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Editing Your Baby



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Editing Your Baby


Editing poetry can be difficult because of the deep emotional connections writers can have to their poems, often to the point of working the entire poem around certain phrases, lines, or stanzas. This is a problem because it can interrupt clarity and direction in the poem—so what do you do?

This article will provide some tools for editing poetry.

Last edited by Aley on Mon Mar 07, 2016 6:03 am, edited 3 times in total.
  





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Vocabulary


Here are some of the terms I will be using in this guide.

Cold Read: This is when you read a piece of work without any expectation of what comes next, usually because you're reading for the first time or after a long time away. If you are reading a poem and the next lines or phrases are still familiar to you, then it isn't a cold read.

Clarity: This is the ability for readers to understand the message, story, or point of the poem.

Flow: This is the syncopation of the poem, how smoothly it reads.

Syncopation: The rhythm or beat a poem has when read aloud.

Connotation: The insinuation of a word, the associations readers have with a word, the idea or feeling a word evokes beyond its literal meaning or dictionary definition. Also known as the difference between synonyms.

Parts of Speech: If you're unfamiliar with grammar words such as preposition, adjective, adverb, etc., please refer to the Grammar & Research section of the Knowledge Base.

Other Poetry Terms: If you're unfamiliar with other terms that relate to poetry, please refer to the Poetry Tutorials section of the Knowledge Base.

Last edited by Aley on Mon Mar 07, 2016 4:39 am, edited 1 time in total.
  





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Types of Editing


There are many unique ways to edit, but they can be summed up as deleting, adding, substituting, and editing for yourself. The following sections outline some of the tips and tricks to editing with this variety of tools. In the end, editing while knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a writer is best, but until you know what those are, deletion, addition, and substitution are a writer's easiest ways to edit.

Which parts of speech to be aware of as well as deleting stanzas and lines are covered under Deletion. In Addition, there are quick tips to maintaining your poem's flow and tone while adding to poems, as well as how to complete stanzas and develop ideas after completion. Under Substitution, there is an overview of how this relates to editing with deletion and addition, as well as how to work with punctuation, capitalization, and specific word choice in a poem.

Lastly, there is a guide about developing your self awareness under Editing for Yourself to help new editors develop the skills needed to recognize their weaknesses and strengths.

  





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Deletion


One of the first steps to editing a poem is to determine what isn't needed. Poems are supposed to be concise. Many readers won't take the time to read a long poem, so deleting extraneous words is important, but what's extraneous?

Extraneous words are those which do not add to the poem in some major way. Each new word should add new information that's valuable to the end goal of the poem, whether that's an emotional response, a thought or idea, or the development of the story the poem is sharing.

Determining what to delete should be done with a cold read.

Ask yourself if the word or phrase is necessary or if another word or phrase already says something similar.

Deleting Parts of Speech


Here are some likely culprits to look for in your poem:

Adverbs
Adverbs are often accused of being unnecessary in both prose and poetry because they modify verbs; most verbs have more precise synonyms which would better fit the situation.

Whether this applies to your poem depends upon the mood you wish to create. Oftentimes, alliteration can cause a necessity to use adverbs for the right sounds. Try both options (synonyms and verb + adverb) to see which is more accurate to the mood you wish to portray.

Example: The cat lazily licked its leg. vs The cat bathed its leg.
Example: she spoke softly in my ear vs she whispered in my ear

Find adverbs in your poem and see if you can identify a better verb. Read the poem with the adverb and then with the new verb. Determine which best suits the mood and flow of your poem.

Adjectives
Adjectives are also often accused of being unnecessary in both prose and poetry because they modify nouns in a way that oftentimes can be handled in an individual descriptive sentence. They can be helpful in a poem to quickly describe something without brooding over the words. However, oftentimes a metaphor or simile is better than an adjective at connecting with a reader.

Similar to adverbs, it is best to determine on an individual basis what is best for the mood of your poem. Find both available options (metaphor or noun + adjective) and pick that which is best to produce the mood you want.

Example: across the dark shadowy hall vs across the hall black as obsidian glass

Find adjectives in your poem and see if you can use some other poetry technique to describe your image visually rather than with adjectives. Read the poem with the adjective and then with the new metaphor. Determine which best suits the mood and flow of your poem.

Pronouns
Pronouns themselves are usually not a problem; however, pronouns can sometimes be eliminated by rephrasing or eliminating the parts of speech which require them. Overall, look to eliminate these when they get repetitive or when it is obvious who is being talked about already.

Example: His hair billowed behind him. vs His hair billowed.

Find pronouns and make sure they are accurate and descriptive. See if you can remove them.

Prepositional Phrases
Prepositional phrases are parts of sentences which can indicate a relationship to something else. They require a noun and a preposition. The noun can also be a pronoun. Many prepositions are directional or place words like "in," "on," "around," "above," or "behind," although they also include words like "about," "by," and "before." These words may indicate a phrase which would be better related to something with a metaphor or they may be able to be removed entirely.

Prepositional phrases can be removed when they do not add to the story. Because poems are not novels, most of the time the exact position of an object doesn't matter or add to the story or image. Try removing the prepositional phrase and see if the image is still clear. If it is, leave the prepositional phrase off.

