How to write a poetry book in 12 simple steps
- Set up your writing space.
- Gather your writing tools.
- Set a deadline and writing schedule.
- Settle on your theme.
- Conduct your research.
- Plot your story outline.
- Break down your action plan.
- Write a powerful opening line.
- Include emotion, conflict and tension.
- Write first, edit later.
- Write a resounding ending.
- Polish your manuscript.
How to write a poetry book
1. Set up your writing space.
Starting (and finishing) a poetry book is a long-term commitment. You will spend many hours cultivating your poetry collection, so one of the most important considerations is where you will write.
People organise their writing spaces differently, so remember, there is no right or wrong way to do it. What works for you may not necessarily work for someone else. Do you like to write in a quiet place, or perhaps you work better when there is some background music around you? Some people prefer their home study, office, or bedroom while others prefer to work from public spaces like libraries or coffee shops.
Is a consistent space important to you? Do you prefer to have multiple locations? Experiment with your options and determine the best set up that works for you.
Your writing space is your sanctuary. I like to straighten things up and make sure that everything I need is within arms reach. I will clean up a bit and get rid of anything that could distract me from my mission. I also like to throw a big cushion behind my back to support my posture. Good lighting and fresh air are essential if you spend long hours plucking away at your keyboard.
2. Gather your writing tools
If you search for ‘writing spaces’ on Pinterest, you will find all sorts of elaborate writing spaces posted by authors all over the world. You can use them for inspiration if you like but remember your reality. All you need is your laptop, a desk, and a chair.
There will always be new software telling you how much better it is than everything else on the market and how outdated your system is. Do not fall for the hype. The best things in life are free. If you have Google Docs or Microsoft Word, the rest are just bells and whistles.
I am not implying that all software is inadequate. Of course, some applications can make your life easier, but I would encourage you to focus on your craft first and then worry about adding value at a later stage. In many cases, the free versions of these applications do the job just fine; you can always upgrade later.
For instance, I have used Grammarly (free) for years, but when I started writing (and editing) over 3000 words per day, I decided to upgrade to the premium version. Make a list of everything you are going to need when you sit down. Keep your notebook, pen, water bottle, and other necessities at arm’s length to prevent yourself from getting distracted while you write.
3. Set a deadline and writing schedule
Many aspiring writers hold themselves back by not setting a deadline for themselves. This drags their project for longer than it is supposed to, and in many cases, it is the primary reason their books never see the light of day. If you do not have a publisher pushing you, you need to hold yourself accountable!
Set a concrete deadline for your poetry book and stick to it. The best way to establish a realistic deadline is to figure out how many pages you want to have in your poetry book. Once you determine the number of poems you will be writing, you can extrapolate how many words you need to write per day to meet your quota.
Establish a strict writing schedule and follow it religiously! Allow yourself to figure out whether this schedule works for you or not, and alter it accordingly. Fortunately, poetry books tend to have fewer words than an average adult book, which typically has around 90 000 words. However, you will spend a significant amount of your time editing and stitching together a harmonious story, so do not take your schedule for granted.
4. Settle on your theme.
We have already established that a poetry book has fewer words than a traditional adult novel. You will need to write between 30 and 100 poems that are somewhat related. Your poems should tell a single unifying story. So settle on a theme that you will be able to sustain for the duration of the book.
Your poetry should feel as if you wrote it in one sitting, and most importantly, all the poems should sing the same tune. Read other poetry books by your favourite authors to extrapolate how they executed their works of art. Please do not copy them; instead, look to them for inspiration.
5. Conduct your research.
Everyone knows that non-fiction writing requires a substantial amount of research. But many people may overlook that research is just as important in fiction as it is in non-fiction.
You do not have to demonstrate to your readers that you have done extensive research on a topic, but rather it should be apparent in the quality of your work. Study different poetic devices, investigate various writing styles and analyse the historical significance of your book’s locations. The research adds credibility and believability to your writing. Your research can also apply to your word choices and the theme chose to expand.
6. Plot your story outline.
If you plan to pitch your poetry book to publishers, they will demand to see your story outline. However, this vital step is not only for the publishers but also for you to determine what you want to say, the writing style you will use, and your publication length.
Write down a general idea of how your story will unfold. Identify critical characters in your book and highlight the range of emotions you want to invoke in your reader. Professional athletes have training plans, entrepreneurs have business plans, and authors have outlines.
Remember to maintain the same voice throughout your story so as not to confuse the reader. Your writing should remain cohesive at all times. Refer to your outline frequently to make sure that you are sticking to it and if you feel that the story is deviating from it, make the necessary adjustments.
7. Break down your action plan.
Break down your book into sections, paragraphs and sentences, and bite off one little piece at a time. Think of your book as a marathon that you attack one mile at a time. It is a lot less taxing on you physically when you do it this way and a lot more rewarding when you start watching your progress day by day.
Give yourself time to breathe, rest now and again before taking another big bite. Go over yesterday’s work with a fresh perspective and ensure that you are still within the outline you set for yourself.
8. Write a powerful opening line.
There probably isn’t a more critical line like the first line in your book. Publishers know whether you will be a good fit for them two-minutes into reading your manuscript, so your first pages need to knock them out!
Readers have a short attention span now more than ever, so take your time with the opening line because if you can pull it off, it can set the tone for the rest of your book. A powerful line captivates your reader and entices them to keep reading.
9. Include emotion, conflict and tension.
Use tension, emotion and conflict to drive your reader through your book. You want them to reach the end of your book without even realising it. Tension within a story can manifest itself in many ways. It can be underlying jealousy, unresolved family issues or secrets never spoken.
You can highlight your characters subtle yearnings for better things to come when all hope is lost. You can also zoom in on sexual tension between two love interests within your plot. Avoid any unnecessary details that have no use in the overall story but do not be afraid to slow down your writing’s cadence to hint to your reader that something significant is about to happen.
Do not spoon-feed your reader or tell them how to feel. Use ambiguous wording and take them on a roller coaster ride of emotions as they flip through the pages of your book.
10. Write first, edit later.
Most writers are perfectionists; we have that inner critic standing over our shoulder telling us what’s wrong with every word we write. Get your first draft down first and save your editing for at least the next day. The longer you can wait between your first draft and your edits, the better the end product.
Free-write your initial draft. You don’t have to worry about cliches, grammar or punctuation. Your main worry should be getting your story out of your head and on to the page. Your inner perfectionist can take over the next day once you have a significant amount of text to go over.
11. Write a resounding ending.
Take your time to write your ending. You want your readers to think about it long after they’ve read your poetry book. The easiest way to do this is to keep your finale in mind as you write and work your way towards it. It is the payoff for all the tension you have been building since the opening line.
12. Polish your manuscript
Poetry is a medium of few lines, so scrutinise every sentence and consider using alternate verbiage that says more with fewer words. Review your line breaks and determine whether each thought is complete at the end of a line, marked with a period or semicolon. Juggle between End Stops and Enjambment where necessary.
All the hours spent writing your poetry book count for nothing if you do not edit your manuscript profusely. Take frequent breaks between edits and come back with a fresh set of eyes. Once it is time to review your work, Read your poetry out loud. Listen for rhythm, flow, and the placement of breaks throughout each line.
I put together several poetry exercises to help you write more and keep writers’ block at bay; I trust that you will find some of those exercises helpful. If you need some inspiration, here are 10 poetry books for beginners that I wholeheartedly endorse!