Writing a Poetry Book: 3 Things I’ve Learned in the Process

Yes! My literary friends, I am writing a poetry book, and have been working on this particular collection for over a year now; and I’ve been learning so much as I’ve dove into this arduous and satisfying process. Here are a few things that I’ve been realizing or learning while taking on the challenge of writing and compiling my poetry for a very specific collection.

1. I limited myself with the ideas of chapters and sections

When I created my first chapbook (please don’t judge it too hard, I was younger when I wrote it), I separated it into sections and thought myself so professional in doing so. But I did that after I had already written every poem that was in the book. And in my defense, I think it worked rather well. I had poems that fit those four different categories, guiding the reader to what they’re feeling like reading at the time; which I always think is nice, but I can also be limiting depending on the collection. If a reader is only reading your poetry section on Love, will they flip to the rest of the book still?

In brainstorming for this current growing collection of poetry, I began to do a similar process. I took a main theme from my title and split it up into three to four sections. “I’ll pair these type of poems with this image-inspired headline, but then these other poems I’ll put in this other section!” But I now realize that I was too eager. At that time I had probably 12 or 13 publish-ready poems, and some of them didn’t even quite fit those elaborated categories. And when I tried to write poems to put into those categories, it felt fake and forced.

So I’ve ditched the idea, and now I am focused on writing the poems that come to me, that I chase down, and that I catch wonderful quick glimpses of around every corner of life. If I write poems for a specific category, then I’m losing sight of the larger picture, the larger theme that I’m hovering over: the first few years of marriage.

2. Individual poems can be a long time coming

I’m sitting on a nest of ideas for poems. They’re all written down: a few lines, different titles, a simple abstract image, or moments and situations that I know need poetic attention… but these eggs cannot hatch until they decide to hatch by themselves.

I try to revisit my notes, take in what I have written, and as a result I’ll often remember where and when the original inspiration came from. But if I don’t feel the inspiration recurring in the moment or those similar desires coming back, I’ll set it aside and wait for the next time to check up on those growing fledglings of poems.

But of course, this doesn’t mean “Don’t Write” if the inspiration isn’t there. Just write about something else; write about the thing that is your current interest right now. That’s what I’m trying to do to my utmost. And when I’m able to return to the nest of ideas, I usually return to find new inspiration made a home with them while I waited patiently.

3. The Title can appear out of NOWHERE

My husband and I were coming up on half a year of being married, and the poems were simply piling up. I knew that I wanted to work towards a poetry book that was loosely about my first year (now “years”) of marriage, but I hadn’t even taken the time to think of a title. Until one day while we were bustling to leave the house for an appointment that we were late to, one of us, I can’t even remember who, said an ironic phrase that hit both of us as a hilarious title for a poem: one that defined marriage in its own sweet hilarity.

I won’t say it, so sorry. But the phrase kept bouncing all over my head with so much energy, and to my surprise it was whirling around in my husband’s head as well. Before we even left the house he told me, “You need to make that the title of your poetry book.” So it was settled, and has been settled for nearly 9 months! I still haven’t thought up anything better, and honestly I hope that I never do.

Would you like to know more about my poetry collection writing process? Share in the comments! Also, who else is compiling their own poetry collection? Do you have a theme? Ideas? And what are some things you have been learning through the process? I’d love to hear your stories.