Writing Takes A Family


Most people think that writing is solitary activity, but I disagree. It’s true I mostly write while I’m alone, but it takes my whole family working together in order to get those precious minutes to write.

You need an understanding spouse because writing takes a ton of time.  There have been so many nights or weekends that either my wife or I played babysitter so the other one could finish up a project.  It’s really important to have an understanding partner who can give you that extra time.  (Thanks honey!)

Publishing takes money.  Sure it’s free to print eBooks and we certainly don’t spend much on pens and paper.  However, when you’re competing for reader’s attention with Harry Potter, it’s important to have a professionally edited book and attractive cover.  Since I spell about as well as a rhino can paraglide, that means we need to hire an editor.

Writing requires understanding friends.  I used to see friends every other night.  We went out to eat, to movies, mini-golfing, etc… now we’re lucky to see two or three friends a month.  A new baby contributed a lot to that change, but writing also affected free time.  My wife and I have given up most of our other hobbies (and TV) to make room for writing.

You need to involve everyone.  Since my wife and I spend so much of our energy writing, we think it’s important to involve the whole family the writing process.  We talk about our plots over dinner and what projects we want to work on next.  Since we’re diverting time away from people, it’s nice to let them know why.  If they’re involved in the creative world, they’ll hopefully understand why you need extra time to polish a draft.

Writing is fun, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. We write because we love writing… that’s about all there is to it. Thankfully, the world has never been better for story tellers.  With the print on demand revolution and emergence of eBooks, now is the perfect time to tell your story.  So pick up your pen.  Hug your spouse and start writing.

How to Memorize a Poem

memorize poetry bathtub
When I was ten, I had to memorize a poem a month at school. Twenty years later, I’m amazed by how many of those rhymes are still tucked away in my brain — like a favorite memory or old friend.

It got me wondering: How in the world do you memorize a poem? Here are some tips I came up with.

1. Start with a short poem. If you have never memorized a poem before, pick a quick one so you get the hang of it. I’d recommend one that’s 4 lines and filled with words you easily understand.

One of the first short poems I ever memorized was Too Many Kids in this Tub by Shel Silverstein:

There’s too many kids in this tub.
There’s too many elbows to scrub.
I just washed a behind that I’m sure wasn’t mine.
There’s too many kids in this tub.

2. Pick poems with strong rhymes and rhythms. Re-read that Shel Silverstein poem and listen to the rhythm as you say each word. It has a distinctive flow that wants to roll off your tongue. The rhythm can help you memorize because your brain knows what kind of sound it should be saying next. Similarly rhymes give you a clue about what word should be at the end of each sentence.

3. Visualize the poem. Close your eyes and imagine the poem. What does the main character look like? What expression is on their face? What are they doing? Why are they doing it? If you can picture the poem like a little movie in your head, it will be easier to remember it (because who doesn’t remember their favorite scene from a cartoon or movie?)

4. Write your own poem. Write a short poem and then try to memorize it. Can you remember what you were thinking when you wrote the poem? Do you remember why you chose certain words? If this helps you, think about other poems as if you wrote them. Why did the author choose the words they chose? What mood were they in when they wrote the poem? Who did they write the poem for?

5. Memorize a poem that makes you laugh. Everyone remembers their favorite joke because it makes them laugh. Sometimes it can be easier to remember a funny poem because it has you in stitches. Another poem I had to memorize as a kid was The New Kid On The Block by Jack Prelutsky. It was about a terrible kid with a really funny twist at the end. (You’ll have you get the poem to find out the ending — I don’t want to spoil it). That poem always made me laugh, which made it more fun to memorize.

6. Imagine the poem as you walk someone familiar. First you need to picture a walk that you have done thousands of time. What are some landmarks along the way? I have walked out of my front door millions of times. At the end of the driveway there is a mailbox and then a massive tree.

Next you need to mix the lines of poetry with those landmarks. For example, if I wanted to memorize:

There’s too many kids in this tub.
There’s too many elbows to scrub.

I would imagine lots of little kids crammed in the mailbox at the end of my driveway followed by scrubbing their elbows on the bark of my big tree. If I ever forget what the second line is, all I have to remember is that second thing I see as I leave my house is a big tree…. then I’ll suddenly remember scrubbing their elbows on the bark.

Hope these tips have helped. Remember poetry should be fun! If you’re getting frustrated, take a short break — run around outside for five minutes — and then come back and try again.

