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Writing: How Poetry Helped My Prose

The author Michael La Ronn

(Photo Copyright 2013 Janay Michel)

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.

Changing Track

Photo of hiker striding between stepping stones

(Photo: Copyright 2013, Dadarev Mikhail, used with licence from Shutterstock)

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.

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16 Responses to Writing: How Poetry Helped My Prose

  1. Philippa Rees January 6, 2014 at 4:50 pm #

    This post really interested me and demonstrated what you claim writing poetry gave you- clarity! I write both poetry and prose but increasingly the qualities you list as derived from poetry, have come to dominate, as well as the one added-rhythm, hopefully subtle, but evocative of the way in which language echoes what it conveys.

    My solution has been to write narrative poetry, which tells a story as well.

    The problem with that is that it is considered ‘epic’ even when rhyme and rhythm are almost prose ( but I hope not prosaic!) So self-publishing in my case has been the inevitable consequence as poetry journals do not ever consider narrative poetry, nor novella length work!

    • Susan Yanguas January 7, 2014 at 12:56 pm #

      Why not call it “literary fiction” instead? 🙂

  2. Karylle December 13, 2013 at 2:12 am #

    Hello Michael,

    Great article! What are some of the poetry book titles you have self-published and what platform are you using? CreateSpace or Lightning Source?

    The Fast Fingers Book Formatting Service
    http://www.thefastfingers.com

    • Michael La Ronn December 13, 2013 at 2:55 am #

      Hi Karylle. Currently, I have not self-published a poetry collection yet, though I do have one that will be ready for publication around the middle of next year. However, this is what I will be using: CreateSpace, MOBI and epub for the ebook formats, and Audible for an audio book format.

  3. eLPy December 12, 2013 at 7:08 pm #

    Thank you for writing this article about poetry and the multiple ways it can benefit reader and writer alike. I’m a recently self-published poet and through my poetry and the decision to publish it I’ve accepted myself more as a writer. While not published in other genres I also write fiction and non-fiction. I’ve been reflecting on how different the writing processes are. Doing cross-genre work helps me as well because when poetry work is not coming to me so to speak I can turn to the fiction stories I’m working on and basically flex different muscles. In that sense writing cross-genre is like cross-training!!

    In terms of how writing poetry directly affects my writing I would say that poetry helps me reflect and discover – hence my book about self-discover & reflection – not only myself but the world around me. Poems help me expand on things that are so seemingly simple and express them with the complexity that is real and true to me and to many of us. Sometimes just talking about something does not accurately represent how you felt or what it meant to you. Poetry helps me to do this. Thus writing poetry helps my prose work because it helps me to feel and go into a moment, not just see it from the outside.

    Thank you and best of luck to your writing projects!

    Sincerely,
    eLPy
    author of “That Which Lives Within”
    http://www.littlefacepublications.com

    • Michael La Ronn December 12, 2013 at 8:59 pm #

      Thanks, eLPy, for your comment. Cross-genre/medium writing is like cross-training, and can provide an enormous benefit. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks this way! I like to think of fiction as very horizontal—a story moves along in a linear fashion. But I like to think of poems as vertical—they can delve deep into a single topic or thought.

      Kudos to you for self-publishing. It’s excellent to finally hear from a self-published poet. Most poets today are still stuck several years behind fiction writers—an attachment to print and literary magazines prevails. But there are so many opportunities for self-published poets right now (a couple things that come to mind are videos of poem readings and audio books narrated by the poet themselves). I expect a lot more poets to start making the switch in the next 2-3 years as self-publishing expands as a viable alternative, and poets start seeing the profitability and expanded outreach potential. I wish you all the best with your own endeavors!

      • eLPy January 7, 2014 at 2:41 am #

        That’s a great way to compare writing fiction versus poetry, horizontal and vertical respectively. Stories do have to get from one point to the next like a path while poems don’t have to follow a path necessarily. Indeed, poems can explore and express things, moments, people, places, in a way that stories don’t always seem to do as easily.

        Thank you. I wonder why it is that more poets don’t self-publish but I’d guess that it might be due in part to the fact that poetry isn’t an easy sell; marketing poetry is a serious job in itself! How is this going for you? Funny that you mention poem readings and audio books. I would like to create an audio book for my poems as well as record some readings, possibly video recordings. You’re right that there are a lot of opportunities for poets I think though they’re not always as obvious to some. Plus there are more stories about breakout self-published fiction and non-fiction writers than self-published poets.

        I’m enjoying the challenge of finding ways to market my work, it requires me to be more creative.

        Take care & Happy New Year!
        eLPy

  4. Eliza Green December 12, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    Excellent list, and practical too, Michael. I like that poetry taught you quickly what every author takes years to learn. I’m afraid writing poetry goes over my head, so I’m taking the longer route to learning your lessons 🙂

    • Michael La Ronn December 12, 2013 at 7:55 pm #

      Thanks, Eliza. Poetry can be challenging at times, but it’s well worth it. Best of luck to you taking the scenic route—who knows, maybe you’ll come around!

  5. Michael La Ronn December 12, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Thank you Dan and Pat for your comments.

    Dan—I agree with you. I’m always reading my work aloud to find clunky spots. It’s amazing what you can catch reading aloud that you don’t when reading visually.

    Pat—Great quote. I love to listen to poets talk about their poems, too, especially because poems are so condensed. Poems are definitely a great respite from bigger projects, and I also think they help develop your writing muscles, too. I find that writing prose for too long drives me to poetry, and vice versa. When I return to writing prose after writing a poem that I really believe in, it makes my prose better almost every time. It’s a great cycle.

    • Susan Yanguas December 14, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

      “I find that writing prose for too long drives me to poetry, and vice versa. When I return to writing prose after writing a poem that I really believe in, it makes my prose better almost every time. It’s a great cycle.”

      I sure hope that’s true, Michael, because my inspiration and urge to write dried up about 2 chapters before the end of my WIP. So I just started writing poetry – for the first time. And I really like it! I’m hoping it will make me a better writer and also jump-start the urge to write prose again.

      Thanks for the great post. It was very timely for me.

      • Michael La Ronn December 15, 2013 at 5:33 pm #

        Hi Susan,

        Thanks for your kind words! That’s so great to hear that you’re giving poetry a try. If you’re just starting out, my biggest recommendation is that you read at least 2-3 poems every day, each from different authors and in different styles to get a feel for the kind of poems that you’ll like. There’s as many different styles of poetry as there are poets, and reading a lot of them will fuel your creativity. There’s an awesome Poem-A-Day archive at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/browse/ . In any case, best of luck to you, and I hope your WIP gets its mojo back, too.

        • Susan Yanguas December 15, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

          Thank you very much for the recommendation and guidance!

  6. Pat Mullan December 12, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    Michael, superb insight. I write poetry and thrillers and I quote from my website “Poetry hones the mind and the skill, as well as providing a respite from the intense commitment I make when I’m in the midst of a thriller. I get most enjoyment from listening to a poet talk about the written work and the work in progress: why a poem was written, the spark that ignited the vision, the snatch of overheard conversation, the incident that retrieves a past memory, the choice of words and imagery, the simple scene transformed, the need to be a witness”

    Thank you,
    Best, Pat

  7. Dan Holloway December 12, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

    Great post, Michael. I’d add rhythm to your list – it is really important how prose “sounds”, the cadence of your lines, the variation of rhythm, the use of metre and syncopation to make a piece flow – these are areas where poetry can bring your prose to life.

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