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Un-Think Your Poetry: How To Write Better Poems

Want to write better poems? Why not try a different technique to become a better poet? Stop trying to write better poems.

Because most good poetry comes from a place deep in the subconscious, judging your poems as you’re writing them can be problematic. If you’re worried that your poetry isn’t strong, that your metaphors are wobbly, that no one will be interested in your subject matter, then you’re clipping your poem’s wings at the same time that you’re asking it to take flight.

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Here is one way of writing that works for some poets. Feel free to expand and alter this as you please to suit your own writing needs!

1. To write better poems, turn off the part of your brain that is conscious of what other readers might think of your poetry. Let your subconscious do the writing. Don’t go chasing after the words you want to write; instead, follow the words as they come from within you. Don’t censor, second-guess, or hesitate. Just open your mind so that it can make connections that you might not consciously see.

One way of “turning off your inner critic” is to set an intention before you sit down to write. Take a few deep breaths and gently tell yourself that you’re open to whatever it is that your mind is about to do. Consciously allow your subconscious to take over. Intend to follow where the muse leads—even if what you end up with is messy, garbled, clumsy, and unfocused. Embrace that lack of control as part of the process.

2. After you’ve done the brainstorming portion of your poem-writing, put it all down for a while. Don’t rush yourself into creating a masterpiece. Like good food, good writing takes time. When your poem sits quietly for a while, the various flavors of it will mingle and recombine in new ways. You open your poem up to new levels when you leave it alone for a while.

(However, if you’re worried that you’ll lose the “fire” behind your poem, start the revisions right away. You can always put down the revised poem for a while and come back to it later on.)

3. Finally, after you’ve taken the time you need to get a little perspective on your own writing, go back to your poem with your “editing hat” on. Because the creative act is generative and the act of editing is critical, it can help to break those two processes apart and tackle them one at a time. Edit carefully and without judging your own creativity. When critiquing your own writing, always strive to be the generous and sensitive editor that you would be for someone else.

Sometimes writing better poems isn’t a matter of learning more technique or doing more thinking. It’s a matter of NOT thinking. Dig deep to let your subconscious do some writing, and your poetry will grow.

Writer’s Relief helps poets place their poems in literary magazines and journals. For more information on how Writer’s Relief can help you, visit www.WritersRelief.com.

Questions for Writers

 QUESTION: What’s your strategy for bridging the gap between following your muse and editing?

32 Responses to Un-Think Your Poetry: How To Write Better Poems

  1. For me I find that direct treatment of the thing, like Ezra Pound says works. I get down the actual facts, the objective imagery first.
    I also look into the nature of something, and I explore several poetic devices, in poems at least 30 lines long.
    My two poems recently published in print, are barely 16 lines long, and I used this approach. I also try to use symbolism and keep my abstract concrete images to support it.
    I also try to write about something without pre-thinking on it or trying to think ideas before I start.

    Before I write poem, I may write a brief sentence for meaning and subject
    But that is all.

  2. Really great article! I’ve been practicing and trying to get my poetry up to par – I’ve tried lots of different methods.
    One thing I noticed sometimes I can write songs without thinking and my pen just flows – these have been my best works. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to get back to that place and I never know how it happens.
    Thank you for articulating what I’ve been searching for, now I know I was falling deep into my subconscious. I want this to be a major part of me, every time I write I want to write from my subconscious I think that is where you get your best art and talent from, just like the article said. Thank you!

  3. I enjoyed this article. I have a trick that I use when I get poet’s block, I uncouple my mind in a simple way.

    I turn out the lights, avoid any noise, sit in a comfortable place & position with a pad and pen in hand. I close my eyes and let the darkness and noiseless conditions calm my mind, then I write— without opening my eyes. I start with a word or a phrase or a feeling or even a memory, and I write. Not opening my mind or stilling my pen until the “flow” feels right.

    Once there, I turn on the lights and look at what I wrote — essentially blindfolded — and let the reawakened muse take over.

    I find this tends to loosen the tendrils blocking the flow of my muse.

  4. What an amazing reply from Jonel Abellanosa!
    I like the idea of letting your unconscious speak and then editing at a later date.

  5. These were wonderful tips! Some poems are perfected immediately, others take days, weeks and even months, like the one I just wrote. It still has its original meaning based on the emotions It was based off of, I just rearranged lines and replaced words with more effective and powerful ones. This is how I write.

  6. Thank you so much for the advice , writing poetry is very relative to emotions & feelings not thinking or wondering ,i do agree , & i do feel that when i write , i will use these tips for my new poems & focus on becoming better !

  7. Like taking a road trip, writing can be a wonderful venture through emotional exploration or a plotted coarse to get the most out of it. Put away the GPS and come visit me. After all, I am your audience. So tell me about the trip when you get here. What did you see along the way? Will I find it interesting and want to hear more? Or, like most writers, will you fail to find my door?

