Writers, both those who are just beginning and those with astounding careers, can often be found giving advice on how to write. I used to take all of these how-tos and should-bes to heart until I read so many of them that I was getting conflicting reports. There were some tactics I tried that I failed miserably at. Some seemed too complicated. Some seemed far too simplistic. Round and round and round until my head spun in such a way that not only was I not producing epic work, I wasn’t producing ANY. Well that certainly wasn’t the point of all that advice.
I’ve come to believe that no writer, no matter who they are or what they do, can tell you HOW to write. They can give wonderful advice about the process and what you might encounter, but their version of writing will not be the same as yours. A writer’s voice and the writing process they use to put that voice on paper is as unique and original to them as a fingerprint. As similar as some may seem, there are no two completely alike.
That being said I still find it quite fun to read about the tactics of other writers. I love seeing what works for other people, especially now that I don’t obsess over whether or not it will work for me. I’m still very much in the process of learning my own habits and routines with attempting to write short stories and novels. Poetry, however, is one thing I have really put my own stamp on. So I thought it would be fun to share.
Poetry for me starts with a concept or a line. On rare occasions (like the one I’m showing you) I start out with a style. In this case, I wanted to try my hand at writing a rondeau which is a traditional form of poetry. I also wanted to try writing it in such a way that it could be read as though it were 100 or 200 years old, and not just now created. Still working on that. This one is tough, but I like a good challenge.
When I write poetry I start writing down all words and lines that come to mind as I think of my topic. Most of this step will get trashed. Or rather set aside in the unused concept file where I may return later and use a portion of it on another project. But yes, most of it will stay in that discarded file indefinitely.
(And as a side note, my standard handwriting is much, much, nicer than this. But for whatever reason I scribble in my pre-writing stages.)
It’s strange, when I work on my novels I can write a single page and even though I know it’s a sketchy first draft and needs to be completely rewritten I balk at the idea. I freak out at having to go through that again. But when it comes to poetry, I can hack and slash like no other. My biggest improvement since my high school poetry days? I have learned to never, ever call a work complete if even a comma break makes me feel like something is off. If one line reads a bit strange to me, something has to be done about it, no matter how much work or rewriting it takes. My poems are my paintings. If my words aren’t perfect to my ears, how could I possibly ever expect them to be to anyone else’s? (Okay, perfect may be a bit of a stretch. I’m still learning and improving with every new piece. But you know what I mean.)
When I’m writing based on a topic, I keep free writing until a line grabs me and says “Start here”. In this case since I started with a style, I’m free writing with a rhyme scheme in mind. It’s a bit more structured, but the final product will have actually gone through far more rewriting and editing than a topic-based piece will because of it. Once I start working on the poem itself, this is how my pages look. Most people couldn’t even read them straight, but I can follow the changes I’ve made and that’s all that matters to me. It can get a bit crazy. I’ve looked back on some that have a small word jotted down between lines and I could be writing so fast by then that that word looks like a scribbled line. Yet, somehow, I still know what it stands for. Go figure.
This is why I have no clear first draft in poetry. Never do. I’ll write the first line, decide a word or two is off or doesn’t match a syllable count I’m aiming for (if using a structured form) and change it. Then I’ll write the second line. Perhaps the third. Realize part of the second line doesn’t lead into the third like I want it to. Change it. Realize the third no longer rhymes. Fix it. Write the fourth line. I’ve already changed direction of the piece. Alter the first line because of it. And so on, and so forth.
There is no draft one, draft two, draft three… for me.
There is usually draft one (which has already gone through countless in-writing edits and rewrites), draft two for punctuation additions/changes, and draft three to double check word choices. The last two drafts are nitpicky, as they should be. Sometimes there are more drafts, but usually this is about it.
The rondeau I’m writing is in such early stages that chances are it won’t even end up looking like the snippet I posted above. But one or two lines may stick, a certain phrase, a certain rhyme. Either way I thought some of you might enjoy seeing a peak inside my own personal process and what better time to show you than when I’m just starting a new project!
Do you have any unique habits in your process of writing?