• Adriana Cloud on Bad Poetry, Inspiration and Reading Everything

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 10 comments

    TL;DR version: We’ve hired another talented writing consultant, London’s very own Adriana Cloud. In her Q&A, Adriana talks about bad high school poetry, writing through a lack of inspiration, and reading outside of the genre you’re working in. These are the things I want us to discuss this week. See the bolded “Your turn” sections for discussion questions.


    As you will have noticed if you regularly look for updates to our website — which, why wouldn’t you?! — we’ve taken on yet another talented writing consultant, Adriana Cloud. Adriana lives in London but received her M.F.A. at Emerson College in Boston, where she also worked for Harvard University Press and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Her chapbook is titled Instructions for Building a Wind Chime.

    Today I want us to discuss a few topics drawn from Adriana’s Q&A, which you can read here.


    On Teen Angst

    Asked how she got her start as a writer, Adriana says, “I wrote a lot of bad poetry in high school (who doesn’t, right?).”

    Your turn: Did you write a lot of bad poetry in high school? More importantly, are you brave enough to share some of that poetry with us in the comments below?


    On Discipline & Inspiration

    Asked what is the most difficult thing about writing, Adriana says, “It’s definitely the discipline to keep writing even when I don’t feel like it. My excuse is always that I’m waiting to feel inspired, but sometimes we don’t have the luxury to wait for inspiration. We have to do the work anyway, and trust in the process.”

    I love this answer. I’ve always been prone to the “waiting for the muse to strike” excuse, but I’m working on it.

    Your turn: Are you able to write even when you don’t feel like it, or do you use a lack of inspiration as a reason not to do the work? When you’re not in the mood to write, what tactics do you use to get your butt in the chair anyway?


    Read Everything

    “Read outside your genre” is Adriana’s best bit of advice for aspiring writers. “Read everything, and especially things that are different from the kind of thing you are trying to write.”

    I don’t follow this advice very often. I’ve been working on a novel about blue-collar workers in the Midwest, and while doing so have been reading as many stories and novels I can find about blue-collar workers in the Midwest. I’m also writing a book about baseball, during which I’ve been reading books about baseball.

    Perhaps I ought to shake it up a little and add some poetry to the mix, or some so-called genre fiction. It’s never a bad idea to read as widely as you possibly can.

    Your turn: When you’re working on a project, do you take pains to read work from outside your genre, or like me, do you take pains to read work from inside that genre? What do you think are some of the pros and cons of doing either?


    Let us know your thoughts on these questions in the comments below.

    If you’re interested in working with Adriana Cloud, request a free consult with Justine today to discuss your project and your options.


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and writes about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

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    10 Comments to “Adriana Cloud on Bad Poetry, Inspiration and Reading Everything”

    • I like to rhyme, as you know all too well. My confidence kicked in much later in life. I did not write poetry in high school or college. Reading book of choice was always biographies – be they historical or sports related. Romance novels are not my cup of tea and would, do – resist reading them because my time is precious. As a creative exercise, I would be open to other genres. We all read for different reasons. To escape from reality, angst of adulthood or getting a good chuckle. Some of us also read to build our base of knowledge, to be better informed, to be able to debate various historical or political points. To be entertained and motivated – much like a Toastmaster Club – a suggested horse David knows I beat into the ground so I will not elaborate. Anyone interested can check out Toastmasters International or as a recently appointed Area Director I’d be able to answer any questions. TM is just another way to express yourself verbally – I know that enhances our writerly issues and tasks.

      As writers we have strong opinions. We know what we like to read and what we want to write. We should also be tolerant of the vast variety of reading material and writing structures. As a reader I am impatient. If the novel doesn’t grab my attention early on – I lose interest. I might try giving the author another try, but if they fail again – I am done.

      However, there is great value in reading as a writer. Life is filled with so many inspirational moments. That spark could come from a genre we have never read before. Specific type of prose. Specific point of view. Specific interaction among characters. Good and great fiction and non-fiction both can teach and enlighten.

      PS to David…You mentioned your own project. You might find it fascinating to research blue collar workers in the 19th century. Specifically Railroad strike 1877, Haymarket Square and Pullman 1880s and 1890s.

      Pullman railroad workers rented apartments in tenements, bought groceries from the company store, educated in Pullman schools, and told who to vote for – if they went into debt; paying off debt from rent or store – their meager wages were garnished. Pullman would cut wages and keep rent the same. Looking into the treatment of coal workers and garment industry during the early 20th century. Same man Eugen V Debs progressive, socialist, union organizer went to the jail – and still rain for President in 1912 – out of four candidates he came in 4th…Sitting pres Taft came in third, second Teddy Roosevelt – Bull Moose party and the winner – Woodrow Wilson

      I am still plugging away at editing my 4th draft. The removal of paragraphs is not going well. My transitions are better, I’ve clarified certain passages by way of better word choices – but the deleting isn’t happening that often. I like what I have. My word count is up to 182,000 and I’ve re-read and re-worked only about 35%.

