How I Write a Poem Step 4: Letting Go

not finished, but ready

I’ve heard plenty of writers speak on the idea that they don’t “finish” the thing they are writing. Rather, they reach a point where they have to put it out to their audience. Whether that point is determined by a deadline in a contract or a feeling that the piece has reached a status of “good enough,” writers could still go on and on, making changes, perfecting details, rereading and rereading and rereading to ensure that everything is as good as it could possibly be.

I understand this sentiment. Counterintuitively, I find it really easy to post work that I didn’t spend much time on. If I can write it all in one go and edit it in 10 minutes or so, I can let it go out into the world without overthinking all of its elements. However, there is a threshold of time (and I’ve yet to determine exactly where it lies) that, once crossed, will cause me to labor on and on endlessly, making tiny changes, proofreading even though I have not found errors in the last several goes.

When that happens, I have the choice to either continue to pick apart the poem or to recognize the cycle that I have fallen into and just release the poem at its current state, no matter how unfinished it feels. I have enough experience at this point to be able to usually recognize whether my gut feeling of a poem being unfinished comes from a desire to “make it perfect” or whether the poem simply is not good enough to be on my blog or Instagram.

It’s a tough balance trying to get things to be up to my standards in order to deliver writing that has a consistent quality and not letting my perfectionistic tendencies win over. I don’t always get it right, but I am doing my best.

All of that is to say that the poem below, the one that I have shown to you at various stages is not finished, but it is now ready.

A cream-colored mind,
thick and languid
in desperate need of some
deep and gritty caffeine
in order to jazz, to liven.
Perhaps that jolt is all that will be needed
to fill the brain with wondrous things
never before contained.

Maybe that will be a buzz
that will can awaken the a kaleidoscopic,
psychotropic colors and patterns
to cut through the pervasive fog.

There is a hope for visions of
shady palm trees in hues of puce
with their giant spiky elephantine trunks,
for sights of turbulent seas of wine-colored froth
that threaten to sink rafts of marzipan
carrying tiny figurines,
for images of undulating frosty-green pines,
their needles picked up in a gust of wind
and swirling in a cloud above them.


None of those pictures come;
rather,
the mind is changed
from cream-colored
to utterly without hue.

The effort and the chemical stimulant
took everything.


It doesn’t matter.
It was a preposterous, frivolous goal anyway.

Key:
wine-colored and with a strikethrough = removed from a previous “draft”
blue, unitalicized, and underlined = added since a previous “draft”
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If you want to read the previous versions of this poem, here is part 1, part 2, and part 3 of the writing process. Tomorrow, I will be posting the version of this poem with a title and without any of the visible editing. When that goes up, I will post it here.

Thank you for your patience with this process. It took much longer than I expected, but taking a long time on a work from start to finish is itself a part of my writing experience.

Have a great week! Peace out!

-Joy

Photo by Maria Isabella Bernotti from Pexels

How I Write a Poem Step 3: Editing as I Go

A buzz that will awaken the kaleidoscopic,
psychotropic colors and patterns
to cut through the pervasive fog.

A cream-colored mind,
thick and languid
in desperate need of some coffee
deep and gritty caffeine
in order to jazz, to liven.
Perhaps that jolt is all that will be needed
to fill the brain with wondrous things
never before contained.


Hope for A buzz that will awaken the kaleidoscopic,
psychotropic colors and patterns
to cut through the pervasive fog.

Shady palm trees in hues of puce
with their giant spiky elephantine trunks.

The mind is changed
from cream-colored
to utterly without hue.



Key:
wine-colored and with a strikethrough = removed from a previous “draft”
blue, unitalicized, and underlined = added since a previous “draft”
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When I write anything, but especially poetry, I do not end up with a series of distinct drafts. Rather, I make constant changes as I continue the writing process. I never have a “completed draft” that will be heavily edited. I’m not great at murdering my darlings once I feel like I have a draft of a poem that has been fully written. On the rare occasion that I have fully written out where I want the poem to go as a draft, but I feel like some major changes are necessary, I simply scrap the poem. If it is not good enough at that point, the chances that I will be happy with it at the end of some heavy edits are very slim. It’s not worth it to put in the work of slicing apart a full poem if I’m going to hate it by the time I am done with it. I have done it on a few occasions, only to post the poem and later remove it from my blog.

