Writers & Poets: Basic Shit You Gotta Know

Writers & Poets: Basic Shit You Gotta Know

Basic writer shit

  • You need to know how to write like a competent, professional adult, even if you choose not to. Basic shit like not confusing you're with your or it's with its and using correct verb tense.
  • Learn how to spell correctly and check not just for correct spelling but correct word usage so your writing isn't full of homophones (Did you have to look that word up? Congrats, you're on your way, now). 
  • Know your basic punctuation: how to use quotation marks, commas, colons, and semicolons. You should have an opinion on the Oxford comma. If you have no idea what's an Oxford comma, get to learning.
  • Know the basic structure of sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and chapters so you know when to follow the rules or break them in your fiction (I use sentence fragments all the time for effect, but it's always a deliberate choice, never an accident).
  • Know the differences between 1st person, 3rd person omniscient, and 3rd person limited points of view.
  • Know the basic 3-act story structure and its "beats" or turning points.
  • Know what passive verbs are and eliminate them from your writing like you're Liam Neeson and they kidnapped your family.

I'm tempted to say more, but then I'd be slipping out of the realm of "basic shit." When I say the above is basic shit, what I mean is that if you don't know and practice the above points your writing will come off as painfully amateur. It's important that you keep writing: learn this stuff as you continue to hone your craft by reading and writing as much as you can (Google is your best friend). 

Basic poet shit

  • If you think poetry is easier than prose because it's fewer words, you don't understand either poetry or prose writing. I don't what to tell you about this, other than read a lot of both until your heart wakes up in understanding one day. Don't read at the same level as your own work, read contemporary and past literary stuff. The good stuff.
  • Fucking learn about poetry. Poetry is intimidating and difficult but don't let that stop you. 
  • Learn what meter is, whether your poems rhyme or not.
  • Learn what rhyming schemes are so if you want your poems to rhyme you know what you're doing.
  • Use stanzas when appropriate.
  • Pack as many layers of meaning into every word, turn of phrase, line, line break, stanza and punctuation mark as you possibly can. A good poem is a tightly-packed minefield of meaning designed to blow up your soul. You're not freestyle rapping, here (unless, of course, you are), so take your time and let the meanings come to you. Encode and wire them into your poem. Poetry is not just double entendre; it's triple, quadruple, and even quintuple entendre if you can manage it.
  • Understand that the title of your poem might just be the key to understanding the poem at all, like a small but heavy and dense counterweight to the lighter, more spread out lines of the poem. It's just as important an element of your poem as the lines.

Everybody starts at the beginning

Try not to make assumptions and for fuck's sake, don't be lazy. Don't say you have a dream to be a writer or a poet and then act like you can't fucking be bothered to rise above your own ignorance. And we're all ignorant, it's only a matter of degree. Complacency is mediocrity, and mediocrity is a very slow suicide. The quest to be better, to be the absolute best you can, is long-term spirit food for the soul.

Go, learn, and write.