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5 Tips for redrafting a poem

Reaching the end of the first draft of a poem can feel like an amazing achievement. Those words that have been running around your head for days, weeks, months, sometimes even years, have finally escaped and become solid. You have breathed life and art out of the chaos of the universe. Well done, you. Now's where the hard work starts.

Because no first draft is ever the finished article, no matter how much we might wish that to be the case. Redrafting can be a torturous experience, bruising and exhausting and filled with frustration. So we thought it was a good idea to give you a few tips to try and help you out, or, at the very least, give you some new ways of looking at your draft before you stare at it for too long and go slightly mad.

This isn't a schema or a checklist, rather some gentle suggestions about how you can find new ways into the editing process, new ways of exploring your own words without pulling your hair out and deciding that writing wasn't actually for you in the first place. There are no easy answers here, just different paths that you might think about taking on your journey to a finished piece. So let's do it.

Put it Down

Jumping straight into editing a poem is a pathway to disappointment. You're too close, too wrapped up in the ways the words feel - and that flush of joy of having written them down - to be able to take an unbiased look at what's working and what isn't. Step away from the poem for a day or two, think about other things, and come back to it with fresh eyes. You'll be surprised at how much easier it is to spot the places where the language doesn't work, or the lines that you need to cut to achieve a better flow.

Read IT Out

Even if you have no intention of ever performing a poem, it's a really good idea to read it out loud, and to read it out loud multiple times. Are you stumbling on any of the lines? Are you stressing certain words in certain ways? Do those two phrases bump into each other? Be super critical here - you know what's coming next, but a reader or a listener doesn't. Reshape your poem to make it as smooth as you can.

A scrunched up piece of paper and a chewed pencil

Say It once

It's easy to labour a point, to repeat the same thing in different ways over and over. But poetry isn't a sledgehammer or propaganda, and repetition can leave your poem weaker. You might be using completely different metaphors and images to make the same point, but you only need to make it once. Choose the best and cut the rest. You're a scalpel, not a spatula.

share it

Finding someone you trust to read your first drafts is something of a minefield, but it can also reveal completely different interpretations of what you've written. Be open to their suggestions, redraft and try things out. This doesn't mean surrendering your voice or your ideas, but many a poem has been improved by letting a second set of eyes dance over it.

Keep GOing

These last steps are often the most difficult, but they're also the most worthwhile. Taking a good poem and making it great is an act of will, one that can feel like performing acts of personal vandalism. But it does get easier, and you'll start to spot your patterns and shake yourself out of them. Don't beat yourself up, be kind, and find the core of what you're trying to say.

Workshops are a great place to find new ideas and ways of approaching poetry, and connecting with other poets. You can find out more about the workshops we're currently running by clicking here.



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