How To Write Terrible Poetry

The writing world is a frustrating place full of presumptuous bookworms, grammatically-correct literaries, and metaphor-happy English professors. We writers could really use a break.

As such, I initiated the first Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest. …And was disappointed.

Either I am horrible at giving directions, or my readership is too uptight to give their verse the cringe it can take. Since I know the fault could never lie with the talented people with extremely good taste who come to my site, I have decided some How-To will help.

Let’s take a verse and carry it through the different levels of quality. You may recognize this stanza, though only the truly educated appreciate it for its depth, meter, and metaphor.

So, as fast as I could, I went after my net.
And I said, “With my net
I can get them I bet.
I bet, with my net,
I can get those Things yet!”

Excellent

A poem at this level fulfills its purpose, awakens a response in the reader, its imagery evokes memory and such, and it has meter. Even if the meter is a rambling sort that makes one think the writer was drunk and singing backwards at the time, it works. For some reason, we can still follow it and end up smiling at the end instead of clawing the walls.

Dr. Suess’ poem is at this level, primarily because it was written to educate young readers and not bore them in process. The man takes it an extra notch up by having a repeated word (I) to begin each line and a rhyme that not only appears at the end of each line (net/net/bet/net/yet) but also finds its way midway as well (get/bet/get).

Good

I would deem a poem ‘Good’ if it has no complaint against it except for ‘a little something’ that doesn’t bump it up to first place in a competition. Like its Excellent brother(s); it has purpose, meter, flow, imagery, etc.

Let’s take our example and make it only Good:

So, as fast as I could, I picked up my net.
I said, “With my net,
I can catch them as pets.
I think, with my net,
Those Things I will get!”

Bad

Most people do not even realize they are reading Bad poetry. They circle the poem around the internet, or their pupils recite it in front of the class as a work of memorization. The people with any literary feeling left to them, in process, sit through these readings with the look of a person enduring a tooth extraction with blunt instruments.

Ready for this?

‘Twas the day before school
When I picked up my net.
I stood on a stool,
So I didn’t get wet.
Then I said, “I will get them; no sweat.”

Terrible

In my introduction to The Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest, I said “the worst poetry you can write.” Later, I noted, “I want to cringe. I want to scrub my eyes and go lick something to clear my artistic palate.”

Maybe the poet tries too hard. Maybe he or she is way too fond of adjectives, especially the same adjective. Most likely, the person writes a meter of poetry with the beat of a broken, molding drum he or she found half-price at his or her grandmother’s aunt’s secondhand flea market.

I am so very sorry, Mr. Geisel, to have to do this.

I saw them, the Things with the waving blue wet.
Theyr danced like the sunrise but then they ruined the set
Of our house
Of
Our
Pet. A fish
In a pot, all alone.
And what to our wandering eyes should we get?
My anger, like fire; my passion whet
With confusion.
My net.

I hope he doesn’t come after me in the hereafter.

More importantly, class, I hope you have all learned something. With the skills of atrocious poetry, go forth and re-enter the latest contest. Have fun, get messy, and don’t actually apply any of these lessons to legitimate works.

Free: dom, thinker, bird, will, hand, write; AKA How To Get Creativity Flowing

It’s been awhile since I’ve thought to pass on my (very few) gems of writing wisdom.

I’ve been a bit stumped.

So, what better subject that the one I’m sitting under? Let’s explore Some Suggestions for Getting Creativity Flowing.

1. Do all that crap you already know you should.
Do I really have to name them? Okay, okay: go for a walk, read good books, just start writing, be naturally motivated and creative and hard-working, listen to music, and take a short break and come back to it later.

At least go take a bathroom break. You’ll feel better, and avoid nasty infections.

2. Write something.
You may think I listed this as part of Step 1, and you’re right. Good job. I’ve been approaching it a tad differently lately, however, and want to specifically describe that different process.

I often think of it as “word vomiting.”

