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Writing Tips

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August 19, 2007

Finished! This poem took you on a long journey of feelings and effort to get it down on paper. At long last you are now pleased with your poem. It seems finished and ready to show to someone. Maybe even ready to read aloud at one of the many exciting open mics for poetry, where you are getting inspired by the poets reading their poems. Their every word and phrase sounds as if no other word or phrase could be right. Some of those poet’s lines seem so polished that it’s a bit awesome. Maybe you don’t feel that it’s time yet for your poem to be heard or even seen! Maybe your poem is not any good at all? How about waiting a while before… .

OK now, reader. Let’s give this some thought. There may be nothing at all wrong with your poem. All of the above negative feelings about whether your writing is now “ready” to be read by complete strangers are a perfectly normal part of the writing process. Most writers (even professional writers) feel these very same inhibitions and qualms when they have come to the first stage of finishing a poetry or prose piece. While this may seem the most important part of writing, in actuality typing in the last line for the first time is the beginning of a thrilling (I believe) cycle of perfecting, rethinking, honing your poetry/prose concepts until you feel the delicious thrill of being a real poet and writer. This profound procedure has the unglamourous title of editing. Editing is the second stage of writing!

By learning to edit with care, the writer becomes aware of his/her innermost concerns and desires about presenting the final written product. In this “picking over the bones” process over the body of your material, you develop that wonderful prize all writers pine for. You train your own, unique writing voice to free itself up, at last! This is what editors mean when they speak about the craft of writing.

I always, always wait a certain period of time after a poem or prose piece seems finished before I start editing it. This is because it takes me some time to begin to see my own work with at least a little bit of an objective eye. This time period, which lets you step back from the work, can be days, or a month or two. Actually, this has taken a few years for some work.

Here is a sample from my in-progress manuscript, “Legends of the Garden.” It is important to capture the emotional theme of the entire book, which revolves around the timelessness of the phantasies and stories that I found as I worked in the garden. While “ Legends” is mostly written in modern form, the use of just a few literary devices from the romantic poets of the past seemed to help with this idea of timelessness. Therefore, my poem, “Just a Few Dozen Please,” is written in informal couplets. The first letter of each line in “Legends” is capitalized.

Each two lines of each couplet should show a thought or feeling. In this case the feeling and image revolves around the wonderful idea of having a surprise gift of a few dozen long-stemmed red roses. The twist that gives this poem its humor, is that the beautiful roses themselves conjure up an amusing image of someone famous suddenly showing up (just like the unexpected roses did). So that this is called a simile, because the roses are like the imaginary ‘celebrity boyfriend’ in the poem.

In the first version, line six, the word ‘like’ modifies ‘celebrity boyfriend’ who is the ‘surprise’ in this version. But after thinking about it, it seemed clearer to show the reader that it was really the roses that were the terrific ‘surprise,’ not the boyfriend. So that would move line seven up to line six where it modifies the roses. And that line move left the eight line ‘a singular light’ as a hanging phrase, or a phrase that describes nothing at all.. But thinking about this ‘singular light’ thing, I began to think that it just confused everything, and it did not give my readers any real idea of why this ‘boyfriend’ was so great to have around! It was way too vague a phrase. It had to be dumped. Vagueness is not poetic; it is just vague!

So what did I really, truthfully imagine Mr. Imaginary Celebrity might say to me? As it turns out, his words make a much more interesting, and human conclusion to this poem, than does the introspective ‘singular light.’ The reader deserves the truth after taking the trouble to carefully read your/my poem. Don’t you think so, too?

My early version:

All's well with armfuls of
Weighty long-legged roses.

Worldly things feel wonderful
When dozens of robust red roses

Have been flung into my arms
Like a celebrity boyfriend

Joining me by surprise: a
Singular light infuses time.

My edited version:

All’s well with armfuls of
Weighty long-legged roses.

Worldly things feel wonderful
When dozens of robust red roses

Are flung into my arms
Joining me by surprise

Like a celebrity boyfriend
Who is cooing, “You’re beautiful. Uh huh!”

©Copyright 2007 by Judith Cody, all rights reserved. Permission to use must be in writing from the author. Contact the author at

Motivate yourself!

As a help in getting started in the direction of the true inner poem each day, I have made a special & personal Photo Desktop to motivate you and me every time we start our computers to write.


It's easy! Just right click on the photo of the Motivation Desktop # 1, or Desktop # 2, or Desktop #3. Click "set as background" to view it as your desktop image. If you don't use the computer to write, then print it as a photo to pin over your writing place.
(Remember, my desktops are Copyright protected and are for one time personal, private use only.)