Writing tips for young poets

14 Jul

Fountain penI’ve seen a lot of stuff by young, promising up-and-coming poets lately, and some of it’s blown me away. Some of it has been so close but in need of a little more work.

For the former group I have only awe and envy. For the latter group I’ve come up with some pointers. This list isn’t comprehensive, but I think it’s a good start:

  • Listen to and read lots of poetry written by more experienced writers.
  • DO NOT WRITE ABOUT THE FACT THAT YOU’RE WRITING.
  • Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
  • Use your experiences to connect with others, not to prove you’re a special snowflake.
  • Try out a little bit of everything and find what fits you.
  • Workshop your writing with other writers.
  • Edit multiple times to polish.

Listen to and read lots of poetry written by more experienced writers.
No-brainer. Learn from the best.

DO NOT WRITE ABOUT THE FACT THAT YOU’RE WRITING.
Recently I’ve seen a lot of young poets writing about how good their writing is, and how the fact that they’re writing makes them special… and when I heard this I realised I hadn’t written about the fact that I was writing for a few years, but I used to do it all the time.

My writing got a lot better when I started writing about stuff, rather than this weird, closed circuit of writing about “I’m so special because I use a pen”.

Allow yourself to be vulnerable. 
When I got the balls to allow myself to be vulnerable on stage I found audiences were much more responsive. I had a gig last week where a stranger greeted me as I came off stage with “can I hug you?” That never happened when it was just sarcastic rants.

For examples of great and vulnerable poems see this, this, and this.

Use your experiences to connect with others, not to prove you’re a special snowflake.
In very young poets I’ve often seen adversity worn as armor with a kind of ‘the fuck would you know about it?‘ attitude. Your experiences – if they’re things you want to share in your poetry – should be things you want to draw other people into so that they understand more about you/that thing/the world. If they’re unusual or difficult and no one else in the audience has likely been through it: then let us know what it’s like –  explain it so we feel it – we’re all ears. Otherwise you’re just alienating your audience.

Try out a little bit of everything and find what fits you.
Sonnets might not be your thing, but your writing skills are a muscle which will get stronger with practice. Try a bit of everything for overall improvement, not just focusing on your quads or your biceps or whatever. You don’t have to share the results every time, but your overall writing will improve from the practice.

Workshop your writing with other writers.
This is the single best thing you can do. If there’s nothing nearby you in real life, look online: post your stuff, get other’s feedback, and listen to it. You don’t have to make every change people suggest, but other people will notice your blind spots and weak spots and help you strengthen them, or edit them out, and polish up the whole.

Edit multiple times to polish.
I’ve started saving my poetry documents as Poem Name_1, or Poem Name_2, etc for the different drafts. Some of my best poems are now saved as Poem Name_10. One of the best ways of editing spoken word, for me, is to record it on my phone, and listen to it back on my headphones as I’m walking about. When you’re reading something off the page you’re ‘driving’ – when you’re listening to it being read back you’re more of a passenger, so you can look around more, and you’ll start to spot things you didn’t see on the journey when you were the one behind the wheel.

Any other tips? Add them in the comments below.

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