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Submitted on
August 8, 2011
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Poetry Self-Edit Quick Start Guide and Checklist


The idea behind this is to give newer poets a way to better edit their poetry themselves, without having to rely as much on an external editor.  It can be frustrating, especially for new poets to request feedback from a friend, or worse, to post a poem, and have all of the responses be about grammatical errors and other details.  We write poetry to convey ideas and emotions, and when something is off technically about the poem it distracts the reader.  When a reader is distracted enough to notice an error or other problem it means they might spend the time they might otherwise have spent glowing about your poem to post a comment correcting you instead.  

After this introduction is over the checklist will be as brief as possible while retaining its utility.  The idea is to serve as an organizational tool and a reminder rather than to educate on effective techniques and style.  There are plenty of resources out there to teach the things I'll list or to elaborate on them.  If there is anything that I list that deserves further explanation, please contact me, and I'll either tell you in my experience what I've found, or I'll help to locate a guide or tutorial that can do it better than I can.

Self Editing in a Nutshell

The idea behind self editing is to make your poem as strong as possible before having a third party read it.  I write poetry with the intention of eventually publishing it, so when I self edit, my goal is to get it as close to professional quality work as I can before I seek more help.  If your goals are different, that's fine.  You can still make your poems stronger through self editing in order to share with friends, family, or whomever your intended audience is.

When I self edit, I have a copy of my original poem and a copy to make edits on.  If I edit on the computer, I'll create two files via copy and paste and arrange them side by side.  If I do it with a printed copy I'll often print an extra one.  From there I go through and mark up my revision copy.  Depending on what my current focus is, I'll use different symbols and methods to identify different elements.  For instance, if I'm looking to cut down on filler words, I might go through and mark them with brackets of different kinds: [ ]  { }  < >  ( ).  Use one bracket for each type of word.  I go through my revision copy and make changes, one or two at a time, and compare how it sounds with the original.  If I think the change makes the poem stronger, I change the original.  If not, I move on, possibly to come back to it later.  

One easy type of edit I've seen that many poets fail to do is to go through and try to eliminate what I like to call filler words.  Filler words are words that have little to no meaning or weight by themselves, and are often used as part of a grammatical construction.  The English language has quite a bit of flexibility to allow us to delete words that aren't necessary.  The reason to delete filler words when possible is that they generally don't impact your reader.  Every unnecessary filler word that your reader has to read is another word coming between them and the core words that comprise the meaning of your poem.  There are many times that they simply can't (or shouldn't be) deleted, but when looking for a place to edit a poem to make it stronger, this is always a good place to start.  

Read your poem aloud whenever possible.  If you stumble in a certain place, odds are good that there is a mistake or something about the flow and style of the poem there that you can fix.  If you get the feeling that something there doesn't sound right, stop and try to figure it out.  If you wrote it and it gives you trouble, it'll give your reader trouble too!  This is especially true in poetry where a grammatical rule has been broken in order to achieve a rhyme or other effect.  Poetry is one of the few types of literature that can get away with breaking the rules, but most new poets don't realize that even poems that break rules must break them in certain ways.  Discarding grammar because you don't think it is important is a sure way to ensure that your reader has no idea what you are trying to say.

Below is the checklist.  Feel free to copy and paste it to a new document, and add or subtract things to make it more applicable to you (for personal use).


Spelling and Grammar
__  Spelling  run a spell check to find the obvious misspellings
__  Homophones its/it's  your/you're  their/there/they're etc  
__  "Correct" Typos find words that are typos that spell check misses     
__  Grammar grammatical rules DO apply to poetry.  Break with caution!
__  Tense  don't flip between past and present tense without a reason
__  Punctuation  is your usage consistent throughout?  Overused?  

Filler Words
__  Prepositions  to, with, for, above etc
__  Pronouns  she, he, it, her, his, him etc
__  Conjunctions  but, and, or
__  Relative Pronouns which, that, who, whose etc
__  Auxiliary Verbs  is, are, was, would, could  etc
__  Redundancies  are there words you've used multiple times close together?
__  Vague Language generally nouns that refer to a broad type e.g. flowers, people, birds

Poetic Devices
__  Form  is your poem true to its form throughout?
__  Simile  check each simile to see if "like" and "as" can be deleted  
__  Metaphors  are yours trite or stale?
__  Rhyme  is it used effectively or does it detract?
__  Alliteration  do you have spots where this feels forced?
__  Line Breaks  are your lines broken with a purpose?
__  Stanzas  are they well organized for your needs?  Balanced?
__  Imagery  is it clear while remaining moving or powerful?

Last Step
__  New Eyes  is it time to have someone else look at it?
I have had a lot of people ask me for a poetry guide of some sort. I don't really feel that my poetry is any better than anyone else's at its core. Even some of my best poems started out as horrendous failures on the first draft.

The idea for a checklist came to me last night when I was trying to explain to someone why I made some suggestions that I did. My answer was simple: it's just something I do when I look for ways to make my own work better.

I see a lot of poetry pop up in my watch that could use a good revision, and I think that many newer poets might simply not know how. My hope is that this checklist can help get writers new to poetry into the habit of looking for all of these things on their own without having to refer back to guides, more experienced poets, or even this checklist.

If this proves to be a useful resource, my intention is to add other things that are suggested to me if I can find a way to do so that is consistent with my "simpler is better" method. If you are an experienced poet, feel free to point out things you think I left out or glossed over. If you are a new poet, or simply not used to self editing, please let me know if you found this to be a useful tool.
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Daily Deviation

Given 2011-10-22
Poetry Self-Edit Checklist by *Mahi-Fish ( Suggested by LadyLincoln and Featured by wreckling )
DecepticonFlamewar Featured By Owner Jun 1, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
What a wonderfully useful guide. I might have to use this with students someday...

...if that's ok with you, that is. :)
Lacewinged-Beauty Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2012   Writer
This is excellent! Thank you!
vespera Featured By Owner Jul 10, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
:) this is wonderful, I'm going to suggest it to a group I think could benefit from it, if you don't mind :)
locodela Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This is extremely helpful to me!
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Apr 26, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Your wonderful resource has been featured here: [link] :heart:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Your work is featured here! :D
RetroZombie Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2011
An extremely belated congratulations on your DD, Scott! I have been so derelict in keeping up with my inbox lately, and this just flew by me! I'm so glad that this piece was recognized, being a great service to the lit community as a whole! :nod:
wyrdrun Featured By Owner Oct 26, 2011  Professional Writer
I am an Editor by trade & by nature. This should be very helpful to those many writers who are not.
Happytown124 Featured By Owner Oct 23, 2011
Thanks for the tips,they will help a lot!
louiebear Featured By Owner Oct 23, 2011  Student Photographer
I think this mite help me thanks for posting,

I have always be someone who has meany stories in my head to tell but I have be very wary how sees my stuff in till i am at my final presses although my writing has improved, I have very bad spelling eras and drives me nuts when I know what I'm thinking but my writing hasn't match up to my initial thoughts, If someone picks up and read my planing stage first drafts it looks alot like scribble ready for the bin. The way it play out in my head it just magic. and what I write most of the time makes sense to me and my mum but no one else. when I was born doctors gave me the wrong machination I was left my Creative RIGHT side of the brain I all ways fleet difference to most from as early age and would come preschool crying why am I so different, there are still times where I am a bit like that but I am have excepted who i am and my extraordinary way of story telling in a different way. wherever it is photographic, writing, or painting, I really want to embracing my writing to another level just like all my other interests in life. I have be putting aside writing a bit but now seeing this I want to give it a good go at it as I have already establish myself in the other areas in my creative fields
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