I’m a very correct, prim, prudish sort who dots my i‘s and punctuates my prose and tries to get the dang span style to look right on WordPress AS I GO ALONG. I’ve realized this anality can impede creative thought.

Nowadays, particularly when I intend to write a poem, I literally “just write.” Or, type. Or, voice-to-text.

No punctuation. No capitals or line breaks or bushy mustaches. I do, admittedly, fix words that were captured incorrectly. I just write the way the words are coming to my mind and I try to think of descriptive passages and words and light glinting from bottomless pools of hazel-green as spanning text scrolls in mirrored right-to-left in infinite white-rimmed ellipses…

I’ve realized that, since I get an odd rise out of correcting grammar, I can please both halves of my conflicting self by freely puking words out, then organizing the mess into something more sensical later.

3. Ask for an assignment.
Back in the days when my “friends” actually responded to my Facebook posts, I asked for writing prompt ideas and received four or five.

Writing prompts are not difficult to come by. Reddit (my favorite garbage heap of the internet) has an entire subreddit for writing prompts.

I give the example of my Facebook query because I was accountable to people I knew for actually coming up with ideas, writing something about a few, and posting a finished product. Someone wanted a story, and was waiting for it.

I’m not personally motivated enough for NaNoWriMo or even GetOutOfBed some days, so the exterior expectation was a good way to go. I may have taken three weeks when I said I’d get them done by the end of one, but I did it.

4. Block out the world.
Now, I never, never, never, sometimes, never encourage extreme measures of numbing, mostly because I’m a teetotaler who considers an entire bag of chocolate candies and an all-nighter to be cutting loose. That, and I have a few mental issues that are exacerbated by really pushing it.

We’re talking about removing all the distractions in healthy ways.

Kids? Pay a babysitter, or fire up the electronic one.
Annoying roommates or houseguests? Go to a café, library, or neighbor with free wifi.
You’re annoying? Read over things you wrote that you thought were great.
Can’t stop distracting? Put the phone, remote, D&D manual, controller, or talkative friend down. Tell yourself you’ll look after five minutes, ten minutes, etc.
Sick? Rest, eat right, sleep, go to the doctor, or take your approved medications.

The BEST way for me to block out and GET WRITING is to put headphones on. We have access to so much music these days. I cycle through my favorites, or suggestions from other bloggers, till something plays that is blocking, beautiful, and yet not distracting in its own way.

Having five steps would really make this entry seem authoritative and mathematically even, but I can sense my creativity is about shot. Even after following my own advice, there are times I am so drained of artistic output that I call the game before someone gets hurt.

That could actually be your Step 5: Give up amicably when it’s just not working out. I DO NOT mean to crumple up your laptop and throw it in the garbage, cry all over your pillow, tell yourself mean things, and NEVER, never return.

Sometimes, there’s a sort of resigned calm one feels at the inevitability of an upcoming event, and an acceptance of its arrival. You may not have felt your Muse, but it’s okay. It’s all right. Go do your other things, especially sleep, and we’ll come back later.

Kick It up a Notch, AKA How to Improve a Snippet of Writing

Hello, class, and welcome to another session of writing instruction. Today we will be discussing that little extra flavoring that will take your excerpt from blasé to at least palatable.

In layman’s terms, we’re going to start with a frozen pepperoni pizza and make it a meal from Mickey D’s. With practice, we may go as classy as Texas Roadhouse.

We’re going to need a lame sentence. No, not that one I just wrote. Or any of these descriptive ones.
Sheesh! You’re so literal!
How about, “When he saw her face, he knew he was in love.

Woman lights

This is not a terrible sentence. For one thing, it has my first step:

1. Please ensure that your subject matter is interesting.
Something readers want to read is the somewhat-necessary skeleton we need to even start improving that sucker.
Besides our example, you can go with topics of Science Fiction (The alien moved closer to the frightened child), Dystopian (No one had eaten for days since The Great Famine), Horror (She heard the heavy footsteps drawing closer, though she saw no one), or Fantasy (Erglefigman took the Staff of Woidjkin boldly, saying the magic words…).

