Step 1: Choose your own sonnet adventure
The world is your oyster! You can write a sonnet…
…on your own. Get typing, or dust off that quill pen.
…with others in your home. Banish boredom around the dinner table or on the couch!
…with friends and family online. Collaborate to write and record yourselves across the miles.
Step 2: Find inspiration
Check out Shakespeare’s sonnets.
Few collections of poems—indeed, few literary works in general—intrigue, challenge, tantalize, and reward as do Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Almost all of them love poems, the Sonnets philosophize, celebrate, attack, plead, and express pain, longing, and despair, all in a tone of…
Step 3: Get writing!
Sonnets have been around for over seven centuries, maybe because they’re so much fun to write! A sonnet is a poem of 14 lines that reflects upon a single issue or idea. It usually takes a turn, called a “volta,” about 8 lines in, and then resolves the issue by the end.
Shakespearean sonnets use iambic pentameter and an ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme scheme, but don’t worry too much about all that. Sonneteers have been bending and breaking the sonnet form for ages, so share whatever you’ve got!
Here’s a quick list to help you get started. How fancy you get is up to you!
- 14 lines (though there are “stretched sonnets” of 15 and 16 lines, too)
- A big idea or feeling or issue (like love, or heartbreak, or a problem to be solved)
The next level
- A turn, or “volta”—some kind of shift in tone or thought
- ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme scheme
- 10 syllables in each line
- Iambic pentameter in some or all of the 14 lines
- Final couplet resolves the issue or problem in the sonnet
Try your hand, see how much of this sonnet stuff you want to play with, and no matter what, enjoy the experience of writing poetry.
More about sonnets
Enjoy these selected episodes from our podcast.
All the Sonnets of Shakespeare, with Paul Edmondson
Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 167 Over 400 years after Shakespeare’s sonnets were first published in 1609, what is left to learn? All the Sonnets of Shakespeare, a new edition of the sonnets published in 2020, takes some bold steps to help…
Billy Collins on Writing Short Poems and Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets
Poet Billy Collins talks about humanizing Shakespeare and other literary titans, delves into his own work and inspirations, and reads from his new collection, Musical Tables.
The Early Years of Shakespeare's Sonnets (16th and 17th centuries)
Shakespeare Unlimited:Episode 136 Did Shakespeare intend to publish his sonnets? For whom were they written? What can they reveal about their author? We talk to Dr. Jane Kingsley-Smith about her newest book, The Afterlife of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, published by Cambridge…
The Long Life of Shakespeare's Sonnets (18th century – today)
Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 142 Today, we think of Shakespeare’s Sonnets as a triumph. We read them, puzzle over them, and recite them. We compare our significant others to summers’ days, beweep our outcast states, and never admit impediments to the…
Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 41 There’s something that never ceases to astound when it comes to Shakespeare – the way this 400-year-old playwright continues to pop up in popular culture. Our guest on this podcast episode is Erik Didriksen, who takes…
Writing a group sonnet
Are you a teacher? Use this lesson plan to have your class write a group sonnet together.