namestolen said 1 year ago 9/27/2012 9:30:25 PM EDT

I'm not sure how you feel about a newbie to this site making suggestions; but I'll take a chance ...

The thoughts below represent some of the techniques I use when writing; but there are many other ways of doing it. Hopefully more members will post their own methods of composing poems. This thread is meant to be helpful, so the more people who add their own tips to it, the better it will be.

= = = = =


PREPARATION:
When I sit to write a poem there are several different strategies I call on, depending on the desired result. The various methods can be used individually or in combination, as needed.

I like to do my composing on paper, rather than on computer; but that's just a personal preference. For me, creativity flows more easily through a pencil than a keyboard. I make sure to have on hand several sheets of lined notebook paper for setting down the draft of the poem; a separate pad of paper for jotting down any notes, turns of phrase, and rhyme words I want to remember; and a thesaurus.


STYLE / FORM:
The first step is to decide what form or style the poem will take. There are many established formats and each has a given set of rules.

Although you may be tempted to think of these rules as being restrictive, they serve an important purpose. They provide a framework upon which to build, and they limit the parameters of what can be done. This is useful since the goal, "write a poem", is so broad that it can be difficult to know where to begin. Being able to narrow the focus and having a structure to use makes the task more manageable. Also, established forms have developed because they more easily tap into the natural rhythms of our mind and emotions, and thus have a great impact. Further, they push the poet to go beyond just the common phrases of everyday, and search for the rarer words which bring to our remembrance the beauty of language. Forms thus help the poet give his or her work power to touch deeply.

The rules of form and style may set the theme, the structure, or both. There may be a definite number of lines, a specific rhyming pattern, or a determined number of beats and accents. The poet needs to study the requirements and follow them carefully in order to fit within the chosen form.

For myself, since I'm familiar with the basics of music (due to childhood piano lessons), I find it helpful to draw some parallels between writing poetry and music. These similes aren't perfect; even so they can be useful. Music, like poetry, has recognized accents for the beats, and set numbers of beats per measure. In poetry, measures are called "feet", and beats are "syllables". So when I see the terms "tetrameter" and "pentameter", I think of four measures and five measures, respectively. "Iambic" means two beats per measure, with the stress on the second beat. "Trochaic" is also two beats, but with the stress on the first beat. "Anapestic" would be three beats per measure; sort of like a waltz or polka, but with the stress on the third beat.


PAGE LAY OUT:
Next, once the format is chosen, I like to take a sheet of lined notebook paper and map out numbers and markings in accordance with the chosen form's requirements. If the poem has a set number of lines, I'll write numbers down the left margin of the page; leaving blank lines between stanzas. If there's a given rhyming scheme (such as "abab"), I write these indications down the right margin; each letter at the end of its corresponding line. If there is a given metrical pattern, then I'll make a row of stress markings across the top of the page, just above the first line. I use a dot (.) to indicate an unstressed syllable, and a slash (/) to indicate a stressed syllable. So my mapped page might look like this:


* ____ . ____ / ____ . ____ / ____ . ____ / ____ . ____ /

1. ______________________________________________ -a
2. ______________________________________________ -b
3. ______________________________________________ -a
4. ______________________________________________ -b
(etc.)


The above represents an Iambic Tetrameter; four feet (tetrameter), each with two syllables and the stress on the second syllable (iambic). Reading it aloud might sound like, "ta-DUM, ta-DUM, ta-DUM, ta-DUM." Or it might be read, "and-ONE, and-TWO, and-THREE, and-FOUR." (An anapestic beat could be read, "and-a-ONE, and-a-TWO, and-a-THREE, and-a-FOUR.")


MENTAL PREPARATION:
I find it helpful to speak or sing the the rhythm out loud, repeatedly for a while, before sitting down to write. I might even begin speaking in rhythm around the house; saying regular sentences with a beat pattern, until my family begs me to stop. "please MAKE the BED and FOLD the CLOTHES, while I take OUT the TRASH." This gets my mind thinking in terms of the needed rhythm.

