(no subject)

A Final Word



I hope you enjoyed this week's thoughts on writing poetry. I hope even more that you are all dabbling away in it right now. A poem is so small, so neat, so easy to draft. So quick to draft. That's one the things I love about it. 

But like any writing, the real work, the real glory, the real birthing, takes place in the revision stage. Once you have a draft, you can begin.


Some basic tips on revision:



Step One: TIME.


Like any writing, the first thing you should do is put it away for a good long while. Wait until it has definitely cooled off, then pick it back up again and read it with an objective eye. Read it silently, read it out loud, and have someone else read it out loud to you. Listen with fresh ears.



Step Two: Objectivity. Separate the poem from yourself.



Now is the time to view it as though someone else wrote it. Where is the extravagance? The lines that make you cringe? The stumbling and awkwardness? Is there a nice poem in there, hidden? Find those faulty words and sentences, nail them, slash them, or at least mark it to come back to and fix. 


Mary Oliver says she usually revises forty or fifty drafts of a poem before she begins to feel content about it. She has this to say:


"What you are first able to write on the page, whether the writing comes easily or with difficulty, is not likely to be close to a finished poem. What matters is that you consider what you have on the page as an unfinished piece of work that now requires your best conscious and patient appraisal. 


One of the difficult tasks of rewriting is to separate yourself sufficiently form the origins of the poem--your own personal connections to it. Without this separation, it is hard for the writer to judge whether the written piece has all the information it needs--the details, after all, are so vivid in your mind."


Step Three: Jump In.


Start experimenting. Cut, rewrite, try on alternate lines, alternate ideas, come at it from different angles. Dive in and go!


Need a little more help? Don't know where to start? Consider transforming your poem to prose. Simply take out all the line breaks and put everything in a neat paragraph. This can allow you to view your work with a fresh eye and can allow certain errors to leap off the page as well. It can also restore us to our comfort zone and let us breathe easier, feel more confident about rewriting. Granted, doing this will involve a bit of back and forth, as you simply can't create a poem by taking prose and inserting line breaks. But it can be a good place to start, and the back and forth may generate further ideas and images.


Another idea that may be helpful is to join a writer's group, or have a trusted friend read your poem. If they say, "I like it," or "I don't get it," pursue details. WHAT do they like about it? WHAT makes them confused? Where? Which lines?


Step Four: Relax.


Everything good takes time. If it were easy, we'd all be multi-published billionaires by now. Is there any hurry for your poem to be finished? Is the world awaiting breathlessly? Is it worth fretting? Tearing your hair out over? Getting discouraged? Not really.


Ted Kooser writes: "At a party, I once heard a woman say that it was "criminal" that Harper Lee had only written one novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. What peculiar expectations we have developed for our writers! Criminal? We ought to be grateful Lee used her time to write her book as perfectly as she could, so that she didn't rush a lot of half-finished books into print.


So relax. There's plenty of time to do your writing well and, if you're lucky, to make a poem or two that might make a difference."



Encouraged? I hope so. And I hope you all will take some time in the near future to draft a poem or two, to jot a list or two to be used later in a poem, to think about imagery and metaphors and similes. Maybe even pick up a book of poetry and read it! ( I highly recommend Billy Collins Sailing Alone Around the Room for anyone 'just starting out' in poetry!)


I also hope you come back next week for more from the Booth. Until then, happy drafting!


(no subject)

LJ user masoncampbell asks this question: How much research did you do prior to beginning your novel and how long of a period of premeditation did you go through before initially putting pen to paper for the actual first draft?

Kelly Bingham, SHARK GIRL, Candlewick, May 2007

Well, for the 'big picture' answer, let me say that I began writing SHARK GIRL in summer 2001. It will be a real book on a real shelf in spring of 2007. So, six years in the making.

To be more specific, it took me three years to write the manuscript. SHARK GIRL is a poetry novel, but for the first year, I wrote it in prose and wandered down many wrong paths. I feel this was unavoidable; that I had to go there before I could find my groove. Once I did, it took two more years to complete. My story is about a girl who has her right arm bitten off by a shark. In 2004, just as I finished the mansucript, the very same thing happened to a real fifteen-year old girl in Hawaii. It was a horrendous and tragic coincidence. But even so, my agent at the time and I both decided we'd put the book away for a while. So it sat in a drawer for a year before I decided to submit it.

