Becoming a poet is no simple task, but with careful attention to language and the world around us, anyone can learn to write poetry. Even so, sitting down to put feelings to stanzas can seem impossible. With so many possibilities to tinker with language, where does the poet even begin?
Whether you’ve just begun your writing journey, or whether you’ve been writing for yourself for a few years, the idea of calling yourself a poet can sound intimidating. But with the right pointers and hard work, anyone can take their writing to the next level.
So just how do you become a poet? Simply follow these nine simple tips!
9 Tips on Becoming a Poet
1. How to Become a Poet: Learn to Write Poetry in a Writing Class
Whether you’re a beginner or someone who’s been writing for years, a writing class is always one of the best ways to learn to write poetry. Writing classes comprise a variety of learning formats—such as discussions, lectures, and workshops—and are sure to help you develop your range as a writer.
Writing classes are especially valuable as they are designed and taught by writers who are currently publishing and have experience in the contemporary poetry landscape. There may be shelves of books on the craft of writing at the bookstore, but nothing beats the personalized comments and tips that a working writer is able to give you.
Nothing beats the personalized advice that a working writer is able to give you.
In addition to personalization, writing classes offer the structure and accountability that most beginning writers—and even writers with a few years of experience—benefit from. Writing courses also offer a supportive community—writing is difficult, but seems much less impossible when you’re not doing it alone! Speaking from personal experience, being in a writing course as either a student or instructor never fails to fuel my passion for the written word.
Before you sign up for a writing class, however, I would suggest that you do some research. Some questions to ask include: who’s teaching? Are there prerequisites? What is the class size? If you’re looking for an online writing class, this guide offers some great tips!
2. How to Become a Poet: Read
Whether you’re a student of writing or an established writer, reading is absolutely essential to learning to write poetry. A writer reads not just for the purposes of enjoyment, but also to learn and expand their range. This is not to say that reading for enjoyment is less important than reading for technique—I often find that I am most motivated to write when I read something that inspires me.
Read critically: slow down and ask what a poem is doing and how it’s doing it.
To learn writing techniques from published work, it is important to read critically. This often entails slowing down and asking questions about what a poem is doing and how it is doing it. For a beginner’s guide to reading like a writer, do check out this article. If you have more time, I recommend getting yourself a copy of Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer: a Guide for People who Love Books and for those who Want to Write Them.
Reading is an opportunity not just to refine your aesthetic inclinations, but also to expand your repertoire and idea of what poetry is and can be. It’s important to know what’s out there, what’s already been done, and what’s possible. Learning and stretching yourself is crucial to the journey of becoming a poet.
3. How to Become a Poet: Generate Writing
As you learn how to write poetry, writing—whether that’s journaling, generating writing, or drafting—often goes hand in hand with reading. Generating writing, however, is often easier said than done; it can be especially difficult if you’re just starting out or returning to your writer’s notebook after a break from writing. Writing is a practice, which means the more you do it, the smoother the process will be, and the easier it will be to start.
To make starting easier, keep a journal of observations. Writing prompts are also a good way to kickstart your imagination.
To make starting easier, I recommend keeping a journal of observations. This keeps your writing muscles engaged and provides you with raw material to work from when you sit down to write.
If you’re in need of inspiration, writing prompts are always a good way to kickstart your imagination. Writing exercises can also be a great way to expand your repertoire, as they challenge you to do something you might otherwise not do. If you’re in need of prompts (and a supportive community!), our Facebook group is always a great resource!
4. How to Become a Poet: Get Curious About the Field
Becoming a poet means becoming an active practitioner in the field of poetry. Therefore, it’s important for poets to learn about existing literary traditions and practices—not just to follow, but also to build on and even subvert.
Study a range of different types of poetry and poets from different time periods and places.
Getting curious about the field of poetry also means becoming more intentional about crafting a reading list. As you learn to write poetry, you should study a range of different types of poetry and poets from different time periods and places.
With that said, one of the traps that beginner poets often get into is being overambitious with their reading list. Thus, I recommend starting small. Perhaps, rather than assembling a list of twenty books to read within the year, check out the writing tips section of our website once a week, especially this article on how to craft a poem. Or, visit the website of an unfamiliar literary magazine each month to get a sense of what’s being published, and where. (Lit Hub and The Marginalian are great resources!)