Some poetry forms have no set meter or rhyming scheme. Or perhaps I just want to write "free style" because my interest is to express a particular thought or an emotion without caring what the form will be. Even so, before writing I try to organize as much as possible what I wish to say.


TOPIC & TONE:
By this point I need to choose a topic, if I haven't done so already. The first consideration is to find something to which I can relate. The stronger the feelings, the better. Emotions don't have to be put in the poem; but it helps to feel something while writing. A second consideration, almost as important, is that the topic be something with which the reader can connect. The more they can empathize, the better they'll like it. A poem might be technically perfect, but if it doesn't make people feel something, they won't rate it very high. A third consideration must be the mechanics of writing. This is important because even if a poem is filled with the most beautiful sentiments imaginable, if it's also full of technical errors, the reader's focus will be pulled from the poetic imagery to the writing flaws.

Having chosen a topic, I then decide the tone of the piece. Will it be happy or sad? Serious or light-hearted? A static description or a story? If I choose to go with just a description of something, I will need to add some sort of movement in the idea, or it could become boring. This will be either a change in the perspective or a shift in the tone. For instance, if it's a description of a bleak situation, then by the end there should be something that gives a glimmer of hope, or at least makes a cry against the injustice of the situation.


COMPOSING:
At last, it's time to sit down and begin writing. Even now, I don't want to immediately go to the "poem page". I start on the note pad. I write down all the thoughts I'd like to express, phrases I wish to use, and possible rhyme words I've already selected for the poem.

For example, I might jot down that I'd like to use, "... the days too swift were gone ..." So I then write down rhymes for "gone": con, don, fawn, John, non, upon, yon. I notice that there aren't too many words available, and they aren't that good; so I try rhyming one of the other words in the phrase. If I change it to, "the days were gone too swift", then I could rhyme that: cliff, gift, lift, miffed, rift, sift. That's a bit better; it might work. How about, "gone too swift the days"? Bays, cays, days, faze, phase, haze, laze, maze, maize, nays, pays, plays, prays, praise, rays, raise, raze, stays, ways, weighs. Wow; that's much better. It has a lot more possible rhymes; and it expresses the idea in a way that's not very common, yet not too strange either. So I mark this phrase for use in the poem if possible.

[As a side note: If I'm not able to use a phrase I like, I move it to a different section of the note pad for use in another poem later. Once I collect enough of these phrases, I can start stringing them together, and the next poem practically writes itself. (Ha! Yeah, right.)]

Working with these phrases and rhyming words, I try to build them into a complete line that fits the desired pattern. Once I have an entire line I like, it's finally time to copy it onto the poem page. I continue building lines until there is a complete stanza. Then I stop and read over what I have. I know it's not finished; it will need a lot of editing. But I now see if it's coming together according to the needed patterns of rhyme, meter, and theme. If I'm satisfied, I then move to the second stanza. I remind myself of what tone this next section should have, then I again start making phrases, searching for rhymes, and building lines.

Once I reach the end of the poem, I put it away for a day or two and try not to think about it. I need to rest; and I need to clear my head of all those rhymes and ideas. After this break, it's time for the next step -- revising. The first draft was only that, a draft. The reworking is as involved as the composing.


REVISE, REVISE, REVISE:
I now go through the poem line by line, phrase by phrase, and word by word. Does it say what I want it to? Does it fit the pattern? Does it flow? There are always a lot of words which don't easily fit the meter; they need to be pronounced funny to have the right stress. These are the first to change. This is where the thesaurus is helpful. I look for synonyms of the word that doesn't fit until I find one with the correct accenting. But this new word usually throws off the rhyme, so it becomes necessary to adjust the following line as well. I may have to change pairs of lines four or five times before I get everything to match well.

I also look for phrases that seem awkward or contrived, or patterns in the words and rhymes that just don't sound right for some reason. I keep changing these until they read smoothly. Then I adjust their corresponding paired lines so they continue to match.

