Write a poem in 250 characters or less! (Or, let me tell you about my impostor syndrome.)

Last year, I wrote a poem for Button Poetry’s Short Form Contest. I liked the poem I wrote, though it didn’t win. It later became “Unrequited,” and I’m quite proud of it.

As of last year, I’d never entered any of my creative writing into any contest, ever. Not even in college, when I sat on the editorial board of a literary magazine and could have easily, albeit not entirely fairly, included one of my pieces in the publication. (I wouldn’t have done that. I promise.) I’ve always been timid about my own work.

I realize that I have major impostor syndrome. I’ve never published anything, and I’m terrified to submit my writing to agents and publishers. I’m always far more impressed with what I read from others than with what I write myself. I feel, often, like my creative work is clunky, dull, trite, and uninspired. Not always, but often. It can be discouraging, maddening, and sometimes, debilitating.

To be clear, I’m not looking for sympathy. I think this is a battle many creative people fight every day. Some days, I win. Some days, I…stare at a blank screen and procrastinate and (not infrequently) cry, and I definitely don’t win. But on the good days, when everything comes together, I feel like I’ve made magic, and that keeps me working – through the fear, through the doubt, through the impostor syndrome. And I see that you can’t be an impostor in your own life.

The Short Form Contest requires a submission of 250 characters or less. That’s characters, not words. It can be a poem on its own, or an excerpt from a larger piece. When I discovered the contest last year, I felt…I don’t know, compelled to enter. 250 characters? I wouldn’t feel that bad being rejected over 250 characters. Very few people can do something amazing with 250 characters, right? And so, I entered the contest, knowing my poem wouldn’t be selected, and I felt good. It felt amazing just to put something out there.

So, I entered again this year, with a poem inspired by one of my mom’s favorite books, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. (I’m helping my mom start her own business, and she was on my mind.)

I like my poem less than last year’s, but I put it out there, because why not? And I feel good. Maybe I’ll enter some other contests this year, or even submit work to some publications or agents. Maybe this is the year. We’ll see, and until then, I’ll keep writing. I hope, if you’re struggling, you keep writing (or creating whatever you create), too.

Oh, and if you want to read the poem I submitted this year, here it is. Enjoy!


You should have known

I am more than the wings you tried to clip

I am more than meant to fly

You should have known

I am too much to trap and tether

and you are too small to try

Seagull 6

11 thoughts on “Write a poem in 250 characters or less! (Or, let me tell you about my impostor syndrome.)

  1. A lovely poem ! When I was much much younger I used to write a lot of songs and poetry, and decided to enter the national poetry competition and worked away for weeks on what I considered at the time to be an entry worthy of at least a mention. (The confidence/ arrogance of youth!) When I look back now I can completely understand how it was ignored. My ideas were simple and predictable and the writing was naive and underdeveloped. But instead of using my lack of success as a spur to write better poetry, or at least try to understand the reasons for my lack of success, I felt completely deflated and didn’t really write much poetry for about 20 years, perhaps no more than a dozen poems a year, and just concentrated on being a father and providing for my family. I only seriously got back into poetry when I semi retired last year and moved back close to my home town. Now I have started to enter competitions again, but with a much better understanding of who I am as a poet and a more realistic idea of my chances and what the judge is likely to be looking for.
    When entering competitions remember three things;
    1/ Imagine you and I were judging a poetry competition. We would most likely have different ideas about who we thought were exceptional, because as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and when you are unsuccessful, as most of us are, you have to understand that the judge preferred something else, which doesn’t alter or devalue your work. Your work is just different to the winners, and the judge preferred their style and content.
    2/ how ‘different’ is what you write to what other poets/ writers write? I don’t mean this in a way to make you change your style, but to understand from a judges perspective. If you had to read 1000 poems, one from each of the top 1000 poets, then I guarantee you would probably dismiss half of them within a few lines, because you can’t read most decent poetry quickly. If the first line hooks you, or makes you sit up and take notice, then you have a chance, but otherwise you’re in the bin, and it’s onto the next one. Some of these big competitions, they’re reading 3000 entries, so the judges are not spending a lot of time sifting through for their long list reading every word of every entry making sure they understand every nuance or your carefully placed double entendres!
    3/ the main reason we enter competitions is not for the money, but the affirmation that what we do isn’t a complete waste of time. We scribble away in the small hours, scattering the page with our anxieties, hopes and desires and we hope that at least one other person on the planet understands why and what drives us to do so. Which is why I have found that I get far more comfort from support of likeminded writers on my poetry blog , than some acclaimed poet paid to judge some prestigious contest, who probably never got past my first line….
    Best of luck with your poetry competition, though if I had your skill, imagination and patience in writing short stories, I would definitely be looking to explore that avenue with a move towards competitions and publication, yours Paul

    Liked by 1 person

    • First, let me say I’m glad you got back into writing poetry, because I love reading your work. And I’m glad and grateful that you read mine. Thank you for your thoughtful advice and the kind words. I’ve never considered myself much of a poet, and though I grew up in music, it’s always broken my heart a little that I’m not a particularly good lyricist. I’ve found I’m reading and writing more poetry these days, though, and I’m enjoying the experience. My first love – and my greatest enemy – is the novel. I actually started this blog right after I left my office job with the goal of writing my own. Four years later, it’s…still not finished. But I keep plugging away at it, and in the meantime, I do love writing short stories. I’m particularly happy with my latest (“The Day Thomas Leonard Came Back”), and I’ve got a pretty good idea for the one I’ll post at the end of this month. We shall see, though, if it turns out how I think it will. Stories have a way of surprising me, especially my own.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I think you’re absolutely right to be thinking short stories first, then a novel, and I look forward to reading more of them! As for lyrics; it’s strange ; I used to be able to write them easily, now too, I really struggle. I think it’s easier sometimes to right them with the music ? Take care, Paul

        Liked by 2 people

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