For hundreds of years, people have been writing poetry. From dramatic odes to joyful sonnets, poetry is a staple of classic literature. But it’s still going strong today. Whenever you walk into a bookshop, the poetry section is filled with titles from classic poets, like Yeats and Hardy, to their modern counterparts, like Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage.
If you want to have a go at creating a poem but you are not sure how to write poetry, then good news: I decided to put together an easy guide on how you can pen your own poems from scratch. I also added a few useful tips on how to write good poetry at the bottom of this page.
Don’t worry, it’s not as difficult as it often seems. You just need a pen, paper and an idea of what you want to write about.
So, let’s get creative!
How to write a Poem
Many people already worry about what their poem looks like before they even get started. As a poetry beginner, the most important thing is to relax and allow yourself to be inspired. This inspiration can only happen when you feel calm.
It’s true that older forms of poetry have distinctive rules for rhyme and meter but unless you want to write classical poetry which requires some knowledge about the individual elements of poetry, then you don’t need to look at these for the first few steps.
The below poetry writing process includes some of the most important steps that you need for penning a poem but you can also choose to skip a few steps or repeat steps as you feel necessary. If you like being organised (like me), then start off working your way through each step and practice as much as possible.
Writing a poem works not quite in the same way as writing an email or an essay. It’s much shorter and ad hoc. When you think of haikus and other short poems, then you get a feeling for the right approach that works with poetry.
Here is my step-by-step guide on how to write a good poem.
1. Get inspired
Inspiration is always the first step in everything you write. Even if you write an email, you need to be motivated by something to write to the other person. When you feel inspired by something in your environment, then you are motivated to put your thoughts down.
It happens to all good writers that we can’t find inspiration sometimes but there are a few ways to go looking for it. One of my favourite ways is to discover something new. This could be going on a walk through a part of town I have never been to. I look at the buildings and observe the people in the neighbourhood.
If you want your poem to be closer to home, then you can write about someone you love or care about a lot. This could be family, friends or someone who stands out from the crowd. You may even want to write a poem about a Hollywood star, athlete or your hairdresser. Every person has something unique and individual that’s worth writing about and you just need to find this little something.
2. Choose your topic
If you have been tasked with writing about a poem about a specific topic, such as a special occasion, then this step is easy. But most of the time, you can choose the subject of a poem yourself. This could be an event, the people in your life, your community or nature. You can even pick up a special theme that interests you, anything from trains and planes to astrology or the universe.
Once you have chosen your poem’s topic, make a few notes on how you feel about the topic and what comes to mind when you think about it. It’s best to be specific about the topic and your feelings because this can help you create a better poem. The more emotions and ideas you can identify at this stage, the easier it is to write your poem.
3. Decide what type of poem you want to write
While some people love writing sonnets, others prefer haikus. Your poem doesn’t have to be a specific format or type. This being said, writing a special type of poetry can give you guidelines on how to write. For example, a limerick or an elegy, have specific requirements when it comes to rhyme and meter. This can make it easier for beginners to write a poem because you have a template to follow.
However, these forms also constrain your writing and they force you into a certain format. They can even limit your inspiration because you might feel anxious about getting all the elements of the poem right. That’s why I always recommend starting with free form poetry and write in the way you like. Over time, you can explore some other poetic forms and find the types of poems that feel right for you.
If you need inspiration on what types of poetry you can choose from, then take a look at my article “29 Types of Poetry and Poetic Forms”.
4. Explore different elements of poetry
There is an almost unlimited number of poetic elements that you can include in your writing. These elements are basic writing tools that you can flow into your poem. For example, you can use a metaphor to create a vivid mental image.
If you have chosen a specific format for your poem, then you may be able to use only certain elements that are commonly used within this poetic form. Your writing may also be limited to a specific meter or rhyme scheme which can impact the individual elements you can use.
Here is a little reminder on 25 essential elements of poetry that you can use for writing your poem.
