Genre tips

15 Tips for Writing Poetry

poetry 2Since I’m participating in A to Z next month, I have to get the word out early that April is National Poetry Month.

Poetry is not something I’m good at writing so I enjoy it vicariously through online friends like this amazing poem by Diana over at Myths of the Mirror or Andrew’s (at Andrew’s View of the Week) poem about the River. I’ve been following them for several years and always find their poetry startlingly personal, quick peeks into a world ruled by emotion and heart. I’m way too structured for that so only enjoy it through someone else’s eyes.

To honor April’s National Poetry Month, here are fifteen tips from those who have no trouble delivering this concise-but-pithy form of writing:

  • avoid cliches. Too often, they are unoriginal thoughts on a subject. Instead of using these pre-packaged descriptions, create your own. Instead of:

Her scowl looked like she had sucked a lemon

how about:

She watched him like he was a car accident

  • rhyme with caution. It can become singsong. Beginners are (surprisingly) more likely to find success with free verse.
  • describe something or someone–no plot necessary. Unless you’re writing Narrative Poetry or an epic poem like Beowulf, poems are more about characters, setting, or theme.

For example: Instead of

She was boring

use

She didn’t like salt in her food or spice in her life

  • make your poem a response to a line in someone else’s poem. This is a great way to get started (remember to credit the original poet).
  • tap into your own feelings. Research, so often critical in novels, will not rescue a poem. Focus more on your personal take, your unique voice.
  • use excited and exciting language, words that draw the reader in and keep them trapped in the world you’ve created.
  • use sensory details.
  • focus on the small–as in observations, events, activities, or consequences. Leave the big stuff (like War and Peace) for long long novels
  • read lots (and lots) of poetry, especially the type you want to write.
  • expand your vocabulary. Poetry is about using precise words that say a lot. In a novel, you get an entire scene to communicate an idea. Not true in a poem.
  • don’t be afraid to write a bad poem. You’ll write a better one later.
  • eliminate unnecessary words, phrases, and lines. Make every word count.
  • titles are important. Make yours substantive, maybe even the poem’s first line.
  • use your imagination. It’s your unique take on the world, why readers will fall in love with your poems.
  • let readers interpret your work as they wish. There’s no right or wrong, just how it resonates with them. A phrase out of the Urban Dictionary allows readers to see what they will see without being told: “I see what you did there.” It’s become a favorite of mine even in casual conversation, to let people know I get what they’re trying to say.

If you’re a poet, what is your top tip for an aspiring writer?  What made the biggest difference in your journey?

More tips about genres:

8 Tips for Horror Writers

13 Tips for Cozy Mystery Writers

10 Tips for Steampunk Writers


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, is scheduled for May 2017. Click to follow its progress.

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59 thoughts on “15 Tips for Writing Poetry

  1. They say: read poetry to help your writing. It definitely does. Kay Ryan is one of the best poets for getting an idea across in a few short phrases. I always feel like I can say more with a lot less after reading poetry.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good advice you give to inspiring poets. As a poet, I becoming inspired by my surroundings, music I’m listening to, an image or scenery I’ve seen… basically I tap into how I feel about life and write… Rule #1: let the words flow.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really like the idea of giving yourself permission to write a bad poem. So many times I shoot things down and go into a funk thinking everything I write is complete crap! I also found that çoming up with the title after the poem is finished helps me from strangling the baby idea and nailing into one expected shape (sorry that was kind of a grim metaphor).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I started out writing poems. There was a poetry section in Seventeen magazine and I basically copied the tone of those. I wrote a ton of them, but they were Debbie Gibson cheesy crap about whatever boy I had a crush on at the time!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m not that great at writing correct poetry, so I call mine prose and go with it. I call it lyrical prose on my site and it has its own tab in my fiction.

    I need to put some study into it because I like writing it. Mostly I go with the emotion and flow of the feeling and thought when doing it. I will have to come back and make note of these.
    Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Jacqui – what an interesting post and adjunct comments – fascinating … one day I shall get my head into some poetry … I like your thoughts and their ideas to add in to the mix in readiness to give it a try … not now though! Cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks so much for the shout out, Jacqui. I especially like the tip “Don’t be afraid to write a bad poem.” That’s me! Ha ha. Despite your lovely comment, writing poetry still makes me anxious. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the attempt and popping it up for all to see. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Well stated, and thanks for your kind words about my poetry. I could go on and on with tips for aspiring poets, but here are some of the basics:

    Sit in a quiet room and let the words come to you.
    Stand in the noisy concert and let the rhythms of the music beat the words into you.
    Listen to the babbling brook and write down all it says.

    It’s all about the feeling
    the emotion,
    the image,
    the metaphor.

    It’s about letting your emotions run wild
    and then corral them in 12 lines.

    It’s about explaining rocks to apples.
    It’s about comparing nails to clouds.
    It’s about seeing infinity in a glass of water.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Jacqui, these are great tips! Daring to write bad poetry is a must as surely it is with all writing – if you wait for perfection to strike nothing will be written! I like the one of excited and exciting language – it seems with poetry you have a real opportunity to use language to its full measure. And yes, imagination surely should go without saying but I have read some poetry books where this element seems to be lacking so a good one to add. As always, enjoy your examples, particularly, ‘She watched him like he was a car accident.’

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: 15 Tips for Writing Poetry — WordDreams… | Matthews' Blog

  11. This is excellent, Jacqui, really useful information. I especially like: Read lots of poetry; and, Don’t be afraid to write a bad poem, you’ll write a better one later.

    One thing I’d add is not to rely on a thesaurus to make your poem interesting by using strange words when more familiar ones might do. Rely instead on yourself as a conduit for a deeply personal take on even simple situations.

    Liked by 1 person

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