I’m sure people who’ve never tried it think writing poetry is some relaxing exercise that – if not exactly easy – is akin to a half an hour with a vodka and orange doodling romantic things in a pleasant manner.
Admittedly, it’s enjoyable and a tad addictive, but to get it right is effin’ difficult and often frustrating.
It’s hard work, in other words.
It’s the other words that are the problem most of the time, finding them, and then arranging them in the right alchemical order.
It can be a bugger.
Everyone has their own way of writing and presumably their individual ways of getting from first draft to that polished submittable final work.
Revision is, for me, where the major slice of my writing time is used up, but there are strategies you can employ to maximise the value of that time by concentrating on various aspects of your work in a logical and systematic way.
If one compares poetry to photography – and to be honest there’s no reason you should, it’s just a cheap way of bringing in some handy mental visuals – then the writing of the poem would equate to taking the photograph, and revision would equate to heavy Photoshop post production.
I have to stress here that what I am about to expound upon is my personal workflow process and none of it is mandatory, but I hope that some of you find it useful.
Revision is clearly different for everyone. Some folk, I have read, dispose of the first draft entirely and rewrite the whole thing on the presumption that they will remember and improve on the good elements while discarding or reworking the things that weren’t working.
That’s never been good for me. I am more of a ‘take the broken thing and fix it’ person, rather than ‘destroy the broken thing and build a new one’
Anyhoo, whatever your revision regime is otherwise, there are strategies you can employ to make it a more thorough process, examining your first draft by looking at different aspects of it sequentially in a logical order.
I have to also point out that a variation of this process was originally found in one of those ‘How To Write Poetry’ books (of which I have dozens, and only found one or two useful in any real way) although I am at a loss to remember which. I promise I will credit the book when I eventually track it down.
It’s evolved somewhat since to fit my own personal workflow, but this should work for most people. The fun is in finding your own recipe that works for you.
At this point I would like to address the issue of organisation and storage of your work since for me it dovetails into the revision process. In this day and age I would advise storing your work digitally. How you get to the first draft is up to you. I usually write by hand late at night, often in bed, although I also write some work on my phone or laptop. You can write them in organic violet ink on hand-pressed papyrus for all I care, it’s what happens to them when the first draft is finished that’s important here.
My preference for storage and organisation is an Access database, regularly backed up. For revision I use Evernote, a free app (with upgrade options) which allows you to edit ‘notes’ on, for instance, your smartphone. When synced this will upload and is accessible to another device, such as a laptop, with Evernote loaded.
For a long time Evernote gave its users an unlimited number of devices, but recently have introduced a limit which I believe is three. I upgraded to an annual plan as I use it on my work mobile, personal mobile, laptop and a tablet.
Before Evernote, for revision purposes, my most efficient tool was the humble ringbinder. At one point I even had a stock of A5 paper so that I could print out poems onto prepunched A5 paper and carry them around in an A5 binder. This is far easier to deal with on a bus or train than the A4 version.
However, let’s stick to basics.
1 ream of blank paper
The Luddites among you may wish to copy out your first drafts by hand onto the A4 sheets. If so, one per page. Double space your lines.
Those with Word or other WP packages should put all your new (or to be reviewed older) poems into one document, double spaced.
Set the header for every page to contain the following sequence
V A W C M R A I P L B R E
Those working by hand will need to either write these letters at the top of each page or keep one master page, empty apart from the letters at the top and make as many photocopies as you have poems to revise.
I find between 28 and 40 is a manageable amount.
Print the document, holepunch the pages and place them in the ringbinder.
This process will rely on you examining only one specific aspect of the first poem in the folder, and making any necessary changes. Each letter in the sequence relates to these specific aspects and will be explained later.
Once that aspect has been ruthlessly scrutinised and any changes made, one crosses off the letter in the sequence, moves the sheet to the back of the folder and looks at the next poem.
The reasons for not doing the whole sequence in one poem at the same time are many. After 2 or three serious examinations of the one piece, poem fatigue sets in and the words cease to make sense. Distance is needed for any further progress. It needs to rest. One pass ensures that the poem will be relatively fresh the next day or the next week for a look from a different angle.
For instance I may come to a poem where A W C and M have been crossed off, leaving R A I P L R E.
You are therefore at the first stage R.
This would require you to concentrate on the Rhythm of the piece, as R stands for Rhythm. Make any necessary changes and if you are satisfied that your piece flows with a nice rhythm, without any clunks or awkward syllables then cross out the R and move the poem to the back of the folder.
If you are not sure then leave the R uncrossed and move to the back of the folder.
Move on to the next poem.
Get it? Got it? Good.
One odd phenomenon of this process is that while you are concentrating on one aspect, other aspects will sometimes become clearer. Amend as necessary.
Often, no changes will be needed at all. If so, cross off the relevant letter and proceed to the next poem.
New poems should be printed out, punched and put at the back of the folder. This ensures that, once you are through the initial batch you get a more random selection of letters to deal with as you work through.
I will be providing a separate post if anyone expresses interest in how to do this in Evernote.
Next instalment tomorrow in which I will explain what the first block of letters mean. I’ll be providing links in due course so that one can navigate back and forth through these posts.