How to write a Poem

how to write poetry

Poetry is a great way to start writing because it’s all about expression. If you feel silly and want to laugh, then crack yourself up. If you are heart-broken, then let off some anger instead of bottling it up.

I wrote this blog post for people who want to write poetry, but aren’t quite sure where to start.

Poetry is expression. There is no right or wrong way to write poetry as long as you are saying what you want to say. So be fearless and listen to that little voice in your head — it knows what to write already.

Think carefully about the words you choose. Many novels have over 50,000 words and poems can have 50 or fewer. On one hand that makes poems quicker to write (many people can finish them in hours or days instead of months/years). But on the other hand, it means you need to choose your words wisely since there are so few in each poem. Make sure each word has the meaning, style and sound that you want.

What’s your poem’s style? Poems come in as many different shapes and sizes as people do. They all have their own mood. Take a look at the opening lines to these four poems and notice how you feel when reading them. What emotions do you feel? What are you thinking about? Where does your mind think the poem is going?

Homework! Oh, Homework!
I hate you! You stink!
(Prelutsky’s Homework! Oh, Homework!)

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
(Dante’s Inferno)

Just beyond the flower garden at the end of the lawn
the curvature of the earth begins,
(Collin’s Looking West)

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though.
(Frost’s Stopping by the Woods)

Which of those lines did you like the best? Which one has a style you like the best? Notice how the opening line has already set the mood of the poem.

Poems don’t have to rhyme. When most people think about poems, they think about rhymes like “Roses are red…” or Dr. Seuss. However, poems don’t have to rhyme. Billy Collins is a great example of non-rhyming poems. His poems are informal and conversational. When you read them, you feel like you’re sitting down to tea with an old friend. Rhymes can be fun, but they can also distract from your poem’s message because everyone gets caught up in the rhyming. (If you do want to rhyme, use a rhyming dictionary if you want help with the rhymes.)

What message do you want to portray? Whether you intend to or not, all poems have some sort of message. (Even when you aren’t trying to explicitly write a message, you’re still portraying a message because you’re writing in your voice and your voice is steeped in your view of the world).

Jack Prelutsky’s poem (Homework! Oh, Homework! I hate you! You stink!) may sound too silly to have a message, but actually it reveals a lot of how he sees the world. He’s demonstrating that the world can be a fun, silly and an outlandish place to live.

When Robert Frost’s poem ends with “But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep,” you realize that he is talking about death. He has a lot of things that he still wants to do (promises to keep) before he dies (sleeps).

What environment is it easy for you to write in? Some people write well when they are alone… or out in nature… or sitting with a pen and paper… or in the middle of a loud coffee shop… or listening to their favorite music. Try writing in different places and see where it’s easiest for you.

Onomatopoeia, Alliteration and Metaphors can be your friends.

Onomatopoeia means using words that sound like what they represent… such as “plop” and “fizz”. Alliteration is repeating the same letter at the start of a word… such as “Dave Doesn’t Delay Doodling.” A Metaphor is saying one thing and meaning another. When Robert Frost talks about “sleeping” he is actually talking about “dying”. Did any of these literary techniques get your attention? If so, give them a try in a poem.

Rhythm can be important. How do the words flow when you say them? Are they easy to say together? Many poets like to use the same rhythm throughout the poem. When you read your poem, where does the emphasis go?

I added bold to the emphasis on Robert Frost’s poem. As you can see, he uses the same rhythm and emphasis throughout his poem:

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though.
(short long short long short long short long)

He used the same short-long rhythm throughout his entire poem. Are you using a rhythm? What is it? Is it consistent?

The best poem is a finished poem. Stick with it. The more you write the easier it gets. Poems don’t have to be perfect — but they are better when they’re finished.

I hope you enjoyed my short tutorial on poetry. As for myself, I write best when it’s quiet. I like to use the same rhythm throughout the poem because I love how it rolls off my tongue. If possible, I like to end with a twist that makes people smile. Just like Jack Prelutsky, I want to show people that the world is a funny, playful place to live. If you want to check out one of my poems, you can read What do you want to be? or browse my other short poems for kids that I’ve archived online.

Happy writing!

My First Poem

my first poem

In English class we learned about poems and then the teacher told us all to write one as homework. Even though that was years ago, I still remember that assignment clearly.

After school I took a pen and some paper to the top of the valley where I lived. Sitting in the tall grass, I stared at the ocean to one side and the mountains to the other. There were no distractions. It was just me and my pen.

The poem always stuck with me. After I graduated college, I turned it into a song that I played at open mic nights in Wellington.

