A Beginners Guide to Writing Poetry

Open book and empty book ready to write

by Margaret Aitken

As someone who’s been writing poetry for five years, I create poetry to relax and unload all of my negative feelings or joyfully express all of my positive emotions. It’s a great creative outlet that doesn’t require a ton of experience or materials to get started.

It’s also fun to share on social media or with friends if you want to. One of the great things about it is that you can adjust how much time you want to allocate to this particular activity. Some poems are short, some poems are long. You could spend ten minutes on a long poem or half an hour on a haiku. You can use the creative form however you want.

Poems also don’t have to be good. As renowned creator of the TV show Gravity Falls, Alex Hirsch said when asked about who his target audience was:

“The target audience is ME. I try to create something I would like. That’s literally the only consideration.”

Unless you’re publishing and selling your poetry, it doesn’t matter who enjoys your poetry, who hates it, why they hate it or whatever. The practice is about you, what you personally enjoy, why you enjoy it and the reason you’re expressing it at this particular point in time. Feel free to be selfish in your creativity.

Poems differ from prose in that they are shorter. The challenge of poetry is trying to convey the same meaning with fewer words, so the words themselves had better be meaningful. However, you don’t need to rush to the dictionary to improve your vocabulary. Your unique tone is what will lend the work a distinctive voice.

If you do want to get better, I recommend growing your vocabulary by reading. Poetry Foundation is a great website that carries hundreds of poems from all of the classic poets. Try looking up Lewis Carrol or Carol Anne Duffy.

The other two hallmarks of poetry are rhyme and rhythm. To be honest, you don’t have to worry much about rhyme if you don’t want to. A lot of good poetry is non-rhyming and set in free verse. However, if you do want to play with rhyme, and you get stuck, try RhymeZone. It’s saved my life hundreds of times. Rhythm, however, is essential to good poetry. Rhythm is all about how the poetry flows in the mouth of the speaker.

Compare, a good rhythm:

‘Sugar and Spice and everything Spiteful

Diamonds and Dolls who just think you’re delightful.’  

To a bad rhythm:

‘Sugar and spice and everything spiteful

And Dolls who think you are delightful.’

One of them sounds off. It’s harder to speak aloud in your head. Play with the rhythm, adding words, taking out words, reading it aloud to see what works and what doesn’t. But at the end of the day, what works is up to you.

Now get out there and start writing!