How You Can Write Poetry That Is Creative and Original With Confidence

Lessons from how I mix plain-spoken lines with a touch of creativity to write poetry

Gregory D. Welch
Feb 20, 2020 · 10 min read
Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

Poetry is a special kind of magic for me.

Truth be told, I didn’t always think of myself as a poet. I was a grown man, in college, big ideas of becoming the next great American novelist when I stumbled into a poetry class taught by none other than the award-winning and bad-ass poet, Nikky Finney.

She taught me more than just how to write poetry, she taught me how to live it too.

Sure, she taught me the rules of poetry, but rules don’t hold poems together. She taught me how to think and live poetically, and that, that’s a different kind of thing altogether.

Watch your life as if it were a film. Absorb everything. What you see, hear, and feel will stamp every alphabet of your work — Nikky Finney

Rules can tell you where the guidelines are, can keep you in between the lines, can help you shape a mess of words into a collection of poetry. Not bashing the poetry rules at all, I lean on them heavily and often.

But for poetry that defines work and life, you gotta go beyond the rules alone, and that takes something more. That comes at a cost to you, my friend, and that cost is exciting and also a bit frightening: you have to live a creative lifestyle. You have to dive into the poetry and let it exist in the moments of your life when you aren’t sitting at the desk, scribbling the next great poem for the masses.

You have to let poetry in when the world comes apart, when the joy overcomes, when tears are the only words you can put together, and when hope is the only momentum you have left.

You have to step back and learn to see the poetry in between the moments of your life.

Are you ready for that? Let’s dive in.

How to write poetry: first lines

A powerful first lesson in how to write poetry is this: inspiration for poetry can and should come from everywhere, the world is overflowing with inspiration. But it’s the first line of a poem that carries the rest, carves the rest, creates the rest.

Think of the first line like a hammer fall in a quiet room, or that first haunting strike of a guitar chord before the song breaks into being. Your first line is what lights the way for what follows.

What this means specifically, and as it relates to creativity and plain-spoken scribbling is this: your first line has to say something mundane, ordinary, and maybe even a touch boring, in a potentially powerful and soul-stirring way.

You have to dive into the poetry and let it exist in the moments of your life when you aren’t sitting at the desk, scribbling the next great poem for the masses.

Now, this sounds intimidating at first, but all it really means is that all you have to do is find a way to write a pretty ordinary line and spice it up with a bit of creativity.

Find a new way to say something old, draw a connection between things that might not seem connected, or describe the world and its experiences in a way that gives a reader pause, unexpected contemplation, maybe even a bit of a held breath.

Creativity helps you do this. Thinking and living creatively.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Finding connections

And in order to think and live creatively, you have to swim in between the connections of things. What’s more, you can’t just passively let life wash over you either, you have to take notice, you have to purposefully hit pause, slow down, catch your own breath and wake-up to what’s going on around you and how it makes you feel.

Now, if you’ve read any of my work, you know I’m a journal-nerd. I love them, I advocate them, I recommend them, and I can’t encourage you enough to keep one. But as they relate to finding connections, and paying attention to your life, there really is no better tool to do this than that of your journal.

Whatever you take notes on, scribble things down, actively engage with your world and world experiences. Don’t just enjoy the song of that bird, but take note of how powerfully it contrasts the shrill of your phone ringing. Or, the bees buzzing, the phone buzzing, the world buzzing, what lines tie these together?

Find things that draw your attention, find the things that bind them, and take note of them.

Fresh spins on tired images

Similarly, when you’re taking note of the world around you, practice intentional descriptions. Jot down in as much detail as you can what the world around you looks like, sounds like, smells like, feels like and feels like down deep in your soul.

Poetry depends, whole-heartedly, on your ability to see and describe the world you live in and experience. Powerful poetry depends on you describing that same world in bold, creative, reader-attention-grabbing new ways.

Now, a caveat: Don’t do this just to do it.

But as you’re describing your world and the experiences that make it, and you find yourself saying the same tired, lifeless, corpse-like lines as damned near every other poet out there, ask yourself, what have I seen and experienced just lately that can help me describe this differently?

That’s how you pump raw magic straight into the vein of your next poem.

Photo by Frank Vessia on Unsplash

Saying it with a unique voice

It should go without saying, find your voice, but also, be patient in the journey of doing so.

However, once you begin to hear the sound of your own poetic voice, embrace it. Don’t run from it.

Here’s an example from my own life: I’m Kentuckian, I’m Southern, I’m as country as cornbread and damned proud of the fact. Hell, me just saying that embodies what I’m about to write next. I write plain-spoken, down to earth, raw and imperfect because that’s who I am, what I’m about, and what I want my poetry to be about. I want my work to be accessible, honest, raw, rugged, and a safe place to put the little pieces of my soul that I share with you.

I write with the unique sound of what’s uniquely mine and mine alone — my life’s rhythm and experiences wrapped in poetic beats.

That’s what you should be after when sharing your voice with the world too — building safe places to invite the parts of your soul you want to welcome into your poetry and share with your audience.

That’s what saying it with your own unique voice is all about.

How you interact with the world

Equally as important is to remember that your worldview matters. How you see and interact with the world around you helps you find the unique and wholly-you spark of creativity that no one else can offer.

