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Drafting and editing poetry

Write poetry by hand. Go on, try it, even if you always write directly on the computer. I find I feel more connected, more able to take risks, more able to make mistakes.

When you’ve written your first draft, don’t rush off to something else, sit there for another five minutes. Does anything else come that might be part of that draft, something you’ve missed? You may find that there is another idea, another image to add.

Now, take your first draft and write it out again, by hand. Try to change at least one thing. Read it out loud. Look at (and listen to) your verbs, are they really active? (Have a look at Sylvia Plath’s verbs to see what I mean.) Can you get rid of any adjectives or adverbs? Are your line breaks exciting, or at the least, do they make sense? Can you find a stronger metaphor? Have you spotted (or heard) any forced rhymes? Are you saying the same thing twice?

Take this new draft and repeat the process to make a new draft.

You can now put the drafts away. Try not to look at the draft poem for at least two weeks, longer if possible. Then type the poem up. Print it out.

You want to be editing as if you are editing someone else’s work, ie editing a draft that you’re not emotionally attached to.

Read the poem on the page, make your edits/rewrites directly on the page, then transfer to the screen and edit on the computer. Print out each new version to keep. Number each version on your computer files, ie PoemTitle1, PoemTitle2, etc. so that you are always, always clear which is the latest version.

I like to leave a couple of days, or weeks if possible, between each draft. Be sure to keep all of your drafts. Another good reason not to draft on the computer is that you tend to type over and obliterate your earlier thoughts. You might need them if you feel you’ve edited back too far.

A final tip. When you think that you’ve finished your poem and it’s ready to be sent to a magazine or a competition, read it out loud last thing at night. Then read it out loud first thing the following morning. If something isn’t quite right, it will make itself known.

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