Experimenting with poetry as a writing exercise can be a way to stretch your comfort zone, improve your writing skills, break out of writer’s block, and introduce you to new ways of viewing your craft.
As a writer, perhaps you’re on the lookout for a writing exercise that will help you improve your writing style, challenge you, break you out of writer’s block, and move you out of your comfort zone. Prompts, circle groups and other creative exercises are common ways to stretch your writing muscles and push you to try things you may not have done on your own. But poetry is one writing exercise that is often overlooked.
Writers might think if poetry isn’t their thing, it’s best left untouched. Even if you’re not a big fan of poetry, learning how to write poems can improve your writing craft in a number of ways.
Poetry gets you out your routine
If you don’t normally write poetry, diving into it forces you to think – and write – differently. Poetry simultaneously gives you more and less flexibility in terms of how you create phrases or describe something. It creates a situation where you might have to retool the way you approach a topic.
Poetry makes clichés stand out like a bad penny
Someone may be as blind as a bat or busy as a bee in a story, but in a poem, clichés like that stand out in the most painful way possible. The pared down style of poetry makes word and phrase choices especially powerful – and noticeable. As you write, let yourself use these tired turns of phrase in the original draft, then go back and find ways to reword what you want to say.
Poetry is multidimensional
One of the most powerful aspects of poetry is how it can take something simple and turn it into something profound. At first glance, Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” is little more than a description of two different walking paths he encounters on a hike in the woods. But his style and choice of words turn that simple walk in the woods into a metaphor for a person’s life journey.
Poetry has power
Poetry has been used for centuries to inspire, inflame and incite. A contemporary example of this is the rise of Slam Poetry which uses curt, short, choppy lines to drive home a specific point of view. Don’t be afraid to jump into controversy when it comes to poetry. Embrace it as a way to express a point of view without feeling the need to back it up with the supporting paragraphs prose demands.
Getting started with poetry
If you’ve never written poetry, or haven’t tried since your angsty teenage years, sitting in front of a blank screen or piece of paper with the intention of writing a poem can feel a bit intimidating. These five simple tips will help you get the process started even if you’re a bit skeptical.
Forget self-editing. This is a basic rule for any type of writing, but it’s especially important when trying something new. Resist the urge to go back and change a word or clean up a bit of grammar – just keep going. You may even find that what feels like a poorly phrased sentence turns out to be perfect once you finish.
Dig deep. Don’t be afraid to write about the things that truly move you, even if that means excavating memories, experiences, or feelings that remain raw. Writing poetry can be a type of cathartic release that ultimately makes it easier for you to focus on your normal style.
Get experimental. There are dozens of different types of poetry – Haiku, limericks, epic poems, and slam poetry are just a few. There are also forms of fusion poetry that take elements from several different approaches, so get adventurous and try different styles and combinations until you find something that feels right.
Get lyrical. If you have a hard time finding your poetic groove, try your hand at songwriting. Start by writing in the cadence and meter of a song you know well to help you get started. Writing a spoof version of a favorite song gives you an instant outline from which to work and can make it easier to get your creative juices flowing.
Find a poet you like. If you have poets you enjoy, great. You can start this writing exercise by reading their work and getting into a poetic frame of mind. If you don’t have a poet whose work you enjoy, find one. Maybe you’ll be drawn to the classic poets like Emily Dickinson or William Wordsworth, or perhaps you’ll find morbid joy in the works of Edgar Allen Poe or the gin-soaked lines of Charles Bukowski. If you prefer your poetry to be a bit less serious, the work of Shel Silverstein might suit you. There are writers from every walk of life who have made a name for themselves with poetry, including authors primarily known for prose. Check to see if your favorite authors have ever published poetry – you might be surprised.
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