Many writers find themselves involved in pesky pre-writing and after-writing habits. We work for years on line breaks, stanza breaks, metaphor, musicality and more, but often overlook these common pitfalls. It can be frustrating to have a problem that is invisible. Some writers never even know they have this problem. Not knowing is a problem in itself, isn’t it? Do you know what I mean?

The first paragraph of this post is an example of pre-writing.

Think of pre-writing as clearing your throat. It’s what we write before we get to the “good stuff.” An effective way to identify a poem’s beginning is to ask yourself, “Where does the energy start?” Or, “Where does the story or action begin?” Those are usually good clues. Sometimes we feel protective of what we wrote first, because that helped us get into the poem. It’s great that you were helped. Get rid of it. Its goal has been achieved and now it needs to be cut. Be ruthless but be careful. Sometimes what looks like pre-writing is part of a different poem. You might want to save your cuts for later.

Think of after-writing as a salesman who can’t stop selling. Resist the urge to tie everything up neatly in a perfect bow. Readers enjoy poems that do not tell them everything. Allow the reader to come along with you in your journey through the poem. Then let them experience the ending — don’t rub their noses in it. Readers are smart. Especially readers of poetry. If you are a public poet, your readers are the most important people to your success in your craft. Respect them by giving your poem a sharp look at the end. Is it too predictable? Is there anything cliche about it? Are you repeating what you just said? Is the last part “outside” of the poem? If you cut your last line or two, would it be stronger?

The after-writing habit might be even more difficult to identify than pre-writing, but practice makes perfect. The more you are aware of these two, the more often you will notice them, which will lead to tighter, more powerful poems. This last paragraph is after-writing.