Unleashing Creativity: Richard Blanco's Tips for Student Writers | Facing History & Ourselves

Unleashing Creativity: Richard Blanco's Tips for Student Writers

Richard Blanco shares inspirational words of advice and practical tips to help students unlock their inner poets.

Video Length



  • English & Language Arts


English — US


Unleashing Creativity: Richard Blanco's Tips for Student Writers

Man sitting outside and typing on a laptop.


Poetry is a very powerful tool for storytelling and connecting people. What poems do is they add real names, faces, lives, stories to issues that otherwise become abstract or abstracted. And that creates sort of a connection point of empathy between what you're reading and who you are.

For those of you students that think you don't have a story to tell, that your life is boring, I'll share an adage that I always live by and in my work, and that is that in a way poetry is about finding the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary moments of our life. I was reading the Norton Anthology of Literature or whatnot, and I'm reading the famous poem by William Carlos Williams, The Red Wheelbarrow. And I'm watching my mother in the kitchen cook.

As I've seen her all my life every day, dinner at 5 o'clock on the table for us six, and I'm reading The Red Wheelbarrow, "so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chicken-- chickens." And I'm looking at my mother. I'm going so much depends on my mother slicing onions in her stained apron.

It just-- it was like here's-- it was in front of me all the time. So look for those moments in your lives that you think are ordinary. And if you're looking at it with the poetic eye, you're going to see they're just amazing, and they've been there all your life.

I attempted to get a master's in architecture. I remember something my professor always said that stuck with me, and he said, "Architecture is everywhere." It's in this button-- it's in a ring-- it's in everything. And I've extended that idea to say poetry is everywhere. You just got to look for it and pay attention, and a lot of writing is just paying attention.

The other thing I think might be blocking you is that we don't understand really that the universal is really in the particular. And so telling your particular story really has wonderful universal value to other people. It's not just that you're writing the poem for yourself, that poem becomes then a bridge for other people to connect with you and your fellow students. Poems make you connect and think about something in your life.

No two human beings have had identical experiences. And the more specific, the more unique you tell your story, the more universal it becomes.

I recommend this wonderful exercise, if you will. It's a very simple list poem, and it begins with "I am from," and you fill in the blank and just keep on doing that until you exhaust yourself. And you'll realize, especially if you share your poem with your fellow classmates, how unique you all are. There's no two poems that will be the same. I think it's just a great way to begin if you're intimidated about writing about yourself.

There's also this notion of writer's block. And I would just say erase those two words from your mind because there is no such thing as writer's block. Writer's block is part of the process of writing. If you are thinking through something even though the words aren't quite there yet, that's already part of the process of writing. And that's how you're going to get to the finished poem.

Poems don't fall from the sky. Even for me, after doing this for 30 something years, I still have to work my way into a poem, because it's really writing as a process of discovery. If we always knew what we wanted to say from the way it was sent down, well, what fun would that be, right?

So embrace that. Embrace that sometimes frustrating part of beginning to write is the first step. Usually, the more frustrated or confused you are in the beginning, usually the better poem that will turn out because that means you're doing a lot of work and work you're asking a lot of important questions.

So for those students that are already hooked on writing, I would say to continue writing and exploring. It's a lifelong endeavor. I don't think of writing as a career. I think of it more of a vocation. It's not something you necessarily aim to do because you're going to make a lot of money. That's certainly not true in poetry.

But it's something you can do all your life, no matter if you end up studying something else or whatever you do in your life. I was a civil engineer most of my life and did my poetry as well. I would say just it is a lifelong learning process, and thank goodness. So continue to always read books on craft, read other poets. Continue to do things that inspire you.

I think this applies to those of you that are intimidated by writing that also feel you don't have a story, but also to those of you that really are enjoying writing. Really, writing is like anything else in life in some ways, like any endeavor in life-- if you want to be a football star, right? Well, first you have to sort of learn the rules of the game and see what a simile is, see what's a metaphor.

If you want to be a dancer, ballerina, or whatnot, you have to learn what the steps are. And then you have to practice and practice and practice and practice, and you get better at it, and you get more instinctual at it. But that's true of anything in life, even being a parent. You have to practice and practice and practice.

I hope that helps you to take the pressure off because it really is, we learn how to write and it is learnable. It doesn't fall from the sky. And for those of you that are already writing-- and I'll say that you might have a great recital or a great season or a great game, does that mean it's going to be guaranteed next time? No, you're going to have bad days. But the important thing is to stay in there and get back and look at what you did wrong and keep on learning and learning and learning. It's a long game, but that's what makes the reward even sweeter.



Unleashing Creativity: Richard Blanco's Tips for Student Writers

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Facing History & Ourselves, “Unleashing Creativity: Richard Blanco's Tips for Student Writers”, video, last updated March 25, 2024.

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Most teachers are willing to tackle the difficult topics, but we need the tools.
— Gabriela Calderon-Espinal, Bay Shore, NY