Process of Writing Poetry

Back in the day I used to write poetry as I was inspired. I’d wait and something would strike me and I’d jot it down. If I weren’t moved to deep emotion, I didn’t worry about it.

On top of that I didn’t worry all that much about editing. I wrote what I wrote, and it was what it was.

All that changed on a site called The Alsop Review. It’s a really nice poetry workshop site, and I can’t say enough positive about it. I really found some tremendous poets doing some amazing work there, so keep that context through the rest of the story.

One day, I was merrily writing a poem about growing from boyhood into manhood using a sapling and the intrusion of a bulldozer as a metaphor and I was very proud of myself. I posted the work up on the site and waited for accolades.

Instead, I received something less than a warm reception. I got comments like “There is not one redeemable, salvageable line in this entire piece” and “Wow, that was awful.”

Somewhere between 20 and 40 comments later, my ego was completely crushed. Not a single positive comment.

Honestly, it was a good thing.

For the next month or two, I didn’t write a single poem. Then after that, I realized, I needed to know much more about poetry if I were going to keep writing. It is far too painful to be the imbecile splashing words against the wall in hopes that a few stick.  So I read bunches of poetry text books, and dozens and dozens of poetry books by classic poets and modern poets and any well-respected poet I could find.

Six months or so of that, and then I started to write again. This time, I only wrote by choice. I avoided writing poetry – or anything – when i was in emotional turmoil. I started to wait and write what I wanted to write.

So, for a long time, I would sit down and say, “Today, I”m going to write <insert style here> about <insert random theme>.”

I devised bunches of little prompts and exercises to push myself. I wrote ream upon ream to give myself material to edit later. And often, now, I do edit old work until it is completely new.

My writing process works like this:

  1. 5-10minutes when I first wake up. Jot notes and ideas and any key lines that pop in my head.
  2. Throughout the morning, jot notes into a  google docs file as things pop in my head.  The 10-30 seconds it takes to stash a note for later is invaluable.
  3. Lunch time, write a paragraph or two, or a poem or two.
  4. Afternoon, continue to jot occassional notes to myself.
  5. late afternoon before dinner, write a poem.
  6. before bed write 1-4 poems.

The poems are usually, but not always, about the same subjects as the notes. Whatever I read, or see, or hear, I put in the notes to use later. I also copy book marks so that i can go back and review links.

If I want to locate a poem somewhere, I frequently look up that place on google maps or on atlas site. I also look up things like indigenous birds, plants and animals. I go to wolframalpha to get statistics that might help me understand life in that location or drop me thoughts on odd or interesting things i can work into my pieces.

The more information I have, the more words I have to work with. Generally, I also google key words throughout the notes and thoughts to see if I can connect things to literature, movies or pop-culture.

All of that goes into every poem. That’s my basic process.