Poetry Writing Tips: 10 Helpful Hacks for How to Write a Poem

Jerz > Writing > General Creative Writing TipsPoetry | Fiction ]

If you are writing a poem because you want to capture a feeling that you experienced, then you don’t need these tips. Just write whatever feels right. Only you experienced the feeling that you want to express, so only you will know whether your poem succeeds.

If, however, your goal is to communicate with a reader — drawing on the established conventions of a literary genre (conventions that will be familiar to the experienced reader) to generate an emotional response in your reader — then simply writing what feels right to you won’t be enough.  (See also “Poetry is for the Ear” and “When Backwards Newbie Poets Write.”)

These tips will help you make an important transition:

  • away from writing poetry to celebrate, commemorate, or capture your own feelings (in which case you, the poet, are the center of the poem’s universe)
  • towards writing poetry in order to generate feelings in your reader (in which case the poem exists entirely to serve the reader).
  1. Poetry: 10 Tips for Writing PoemsKnow Your Goal
  2. Avoid Clichés
  3. Avoid Sentimentality
  4. Use Images
  5. Use Metaphor and Simile
  6. Use Concrete Words Instead of Abstract Words
  7. Communicate Theme
  8. Subvert the Ordinary
  9. Rhyme with Extreme Caution
  10. Revise, Revise, Revise

Tip #1 Know Your Goal.

If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you get there?

You need to know what you are trying to accomplish before you begin any project. Writing a poem is no exception.

Before you begin, ask yourself what you want your poem to “do.” Do you want your poem to explore a personal experience, protest a social injustice, describe the beauty of nature, or play with language in a certain way? Once your know the goal of your poem, you can conform your writing to that goal. Take each main element in your poem and make it serve the main purpose of the poem.

Tip #2 Avoid Clichés

Stephen Minot defines a cliché as: “A metaphor or simile that has become so familiar from overuse that the vehicle … no longer contributes any meaning whatever to the tenor. It provides neither the vividness of a fresh metaphor nor the strength of a single unmodified word….The word is also used to describe overused but nonmetaphorical expressions such as ‘tried and true’ and ‘each and every'” (Three Genres: The Writing of Poetry, Fiction and Drama, 405).

Cliché also describes other overused literary elements. “Familiar plot patterns and stock characters are clichés on a big scale” (Minot 148). Clichés can be overused themes, character types, or plots. For example, the “Lone Ranger” cowboy is a cliché because it has been used so many times that people no longer find it original.

A work full of clichés is like a plate of old food: unappetizing.

Creative Writing Tips

More creative writing tips.

Clichés work against original communication. People value creative talent. They want to see work that rises above the norm. When they see a work without clichés, they know the writer has worked his or her tail off, doing whatever it takes to be original. When they see a work full to the brim with clichés, they feel that the writer is not showing them anything above the ordinary. (In case you hadn’t noticed, this paragraph is chock full of clichés… I’ll bet you were bored to tears.)

Clichés dull meaning. Because clichéd writing sounds so familiar, people can finish whole lines without even reading them. If they don’t bother to read your poem, they certainly won’t stop to think about it. If they do not stop to think about your poem, they will never encounter the deeper meanings that mark the work of an accomplished poet.

Examples of Clichés:

  • busy as a bee
  • tired as a dog
  • working my fingers to bone
  • beet red
  • on the horns of a dilemma
  • blind as a bat
  • eats like a horse
  • eats like a bird

How to Improve a Cliché

I will take the cliché “as busy as a bee” and show how you can express the same idea without cliché.

