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I have determined there are a four key things to do in order to write better poems. Two of them I already knew and one other I suspected. But the third has completely caught me off-guard.

Over the past few months I’ve been taking a Poetry Writing class, which has challenged me in many ways. These challenges, although sometimes frustrating, have allowed me to grow as a poet.

I’ve been writing poetry off and on since 1999. During these thirteen years I’ve taken English classes, creative writing classes, read poetry books, read poetry essays, written poetry essays, and written a poem a day for a month. But I have evolved more as a poet in these past three months than the previous thirteen years.

The highest point so far from this course came this week when the rough draft of my latest poem came back with no suggestions for revision from my professor. She always finds some word choice, structure, or other element in the poem to critique and recommend a change on. But not for this one.

I can’t say I’ve “arrived” yet as a poet, but I have a feeling I have at least a few poems that will be accepted for publication. My confidence in my poetry is at an all-time high. And it is all because of these four things:

1. Write More Poetry – This really should be a given for anyone who writes. The more you do something, the better you will become. A blank page won’t get accepted for publication, and the words don’t just magically appear on the page. And, no matter how busy your schedule might seem, there is always time to write. Even if that means waking up earlier or carrying a small notebook and pen with you everywhere you go. If you want to write more often, you will find the time.

2. Read More Poetry – This is another given for writers. A person who writes Mystery novels will read a lot of other mystery novels. Poets have it lucky because there aren’t many novel-length poems that we would have to read. I personally think that the best thing to do is read a variety of poems, spanning across different poetic movements. Read the old, the really old, and the new. Read local and read poems from around the globe. It is easy to stick to a poet or an era you love the most, but that can only take you so far.

3. Use Writing Prompts – It seems like so many of the prompts are meant for poets because they focus on one moment, one scene, one idea. This is a free idea factory for any poet, which takes away the whole writer’s block excuse before it even starts. They also serve another purpose, which is to move you out of the comfort zone. We all have those topics we return to over and over. The prompt moves you into uncharted territory, which is why it also goes well with number four…

4. Experiment – This applies to topics, but also to something far more beneficial. Write poems (note this is plural, meaning do each one more than once!) in new formats, like the sonnet. If you always capitalize the first word of each line, try writing poems without capitalization. If  each line is always a complete thought, write poems where the only line ending with a period or comma is the last line. Mix things up, sprint so far past your comfort zone that you can’t see it any more. This class has forced me to do just that. One of my best poems was also the hardest one to write the rough draft for. I’ve not only discovered new formats for poetry, but I’ve also found that my natural style of writing a poem isn’t anything like what I wrote for thirteen years.

What are some of the things you think are most important for becoming a better poet or writer? Is there one thing that has helped you grow more than any other?