A Guide to Writing Poetry

Simple Steps To Craft Your First Poem

A hand writes on a journal with a smooth, metal, salmon-colored pen on a glossy black table.
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Poetry can seem hard to grasp at times — some poems are little more than a string of words put together in a confusing and perplexing way that makes absolutely no sense. However, poetry is a beautiful writing form that, when learned and practiced, can evoke emotions and scenery in the reader quicker than any short story.

Here is a short guide to help you write your first poem and start to dip your toes into the wonderful world of poetry.

Choose Your Topic

There are two main types of poetry. Object poetry, and narrative poetry. The difference between them is that object poetry is describing an object or noun, while a narrative poem tells a story or event.

To get started, determine which type of poetry you would like to write a poem about. As a beginner, you might want to start with object poetry, as it’s more straightforward than it’s storytelling counterpart.

When determining the object or broad story you want to tell, keep in mind it should be something that’s meaningful to you. If you have a strong opinion about the subject, you’re passion will translate into the poem.

However, if you’re only choosing it because you think the reader will find it entertaining, but you yourself aren’t interested in it, your poem will come off as bland and fake.

When choosing a specific thing to write about for object poetry, make sure your subject has a special meaning to you. It doesn’t have to be anything too special, it can simply be a teddy bear you’ve had as a child, or a broader subject of books if you’re an avid reader, or basketball if you’re into that sport.

If you’ve chosen to write narrative poetry, and find yourself stuck for ideas, or are having trouble relating to your fiction stories enough to craft vivid and emotional poetry, draw on your own life’s feelings and emotions. The first narrative poem I wrote was inspired from a conflict in my own life, which I dramatized, altering the story slightly but keeping the same core emotions that connected me to the story.

Below are the steps for writing both narrative and object poetry, so you can skip to the part that’s relevant to your poem, or if you want a broader sense of both types, you can read through the whole article to help you pinpoint which one you want to start with.

With a determined topic you have strong feelings for, whether positive or negative, you can easily start to write a poem from it. If you have some grit, patience, imagination, and creativity, you’ll be able to soon turn your idea into a vivid and emotional poem.

A white journal sits on a smooth white table, a minimalistic silver pen and white and pink flowers next to it.
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Planning Object Poetry

So, you’ve gone and chosen an object that has a deep meaning to you, and you’re inspired to write about it, to pour your emotions, thoughts, and feelings into the page. While theoretically, as this is a creative process without any rigid, must-be-followed rules, you can simply start writing with only that object in mind. However, if you want to have a more structured and safe approach, follow these steps:

Brainstorm

With your object in front of you(it helps to have a physical version of it, opposed to just a photo or a mental image), take out a journal or piece of paper and a pencil. If you want to limit yourself and find that a timer helps you focus, you can set a timer for about 5–10 minutes.

Now, pencil in hand, start writing everything about that object. You can start with simple, obvious things, like saying a pencil is ‘round and yellow’ with a ‘silver and pink eraser’. The attributes and traits that you see will most likely fill up the top of your page.

However, don’t just focus on the visual aspect of your object. Branch out to what it feels like, what it smells like, what it sounds like. Describe what other objects are near it. Do books belong in a shelf? Do sunglasses belong in a case, or out in the sun?

Even if you don’t think it’s very relevant and you’re sure it won’t be included in your poem, still write it. One, you might end up actually using it, two, it can inspire you to write about a whole branch of other descriptions, and three, it fills up the page. Nothing encourages a writer more than a filled page.

After you’ve written about senses and the objects associated with it, try to personify it, giving it a deeper meaning that just what it is. For example, a curtain: while at first glance it’s just a hanging sheet of fabric, you might discover it’s actually ‘a frail, weak guard tasked with the insurmountable job of guarding the sun’.

These new perspectives and interesting views on the object are what will bring your poem to the next level, and while time and thought consuming, will be what makes your poem stand out, differentiating it from just describing the obvious attributes of something.

Highlight And Structure

Once you’ve stopped brainstorming, whether due to a timer or a completed word/page count, take a moment to breathe. Go get a drink, or just sit and empty your mind. Brainstorming is a creative process, so don’t be ashamed if your mind is a little worn out. Just give it a short break, and then hop right back into it.

Looking over your brainstormed observations and notes, decide on the main angle you want to use for your poem. You’ll probably have many unconnected observations each supporting a certain idea(what it looks like, it’s role in society), so from those, select the ones you want to be most prominent in your poem.