  8. I agree with a lot of what you’ve said, although I do disagree with a bit and have a few tips. You definitely should use your subconscious to write, not your logical mind. I have both, so I let go of rationality and just go free. The one thing is though, I do take time to think of the right word. I don’t fall into something and then go back and revise it later, I think for a moment to find the right word, not the first word. Also, before I even start a poem, I let it sit in my mind for a few minutes, just fitting pieces on it and seeing if they fit, and then I write where the brainstorming ends. Don’t clip your wings though, just fit on the right feathers. You should never be afraid to say something in a poem. A good way to avoid not writing something as you write is to write privately. When I write, (I usually use Google Drive) I write on a separate account than anything else, and don’t share anything from that drive with anyone. If I want to show someone a poem, because I think they would like it, and I’m comfortable with them seeing it, I copy and paste. I don’t usually go back and revise, however, because every poem has meaning in its original form, and besides changing a few words, or phrasing something a little clearer, I don’t alter anything to avoid obscuring what it meant to me. That’s my take on it.

  9. Being..a poet is having the thoughts of a demonic angel..sometime your heart is heavy,sometimes it is light…but what is most important is the beauty of your concious…

  10. This helped. Thanks, now I think I can write down what I’m thinking about her right now. :’) :)

  11. Great advice. I’m sort of relieved to get confirmation that I am doing it the right way. Usually when I write a poem it is because something rises up that I can’t say any other way or else the poem just sort of pops into my head and I have to rush to the nearest notebook before it evaporates. Usually I do revise, but rarely more than once or or twice after the original draft.

  12. I am a poet that can write about 3-5 poems in a day. I mean I edit it too. And one of my problem is the fear of someone reading and telling me it’s bad. So after editing I write them down in a separate book without letting anyone read. But my eyes are opened now.

  13. Well, poetry is using what you see to define what you feel. There’s no one road to poetry. I as a poet, i can write a poem within a minutes, just as my thoughts would lead me on, and i can also take days, week, and months to write poems. For instance i wrote a poem when my mum passed away, it was something pretty difficult to do as i needed to combine a whole history init right from the very day i knew her as my mother to that day she left the world. And this wasn’t something that’ll take just a moment, but a thorough scrutiny on my work.

  14. Thank you for that wakeup call. It never dawned on me that I was overloading my brain; trying to create and edit at the same time. I will be approaching my writing fueled by the words of Sir George Clinton:

    “free your mind, and your a** will follow”

  15. Hello Musaiyab. Actually, editing and revising your work, even right after you finish writing it, is very common! Writers often need to revise pieces three, four, or many more times before it can become “just right.” Poetry is no exception; try letting friends and family read it to see if they find any mistakes or discrepancies that you, as the author, may not have noticed.

    If you’re looking for tips to help you writing “flow,” try working on how many syllables each line has. Depending on your writing style, you may not want to switch between high and low numbers of syllables per line, as it can interrupt readers and cause the “flow” of your poem to appear erratic. Hope this was helpful!

  16. Very well written article, but can you please give me some tips on how to let the poem ‘flow’. Whenever I try to write, I always look at what I have written and start editing it then and there. Can you please give me some tips.

  17. Excellent publish, very informative. I ponder why the opposite specialists of this sector do not realize this. You must continue your writing. I am confident, you’ve a huge readers’ base already!|What’s Happening i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve found It absolutely useful and it has helped me out loads. I hope to contribute & assist different users like its helped me. Good job.

  18. Jonel, What a fantastic comment. Made our day! Thank you.

    If you would like to receive our articles in your inbox, you can sign up on our site (the sign-up box is on the upper right sidebar).

  19. I like it very much the idea/truth of the inseparable union of poetry and the subconscious. Why else should we read and write poetry except to know ourselves and others, and worlds better? Every world is inner. It seems impossible to know ourselves and others, and worlds, truly. That is why there is poetry. The quest for perfection is a prime human preoccupation. This might be because of the very real prospects of pain and inexistence that attend every human quest for meaning and for reasons to continue. Poetry brings us closest to perfection, giving us a glimpse, while we are aware that it is impossible to attain it, of what perfection might be, that perhaps it is possible in a later, deeper, truer existence, which gives us hope, and makes us strive to be better persons, as though we know ourselves and others, and worlds, truly. As they are, as they will always be. Thanks for the great article. If it is not too much to ask, please email me more of such articles (of faith). Lastly, the (clearly) flawed poem is much, much more beautiful and sublime than the seemingly perfect one.

  20. This is my normal way of writing poems. My writing group thinks they’re wonderful. So does pretty much everyone I show them to. Only ones who don’t like them are publishers and their editors. I feel like the Lawrence Welk program –“Nobody likes Lawrence Welk, except the public.”

  21. My personal poetry muse tends to come unbidden. It’s always best to let her flow, then revisit. Sometimes things come in bursts of phrases that seem unconnected, yet fit later on, with a little reworking and rearranging. Sometimes simple phrases lead to much more complex passages that needed that tiny opening in my mind to permit their appearance and consideration. As with most writing, the mere act of putting word to page is a form of release. Refining comes afterward, when you are more receptive toward change, without the fear of losing trains of thought.

  22. I always revise LATER. When I’m writing a new thought, I just write whatever comes out of my pen, no cross-outs, no stopping to think, just writing. If I write something I didn’t “mean” to write (e.g. My head is thinking “rain” and my hand writes “run”) I might go back and write “rain” above it, so I know where it came from, but I won’t cross it out, because my unconscious is telling me something, probably more interesting than my original thought. Then I leave it for weeks and come back to it for revisions so I’m not so attached to it anymore and I can see it for what it is.

  23. I don’t have this problem. When I write, I just write. The poem leads me and I follow. If I find that I’m forcing it, I stop and so something else.

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