Archives for posts with tag: Writing Tips

Passing Along Workshop Info
by Barbara Eknoian

The first lines of your poem
that inspire you to write
may just be scaffolding.
Chop it off at the top
you don’t need it anymore
For sure, avoid adverbs
use strong verbs instead
Think twice about adding
those adjectives like
glorious sky, massive rock
gorgeous gown
Sky, rock, gown
should be able to hold
their own in your poem.
Try to include some slant rhyme
it adds to the musicality
Don’t offer so much explanation
After all, poets are discerning
If you can, begin with a preposition
it will place you somewhere
The poem on the page
should look tidy
readers are visual too.
Those uneven lines are unsightly
Eliminate tiny words like “a” and “the”
so it doesn’t sound so prosy
Be certain not to wind up
with an editorial at the end
instead of an image
Try enjambment, runover lines
to create some tension
don’t rest at the end of the line
make the reader think twice about
why you have separated New
from England
You should strive for a metaphor
in place of a ho-hum simile
as: She sings like an angel
Never ever use the term
“first light”
Eyebrows will rise at the workshop
You might even hear a guffaw
When it comes to meter,
if you don’t know a spondee
from a (DUM da DUM),
stick to narrative or fiction

PHOTO: Ladder to the Moon by Georgia O’Keeffe (1958).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: After taking poetry workshop classes for so many years, this poem flowed out of my psyche. Since I’ve listened to so many instructions about do’s and don’t’s in how-to-write poetry, I kind of wrote it tongue-in-cheek. All of the information I’m passing on is as true as I can recall. I figured this would give beginning poets some good writing tips.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Barbara Eknoian writes narrative poetry and novels. Her work has appeared in Pearl, Chiron Review, Red Shift, and several of Silver Birch Press’s anthologies: Silver, Green, Summer, and Self-Portrait. Her poetry book, Why I Miss New Jersey, and her latest novel, Hearts on Bergenline Avenue, are available at Amazon.


writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all” CHARLES BUKOWSKI

Illustration: “Bukowski” by skroowtape


That’s the great secret of creativity. You treat ideas like cats: you make them follow you.” 




  1. To get started, write one true sentence.
  2. Always stop for the day while you still know what will happen next.
  3. Never think about the story while you’re not working.
  4. When it’s time to work again, always start by rereading what you’ve written so far.
  5. Don’t describe emotion—make it.
  6. Use a pencil.
  7. Be brief.

For details on each point, visit


Excerpt from a 1958 interview George Plimpton conducted with Ernest Hemingway, published in The Paris Review.

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?

Hemingway: It depends, I rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.

Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?

Hemingway: Getting the words right.

Illustration: Page from Hemingway’s first draft of A Farewell to Arms (1929).


“Hemingway, a great American writer, taught me the finest trick when you are doing a long book, which is, he simply said in his own words,’When you are going good, stop writing.’ …if you stop when you are going good, as Hemingway said…then you know what you are going to say next. You make yourself stop, put your pencil down and everything, and you walk away. And you can’t wait to get back because you know what you want to say next…” ROALD DAHL, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Photo: Roald Dahl (left) and Ernest Hemingway (right) in London during 1944.

NOTES ON THE PHOTO: As far as I’ve been able to learn, no one knows why Dahl and Hemingway were together in London during WWII. Dahl, a member of the British Royal Air Force, worked as something of a spy during the early war years—when Britain was fighting Germany and hoping the U.S. would enter the conflict. In this period (1939-1941), Dahl was stationed in Washington D.C., and attended social functions with politicians and other dignitaries, hoping to learn useful information about U.S. plans vis-a-vis the war.

At the time of the above photo, Dahl was 28 and Hemingway was 45 (though he looks much older). At first, I was puzzled when I looked at this photograph — thinking it couldn’t be Hemingway because “Papa” wasn’t that short. Then I realized that Roald Dahl must have been well above average in height to make Hemingway appear diminutive. Further research revealed that Dahl was 6’6″—while Hemingway was 6 feet tall.

At this point in his career, Hemingway was a world-famous author and had written three of his most important books — The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and For Whom the Bell Tolls – while Dahl had not yet written anything of note (Random House had published his children’s book entitled The Gremlins in 1943). Perhaps the young intelligence officer and aspiring author (Dahl) wangled a meeting with the old lion (Hemingway), hoping to gain some writing advice or just bask in the presence of the great author.

While Hemingway at some point (I’m not sure when) wrote about his method of stopping before you’re written out for the day, perhaps he gave this advice to Dahl first-hand when they were chumming around London in 1944. (For the record, Hemingway was in Europe from June-December 1944 and became involved in a number of allied initiatives while acting as a journalist.)

The Spring 1958 issue of the Paris Review included an interviewGeorge Plimpton conducted with Ernest Hemingway at the author’s home outside Havana, Cuba. Hemingway invited Plimpton into his inner sanctum–his writing room–and allowed the interviewer to observe his writing methods. Here are some of Plimpton’s observations:

…on the top of one of these cluttered bookcases—the one against the wall by the east window and three feet or so from his bed…Hemingway has his “work desk”—a square foot of cramped area hemmed in by books on one side and on the other by a newspaper-covered heap of papers, manuscripts, and pamphlets. There is just enough space left on top of the bookcase for a typewriter, surmounted by a wooden reading board, five or six pencils, and a chunk of copper ore to weight down papers when the wind blows in from the east window.

A working habit he has had from the beginning, Hemingway stands when he writes. He stands in a pair of his oversized loafers on the worn skin of a lesser kudu—the typewriter and the reading board chest-high opposite him.

When Hemingway starts on a project he always begins with a pencil, using the reading board to write on onionskin typewriter paper. He keeps a sheaf of the blank paper on a clipboard to the left of the typewriter, extracting the paper a sheet at a time from under a metal clip that reads “These Must Be Paid.” He places the paper slantwise on the reading board, leans against the board with his left arm, steadying the paper with his hand, and fills the paper with handwriting which through the years has become larger, more boyish, with a paucity of punctuation, very few capitals, and often the period marked with an X. The page completed, he clips it facedown on another clipboard that he places off to the right of the typewriter.

Hemingway shifts to the typewriter, lifting off the reading board, only when the writing is going fast and well, or when the writing is, for him at least, simple: dialogue, for instance.

He keeps track of his daily progress—“so as not to kid myself”—on a large chart made out of the side of a cardboard packing case and set up against the wall under the nose of a mounted gazelle head. The numbers on the chart showing the daily output of words differ from 450, 575, 462, 1250, back to 512, the higher figures on days Hemingway puts in extra work so he won’t feel guilty spending the following day fishing on the Gulf Stream.

Read “Ernest Hemingway: The Art of Fiction” at the Paris Review.


“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” STEPHEN KING

Illustration: New Yorker cartoon by Charles Barsotti, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


“You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” F. SCOTT FITZGERALD (1896-1940)


All  good writing is like swimming under water and holding your breath.”  F. SCOTT FITZGERALD

Illustration: Frederick Stuart Church (“Mermaid” etching, 1887)