I’m sure if you are reading this, at least for once you would have written poetry or attempted to write one. Whether a student, teacher, parent, someone from a literary background, homemaker or an uneducated person, everyone makes an effort to write a poem at some point in their lifetime. The simple reason behind this is that poetry is a means of self-expression, to capture emotions, thoughts, and experiences in a creative and imaginative way. Here’s a beginner’s guide to writing poetry from scratch.
Poetry can be used to tell a story, convey a message, evoke a feeling, or simply play with language. Writing poetry can also be a form of therapy, allowing people to work through difficult emotions and explore their inner selves. Additionally, poetry has been a significant part of human culture for thousands of years, passing down stories, beliefs, and traditions from one generation to the next.
Where did I start?
So whatever your reason for writing poetry be, know that you are not alone and every expression matters. You don’t need a degree in literature or great writing skills to pen poetry. If you don’t believe me, let me tell you how I started writing one. It is a little embarrassing for me to put it here but then if it could help you see a possibility for your own poetry-writing journey, then why not, right?
When I was around 11 years old (that’s 23 years back) I started writing and my very first fascination was nature and it still remains to be so. My ‘idea’ of poetry at that time was just about lines ending with rhymes. This is how my very first poem, started (don’t laugh at it; it was a kid’s expression then!):
Nature, nature, nature It's God's creature If we destroy nature Who will save the future?
A path of creative self-expression
Do you see that? At this age, after years of writing experience, I can see so many things flawed in the above stanza. For one, it has to be God’s ‘creation’ & not ‘creature’ and the whole thing looks like a ‘forced rhyming’ just to call it poetry. Don’t even ask me about the rest of the stanzas. But wait, does it matter that it was flawed? Absolutely no; because I see it as a ‘start’.
Yes, that day, a small kid started her journey towards self-expression and all that mattered to her were words that helped her make sense of what was happening around her and also inside her mind. And my dear friend, that’s all that should matter to you too when you are starting to pen poetry.
Choose a theme that talks to you
Now that you know what really matters, let’s get to the act of writing. All you need is an intention to write one. Firstly, choose a theme that talks to you or tap into an emotion that you are currently experiencing. That way you can easily get into the flow of writing instead of getting about it mechanically. Start somewhere, anywhere but just start. It really doesn’t matter if you write a great starting line or not, trust me!
If you are still stuck wondering where to start, then simply borrow a line/phrase from any book you read or a poem you liked. You can later replace the first line with something of your own; it really works. And yeah, it is not copying, it’s simply taking inspiration.
Forget editing & go with the flow
If you ask any of the writers or poets, they will tell you how most times their first drafts end up nothing but crap. So fret not about perfection and simply add one word after the other. Remember, just one word after the other. Easy, right? For beginners, free verse is the best bet but if you are in the mood for experimentation with different forms like haiku, lyrical poems, etc, then go for it. Just don’t let the structure restrict the flow of your ideas.
Show, not tell
Poetry is enriched with vivid imagery (descriptions). Showing and not telling is a writing technique used to create vivid and engaging descriptions by allowing readers to experience and interpret events and emotions, rather than just being told about them. All you need to do is to tap a little deeper into your sense of touch, vision, hearing, smell or taste. Here are some examples of showing and not telling:
- Telling: The food was delicious. Showing: The flavors exploded in his mouth as he savored each bite of the perfectly cooked biriyani.
- Telling: She was sad. Showing: Tears streamed down her cheeks as she sat alone, staring blankly out the window.
- Telling: The view was breathtaking. Showing: The sun set over the mountains, painting the sky in shades of pink and orange and taking his breath away.
Write for one person
Every individual has different perspectives and it’s the ability to put our perspectives out loud and clear that matters. So, loosen up, leave your hesitations and write for one person-yourself. Even if you plan to publish, it’s just you and the other person who is reading that is involved in this equation. So write for either yourself or just one reader. That way, the connection between you and the reader is easily established.
Make it relatable
Have you noticed that a song lyrics appeals to you so much that it feels it was written just for you? Well, that’s where relatability comes into the picture. Even while you are writing your personal experiences, try and make it relatable to the reader.
To make a poem written from personal experience relatable to the reader, you can focus on universal themes and emotions that are common to many people. This can include topics such as love, loss, joy, fear, hope, etc. Additionally, you can use concrete and specific details that paint a vivid picture of your experiences and help the reader connect with them on an emotional level.
Avoid using jargon or uncommon terminology that may confuse or alienate the reader. Finally, you can use literary devices such as imagery, metaphor, and simile to enhance the emotional impact of the poem.
Read it aloud
Reading your poem aloud can help you to identify and correct any issues in your writing, and to gain a better understanding of how the poem will be received by an audience. This is when you will get an idea of how the usage of words complement each other or not, whether is there a rhythmic flow to the poem, is the tone and theme of the poem are conveyed or not, etc.
So, own your poem and read it aloud to help you understand the nuances intuitively. It may sound difficult but try and see. You will get better at it with every poem.
Edit and evolve
Now that you know how your poetry has turned out and how it sounds while reading, it’s time that you make the edits and polish your poem. Though editing may take time to learn, it’s still your poem to experiment and evolve. Take charge of it and check the tone and mood of the poem. Make sure they match the content and the emotional impact you want to convey.
Read the poem several times, paying attention to each line and stanza. Look for areas that could be improved, such as awkward phrasing or unclear meaning. Consider using synonyms, metaphors, and similes to add depth and impact. Check the structure of the poem. Make sure each stanza and line break serves a purpose, and that the poem has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Finally, have someone else read the poem and provide feedback. This can give you a fresh perspective and help you to identify areas that could be improved.
Trust the process
Poetry is a creative form of self-expression. So, trust the process and evolve with each piece of writing. Also, poetry gives you the liberty to break the rules and simply have fun. So what stops you from writing a poetry, today? Get creative. Get bold. Get writing!
P.S. At the start of this post you read the childish poetry that I started with. To know how my writing has evolved over years, you can check these two poems (click on the below images) that are inspired by my all-time fascination with nature. You will see that with years, the experiences and perspectives have evolved. And, that is all that I wish for you to know, so you honour your expressions and emotions in verses without any hesitation.
Hope this post helps. If you are just beginning to pen poetry, feel free to post it in the comments or share it on Twitter and tag me @PoetryPromising.
If you are an established poet, do share your very first piece of poetry. Let others be inspired.