writing process

Looking for a Few Good Revision Tips?

Today’s blog post is brought to you by our Assistant Editor, Joshua Colwell.

You’ve just written a poem. It might be the best poem you’ve ever written. It has imagery, voice, theme, all the right line breaks. You might think you don’t need to revise, but here are some tips on what to do before you send it out. 

  1. Let it rest. You may be tempted to send it off to your favorite literary magazine or journal right away. Don’t. Let the poem rest. Wait a day or two before going back to it. You may later find it needs trimming, or the meter in the third stanza doesn’t flow as well as you thought. Giving your poem, and yourself, some time to rest can be the difference between acceptance and rejection. 
  2. Read other poems. Get a feel for how some of your favorite poets construct their lines. What do they sound like? What do they feel like? Do they do something with line breaks you hadn’t thought to do? Taking in others’ work flexes the creative muscles in your brain, and they’ll be that much stronger and sharper when you go back to your own. 
  3. Be active. I’ve personally found that nothing stimulates my creative side quite like going out in the driveway and playing basketball. For many writers it might be going for a walk, gardening, golfing, playing with the kids, taking photos of nature. Being active is a great way to get the endorphins flowing, get the blood pumping, and maybe get a few new ideas.
  4. Be merciless. Does this poem say everything you wanted it to say? Does it say it in the best way possible? Maybe the poem is too bloated, or it isn’t saying quite enough. You don’t necessarily need to take a hack saw to it (though sometimes we’d like to), but some lines just don’t work, despite how much we try to convince ourselves they do. These parts need to be taken out because they simply don’t work or don’t have a purpose. You can drop these lines or phrases in a Word doc and use them for an entirely new piece. The important part is to be honest with yourself about whether something is necessary. If it isn’t, cut it.
  5. Remember why you’re doing it. Few things are as frustrating as tinkering with a poem for days (or weeks) only to have it still be wrong. Sometimes you want to throw your computer out the window and never write again. Don’t. Take a moment and remember why you started this piece, even why you started writing poetry in the first place. It’s a labor of love, and too often we focus on the labor, and not the love. Change that.

Hopefully you can take one, or all, of these tips and apply them to your own work. Maybe you’ll find things that work for you we didn’t mention. Feel free to share them in the comments section below!