Poetry Editing 101 – Session One: Respecting the Process

in writing •  last year

"Taking a poem from the first draft to the final polish is an amazing process. Exactly how to do it, will be the primary focus of this series."



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Imagine you want to craft some fine gold rings. You have all the tools at your disposal to get the job done but you have to carry out all the work yourself, right from scratch.


The first thing you’re going to need to do is mine the ore. It’s hard, dirty business and by the end of it you’re going to feel like you’re done. But you’re not. When you look back at what you’ve achieved, what you have is a big pile of rubble. The smelting, shaping and polishing are all ahead of you.

This is the exact same process you follow when writing a poem (or prose, for that matter). That first draft you just finished might feel like it took all your best effort but, when you look back at it, what you really have is a pile of rubble. Writing it was an essential part of the process and you can’t possibly proceed without it. However, at this stage, it’s far from ready for publication.

The truth is, a good poem can take weeks to get right. A great one can take months. Sometimes a poem seems like it almost writes itself in a couple of drafts and edits, even on the same day, and is ready to go. Others need time to breathe, to rest in the conscious and subconscious before they fully reveal themselves.

It’s down to you to judge when a poem is ready, though it never hurts to get a second opinion. So I can only suggest you join a great writing community like Scribes and Scribblers or The Writers’ Block on discord where you can get some feedback and editing.

So, for the first post in this series on editing poetry, I’m going to take you through the complete process of writing a poem. I’m not going to talk about the editing here – those are the things we’ll be talking about in future lessons – but, rather, explore how much a poem can develop from the first draft through shaping and polishing until it’s ready for publication.

First Draft: The Idea

On the first draft it’s all about the outpouring of ideas onto the page. Here, I may write using the formation of poetry but I pay little attention to it. At this point my ideas are probably going to seem discordant and fragmentary, but that’s the nature of the pile of ore I’m mining. My grammar and punctuation are bound to be wrong and the rhythm non-existent. What I’m chiefly concerned with here is the theme, logical structure and any imagery I can get down, all ready for what comes next.

Butterflies don't swarm to protect
the voracious caterpillar
which chews through the world
ingesting corruption
until it transforms --
free.

Second Draft: Exploration

Now the poem will probably need a little time to mature and grow in your mind. Put it away, at least until you’ve had a chance to sleep on it. When you’re ready, you’re not even going to look at the poem again but – instead – write a new version from scratch. You’re free to write as many different versions as you want. This will help you uncover the new ideas which have been forming in your subconscious. Before I start this draft, I might also spend some time researching the images and subjects I’m using.

Larva stray into rotting pastures
and feed on corrupted vegetation.
They turn at the inevitability of change
and work their own puberty
with silk and spinnerets.

Third Draft: Finding Meaning

Now is the time to compare the versions you’ve written and synthesise them into a single poem. The primary consideration at the stage is meaning (the idea and logical concept within the poem), as you’ll be working on all the technical aspects and perfecting them through the editing process. Secondary to this is the shaping of the poem onto the page, which will still be open to editing but will start to take form at this stage.

The bald caterpillar migrates
to rotting fields
in its exploration.

It chews through
corrupted vegetation
towards metamorphosis
and works its own puberty
with silk and spinnerets.

Edit One: Building

Here is where we will start to apply all the fun techniques we’re about to learn. This is the most intense part of the process where we’ll be looking at the use of simile, metaphor and other tropes, abstractions and reification, word positions and enjambments, and a raft of other things. We’ll be looking at all of them separately in weeks to come.

The bald caterpillar migrates
from green to rotting fields.
Unwatched in its expedition
of dark earth and high branches.

It chews through the world
towards inevitable metamorphosis
and works its own adolescence
with silk and spinnerets.

It hangs, motionless, tied
from the edge of a great
biblical fall before
breaking free
and falling, falling,
then winging to the sky.

Edit Two: Cutting

Here is where we will cut back everything that isn’t needed to convey either our meaning or a sense of beauty to the reader. We’ll make our final choices about layout here and may even make structural changes to further accent our underlying theme and logical process.

The naked caterpillar migrates
from green to rotting fields.
in unwatched expedition
of dark earth and high branches.

It chews the world towards
inevitable metamorphosis,
working its own adolescence
with silk and spinnerets.

Chained to the edge
of a great biblical fall.
Then breaking free and falling,
falling, falling,
winging to the sky.

Polishing

This is the final stage. Read the poem through several times and make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. Give it a title. It’s after this stage that you should get someone to cast their eye over your work, to see if there’s anything you’ve missed.

Puberty

The naked caterpillar migrates
from green to rotting fields,
in unwatched expedition
of dark earth and high branches.

It chews the world towards
inevitable metamorphosis,
working its adolescence
with silk and spinnerets,

chained to the edge
of a great biblical fall,
then breaking free and falling,
falling, falling,
winging to the sky.

