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Poetry Self-Edit Quick Start Guide and Checklist



Introduction

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).


POETRY SELF EDITING CHECKLIST




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.
Add a Comment:
 

Daily Deviation

Given 2011-10-22
Poetry Self-Edit Checklist by *Mahi-Fish ( Suggested by LadyLincoln and Featured by wreckling )
:iconzman1130:
zman1130 Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2015  New member
Many people i know will find this benificial, thank you mahi-fish.
   
                                                                                            sincerely, 
                                                                                                          zman1130
Reply
:icondecepticonflamewar:
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. :)
Reply
:iconlacewinged-beauty:
Lacewinged-Beauty Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2012   Writer
This is excellent! Thank you!
Reply
:iconvespera:
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 :)
Reply
:iconlocodela:
locodela Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This is extremely helpful to me!
Reply
:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Apr 26, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Your wonderful resource has been featured here: [link] :heart:
Reply
:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Your work is featured here! :D
Reply
:iconretrozombie:
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:
Reply
:iconwyrdrun:
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.
Reply
:iconhappytown124:
Happytown124 Featured By Owner Oct 23, 2011
Thanks for the tips,they will help a lot!
Reply
:iconlouiebear:
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
Reply
:iconzman1130:
zman1130 Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2015  New member
This is an example of a run on sentence in a way, what I mean is this could have been writen way much shorter, talking about how something helped you and hoping to spread it toward others, express it more foreward , 'cause not every one has time to read it. This just a thoughtful thought, please don't take this personal or the wrong way, this is what english professor prefer.
                   
                                                                               sincerely,
                                                                                             zman1130
Reply
:iconhavetales-willtell:
HaveTales-WillTell Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011  Professional Writer
:thumbsup:8-) A concise checklist for the novice poet. Hopefully a number of them will see it and make use of it. Congrats on the DD feature.

If I may offer an after-the-fact suggestion, it seems to me that your explanations and clarifications might be capitalized, especially where they form their own full and complete sentences. It also seems like their spacing could be a bit more consistent, with double-spacing either eliminated or used consistently throughout.

:twocents: Just my two cents — a penny after taxes. And not meant in any way to detract from the work you put into this piece, or its obvious helpfulness.
Reply
:iconzman1130:
zman1130 Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2015  New member
Nice pun
Reply
:icondigital-subconscious:
Digital-Subconscious Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011  Student Photographer
A few good tips in here I see.
However I think this is a bit constricting to someone who is just learning to write or is "trying to do it perfect".

Poetry is about the soul, it's about flow and making art.

That being said, if writing to a certain style, certain rules must be followed.

All else is free form writing and is grounds for having everything you wrote being broken, with purpose. And the author knowing why they have done what they have done. If your capitalizing everything 3rd word, then that's your style and that's your choice. So all that said, I would include something pertaining to the free form flow of poetry and to not always judge it too harshly. Especially if it's free form, because then your just strangling with rules, and that kills the muse.
Reply
:iconbeyondimpression:
beyondimpression Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011  Professional Photographer
Thank you for this!
Reply
:iconalapip:
alapip Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
this was a very generous effort for us
who may have the inclination to try a
bit harder to improve, Scott.

and, well deserving of a DD for the
instruction and clarity.

:)pip
Reply
:icona-glass-brightly:
A-Glass-Brightly Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011  Professional Photographer
Very useful. Great job!
Reply
:icondrunken-splice:
Drunken-Splice Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011  Professional Writer
Man, if I'd had this when I was just starting to self edit I would have been so much further along. This is great for beginning poets. When I first started writing/editing I was so utterly conservative on grammatical rules and I never wanted to delete filler words. I don't think anyone every told me I could, actually. I'm so excited to see someone talking about in an editing checklist. When I finally let myself delete them, it was the biggest revelation to me and totally changed the way I edit.

