The Secret to Writing Good Poetry… (shhhh….)

by joelmckerrow

I wrote a poem today. It wasn’t a very good one. It will not change the way we see the world or heal some lonely persons soul. It will sit there unannounced and lonely. Unread by all but a small few. But I am ok with this. 


See I wrote a poem today because I write a poem everyday. Indeed today marks 365 of them. A whole year since I began this project. The choice to show up and write whether I felt like it or not, whether inspiration was brewing or could not be found, whether I had the time or had one minute sitting on the toilet. I wrote. Everyday. 

And geez so much of it is awful. So much of it will never be read again by anyone. So much of it makes me cringe. But I still did it and I’ll tell you what. Some of it rocks. Some of them have leapt off the page to scream at people. Some of it had been read and heard by thousands and thousands of people who have wept at the words and laughed at the words and found some sense of freedom in their lives that they never knew before.

I wrote a poem today and it was crap. But the only way to get to the good stuff is through the crap stuff. Indeed the very thing that will stop you from writing a good poem is trying to write a good poem. Sitting their listening to the inner critic and not quite even starting for its voice is so loud in you.


So I gave up trying to write a good poem. Instead I just write and I write and I write. This is my job. Just to show up and write. It is the only way I would have come to the beautiful and the eloquent words that were waiting to be written and spoken. I never would have found them had I not forced myself just to write regardless. I never would have been ready when inspiration did come and I could feel her moving in me and on those days I would write knowing that something larger than myself was happening. The flow. The giving oneself to the flow. Some of my best writing came out of those times.

And you know, some of my best writing came out of the days I had to force my hand to the page and squeeze the ink from it like small drops of perspiration.

So to the writer out there and to the poet and the novelist. I say to you – Show up. Everyday. Show up. Show up and just write. No ifs or buts. No critique. No listening to the inner critic. Just write. For one year. Write. And just see what poems come to find themselves at your door. It will be hard. There will be SO many days you dont want to. But do it anyways. I promise you it shall be worth it.

The difference between those who do something and those who do nothing is that those who do something, DO SOMETHING. So just start.

I wrote a poem today. It wasn’t a very good one. But I am ok with this. Cause there is always tomorrow and the next day and the next and the next and I will show up at each of them…


PS. Once you find that something magical through the discipline of showing up, then comes the sometimes even harder step, taking that something magical and working on it and re-working it, and re-working and re-working it. Making sure that you honour the magic of it by working as hard as you can upon the editing process. As Earnest Hemmingway famously stated, ‘The first draft of anything is shit.’

PPS. What got me going in this writing everyday discipline was THE DIRTY THIRTY CHALLENGE- it begins on Saturday and I URGE you to go and join in…