Once I've corrected everything I've noticed, it's time to get an outside opinion. I call on friends willing to read it and give their comments. I have them read it out loud, and I take careful note to see if they read the stresses the way I meant them to be. I also watch to see where they stumble over words, or have to pause and look carefully to understand what's written. Each of these problem areas will have to be rewritten. I don't try to tell them to read it my way. Instead, I try to find a way to write it so it's easy for someone to read it smoothly, even on their first attempt. I also ask for their comments on how it made them feel. That way I can know if it successfully communicated the intended message. Then it's back to the writing desk for another round of changes based on the observations of the readings.

Once this is done, it's time to let the poem have a rest. I again set it aside for a couple of days and try not to think about it. I wait until all the miscellaneous rhymes and phrases have bounced their way out of my head. Picking it up again, I make a few more proof-readings. At last it's finally time to post it.


CRITIQUE:
One last bit of advice: If you plan to enter your piece in a contest, brace yourself for a let-down. After all the work you've done, you will likely be anticipating a perfect 10 on your score and a lot of congratulations for writing a masterpiece. Once the score actually comes in, however, it will be closer to a 5 or 6. That may even discourage you for a while. But always remember, if you've satisfied yourself, you've written a good poem.


= = = = =


Now it's your turn.

The above is just how one person does it. There are many ways of writing successfully. Please share how you do it.

Perhaps you can explain the best way to write in a specific form. Your input is welcome.







[Edited by User on 9/27/2012 9:59:31 PM, Reason: Attempt to fix formatting.]

[Edited by User on 9/27/2012 10:01:02 PM, Reason: ditto]

[Edited by User on 9/27/2012 10:17:50 PM, Reason: ditto]

Right on target! Excellent Writing Helpful Comment
celticfrog said 1 year ago 9/27/2012 10:36:26 PM EDT

I am not nearly as disciplined. I usually start with an image or phrase. Sometimes I go with free verse, but I also like researching obscure poetry forms and seeing where they take me. Then it is a matter of shaping and reshaping the construct to where it works. If I am not feeling too lazy I read it out loud for the rhythm.

Poetry even more than prose is a subjective thing. Some people like solid rhythm and rhymes, others like to mix things up and break rules. What one person loves another will hate.

It's a good thing I have a real job to support my writing habit.
Merbley said 1 year ago 9/29/2012 9:33:46 PM EDT

I find writing poetry a challenge, partly because I'm not as disciplined as namestolen and partly because of the discipline required by many of the forms. But there are a couple of things that help me:

* I use rhyming dictionaries on the intranet, then swap out different words to find the best match for meaning and flow. I've also been known to use the A-Z method namestolen mentioned, but the intranet dictionaries provide more options and sort by different kinds of rhyming - syllable, end rhymes, etc.

* I always count the syllables out loud, tapping my fingers on my desk or keyboard to make sure I count it right. This helps me with the rhythm as well; if it doesn't flow, I often end up counting a different number of syllables each time. That's my clue that I'm forcing the rhythm to meet the syllable count (or vice versa) and that I need to look closer at the line.

Sam the Beagle by hws
Global CouncilArena Adminjago said 1 year ago 9/30/2012 9:04:31 PM EDT

namestolen said
"please MAKE the BED and FOLD the CLOTHES, while I take OUT the TRASH."

I'll bet daily life in the Shakespeare household was insufferably annoying after a while.

'A cynic' is what an idealist calls a realist.
namestolen said 1 year ago 9/30/2012 9:24:12 PM EDT

Thank you, each one for responding.

Jago, you made me laugh out loud. Perhaps that's the real reason he had to flee Stratford to go live in London.

Celticfrog and Merbley, I'm not always so disciplined in my writing. I like composing in Free Style just as much as the next person. It's just that when I'm writing in a new form with which I'm not too familiar or experienced, I find using a system to be helpful.

Merbley, I'm interested to know which Internet rhyming dictionary you use. That sounds useful to be able to adjust the search according to the syllables, end rhymes, and such.

