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How To Write A Poem

This article will teach the reader how to write a poem that can get top grades, or even win awards.  There are many different ways to write poems, and there are many different kinds of poems that one can write.  Throughout this article we will look at specific pieces of poetry and specific kinds of poetry, and from those, we will develop a method – and ideas – to produce amazing poetry.

How To Write a Poem Step 1: Deciding which type of poem you want to write

Before doing any writing, you need to decide what kind of poem to write.  There are many different forms of poetry, from basic free verse to very complex, specific forms like cinquains or Italian sonnets.

So which one should you choose to write?

Of course, if you have an assignment to write a specific form, you should follow that assignment. In that case, you can skip this step.

However, if you’re writing for fun – or you have an open ended assignment – you won’t have a specific form that you need to choose.  So you need to determine which form best suits your writing style.

Let’s take a look at some of the more common forms that you may choose:

Free Verse – A poem that has no specific form.

Sonnet – A lyric poem that consists of 14 lines which usually have one or more conventional rhyme schemes.

Haiku – A Japanese poem composed of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five more, usually containing a season word.

Rhyme – A rhyming poem has the repetition of the same or similar sounds of two or more words, often at the end of the line.

Limerick – A short sometimes vulgar, humorous poem consisting of five anapestic lines. Lines 1, 2, and 5 have seven to ten syllables, rhyme and have the same verbal rhythm. The 3rd and 4th lines have five to seven syllables, rhyme and have the same rhythm.

Each of these poetry forms have their own intricacies, so we will look at them all separately in the following steps.

For now, though, we need to determine how to pick a form that works well for us.  The quickest form to write is the Haiku, since it only has three lines and few syllables.  But given that it’s so short, it’s also very difficult to write a Haiku that really stands out in a sea of others. 

Limericks are similar, in that they’re relatively short and less taxing to produce.  But they tend to sound more childish and humorous.  If you’re looking to write something that gets top marks and wins awards, a limerick is not your best bet.

So we’re left with sonnets, rhymes, and free verse. 

Picking between these forms is a bit more difficult.  Your selection will be based on how comfortable you are with writing without rules.  If you prefer to have some structure, you may want to go for a sonnet, as it is more structured than the other two forms.

But if you are comfortable with not having a structure, you can write a free verse or rhyming poem.  It is much easier to create a poem that stands out using those forms, since you are starting with a blank canvas, and you have as much length as you’d like.

Which form would you like to choose?

[  ] free verse

[  ] rhyming

[  ] sonnet

[  ] haiku

[  ] limerick

[  ] other

How To Write a Poem Step 2: Choosing a Topic to Write About

Once you have chosen a form for your poem, you have to choose a topic to write about.  This will depend on the form you chose. In this section, we learn the specifics of how to write a poem.

If you have been given an assignment to write about a certain topic, you can skip this step.  However, if you have an open-ended assignment, determining a topic to write on can be one of the most difficult steps.

There are some topics that work particularly well with certain forms of poem.  For example, if you are writing a limerick, you may want to stick to certain, more light and humorous topics.  Haikus work well when geared toward the environment – describing a place or object.

To select a topic, the best thing to do is take a set of note cards and map out your options.  To do this, first choose a general theme.  Click here to see a giant list of poetry themes.  Here are some of the easiest ones to start with:

Feelings: love, hate, …

Objects/things: treasured keepsakes, nature, pets, …

People: famous people, family members, …

And here are some deeper themes that you may want to try out (these often produce excellent poetry):

  • Death/births
  • Poverty
  • War
  • Jealousy
  • Unrequited love
  • Fear
  • Beginnings/endings
  • Family bonds

Write each of these words on a note card.  Then below them, write any ideas, stories, feelings, or anything else that comes to mind when you think of them.

Once you have done that, try to narrow the theme down to a specific idea.  For example, say you start with “people”, and you write down a list of people who are important to you.  Then think about how those people affected you.  For instance, if your father left when you were young, put that down. 

From there, you have to start writing about the feelings and emotions that that idea creates.  Take a separate index card and write down all of the words and phrases, and memories that come to mind when you think about that particular idea.

Then, take a step back and look at what you’ve written. If you wrote down something that is particularly interesting, choose that.  Otherwise, you can write about the general idea.

How To Write a Poem Step 3: Take a Look at What Others Have Written

At this point, it’s useful to see what others have written.  This can help you refine your idea, and it can help you come up with imagery or emotions that you hadn’t previously thought of. 

Don’t worry too much about the form just yet.  Just look at how other writers have approached the topic you chose. Pay close attention to the images that the author depicts, and the word choice.  See if there is a specific voice or style that you like.