Highlight or underline them, so it’s visually obvious that those are the main points you want to discuss in your poem.

After you’ve specified exactly what your poem will be about, you might want to further structure your poem. Personally, I don’t really plan it verse by verse, but if you want to so you feel more comfortable during writing, feel free to do so.

For each verse of your poem, right down a vague and broad description of what it’ll center around. Maybe in verse 1, it’ll be all about what a clock sounds look, and in verse 9, it discusses how a clock is the one thing that unites society, giving it structure and rules.

A man in a navy blue shirt dotted with white holds an open, cream-colored book in both hands.
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Planning Narrative Poetry

I find that narrative poetry mostly comes straight from the heart, our emotions and stories and life events, and it’s harder to plan them than object poetry, which is something that you can actually feel and touch, instead of a more theoretical thing like a story.

So, while you can do as much planning and structuring as you may want, just keep in mind that you might find yourself struggling to follow your step-by-step, sentence-by-sentence plan.

Fiction vs. Non-Fiction Ideas

Stories come from lots of places. But they also come from really only two.

Many stories are a blend of these two inspiration points, weaved together to create something new and interesting, but in poetry, there's a more defined line than in short stories.

Lots of poems come from personal experience. Maybe you’re writing about the conflict between you and your mom, or the peacefulness after a long day. While these stories may be changed and adapted slightly to fit into the form of a poem, they mainly come from a story that actually exists. This most likely will lead to you, the author, having a deeper connection with the poem and it’s emotions.

However, some poems are more fictional, with stories that come from the author’s imagination, a story that they just made up. Sure, they’ll probably draw on reality to make it more realistic, but that’s how all stories really are, reality twisted and pulled so it’s different from how it started. These poems usually are more dramatic, as you have more control over them, but require more imagination to craft an emotional connection between the poem and the reader.

A man writes in an orange journal on a grated balcony overlooking a tall, industrial city.
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Write Your Poem

You’ve done a lot of the work, brainstorming and planning. You’ve prepared yourself. Now it’s time to write your poem.

While, like me, you might be more accustomed to typing opposed to writing with a pencil and paper, it helps to actually write your poems, giving you a more direct connection with your poetry.

Let it flow out of you, unedited, just exactly what you want to say. If you want to say, ‘The wind was blue and green, the wind was everything, the wind was nothing,’ go right ahead. Just take all your notes and your observations and use that as a tool, not a limit, to write. If you have a strict plan but find it doesn’t really work for you, change it. Make up a hundred new ideas if you want to. Just write.

Editing And Finishing Up

Wow. You’ve done it. You’ve brainstormed and planned and written, a poem. Congrats. That’s no easy feat. Give yourself a pat on the back, reward yourself with some nice, good snacks, whatever you want.

But you’re not done yet.

Poetry, you’ll notice, is a fluid art. It’s much harder to understand it’s true meaning and intention than, say, a novel. However, just because it’s less structured doesn’t mean you shouldn’t edit.

So, go back to your poem. Read it through, and read it though thoroughly. First, edit the structure, the more obvious things you might find from just reading it in your mind. This is the edit that’s similar to when you edit short stories.

However, with poetry, there’s another edit you should do. Poetry is about how it sounds, how it flows, so read it aloud. Read it how you want to read it, with the right inflections in the right places. And if you notice something that disrupts your reading, that doesn’t sound quite right, change it. Edit your poem until it flows like glossy, golden honey.

Once you’ve edited it all and you’re happy with it, you should probably type it somewhere online, on a Google Doc or Word file. You can mess with the font and the formatting to make it fit the mood of the poem, and even add images if you want to. You can do whatever you want. It’s your poem.

Now, you’re done. You wrote a poem. You wrote a poem. You’ve come out the other end of the writing black box that maybe before you weren’t sure you could make it through. Maybe you loved it, maybe you hated it. Either way, you’ve created something, something new and different that didn’t exist before, that would never have existed if it wasn’t for you.

So share it. If you typed it in a file, now you have an easy way to send it to your friends and family, ask for feedback and commentary, or just plain old compliments.

You’ve put in the work. Be proud of yourself. And even if you don’t really like what you wrote…you can always write another one.

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Writing. Technology. Entertainment. And that feeling of jumping from hobby to hobby aimlessly.

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The Electronic Pen

The Electronic Pen

Writing. Technology. Entertainment. And that feeling of jumping from hobby to hobby aimlessly.

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