Editing Your Poetry (A Rather Confusing Business)

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Last month I talked about why writing poetry isn’t quite as difficult as everyone tries to make it seem. I pointed out that poetry doesn’t have any real rules and that it’s a way for you to express yourself using words however you want, without rules defining your structure and word choice. Now this is where it gets tricky. If there aren’t any rules to how poetry can be written, then how does one go about editing poetry they have written?

To be totally honest, I’m still not sure.

I have, however, figured out several things that I can do to help revise a poem I have already written. So I’ll share with you my top three to remember when you look at your poem again after writing it.

1.       You wrote what you did for a reason, what was it? While it’s fine to change your poetry as much as you’d like through the editing process, I find it helpful to keep in mind why I wrote what I did in the first place. I highly suggest that instead of editing the original copy of the poem you make a copy of the poem and begin editing that. This allows you to go back to what your original structure and wording was no matter how much you change it. I also often keep copies of every draft I make so that I can refer to them all as I create my final product.

2.       Imagery isn’t overrated. The more you can let a reader of your poem experience for themselves the greater the impact it’s likely to have on the reader. The best way to determine if you have enough imagery is to read your poem to someone (or several someones) and have them tell you the way they imagined certain things based on the way you described them. If you have a specific picture you want the reader to experience while reading and they didn’t experience it, consider revising. This leads me to my next point…

3.       It’s okay if readers of your poem get different things out of your writing. Poetry is one of those writing styles that often leaves a certain amount of interpretation up to the reader. The best way to ensure that everyone can get something out of your poem is making sure it’s clear. The majority of your poem should make some sort of sense. Its fine to be abstract and allude to various things throughout your poem, but don’t make it impossible for someone who has had totally different experiences from you to understand.

Editing poetry can be very tiring and is often just hard to do, but it’s worth it. You will be surprised on the improvements you can make between drafts of your poem, and the difference between your first and final drafts is often very interesting. Just take time to edit your poem, don’t try to do too much at once. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a break for a few hours, or maybe days, and come back.

I guess I could say that I have four things that I think are incredibly important when editing poetry, so here’s number four:

4.     Enjoy yourself. Writing poetry isn’t work, so don’t make it that way.