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Steve’s Poetry Tips – Revision

Hey everyone,

I felt like writing a brief poetry tip for this Thursday, so here you go.

If there’s anything I learned from my experiences working on my Honors Thesis this past semester, it’s been to place more emphasis on revising my poems.  The most difficult part of revision, for me, has always been the sitting down and looking at what needs work.  Once I’m sitting, I can usually get at least some small modicum of work accomplished, but getting myself to approach that area and start work is difficult.  That’s why I have a few small pieces of advice to share to those interested.

First, create a space for your revision to take place.  This doesn’t necessarily have to be a “created” space mind you.  This could be a coffee shop, a library, the kitchen table, a park bench, or (as it is for me) a clean desk.

Bookshelves surrounding a desk.

Second, have all your writing accessible to you.  For me, I have a handy filing bin with all my poems, fiction stories, plays, and even academic research papers sitting right next to my desk.  I suggest having them all printed out and in front of you for a few reasons:

  1. It’s easier to revise something on paper.  I’ve never felt differently about that, even with the advent of tablet technology.
  2. If you get stuck or can’t think of the line you really want in a poem, sometimes it’s good to just move along onto another poem and come back to it.  I will sometimes just sit and read through several random poems until something jumps out at me or I’m struck with how terrible the draft is and feel like I have to fix it.
  3. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it just feels good to physically see how many poems I’ve been working on.  Helps to stop feeling discouraged when a poem just isn’t coming along well or fast enough.

Finally, the last bit of advice I have to share is to give yourself a set time of day (every day if you can manage) to sit down and revise.  To help with this, I suggest setting an alarm.  I’ve had an alarm set for 10:00 am every day for the past couple months and it really does help to keep the practice in mind, while also adding a sense of guilt when I decide I don’t have time to revise on that day.

As a brief disclaimer I feel I should say that no one I’ve ever heard from has ever really revised in the same exact manner.  I know some poets that revise when they feel that “inner inspiration” that tells them exactly what to do.  In my writing this epiphany rarely if ever happens, so I started using the methods I outlined above.

Hope you all have a wonderful end to the week,

Stephen Recker

p.s.  It’s also a nice practice to have a favorite book or two on the craft of poetry around.  I have quite a few that I turn to, but the two that stand out would be Writing the Australian Crawl and The Poet’s Companion.  Both have great words of wisdom on poetry and the latter also contains exercises that help produce material as well.

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