Keith Flynn’s 15 Rules to Write By

I found this list of amazing tips in Keith Flynn’s book (that I may have already mentioned thrice) The Rhythm Method, Razzmatazz, and Memory. I will insert them here, and I will follow up with one more tip, but this one from experience. 

  1. Always allow your true nature to be expressed and apply no limitations to your beginning flow. Let come what may, as much as possible. “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” – William Blake
  2. Inspiration is fleeting. Technique is eternal.
  3. “Compose aloud: poetry is a sound.” – Basil Bunting
  4. Music is the universal language because it is mathematical. Always know the number of beats in your line and the number of lines that want to be a stanza.
  5. Never fall back on a cliché, or use any metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech that you have ever seen in print. 
  6. Never use a long word when a short one will do. Scientific terms are rarely short, but have their purpose if they do not have to be explained. Never explain, never apologize, never withdraw.
  7. Examine every sentence for more active verbs. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  8. Never use an abstract concept when a concrete image will do. “No idea but in things.” – William Carlos Williams
  9. Fear gerunds, participles, and adjectives that bleed your nouns of energy.
  10. Beware the artificial music of prepositional phrases. Remove them when you can.
  11. Give a poem the distance to speak clearly, and never send a new poem to be published. Compose in a flood. Edit in a trickle.
  12. Cut out every word you possibly can and realize that every line is a muscle in the body of the poem. Be muscular.
  13. Less is more. Repeat number 12. Condensation is the final frontier.
  14. Admit no impediment. A poem must flow with authority. Remove all obstacles – technical, psychological, or musical.
  15. Rhythm loves proximity. Balance all like sounds for greatest impact. Avoid syncopation unless that is your goal. Variance in rhythm creates surface tension, propulsion, and momentum.

P.S. Start the poem with action and leave it in motion.


These are all amazing rules for writing poetry. The only thing I would add is actually a fiction tip. “Murder your darlings”. In the condensation of poetry, often times the things we like about the poem, will not be the things the reader likes. Follow tip number 12 and 13 profusely. Brevity is the power of a poem. Poets may write novels on the side, but they never bring that form into poetry. It is my humble opinion that poetry gets its power from saying the most in as few words as possible. 

Below is a picture of the author of the list, Keith Flynn. He is the editor and founder of the Asheville Poetry Review. Check out the magazine here:


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