At this point, I am coming to doubt whether there are true “steps” of my poetry writing process. The transition from my Step 1 post to my Step 2 post and from my Step 2 post to this one really just involve the same thing: adding more. Granted, here I did take away a word and replace a phrase with a better one, but those changes are relatively minor. Dividing the work that I will do on this poem from this point forward seems silly because it will just be more of the same; I’ll keep taking a few things away and adding more. Thus, I think my post for Step 4 will be my final one and will showcase the poem in its “finished” state.

I will note is that only 2 days passed between my post about the idea for this poem and my post about expanding on that idea. Nearly a month has now passed since that expansion post in this series. Taking long breaks from poems is very common for me. I did not intend to capture that element of my writing experience within this series, but it happened naturally. Generally, though, once I start to approach the late-middle stage of a poem, the writing process picks up pace, so hopefully you won’t have to wait another month to see the final post in this series.

Peace out!
-Joy

Photo by Fiona Art from Pexels

How I Write a Poem Step 2: The Expansion

A cream-colored mind,
thick and languid

As I was writing my last post and putting into writing the connection between the first phrase I came up with and my aphantasia, I realized that my initial idea of “a cream-colored mind” is not that different from the phrase “milk voice” that Blake Ross described in one of the first pieces I ever read about aphantasia.

I actually did not mean for the “cream-colored mind” thing to be a metaphor or descriptor for aphantasia. I thought “creamed-colored mind” was a wild and wacky piece of imagery that would be accompanied by other wild and wacky pieces of imagery. As I have gone through this next step of expanded on that initial phrase, however, it has become clear that describing a mind as cream-colored is quite tame compared to some of the other stuff that I have come up with. It does make for a pretty good metaphor, so I am currently keeping it, but toying with the idea of dropping the colored part and replacing it with some other word. The only real issue how to use the term “cream” without it and not make it sound like a euphemism rather than a metaphor. Right now, the phrase will remain as “cream-colored.”

Thinking more about the phrase “cream-colored” and cream itself, I added more to the poem. Thinking about strange and incorrect imagery, I added even more to the poem. This is where it stands right now:

A cream-colored mind,
thick and languid
in desperate need of some coffee
in order to jazz, to liven

Hope for the kaleidoscopic
Psychotropic colors and patterns
to cut through the pervasive fog.
Shady palm trees in hues of puce
with their giant spiky elephantine trunks

The first and second parts (the lines underlined and in italics respectively) do not yet go together. I especially would like to add something to the last line of the first part because I do not feel like I truly finished my thought there.

Now that I have an utterly creepy and wrong image of a palm tree inserted into the poem, I need to make a decision of whether to make the rest of the poem like that or to circle back to the poem being more like the first part. I don’t know which one I am leaning toward more.

Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels

How I Write a Poem Step 1: An Idea

A cream-colored mind

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to write about writing. This is partially because I so often think about my own writing process that I want to express those thoughts outside of my brain and partially because I want to engage other writers in a conversation about the writing process.

The way that I write now is quite organic. When I start a poem, it flows on its own, without any sort of plan. I frequently surprise myself with the finished product because my initial idea, which I thought would be great, was actually quite dull and limited compared to the finalized piece.

There are essentially two ways that I create a poem. The first is that it comes to me, more or less fully formed, and all I do is clean it up a little, maybe add some extra flair, and publish it onto my blog. This process takes maybe an hour on average from conception to publication, but can definitely be much less depending on the length of the poem and the amount of editing that it requires.

The second and much more common way that I write a poem is to start with an idea that I jot down somewhere and come back to sometimes moments or sometimes months later. The idea, which is usually just a line but can be anywhere from a single word to a full stanza, gets slowly added to over time. The actual writing process for this excluding the time between coming up with the idea and starting to work on it is usually a day or two during which I am constantly tweaking the poem, but has taken me up to several months.

In this series, I am going to break down that second process into steps and walk through what is happening in my head as I complete each of those steps. Here is my idea which will be the basis for the poem I will write throughout this series:

A cream-colored mind

It’s not much, and there’s a fair chance that that phrase will not even end up in the final product, but it’s my starting point.

This particular starting point has arisen from a question that I have had for myself: What do I bring to the table? My biggest difference (I think) from all of the other people like myself out there writing poetry is my aphantasia. I cannot “see” or “hear” my writing in my head. Imagery does not come naturally to me because I don’t think about the world in terms of my senses.

And since describing something accurately and describing something wildly incorrectly feel exactly the same to me, I want to create a collection of poems whose imagery go thoroughly off the rails.

How do you normally start working on a poem? How long does it normally take from the idea to the final execution?

Photo by Adrianna Calvo from Pexels

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