A few pointers in editing for young poets

by poet John Lyons

After you have completed your first draft (without stopping to make changes), you must begin the editing of your poem, asking yourself questions based on the following pointers.


1. Don't tell me, show me

2. Don't generalise, be specific

3. Compare and contrast

4. Don't be afraid to rewrite

5. Bring the senses into your writing


Don't tell me, show me

Write your poem as thought you play a game with the reader or listener using her/his imagination to understand how you think about something, someone, and event or a place.

For example: 'Here comes an old man'. This is telling. 'Here comes a man, wrinkled, shuffling along with his walking stick.' This is showing.


Don't generalze. Be specific. Name things

'The dog played with the ball.' This is too general.

'The poodle played with the tennis ball.' This is specific.


Compare and contrast

Remember to make your poem interesting with similies using 'as' or 'like'. Avoid clichés (too familiar descriptions). Draw on your own experiences.

For example: 'cold as ice' is a cliché, 'as cold as my fingers in snow' is based on your own experience.


Don't be afraid to rewrite

When editing, if in doubt think again, write again. Successful poets/writers are more often rewriters!


Bring the senses into your writing

It is with the five senses – sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing – that we engage with the world around us; this helps your writing to be more interesting and your reader/listener to use her/his imagination in reading or listening to your poem. It is also an opportunity to use an imaginative simile.

For example: 'this apple tastes as sweet as I imagine the sweetest thing in the world would taste.'


Be strict with yourself.

Question if you have followed any of my pointers. If the answer is no, make changes by rewriting until you are satisfied that the poem reads well.

And always read aloud to test the rhythm and flow of your poem.

Copyright © 2019 Betjeman Poetry Prize   |  All Rights Reserved

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