2. Name your characters. If you’re running with that fantasy idea, name him/her/it with a more simple title (please!).
Does this idea seem daunting? You have the internet; use a name-generator.
Applied to our example, we have, “When Steve saw Elisa, he knew he was in love.
Yes, I used the name generator.

3. Don’t be afraid of other words. You’re a writer: words are the prismatic expression you splash upon a ready canvas.
Unsure what to say? As I have already mentioned in other How-To’s, Thesaurus Man has got your back. Don’t leave him hanging.
Looking up “saw,” “knew,” and “love,” we can spice things up to, “When Steve glanced at Elisa, he realized he was smitten.

4. Show, don’t tell. Yep, you’ve heard this one. Seriously -you read it three seconds ago.
Yes, sometimes you need to tell. A full-length novel where every single action was described instead of named would be torturous.
Instead of “He stubbed his toe, dropping the pizza sauce all over his father’s sleeve,” you might have, “A loud exclamation fell from Todd’s lips as pain spread upwards from his injured toe. His father, meanwhile, felt the stinging heat and saucy redness of pizza sauce spread upwards from his shoulder.” Yes, it’s more interesting -but, only in some ways. Always writing like that would be laborious to the writer and unclear to the reader.
So: show, but don’t be annoying about it. We’ll settle on keeping what we have and adding a sentence of detail. “The softly glowing lights reflected from her cupped hands to glint, temptingly, in her brown eyes. When Steve glanced at Elisa, just then, he realized he was smitten.”

5. Add dialogue. Do your characters have the ability to talk? Then, they should.
Vocalizations are normal; we all express ourselves. They can, and would, be used during action scenes. They need to be sprinkled in naturally around adjectives, reactions, descriptions, etc.
A conversation can also be used to show, not tell and thesaurusize your story.
The softly glowing lights reflected from her cupped hands to glint, temptingly, in her brown eyes.
‘Yes?’ Elisa asked. She’d noted his glance.
‘Um,’ Steve replied. He realized he was smitten.”

Man Phone

6. Inject your flavor of writing.
Everyone has a writing style, a flavor, a way of expression. If you feel you still haven’t stumbled upon this illusive thing, you’re in the same boat as many writers. In fact, I’m certain we’re about cruise ship-sized over here.
I am equally certain each artist has one, and that it will be uncovered the more one practices one’s art. You will lean to using certain patterns, words, jokes, phrasing, or anglophilic references.
Since I am the one writing this, our example has had my flavor this whole time.
Someone else creating a story might go with word patterns, nonsense terms, different ways to interrupt the actions and descriptions, or other things said and observed.

7. Go a tad over the top with characteristics, actions, settings, etc.
I mentioned several of the writing steps we’ve gone over so far in a previous post, including the advice to be specific. Being specific is important, as is writing believably, so the story is relatable. However, the general public also likes extremes of personality and actions.

For example, all of the characters in Harry Potter are distinct. Even minor ones have odd foibles like a weird goat fetish.
The adventures are outlandish, like allowing a 12-year-old to face a full-grown wizard after other deadly dangers. But, people ate it up.

On the flip side is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. If not for the audio version, I would have quickly lost track of which person was penning which letter and why that mattered. I found myself wishing for more differences of personality.

I’ll add a bit more to ours, and then leave it to cool on the windowsill. Hopefully it’ll garner a few stars of a passing critic’s famished review.

The softly glowing lights reflected from her cupped hands to glint, temptingly, in her brown eyes. Night sounds of distant traffic far below joined the background conversations of party guests. Steve felt frozen in sound, feeling, and time.

‘Yes?’ Elisa demanded. She’d noted his glance, and wondered at his expression.