Can any of you share some more techniques you use when writing?

Global CouncilArena AdminFanatic said 1 year ago 10/1/2012 12:13:47 AM EDT

Some poetical sources:

http://www.rhymer.com/

http://www.rhymezone.com/

http://wikirhymer.com/

http://rhymebrain.com/en

http://www.syllablecount.com/default.aspx

http://www.onelook.com/reverse-dictionary.shtml

http://www.hyperdictionary.com/


The iamb saunters through my book;
Trochees rush and tumble.
If the anapests run like a scurrying brook,
Dactyls are stately and classical.

These stories don't mean anything when you've got no one to tell them to
Merbley said 1 year ago 10/1/2012 8:45:04 PM EDT

I've used Rhymer and Rhymezone. I like Rhymer better, but I think it is personal preference, both met my need of providing lots of options - or sending me off in another direction.

Sam the Beagle by hws
akhenatenator said 1 year ago 11/30/2012 2:35:59 PM EDT

I saw this thread a while back and always intended to write something.

When I'm writing, poetry and prose alike, I always try to remember that writing is art. The creation and appreciation of art is inherently subjective, and will be judged on a whole variety of diverse scales; aesthetics, technical skill, appropriateness to the theme, empathy, sympathy, nostalgia, (un)ease of understanding, humour And, as I have found at length, you cant please everyone.

The way I work is constantly evolving, but pretty much what follows is how I go about writing poetry... everyone has a different perspective. This is just one way.

**

I write in a notebook. I like to use an A4 school exercise book (I usually ask Primary school teachers I know for them). This just means that all my thoughts and notes and work is in one place, and though I may cross out what I don't like or don't use, it's still there. Not deleted, or screwed up and thrown in the bin. So when I'm short of inspiration, I can look back through, and sometimes find little bits of magic that didn't get used first time.

I write with a cartridge pen, with real ink (Parker, blue, washable). I find the thoughts flow onto the paper better with real ink...

I like structure. I much prefer to be given a theme, or style to work with. But when it's my own choice, I like to choose a form to work with. (Free Verse frightens me in so many ways!)



The next, biggest, step for me is research...

The requirements for the form the nuts and bolts of meter, stanzas, repetitions etc. Then I can map out the poem on paper. I typically number the lines down the left and the right of the page, with gaps for the stanza breaks, and at the end of each (or mid) line, I write the letters relating to the rhyme scheme (if required), and then at the top of the page, and between each stanza mark out the meter, usually with dots and dashes, separating each foot with vertical lines.

Typical themes and tones and language for the form. Then I can look for that spark; a feeling or emotion that resonates within me. This doesn't necessarily mean that everything I write is from personal experience, just that it is from the outset something that works on a linguistic and an emotional level.

Examples of the form. I try and take a cross section of writers who have used the form, and I look for both similarities and differences from poem to poem, and from writer to writer, and look at their adherence (or lack of) to the requirements of the form.

Critique. By looking at examples critically, and applying interpretation theories, I try to uncover the layers in existing examples, looking beyond the literal meanings. There are many literary notes sites out there; I recently discovered one that I really like, http://www.shmoop.com/poetry/. Although literary notes sites like this give you neither your own emotional nor intellectual responses to a poem, I find it useful to look at the recognised mechanics of interpretation of existing pieces, to give me some idea of each form's potential.

By this point I'm usually exhausted, paranoid that I've not even started writing yet, and so fed up with the form that I could quite happily never write another poem again!

But I've armed myself with all the necessary tools; the map/plan, the feeling/mood, and the history, magnitude and potential for the form.


The writing process the easy bit.

Sometimes I'll start right away, with a word, a phrase, a colour, a plot. Other times I'll wake up in the night with a rhyming couplet. Sometimes I have to work harder, and really look for inspiration, in art or in nature, but often it's a hard graft of creating my theme and ideas purely using language, finding words that evoke responses that suit the form, and then grafting these like filigree into the patterns of the form and meter. My weapons of choice are www.thesaurus.com and www.rhymezone.com.