Example: She shimmered brightly on them. vs She shimmered brightly

Find prepositional phrases in your poem and try removing them to see if the message is clear.

Determiners
A determiner is also called an article. These can be indefinite or definite (a vs the) and are subject to use per word. For instance, British English uses no determiner with hospital, "went to hospital," while American English uses a determiner "went to the hospital." Most of the time this is non-negotiable, but occasionally determiners can be removed. More often than not, the issue will be deciding if "the" or "a" is a better determiner to use.

In the following example, "the" is removed from in front of "the mongrel" to show the difference in tone.

Example: our lazy dog, the mongrel that he is vs our lazy dog, mongrel that he is

Find the determiners in your poem and decide if they are necessary or the best choice of determiner.

Deleting Stanzas or Lines


One of the harder things to do with a poem is to delete an entire stanza or line. This can be necessary if the stanza or line gets off topic or if it does not support the flow and mood of the poem. If you find yourself caught up in a line because it's beautiful, or well-said, it can be hard to change, but sometimes this is necessary. You can save these scraps for new poems.

Stanzas

To determine if a stanza is necessary for the poem, consider what information it provides, where else that information could be obtained, and what the mood of the stanza is. Usually, if the information is provided elsewhere, the stanza is removable.

Read the poem without the stanza and then with the stanza to determine if it is beneficial to the poem to remove it, or if removing it changes the flow, feeling, or clarity of the poem in a negative way.

Lines

Lines are often much easier to remove than stanzas. They can also have a large impact, however, because new words will be connected. You may wish to remove a line if it adds nothing or very little to the poem, if the information is already elsewhere, or if it doesn't flow well with the rest of the poem. Read lines carefully and individually to determine if any lines in your poem lack value.

First, see if the line can be removed cleanly, meaning the necessary language to connect to the line after the potentially removed line is there. Next, read the poem without the line and then with the line to determine if it is beneficial to remove it.

Last edited by Aley on Mon Mar 07, 2016 4:37 am, edited 1 time in total.
  





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Addition


Another step for editing is adding to the poem you already have. This can be tricky, because good poems can have great flow which comes from the moment and is difficult to get again. Adding to a poem is about re-reading it and getting into the feeling and understanding of the poem you had before.

Most of the time, you will want to add to a poem if the message isn't clear after a cold read or editing, or if upon reading the poem you find that you've missed something that should be addressed.

Quick Tips to Adding to Poetry

- Do not just add what needs to be added, but also tweak other parts of the poem
- Edit things out when adding so it doesn't get too long
- Treat the poem like a first draft again after adding to it.

There are two main reasons writers make additions to poems: to complete a stanza that's missing information or to add to an idea that wasn't fully developed. The first ensures the language use and flow of the poem is similar across the poem. The second gets rid of typographical errors and improves flow.

Completing Stanzas

Completing stanzas can be tricky because editing a stanza can break the transition to the next stanza. To best complete a stanza, it is important to consider where the information can slip in smoothly and how that interrupts the flow that was already present.

Consider revising the transition and the next stanza or adding a stanza and a half to re-connect the poem's ideas with the next stanza. Also consider erasing stanzas completely and rewriting them if necessary.

When you do change stanzas, re-read the writing aloud or do a cold read later to determine if the new stanza fits. Keep a draft of the original in case you've changed the poem too much.

Developing an Idea
Occasionally a poem will fall flat when you're trying to get a message across, or you'll continue to ponder over something you've written and realize a new direction you wish you would have taken the poem. This can be frustrating because you can't un-learn things, so old poems can seem boring or dull because of new information.

Sometimes the best additions to poems come from rewriting instead of editing. If you're developing an idea you didn't develop the first time you wrote a poem, write the poem again with the new idea in mind. Start out at the same point, but choose new words and write the new development of the idea.

You can do this with stanzas or entire poems, depending on your style. You can even combine two poems of the same idea if you find something that works well in one poem and another section which works well elsewhere. To merge them, put the stanzas together and then re-read and rewrite the transitions and ending and/or beginning. This can help develop a well thought-out poem.

Don't be afraid to add to poems, but don't be afraid to take away from them either. Poems live in a transitioning world, just like writers, so allow them to grow and change as you edit them.

Developing an idea can also be a small-scale thing. Instead of major edits and revisions, you can do single word changes or additions. Adding determiners, prepositions, adjectives, lines, punctuation, or capitalization can all change the feeling of a poem, as well as the flow and other major aspects.

After any editing, be sure to do another cold read to make sure the idea and clarity of the poem are not compromised.

  





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Substitution


One of the best ways to edit a nearly complete poem is substitution. Oftentimes this is word-, capitalization-, or punctuation-related. We have already covered how you can add and delete things from your poem to create a smooth flow between old and new language and limit the language used. Both addition and deletion are combined while editing with substitution.

Substitution is arguably the only way to edit: when you take things away, you often replace them.

That being said, all of the tips and tricks shared for deletion and addition can be applied to substitution. Read the poem with the change and then without the change. Look for words, lines, or stanzas that are not adding enough information to the poem, discover where your information is developed, and watch for use of empty terms.