  1. Determine what the clichéd phrase is trying to say.
    In this case, I can see that “busy as a bee” is a way to describe the state of being busy.
  2. Think of an original way to describe what the cliché is trying to describe.
    For this cliché, I started by thinking about busyness. I asked myself the question, “What things are associated with being busy?” I came up with: college, my friend Jessica, corporation bosses, old ladies making quilts and canning goods, and a computer, fiddlers fiddling. From this list, I selected a thing that is not as often used in association with busyness: violins.
  3. Create a phrase using the non-clichéd way of description.
    I took my object associated with busyness and turned it into a phrase: “I feel like a bow fiddling an Irish reel.” This phrase communicates the idea of “busyness” much better than the worn-out, familiar cliché. The reader’s mind can picture the insane fury of the bow on the violin, and know that the poet is talking about a very frenzied sort of busyness. In fact, those readers who know what an Irish reel sounds like may even get a laugh out of this fresh way to describe “busyness.”

Try it! Take a cliché and use these steps to improve it. You may even end up with a line you feel is good enough to put in a poem!

Tip #3 Avoid Sentimentality.

Sentimentality is “dominated by a blunt appeal to the emotions of pity and love …. Popular subjects are puppies, grandparents, and young lovers” (Minot 416). “When readers have the feeling that emotions like rage or indignation have been pushed artificially for their own sake, they will not take the poem seriously” (132).

Minot says that the problem with sentimentality is that it detracts from the literary quality of your work (416). If your poetry is mushy or teary-eyed, your readers may openly rebel against your effort to invoke emotional response in them. If that happens, they will stop thinking about the issues you want to raise, and will instead spend their energy trying to control their own gag reflex.

Tip #4 Use Images.

“BE A PAINTER IN WORDS,” says UWEC English professor emerita, poet, and songwriter Peg Lauber. She says poetry should stimulate six senses:

  • sight
  • hearing
  • smell
  • touch
  • taste
  • kinesiology (motion)


  • “Sunlight varnishes magnolia branches crimson” (sight)
  • “Vacuum cleaner’s whir and hum startles my ferret” (hearing)
  • “Penguins lumber to their nests” (kinesiology)

Lauber advises her students to produce fresh, striking images (“imaginative”). Be a camera. Make the reader be there with the poet/speaker/narrator. (See also: “Show, Don’t (Just) Tell“)

Tip #5 Use Metaphor and Simile.

Use metaphor and simile to bring imagery and concrete words into your writing.


A metaphor is a statement that pretends one thing is really something else:

Example: “The lead singer is an elusive salamander.”

This phrase does not mean that the lead singer is literally a salamander. Rather, it takes an abstract characteristic of a salamander (elusiveness) and projects it onto the person. By using metaphor to describe the lead singer, the poet creates a much more vivid picture of him/her than if the poet had simply said “The lead singer’s voice is hard to pick out.”


A simile is a statement where you say one object is similar to another object. Similes use the words “like” or “as.”

Example: “He was curious as a caterpillar” or “He was curious, like a caterpillar”

This phrase takes one quality of a caterpillar and projects it onto a person. It is an easy way to attach concrete images to feelings and character traits that might usually be described with abstract words.

Note: A simile is not automatically any more or less “poetic” than a metaphor. You don’t suddenly produce better poems if you replace all your similes with metaphors, or vice versa. The point to remember is that comparison, inference, and suggestion are all important tools of poetry; similes and metaphors are tools that will help in those areas.

Tip #6 Use Concrete Words Instead of Abstract Words.

Concrete words describe things that people experience with their senses.

  • orange
  • warm
  • cat

A person can see orange, feel warm, or hear a cat.

A poet’s concrete words help the reader get a “picture” of what the poem is talking about. When the reader has a “picture” of what the poem is talking about, he/she can better understand what the poet is talking about.

Abstract words refer to concepts or feelings.

  • liberty
  • happy
  • love

“Liberty” is a concept, “happy” is a feeling, and no one can agree on whether “love” is a feeling, a concept or an action.

A person can’t see, touch, or taste any of these things. As a result, when used in poetry, these words might simply fly over the reader’s head, without triggering any sensory response. Further, “liberty,” “happy,” and “love” can mean different things to different people. Therefore, if the poet uses such a word, the reader may take a different meaning from it than the poet intended.

Change Abstract Words Into Concrete Words

To avoid problems caused by using abstract words, use concrete words.

Example: “She felt happy.”

