Self-published writer of novels, poetry, short stories and more, Michael La Ronn describes how his early ventures of writing poetry made him a better writer of prose in the long term.
I began my writing career as a part-time poet. I had graduated college, started a real job in the insurance industry, and I believed that I would be able to quit someday and “make it” as a poet. I was in love with my poems, and I devoted myself to the craft.
Two years and one hundred rejections later, the discouragement was too much. I quit writing. I stopped calling myself a writer, and I wandered without purpose for a year.
Luckily, I recovered and switched to prose. Looking back on it all, it was the right decision because I’m a storyteller at heart and prose suits that. But poetry was a necessary stepping-stone for me. I needed it because it helped me learn how to express myself. Had I started writing prose first, it would have taken me much longer to find my voice.
In a recent post on this blog, Joanne Phillips talks about the challenge of changing genres. She states, “The lessons you learn in one genre can easily be applied to another.”
Amen. Poetry taught me four principles that I use every day in my writing life, and I’d like to share them with you:
- Clarity Poetry is famous for its imagery, and I’ve learned to make my prose as lucid as possible. Poets see with their eyes, but they write from their mind’s eye. Being able to envision something and describe it as accurately (and succinctly) as possible is something that poets accomplish more easily than most prose writers. As a novelist, I’ve discovered that writing with clarity during my first draft saves time, and it makes for better editing because I’m simply sharpening what’s already there.
- Brevity Poems condense a novel’s worth of meaning into just a few lines. Because of this, I’ve learned to keep my manuscripts as lean as possible. Brevity is important, especially in today’s market where there are too many books and not enough time to read them all.
- Originality Good poetry is immediately fresh and specific. My poetry professor used to highlight every cliché that he found—on the board, in front of the entire class. It was scary to give him my poems because I never knew what he would say. The result was that I quit writing clichés, fast. Today, I know that I’m writing with images that only I could, and that’s something that every writer should strive to accomplish.
- Connection to language I think it’s fair to say that poets tend to focus on words and meaning, and novelists tend to focus on sentences and content. During my final editing, I approach my manuscript as a poet. I pay attention to phrasing, word sounds, word color, and the fluidity of my sentences. These subtle nuances affect the reader subconsciously, whether they know it or not. This connection to language makes me feel like a real writer.
I’m grateful to poetry. It taught me who I really am as an artist. Recently, I’ve begun writing it again because it offers a different reading experience than prose, and while they are both very different, my voice unifies the two.
Be True To Yourself
If you’ve ever considered writing across genre—whether it be staying within fiction, or venturing out into a different medium altogether—don’t let the experts discourage you. Do it, and write whatever you want. You may be surprised at what you learn. As long as you’re true to yourself, your readers will follow.