5. Write your poem
Now that you are done with all the preparations, it’s time to get writing!
With all the software and technology that our modern world has to offer, there is no limit as to what you can use for writing, from tapping on your phone to typing on a laptop or tablet. If you love the traditional way, like me, then pen and paper are everything you need for writing. You may even choose to dig out your old typewriter and get a feeling what it’s like to create your poems on there.
From my experience, each tool you use to write has its advantages and disadvantages. Pens can leak, while laptops can crash. So it is all about what you feel comfortable with. You can also try a few different writing modes and use whatever works in your situation. I found that writing on a laptop feels very different to writing with pen and paper, so just try it out and see what gets your juices flowing.
You don’t need to worry about making your first writing attempts perfect. This step is all about getting the words out and practising. There is no need for perfect rhymes and neat meters, just write about what is on your mind.
The first few words are often the hardest and once you get going, you might find it difficult to stop. That’s why it is important that you give yourself plenty of writing time. This is a calm, mindful moment between you and your poem. Take this time for yourself and your creativity.
6. Edit your writing
Once you have your first draft poem, you can start editing it. It’s a good idea to first write your poem, then put it away for a few hours or a day and come back to it later for editing.
Writing is a mentally exhausting process and it takes some time to digest all your thoughts and ideas. The writing process can drain you mentally, so give yourself a break before you jump onto the editing.
Editing poetry works differently for everyone. It often depends on the format you used. You can start by reading the poem again and mark anything that sounds strange or doesn’t feel right. You may also want to read your poem out loud to get a better feel for what might be wrong.
Keep a close eye on meter, rhythm and any poetic elements you have used. Do they make sense here? Also, check what words you may want to replace to create a stronger message or image. Poetry is all about what image you can inspire within the reader, so make sure that your imagery is sound.
When editing your work, keep in mind that this is your first poem, so don’t be too tough on yourself. See it as a learning process. Even professional poets still have to edit their work because writing is not an exact science. More practise in writing can lead to less editing but it is always an essential step to review your poem.
You may even find that you need to restructure the entire poem or cut out lines and stanzas. That’s absolutely fine. You might even discover a new theme or idea you hadn’t thought about before.
7. Break the rules (optional)
This is personally one of my favourite steps in the writing process but I admit it is usually for more advanced writers. But in order to break the rules, you need to understand them first. Make yourself familiar with what poetry is, the different elements you can use for writing poetry and poetic forms.
Each era in history had its own literary trends, for example, people in the Middle Ages loved sonnets and odes. Contemporary poetry is a lot more free form, without constrains or limits as to what you need to write about and how you write. This means that you can start writing a poem immediately without necessarily knowing everything about poetry.
Plus, breaking the rules artistically can be a lot of fun. You get to play with poetic elements and forms that you might not have seen before in someone else’s writing. Poetry lends itself to being more artistically creative but you need to be sure what you use certain elements and what impact they have on the reader.
For example, you can misspell a word or use incorrect punctuation. This can disrupt your audience’s reading flow which means readers have to pay close attention to this part of your poem.
You can even experiment with different poetic forms, like concrete poetry or conceptual poetry. This type of visual art often combines other art forms, such as photography or painting. It is much more visual and allows the artist and poet to create a strong message in his visual poem.
Top Tips and Rules for writing great Poetry
Just like all creative writing, writing good poetry takes practice. But there are a few things you can to get better. Here is a little beginner’s guide with basic rules and tips on how to make your poem stand out.
Read a lot of Poetry
One of the best ways to get into poetry is simply by reading as much poetry as you can. Read poems online or buy poetry books from your favourite poets. You can just enjoy them and ponder the underlying meaning. Or you can take them apart and do a deeper analysis of each line and stanza.
It can be useful to find out what works in other poems that you may want to include in yours. While you shouldn’t steal any exact words from another author, you can find inspiration in other people’s writing.