This line uses the abstract word “happy.” To improve this line, change the abstract word to a concrete image. One way to achieve this is to think of an object or a scene that evokes feelings of happiness to represent the happy feeling.

Improvement: “Her smile spread like red tint on ripening tomatoes.”

This line uses two concrete images: a smile and a ripening tomato. Describing the smile shows the reader something about happiness, rather than simply coming right out and naming the emotion. Also, the symbolism of the tomato further reinforces the happy feelings. Red is frequently associated with love; ripening is a positive natrual process; food is further associated with being satisfied.

Prof. Jerz belabors Kara’s point:

Extension: Now, let’s do something with this image.

She sulked in the garden, reticent...hard;
Unwilling to face his kisses -- or unable.
One autumn morn she felt her sour face
Ripen to a helpless smile, tomato-red.
Her parted lips whispered, "Hello, sunshine!"

OK, the image has gotten embarrassingly obvious now, but you can see how the introduction of the tomato permits us to make many additional connections. While Kara’s original example simply reported a static emotional state — “She felt happy,” the image of the ripening tomato, which Kara introduced as a simple simile to describe a smile, has grown into something much more complex. Regardless of what the word “tomato” invoked in your mind, an abstraction like “happy” can never stretch itself out to become a whole poem, without relying on concrete images. –DGJ

Tip #7 Communicate Theme.

Poetry always has a theme. Theme is not just a topic, but an idea with an opinion.

Theme = Idea + Opinion

Topic: “The Vietnam War”

This is not a theme. It is only a subject. It is just an event. There are no ideas, opinions, or statements about life or of wisdom contained in this sentence

Theme: “History shows that despite our claims to be peace-loving, unfortunately each person secretly dreams of gaining glory through conflict.”

This is a theme. It is not just an event, but a statement about an event. It shows what the poet thinks about the event. The poet strives to show the reader his/her theme during the entire poem, making use of literary techniques.

Tip #8 Subvert the Ordinary.

Poets’ strength is the ability to see what other people see everyday in a new way. You don’t have to be special or a literary genius to write good poems–all you have to do is take an ordinary object, place, person, or idea, and come up with a new perception of it.

Example: People ride the bus everyday.

Poets’ Interpretation: A poet looks at the people on the bus and imagines scenes from their lives. A poet sees a sixty-year old woman and imagines a grandmother who runs marathons. A poet sees a two-year old boy and imagines him painting with ruby nail polish on the toilet seat, and his mother struggling to not respond in anger.

Take the ordinary and turn it on its head. (The word “subvert” literally means “turn upside down”.)

Tip #9 Rhyme with Extreme Caution.

Rhyme and meter (the pattern of stressed and unstressed words) can be dangerous if used the wrong way. Remember sing-song nursery rhymes? If you choose a rhyme scheme that makes your poem sound sing-song, it will detract from the quality of your poem.

I recommend that beginning poets stick to free verse. It is hard enough to compose a poem without dealing with the intricacies of rhyme and meter. (Note: see Jerz’s response to this point, in “Poetry Is For the Ear.”)

If you feel ready to create a rhymed poem, refer to chapters 6-10 of Stephen Minot’s bookThree Genres: The Writing of Poetry, Fiction, and Drama. 6th ed., for more help.

Tip #10 Revise, Revise, Revise.

The first completed draft of your poem is only the beginning. Poets often go through several drafts of a poem before considering the work “done.”

To revise:

  • Put your poem away for a few days, and then come back to it. When you re-read it, does anything seem confusing? Hard to follow? Do you see anything that needs improvement that you overlooked the first time? Often, when you are in the act of writing, you may leave out important details because you are so familiar with the topic. Re-reading a poem helps you to see it from the “outsider’s perspective” of a reader.
  • Show your poem to others and ask for criticism. Don’t be content with a response like, “That’s a nice poem.” You won’t learn anything from that kind of response. Instead, find people who will tell you specific things you need to improve in your poem.