‘Um,’ Steve replied. He realized he was smitten.

Pop! The first forgotten bulb broke against the patio floor near Elisa’s bare right foot. Pop! Clunk!, then a swishing coil of overlapping noises echoed from the walls and stairs nearby as the remaining lights slid from her careless arms.

Unencumbered now, she drew closer, stepping over the discarded strand. Steve saw her dainty feet illuminated from bulbs below as she stepped; noted her slight waver, her impending nearness, and the way a sudden rooftop wind pulled at her black skirt.

Steve knew life would never be normal again, and that he would never regret the inevitable upset. His eyes found hers, even darker now. She walked to stand right in front of him; poor, hypnotized fool.”

A Muse, The Blues, Some Clues -AKA How to Write Poetry

Lo! What light, what cackling sun
Burns your eyes?
It laughs as you run;
Jumping, grasping, to
Catch the poem…

If you thought that was bad, you were right. I literally wrote that without any thought, direction, or meter. I took about fifteen seconds.

Don’t get me wrong -sometimes people like that crap. Sometimes the Crap Off the Cuff really isn’t bad. However, poetry is just like any other crafted item: the more practice you have at your skill, the better anything you make will be.
Translation: those who are experts can write a decent impromptu poem, and the stuff they worked longer on is even better.

So, *ahem.* Let’s stop mucking about and finally jump into A Few Steps for Writing Poetry:

1. Don’t.
Seriously, there are already a lot of good poets out there who have already written your idea in a better way. Thanks to Google, you can probably find it.
There are also a lot of terrible poets who have murdered your idea and now it’s bleeding by the side of the road begging people to stop clicking that they Like it.

2. Still determined? Good! You’ve passed the first test: that of true motivation for verse. I feel that motivation, a muse, hangover, emotional distress, late-night deadlines -whatever your name is for it- are vital to writing a poem.
Even if you don’t have a clear subject or good structure, the sheer determination to express what you feel will squeeze something out.

3. Actual Guidelines
So… there is this type of meter I poked fun at initially. It’s called free verse. Let me tell you, from my extremely limited experience, that freely versing can be a BAD idea. It’s the commando version of creative writing, and needs a brave, strong, experienced writer to handle it.
My recommendation, therefore, is to follow a meter. No, you don’t have to go full-out iambic pentameter. Only do so if you wish to be counting on your fingers and looking up rhymes for “depressed” all evening.
A good start is to come up with a few lines in your mind, then count the syllables (and pattern of stress/non-stress) and roughly follow that for the remaining lines.

4. Stress and Non-stress
Really quickly: this is where we put the emphasis on our words when we speak. I threw it in here because I mentioned it in the previous step, and you might be scratching your head over it.
Sometimes, I write a poem and there is one line that is really bugging me. Usually, it’s because I followed my syllable count, but did not follow normal speech rules of emphasis.
Because of that, the syllable count is actually off. Readers (including you) will do a mental glottal stop to be able to stress the words where we are accustomed to.

5. To Rhyme, or Not Some Thyme?
This one is up to you. I mostly rhyme for mine, every other line.
The length of each line and how often you rhyme (every single ending word, halfway through, every other, or randomly) will determine whether your poem feels like a poem, Dr. Seuss, or a rap song.
Keep in mind that even Seuss mixed things up a bit. One of my favorite stanzas in The Cat in the Hat is:

So, as fast as I could,
I went after my net.
And I said, “With my net
I can get them I bet.
I bet, with my net,
I can get those Things yet!”

Try it; it’s fun to read through.

6. Word Choice
Let’s say you want to emote about love and loss of said love. You are going to make us all feel something different than affection if you literally use the word “love” more than about three times. Sometimes, my limit is even one.
This is where your friend, Mr. Thesaurus, comes in. I mentioned this in my How to Not Suck at Writing rant as well, because it’s really important.
Let’s say you’re not that into synonyms. Too much woooorrrrkkk.
You will sound way more mysterious and intelligent if you do it. Like, “I loved and lost and lost my love” could become “Adored, then absent; Carelessly cherished.”