I still tend to go heavy on filler words on my first draft in an attempt to just get the idea out and flowing and then edit them out later. If I was to say anything in terms of adding to this, I might throw in a sentence about that--telling them that it's ok to have filler words when you're trying to get the poem out at first, then it's super easy to cut out later. I know that if I honestly tried to write the poem and consciously think "do I really need this auxiliary verb/relative pronoun here?" I'd get lost in that and lose the creative momentum I tend to get when a piece is good and worth writing about.

Congrats on the DD
Reply
:iconthe-mad-hatress:
the-Mad-Hatress Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011  Student General Artist
Helpful. :thumbsup:
Reply
:iconrlkirkland:
rlkirkland Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
Very Nice...
Congratulations on your DD. :clap: :clap:
Reply
:iconsuperwritergirl97:
superwritergirl97 Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you this REALLY helps! :D
Reply
:iconsadisticicecream:
SadisticIceCream Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011   Writer
I never know where to start when I'm editing poetry (mostly because I'm more of a prosemonkey than a poet =p), but this is going to be so helpful. :D
Reply
:iconlit-twitter:
Lit-Twitter Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011
Chirp, congrats on the DD, it's been twittered. [link] :)
Reply
:iconaxe-cell:
Axe-Cell Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Useful indeed, I'd just realized that I'd used too much Conjunctions and Relative Pronouns in my poems. Congratulations on the DD and my many thanks to you, sir. :bow:
Reply
:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
:dance: YAY! `LadyLincoln beat me to the suggestion. :giggle:
Reply
:iconmahi-fish:
Mahi-Fish Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011
:hug:

:D
Reply
:iconprincesshyuna:
PrincessHyunA Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
This will be able to help me in english when I'm writing poetry, thank you!
Reply
:iconmahi-fish:
Mahi-Fish Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011
I'm glad it'll be useful. :)
Reply
:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
The line breaks check is one I often have to remind myself about. And, if you're interested, a wonderful guide on that very topic: [link]
Reply
:iconmahi-fish:
Mahi-Fish Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011
I like this guide. I find that I break my lines intuitively most of the time, but I do occasionally like to use breaks in the last way - as a way to create double meanings.
Reply
:iconkayin91:
KaYin91 Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
Taking into advantage you took the effort in writing this guide, I would like to ask you on something that's been bugging me for a while now.

I'm not any native speaker of English, but I do have certain formal notions on poetry in Spanish.

While English language does let us eliminate several "filler words" as you called them, normal use of English does not let for grammatical subjects to be eliminated (e.g. we do even ask "what time is IT?").

As for my "good" (or rather "better") poems, I still haven't found any good way around starting 50% of lines with the pronoun. For example...
I'd love that we blablabla
but you blablabla
and we blablabla...
When I blablabla"


I am unfortunately not well read in English poetry.

Just if you have time, please give a quick glance at [link] . It exemplifies a cherished poem of mine, marked by the sinful taint of repeating pronouns... people believe that I try to emphasize "thou" so it sounds old-fashioned or haughtier... but the thing is I don't want that damn "thou"ing to detract too much the attention from the actual emotions/actions. I don't mean to sound rude.

And thanks for sharing.
Reply
:iconmahi-fish:
Mahi-Fish Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011
Hiya,

I'm very sorry for the very late response. I'd love to help. I tried the link that you provided but it didn't seem to work. Would you mind trying again?

In general though I strongly suggest against using the archaic pronouns like thee, thy and thou. The only time I'd suggest using them is when you are writing a poem or other piece that is meant to closely emulate the style and language of a particular era. Depending on the phase of the English language you are trying to emulate there could be slightly different variations on the rules which can be more or less strict. I've taken an entire course on the history of the English language with a detailed look at the use and evolution of archaic pronouns, and I'd *still* want to use a reference before using them in my own writing.

The problem for the writer is that most of us aren't comfortable with these pronouns and their correct usage, and so it is easy to make mistakes. The problem for the reader is compounded then. The first problem is that most readers don't read things that use archaic pronouns on a regular basis, and so they will almost always feel awkward. The second is that if the writer makes a mistake it'll often sound wrong to the reader, even if they won't be able to place their finger on why. I once read a series of fantasy novels that tried to use "thee" and "thou" to give a set of characters a distinctive speech pattern, and because they kept mixing them up I found it too distracting to continue.