So that’s it for this session. For some, there’s a rush to write and post work online, but I firmly believe you’re doing both yourself and the work a great disservice by publishing before it’s at its best. Taking a poem from the first draft to the final polish is an amazing process. Exactly how to do it, will be the primary focus of this series.

Keep writing your first and second drafts and have some to hand, as the next lesson will be on abstractions and how to deal with them.

In this new, bi-weekly series on poetry editing we’ll be looking at the primary potential problems from which first drafts tend to suffer. Forming a check-list, of sorts. through which you’ll be able to run your poems. The ultimate aim for this course is to enable you to bring your poetry to a publishable standard. To feel confident entering competitions and posting your work on the blockchain.

While we’re doing so, we’ll make some stops along the way to take some first glances into the theory of poetry, as I see it. I hope this will also be of interest to those who wish to further their understanding, as readers of poetry, in the nuances of the craft.

Before you go. please take a moment to give me a follow. It’s a great way you can help support the series and the blog. If you have any comments or questions about this lesson, or just want to say hello, feel free to post a comment below.

Now, go write!

Damian





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Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash


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Very helpful guide for beginners! Nice job man!

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Thanks mate. And thanks for giving me the prompt for the poem.

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Yes, I'd be honoured to accept.

Such a good and insightful post. I am really looking forward to reading the rest of this series, as so far it opens up more questions than that it gives answers - which is absolutely the best way to start an investigation. So thank you for that.

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Thanks for reading. Those answers are on their way.

This is an awesome post, you're a really patient :P teacher. I think this technique works on any sort of writing-poetry or prose.
Thanks for being awesome
Stay Woke

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Thank you for reading :)

I still have a lot to learn. These are pretty good ideas. I am glad I stumbled on your channel. Nice to meet you @damianjayclay ;)

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Thanks for reading. The course will be expansive :)

Well, this is a lot more insightful into the process than I expected. It always feels like poetry is some weird form of art that must exist in some kind of 'natural' state, in its original organic emotional blob-like form, but for it to be good it needs to be edited and refined just like any written work. Great read.

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Thanks, Neg,

As they say, learning to write is learning to edit.

Thanks for reading :)

Great Tips man ;) To be honest I really like to leave the work to the editors... But I have totally different process going on :) when creating... also different pieces come out as well :) I will try to put more effort into editing :P But it is really hard for me as I find small time to write and not much left for editing ... You got into our daliy dose too :) Grats .

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Thanks for reading and including me in DD.

As the weeks progress I'll be dishing out a lot of information about poetry and editing. Really, people are free to take and leave as much of it as they want.

This is so useful! Lately, I've been writing some poetry, but I was getting the feeling I wasn't exactly doing it as I was supposed to. And I was definitely right about that one. Can't wait to put into practice these tips, thank you so much!

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Thanks for reading and, stick around, there's much more to come.

I am so excited to find you and this post.
I have a new aspirations for writing. I have zero experience with any form of creative writing, but an incredible desire to learn.
I have submitted posts using the poetry tag, but don't consider myself a poet. I want to be one, and am excited to learn.
Following for more great content

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Good to have you along. Why not join The Writers' Block on Discord. We're a great community who help one another out with writing. Just click on the animated banner above.

Very good. I just do original limericks and rhyming Haikus. They don't take a long time for me. I am a bit like Robin Williams, quick of wit.

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Thanks for reading. We'll eventually get to forms in the next part of the course. Hope you can follow along.

Great post, filled with insightful tips!

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Thank you. There's much more to come!

this is cool! :D I'll be looking at you for tips in the future for sure!

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Thanks so much for reading.

Fabulous post! I am new to poetry but I'm going to keep this to read again when it comes time to edit.

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Lots of tips coming your way. Thanks for reading.

I very interested in learn poetry.

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Cool. You're in the right place. Thanks for reading! If you want to join a great writing community and have Discord, click TWB banner above.

This is fantastic, @damianjayclay. I’m really excited to read your tips, and of course resteem them to help get more exposure. I’ve got a series going on fiction writing tips, and will reference this post in my next installment.

I keep thinking about dabbling in poetry writing again, but I kind of feel like a potter attempting sculpture. I write and posted my first poem on Steemit the other day in a fit of angst over writer’s block! It’s the darkest thing I have ever written. I’m absolutely certain it could have benefited from several rounds of edits.

Thanks for all these great examples. I will study them, as I have much to learn.

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Thanks for reading and the reply. I'll check out your tips posts soon :)

I'll be going deep into editing in this series and I'm always on hand in TWB to offer crits on anything posted in the queue.

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That is awesome. You have jumped in to Steemit full force, and are showing up as an excellent contributor. That giving approach will elevate your street cred and reputation quickly. Kudos!

After reading your feedback on my poem, I will find this article helpful. Thank you!