26 May 2000 — originally submitted by Kara Ziehl, as an assignment for Prof. Jerz’s technical writing class
01 Aug 2000 — modified and posted by Jerz
30 Nov 2001 — minor edits by Jerz
21 July 2011 — minor refresh
22 May 2013 — added intro before the tips.
24 Dec 2017 — minor formatting tweaks
09 Apr 2019 — corrected a 1000-year error caused by a typo in the above line

See Also:

HandoutsCreative WritingPoetry Tips

Poetry is for the Ear (jerz.setonhill.edu)

Poetry is for the Ear —Whatever poetry you write or read, learn to listen with the ears of your audience. Pay attention to the sounds the words make, even if you write in free verse.

Short Poems: Little Exquisite Vessels of Thought –A few good lines of verse can pack as much emotional content as a whole paragraph of ordinary prose. Just because a poem is short does not mean writing it is easy.

Getting College Credit for your High School Poems  –Poems that perfectly record how you felt about events in your life probably won’t work as submissions for college writing classes. Most professors will expect you to revise in-progress poems.

About This Page
Kara Ziehl, a UWEC creative writing major, compiled these tips in order to help students in my English 110 (“Introduction to College Writing”) class. I have fine-tuned and expanded her text somewhat, but I think she did an excellent job — this is now required reading for budding student poets in my classes. –DGJ

305 thoughts on “Poetry Writing Tips: 10 Helpful Hacks for How to Write a Poem

  1. Pingback: Introduction to Poetry – Sweetland Minor in Writing Blog

  2. This article is useful. This article provide all information about how to write a poem. For beginners this article is really useful. Recently i read article which is too informative for the students and beginners who are going to start poetry writing.

  3. Love THEY Say is perfect….
    Just as perfect as a kissss?

    Love THEY say is ‘special’ ***
    What a load of shit… #

    Love THEY say is kind.?!
    Is full of uTTer Truth<<<

    love to 'me' is… FUCKED UP….


    To You
    It is a wish°°°°°

    • Please can I remove my name I just wanted to know what people think without knowing anything about me please. I am I don’t expect good comments I just want truth no matter the hate that’s generated…

  4. I want to know what this is all about——09 Apr 2019 — corrected a 1000-year error caused by a typo in the above line

    Here’s a little gift from a newbie with help from this site:

    Eyebrows raised,
    Like an amused kitten at a circus,
    Able to outshine a lion,
    Like a ringmaster who walks a tightrope,
    Leaving the audience in awe,
    Skin prickling,
    Waiting for him to die again.

    Also, there’s this poem, which is what led me to find help on this site since I’m new to poetry: https://medium.com/@crystal_gillis/i-turned-around-18447f1d8ee9

    • For the date of an editorial change, I accidentally typed 1019 or 3019 (I forget which), so I added another editorial change explaining the correction.

      Regarding “Eyebrows”… I did not expect that twist, which caught me by surprise. Well done!

      Regarding “I Turned…” I do like the central theme, though my suggestion is to condense. Yes, you want to get across the idea that the speaker went back to perform this little service, but if you just title the poem “I Turned Around” but start it with you already about to take the action, then end with something like “I went on,” your poem would focus on the improvised ceremony, which is to my mind more original and interesting than the detail about where you parked. It’s like there’s a tracking camera following from inside the car, across the street, then panning down to the bird, but the speaker’s interaction with the bird is the most interesting (and should get a greater proportion of words, in my opinion).

  5. “people can complete finish whole lines without even reading them”
    Did you mean, completely?

    “Poets use concrete words help the reader get a “picture” of what the poem is talking about”
    You forgot a “to” in between “words” and “help”

    Make sure to proof read thoroughly.
    A good reminder that even those who teach make mistakes.
    We are all human, of course.

  6. I’ll make up my idol with my hands.

    Seeds of words shall be planted in the mind lands

    I’ll awake up him.

    The words of eyes the characters, the body language

    He has learned to read him.

    School of ethics

    Has been dim.

