Born a Writer?

I often judge writing contests, both non-fiction and poetry. Recently, I judged the North Carolina Poetry Society’s annual contest in the haiku category. Although it was blind judging, and the winners’ names still haven’t been revealed, I’m sure the winners worked hard to perfect their haiku. Passionate writers work hard at producing quality writing.

It always irks me when some authors, many of whom  teach, make the comment that one is a born a writer. When we were of school age, we learned spelling and composition and basic writing skills. In adulthood, we write letters and memos in the course of our day.  But we are not born writers. I’ve never read about a writing gene. And, even if we interpret that statement loosely to mean that we are born with skills such as observation–part of being a writer–then we need to qualify it by stating that our writing skills must be cultivated and practiced.

We can develop observational skills; a facility with language through reading a lot of good writing in a particular genre; take workshops; and  attend good critique groups. Many people become good writers or published ones later in life through practice and learning to be observant– key elements in being a good writer of any genre. Writers need to describe what they wish to convey in specific terms, and that requires good observation and reflection. We also need to practice how to write succinctly, deleting extraneous words and finding simpler ways of expression.

How do you practice observation? Whatever you see around you, something ordinary, for example, ask yourself if it’s really ordinary. Is there anything unusual about it? You practice being observant by first asking questions about how and why things are the way most people perceive them as, and how and why they are not what most people perceive.

If you are writing informational pieces, question commonly-held perceptions or beliefs. Be a contrarian, be a devil’s advocate. If you are writing a creative piece, observe shapes,  sizes, and the color of things.

When I write how-to books on  writing informational and creative pieces, I do so  because people need to learn how to be good writers. It’s not automatic. Everyone has to read and practice how to write like “a writer,” even if from the time they are young, their teacher tells them they have a knack for writing.

In judging the recent haiku contest, it made me reflect on how people can become better writers by judging contests. My method of judging a contest involves reading each piece in the beginning, two times. Then I let each sit for a day. I re-read each piece two times, the second day, and I start eliminating those that are inadequate. I don’t start eliminating pieces until the second day, because I might run the risk of overlooking  a few, which at first glance, I didn’t reflect on enough. The entire process of elimination can take several days or a couple weeks of re-reading poems each day.

In judging haiku, for example, I ponder symbolism; whether there is depth of meaning or layers of meaning; diction (precision of words, particularly with verbs); evocative imagery; word economy; and style. I love to see haiku with literary techniques, such as alliteration and assonance. If done skillfully, alliteration and assonance, even in a short poem, can enhance it. If they are done sparingly in a short poem, they don’t distract the reader.

As a poet, I not only select words for their meaning, but also for their sound and how they contribute to rhythm. Further, does the poet express himself/herself in a subtle way, without explaining?  Does the haikuist embody the haiku spirit: understanding natural phenomena; having a sense of spirituality or humility; and seeing the beauty in the ordinary?

As long as you keep reading good writing in your genre, you’ll never stop learning and improving. You’ll pick out styles you enjoy of other writers and incorporate their techniques into your own.

Spend an hour each day/night, if you can, reading and reflecting. This not only gives you writing ideas, but it renews you. If this isn’t possible, then perhaps write just fifteen minutes a day in a quiet space or play soothing music to block out household noise. I spend two hours each evening reading and reflecting. I am able to do this because during the day, I have strict guidelines for getting my work done efficiently without distraction. I answer my phone only during the noon hour or after 4 p.m., and I return phone messages then.

There are many ups and downs in any career, and perhaps writing has one of the most, because of the many rejections writers receive. Focus on riding them out by re-submitting rejected pieces soon after revision, or simply by trying another publication. Keep your momentum up.

And keeping your momentum up, often involves announcing your accomplishments all ways you can. If you don’t, not many people will hear about them. Good feedback is essential.

Discouragement often kills writers. Always try to keep a bright perspective. I have two post-it notes on my computer: Do something enjoyable each day, and Identify the happiest moment of my day.  Referring to these, helps me keep a bright perspective.

Copyright 2017 by Charlotte Digregorio.

