Revising your poems

Take out drafts of poems and follow this step-by-step method to revise your work:

1. Lay drafts of each poem on a flat surface. Read them sequentially, from first draft to last, and choose the best draft. Usually (but not always) the last draft will be the most effective because you knew your poem intimately when you composed this version. In any case, put aside your most effective draft.

2. Review every word and line of your lesser drafts. Occasionally you'll find better passages in these attempts that somehow failed to make it into your most effective one. Or perhaps a stanza or title of a lesser draft seems, in retrospect, more powerful. Circle these passages or elements of craft on each lesser draft and put them aside.

3. Return to your most effective draft and compare it to lesser ones with circled passages and/or elements of craft. Consider whether you can insert or apply the circled elements to your most effective draft. Often it will be easy to insert a dropped word or line or to replace a title or revise a stanza. Sometimes it will be impossible because your most effective draft may be a sonnet or form poem or may contain a distinct meter or rhyme. Or perhaps your free-verse version took a different direction that no longer requires that word, line, passage or element of craft. If that is the case, take out your journal and save that word, line, passage or element for another day and another poem.

4. Insert your remaining word(s), line(s), passage(s) or craft elements) into your most effective draft and then read the entire poem again. Smooth voice, sharpen line, evaluate your stanza preference and/or title β€” and whatever else you need to improve the draft β€” and set it aside for a few days. Make a new file titled "Old Drafts" and clip and store your earlier drafts of each poem here, so you can return to them later in your career to note your progress. As time goes on, your "Old Drafts" file will contain a wealth of information about your strengths, weaknesses and work ethic as a poet.

5. Return to the draft of your most effective poem (which now contains improvements from other versions). Waiting a few days β€”or even weeks β€” to return to revised work will allow you to evaluate your poem more objectively. For instance, you may no longer remember your inserts or revisions, so you can read the poem as a single work. Make improvements, if needed, and repeat this step until you're satisfied with the poem.

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