Permission to Write (and Publish) Poetry

Laura K. Deal



By Laura K. Deal


Back in April, I had the pleasure of attending the Colorado Teen Lit Conference, which Denise Vega recapped so beautifully immediately afterward. A.S. King‘s keynote struck a chord with me, too. The idea of imaginary barriers to my own success gave me a huge “aha” moment. It wasn’t that the idea was unfamiliar to me. After all, I’d been practicing being more aware of my own internal monologues for quite a while. But sometimes, someone says something in a slightly different way, and everything shifts.

Immediately after the keynote, I went to the “Spoken Word Poetry” session led by Sasha Brooke Miller and Jan McDonald. They had us start by making a simple list of things that were “on our plate” at the moment. Then, after some discussion of the poetic form, they sent us off on our own with a list of possible prompts to write a poem.

Marbles poetry book cover high res smallInspired by A.S. King’s keynote and a recent dream I’d had, I took the idea of an imaginary barrier and ran with it. As with any kind of writing, sometimes the magic happens. As a practicing poet with a new interest in spoken word poetry, I’ve come to recognize when a poem is really flowing, arriving nearly fully-formed, and this was one of those moments. 

After a bit of tweaking, I decided to include the poem that arrived that day in my new poetry collection, Marbles, which I published in May.  The poem helped me decide to launch not only my own poetry book, but a series of poetry collections by various authors under the imprint First Church of Metaphor Books. I’m starting with the unsung poets I know and love, and I’m excited by how quickly the series is coming together.

Thanks, A.S. King, Sasha Brooke Miller, and Jan McDonald, for adding all the ingredients I needed for this epiphany:

Imaginary Barrier

It looks like a brick wall
the kind you’d have to scale
in boot camp.
The kind I look at and
say, “No way.”

But here’s the secret
I’m still learning:
It isn’t made of brick,
or stone, or even glass.
It’s built of boxes.
Boxes I’ve put myself in
boxes other people put me in
boxes full of miscellaneous crap
I’ve gathered since childhood.

Like the idea that if it’s hard
It’s too hard,
Or that rejection means
my writing’s
not good enough
not marketable
not the right genre.
The thing is,
the stories I tell on paper
are the ones I need to hear.

I saw that wall of boxes
in a dream, the gaps between
revealing a lion penned within,
a huge cat,
full of instinct
and secret ways of knowing.
Those boxes can’t cage the cat.
Not anymore.

I pull one out,
sort through the crap inside,
keep only the little yellow lantern
I once took to summer camp.
Because all it needs is a new battery,
or a photovoltaic cell
to bring me the light of the sun,
and then I’ll be able
to see my way
as I throw out the rest
and free the lion.

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Words Most Revised

CLP 200x216
by Christine Liu-Perkins

What are the most revised words of a book? Beginning? Ending? My best guess is … the title.  In a single or a few precious words, we seek to convey the book’s content in an intriguing way. We want the title to entice readers to pull that book off the shelf and take it home. We want a memorable title, one that sticks in people’s minds when they recommend the book to everyone they know or can contact online.

I came up with at least a hundred titles—originals and variations—for my book. It took that many to find one that not only my editor and I liked, but also appealed to members of the editorial, design, marketing, and sales departments. Fortunately, instead of frustrated, I felt buoyed by the support of a team rooting for a title that would best draw readers to the book. We tried everything—images, metaphors, plays on words. Themes from the book, historical references, twists on titles of other books. Ideas or phrases that were striking, poignant, mysterious, even humorous. One title came to my editor in a dream.

Now that I know what a complex process it can be, I’ve started searching for strategies to try next time I create a title. Below are links to tips from other writers.

But first, let me ask you: what’s your favorite strategy for writing titles?


Joel Friedlander – How to Write Book Titles for People & Robots
For nonfiction books, Friedlander advises creating a title to grab readers’ attention, plus a subtitle rich with keywords that describe the book’s subject and scope and will also show up in online searches.

Mark Levy – Writing a Sticky Title
For my next book title, I want to try Levy’s trick of using ideas and phrases from the proposal (or synopsis) for generating titles.

Frances Reid Rowland – Write a Book Title with the Star Power of Harry Potter
Rowland offers several great tips on titles that invite readers “to form a connection with your story.”

