Monday, 26 July 2010

Subjects to Avoid

Advice on subjects to avoid, or at least think very carefully about before writing and/or submitting.

From Staple Magazine on why some perfectly good, professionally presented and perfectly publishable work may be rejected.

For authors of short fiction,
  • relationship break-up stories, 
  • stories where former friends meet and find they no longer have much in common, (I have one of those in my head waiting to be written. It may have to stay in my head now)
  • stories that centre on secrets coming to light, 
  • stories involving car accidents, 
  • stories about estranged children returning home after parents’ deaths, or to visit dying parents, 
  • stories about writers,  
  • stories about people in their twenties just out of university, finding their ways in the world
Jeez, that cuts out a lot, don't it.

I would add Cancer and Alzheimers to that list.

For poets,
  • observations on nature, 
  • reflections on children leaving home, 
  • feelings of spirituality triggered by views of the sea, 
  • recollections of childhood events, 
  • anecdotal poems about events witnessed in ordinary streets, 
  • poems that use standard workshop forms like the sonnet and villanelle, 
  • Poems that take their cues from postcards and paintings, 
  • poems about travel and foreign landscapes and cities;
Hm.  I mean I know there is a lot left (ironing, sex, puppies, war, all four at once) but there's a lot gone.

The Rialto magazine posts about areas to be wary of in poetry.

  • Pets, their births, deaths, loyalty, kittenishness etc. Horses aren’t pets and they interest me.
  • Paintings. I think this may be a Creative Writing Exercise in somebody’s book. They often turn up – they describe the work of art and say how interesting it is and what it reminds the poet of.
  • Postcard poems – what I did and where I went on my holiday. Travel is supposed to broaden the mind, but these poems show little evidence of this. 
  • Boasting poems. These are often by males 
  • Beware the Eternal Verities. Those poems that set out to Explain The Meaning Of Life. There is a useful Creative Writing Maxim which says ‘show don’t tell’. I’m very happy to know life’s meaning, but I’d rather you showed me how you discovered it than bashed me over the head with it.

So that's Puppies gone too.
You won't get many of these subjects in the Poetry Divas 2 pamphlet. Oh no.


Titus said...

Ah. Number four on the Staple Magazine poetry list has just annihilated my back catalogue.

Anonymous said...

I think I'd take these lists with a pinch of salt. There are original angles into even the most tired plot/subject and writers are constantly finding them. And just as novels feed off a limited number of plot structures, I think we always write around the same things.
For instance, the nature poem today is more environmental or semi-urban, or suburban or whatever to adapt to where we are now but it is still a version of the pastoral nature poem of the C18th century.

Simon Kewin said...

Heh, those are good lists. Slightly painful to read as I'm sure I've done several of those! I'm sure, though, that there's always scope for tackling any of those in some new and interesting way.

Emerging Writer said...

there's always exceptions to the rule but you'd have to have a pretty fantastic poem about a dying puppy in your childhood if you want it accepted.

Michael Farry said...

I have a poem which refers to a cat of mine being killed under the wheels of a steam train when I was little. It won a second prize somewhere.

Emerging Writer said...

I admit, I don't know whether to take you seriously Michael..a steam train?

Doctor FTSE said...

Ignore this post! You can write your poem or story about ANYTHING. But . . . particularly with poetry . . if you write in such a way that you emerge as a self-pitying, self-regarding psychobabbler, you really shouldn't be writing on any subject at all (except as personal therapy) . . . and it's a good idea to actually know some poetry before you start. Yonks ago, in the 70's, I taught a writing class where nobody could quote 4 consecutive lines of poetry (other than their own) written in the 20th century.

Doctor FTSE said...

And surely you can write a poem on "feelings of spirituality triggered by views of the sea" . . . as long as it can stand up with "On Dover Beach" or the very little known, sad, touching "A Time For Sea"

Michael Farry said...

Of course a steam train. I wasn't born yesterday you know. That poem was called What is a Poem?

Emerging Writer said...

Look at it from the point of view of a magazine editor or competition judge. The 45th poem about the death of a pet dog from your childhood. If it's by steam train or steam roller or steampunk, it would have to be a pretty fantastic poem (such as penned by the fantastic Mr Farry) to stand out amoungst the other 44. That's the point

Ossian said...

pontification is an early sign of terminal pomposity. avoid tendentious lists of what to avoid.

Emerging Writer said...

jeez ossian, you're the one who has to read through 170 different versions of the same story, no?

Ossian said...

i'm not quite Walt Whitman, i don't contain multitudes, i only contain three vituperative contrarians.

"if they give you lined paper write the other way."

Jeff & Nicki said...

What is your opinion of writing a poem or story that tells the tale behind a painting (real or imagined)? I think discounting a painting as inspiration is too broad.

Regardless of the items listed, thinking about how one's writing is unique (or not) in the marketplace can't hurt.

Emerging Writer said...

I think that if a poem about a painting is done very well, with your own unique slant on the subject, and you don't need to have seen the painting to appreciate the sentiment, that's fine.