Top Ten Tips for Writing Verse*

For more tips and to find out more about writing in rhyme check out What Rhymes With Sneeze (A&C Black)

1: Keep a note book. You never know when an idea for a poem will present itself. I find that I often have good ideas early in the morning. So I keep a notebook by my bed.

2: Write a poem idea down quickly. Don’t worry about mistakes, your spelling or if it turns out that you’ve written rubbish! No one need see your first draft. If you write lots, it’s logical that some of your writing will be poor, some will be okay and every now and then something will be good – even very good.

3: Be tough on your own writing. Edit out the mediocre stuff. A brilliant three-line poem is much better than a wordy, boring, forty-line epic.

4: When you have cut out the not-so-good writing, read the rest of your poem out loud. (Don’t do this on a bus or in a café. Somewhere private is good!) This will give you a feel for the poem’s rhythm. The rhythm, or the beat, of a poem is very important. Poems don’t have to rhyme – but they do need to have a strong, free-flowing rhythm.

5: Look at the way your poem is constructed. Does it have verses? How are the lines grouped? In threes? In fours? What does your poem look like on the page? Try re-arranging your poem in different ways until it feels right.

What Rhymes With Sneeze
What Rhymes With Sneeze

6: For some poets rhyming comes quite naturally. And some poems seem to arrive in your head in rhyme. But some poets find rhyming more difficult. And some poems are better off without rhymes. If your poem does not rhyme at the end of the lines, you may still like to look for ways to add some internal rhyme. Try using assonance – the rhyming of vowel sounds. And see how Shakespeare used rhyme in his plays. His blank verse has a strong beat – but it doesn’t rhyme. BUT he often rhymes the last two lines of a speech. It’s a neat way to finish off a poem.

7: If your poem does rhyme, check that the final line doesn’t sound contrived. If it does, you might try swapping the lines around. Try it – it sounds daft but it can produce a really good result.

8: Check for clichés. You want your poem to sound fresh and new. No ‘cotton-wool clouds’. No ‘I woke up and it was just a dream.’ If you think you’ve heard or seen a phrase, metaphor or simile before – then bin it and think up a better one.

9: As a general rule, poems take a LOT of work. (It’s a rare and beautiful thing when a poem presents itself perfectly formed and ready to go.) Don’t be afraid to cross things out, add things in, or change words or lines in any way. The goal of most poets is to produce a poem that says things simply and elegantly. And that can take some time to achieve.

10: When you think your poem is ready for the world to see, check it again! You are working with words – so please spell them properly. You will lose credibility if you make spelling or grammatical mistakes. You are a poet. Respect the words you use.

11: Finally, it is a good idea to show your poem to a trusted friend – someone who will not be scared to be critical, who will notice mistakes but who also will be positive. And then your poem is ready. Send it out into world, wish it luck – and get on with the next one.

*Actually – it’s eleven.

© Roger Stevens 2012