Have you ever wondered how to write a poem? For writers who want to dig deep, you can search the sand of your experience for new insights by writing verses. And if you’re there for less important reasons, shaping a stanza from start to finish can help you learn to have fun with the language in a whole new way.
Do you already feel poetically curious? If you are tempted to try some verses but are not sure where to start, you have come to the right place! To demystify the subtle art of prescription, we talked to the Reedsy editor – and published poet – Lauren straw. Here’s how to write a poem in 8 steps.
Step 1. Brainstorm your starting point
Do not force yourself to write your poem in the order from the first to the last line. Instead, choose a starting point that your brain can cling to as it learns to think in verse.
Your starting point can be a line or phrase that you want to incorporate into your poem, but it doesn’t have to take the form of a language. It could be a picture in your head, as special as the curls over your daughter’s ear when she is sleeping, or as big as the sea. It can even be a complicated feeling that you want to render precisely, or a memory that you keep coming back to. Think of this starting point as the why behind your poem, as your impetus to write it at all.
If you’re worried that your starting point isn’t big enough to earn a full poem, stop right there. At long last, literary giants I have torn verses out of every subject under the sun, from the disappointments of a post-odyssey Odysseus to eaten illegally chilled plums.
As Lauren Stroh sees, your experience is more than worthy of being immortalized in verse.
“I think the most successful poems articulate something true about human experience and help us to look at the everyday world in new and exciting ways.”
Step 2. Write freely in prose
Now that you’ve set a starting point, it’s time to put pen on paper (or fingertips on keyboard). However, you will not write actual lines yet. Instead, take the time to study the image, feeling, or theme at the heart of your poem and learn to capture it in language.
Take 10 minutes and write down everything that comes to mind when you think of your starting point. You can write in paragraphs, delete bullets, or even sketch a mind map. The purpose of this exercise is not to create an outline: it’s about creating a lot of raw materials, a repertoire of loosely connected fragments that you can fall back on if you’re serious about writing your poem.
The most important part of this free letter? Don’t censor yourself. Do you let yourself be mocked at a phrase, rethink a rhetorical means or gripe mentally: “This metaphor will never make it into the final draft”? Tell this inner critic to calm down for the time being and write it down anyway. Perhaps you can refine this off-the-shelf slapdash idea into a sharp and gripping line.
Step 3. Choose the shape and style of your poem
After your 10 minutes, look at what your free write has produced. You probably have a wonderful mess: unruly metaphors, inarticulate emotions, sentences that subside or change structure halfway, like grammatical chimeras. That’s okay! There’s a poem somewhere. Your next step? Liberation from this morass of language.
Think of your free writing of a piece of marble that is rich in glitter but has no shape. You will take this block and chisel a sculpture out of it. That means figuring out what kind of shape you can see in it – whether it’s classic and reserved, for example, or naturalistic and free flowing.
Should you write free verse or try to follow more specific “rules” like that Rhyme pattern of a sonnet or the Haiku syllable restrictions? Even if your material asks for a poem without formal restrictions, you still have to choose the texture and tone of your language. After all, free verses are as varied as the novel and range from the breathless maximalism of Walt Whitman to the cool austerity policy of H.D.. Where in this spectrum Your Fall poem?
Step 4. Read for inspiration
A poem is not a non-fiction or even a historical novel: you don’t have to do a lot of research to write a good one. A little reading from the outside, however, can prevent the writer’s block and inspire you throughout the writing process.
Create a short, personalized curriculum for the shape and subject of your poem. Suppose you write a sensory-rich, linguistically economical free verse about a relationship of mutual jealousy between mother and daughter. In this case, you want to read some Key poems by the imagistsalongside some poems that outline complicated visions of parenthood in unsentimental terms.
And if you don’t want to limit yourself to poems that are similar in shape and style to your own, Lauren has provided you with an all-purpose reading list:
Step 5. Write for an audience of one – you
With a free letter and some inspiration nearby, it’s finally time to start the fun part: writing your poem!
After all of the exploratory thinking you’ve done, you’re more than ready to start writing. But the pressure to actually produce verse can still arouse your inner metrophobia (or fear of poetry). To keep the fear at bay, Lauren suggests writing for herself, not for an outside audience.
“I firmly believe that poets can determine the validity of their own success if they are changed by the work they produce, if they are challenged, if it is their ethics, their habits or their relationship with the living questions the world. And personally, my life has certainly changed through certain lines in which I had the courage to think and then write – and in those moments, I felt the most as if I had made it. “
You could eventually polish your poem for public consumption. But when your first draft comes together, treat it as if it were only for your eyes.
Step 6. Read your poem aloud
A good poem does not have to be beautiful: maybe a slight, melodic loveliness is not your goal. However, it should come alive on the page with a deliberately designed rhythm, whether anthem-like or inconsistent. To do this, read your poem aloud – first line by line and then all together as full text.
If you try every line on your ear, you can choose between synonyms. For example, you can notice the watery sound of “glacier”, the brittleness of “ice” and the firmness of “cold”.
Reading aloud can also help fix line breaks that just don’t feeling right. Is the line unnaturally long and forces you to hurry through it or take a break in the middle to breathe in quickly? If so, do it to like this destabilizing effect, or do you literally want to give the reader some breathing space?
Step 7. Take a break to refresh your mind
In the meantime, your first draft has come together. It may not be perfect, but congratulations – you wrote a poem!
Now put it away for a while. You have probably read each line so often that the meaning has been removed from the syllables. So take a week off to read a verse, read your novel, or even idly think about your next poetic project. Then come back refreshed because your work is not done yet – you still have to revise your poem.
Step 8. Revise your poem
Lauren emphasizes that revising a poem is an open process that requires patience and a sense of play.
“Have fun. Play. Be patient. Don’t take it seriously or do it. Although poems look shorter than what you’re used to writing, it often takes years for them to become what they really are. They change and develop further The most important thing is to find a quiet place where you can be with yourself and really listen. “
Do you want a few more eyes on your poem during this process? You have options. You can swap parts with a beta reader, edit them with a review group, or even hire a professional poetry editor like Lauren to refine your work – a great option if you want to submit it in a diary or use it as a basis for a scrapbook.
If you to do Opt for a solo flight. Here is a checklist that you can work through when revising:
✅ Search for clichés. Did you reach for ready-made phrases at some point? Go back to the feeling you’ve dealt with and try to hold it stronger and more alive.
✅ See if your poem starts where it should. Did you take a few lines of clearing your throat to get to the actual point? Try to start your poem below.
✅ Make sure every line belongs. As you read each line, ask yourself: How does this contribute to the entire poem? Does it advance the topic, clarify the images, set or undermine the reader’s expectations? If you answer with something like, “It does the poem sound nice ”, consider cutting it.
When you’ve worked your way through this checklist, you can make yourself a cup of tea and sit quietly for a while, reflecting on your literary success. After all, you took a poem with you from the chaotic initial brainstorming to the last layer of polish!
Has this process awakened your inner Wordsworth or are you happily playing back to prose? We hope you enjoyed playing poems – and that you learned something new about your language skills.
Have you ever written poems? How did it change your approach to prose? Let us know in the comments – and tell us if we can find your poems anywhere online!
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