A Writer’s Take on How to Write Poetry

Hello, I’ve returned!

Today, I thought I would write about how I write poetry.

It won’t be a how-to, because as with all forms of art and creative expression, there isn’t a set way to do it.  Writing is the sort of thing where everyone has a different method, and this is especially true with poetry.

So, now that I’ve settled into a routine, I thought I would share.  🙂

Some Things That I always Do

  • Write by hand
  • Write the poem twice (or sometimes three times!)
  • Let it sit for a day or so before I type it out
  • Edit and revise as I type
  • Have someone read it (in the typed form)

Now, you might be wondering, “Why do you do those things?”

Well, I will tell you.

Why do I write by hand?

I hand write slower than I type, and it forces me to think about the words more than if I were simply pressing the same buttons on my keyboard over and over again.

Plus, it’s more fun to scribble your first draft on the closest piece of paper.  Poetry can end up on the backs of receipts or notes for class.

Why do I write the poem several times?

Everyone needs a couple of drafts to get their ideas refined into something other people can understand.  Well, maybe it’s just me, but my thoughts can manifest as pure, hard to understand abstraction in my poetry.

The point is, it might take a couple of tries to get the kinks worked out of a poem and to get the wording right. 🙂

When I rewrite the poems, I alternate these methods:

  • With shorter poems, I try to add an extra line in between the other lines–no matter what.  Then the next draft, I smooth where the transitions were rocky from forcing lines in.
  • With longer poems, I try to reword as much as possible.  It gives options when writing the third one out.  I’ll select some lines from the original, and some from the second, and blend them together.
  • The last option, I use for any length.  It’s something I’ll use when I don’t think the images are flowing well.  I’ll try to rewrite the poem without looking at the original, and instead write what I remember about it.  Then I’ll compare the parts that stuck and the parts that changed.
    • The parts I keep for the third draft vary.  I’ll always keep the parts that appeared in both versions, but the other bits will either be cut out or combined into something better.
    • Occasionally, one of the poems is better than the other, and I’ll scrap the entire other poem, and subject the other one to either of the above options.

Why do I let the poem sit for awhile before I type it?

Mostly I do this so the poem has a chance to fade from my mind a little bit, but still be present enough in my memory for me to remember what I wanted out of it.  It’s the perfect duration of time for me.

And then, I use typing out the poem as the last filter to refine it. 🙂

(Note: Please do not use these steps for novel writing or for longer pieces in general … no one deserves to suffer through handwriting an entire book several times over.  Poetry only works because my pieces are typically less than a page.)

What makes typing out the poem easier for editing and revision?

Seeing your writing in a different format draws your attention to things you might not have otherwise noticed.  (Such as a forgotten word.)

Why have someone else read the poem?

… I mean, you don’t really have to have someone else read it, but I think the feedback of another is very helpful.  Find someone willing to take the time to give you constructive feedback.  Ask them to decide if parts are hard to read or if it doesn’t entirely make sense to them.

(Sometimes, readers can’t make the same connections as the writer–writers draw from their life experiences, but not everyone has been through the same things.  Additionally, the way you word things might be confusing for others.  I know I get that one a lot in workshops and critiques … haha, oops.)

It will make you more comfortable with your writing as well–the people you share it with are going to be nicer than you’re expecting, I promise!

All in all, I really think you should have at least one other person read the things you write.

If you’re really apprehensive about it, or don’t want to share with real-life people, you can send me a message or comment with your poem.  I promise I don’t bite. 🙂  I love helping other writers out.  And I promise I’ll only be super nice and helpful.

How I Start a Poem

Typically, I start off with a line.  Just one line that randomly occurred to me.  (Poetry is spontaneous with me more often than not.)

Sometimes, in one of my discarded poems, I’ll see a line that I really liked.  (The rest … not so much.)  This happens when I look back on my older poetry in particular.

I’ll take that line, and I’ll start there.  Then I’ll connect it to the next line, and the next, and cut off the poem when all I had to say is on the paper.  (The re-writing by hand the second time is the when I introduce the poetical elements.  The third time is when I remove all that doesn’t suit the poem, or strays off topic.)