It would be interesting to know what other people’s revision process is. Feel free to let me know. I am always keen to learn something.
To go part II click the link below
Bruno is another of my favourite detectives. St Denis, in the Dardogne, is a French kind of Midsomer, and St Denis happens to be the domain of Bruno, Chief of Police, a fit young police chief who, between hunting, raising hens, making omelettes and training the local rugby team, somehow finds time to solve crimes and have a complicated love life.
It must be the French air.
An arson attack on an unsanctioned experimental GMO farm generates an investigation by a Brigadier as it appears there was government involvement in the farm. Meanwhile American investors are planning to buy half the valley to mass produce cheap wine. Things get complicated when the chief arson suspect is found dead and Bruno finds himself torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool, as Shakespeare once said.
I recently criticised a novel which was set in London, but if you didn’t know London, you’d be no better off after reading the book. It might as well have been Hull or Omsk.
Here the setting is so well realised that I ache to be there. It is a separate character in the novel. I want to be invited to Bruno’s dinner where one eats the birds that Bruno shot himself, wiping the plate with fresh bread to make way for the next course and drinking a fantastic variety of local wines.
I don’t care if I’m in line for murder. I am seduced by the writing and the characters and the place.
More Bruno… and more wine please.
If you are in Edinburgh, Try this out.
I’m taking my first full-length spoken word show to the Edinburgh Fringe in August (see Forthcoming Events page for details) and I’m going to try to blog about how it’s going, starting from now, when I’m about a month into full-time, serious preparation.
In many senses, my expectations are modest. I know, for instance, that I’m not going to make any money. Edinburgh is always just a very expensive holiday. I’m going with PBH’s Free Fringe, an organisation which doesn’t charge for venue hire, but also doesn’t charge audiences to watch (although a bucket is passed round at the end, so they can pay you if they want to). While this eliminates the single biggest cost of taking a show to the paid Fringe (if you’re paying for venue hire, you can be looking at anything between £300 and £2000 a week), all the other costs involved (accommodation, travel, printing…
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I find that I have got into a regular writing routine, which is good. It’s a minimum of an hour a day, but at weekends and days off from paid work can stretch to three or four.
There’s often an additional hour writing in bed before I go to sleep. This is dangerous territory, albeit very rewarding, since although it is quiet and I am relaxed enough for creative thoughts to flow I have been known to wake up with my face in a notebook and ink all over my nose.
Today I spent some time in Caffe Nero which, it being Ramadan, was mostly abandoned. Two customers including myself. There were some people sitting outside in the sun but I suspect most of them hadn’t bought any coffee.
Oddly, this made me feel slightly less relaxed. I find when I am thinking I tend to unconsciously study other people and when there are not enough to make it worthwhile I feel oddly frustrated on a level that nibbles at the toes of my conscious self.
Additionally, if you stare too long at one person it usually ends up with angry words or an offer of dinner. Dinner would be nice but it’s not really practical at 3.30 in the afternoon.
As I mentioned, Ramadan plays a part in this drought of customers since two of the coffee shops I regularly frequent are in areas with muslim communities. For a month every year therefore I can have a much larger selection of tables. I shall focus on this benefit and soldier on.
I have recently been, at least on Facebook, very political what with the UK having an election imminent and have probably, I am thinking, annoyed a good few of my Facebook friends.
What I tend to forget, which seems absurd on the face of it, is that Facebook is not a diary and I am not just venting my frustration to myself.
For those of you not in the UK, I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of the political background, suffice to say that my views are to the left of most people I know. In brief, I think Conservatives are evil, corrupt and need to be wiped from the face of the political map. Some of you may disagree and feel that they need to be wiped from the face of the Earth. That is your right, and I respect it.
My father dabbled in Communism for a while before settling on Labour. Local political figures used to drop round to our house in North Wales, at which my mother and I were banished to the back-kitchen, much to her displeasure. ‘They always come round when there’s a good film on,’ she would say, but not until she was sure the whistle of the kettle would keep her words from being overheard. Having said that, my father was not really an influence. I always found his judgment suspect as he was also an unshakeable Creationist who believed the whole Adam and Eve thing which logically I could never see as being remotely possible as an actual true event, even as a child. I came to Socialism (and indeed atheism) through my own experience and convictions.
So, I’ve been posting anti-Tory posts mostly, I am now suspecting, as a form of self-exorcism of my frustration and anger. It can be a cathartic experience, but there’s the danger it’s just as likely to piss lots of people off. So… sorry about that.
I should be attempting to engage and educate people I guess, but I suspect nobody takes a great deal of notice of what I say anyway.
That’s probably a good thing. One of my first acts as World Leader would be to ban the manufacture of strawberry jelly babies, which I believe to be the Devil’s own confectionery. Nasty little pink bastards. I generally bundle them up in a jiffy bag and post them back to Bassetts Head Office without a stamp.
If that had been in the UKIP manifesto they’d have been in government by now.
I’m hoping to use this blog as a kind of notebook for ideas and suggestions as well as a platform for discussion on topics of interest. We’ll see how that goes.
No doubt there’s an awful lot more that I can do here than I appreciate at present, so please bear with me if this first post is a trifle brief. Believe me, I can whinge at length, if only to myself.