Start with a short Poem
Whether you are new to writing poetry or you want to try out a new poetic form, it is best to start with a small poem to get a sense for what this writing style feels like. A short poem, like a haiku, can be much more achievable because it is simple in structure. Plus, you don’t need to edit these poems a lot.
But keep in mind that you are looking for quality in your poem. It’s better to write one good short poem, than three longer poems that don’t resonate with your readers.
Listen to live poetry
Traditional poetry was mainly a spoken form of art. It can help poets write better when they hear the spoken words, so listen to some poetry online with your favourite poetry podcast or some live poetry recitals. You can even visit your nearest bookshop for poetry readings or a poetry slam.
By listening to the individual sounds in a poem, you get a better feeling for the words and how you can use elements, such as meter, rhyme and line breaks. That is why, if you get the chance to listen to some poetry, make use of the opportunity and enjoy it.
Another great way for newbie poets to find out what their readers want is to share their poetry with others. This could be friends and family or other writers. Share the poem in written form and read it aloud. Then ask for feedback, especially strengths and weak points in your piece.
It is a good idea to get feedback from various groups of people. Friends and family often aren’t forthcoming with criticism, while people who have more distance usually feel inclined to criticise a poem much more readily.
Feedback and criticism is incredibly valuable for every writer because it allows them to improve their work and learn what their readers want.
Connect with other Writers
Writers are a vast community, so you can easily connect with other poets and writers online or through writing classes. An artistic community can give you feedback on your work but they can also provide support when you suffer from writer’s block.
Other poets can motivate and inspire you to write about things you hadn’t thought about before. You can brainstorm ideas with other artists and seek out poetry groups that satisfy your interest in specific types of poetry or themes.
Experiment with different Forms of Poetry
Just when you familiarise yourself with the variety of poetic forms that exist can you start experimenting with your own poems. Each form of poetry has its individual requirements, from different subject matter and meter to variable number of lines and rhyme schemes.
While you can write your poem in one of these forms, I always recommend that poets try to experiment with free verse poetry. It gives you a sense for what is possible with your words and how powerful they are.
Be ruthless in editing
Although you can invite criticism from other people, you are your own best critic when it comes to your own work. Don’t get obsessed with a wrong word or get disheartened when you have to cut out a stanza. This is all part of the learning process.
The editing process is a key component of writing a poem. It is a bit like trimming a hedge. You start with a rough outline and then slow trim the edges here and there until you get the shape you want. Editing allows you to create an overall wonderful piece of art.
Use writing tools
If you struggle to find the right words in your poem, then use a rhyming dictionary or a thesaurus that can give you a few options for other words. Sometimes replacing one word with a synonym can make a big difference to the meaning of your work.
Tell a Story with your Poem
Not just novels tell stories but poems also take the reader on a journey. Whether you write a short poem or a long sonnet, your poem should invite your readers to dive into the topic and explore your perspective.
Create an Image
Poetry comes to life with imagery. As a poet, you paint with words. The literary elements you use in your poems are your paint brushes. Create a clear picture of objects, the scenery or the people in your poem. Describe them with metaphors and other poetic elements to create a vivid poem that speaks to your readers.
Try to change the world with words
Words have the power to change the world. From famous speeches to popular books, language is how we communicate with each other. This means that you can use literary forms, such as poetry, as a tool to communicate your perspective. This could be a political opinion or philosophical ideas. This being said, just be aware of the impact your words may have on certain groups of people.
Writing good poetry isn’t rocket science. Just let your creative juices flowing and find some inspiration. Once you found something that inspires you, the words will follow naturally.
It’s also a good idea to familiarise yourself again with what poetry is and some popular elements that you can use in your poem. These elements are great tools that help you put pen to paper and create your own poetry.
When writing a poem, it is important to remember that you also explore yourself. You explore your mind and find out what inspires you. Just keep an open mind and allow everything to flow.