Roger C. Parker – How to Choose the Right Title for Your Nonfiction Book
Parker’s guest post describes 10 tips for a successful nonfiction book title. I’m intrigued by #3 about a title that makes readers feel your book was “written for them.”

Rachelle Gardner – How to Title Your Book
Gardner gives seven strategies for brainstorming titles. Lists of words – sounds like fun!

Scott Berkun – The Truth about Choosing Book Titles
Berkun shares thoughts about common advice for writing titles and functions that a title might serve.

Goodreads list of Best Book Titles
For fun and inspiration!

4 comments to Words Most Revised

  • Chris

    Hilari, Jane, and Ceil,

    LOL! Thanks for sharing your experiences. Hope that writing titles becomes easier and more fun for all of us!

  • Ceil

    This is a great blog, Chris, and I think you wrote it especially for me. I’m once again struggling to come up with a good title, something other than YA UNTITLED. Thanks for the references. I’ll check them out!

  • Jane Bigelow


    That’s a great list of resources. I must track down copies, since I stink at titles (even file titles: my working title for my current story is “PerhathornotM”, which means, city name not initial of character I eliminated)

    Now, “At Home in her Tomb” is a beautiful title for a beautiful book.

  • I’m going to go back and check out some of those links! I’m terrible at titles–for me, the title either comes with the book’s original concept, it’s perfect, and no one ever thinks of changing it. Or–and more frequently–the title never comes, and I brainstorm with the Wildfolk and they come up with something decent, then the editor changes it and we brainstorm some more…and in the end it’s usually just an OK title, anyway. I think some books just don’t have Perfect titles in them…or at least, that’s my excuse.

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A Whiney Murder Confession

Whiney WriterMy critique group told me I have to murder my darlings, one darling in particular. A love triangle is fine but a love square is a…square. So I have to lop off one of the corners. It was a hard choice but I finally decided to axe Senzafine, mainly because I was tired of typing her name. But simply highlighting her parts in the story and hitting delete wasn’t the way to get rid of her. I had created Senzafine, given her life, made her dimensional and throwing her in the trash wasn’t good enough. She wasn’t garbage. She needed a proper funeral. A Viking funeral.

I copied all of her parts of dialogue and description and pasted them into a new file. Then I printed it out, all 22 pages, and folded each one into a paper boat. A neighbor kid let me borrow his archery set once he heard it was for a Viking funeral—only he insisted on shooting the first flaming arrow. I told him okay as long as he showed proper respect. This was the funeral of a beloved character. He promised he would and even changed his flip flops for dress sneakers.

I wanted to do the funeral at night because flaming arrows look so much prettier against a dark sky, plus I was trying for that Harry Potter scene when they first arrive at Hogwarts with all the lantern-lit boats on the lake, but Eric, the neighbor kid, had to be back by dinner so we opted for an afternoon funeral. Eric filled the dog’s wading pool while I retrieved my paper boats.

We launched all 22 boats in the pool and there was enough room for them to drift about moved by the afternoon breeze. It looked like they were mingling, touching bows and then drifting away—Senzafine saying goodbye to all of her different parts.

We stuck a cotton ball on the end of the first arrow and I lit it with a fireplace match. Eric stepped back several feet and let it fly. It landed on a boat in the center of the pool. The paper flared and the boat sank before any of the other ones caught fire.

My turn. I took a flaming arrow and shot it into the air. Unfortunately I sneezed the moment I let it go—my allergies have been particularly bad this summer—and the arrow missed the boat I was aiming for. It ended up piercing the inflatable side of the pool. The air rushed out in a burping sound and that part of the pool deflated. A stream of escaping water carried the boats out onto the lawn. Not quite the effect I was aiming for.

We patched the pool and tried again. I decided one flaming arrow was enough so instead we dropped lit matches down on each of the boats. They flared nicely.

Every funeral deserves a feast at the end so I dished up some Tiramasu flavored ice cream—Senzafine was Italian, after all—and we enjoyed it on the back patio.

I sent Eric home with a spoiled appetite for his dinner and my thanks. Senzafine’s end was all that I hoped it would be.

But I still have my backup file in case I ever decide to resurrection her. I am writing a zombie romance series, after all.

2 comments to A Whiney Murder Confession

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