Think of revision as an opportunity to approach your writing with all the skill and experience you’ve achieved by now. To re-vision is a joy. Even when you feel like you are plodding through muck with cement shoes, know that you are following in the footsteps of every writer you ever admired.
Here are some highlights from a double session class I’ll be teaching at The Loft, May 4 and May 11, 1-5 pm. To join us contact Loft Education at 612-379-8999 or enroll online at loft.org.
Remember, these are simply guidelines. No rules are hard and fast, but it’s good to learn the rules before you break them:
- Start strong. A compelling first line, be it unusual or visual or sensual, welcomes your reader into your poem or other writing.
- Patterns are pleasing. You can use sound patterns, almost rhyme, a bit of repetition and alliteration, to name a few of the tools at our disposal.
- Use your five senses. Train yourself to use more than just sight. Is there a scent of lemon? Rotting leaves? Is there a swoosh of a bird’s wing? A feather of a breeze? You get the idea.
- Be vivid and specific. Your work comes alive with tension and emotion. This is the old “show, don’t tell” and adjectives are not your friends.
- In poetry, stanza breaks let us take leaps through time or space, to give the reader a little surprise. We don’t want to lose our reader, so make sure your leap isn’t too reckless.
- Line breaks, oh line breaks. Poets spend months considering line breaks. Long line or short line, breaks build the shape of the poem. The first and last words of the line get extra notice. Breaking a line in the middle of a phrase is sometimes very effective. Never stop experimenting with line breaks.
- Read your work out loud and listen. Is there music? Is it clunky in places?
- Eliminate “prewriting” and adjectives, unless they are surprising or quirky. Prewriting is all that blather you put down before the action of your poem or prose begins. Dump it.
- Use your skills but don’t think too much. Let the work tell you what shape and form and tone it needs to take. Be honest. Be generous. Be emotional. Be present in your writing.
- Phrases: If you have heard it before, it’s trite. Find a new way to say it… if you need it at all.
- Respect your reader. Readers are smart. Resist the urge to tie up the ending neatly with a little bow. Instead, bring your readers along with you and give them the little gift of pointing them to the ending. If you’ve done your job well, they will meet you at the end.
- Your writing will never desert you — even if you desert it for a time. It will always be there for you, never judging, never being angry, even if you’ve left it alone in a dark room without food or water or shape or sound. It will always accept you and, I believe, even love you.