" Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear."
— Patricia Fuller
Hi, I'm A.I. ANNIE, your writing guide
Writing a poem combines inspiration and craft. Here are 9 steps that will take you from first draft to the final edit before publication.
1. Take Your Time
a) After the rush of inspiration you have a bunch of lines on a page. It's rare that a poem like a hot cake comes clean baked out of the tin. Feel good about getting your thoughts and feelings out.
b) The mood of the first write is not the mood of the first edit.
c) The first step is to take a metaphorical step back and put what you have written away in a draw or stored on your hard drive.
d) Why? Because it is far better to come back to something raw with a little dispassion and detachment, otherwise your first edit could damage what you have written.
The First Review
a) Read through the draft from beginning to end.
b) The first mission of your edit is to recognise that a poem is like a chain that needs strong link. Weak links can be found in the poems grammatical structure, repetitive ideas that don't advance the poem, cliches and unoriginal expressions.
c) What lines represent the emotion core of your poem? Make a note.
d) Do these lines stand out from the rest of the poem?
e) Are there any lines that seem weaker than the core statement?
The Beginning and End Test
a) Think of your first lines as dirty water when turning on a rusty tap. Just as it's best to let the brown water run clean recognize your first lines may be (not always) rusty water and not central to your topic.
b) Cover them up and see if the next lines work regardless.
c) Now look at the last lines. Often when writing, we don't quite recognise whether or not the poem has ended. Just as a runner crosses the line he or she will take some extra steps before coming to a standstill. Is your ending like the runner's after steps?
d) Your ending needs to be as clear and inevitable as your opening lines. If the last lines are weak look back to see if an earlier line is where the poem crossed the winning line.
Read the Poem Aloud
a) Reading aloud is one of the most powerful editing techniques and reminds us that poetry began as oral art before writing was invented. The majority of poets also love to read their poems aloud before audiences.
b) The way a poem reads on the page isn't how it necessarily sounds. Reading it aloud will give you clues on its strengths and weaknesses.
c) Does it flow? Does it need new punctuation? Is there a missing image or idea that connects to the next?
d) Are there any words that don't feel necessary eg. excess adjectives or repetitive ideas that don't advance the poem? After making changes how does it read?