Getting Started with Writing a Poem: without needing to know what you are going to say next by Sheila Bender

  • chair at beach

Do you like or want to write poetry?  Maybe you want to craft a poem in the pages in your journal for the pure joy of it? Perhaps you want to write a poem for publication and sharing with others?

Any writing involves a beginning, a way in, a starting place.  Sometimes it helps to not worry about all the steps involved with what you are creating or writing.  You don’t need to know what you are going to say next, you simply need to begin.

Here’s an idea to get started without worrying about other steps involved in what you are creating:

When I Saw You: Thinking About Small Actions Helps Poems Happen

How many times have you suddenly been overcome with strong feelings just watching someone do something? In writing poetry, we take time to note these feelings. Remember someone you watched do something and a deep feeling you had while you watched. You might want to stay away from anger, which usually covers up a more basic feeling such as sorrow or fear. And think small. Instead of choosing something large like the time your husband surprised you with a new car, try the time your son came home from the pet shop with his first goldfish. What did his clothes look like? The bag in his hand? His hair and his eyes? Did he know the fish needed to stay in the bag in the sink for awhile while the water in the fish bowl became room temperature?

The following list might help you remember observing someone and having deep feelings:

When I saw you sit on a chair at the beach
When I saw you put your hands in the soapy water
When I saw your peanut butter cheek
When I saw the ring that pierces your brown eyebrow
When I saw you assembling the gas grill
When I saw you raking leave
When I saw the unmatched socks you were wearing
When I saw the elevator doors close in front of you
When I saw you lie down at the edge of the bed

Try this:

Use one of these or a situation one of these makes you think of. Visualize people you know and care about in the places they usually are doing what they usually do. After the title “When I Saw You” (fill in the action–i.e. “When I Saw You Raking Leaves,”) write lines that detail what you saw. Then go on to write what you heard, smelled, touched or tasted and thought. If you can’t remember precisely what images appealed to your senses, write ones that you know could have been in the scene.


Putting images on the page and trusting them to go somewhere, even if you don’t know where they are headed, you will begin to create strong poems.

Sheila Bender is a poet, essayist, author and an IAJW Council Member. Among her books is Writing Personal Poetry, which you purchase as an ebook through IAJW. Sheila offers an inspiring IAJW online class, From Journal Entry to Personal Essay. You can start this self-guided online course anytime and be guided on how to turn a journal entry into a personal essay!

2018-02-08T09:30:29+00:00 March 8th, 2018|Poetry|