I guess I'm pretty lucky in that I think in iambic, but I have studied poetry on and off for a long, long time. And though I admit that sometimes I do take the easy option (like writing a sonnet), I try whenever possible to challenge myself, to think and write outside my comfort zone, that's the only way I will improve as a writer the poetry tournament both last and this year has really pushed me to do this, and to submit work that I might otherwise have given up on.

Some genres favour one meter over another. Words have a natural meter. When using thesaurus.com or rhymezone.com, it is always important to remember that just because a word has the correct number of syllables, that doesn't necessarily mean that it will fit into the desired metrical pattern.

I like to write lists of words which fit my theme, and words that rhyme with those words. It's often necessary to count how many different rhymes a word will need early on, and I often put in potential last words at the end of each line first, to give me an idea of structure (it usually ends up completely different, but it's a starting point).

Language never ceases to amaze me; words can create pictures, and feelings, and can become experiences. I've been looking at Japanese literature, and the theory that a word can evoke the whole range of meanings of the contexts that it has ever been used in. This changed my whole perception of our use of clichs. And I have long been interested in the duplicity of meaning from my days of Latin studies. I try to evoke beauty and multiplicity of meaning in my linguistic usage in both poetry and prose.

Simile and metaphor are age-old techniques, but ones that define 'western' poetry, and can always be made fresh and relevant. Sonnets are a great example, they are by their very nature metaphors. I guess that nature is something that is universal, and comparisons draw the reader into the mood of the poem, but metaphors don't necessarily have to come from the natural world.

Some poems tell a story, others are not meant to. If there's going to be a progressive storyline throughout, I try to delineate it into stanzas early on, and though I may make changes to this, again its something to work with. And knowing what's coming next allows me to foreshadow what is still to come in previous stanzas. It also means that I don't have to work chronologically.

One of my main pitfalls has been getting too attached to a line or a phrase. I need often to remind myself that one line doesn't make a poem! (And that I can always use it again in another incarnation on another day). Likewise there are phrases and words that I overuse, sometimes because they rhyme well, other times because they evoke the right mood or feeling, and sometimes just because I like them, and should probably remember for my future writing that just because I like something, doesn't mean I have to use it!


Ok, so the next step must be reading. Getting someone else to read it is helpful, but also distancing myself from it for a few hours (or a day or more, if the deadline allows!), and then returning to it. Sometimes there's glaringly obvious mistakes; meter, rhyming, or sense, sometimes there are bits that just don't sit quite right. The sense must be paramount, and tenses should be consistent, the rhymes and the meter enhance the sense and the experience of the piece, so should not appear contrived.

I know that some readers take issue with contractions and poetic constructs. These don't offend me, as they don't detract from the sense, and often allow for a more perfect rendering of meter. And conversely, as a reader I don't like to be expected to read a poem 'in meter', so I find it important that as a writer that I make my meter as accurate as possible.

It is great if you can get someone to critique your work before you submit it, but more often than not, the first critique you get is from the voters...


Submit - this is the hardest bit!

Countless revisions later, when my poem is ready (I always put it onto wordpad, first, and sort out all my formatting and inverted commas), I've got to bite the bullet and press the submit button! (triple checking before I do, as I've struggled editing a piece once it's been submitted!).

**

So, that's it. I read, read, read, read, write, then read some more (with a fair amount of worry and stress).

Comments and critique are how we learn from our mistakes, but by the nature and structure of the game, it is comments that we receive, rather than commentary. So I find that it is rare that I find out whether I achieved all that I set out to do, in terms of a reader's interpretation and appreciation. But then I suppose there is no reason why one shouldn't seek this informative view elsewhere, for once entered here a poem need not only exist within this context.

All creative disciplines are subjective by nature. While we strive for perfection, it is not achievable; there will always be one voter who will score you a 9 amid a plethora of 10s (or more likely a 5 in a plethora of 6s). I would be lying if I said I don't take it personally. And there are days when the votes come in and I wonder why I wasted my time. Yet the next day I'm writing, drawing, making, photographing...