      • Thanks for the reply, John.

        You know, I’ve been working on pulling the plug on books/writers I don’t enjoy. Most of my life I’ve had this weird fixation on finishing every book I start, no matter how much I don’t like it. But so far this year, I’ve quit two books. Congratulate me!

        I’m glad the editing process is going (somewhat?) well. Keep me posted, of course. And thanks for the tips on Pullman, Debs, etc. I’ve set aside that book for now to work on something else, but I will go back to it. Eventually.

    • Songs are poetry I suppose. That’s what I wrote in high school, bad songs. I can’t remember many of the lyrics, but I imagine they were bits of the usual defiant teenage nonsense cobbled together into some form conducive for screaming. It is probably for the best that they remain lost to mankind forever. I am of the generation who associated themselves with the word grunge for whatever reason.

      I read from all angles, and I am confident that no matter what genre I am reading it will be helpful to my writing in some way. It does not hurt that I am easy to please, and writing has to be pretty bad for me to toss it away all together. I’m sorry. That last comma is making me uncomfortable. My relationship with commas has never been a very trusting one. Do you think that comma was appropriate? Necessary? I do have a great curiosity for the prospects in both reading and writing poetry, but it is one of my least explored avenues of literature. I’m not sure why that is. I picked up “Poetry for Dummies” by John Timpane and Maureen Watts figuring it would be easier to try my hand at writing poetry for dummies before trying to write it for smart people. Rimshot. It was a good, fine book, but I am interested in any other suggestions that someone might have for helping me navigate poetry as a beginner.

      • Hey Andrew. So, you chucked all of these songs after high school? Did you shred the lyrics? Or is it possible that someone unearthed them in a landfill and is in the process of becoming a YouTube sensation through your music? I’ll do some research.

        I wish I could suggest a poetry book. I do know a poet or two, so I could ask around.

        The great thing about commas is that they can be subjective. When I’m unsure, I’ll usually just use a semicolon. People don’t question semicolons.

        Delroy Lindo in Get Shorty said that writing (screenplays, in this case) is easy: you just write out a story, and then “you get somebody to add in the commas and shit.” I’ve always loved that line.

    • I write historical fiction, so when I’m working on a novel
      I’ll read nonfiction about that time period. So it’s sort of
      outside but also inside the genre. Before I start on a novel
      I’ll read similar novels about that time period. Most of which
      I’ve usually already read anyway.

      • Hi Mel. Thanks for the reply. Sounds like a good process. Do any of your ideas ever come from the historical novels you read, or do they more often come from nonfiction?

    • I get my butt in the chair just through berating myself into it, when I don’t feel like writing. I know I’ll feel guilty later if I don’t do it, so that’s a motivator. But most of the time I actually do feel like writing, so it’s not an issue very often.

      Are you able to write even when you don’t feel like it, or do you use a lack of inspiration as a reason not to do the work? When you’re not in the mood to write, what tactics do you use to get your butt in the chair anyway?

      • Hi Jon. Guilt is a great motivator, isn’t it? It’s also a terrible one. But as long as you don’t lean on it too often, I think you’re in good shape.

    • I’m sure I wrote bad poetry in high school; I also wrote exposition in a weird, poetic, thesaurus-happy way and thought it sounded brilliant. Good times.

      I usually like to write, but here’s my current dilemma–between work and kid schedules, I can either write or edit the manuscript that I have some hopes in publishing or help edit a friend’s manuscript because she’s also returning the favor to me. So, I usually end up editing and feeling guilty that I didn’t really “write.”

      As for reading, I read mostly in my genre (YA) to identify voice and technique and evaluate the market. But, I also read the Washington Post’s Sunday editions, not just to stay informed of current events, but to think about various topics and occasionally come up with story ideas based on them. I keep a shoe box of cut out articles that might help shape a character or plot someday. Once in awhile, a journalist will really impress me with a description of something or someone and I’ll drool with envy.

      • Hey Emily!

        “I also wrote exposition in a weird, poetic, thesaurus-happy way and thought it sounded brilliant.” I think we’d all love to see an example, please!

        As for your dilemma, do you think you could stick to a rotation? What’s the thought process that leads you to (usually) choose your friend’s book over your own?

        Hey, if you’ve got a particular piece of journalism or a favorite journalist, I could file it away as a potential story club entry.

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