All of these things blend together to form one whole, but if you want to infuse your poetry with creativity, and not just any creativity, you have to be bold enough to share your world and your world-experience, worldview, with your audience.

You have to share yourself.

Only you have walked the path you have so far. Only you have experienced the things in your world (personally and on a larger scale), the question remains: What do you want to say about these things?

Step into that. Your creativity, your poetry, and your audience deserve your courage.

Don’t worry about being creative in the writing

I’m not saying don’t be creative when you write those early first drafts, I’m saying let the writing take care of itself. Don’t invite the editor until you have something to edit.

When you’re writing, write. It’s just that simple.

Maybe a creative twist will find its way to the page, or maybe it won’t. But when you’re writing, the best way to add creativity is to not let cloud your mind too heavily while you’re writing. You don’t want it to get in the way, you want it to add, to sometimes carry a dry patch, to spark a stanza, or to add a new layer to an otherwise boring stretch of the process.

Only you have walked the path you have so far. Only you have experienced the things in your world (personally and on a larger scale), the question remains: What do you want to say about these things?

What’s more, there are few things more exciting than an unexpected line springing from your fingers and finding their way on the page. Let that happen, edit it later, but don’t sit down demanding them to occur. You’ll cheapen the magic.

Adding creativity in the editing process

More often than not, it’s in the editing process that I’ll find the opportunities to add in a touch or two of creativity. And not always by adding new lines, or adding a new description, but rather by working with what’s already there. Just spruce it up a bit, giving it a twist, or maybe tinkering with where it’s placed.

I can’t say this often enough and in enough scribbles on writing to convey its importance, but editing is where great writing truly blooms.

Lemme say that again, editing is where great writing blooms. It’s where your deepest levels of raw potential can truly thrive. You wrote in a fever, reached down deep inside and pulled out the soul-stuff that your audience doesn’t just want but yearns for, but that doesn’t mean you’re done. You have to clean it up, make it presentable, make it work even better, and that’s where editing comes into play.

This is doubly true when it comes to adding the magic of creativity.

Your job at this point isn’t necessarily to reinvent the wheel but to smooth out its rough patches and make sure it rides well. You want things to be approachable, accessible, and easy on your readers. Not at the cost of the power of the piece, nor at the cost of its creativity, but you also don’t want either of those things to get in the way of their reading.

Editing is where you slow down and take a look at what you’ve written and find places where creativity can really shine. That’s your role at this level of the writing process. Finding the opportunities, making things shine, making things more accessible.

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

Balancing act

Don’t add too much creativity, it’ll work against you.

We’ve talked a whole lot about adding creativity, but now, let me flip the script and throw out a small but important caveat to all of this: a little bit goes a long way.

In the previous sections, we’ve discussed all the ways we can add creativity, and I’ve also suggested (sometimes more subtly so than at other times) that this all comes down to balance things, to strike a harmony between the actions and the additions and the elements of your writing.

Here’s the plain-spoken reality, creativity works best when it sort of surprises your audience. Where the reader is reading along, the text carrying them with an easy flow, and then suddenly they discover a description that sings. It doesn’t surprise them in a way that’s overwhelming but in the ease of welcomed unexpectedness.

This means building creativity in a way that takes a breath but doesn’t keep it for so long your audience feels suffocated.

Remember this, it’s all about balance, and a little bit can go a long way.

Adding value

Balancing, and striking powerful harmonies between the elements of your poetry directly ties into adding value.

I’ve written it plenty so far, but one more time isn’t too much: You are writing for an audience. You must never forget this, never break this trust, and never step out of this responsibility.

Your role as a poet isn’t to just being poetic, it’s also to be readable, and to add value to the lives of your audience.

I write plain-spoken, down to earth, raw and imperfect because that’s who I am, what I’m about, and what I want my poetry to be about. I want my work to be accessible, honest, raw, rugged, and a safe place to put the little pieces of my soul that I share with you.

Here’s how you do that: You have something worth sharing, whether it’s a line, a description, a powerful way of capturing emotion, or a unique message (not a sermon, but a love letter).

Your poetry is your responsibility to your audience. Sing for them, which means practice, improvement, and keeping their needs close to the heart during the act of creating.

Your creativity is your signature

How you balance creativity with the mundane, and how you link ideas is your unique offering. How you work creativity into your poetry — original thinking, a powerful connection of ideas, your unique worldview and history, and a dash or two of your powerful imagination — is how readers will come to experience what you’re writing. Over time, and with consistency and purpose, this can become your signature, what you’re known for, and how you sound to your readers.

Now, go be the bad-ass poet we both know you have inside of you to be. Let creativity find its way into your work and your life. Swim in the moments of your life, breathe in deeply knowing who you are as a poet and when you write, let the magic of creativity surprise you from time to time.

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Gregory D. Welch

Written by

Kentucky poet & scribbler. Content management, copywriting, and marketing. Let's connect: linkedin.com/in/gdwelch

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +799K followers.

Gregory D. Welch

Written by

Kentucky poet & scribbler. Content management, copywriting, and marketing. Let's connect: linkedin.com/in/gdwelch

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +799K followers.

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