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~ Tips for Poets ~

"An artist never really finishes his work, he merely abandons it." - Paul Valéry

"Live by the Pen, Die by the Sword" - John Noble Wilford (NYT, 17Jul01)

III. Some Good Advice

3. After you think youīre finished

Donīt be content too early.
Deliberatly think up and play with alternative wordings. Choose the best. 
If a whole stanza seems weak, write it new. Even and especially if you write
free verse, all these tips apply to you as well! 
Donīt think that because you have no fixed meter, you donīt need to revamp.

Rhythm check:
Read it silent, read it aloud, perhaps hum or sing it. Check meter and rhythm, first in each line by itself; then judge how the lines fit together within each stanza; then how all stanzas go together.
Did you fulfill the meterīs formal requirements ? Is there a nice overall rhythmical flow from one line to the next that makes the poem appear as a whole entity, and pleasant to read ? Are transitions from one line to the next smooth, or awkward to pronounce ? Any place where your eyes or your tongue stumbles?

Terseness check:
Kick out some unneeded "filler" words. Do you really need this "the"? Do you have to use this "and", or will a comma or semicolon do?

Repetition check:
Look how many words appear more than once, and whether thatīs necessary and intended. Substitute.

Fine-tuning:
By changing a word here and there, could you bring more passion, drama or pace into the poem? Can you express yourself more emphatically and clearly? Can you build in an extra alliteration or assonance as a subtle enhancement?

Spelling check:
Hasty typos, mistakes from copy&paste actions, or the notorious "sorceror" for "sorcerer" - look twice, just to make sure.

Punctuation check:
Direct the pace and flow of your poem! A comma brings a little pause, a semicolon a big pause, and a period stops the flow. Colons and dashes emphasize and create anticipation.

Take a step back.
Print your new poem, carry it around with you, or leave it visible on your desk. Reread it several times in the following days, with fresh eyes and clear brain, as though somebody else had written it. If you were a total stranger, what would you think of it ? Donīt hesitate to experiment with changes, even weeks afterwards.

Reality check: Get other peopleīs opinion
...but reserve your judgement. If somebody were to ask you why you a certain word stands at a certain place in the poem, you should be able to tell him at least one good reason. If youīve done a good poem, people will feel its beauty, even if they donīt appreciate how many technicalities went into it. People with a knowledge of poetry will be able to give you feedback why they liked it. Tastes and mileages vary greatly, though - a piece that pleases some may not please all.

Seek advice - and accept it if itīs good.
Constructive criticism is easy to ask for, but hard to give in a gentle, matter-of-fact way that does not break the poetīs tender heart. It may not be easy to accept that your online fellow poet has indeed found a better alternative for this or that line. After all, you went through the childbearing labor, and now someone else comes along and complains that the swaddling clothes are not the right shade of pink. It may hurt, I know, but thatīs not the point. The point is to make your "baby" better - so clench your teeth and get these pink clothes !

Then... finally... you have finished all the tips on this site and your poem ! Congratulations !!