As far as cutting pronouns go it's possible and even valid to do in poetry, but it's often not necessary. As long as there is some variation in the structure of your lines a handful of pronouns won't be a distraction.
Reply
:iconkayin91:
KaYin91 Featured By Owner Oct 23, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks for your reply! I, too, am mostly against using those especially if trying to give the text an "archaic" AND "formal" tone whereas it'd be historically much inaccurate, and where it is not intended to be placed in the historical era. (But this one time something was crying "thou wast abandoned by the sea" and i HAD to write it hahaha).

Poetic licenses would give us, once acquainted enough with the rules, permission to do virtually whatever we want to. BUT, i meant it in not-so-experimental poetry. So you say i worry not that much about having to write pronouns this frequently? I'll take that into account!

I *had to* delete that deviation. But anyway, thanks for your help! Much appreciated.
Reply
:iconangelstained:
angelStained Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011   Writer
Try the Critique thread in the Lit Forums if you haven't already.
Reply
:iconyouinventedme:
YouInventedMe Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2011   Writer
well done, scott. this shall be my first favorite on this type of material.
Reply
:iconmahi-fish:
Mahi-Fish Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011
(I know this is a super late reply, but I'll send it anyways)

I'm glad you liked it Shane. This was an experiment for me, and I'm glad that it seems to have turned out to be well received.
Reply
:iconindiana-w:
indiana-w Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2011  Student Writer
I bet this is very useful for beginners!

(Hopefully long-time writers already possess these skills.)
Reply
:iconmahi-fish:
Mahi-Fish Featured By Owner Aug 11, 2011
The intended audience is mainly beginners, but I still see many experienced writers miss a few of these. I know that I've posted a few pieces even somewhat recently where I missed at least one thing on here.

I also know several very talented writers who are just not very good at editing their own poetry, and instead rely on others to do it all for them. Hopefully this will help people in that boat as well. I thought that something in checklist form that could be quickly and easily gone through as a reminder would be helpful. I haven't really seen anything done like that before.

:) I'm glad you came by to check it out.
Reply
:iconindiana-w:
indiana-w Featured By Owner Aug 12, 2011  Student Writer
I'm glad you're contributing to the community :heart: Very noble!
Reply
:iconphoneix-faerie:
Phoneix-Faerie Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
really good checklist :) im sure itll be usefu
Reply
:iconmahi-fish:
Mahi-Fish Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2011
:D Thanks Jenni! Glad you found it helpful.
Reply
:iconphoneix-faerie:
Phoneix-Faerie Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
You're welcome, it's really helpful
Reply
:iconunclaimedbaggage:
unclaimedbaggage Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2011
needed
Reply
:iconmahi-fish:
Mahi-Fish Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2011
Thanks! Hope it's useful!
Reply
:iconunclaimedbaggage:
unclaimedbaggage Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2011
Most definitely.
Reply
:iconangelstained:
angelStained Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2011   Writer
Thank-you— this is quite useful, I see. I tend to mess up sometimes with tenses myself.
Reply
:iconmahi-fish:
Mahi-Fish Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2011
Yes, it was intended to help newer poets, but it can also be useful as a quick checklist for more experienced ones. Anything you can think of to add?
Reply
:iconangelstained:
angelStained Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2011   Writer
I browsed through past critiques, and:

Check for contradictions in imagery? Like in the first line "roses are red" and suddenly in the fifth "my blue roses"
Check for vague words eg. "people"
Keep in mind the connotations of words

I don't know if these are basic or not though. Or too subjective. I've never conciously checked for them in my writing, but I've picked up on these for others.
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:iconmahi-fish:
Mahi-Fish Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2011
Both sound like good bits of info. The second especially I'll find a way to work in. I just need to figure out how to phrase the first to fit with the format.

Great ideas.
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