    Walking with life

    I teach him

  7. There are some excellent pieces of advice for aspiring poets here. I am not 100% certain about the elusive salamander, but hey, it might work.
    I ended up here after reading your article on Time, and I see you are actually a time traveller (in your list of amendments – 24 Dec 3017). What is it like in the future? I am delighted to see we have survived that far. ;)

  8. I do not see the value of a poem if that poem does not express the unique feeling of a poet. Something has to exist in it that has been lived through, experienced, possibly left a poet in awe. Therefore, if I am writing to someone’s ears only to express my mastery of words, what does that make me? A poet? Surely not. A word gymnast? Perhaps.
    The voice of a poet, unfaltering yet suberversive, should and could end up being interpreted in many ways, it is a bullet of emotion and serves to shake common perception. Love. Whatever that might read or mean to you. Yes. It is not ‘about them’, it is about me. #SelFish PoeTry

    • Even if you prefer to value poems in the manner you describe, I hope that you’ll be empathetic to what I am doing. My intro says those who write poetry to please themselves don’t need any tips, whereas someone who wants to understand and emulate some of the techniques used by the great poets (recognized by scholars and publishers) can benefit from these tips. There is nothing wrong with writing to please yourself or writing to play with words. I see value in each approach, and I don’t see them in conflict.

    • Poets are dreamers that can take a dream and splash it indelibly into your mind in an instant of pure self-indulgence.

  9. I’m write poems in Persian, and I was looking to find out tips of writing in English. This really helped me. The tips are same as tips of writing in Persian, only some metaphors may be different. Thank you for providing your work.

  10. I’ve been writing for 9 yrs on and off on various subjects and came up with some pretty inspiring material that I did not think I have in me though I’m a visual artist. When my visuals are off, I write just as creative. This article benefits alot and will help improve any type of flaws that occur .good guide to put me on track. Hope to publish one day or read them to a small crowd or both.

  11. I’ve been told that my words paint a picture. That those that have read what I’ve written, have made people feel like they were there. I have waited far to long to put my thoughts down on paper. I’m not getting any younger. I’d like to leave this world something to remember me by.

    • I am a Poet and I love your site.
      I am the Master and I am a writer.
      Poetically I began socially,
      A poem is my emblem.

  12. Striking tips 😃☝I really accepting this good ideas because every additional information Will make us stronger than others who always be lazy in the case of trying to know about the new things and vibes 💓☘

  13. Really great thanks . I wrote an poem about nature using your ‘s tip it really help me one more thanks to you

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  15. I am a lover of all creatures,big and small and all the time I spend loving myself ,through the trees of Oregon and insects, to keep the cycle of life on the prowl for rainbows and unicorns

  16. I’ve written a lot of poems but I always knew that it lacked something or the other … Thanks a lot for your advices. I’ll try my best to remember everything while writing my next poem.

    • I love to be with myself for two reasons, one is my love of your love. two is our love together.

      • The love that flows with the beat from the bosom of desire ,comes from the love of natures fires eternally evolving.

  17. Quite helpful…a lot of tips that I never had….hope this will help me improve my poetry writing skills…thanks

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  19. Pingback: Poetry Writing: 10 Tips for Writing Poems | Jerz's Literacy Weblog

  20. Your feeds into your topic is worth reading and worth the while. Thanks! For your invaluable suggesstions to budding poets. I shall try to make myself better after this.

  21. ‘Khutlotaro'(The Triangle) is a Devland Extention 27(Johanesburg) community aspiring writers project. We have just launched a book club. Our intention is to write on different genres: poetry, novel,novella, short stories and drama. We are self taught of which the tips here will develop us immensely. Thank you.


    Ronald Mkhabela

  22. I have to write a 1 or 2-minute poem for a school tea. and read it in front of everyone I don’t know what to do.

    • all you need is imagination and confidence…….
      believe in yourself
      pick out the right words for your feelings
      and the best tip I can give you is

  23. Thank you very much for the explanation.Im so much in love with your site and look forward to learn more.

  24. I love poetry and always wanted to create mine, but I have difficulties but this post will help me a lot. thank you.

  25. I am glad you mentioned that sentimentality can become cliché and stale. I have been working on my originality a lot lately. I really appreciate the poetry writing tips! Thank you!

