Advice on Writing Poetry

Writing poetry on the beach

Beginning writers, and even some experienced writers, can benefit from hearing some simple advice on writing poetry. Writing poetry, of course, is not like building a deck. Everyone cannot follow the same series of rules or steps and expect a poem to appear at the end of the process. Writing poetry is a subjective, individual journey that can't be quantified. Like many challenging things in life, however, a little support and advice from the experts can be a help to someone who wants to improve their writing. The following information is not intended as a guidebook, but rather as a series of helpful suggestions that you can either choose to use or to disregard. The most important thing is for you to find continual inspiration wherever you can to guide you through your creative process, whatever that process looks like to you.

Some Simple Advice on Writing Poetry

The following tips are meant as guidelines only. Some might make sense to you and others might seem blasphemous. Pick and choose the ones that work for you.

  • Don't be afraid to write a bad poem.

We can't all be poet laureates right out of the gate. Every great poet wrote many more bad poems than the good ones that you know about. You're not perfect, and neither is your poetry. If you write a bad one, file it away, shred it, burn it, or forget it, but don't worry about it. If you don't write the bad poems, the good poems won't have any room to come out.

  • Look for the magic element.

Sometimes a single line or image or word can make an entire poem. It's like in music; sometimes that tambourine track that comes in at the bridge makes the whole song come together. Be mindful that every great poem usually has a magic moment. Keep your eyes open, and look for that moment in your work.

  • Don't write in the same place all the time.

Even if you have a favorite place to write poetry, don't get too comfortable with it. Go to a bus station, sit on the subway, sit under a tree, go to the circus ... go somewhere else sometimes and try to write. You don't have to write about what you are seeing, but the spirit and the energy of the place will influence how you write. You might stumble upon words you never knew you had in you.

  • Read lots of poetry.

If you feel like you're in a slump, head to the library or bookstore and bring home some books of poetry. Find books by writers you love, writers you hate, and writers you've never heard of. Take them somewhere comfortable and just read. This is a sure fire way to stir the pot.

  • Keep a dream journal.

Your unconscious mind comes alive when your conscious mind gives up control. The images and emotions that it brings to life are often the seeds of great poems. When you dream, you are playing the role of subject and object at the same time. You're the object of the dream because you are doing the dreaming; you are writing the story. But the process is also subjective because your conscious mind is on the sidelines watching the story unfold and interpreting it like any other observer. It's almost like someone else is writing these stories, but it's really just you. Tap into this rich resource and see what comes of it.

  • If you can't write, don't.

Do something else if you can't write, or just do nothing. Lie on the floor. Take the dog for a walk. Take a nap. Dance around your living room. Make a cup of tea. Wait for it to come back when it's ready. Until then, don't sweat it.

  • Make sure you're writing about a subject that is important to you.

If you don't care about what you're writing about no one else is going to. If you're writing about something too painful, use the second or third person to act as a barrier between you and the words you want to say. If you write a bad poem, maybe you just didn't care about the content of it.

Some Other Resources

The following sites have additional tips, suggestions, and advice on writing poetry.

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Advice on Writing Poetry