What was special about that day wasn’t the poem, but the lovely afternoon I spent writing in the sun. It’s easy as an adult to forget about the joy of writing (or the joy of anything!). We all need more days spent relaxing in the sun.

So here’s my first poem. It’s funny how I pretended to understand heartache long before I learned what this poem really meant.

A rainbow used to have seven colours
now it’s just got three.
It’s black and blue and grey
since you gone left me.

In summer time how the sun did shine
but that was only when you were mine all mine.
It beats my heart up that you won’t be mine.
You’re so fine.

Tear drops falling from the sky,
raindrops falling from my eyes,
Blue liquids, blue inside.

The moon once a magic place where we used to dance
in a trance how we’d dance
Now it’s just a sterile moon
white like a hospital room.

Plotter or Pantser?

plotter or pantser

The writing world is broken down into plotters and pantsers. Plotters like to outline and figure out what will happen before they start to write. Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants to discover where the story wants to go.

I am very firmly a plotter. I grew up in a scientific family, studied a lot of mathematics and worked with computers. Like it or not, I had to learn how to plan.

However, plotters and pantsers aren’t that different.

Most plotters object to outlining because it stifles their creativity. It’s boring drudgery. But it’s my favorite part. That’s when you get to imagine the whole story and see all the different places it can go. Plotting is actually just “miniature pantsing”. Once you’ve pantsed enough, it’s time to pull out the permanent marker and start writing for real.

Masquerade: the start of my treasure hunt

masquerade treasure

Masquerade treasure from Kit Williams

When I was about ten I read a book called Masquerade that was written and illustrated by Kit Williams. It was full of elaborate pictures littered with carefully designed clues that would lead you to real treasure he buried in England. Even though I wasn’t in England, I could still participate. If you solved the riddle and mailed him a letter, he would dig it up for you. (I’m not sure if he dug up holes for all the wrong guesses! :)

My sister and I stared for hours at that book, dreaming about how it would feel to unearth a massive treasure. Even twenty years later I still get a rush of excitement when I think about the book.

That is the sign of a good story: it lingers in your imagination decades later. The “treasures” I have wanted during my lifetime have changed many times, but there is something universally appealing about the search.

I googled to see if the treasure was unclaimed, and sadly was unearthed when I was four. However, I will still give the book to my son, so that I can inspire him to search for back yard yetis, toadstool fairies, loch ness monsters and all the other treasures that make this world a rich place to live.

Why are we giving away poems and madlibs?

free poems
As you probably noticed, we’ve started to write a free kid’s poem every Tuesday and online madlibs every Wednesday. Why would an indie publishing company give away their work?

First, we want to take care of our readers. How many of you have called a giant company and waited on hold just to be told you had pushed the wrong number in the menu system and would have to wait on hold again? That is everything Tasha and I hate about heartless businesses — so we’re choosing to run Glow Word Books differently. We want gratitude to be the foundation of our business. We appreciate that you took time from your busy day to read one of our books or blog entries, so our way of saying thanks to you is a free poem.

Laughter is the best medicine. It’s cliche, but my wife and I believe that most problems can be resolved with a good laugh. When you’re in better spirits, you have more energy to tackle issues that are tricky — you also have more emotional energy which means more patience. Whenever we’re annoyed, we always try to solve it first with a laugh. Hopefully our writing can help you to take on the world.

You get what you give. We believe that what goes around comes around. We want to live in a world where people share poetry, short stories, laughter and ideas. The best way to create that world is to follow your own advice.

Why I love to read out loud

Open Book

My wife and I read out loud to our son every day…. which made me realize we all start reading by having books read TO us. It’s an important step in learning language, culture and fables — and stories told aloud have been around much longer than writing.

I enjoy how interactive reading out-loud is. I get to see my son’s reaction to each picture and sentence. I can speed up, slow down or emphasize different words depending on what he’s interested in.

The best thing about being married to an author-wife is that I get to be a child again! My wife is always reading her new manuscripts out-loud and I get to sit back and immerse myself in the story. Not only is it easier to catch mistakes (because your brain doesn’t make the same assumptions it makes when you’re skimming), but it forces you to concentrate on the flow of the words. Words that looked fine next to each other, sometimes don’t sound right when spoken together.

We wish we could read our books out-loud to all of you, but that isn’t possible (even as much as we love travel)… so that’s why my brother-in-law built a free Butterflies Don’t Chew Bubblegum android app. If you have an Android phone, you can now have books read to you whenever you want. Now that’s what I call progress!