  26. I am very new to poetry is this at least semi decent if not plz give me some tips to make it better. it a school project about the book thief. keep in mind this not the finished product.
    Liesel gets to the house nervous, scared and outright terrified

    Some say you could smell the sweat from a mile away

    Others say she looked petrified

    Couldn’t move, couldn’t talk, couldn’t walk

    It felt to Liesel as if all the eyes of Germany were on her, the foster child, the new kid on the block

    The Jew lover.

    Liesel walks in after what felt like hours she could smell the smell of flowers

    It felt so alien in that house

    So weird and dirty that it wasn’t her own

    Liesel was dumbfounded that they knew her name, but she didn’t know theirs

  27. I want to right about the present situation of the country (Nigeria). How do I start to?

  28. i want to write a poem about life and my society ,i just started poem and i want to make my readers picture my message how will i start

    • Your readers won’t know what message is in your head, so they won’t care whether your poem accurately creates that same image in their heads. If what you want is for your readers to picture your message accurately, take up photography instead of poetry. All your readers will care about is what the poem does to them, not whether it accurately communicates an image from your brain to theirs. Read a lot of poems, and shamelessly steal bits and pieces from each one. Over time, you’ll develop your own style. Write something every day, even if you don’t feel inspired. I’ve already put all my best poetry writing tips on this page; I hope you find them helpful.

  29. Av not written poet before want to hive a contest organize by a certain bank,in my country. I know i can do it. Pls give me little directive on it. I actually want to write about my self , the rough handleness of my parent to me, misunderstanding of temprament, and what it fetch me at the end of the day pls give a clue on how to start

    • Find several poems that you like, see what they have in common, and try to make your own version, borrowing a little bit from each. If your goal is to write about yourself to express your feelings, then there is no right or wrong answer. If you want to take a step away from writing to express yourself, and towards writing in order to generate a response in the reader, then reading these tips — and reading lots of great poetry — will help. Good luck!

  30. Pingback: Late Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas That She Will Love - St. Louis Dad

  31. Im a high school senior; heard about a national poetry contest today; the winner gets 50 bucks, thought i’d give it a shot.
    I want to win so i’m doing research; i’ve never written a poem before.
    I want it to be great; this has helped me immensely; i have learned so much. My brain is as full as a turkey on thanksgiving.

    • Well. First off, you most likely have written a poem. Even if it was that illiterate kindergarten poem about Winter, you’ve written a poem. Second, I hope you win that contest. Good luck! :)

  32. Pingback: The Preface of Writing Poetry in 4 Easy Steps – Sejal's Poetry Blog

  33. This is good
    I’ve written quite a number of wonderful poems too but they haven’t been published yet. I wish you could help me go through them for corrections

  34. Pingback: How to Improve Your Poetry and Get Published | Alys Jackson Writer

  35. Pingback: Poetry 101: 10 Tips on How to Write a Poem - Her Heart Poetry

    • I don’t think it’s a stupid question, though I’m afraid I don’t have an easy answer. Read, read, and read more; read as many good examples as you can find. Then write, write, write, and revise, revise, revise. Each time you try you’ll come a little closer to your goal. Ira Glass has some great inspirational thoughts on the frustration that makers feel when they have experienced tastes that let them appreciate good stuff, but they don’t yet have the skills that let them produce work at that level.

      All makers go through a period of frustration and self-doubt.

  36. This is hands down the greatest thing I’ve ever read, without these helpful and insightful tips I would have failed my class and probably become homeless. The writer of these tips deserves a Nobel Prize, he/she can save starving children in Africa with these tips.

    With regards and best wishes
    Rebecca Lyn Milley

  37. Pingback: Does the Poet or Reader Make the Poem? | The Contemporary Poem

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