Guest Post: Poetry Writing Tips from a Published Poet by D.L. Heather

Today’s guest post is from D.L. Heather, author of Life Interrupted. Here’s a little about the book:

Life Interrupted is a powerful and intensely moving poetry book of one woman’s journey into a life of chronic pain-and the unyielding resilience of the human spirit. D.L. Heather’s collection of poems takes you on a journey through living with chronic pain, healing, self-discovery, inner strength, and personal transformation. A journey through powerful feelings that grow from seeds and change into blooming flowers.

Please give D.L. Heather a warm welcome:

Ever wondered how to write a poem? For writers who want to dig deep, composing verse lets you sift the sand of your experiences for flickers of light and insight.

If you’re tempted to try your hand at a few verses but you’re not sure where to start, keep reading this blog by haikuist author & poet D.L. Heather.

Start with an idea

Don’t force yourself to write your poem linearly, from the first line to the last. Instead, start with an idea your brain can latch onto as it learns to think in verse.

Your starting point can be a word, a line, or a phrase you want to work into your poem. It might be a vivid picture floating around in your mind. It can be a complex feeling you want to execute with precision, or a memory that you can’t seem to let go of. I think the most powerful poems give voice to something true about the human experience and help us look at everyday experiences in new and exciting ways.

Think of your starting point as the why in your poem, what’s your motivation for writing it?

Mind Mapping

Now that you’ve got a starting point, it’s time to put fingertips to the keyboard or, if you’re old school like me, pen to paper. Before you write out verses, take some time to look deep into the feelings, imagery, or theme at the centre of your poem.

Take as much time as you need and write anything that comes to mind when you think of your initial idea. You can draw your mind map by hand, add bullet points, jot down words, form brief paragraphs. The purpose of this mind map isn’t to produce an outline, rather to gather raw material to draw upon as you draft your poem.

My advice, don’t censor yourself. Overthinking or mentally grumbling will drive you crazy! “This line will never make it into the final draft”? Tell that inner critic to be quiet for now and just keep writing. You just might refine it down into a witty, poignant line.

Choosing your style

Once you’re happy with your mind map, look at what you came up with. Chances are, you’ve got one beautiful mess: sentences that trail off or change structure midway. That’s okay! Don’t beat yourself up! I promise you, there’s a poem in there somewhere.

You’re going to take your creation and sculpt the hell out of it. You will figure out what kind of shape you can make out of it — whether it’s naturalistic, free flowing or restrained.

Will you write free verse, or do you prefer following more traditional “rules,” like rhyming poetry or the syllabic constraints of tanka or haiku? Even if your words beg for a poem without restrictions, like free verse, you still have to know the tone and texture of the language of your poem.

Read… Read and Read Some More

A poem isn’t like reading a novel: you don’t have to spend hours upon hours researching to write a wonderful poem. Although, reading poetry of any style can keep you inspired throughout the writing process, especially if you’re feeling stuck.

Say you’re writing a sensory rich poem about a toxic relationship between a married couple. In that scenario, I would recommend reading some key imagist poems, alongside some poems that sketch out complicated visions of relationships.

Choose a poem that speaks to you and:

  • Find examples of simile and metaphors
  • Look for other senses than sight
  • Come up with questions and try to answer them
  • Try to analyse what emotions it stirs in you

Write for yourself

With an idea, a mind map and some inspiration under your belt, it’s time to draft your poem!

After all the exploratory thinking, you’re ready to write. But the pressure of actually producing verse can still cause self-doubt and anxiety. I suggest writing for yourself, at first, to take some of that pressure off of you.

I wholeheartedly believe that as writers, songwriters, poets, novelists that we can determine the validity of our success if we start by writing for ourselves. Personally, my life has certainly changed through the years. By certain lines, I’ve had the bravery to think of and then write — and those moments are when I’ve most felt like I’ve made it. Most of those lines in those first drafts were for my eyes only, and they were the most poignant.

As the first draft comes together, treat it like it’s meant for your eyes only.

Read your poem out loud

A memorable poem doesn’t have to be beautiful on paper: maybe a flowing, melodic prose isn’t your aim. Though it should come alive on the page regardless of your style. To achieve that, always read your poem out loud — at first, word by word, line by line, and then all together.

Trying out every line against your ear can help you weigh out a choice between synonyms. Reading out loud can also help you hear line breaks that just don’t fit. Is the line too long? Does it force you to speed through it? Do you want to give your readers some time to take it all in and give them room to breathe?

Take a Breather

By now, you’ve successfully written your first draft. It may not be perfect, but you should be proud of yourself – you’ve written a poem! Congratulations!

Now it’s time to step away and take a breather. If you’re like me, you’ve probably read out loud every single line so many times that all meaning has leached out of the syllables. So take some time off, go for a walk, catch up on some reading, or start your next writing project. Then come back with a fresh set of eyes because trust me, you’re not finished, not just yet — you still have to do revisions.

Revision Time

Revising poetry is a process that requires word play and loads of patience. Don’t beat yourself up if it’s not coming together how you imagined it. Take your time. Have fun with it! Your poems will grow and evolve. For me, my revision process is much like my brainstorming and writing process. I find a quiet place where I can be alone with myself and really listen to how I’m feeling at the moment.

About the Poet:

D.L. Heather is the pen name for poet, writer, and former music journalist Debra Heather. She has a B.A. in English and is the author of the inspirational poetry collections; Life Interrupted and Metamorphosis. Debra was born on 04 December 1978 in Penticton, British Columbia, Canada, and now resides in Detroit.

Writing came into her life in her teens by way of therapy and the exploration of healing through journaling. Her writing is motivated by her experiences with childhood trauma, love, loss, healing, heartbreak, and self-discovery.

A private person by nature, she prefers to let her work speak for itself, in the way poetry allows her to. She hopes to inspire others and reinforce the fact that you are not alone.

When she isn’t writing in her studio, she enjoys traveling, reading, movies and gardening. Her current book, Metamorphosis: Extended Edition, will be available December 21, 2021. Connect with her on Instagram @dlheatherpoetry