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About Charlotte Digregorio

I publish books. I have marketed and/or published 55 titles. These books are sold in 46 countries to bookstores, libraries, universities, professional organizations, government agencies, and book clubs. I am also the author of five non-fiction books: Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All; Everything You Need to Know About Nursing Homes; You Can Be A Columnist; Beginners' Guide to Writing & Selling Quality Features; and Your Original Personal Ad. The first four books have been adopted as supplemental texts at universities throughout the U.S., Canada, India, Pakistan, and Catalonia. They are sold in 43 countries, and are displayed in major metropolitan cultural centers. These books have been reviewed, recommended, and praised by hundreds of critics, librarians, and professors worldwide. I am also the author of a poetry collection: "Shadows of Seasons: Selected Haiku and Senryu." Two of my books have been Featured Selections of Writer's Digest Book Club. I am regularly interviewed by major print, radio, and television organizations throughout the U.S. I have signed books at libraries, chain bookstores, and university bookstores. I was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. I have won thirty-three poetry awards. I have been nominated and listed in "The International Authors and Writers Who's Who" in Cambridge, England and in the "Who's Who In Writers, Editors & Poets U.S./Canada." I am an internationally-published haiku, senryu, tanka, kyoka, haibun, free verse, acrostic, cinquain, etheree, and sestina poet. My poetry has been translated into six languages, and I have done poetry readings at a variety of bookstores, libraries, art centers, cafes, tea houses, and galleries. My poetry has been displayed at supermarkets, art galleries, libraries, apparel and wine shops, banks, botanic gardens, restaurants, and on public transit. I've been interviewed on cable television about my poetry. I also hosted my own radio program, "Poetry Beat," on public broadcasting. My poetry has been featured on several library web sites including those of Shreve Memorial Library in Louisiana and Cornell University's Mann Library. My background includes positions as a feature editor and columnist at daily newspapers and as a magazine editor. I have been a public relations director for a non-profit organization. I was also self-employed as a communications/public relations/marketing consultant with 111 clients in 16 states. In other professional areas, I have been on university faculties, teaching French, Italian, and Writing. I regularly give special lectures and workshops on publishing, journalism, publicity, poetry, and creativity to business and professional groups, and to those at writer's conferences, universities, literary festivals, non-profit organizations, and to libraries. I have been a writer-in-residence at universities. There have been about 400 articles written about me in the media. I have served on the Boards of writers and publishers organizations. My positions have included Board Secretary of the Northwest Association of Book Publishers. I served for five years as Midwest Regional Coordinator of The Haiku Society of America. Currently, I am Second Vice President of the Haiku Society.
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13 Responses to Born a Writer?

  1. Reblogged this on Be here now and commented:
    Excellent advice and tips from Charlotte both on judging a writing competition and on protecting your own writing life. Thank you, Charlotte!

  2. Susan Furst says:

    Amen Charlotte! I am often, or almost always inspired to write haiku after reading haiku. This is especially encouraging when I have writer’s block. Sometimes I just can’t write at a particular time, I can’t force it. So I read. Reading inspires and also improves my writing. It is essential. By the way, you can find me in the spring issue of Blythe Spirit! Twice!

  3. I think your definition “bright perspective”, explains very well the meaning about what’s writing.
    I think we are not born writers, but we can learn to write.
    Writing is sacrifice and perseverance.
    I’ve been often the judge in poetry competitions and I read and reread often the lyrics of poems.
    There are really beautiful poems that remain in the soul.
    Also I learn a lot reading the poems of other writers.
    Thanks for your post, Charlotte. On the website, there are not only haiku, but also
    many thoughts on writing and writers.
    All the best,
    Eufemia

  4. Great advice. Sometimes I think discouragement comes from having expectations that are too high…

  5. haikutec says:

    I couldn’t agree more, if we want our haiku, for instance, to last the test of time, there has to be qualities that readers find out about each time they read the poem, in fact that they want to come back to the poem.

    In fact Sandra Simpson took my new haiku exercise as the NZ Poetry Society’s new month’s article to offers us a perception challenge’ to kick off the writing year. Read it here:
    https://poetrysociety.org.nz/affiliates/haiku-nz/haiku-poems-articles/monthly-article/

    Check out all the hidden links including Elizabeth Hazen’s award-winning and now FREE collection via PDF copy at the above link.

    I can only reiterate what Charlotte says, as I’ve been a haiku judge many times, and highly recommend that you note what she says for further competitions.

    warm regards,

    Alan

  6. madhuri says:

    Thank you so much for this article, it is an eye opener. I must read Alan’s article too.

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