As for research, I knew nothing when I began writing about sharks or about amputation. I worried I'd mess up the facts, or represent the situation in an artificial way. I was terribly concerned about sounding condescending or glib or uninformed. Worry, worry, worry. So I read tons and tons, and then I surfed the net for vast amounts of information which I sorted through to the best of my ability. I can't even guess the number of hours involved. I spoke to occupational therapists. I interviewed a maker of prosthetic limbs, and I interviewed a man who had lost his right hand early in life. How gracious a person do you have to be to grant a clueless author an interview, in which she asks personal questions about your life as someone with one hand? People really are brave and wonderful and amazing. And coming across people like this is one of the best parts of research.

Also, I had to research sharks and shark attacks! Ugh! Now I know more about both topics than I ever believed possible. I read chilling accounts, cold hard facts, and sorted through stomach churning photos. But as grueseome as it was at times, it was all necessary. And it helped me find my character and understand the facts. (And confirmed a lifelong belief that human beings should stay out of the ocean, period.)

The cool thing about research is that it doesn't take you 'away' from your writing, even though you may spend hours each week doing it. It only adds to your writing. All of it is food for thought, so to speak, and all of it helps to expand your mind and your base of knowledge. And speaking for myself, I know that much of what I found in research sparked ideas for poems which found their way into the book.

Sarah Aronson HEAD CASE, Roaring Brook Press, Fall 2007

Head Case started out as a poetry novel. I think this is because I wasn't ready to write the story. I started writing when I was very lonely and feeling judged. My son was in the hospital, and I was frustrated. The poems (I still like to call them poems!!) let me start envisioning the protagonist, his backstory, and the plot.

It wasn't until my third complete revision that I made the decision to write the book in prose. Now it seems so obvious, but at the time, it seemed HUGE! By this time, I had researched spinal cord injury and the latest in rehabilitation. I'd spoken with many young men and women with quadriplegia. Writing in prose opened up my story. When I look at those early drafts, the only thing that stayed the same was the original premise, the protagonist, and the names of the characters.

I enjoyed the revision process. (And still am enjoying it!) With each revision, I learned more about Frank and his story. It took a lot of hard thinking and letting go of old ideas. I had to jump off the cliff.

Greg R. Fishbone, THE PENGUINS OF DOOM, Blooming Tree Press, 07/07/07

I think it's cool that Kelly's book started as prose and turned into poety, while Sarah's started as poetry and turned into prose. Of course, THE PENGUINS OF DOOM started as a song that turned into a comic book that turned into a comic strip that turned into prose that turned into a role-playing game and back into prose. Really!

So let's see, the question is about research... Septina's father is a garbageman, so I subscribed to a sanitation workers' listserv and learned a whole lot about the tips, tricks, and machinery involved. I also had to research the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the CB lingo that truckers use, some rock start biographies, and a whole bunch of other very random facts. I don't think I used even a tenth of it made it into the book.

Oh, and there's skateboarding in the story, so I ended up playing a lot of Tony Hawk's Underground on the PS2. Yeah, that's right, I'm calling it RESEARCH!

Tiffany Trent, SERPENT'S COILS, Mirrorstone, Fall 2007

In addition to writing historical dark fantasy about fiesty fairies and the girls who fight them , I also write nonfiction. I love to research! For In the Serpent's Coils, I set myself quite the research task. First, I had to figure out what life would have been like for a young girl living around DC at the time of Reconstruction, just after the Civil War. Then, I had to think about what reform schools--most of which were just getting founded at this time--must have been like in that era. Not to mention that I had to develop the mythos, which spanned a large chunk of Scottish history/Celtic myth. And there are also these pesky letters that my main character finds, written between a monk and nun in the 14th century....Got a headache yet?

For Book 2, I'm researching steamships, specifically the world's largest (at the time) steamship, The Great Eastern. I'm having so much fun learning about it that I'm tempted to write a nonfiction piece about it, too. If only I had the time...

I guess you get the drift, though. Research=authenticity for me. The closer I can get to giving my readers a "real" experience, the better!

Ruth McNally Barshaw, ELLIE McDOODLE, Bloomsbury, May, 2007

Ellie McDoodle started as a short story, for an undetermined audience, about my childhood memories at National Guard camp with my dad and my huge family.
I read it at an SCBWI peer group critique session and some people immediately pegged it as a middle grade story and hilarious -- news to me!
But I was working on picturebooks, so I shelved the story.

Three years later some writer friends suggested I try creating a kids' book in my trademark sketchbook style, so I pulled out the camp story and reworked it to fit into a graphic novel style book.

It took 5 weeks to recompose into a kids' book and almost no research, but it does have a science component (much of it culled from nature field trips with my kids' classrooms).
My agent loves it, my editor loves it; I'm deliriously happy.

Ruth McNally Barshaw

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