Writing a poem in 15 minutes

I came up with the following process while writing an email. Poetry can be daunting to write. Writers may think they need to know meter, need fancy writing software, or deliver profound insights about the universe in order to be good poet. None of that is required! A readable poem can be produced in 15-20 minutes by just being aware of your environment.

For recreational poets, it’s easy to produce a poem a day by following these steps:

1. Download and install TextWrangler (Mac) or Notepad++ (Windows)

These free, barebones text editors are ideal environments for writing poetry. Since they were designed for writing computer code, they also help the writer by numbering each line and eliminating the hassle of wrangling with fonts, colors, and sizes (since they don’t allow you to). Better yet, write it in an email client.

2. Pick up any book, magazine, or go to a website that you read frequently

Writing poetry is easier when you have just read something/are reading something. Anything will do, from a verse from Shakespeare or the Bible to today’s New York Times headline or Reddit front page. Think about the words used and the syntax. For example, a NYT headline – “Fresh from the printer, that new car smell” – is a good jumping off-point. With a little rearranging, you could write “My car’s smell, fresh for the morning ride home…”

3. Write and arrange your line breaks

Once you have material to work with, more ideas will start flowing. Look around you and incorporate details you notice in everyday objects into your adjectives. Colors are always good, evocative descriptors. For the line breaks, don’t feel that you have to end each line with a complete thought – be playful and cut them off to leave them nicely incomplete. So, “going downstairs, to see if I can ever be free” is a little less magical than “Going downstairs/to see if I can ever/be free,” since the latter construction creates a ton of suspense with the powerful line-ending “ever.”

4. Polish it up and publish

I like to save poems as Markdown files in Dropbox for easy Web publication and backup. Another possibility is to screenshot the text and then process the screenshot with a simple photo editor like Pixlr Express. Add some filters and colors to create a visual mood to go with the text. Then post it to Tumblr or your own blog. I do this with my own Tumblr.

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