How to Write Poetry – Avoiding Costly Mistakes when Writing

There are things to avoid when you are writing poetry. Yes, we all know of the first obvious one – cliché. I mean, do you really want to sound like any other person writing about the agony of love? No, well then forget about all your favorite phrases and little catchall choruses you have heard in a thousand pop songs and think when you write. Think about your inner dialogue when you are in love. Do you really sound like a million others’? If so, you seriously need to read some more or do something other than visit on Facebook.

The second thing you should avoid at all cost is to not end a poem with a line that gives away your entire piece in one line. You have spent a lot of time starting with the right words. You have managed to gently lead your reader into your heart. They have shared the slow beats of contentment with your lover and the moments of rest you experienced with your eloquent use of sound, rhythm and rhyme and you have dragged them along when you fell into that darkness of being alone again. Do you really want to end the poem with a line like this?

Your callous smile broke my heart when you broke away from me.

That is a bad line in so many ways that I don’t even want to go there.

The third thing you can do to thoroughly destroy a poem is to use a word that doesn’t really fit into your poem just because you can’t think of any other word that rhymes. You have become stuck with true rhyme and have forgotten all the other options you might have used. There are words that sound the same that do not look like they rhyme that might have served you better. Choosing to look at your structure at that point in the poem where you sacrificed art for rhyme would have been a much better idea.

Using olde English will not help you either. I found a quote on poetryfoundation.org that made me laugh so much that I had to share it with you:

If you use these words, thou hast waved a banner that doth proclaim: “I possesseth nary a clue. Please publisheth not my poem.

I thought that was worthwhile adding to this article. So, please avoid doth, dost, thou, thy, wither etc as no one reads words like this anymore unless they want to read Shakespeare.

When you start to make up words like disidentify to rhyme with wry, it shows the editor that you do not have any vocabulary to complete your piece and that you are not prepared to go in search of one. It also shows that you are not comfortable with English and therefore the editor might feel, with good reason, that you will have this same problem with all your work. He or she might choose to not work with you at all. If you can write something that uses nonsense words in a context where they fit, then you might attract attention and people might think you are clever, but believe me that it will not convey the same message if you do this in a piece that needs good English words.

Make sure that your perspective or your narrator does not change mid poem. If you entire poem is in second person, then dropping second person indiscriminately and changing it to third person, is not effective and shows that you have little idea of consistency. Write a poem to your lover and do not change it half way to write to your readers. Concentrate on where you are going and what your aim is and stick to your plan. Poets much better than you or I could use this tool intentionally, but it takes practice and knowing how to use it effectively for it to work. This also goes for theme. Do not change your theme halfway or your tense. Stick to present tense if you started with present tense and stick to active voice if you started in active voice. Read your poem twenty times if you need to, to eliminate mistakes like this.

When you write a sad poem, stick to the sad things you could show your reader. Do not suddenly change the tone from sad to hilariously funny if you intended for the reader to want to jump off a bridge by the end of your poem. The other way around is also quite destructive – when you are writing a humorous piece about your gay friend who has always made you laugh (example), do not include his tragic death in the end of the poem. You wanted to share his sense of humor and instead everyone is crying. Ask a friend to read your poem and check if you have done any of this.

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