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 Bill Yarrow
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 Bill Yarrow
Sixty Things I Think About Before Writing a Poem or Story
by Bill Yarrow  FollowFollow
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is a professor of English at Joliet Junior College. He is the author of "The Vig of Love" (Glass Lyre Press), "Blasphemer" (Lit Fest Press) "Pointed...read more Sentences" (BlazeVOX) and five chapbooks, most recently "We All Saw It Coming" (Locofo Chaps).
Sixty Things I Think About Before Writing a Poem or Story
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Sixty Things I Think About Before Writing a Poem or Story

1. The most important thing is to create character. Create a living, three-dimensional character, inhabited by real feelings and thoughts, and motivated by real-life desires and fears.

2. Set your work in the real world.

3. Create real people who have real feelings and who exist in real situations.

4. Human motivation is basically simple. Universal, elemental desires operate within all of us.

5. The seven deadly sins are pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth.

6. A character is the particularization of a type.

7. Character drives action – not the other way around.

8. Real people think real thoughts. Have your characters think. The most significant action is always in the mind.

9. The wise are are not continuously wise. The foolish are not continuously foolish.

10. Find the “telling” detail.

11. Find the “telling” remark.

12. Find the “telling” action.

13. Avoid “drama.” Most life is not “dramatic” in the Hollywood sense.

14. Don’t create superheroes; they don’t exist.

15. Don’t create monsters; they don’t exist.

16. No real person is ever one way all the time. Everyone’s a mixed bag.

17. Explore the ordinary, but shun the mundane.

18. Life is not a story, but life does provide stories. Be alert!

19. We are surrounded by the material for art. Pay attention!

20. Don’t be boring. To avoid being boring, know what it is to be truly interesting.

21. Language is made memorable through attention to letters and sounds through consonance, assonance, alliteration, and rhyme. Make your characters’ language memorable and your characters will be memorable.

22. Ideas are made memorable through associations – examples, analogies, similes, and metaphors. Make memorable your character’ ideas and your characters will be memorable.

23. Pay specific attention to language in general.

24. Pay attention to your own language in specific.

25. Look at your writing globally and locally at the same time.

26. Readers will follow what’s easy to follow. Parallelism (of words and phrases, of character and situation ) makes things easy to follow. Strive to be parallel.

27. Know where you’re going. Put up signs along the way.

28. Repetition creates meaning. Variation creates life.

29. Too few details rease; too many details obscure.

30. Too much at look at is as great a fault as too little to see.

31. Try not to be predictable. Do not, however, in the effort to avoid predictability, be absurd.

32. The unexpected is never impossible.

33. Don’t pick scabs. That is, don’t try to write about anything that hasn’t fully healed within you.

34. If you want to pay someone back for something, don’t do it in your writing. If you try to use your writing for revenge, you will falsify your art.

35. Do not use your art for praise or promotion. Art is not a vehicle for the dissemination of reward, particularly trophies of the self.

36. Avoid clichés.

37. If you must use a cliché, then freshen it.

38. Tie abstractions to the earth with specific instances, vivid examples, and concrete details.

39. Details, specifics, and examples unrelieved by ideas form a bog of badness.

40. In order to write well, think clearly and write simply.

41. Practice thinking in images.

42. Edit your own work. Editing is cutting and polishing a rough, dusty diamond until it shines. This works on precious stones, not lumps of coal. Know what you have in front of you.

43. Learn from others. Reading is a form of experience. So is observation.

45. The lesson of Shakespeare and Dickens is that even mtnor characters are whole human beings.

45. We learn to speak by hearing speech and imitating it. We learn to write the same way – by reading writing and imitating it.

46. When we see what has been done, we can see what can be done.

47. If you don’t have a clear sense of badness, how will you know how to avoid it?

48. It’s as easy to have a good tatse as it is to have a bad taste. Hand around the discriminating and you’ll acquire better taste.

49. The process of revision is a constant asking “What if?” What if I change this word, this line this idea, this event, this point of view?

50. An editor asks optometrist’s questions. “How is this? Better? Worse? How about this?”

51. It’s not enough to ask yourself if you were specific. Ask ourself, “Can I be more speicific here” Then ask youself, “Should I be more specific here?”

52. There is no art without selectivity.

55. Taking out is more important than putting in.

55. An unusual word is unusual only once.

55. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

56. Too much of any one thing makes you sick.

57. Care about your work. If you don’t care about it, why should anyone else care about it? If you don’t take it seriously, why should anyone else take it seriously?

58. Think about why you are writing. Ask yourself what you really want to do in your writing.

59. Be your own audience. Ask yourself whether you would want to read what you yourself have written.

60. Insist on quality from yourself.

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