7. More Word Choice
Poetry is all about obscurity. Even when it’s a straightforward tale of a path diverging in the forest, everyone still says the poem is about something deeper.
So, use your new thesaural friend to obfuscate your terms, or make the simple description of your plush tiger on the shelf sound like it represents your childhood memories of being abandoned.

8. Practice and Preparedness
This goes for anything, but especially creative writing.
Read other poets, and copy their style. Keep a notebook to jot down random lines that come to you on the train. Try, try, try again. Everything you read and write will give you experience.

Now, go! Make the world a poetic place.

Basic Rules of Composition, AKA How to Not Suck at Writing

Where do you start a story? How do you explain a situation? Describe a person? Paint the landscape ’round the subject?

Some authors allude to a running away of characters once they are formed. “They write themselves!” Those writers explain. Most others warn of much more work than that.

Whatever way you wish to describe the process, one thing is certain: you have got to make whatever you write interesting.

And so, I present to you a brief tutorial of How to Jazz Up a Paragraph of a Story.

Sample Paragraph (Warning: really boring):
Sam is a man. Sam owns a dog. The dog is a golden retriever. Sam and his dog went on a walk to the park. They walked around the park. They came back home.

1. Redundancy.
For the love of Sam, use different words. That is the point of a thesaurus. Besides replacing overused terms like “Sam” with “He” or “The man,” this also means you need to not always begin the sentences the same. Try putting the action first, like, After walking around the park, the pair returned home.

2. Descriptions.
Sam is not just a man. Sam has a height, a weight, blood pressure, blood type, interests, hair color, bad habits, and a golden retriever. Speaking of, Sam’s dog probably has a name.
Instead of Sam is a man, try Tall, pale, and lanky, Sam Stephens did not fit one’s usual description of a man.

3. Show, not Tell.
If we wanted Dr. Seuss or Dick and Jane, we’d pick those up and read them to Kindergartners. Your audience is not likely to be such a young crowd. Therefore, you need to think about the situation your character is in and describe events and landscapes and such.
I often imagine myself watching what I want to describe. I start to feel the wind sifting the hairs of my arms as the grass waves in a soft shush of sound near my feet.
See?
So, try Bright streams of summer sunbeams played across the moving pair, as they walked briskly beneath the arched entry-gate of the nearby park.

4. Be Specific.
This option is a bit of icing on the cake.
Being specific means that an author needs to write something the reader can relate to very personally.
Let’s take Sam, since we’ve brought him this far. Instead of just a park or a golden retriever, name them. Or, if you don’t really want to, have something happen at the park or have Sam be thinking about a troubling event many people think about.

5. As a Grammar Fiend, Please Fix Spelling and Grammar, Too.
That’s fairly self-explanatory. You have tools, and a few annoying friends who love to correct people’s mistakes.

And now, Class, let’s re-write our paragraph using what we’ve learned:

Tall, pale, and lanky, Sam Stephens didn’t fit one’s usual description of a man. Sam’s dog didn’t mind. Of course, golden retrievers didn’t usually mind much of anything, particularly when they were walking outside on a fine day. Sam stretched one long leg in front of another as he and Captain strolled down the sidewalk. A slight breeze ruffled Captain’s fine coat, distracting Sam from moody considerations of Sylvie. Sylvie didn’t exist out here; she was back in the dark apartment, behind the door he’d slammed after grabbing the dog leash. Bright streams of summer sunbeams played across the moving pair, as they walked briskly beneath the arched entry-gate of the nearby park. Friendly passersby said, “Hello,” and “How are you?” to the handsome dog and his owner. They couldn’t stay long, however, and Sam knew it. After walking around the park, the pair returned home.