Monday, December 14, 2015

How to Break through the Fear of Writing a Great Poem

Perhaps  the biggest problem for poets trying to write a great poem is that the poet doesn't really know what poetry is. How do you distinguish between writing a poem or writing a piece of flash fiction. One of the characteristics most significant in defining poetry is its inability to be defined. But if we can't define it, how can we write it?

What makes poetry different from prose literature can be found in its concise language. It uses a heightened, yet more economic vocabulary. Other characteristics of poetry are its use of literary devices such as meter, rhyme, repetition, alliteration, metaphor, simile, assonance, line and stanza breaks and formal structure. If you are writing FREE VERSE, don’t ignore the fundamental techniques that make poetry substantial.

Most importantly, every poem must have an emotional heart. Even within haiku and its observations of nature, the poet delivers an emotional experience through what she's witnessed.

Perhaps intellectually you understand the fundamentals of what makes a poem a poem.. So, what is keeping you from writing great poetry? The biggest obstacle that keeps us from writing a great poem is FEAR

* Whether we've defined poetry or not, we’re afraid we’ll get it wrong.
* We fear we’re not good enough writers to write one.
* We fear what we want to write about isn’t that interesting.
* We fear what we want to write about is too personal.
* We fear we will be judged by our peers.
* Because poems are personal, we fear we will hurt someone’s feelings.
* The desire to be published creates a fear of writing a poem unworthy of being published.
* We fear we will never get to the point of perfection, so we just don't do it.
* We get intimidated by people who say the words just spill out of them, that poetry comes to them like a muse in the night, that they just wait for the perfect time and the poem comes. We know that doesn't happen for us, so we fear we are not true poets.

How do we break through the fear and write a poem:

* Be active readers of poetry. Pay attention to the way words work together, or don't work together. It is not only important to read poets that speak to you, but also to read poets who you find out of reach or who challenge you.
* Think of creative writing as traveling without a map, or driving a car at night. These metaphors illustrate that writing is seldom a linear process with a known destination. Instead, it involves learning to love language—its tastes and shapes and sounds—and then to go wherever the writing leads.  NOTE: If you do this, it’s just the first step. Once you get to your destination, then go back and revisit the poem and think creatively about what it says and what you want it to say.
* Practice writing often, as you would if learning to play the piano or shooting free throws. Instead of expecting a "great" poem every time you write, write in a way that feels "raw and messy."
* Find the emotional core of the poem and connect it to concrete objects: something that can be seen, touched, heard, smelled and tasted by readers and listeners. Every time we feel something, it has a tangible connection. Find that connection and work with it.
* Don't get bogged down in the facts. The only significant truth in a poem is its emotional truth. Don't be afraid to blur the facts in order to get to the heart of the TRUE EMOTION.
* Write without fear. It won't be great when you first throw it down. It will be like the clay on the potter's wheel--a shapeless mass of brown, wet, glop. Get that glop on the wheel. No one will see it but you!
* Once you write, you must revise. Genius comes in the editing. In the revising, don't be afraid to throw away that first line that sparked the poem in the first place. Often that line isn't worthy of the poem, it's just the inspiration. Be your toughest critic. Just as you would write without fear, you must edit without mercy.

Bottom line: The best way to be confident as a poet and write a great poem is to:
1. Read poetry. Read lots and lots of poetry from a variety of poets. Not just today's poets either. Read yesterday's poets. You don't have to like all of it, but you do have to read it.
2. Write poetry. Write lots and lots of poetry in a variety of forms. Copy the forms of today's poets. Copy the forms of yesterday's poets. You don't have to like all the forms in which you write, but you do have to write them.
3. Always remember, you are not alone. All great writers have a fear of writing something great. It's persistence and an unrelenting desire to write that makes us successful.

by Eileen Albrizio

I write, but what I’ve written isn’t right.
Rewrite, but it comes out wrong.
You say don’t stop. Keep writing.

With sound advice and insight,
I go back to the start and be strong
and write again, but it just isn’t right.

Maybe all it needs is a slight
tweaking to help it along.
You say no, it needs more. Keep writing.

New eyes on the lines to shine light
on what might turn what I wrote into song,
but what I’ve written still isn’t right.

An edit won’t make it tight
if the words aren’t where they belong.
You agree and say keep on writing.

I’m not good enough for this fight.
Can’t stop crying when I think of how long
it took me to write what’s not right.
You say I’m awesome because I keep writing.

  ~ From The Box Under the Bed, available on and
 The Box Under the Bed

I would love to read your feedback. Drop me a comment!