Truly. I stopped writing poems.
Because of my experience in a creative writing class.
The first creative writing class in which I was enrolled (as a non-traditional student a.k.a. an old person) was broken into two sections. One half of the semester was dedicated to poetry, the other half to short stories. I wrote a lot of poems during that half-semester and some of them were good, but during the workshops my classmates tore them to bits. In all honesty, that didn’t bother me. I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to my writing.
What broke me was my own struggle with a sonnet. To this day, I have difficulty writing metered poems and iambic pentameter gives me nightmares.
I remember the day my classmates critiqued my sonnet. Everyone liked it. The feedback was positive from all directions. When the teacher asked if it was a true sonnet, I was the first person to say no. I knew as I wrote it that it didn’t meet all the requirements of a sonnet. I had failed. Not from lack of trying. That’s what made it so hard to take. I worked very hard on that poem. If you read it as a rhymed poem and forget that it’s supposed to be a sonnet, it’s beautiful and emotional. But a sonnet it is not.
My short stories experience was positive despite my story becoming forced toward the end. It was by no means my best work, but I learned a great deal about storytelling. At the end of that semester, I made a conscious decision to leave poetry behind and focus on fiction. That was more than a decade ago.
It was on a whim that I began to write poetry again. It was with a whole new arsenal of skills that I began to write poetry again. I had an experience that stayed with me for a while and decided I should write about it. However, it wasn’t an idea for a novel, nor a short story. The only way I could think to express my feelings about the experience was in poetic form, and so with trepidation I put words on the page.I poured everything I had into it. I sought feedback from friends and colleagues. I edited. Then edited some more. Again and again I edited. I wrote another poem and another. I tried new things. Experimented with forms and themes I’d never considered before. My collection of poems began to grow. My confidence grew with it.
With butterflies in my stomach, I began to submit my poems to contests and publications. When I won the OCW Poet Laureate Award, no one was more surprised than me.
Jeff Goins said, “Bad writers quit. Good writers keep going. That’s all there is to it.” I agree. I was bad at writing poetry and I quit. Regretfully, so. If I could turn back time, I’d keep writing poems and maybe have more contest wins and publication credits by now. It’s true, hindsight is 20/20.
Now to you I say, keep writing. Write poems, write flash fiction, write short stories, novels, screenplays, teleplays. Write whatever your heart desires. Seek feedback and accept criticism along with praise. Learn from both. Give in to forward momentum and trust that you will not fall, but rather move ahead. Be a good writer and keep going.