Here are some final tips for changing the tone or flow of your poem by just substituting capitalization, punctuation, and/or specific words.

Capitalization and Punctuation
Substituting punctuation can result in a major change in the feeling the poem gives off, as well as the flow of the poem. Consider the best way to punctuate your poem according to the feeling and freedom for interpretation you want to present. If you're not sure how changing the punctuation will affect the poem, explore.

Take away all of the punctuation, take away the lines, take away the capitalization, and re-read just the words. See if you can put the poem back to how it was before you took everything away. This will give you a better understanding of what your poem is literally saying, ignoring the structure. Putting it back together will also give you a feeling of what your poem needs for flow.

First, add in periods and commas where you like. Add in the capitalization, or leave it out according to how you feel about it while it's gone. After that, split the piece into lines that are interesting and stand alone. Then split the lines into stanzas when you encounter a separate or new idea.

If you don't like the results, go back to the paragraph version of your poem and rewrite it grammatically. Add in punctuation where it belongs according to the rules of grammar, such as at the end of sentences with a subject and predicate. Then break the poem into lines and stanzas according to what is interesting for lines and full ideas for stanzas.

If you don't like that result, play around with the lines and stanzas until you find something you do like.

Words
Substituting words is often done with a thesaurus, but sometimes this can make a poem book-heavy. If the writer substitutes words they don't know, the words will be out of place. Use a thesaurus to get ideas about words, but don't use words you don't know or normally use. This will avoid the problem of language sounding forced or of a word's connotation being wrong for the poem.

The best words to change are often adjectives and verbs, more so verbs than adjectives. This is because verbs carry the weight of the sentence. They are the words which do the most work to show how things are happening. Changing the adjectives can be important because adjectives affect the mood.

Focus on the connotations of the words and develop a better understanding of the word according to the synonyms in the thesaurus. Change words that need help from adjectives, metaphors, or second lines about the same idea. These are often areas where you can delete as well. Overall, focus on getting the best word for the job, even if that takes a couple days of mulling it over and replacing it with five or six different words to find the best fit.

When you're happy with your verbs and adjectives, check out your nouns. Check to see if a name would be better than a general noun by replacing nouns with names and re-reading. See if any pronouns can be replaced or if indefinite nouns, like dog, can have determiners added to make more impact. After that, check the connotation of nonspecific nouns like house, car, and so forth to see if specific words like home or bandwagon may be better suited.

Poems are pushed towards originality, so if you can come up with nicknames for things, like Goldie for a car, then use them in the poem. The less likely someone else could say whatever your speaker is saying, the better, but don't make it unclear. Use a nickname only if it's obvious from the context what is being referred to. If Goldie could be a girl, and you don't want that sort of familiarity and love, then don't use Goldie. Consider the effect the changes could have, and if they add a layer of depth to the poem, keep it.

  





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Aley says...



Editing for Yourself


An important part of editing a poem is knowing what you do poorly and editing specifically to fix those things. This knowledge can take time to develop, but it's essential if you ever wish to write at your best.

You need to know what your weaknesses are as a writer.

If you know that every time you post something on YWS, reviewers say that your poem isn't clear, then first edit a poem with someone who says it's not clear to determine how to make it clear. Edit any future poems with the same goal in mind, in a similar manner to what you did with that person to get rid of that problem.

Sometimes this is going to require many, many poems to figure thing out, or many, many people explaining what they see wrong. Don't despair; you're on YWS, so each time you write something, it gets two reviews! You can also ask for a review in the Will Review for Food forum if you want additional reviews. With this forum, you can have up to 4 open requests at a time.

(Don't forget: reviewing for others can also help make you a better writer!)

Pay attention to what you see coming up in those reviews, and if something comes up multiple times on different pieces, consider that a weakness you have. Focus on fixing those weaknesses. Find ways to write around those weaknesses, and develop an understanding of that weakness so you can see it when it shows up.

Most of all, edit a work so that it is right to you. In the end, you have to live with what your name is on, and you decide how far you take your work, so write what you like.

If you don't like a poem, and you don't think it's salvageable, then re-write it. Every poem needs editing. It doesn't matter how long you've been writing; editing is a fact of writing, so draft, edit, and redraft as much as you want. Eventually, you'll learn what your skills are, and you can write to complement those skills. This will be your style.

  





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Summary


When editing a poem, delete, substitute, rewrite, add, and delete some more. Look for language that doesn't add to the poem and language that hides the meaning and take it out. Do a couple cold reads of the poem to determine what is working and what is not. Make notes about what you think and save old drafts in case you wish to go back. Use your resources to the best of your abilities and use words you know.

Editing can take anywhere from days to months, so take your time and ask for more eyes if you want to speed up the process. Find people who you trust to help you edit your work, who are familiar with your faults, and exchange edits with them. Also, learn your faults yourself and develop a style that plays on your strengths.

Most of all, decide what goals you want to set for your writing for yourself. You are your only guaranteed audience, so don't be afraid to rewrite until you like it.

  








The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.
— Samuel Johnson