A List:

Worst case scenario when I need to start a poem, I stare at a piece of paper until a topic I want to write about surfaces in my head.  For moments like this, I keep a list of the things I like to write about.

The list of things I like to write about is ongoing in the back of my poetry journal.  It took me a few months to have something of decent size because I don’t think anyone truly knows what they like to write about.

(That’s for the subconscious to worry about.) 🙂

Anyways, I made the list by observing what I keep writing about and the things that I like.  It might take awhile to notice your own patterns, but once you do, this list will be a big help in writing poetry.

For When I’m Writing (in General)

When I’m writing, there are a few things I make sure I have:

  • Coffee (I know–I’m a stereotype blogger with her coffee)
  • Music (Headphones)
  • A few pens
  • Several pieces of paper

The coffee, I always have it because I love coffee.  I don’t really feel the need to explain this one.  🙂

For music, I recommend you pick something without words while you write.  You run the risk of incorporating the lyrics into your piece.  If you do want lyrics, I suggest songs you are unfamiliar with, or something in a language that you don’t speak.

Additionally, for instrumental music, I recommend something designed for a video game or a movie.  You Tube has some great playlists for this.  (Totally works for novel writing too by the way.)  It makes you (or at least me) feel like I’m doing something epic, when I’m really just daydreaming at the keyboard or staring at a blank piece of paper.

However, I don’t always do this.  Sometimes I do purposely listen to songs with lyrics in them.  I know, I know, it’s bad.  But I do it because it makes it harder for me to think while I write.  When I’m struggling, I somehow end up with better material.  (I always make sure the lyrics didn’t pop up in the piece though.)

Really it’s your call on the music.  Lyrics or instrumental.

Though universally, I recommend headphones for any type of writing.  It improves my focus because I can’t hear the noise of the room around me, and therefore I can’t get distracted by people talking, or other instances of background noise.

As for the pens, they’re for when I’m writing poetry.  I make sure I have a few different colors.  This is to mark revisions before I rewrite, in different colors to be sure I don’t miss what I’ve changed and confuse it with the original.

Plus, if one pen isn’t writing, I have spares.

When I’m writing poetry, I have three sheets of blank or scrap paper with me.  I have a rule, when I’ve decided to sit down and write rather than spontaneously jolt down a few sentences.

The rule is to fill the pages, front and back, with writing before I can get up.  It’s pretty easy, especially with the rewriting thing I do.  (And angrily scribbling out the parts of the poem you don’t like totally counts toward filling the page.)

Recap

Just to go over everything, in case you skipped everything above and came down here.  (Why did you do that?)

Here’s what I do:

  • When Writing:
    • Write by hand
    • Write the poem out at least two times.
    • Don’t immediately type the poem.
      • (Wait at least a day.)
    • Edit and revise while typing
    • Have at least one other person read it
  • When Starting a Poem
    • Start off with a spontaneous line
    • Take a line from a discarded poem and start there
    • Select something from the list of things you like to write about
      • (Prerequisite: make a list of things you like to write about)
  • In General
    • Coffee.
    • Music
      • Instrumental, preferably.
    • A few good pens
    • Several sheets of paper

 

 

I hope all of this was helpful!  I know my poetry method might seem like it’s a little much, or maybe like it’s overkill … well, it’s an individual preference.

Feel free to integrate some of these practices into your own writing routine.  (Even if you’re not a poet.  I use some of this for fiction too!)  Leave a comment and let me know what you found helpful, or if you would like me to elaborate on anything.

Anyways, thank you for reading!  I hope you have a lovely day.  🙂

3 thoughts on “A Writer’s Take on How to Write Poetry

  1. Hi Elizabeth
    I enjoyed hearing anout your writing process.
    I also often start a poem with a spontaneous line. It’s good to hear that others do the same.
    I have started a blog for our Danube River cruise but I have a lot to learn.
    May takenu up on offer to post a poem with you some time. See you Fri at the book signing?

    Like

    1. Thank you so much! 🙂
      I’ve always thought beginning poems with spontaneous lines was a good idea. I’m also glad to hear that other people do it too.
      I really hope you do take me up on the offer! It would me a lot 🙂
      I’ll do my best to make it to the book signing as well!

      Like

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