Poetry seems to be one of those things that you either love or hate.
Were you the kid making begrudging rhymes in your high school English class, or the one putting their heart and soul into every cheesy metaphor? Either way, you turned out to be a writer, which means you have something to learn from revisiting poetry.
Here at Craft Your Content, Amanda Stein has already explored how reading poetry benefits writers, but what about writing poetry?
Attempted by few since their student days, writing poetry is a creative, fun method of boosting your writing skills in ways that you might not expect. Whether you are used to writing no-nonsense copy, chatty blogs, or high-fantasy novels, consider making poetry part of your writing practice. Let’s take a look at what writing poetry can do for you.
We may be in the business of words, but being wordy isn’t a plus. And there’s nothing like poetry to give you practice trimming the unnecessary out of your sentences.
One of the most distinctive features of poetry as compared to other types of writing is that poems tend to be short. Sure, there are epic poems that take up entire books, but when you think about the space that the same material would take if written in another form (for example, a novel), suddenly they don’t seem so lengthy.
Poets know the value of a word, and they know the value of looking for exactly the right way to say what they mean in the (often tiny) space that they have allotted for it. When you want to convey an idea in a few lines or even a few words, your choice of words really matters. There is no room for careless phrasing. A poet thinks about each word that they use, and each word serves a purpose.
This is a habit that writers would be well-served to pick up. Too often, we stick words and phrases in without thinking much about whether or not they truly add to the piece or if they really convey what we want them to. The point of being concise isn’t to make the piece as short as possible, but rather, to prevent the ideas from being lost in a sea of distracting, unnecessary words.
Though we don’t think of poets as the most direct writers around, what we can take from their style is that our writing shouldn’t be a free-for-all—the words we choose need to matter.
Because word choice is so important in poetry, it doesn’t work to say “good enough.” You don’t want any old word—you want a word with just the right nuance, rhythm, and sounds. To get there, you might want to learn a lot of new words, or at least get comfortable using lesser-known words, while searching for that perfect word.
You may be picturing yourself paging through reference books for obscure words that you’ll never use again. But who says you can’t use unusual words in your writing? If it supports your ideas and helps you say what you want to say, go for it!
And while the aesthetic quality of words isn’t as much in the foreground of other kinds of writing, particularly nonfiction, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be thought about. How do the words you choose sound with the words around them? Sound devices are generally thought of as being squarely in poet territory, but any kind of writer can use them to their advantage.
In my editing work, I often point out words that feel awkward or clunky together. It’s not that they are wrong, exactly; it’s just that there are sure to be more pleasing combinations of sounds that mean the same thing. Or maybe you want your readers to feel a clash of sounds; depending on the subject matter, you could want them to feel that slight discomfort.
Writing poetry not only gives you practice in choosing words that convey your ideas in every way, but also expands your vocabulary in the process—making it easier and easier to hit the nail on the head every time.
Do you find yourself using the same phrasing and structure all the time? Are you at a loss when you need to come up with something new and exciting? Writing poetry can help.
Poetry is an incredibly diverse art form, and each subgenre challenges your creativity in different ways. It can take just as much creative thinking to fit a sunset into a quatrain as to fill a structure-free empty page.
Through writing poetry, you practice new ways of putting words together, describing things, and using literary devices. If writers are manipulators of words, poetry is a no-holds-barred way to explore all the different forms words can take.
If you want less structure, try free-form poetry. If you’re feeling whimsical, give blackout poetry a shot. If you’re tired of the status quo and want to create something completely unheard of and groundbreaking, please do!
That’s the cool part about poetry—anything goes, and to quote an inspirational poster you might remember from elementary school, if you can dream it, you can do it! (For the full effect, imagine a unicorn silhouetted against a rainbow.)
Practicing writing poetry can set your creative side free, and give you more confidence in wielding your wordy innovations.
Many people find that poetry is an excellent way to put their emotions into words. This gives it similar benefits to journaling, which include helping you cope with stress, heal from emotional pain, and evoke mindfulness about your daily experiences. But expressing yourself through words also helps your writing more directly.
Most writers don’t get to practice expressing emotion through writing too often in their day-to-day work. That’s too bad, because adding a personal touch to a piece of writing can make it resonate with the audience—a surefire way to make sure it’s remembered. That’s where practicing poetry comes in.
Try writing short (or long) poems about how you’re feeling each day, or the nostalgia upon seeing your favorite childhood candy in the corner store, or your annoyance at the neighbor who never shovels the snow off their sidewalk. Learn to express yourself through words in the form of poetry, and that skill will carry over into your regular writing.
Whether you’re a die-hard poetry fan or haven’t touched it in years, adding poetry to your writing practice can only do good things for your writing skills. If your vocabulary needs a refresh, your words-to-meaning ratio is sky high, or your phrasing feels a bit too robotic, you’ll find the road to a solution is paved with rhyme schemes and literary devices.
And if you are dead sure that poetry just isn’t your thing? Do it for your writing—I’m sure you’ll change your mind.
As someone whose childhood was spent having books pried away from her at the dinner table, a future working with words was almost inevitable. Giselle has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Calgary, and has worked as a writer/copyeditor for a newspaper, freelance proofreader/editor/writer, and piano teacher. She splits her time between Mexico City and Calgary, Alberta and always has her eye out for adventure, whether that be backpacking in the Rocky Mountains or picking up a new instrument. Giselle is a content editor for Craft Your Content.