well-rounded characters. It has also improved my relationships and, overall, made me a happier person.
When I was younger, if someone started talking about a subject I wasn’t interested in (history, westerns, reptiles), I’d listen but my attention would wander after a while. Over the years, I learned to look at these exchanges from a different perspective.
I started asking myself, “What can I learn from this person about this subject that I didn’t know before?” Then I’d listen and ask questions. Suddenly, everything became much more interesting, including me! These types of interactions can also be mining grounds for future story ideas and character traits.
Artists need to be curious about their world, but with the stress and busyness of our daily lives, how do we maintain our child-like sense of wonder and curiosity?
Here are a few exercises that have helped me:
Have an open mind.
Practice looking at things, people, and situations with a clear, open mind. When you find yourself judging someone, let go of the judgment. Instead, ask questions. Read more
I’ve dabbled in poetry off and on since my late teens. I’ll go through spurts of massive writing stints followed by some lean months, depending on what’s going on in my life. Over the years, writing and reading poetry has improved my mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
Writing poetry, fiction, memoir, nonfiction, or even a blog post makes me happier, calmer, more peaceful, and less stressed. When I’m writing, everything is right with my world. If I go too long without writing, I can tell because I get grumpy! When I feel the grumps coming on, it’s my sign to start writing-—even writing a blog post will get me smiling again.
Research is just starting to reveal what poets and writers have known for centuries.
From the NPR article, Can Poetry Keep You Young? “The early evidence suggests that the arts have positive cognitive, social, and emotional impact on older adults.”
When I’m in the flow of my writing—whether it’s poetry, fiction, or nonfiction—it’s like being infused in a certain healing frequency….like a cat purring on my lap. (Fun fact: Did you know that cats purr during both inhalation and exhalation with a consistent pattern and frequency between 25 and 150 Hertz? Researchers have shown that sound frequencies in this range can improve bone density and promote healing. Scientific American)
In the NPR article, one poetry workshop participant said, “Poetry helped me begin to focus how I felt about losing my son. When you lose, you also remember what you had before the loss. And so poetry allows you to begin to look at a relationship, at what was of value to you.”
Roadwork has been going on in front of my house for over eight weeks—horrendous dust and dust storms, constant machine noise, speeders that don’t slow down for road conditions, dirt embedded inside and outside my car, and layers of dust covering my house and property. I can’t sit out on my beautiful deck without inhaling copious amounts of dust (not good for someone with asthma). And, their big trucks wake me every morning by 7:30. Maybe the upside is I might finally become a morning person?
I’ll be happy when it’s over and I’ll appreciate the new services. I’m not complaining… well, maybe a little…but I’m writing about this because I was horrified to realize this morning that I’ve become used to all this noise and commotion.
As I’m typing, my house is shaking. Vibrating. The sound of a jackhammer like an angry bird beating its wings against my windows. Rat-a-tat-tat. Rat-a-tat-tat. Read more