To do this, you can look through the many poems on our site here.

Or you can search poems of all different topics here

Once you have found a few examples that you like, and have studied them, it’s sometimes helpful to also look at other examples of poetry of the particular form you chose.  This will help you get into the mindset of writing in that particular form, and it will help you get the feel of the form.

You can find examples of many different forms of poetry in our poetry forms section.

How To Write a Poem Step 4: Pick Up the Pen

You have how reached step 4 of 'how to write a poem': getting ready to write. 

Take the note card that you filled out before, with all of the images and phrases that came to mind.  This will be the basis for your poem.

On a new sheet of paper, expand on each idea/image/phrase that you wrote on the note card.  You should end up with a giant sheet covered with words.  Find your favorite from the sheet, and write that down.  That will be the beginning of the poem.

When you’re writing, don’t be too concerned about each individual word or line.  We will go back and edit everything later. 

For now, just write what comes to you, even if you don’t love it.  Just keep writing and see what else comes. 

If You’re Writing a Haiku…

If you’re writing a haiku, you need to follow a specific rhythm.  That is, you must write three lines: the first with 5 syllables, the second with 7 syllables, and the third with 5 again. 

If you don’t know where to start, try one of these templates:

Template 1

I am [insert three syllables here],

You and I [insert 4 syllables here],

Time to [insert 3 syllables here].

Template 2

The [insert one syllable thing] [insert one syllable action] in [insert one syllable thing],

[insert 1 syllable thing] is just a [insert 3 syllable thing],

[insert 3 syllable action], my friend.

Use the words and phrases you wrote on the piece of paper, and find ones that fit in the blanks in the templates above.

You can find example haikus here.

If You’re Writing a Sonnet, Limerick Or Rhyming Poem…

If you are writing a sonnet – or any rhyming poem – you will need to come up with rhymes for each line.  You can do that using our rhyming tool.  The rhyming tool will help you find words that rhyme with a given word.

A sonnet requires a special rhyming scheme (the scheme depends on which type of sonnet you are writing). 

Getting started when writing sonnets can be particularly difficult, especially if you don’t have a specific topic to write about.  So if you need help getting started, try beginning with one of these lines:

If I shall…

A day, a week, eternity…

It is forever…

I fear a world…

A time of…

I recount to you…

And when you…

Know who is…

If you are writing a limerick, and you need help getting started, here is a very simple template:

There once was a [person] named [name],
She had no idea what to [verb rhyming with name],
On one [description] day,
She learned how to say,
I know that may name is [name]!

Tips and Tricks For All Poetry Forms

Regardless of the form of poetry that you have chosen, there are several rules and guidelines that you can follow in order to make your poem stand out.

  • Be descriptive and use images – Always try to envision your poem.  Choose words and phrases that create images in the reader’s head. 

  •  Use simile/analogy – Make the reader experience what you’re describing by comparing it to something they know. For example, “the wind tore through the trees like a child tearing a piece of paper.”

  • Use sound – here are some onomatopoeia examples: babble, cough, gargle, hiccup, hum, knock, screech, smack, thump, oof, bang, boom, beep, ding, fizz, flutter, honk, kaboom, ping, plop, slosh, splash, swish, squish, tick, tock, zap, whoosh, flip, flop.

How To Write a Poem Step 5: Edit Your Poem

Now it’s time to go back and edit your poem.  Read it carefully, and if you can, read it aloud to a friend.  Listen as you read the poem and feel the rhythm.  If something doesn’t feel right, make a change. 

Read each word to see if it creates the image you’re trying to portray.  If the word is too general, or doesn’t help build an image, remove it or change it.

If you have a concept that’s difficult to describe, try to come up with analogy or better way of conveying it to your readers.

After you’ve done all of this, you should be very happy with your poem.  If not, go back and make additional edits.   

How To Write a Poem Step 6: Choose the Right Title

Now that you have written the poem and edited it, it’s time to title it.  Generally, unless you’re an experienced writer, you’re best off with a 2-4 word title. 

In learning how to write a poem, the title is extremely important, and it often gets overlooked because of time constraints.

There’s a really easy way to come up with a title: If there is a specific phrase in your poem that you like a lot, you can simply use that as a title. 

However, you’re better off thinking carefully about the poem and what it means before coming up with a title.  If you need help getting started, here are some starting points:

A tale of…

Today, I am…

The [verb ending in –ing] of [word]…

Finding [word]…

[phrase] Epiphany…


How To Write a Poem Step 7: You're Done

You're done! Congratulations...you have written a great poem. You have now learned how to write a poem like a writer. Please come back to this page for future help on poetry writing, and use the other tools on this site to help you write.