5. How to Become a Poet: Look for Models
The writing journey can sometimes feel lonely. Because there is no single, right way to write, the path to becoming a poet can also feel directionless. In times like these, I find learning about different poets’ life journeys particularly encouraging.
What I have learned by reading memoirs of writing is that the writing life is highly individual, and that there are myriad ways to become a poet. These memoirs often inspire me to try something I could never have thought about, or to think more deeply about the relationship between my writing practice and my life. Reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, for example, I was struck by how integral the practice of running is to Haruki Murakami’s writing life.
Interviews, too, are particularly illuminating. It was through interviews that I first learned that the first pieces Suzan-Lori Parks wrote were not plays, but songs; that Anne Carson’s first poetry collection began when she was titling a series of paintings she had done; that Toni Morrison first began honing her craft not as a writer, but as an editor.
You might also be interested in Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, which philosophizes about the writing life and the work of being a poet. You can read his first letter here.
Identify a few of your favorite poets, research their journeys to becoming a poet, and journal about your findings.
Looking at different models of the writing life is a way for the beginner writer to learn about what’s possible and to find themselves in a lineage of writers. It also shows you that there’s no one way to become a poet. There are writers who insist that a project has to be completed within three months in order for it to retain its shine, and others who work on one book for five or six years, even ten.
For a writing exercise, I recommend identifying a few of your favorite poets, doing research on their journeys to becoming a poet, and journaling about your findings. In addition to memoirs and interviews, other good sources to look out for include video interviews, magazine profiles, and biographies. As you read, pay attention to what they might have to say to the question, “How do you become a poet?”
6. How to Become a Poet: Draft & Revise
A poem almost never emerges fully formed. In almost every case, a poem is the result of lots of drafting and revisions. As a whole, the writing process is time-consuming and often even painstaking.
No matter which stage of their career a writer is at, this aspect of the writing process will almost always remain constant, a fact affirmed by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Stephen King has written about doing two or three drafts, while Elizabeth Bishop wrote sixteen drafts of “One Art.” (Check out this blog post for all sixteen drafts!)
The goal of revisions is to achieve more clarity in your intentions and to be more precise in your use of language.
The goal of revisions is not necessarily to “improve” your poem by using fancier words or more original metaphors. Rather, it is to achieve more clarity in your intentions and to be more precise in your use of language. It is also through the revision process that one can learn to write poetry, as revisions force you to both experiment with making different choices and assess how these choices create different effects in your poem. Revisions refine not just the intent and impact of a particular poem, but also your craft as a poet.
7. How to Become a Poet: Attend a Writing Workshop
A good writing workshop, facilitated well, can be one of the most important tools in the writing process.
Writing workshops are spaces where writers come together to read and provide constructive feedback on one another’s works-in-progress. While it may sound intimidating, a good writing workshop, when facilitated well, can be one of the most important tools in the writing process. In addition to providing you with a sense of how readers may react to your poem, workshops also help build writing communities. Check out our list of upcoming poetry courses if you’re interested in becoming a workshop participant!
8. How to Become a Poet: Gain Publishing Experience
For your first foray into publishing, submit individual poems to literary magazines, rather than entire manuscripts to publishers.
This is, without a doubt, one of the most challenging steps to becoming a poet, but as with anything, it gets easier with time! For beginning poets, I recommend submitting individual poems to literary magazines—rather than entire manuscripts to publishers—for your first foray into publishing.
Submitting to a literary magazine gives you a sense of the publishing and editing process; accumulated, experiences with such aspects of publishing as signing contracts and navigating the writer-editor relationship will certainly help when you decide you’re ready to publish a whole book.
9. How to Become a Poet: Participate in the Community
Check out what’s happening locally: at local bookstores, museums and galleries, or colleges and universities.
Finally, one of the most helpful things an aspiring poet can do is to attend literary events, such as readings or panel conversations. While you can certainly attend annual conferences like AWP, it’s always a good idea to check out what’s happening locally.
Begin by doing research on events happening around you in-person or even online. Some good places to look include your local bookstore, museums and galleries, or the college or university in your town, which may offer events open to the public. Participating in the writing community is an important education in how to become a poet, and could be a great way for you to meet other writers!
Learn to Write Poetry at Writers.com
Now that you know how to become a poet, all you need to do is start! Don’t be discouraged if your writing journey doesn’t pan out the way you expect it to—creativity is as much about discipline and planning as it is about being open to possibilities.