Learn at the foot of a legend with writing tips from Robert Frost, one of the greatest American poets of the 20th century.
Renowned for his ability to find beauty and meaning in everyday experiences, Frost is a master of metaphor. He turns simple tasks like mending walls or apple picking into a profound commentary on society and psychology. That blend of skill and approachability is why Frost is the only American poet to have been awarded the Pulitzer prize four times.
Though he is widely revered today, Robert Lee Frost struggled in the early years of his career. By the time he was 38 years old, he had dropped out of college twice, failed miserably at farming, and had only published a handful of poems in periodicals. Two years later, however, Frost rose to fame and would soon become an iconic figure in American Literature.
The life and work of the poet who penned such timeless and often quoted gems as The Road Not Taken reveal a number of key lessons for aspiring writers. Learning how to tell stories isn’t always easy. If you’re looking for a course, check out our review of Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass.
- 1. Keep it Simple
- 2. Write What You Know and Love
- 3. Learn to Let Go
- 4. Seek a New View
- 5. Be a Careful Observer
- 6. Find Your Voice
- 7. Write as a Form of Discovery
- 8. Write With Confidence
- 9. Get to Know Other Writers
- 10. Master the Rules (So You Can Break Them)
- FAQs About The Writing Tips From Robert Frost
1. Keep it Simple
Poet Robert Frost’s writing style is deceptively simple. His careful study of New England’s diction and his use of colloquial language makes his work accessible yet surprisingly rich in layered meaning. On the surface, one of his most frequently anthologized works, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, tells the story of a lone traveler who pauses momentarily to notice the beauty of the snow-laden woods.
Underneath, however, lies a poignant awareness that we are all ultimately journeying toward our deaths. The lesson here is that writing doesn’t have to be high-brow or filled with SAT-worthy vocabulary to be sophisticated and memorable.
2. Write What You Know and Love
Frost once said that writing poetry “begins with a lump in the throat,” meaning that writers produce their most influential work when they care deeply about their subject. Robert Frost’s poems are based on what he saw, felt, and experienced firsthand. He drew inspiration from rural life, his neighbors and family, the changing New England seasons, and the plants and animals right outside his window. For instance, one of his most impactful poems, Home Burial, was inspired by Frost’s grief over the loss of his young son.
3. Learn to Let Go
The Robert Frost poem that most people associate with John F. Kennedy’s inauguration is not the one he wrote for the event. On the day of the celebration, Frost found that the glare from the sun was so bright he could not read what he had written. Instead, he recited an older poem from memory, The Gift Outright, which many believe is far superior to the one he meant to read. Writers are often deeply invested in their work, but sometimes, scratching the first draft or editing out a favorite passage makes all the difference.
4. Seek a New View
While living in England, Frost is known as a distinctly American poet, but he published his first books of poetry, A Boy’s Will and North of Boston. After failing to run a farm and amassing a stack of rejection letters from literary publications, Frost moved his family from New Hampshire to a small town just outside of London.
He completed and published two books in three years and returned to New England as a critically acclaimed writer. We can’t all move to Europe to improve our writing, but sometimes changing environments by going for a walk or working from a cafe or library can infuse our writing with new life and a new perspective.
5. Be a Careful Observer
In the forward to his 1939 Collected Poems, Frost noted that a poem “begins in delight and ends in wisdom,” a truth evidenced by so much of his work. As a poet, Frost took great pleasure in the natural world because of its beauty and the life lessons he found there.
For example, one of his most well-known poems, Birches, was inspired by the slender, bent trees near his home. From thoughtful consideration of how they came to be bowed emerged a profound poem about longing to escape the adult world and return to the uncomplicated joys of youth. Pausing and meditating on even the smallest details can lead to keen insight.
6. Find Your Voice
Though he is the most celebrated American poet in history, Robert Frost never earned a formal degree. He did not care for the free-verse fashions of the day. According to fellow poet Amy Lowell, Frost “goes his own way, regardless of anyone else’s rules, [resulting in poetry of] unusual power and sincerity.”
What makes poets like Frost, Emily Dickinson, and Henry Wordsworth so memorable is their capacity to produce unequivocally and recognizably their own work. Look to the greats for instruction and inspiration, but when it comes to writing, let your voice shine through.
7. Write as a Form of Discovery
Iconic poems like Fire and Ice and Nothing Gold Can Stay seem so brilliantly simple, but they didn’t arrive fully formed on the poet’s page. They began with a small idea or an observation that, with time, consideration, and countless revisions, became some of the most beloved words in American literature. It is easy to study great authors and think that they possess some magical quality that makes writing effortless.
However, Frost acknowledged, “I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.” Writers evolve and discover new ideas as they work, so don’t wait until you have things all figured out. Start writing, even if you don’t know where you will wind up in the end.
8. Write With Confidence
One of Frost’s best writing tips for beginners is to believe in your potential, even if your skills don’t match your ambition. He once noted that as a writer, “you’re always believing ahead of your evidence. What was the evidence I could write a poem? I just believed it.” Though Frost had long considered poetry a young man’s pursuit, he believed in his abilities and continued to write despite years of rejection.
Being a writer is an evolutionary practice and a never-ending journey, not a destination. Start where you are, whatever your skill level, and write. As with any art, the only way to improve is to practice.
9. Get to Know Other Writers
Throughout his career, Robert Frost met and corresponded with several other writers, including Ezra Pound, T.S. Elliot, William Butler Yeats, Edward Thomas, and Earnest Hemingway. From their conversations and influence, Frost improved his craft and learned the ropes of working as a professional writer. Writing can be a solitary task, but it need not be a solitary life. Networking and sharing ideas with other writers can better your work and lead to new opportunities.
10. Master the Rules (So You Can Break Them)
Frost was, in many ways, a staunch traditionalist. He frequently wrote in traditional stanzas and metered lines and preferred simple rhyme schemes of a standard quatrain. However, his use of colloquial terms and the rhythms of conversational speech breathed new life into the old accepted ways of writing poetry.
Frost did not care for the fashionable looseness of free verse but frequently wrote in blank verse. In short, what makes Frost extraordinary is his ability to blend older accepted poetic methods with new ideas. Master the conventions of writing, and use them skillfully, but don’t be afraid to color outside the lines when creativity demands it.
FAQs About The Writing Tips From Robert Frost
What are the major themes of Robert Frost’s poems?
The poetry of Robert Frost is primarily about the human condition. In common everyday language and with imagery familiar to most Americans, he explores topics that include love, loss, aging, death, everyday struggles, and isolation.
What is the difference between prose and poetry?
Prose comprises sentences arranged in paragraphs and language similar to everyday speech. Poetry is typically presented in stanzas that may or may not be in sentence form. They are often arranged artistically and have a rhythm or rhyme scheme that adds additional meaning to the words.
If you still need help, read our storytelling guide.