How To Start Writing Poetry

You want to write poetry, but you don’t know where to start.

There are two components to the art of poetry, the writing part and the reading part. The writing part is the part where you actually DO it. The reading part is how you get better. We’ll cover both here.

For the record, I have been through a lot of formal education in the art of both reading and writing poetry, so I know a thing or two about how it is taught. I don’t agree with absolutely everything that was part of my training, but also there were some good takeaways, which I will impart to you here for free!


A. Some Notes on Permission

My first point here is that you do NOT need anyone’s permission to start writing poetry. You do not need to get a degree or even take a class. You do not need to Google it. You do not even need MY permission.

Secondly, your poetry does not have to be for anyone else. It doesn’t have to be “good,” it doesn’t have to be “publishable.” What matters is that you had fun and expressed yourself. (Yes, there can definitely be a type of satisfaction in getting really good at a craft and sharing your art, but that’s not what we’re talking about today.)

Really, you don’t need me at all.

However, I CAN help you get started. You will probably have an easier time and put less pressure on yourself if you don’t expect your poems to spring fully-formed from your brain. Instead, there is a trick for first drafts called Freewriting.

B. Freewriting

Freewriting is a little bit like dreaming. You set pen to paper (yes, usually analog writing is recommended) and you write literally anything that comes to mind. Yup, anything. It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t have to be good or profound or true or anything else in particular. Don’t edit or cross anything out. Being fully uninhibited during the freewriting process takes practice, and it’s something I’m still working on myself, but I recommend giving it a try anyway and seeing what happens.

After you’ve filled a page or two, take a break and let your work breathe for a few minutes. Get up and do something else. When you come back to it, reread what you’ve written and highlight or underline what’s interesting. Maybe you made up a weird turn of phrase that you like, or you really nailed how you feel in a certain situation.

After you’ve selected the most interesting parts of your freewriting session, you can use the lines and phrases like fridge magnets to construct a poem. Don’t be shy: throw out or fill in absolutely anything you want.

Revise as much or as little as you want. Sometimes it feels great to get the accuracy that comes with editing, while other times it can feel stifling. Read it out loud to yourself if you want. Do exactly what you want to do at all times in your poetry journey. It’s YOURS.


If you want to get better at poetry and expand your capabilities, I highly recommend reading poetry. Luckily, this is not as intimidating as it might sound.

In my personal opinion, it can be important to read more modern poets, from the last 70 years or so. For one thing, their work is often more accessible. For another thing, there is more diversity in the demographics of the writers and their subject matter. Thirdly, if you’re super serious about writing to publish, it will show you current trends in the poetry world.

A. How To Read Poetry

What is the best WAY to read poetry? There isn’t one. Focus on getting as many words into your brain as possible at first— you can analyze later as your instincts get honed into skills. Soon you will notice meter and slant rhymes and all that other stuff, but for now you can just read for enjoyment.

You may want to try reading your favorites out loud to hear how things sound. This may add another layer to what you already liked about the poem!

You may also want to buy your poetry books so you can write notes or highlight in them.

B. Reading Suggestions: Where To Start

(I had fun with these suggestions, but that doesn’t mean these aren’t good places to start!)

If you’re queer and you’re not shy about the sexual, read Allen Ginsburg.

If you like nature and Abraham Lincoln, read Walt Whitman.

If you care about Black Power, read Nikki Giovanni.

If you’d like something accessible and easily digested, read Rupi Kaur.

If you love nature and enjoy feeling at peace, read Mary Oliver.

If you’re sad and feeling kind of feral, read Sylvia Plath.

If you like rhymes, read Robert Frost.

(Everyone should read Joy Harjo.)

On Creativity and Healing

As I have said before, freewriting doesn’t work for my mental health. Instead, I decided a few months ago that I wanted a structured journal to keep track of my moods and symptoms. (I have a separate Bullet Journal, which I use for planning, habit-tracking, and tasks, and then I have my more-recently-started “symptom” journal in a different notebook.)

I highly recommend symptom journaling so that you know where your headspace is at. Tracking your symptoms and/or moods can help you find patterns that you may otherwise miss. Our emotions (especially when we struggle with mental health) can feel gigantic and like they last forever, when in reality they change like the tides and can often be very different from day to day. That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t downward or upward trends! Seeing those trends can help us do damage control (in the form of self care) or even just enjoy good moods while they last. I feel much more in control of my life when I journal briefly about my symptoms.

To do a daily symptom journal, I split two adjacent pages into three sections. Each of the six daily sections in my symptom journal has about five lines devoted to it, which allows me to elaborate a little while still keeping the entry brief enough to be useful at a glance. (I almost never run out of room.)

Things I write about daily:

  1. How I felt that day. Obviously not all my emotions are symptoms, but I write about them all in my symptom journal anyway. Giving myself a little bit of room to be descriptive allows me to record causes of my mood (“had nightmares and woke up very dissociated”) or complexities (“had some anxiety in the afternoon but felt okay for most of the day”).
  2. Any physical symptoms or problems I had. Maybe my knees hurt, I had a stomachache because I ate too much curry, or I slept badly. (Often I write that I forgot to eat. Oops!)
  3. What I did to solve/help any symptoms/problems (physical or mental) and how well my strategy worked. Maybe I took ibuprofen for my knee pain, but it didn’t really do anything. Or maybe I was depressed but I felt a little more energetic after a nap. I don’t always have anything to write in this section, but I think it’s really important to track how your experiments go!
  4. What I thought about that day. This is one of my favorite sections. It’s my chance to write about what was going on in my mind, which (to me) is always interesting! It also gives me a sense that I’m moving forward in my life. For example, maybe I thought about what to write on my blog and came to the conclusion that I should write about journaling, or maybe I thought about what to build with a certain material in Minecraft. Often, I’m thinking about recovery strategies I want to integrate into my life, and when I journal about them, I don’t lose any potentially brilliant ideas!
  5. My happiest or best moment of the day. (It doesn’t have to break through the depression barrier to be the happiest moment of the day, since it’s all relative.) Often, this will be spending time with my boyfriend.
  6. Any information my alters have told me that day. Since it’s hard to keep track of multiple people in the same brain, I have a section devoted to that. For example, [LITTLE] told me the other day he doesn’t like green beans, so as a system we’ve decided to not force ourselves to eat the green beans languishing in the freezer.

Every Sunday, I do a weekly summary for each of the sections. I draw an extra page with my usual six sections, and write about how the week went and my happiest moment!

Some other ideas you may want to try if you pick up a similar journaling habit:

-Gratitude journaling. This was not helpful for me, but many people swear by it.

-Therapy summaries. If you go to therapy, you can write quick summaries of what you talked about at your appointments. You might also record your homework for next session, if that’s something that you and your therapist have decided on.

-Rate your mood out of 10. I really struggle to rate my mood, because it feels so much more complex than a number. Maybe I had a good morning but got depressed in the evening, or I was anxious but hopeful. However, this works for a lot of people, and having quantitative data on your mood can be really helpful when dealing with mental health professionals. (You may want to use color-coding instead!)