Paint your pictures with words :)

men, monsters angels and gods...
namestolen said 1 year ago 11/30/2012 3:38:38 PM EDT

akhenatenator,

Thank you so much for this!
I appreciate reading how you go about writing.
Your entries reflect that you put a lot of work into them.
This explanation merely proves what is already apparent.
You set for the rest of us a very high standard.
I, for one, appreciate the challenge.

akhenatenator said 1 year ago 12/1/2012 2:48:27 PM EDT

+ in reply to...  

Thanks, kind words... but I am still hoping for an 8+ score in any writing contest.

I didn't realise I had written so much.
Method in the madness... or madness in the method?

Fanatic's advice beats any of mine :)

The iamb saunters through my book;
Trochees rush and tumble.
If the anapests run like a scurrying brook,
Dactyls are stately and classical.


Love it!

men, monsters angels and gods...
Global CouncilArena AdminFanatic said 1 year ago 12/2/2012 12:44:52 AM EDT

Ah, not mine, though. It's a ditty taught in poetry classes. Clever ditty, though, huh?

These stories don't mean anything when you've got no one to tell them to
KatDanson said 1 year ago 1/11/2013 11:17:24 PM EDT

As usual, I'm way behind the times. Just now reading this thread. I can't believe how hard you all work writing poetry. I would have given up before getting a single word written! I don't have enough attention span for all that organization. Nope! Usually I either force myself to think about it for a few minutes so I can come up with a starting phrase, or else I think of a phrase while I'm driving or taking a shower, then try really hard to remember it until I can do something about it.

Once I have a phrase (or maybe just a word), I sit down and start writing lines to go with it. I only like to write metered, rhyming poetry, so I don't have quite as many deicions to make. Sometimes I write on my computer with Rhymezone on one tab and dictionary.com on another. I sort of get the format decided while I'm writing. Sometimes I write on paper instead, and when I'm stuck, I write down a bunch of words that rhyme with the one I have and pick the one I like best to work with. If I can't make it work, I pick a different one. Sometimes I change the base word instead. It's also pretty common for the poem to be about something entirely different than what I intended because I can't say exactly what I meant to and make it fit the rhythm and rhyme. No worries... I'm flexible. I just change my mind about what I wanted to say. ;)

Once I have it written, I read it out loud to see if I've messed up the rhythm, which I usually have. Then I work on the lines that need work. The process usually takes about an hour from start to finish. I'll come back from time to time and tweak it a little, usually up until contest time, sometimes long after. That probably adds another 15-30 minutes. Some poems take longer than that, like the fables, which have taken 2-3 hours each, or the epic poem, which took me ungodly numbers of hours. :P

The last thing I do is sit back and gaze lovingly at the masterpiece before me with the absolute perfect meter, best rhymes, and most clever content ever -- right before I find out it's actually a total clunker. HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

(I'm sure this last bit is a pretty common sort of Worth theme, in all the arenas....)

You can find me in the Text section. Hey, where'd it go?
AlexEnglish said 1 year ago 1/26/2013 2:19:16 AM EDT

I once took a response I had written to someone in a forum about something or other, structured it such that it looked like a poem, changed a couple words here and there such that it had a few clever, prosey bits to it and then threw it on a writer's blog-site under the heading of poetry, and people gushed over it.

Most people, and often times the same people who also write it, don't know how to read poetry, let alone write it.

Good poetry, outside of the epic poems of yore (we'll include Shakespeare in this category, but I was more hinting at the works of Poe, Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, etc), isn't analyzed. It's written.

Poetry is the 'oil on canvas' of writing. It is a form which is designed to evoke emotion by evoking imagery which causes an emotional response.

If you gotta work that hard at it, you're not a poet. There's nothing wrong with that (I hope). I'm also not a poet.

In my experience, though, the only good poets are dead poets - nature of the beast, I think.