I’ve been asked about my writing process several times, but it’s always a question I struggle to answer. As both a writer and reader, I always find it fascinating to learn about how other authors get from an idea to a finished work.
I am very proud to say that in April 2021, both my memoir and a multimedia poetry project I have been working on will be published. Here’s an important lesson from that though: while I have been writing for years and I have a formal education in writing, it wasn’t until I slowed down and got patient with myself and my work that I began producing work I felt proud to publish.
I did the whole poem-a-day to try and make Instagram’s algorithms happy. While my follower count grew, the pride I felt in my work quickly fell as I felt like a machine instead of an artist. I made the decision that I would only distribute my work when I am proud of it and it’s written out of passion—to hell with algorithms.
The overarching theme with all of my work is this: I do not force creativity. TodayI will not write or create something unless I am inspired to do so. When I try to force a story or a poem, my work is almost always subpar. The quality of my work has skyrocketed since I have held true to this. But this doesn’t mean if I’m feeling uninspired for a week, I don’t engage in writing whatsoever. I religiously flex my writing muscle every day. If I am not inspired to work on a project or piece that is going to immerse me creatively, I may work on a journal entry, or collect words and string together lines I think I could use for future poems. If I’m not feeling manuscript work, I may work on something more visual, like a collage and see how I can incorporate writing into art. Writing this blog post is flexing important muscles that differ from the prominent poetry and prose mediums I work on.
Most importantly, I always have a notebook (or at the very least a note app on my phone) available so that I can jot down ideas when inspiration hits—because so often it comes out of nowhere. You don’t want what could be a bestselling novel idea to hit you during your morning coffee run, only to forget it by the time you’ve gotten home that night.
I could write lots of posts about how I write different pieces, but let’s start with this: how do I write a poem?
First let me say, that becoming a better poet made me a better writer overall. I believe this is true because in poetry, you are forced to make every word you choose matter. This has translated to how I think about my word choice and presentation in other forms of writing. I think every aspiring writer should both study and write poetry during their writing journey.
Writing poetry well begins with knowing how to read poetry well. The way I consumed poems transformed when someone taught me how to read them, when I listened to the writers read them in their own voice, and when I took the time to pause and understand every poem as a layered piece of art, not just a superficial collection of words and metaphors.
I’m not talking about viral poetry here…AKA the Instagram post that has 50,000 likes because it can be consumed by all, I’m talking about true creative writing.
In a conversation I had with a prominent poetry curator for an Instagram page with almost 1,000,000 followers, they told me something truly illuminating about Instagram poetry.
“Most of the readers on Instagram read (or want to read) at about an 8th-grade level,” he said. “If you want followers you need to keep your work short, simple, and relatable. People are lazy readers.”
So, then it becomes a question of if you want to write meaningful poetry or words centered around self-promotion.
If you want to write meaningful work, read people who have left their imprint on the poetry world. Reading other poets can help you to develop your style and educate yourself on common themes in different types of poetry.
I read poetry every day. I’ll read from my favorite poets, but I will also seek out new work from lots of different sources: anthologies I own, r/poetry, Poetry Foundation, and even looking deeper into lyrics.
My poems usually start one of two ways: I make sense of an overwhelming feeling I am having with words or I see something (an object, a word, a scene, etc.) that I can connect to something in my life. Often, I will be in the shower and simply have a line begin in my head and will write that down to see if it connects to anything. Sometimes it will blossom into something wonderful, other times it will fizzle away, sometimes I will stumble across it in two months and I will suddenly have use for it.
If you know my story, I struggle with severe mental illness. With that comes very extreme emotions for me. I can fall into a deep depression very suddenly, or I can feel extremely happy, motivated, and ready to take on the world.
My poetry is very rarely happy. Even when I write romantically, I often throw in metaphors about my dysmorphic mindset, emotional highs and lows, and codependency. Poetry allows me to make the very big, often overwhelming feelings I have manageable and even more explainable to others (ex: “my sadness is a two-ton monster”—where else can you write about depression like that?).
I don’t think anyone can teach another person poetry. Just like art, you can teach someone the fundamentals: brushstrokes, mediums, technique…but the vision has to come from you. Most importantly though: just write. Write and write fearlessly and enjoy the magic of creating something that is completely your own.