by Ellen Gwin
Today I am going to explain the more mechanical side of how I write poetry. In later posts I will break down the process a bit more and explain more of the “why” of what I choose to do.
First and foremost it’s important to remember that everyone’s process is different and that’s completely okay! Do what works for you or try something new.
Step 1: Write down your thoughts all in one go:
- Do this step without censoring or judging yourself
- Write in your most natural voice, even if it doesn’t feel groomed
- Close your eyes and try to empathize with the poem you’re trying to write, place yourself inside of the space you want to create
- Here is what happens when I take this step:
- I always imagined what the perfect guy was and who I wanted to date, but when I saw you, you were the complete opposite of what I’d ever constructed in my mind. I was flushed with curiosity and I couldn’t keep my gaze from drifting to you. It was as if you felt it too. I looked up from my journal when your eyes met mine, it was in that quick moment, a literal blink of an eye, that I realized I need you. I couldn’t keep myself from imagining my mouth exploring yours and my body being touched by yours. I felt like I had been stranded in a whirlwind of people who never really cared to get to know me at all, no matter how hard I tried with them. Then you, out of nowhere, gave me this knowing look..It was as if you were saying, “I know we don’t know anything about each other and I know you might get weirded out by how forward I am, but there’s this magnetic force pulling me to you…..and I wouldn’t be surprised that if we got to know each other, I could love you for the rest of my life.” Please do. Love me. Love me. Love me. For the rest of my life, because that’s all I need.
Step 2: Break the poem into stanzas
- Find places where you begin a new idea, want emphasize a point, or change the pace of the poem to create a stanza
- Doing this gives you a chance to refocus the poem & your thoughts with each line
Step 3: Remove lines that don’t fit in the poem
Now I realize this sounds obvious, but it’s very hard to do this to the writing you worked so hard on & have grown to love– here are some tips
- Remove ideas that seem strained
- Remove any sentences that you feel like are over-explaining
- Remove sentences that “tell” instead of “show”
- Remove lines that seem cheesy or melodramatic
Step 4: Keep the removed lines somewhere else
- I keep the lines I remove at the bottom of the word document I’m working on
- You can also create a specific word document for lines removed from your poetry
- This way you can remove lines without losing ideas (or getting sad)
- For example here are some lines I saved while editing the poem above:
- My body touching the warmth radiating from yours.
- Unexplored are the lips surrounding our smiles might be, but our eyes have discovered each other
- “I know we don’t know anything about each other and I know you might get weirded out by how forward I am, but there’s this magnetic force pulling me to you…I wouldn’t be surprised if we got to know each other, I could love for the rest of my life.” Please do. Love me, love me, love me. That’s all I need.
Step 5: Tweak parts where the idea holds water, but the structure may burst
- Change “to be” verbs to active verbs
- “To be” verbs: Be, Been, being, is, was, were.
- “To be” verb: I was eating bad soup.
- Active verb: I ate bad soup.
- Add in descriptive adjectives and remove ones that just add “fluff”
- Original: “I always imagined what the perfect guy was and who I wanted to date.”
- Revised: “I always imagined who my life partner would be, perhaps someone tall and humble or short and witty.”
- Make sure the piece flows rhythmically
- Play around with point of view
- i.e. first person, second person, third person, third person omniscient, etc.
Step 6: Voila!
Maybe at this stage you finished your poem or maybe you need to sit on it for a week or two before repeating the steps. Either way, I hope this helped and I look forward to explaining the “why” behind using some of these tips!
Finished poem: Slightly Delusional but Mostly Desperate by Elle Vue
I always imagined who my life partner would be, perhaps someone tall and humble or short and witty. When I saw you, you existed as the complete opposite of what I’d ever constructed in my mind: neither tall nor short, humble nor witty but something far more complex and indefinite.
I was flushed with curiosity and couldn’t keep my impetuous gaze kept drifting to you and maybe you felt it too. I looked up from my journal, your eyes found mine, in that literal bat of an eye, I realized I needed you.
I couldn’t keep myself from imagining my blooming lips exploring yours and our bodies so close between silk sheets we create our own kind of global warming. I felt like I had been stranded in a whirlwind of people who never really cared to look into my eyes no matter how hard I tried to catch their eye.
Then you, out of nowhere, gave me this deliberate smile while boring into the abyss of pupils and I just wanted to scream, “The lips around our rosy smiles may be unexplored, but our eyes have already observed what our hearts have yet to admit. Please sit and chat a while and let those lips loosen like a sail to the wind. I want to unearth a new anthropological discovery in the curve of your tempting hips.”