Writing Advice From 5 Famous Poets

Many speak of poets as direct communicators with the divine, privy to the inspiration of an ethereal muse. While there can be a mystical element to writing poetry, the art of writing still requires diligence and craft. Read on for the perspectives and writing advice of five successful poets who spent a lifetime analyzing the mysterious process of poetry.

Sharon Olds

Olds has spoken of struggling with the instinct to censor herself to protect the feelings of family, which initially caused her to rush the writing process and avoid editing. Eventually, she allowed herself to slow down and find the rhythm that works for her. She believes there is indeed that enigmatic factor in the process of writing poetry – your work will form the way it wants to, and you beckon in the words that want to come.

“Poets are like steam valves, where the ordinary feelings of ordinary people can escape and be shown.”

“The creature of the poem may assemble itself into being with its own centrifugal force.”

“Writing or making anything – a poem, a bird feeder, a chocolate cake – has self-respect in it. You’re working. You’re trying. You’re not lying down on the ground, having given up.”

Maya Angelou

The prolific Angelou saw all of life as an adventure, a dance of giving and receiving, loving and creating boldly. Alongside her positivity and strength, she tended to her writing with meticulous care, knowing that art is only as good as the intention and discipline you bring to the process. She would often book a hotel room solely for the purpose of focusing on her writing.

“Nothing will work unless you do.”

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

“The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.”

“Poetry puts starch in your backbone you so can stand, so you can compose your life.”

Sir Andrew Motion

The former Poet Laureate and founder of the Poetry Archive has spent a lifetime pursuing his craft, making him no stranger to creating while in the spotlight. He’s shared that writing from obligation can cause you to access the self-aware part of your mind, which “dries up the poetry.” Conversely, he found there is an upside to fame, as “when you’re being looked at very hard, it’s very hard to look back,” a phenomenon that helped him pay less mind to outside opinion during the writing process.

“My wish to write a poem is inseparable from my wish to explain something to myself.”

“Reading your poetry out loud is crucial and absolutely indispensable because wherever we reckon the meaning of a poem might lie, we want to admit that it's got as much to do with the noise it makes when we hear it aloud, as it has to do with what the words mean when we see them written down on the page.”

“I’m not much given to making shamanistic remarks about all this, but I’m a great believer in the dream life. If I can carry without spilling whatever it is that drips into my head in the night to my desk, then that’s valuable.”

Gertrude Stein

The opinionated, social Stein spent her days clearing her head in nature, writing in the car, and ruminating in the bath to make her writing come to life. In the evenings she hosted gatherings with other Paris-based creatives, where she’d debate with friends and curate her art collection. From her fire, we can learn as poets to trust our instincts and make our voices heard, as well as find the balance in routine that suits us best.

“Let me listen to me and not to them.”

“It will come if it is there and if you will let it come.”

“You have to know what you want to get it.”

Seamus Heaney

Even Nobel Prize winner Heaney took time off from writing to live his life and teach, allowing him to build up experience for further writing. He encouraged his students to write from a place of play and curiosity, read often, and to pay more attention to the quality of one’s writing than quantity or frequency.

“If you have the words, there’s always a chance that you’ll find the way.”

“Getting started, keeping going, getting started again — in art and in life, it seems to me this is the essential rhythm not only of achievement but of survival, the ground of convinced action, the basis of self-esteem and the guarantee of credibility in your lives, credibility to yourselves as well as to others.”

“The main thing is to write for the joy of it.”

  • Posted by Julia McAlpine
  • June 1, 2020 7:15 AM PDT
While there can be a mystical element to writing poetry, the art of writing still requires diligence and craft. Read on for the perspectives and writing advice of five successful poets who spent a lifetime analyzing the mysterious process of poetry.




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