Dabbling in Poetry.

alphabetIf you’re like me, you would have been one of those students back in your school days whose eyes would glaze over every time you were required to study poetry in English class. Being asleep with my eyes open, I honestly wouldn’t be able to tell you what we learned. Years later and far away from the horrors of school life, the muse can sometimes have a mind of its own. Even though I’m not a big fan of poetry, I have been known to dabble in it on occasion.

A few years back, I discovered a small publication that was looking for poems and short stories. The magazine also included writing prompts and there were two in particular that caught my imagination. My muse decided to take me down the uncharted territory of poetry and before I knew it, I had two short pieces written. With nothing to lose, I decided to send them off and was later caught by surprise upon seeing two free issues of the publication where my poems had been published. Here is one of them:-

Winter Sleeps.

A gentle whisper through the trees
Chills the air with fallen leaves
Sunlight glistens upon the grass
While shadows dance slowly as they pass.
The hand of nature deals a blow
Through heavy frosts that leads to snow
Ice that crackles under foot
Pays to be careful where it’s put
For underneath the lake is deep
Where all is silent when winter sleeps.

© Debbie Johansson, 2008.

Sure, I’m not going to win any awards for this; my first attempt, but it did buoy me up to try writing more. Every year there is a Banjo Patterson competition for short stories and bush ballads (for those overseas, Banjo Patterson wrote the famous bush ballad The Man from Snowy River), and I decided to take a stab at it. Such poems hold more appeal to me as they tell a story and actually rhyme. It took me a while to perfect it and I had it critiqued by a local poet before sending it off. She told me that she could see my poem as a short story. I worked hard on that piece and was pleased with my first attempt at such a poem, so was a bit disappointed by her comment. Of-course I sent the poem off and never heard any more about it. That piece still sits waiting at home, yet now, years later I believe that woman might have been on to something. I could give it a whole new lease of life as a short story.

Throughout this entire process, I’ve come away with learning these four things:-

1. Writing prompts are a great way to fire up the muse,
2. Don’t ignore smaller publications to get your foot in the door,
3. Sometimes you can get lucky and get published on your first attempt, and
4. Experimenting with different creative forms can lead you down different paths.

Despite my years of reluctance towards poetry, being creative means trying new things. Just follow your own muse, no matter where it takes you.

Do you dabble in poetry? Do you experiment with different creative forms and have you found them to be a help or a hindrance? Do you find writing prompts help your muse?

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One Way to Get Your Writing out Fast.

Some years ago I was always one for entering competitions. I decided to give up after a while once I began to discover that I was paying more in entry fees than I was receiving any results.  It was also around this time that I was persuaded to do something a bit different.

There was a competition to become one of six successful applicants to attend the first Write Around the Murray Festival Writer’s Workshop.  It was to be run by Debra Adelaide, author of The Household Guide to Dying and senior lecturer in creative writing at the University of Technology in Sydney.  Applicants needed to provide three chapters of a completed novel.  I was lucky to have a completed novel up my sleeve, but I believed it wasn’t anywhere near a high enough standard.  Inundated with my University studies at the time, I gave the three chapters a quick edit and sent off my application.  To my utter disbelief, I became one of those six successful applicants.

Not only did I learn a great deal from the entire experience, but I also learnt the value of having a completed work up my sleeve.  If I didn’t, it would have been yet another opportunity that would have passed me by.  If you want to enter writing competitions, try to finish everything you write so that you already have something to send in.  This creates less hassle and stress while trying to meet that all important deadline.  Even if you are unsuccessful, you will have managed to improve your craft while building up a body of work at the same time.

Do you enter writing competitions and how often? Have you had any success? Are you in the habit of finishing everything you write?

Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Write Around the Murray Festival.

In August, I ventured into unfamiliar territory, when I drove down to Albury for the Write Around the Murray Festival.

Earlier in the year, I was encouraged to submit some of my work for entry into a two day masterclass – the first to be held during the Write Around the Murray Festival.  This masterclass was to be taught by Debra Adelaide, author of The Household Guide to Dying and senior lecturer in creative writing at the University of Technology, Sydney.  To my surprise, I became one of six successful applicants.

At the festival, I was fortunate enough to meet many authors, including PD Martin, Shane Maloney, Dianne Wolfer, Michael McGirr and Dorothy Simmons.

The two day masterclass with Debra was intense, yet each participant made good use of her fifteen years experience as an editor.  Before the first day was over, I had a better understanding of where exactly I’m going wrong with my writing.  We managed to read and critique the work of others, experiment with first and third person, as well as discuss helpful books to read.  In the end we ended up doing a few weeks work within one weekend.

By the end of it all, I was mentally drained.  Despite the onset of flu, it was an enjoyable weekend.  I met some great people, made some contacts and have a better understanding of where I’m going as a writer.

My advice to you is don’t hesitate in applying for such opportunities whenever they arise.  You could be missing out on the chance of a lifetime.

Early morning in Albury small

* This photo was taken during one of my early morning treks, just across the road from our accommodation.  An idealic setting for writers!

Image by Debbie Johansson.