Steve’s Poetry Tips – Linebreaks
If you’re anything like me when writing a poem, or revising for that matter, linebreaks are something that have either too much or too little thought put into them. For me, at least in early drafts of a poem, I put little to no thought into these breaks. This can have drastic impacts both on how your poem is read aloud and how it is interpreted.
When I was first beginning to write poems, the points at which I broke lines for my poems were either entirely arbitrary or to help the stanza have a uniformity of shape. As a result, when workshopping my poems in the past, a common critique was a lack of understanding why the lines were broken as they were.
Lately though, I’ve been working towards putting more thought into when and how lines are broken in my poems. I figured I would share how I’m making these decisions with you today.
But first, I want to share a picture from my recent adventures… a trip to a local spring to enjoy the hot weather and swim (A 3.5 mile walk in the sun to the spring makes the dip in the cold water that much better):
Anyway, when first writing a draft of a poem I think it’s important not to worry about linebreaks at all. Let the lines end wherever they end. If that’s before the end of a page so be it; if it ends because you ran out of space that’s fine too. You don’t need to be worrying over such minutiae in an initial draft. All that’ll do is make you over think your poem, and I don’t think there is a worse thing to do when working on a first draft. If you couldn’t tell from the context of that tip, yes I tend to handwrite my first drafts of poetry. This is a personal preference though, so don’t feel that it necessarily applies to you.
It’s during the initial revision of the poem that I have started using a new method to help focus more deliberately on linebreaks. When typing the poem into a wordprocessor, I write the poem in prose. That’s right, no linebreaks whatsoever. Then, after finishing the revision, I go through the poem (usually without looking back at the original draft to avoid effecting what linebreaks seem necessary) and insert linebreaks where the poem seems to “want” to be broken. Poems do, in my opinion, take on a life of their own once they are put down on paper. You have to be willing to allow it to go where it will and end lines where it feels right.
This process of writing the poem in prose really works well to push focus towards deliberate use of linebreaks, and I’ve been using it for every draft of my most recent poems, especially when making drastic revisions.
I hope this was some help to you all, I know it’s really strengthened my poems of late.
Till the next post take care,
P.S. If you didn’t notice, I decided to rename the blog to “Real Poetry” for now. I’ve been considering a new title for awhile, and this seems to better fit where I want this blog to head.