How to Become a Poet

By TACP Staff on July 22, 2019

Poets are literary artists who express emotions, ideas and thoughts through the use of verse; a creative writing technique typically characterized by a certain rhythm and style. The modern poet wears many hats: they can write song lyrics, devise commercial jingles, author books of poetry, write for greeting card companies, work for websites and compete in competitions; just to name a few.

1. Learn the Basics of Poetry

A poet is someone who communicates thoughts and emotions to others through the written word. Although many people associate poetry with words that rhyme, a poet may choose one of many different writing styles to convey his or her message. For instance, poets often use metaphors instead of direct language to create strong imagery for readers. There are haiku’s, limericks, free verse, and ballads, plus many more styles of poetry.

A poem may be as short as a few sentences or as long as a few pages. The brevity of a poem is one of the things that can make it a more powerful experience for the reader. The other is the poet’s choice of words. As a poet, you would need to choose strong descriptive words so your reader can envision the message and feel the meaning behind your words.

Unlike other types of writing that try to inform readers about a topic in the realm of their everyday experience, poetry often speaks to the need to escape the logical world. And, poetry is highly subjective, meaning that individual readers determine its value. What one person finds emotional and moving, another may find pretentious. Poets with sophisticated skills know how to capture images vividly and in a manner that is refreshing and original. Their poems build tension while inspiring profound reflection and complex emotion.

A poet is a creator whose art form is the written word. Some publish books of their poetry, a feat made easier with the growing popularity of self-publishing. You could also work for an advertising agency or publishing company as a poet to write greeting cards, songs, or advertising jingles.

2. Earn a Degree & Develop Your Creative Writing Skills

Some people know they want to become a poet from early childhood. They have a different way of viewing the world and expressing their thoughts that family and friends often encourage and appreciate. Others come to the realization later in life and begin writing extensively to make up for lost time. No matter where you find yourself on the spectrum, you could benefit from post-secondary education to improve your skills and learn how to market yourself.

Most two-year and four-year colleges don’t offer degrees focusing solely on poetry. However, studying liberal arts in general or enrolling in a creative writing or a humanities degree program can provide the background you need to grow as a poet. These programs aren’t as intensely focused as other writing degrees such as English, public relations, and journalism. Rather, the broad focus is on teaching students practical skills to improve their communication style no matter what profession they ultimately choose to pursue.

Creative writing degree programs provide education on both the technical aspects of writing as well as developing an individual style. Technical skills you may learn include syntax, vocabulary, spelling, and grammar rules. You also learn how to set a tone, choose metaphors in your writing, create visual imagery, and perfect a style that stands out as uniquely yours. While formal education can improve the quality of your work and open doors to additional career possibilities, some people choose to develop poetry skills on their own and pursue self-employment. But, knowing that you want to become a poet is just the beginning. It’s important to envision what you would like to do with your interests and skills in the future to help plan your own career path.

If you choose to pursue a degree, it’s a good idea to keep in touch with your classmates after graduation. Not only can you provide each other with networking opportunities, but having people in your social circle who understand the unique lifestyle of a poet can be essential to your well-being. This is especially true if you pursue self-employment and end up working alone all day.

Some other things to consider in making connections with poets and other types of writers include joining social networking sites of poets who you already admire. This allows you to follow their work as well as make connections with other writers. Reading other poet’s blogs and commenting on them when something particularly moves you can help you grow as a poet and appreciate differences in styles. Signing up for a poetry forum can be invaluable because it provides you with tips for your trade and connections with other writers. Some also sponsor poetry contests where you can submit your work or publish leads for writing-related jobs. Signing up for online poetry seminars to learn from more experienced poets and becoming part of a community of people who appreciate this written form of art can further boost your career. Equally important is remembering that you need offline connections as well. Poetry workshops, a dramatic reading, or a book launch are all good examples of community activities that allow you to become part of a local poetry network.

3. Build a Strong Portfolio & Personal Brand

Most colleges that offer writing degrees require students to compile a portfolio while still an undergraduate student. While this may not be the one that you present to prospective employers, preparing a portfolio in college allows you to see the progression of your work and gain valuable experience in creating a professional portfolio later. When the time comes to create a portfolio for job interviews, it’s important to tailor it to the specific occupation. For example, include a series of jingles if you want to work for an advertising company, or poems displaying strong imagery if you want to win a publishing contract.

A common mistake new poets make is trying to build their author brand too soon. It’s important to know who you’re trying to reach and identify your goals and purpose first. Some people try to jump right in to create their personal brand on multiple social media channels or in the community without understanding their work won’t appeal to everyone. This can cause you to burn out quickly because you may find yourself trying to fit into a mold you assume your readers want. You can attract more people to your personal brand by understanding your purpose and narrowing who you try to attract with your work.

Beyond an education, portfolio or personal brand, there are a number of skills all poets should have in order to make a living.  First and foremost, poets must be good writers who are able to communicate effectively to a wide audience, and have a good grasp of the English language (or other native language). They must have a “poetic voice,” and understand style and structure. They must also have critical thinking skills, be able to convey information clearly, and be socially perceptive; aware of other’s reactions and why they think as they do.  It’s important that poets understand human behavior, what moves them emotionally and motivates them day-to-day.

Since many poets are self-employed or work on a contract basis, they must be flexible, yet able to meet deadlines. They must be dependable and have an innate ability to handle the stress of a hit-and-miss paycheck.  They must have attention to detail, be creative and innovative, and be willing to take the initiative when necessary. These traits are also important if hired by a company or publishing firm.

But, if poetry is more of a hobby, you may also consider a career as an editor, a technical writer, a copywriter within an advertising agency, an author, or a publishing.

Helpful Organizations & Resources for Poets

Additional Guides