20 POETRY TIPS FROM A PROFESSIONAL EDITOR

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Submitted Date 09/03/2019
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…but poetry is so personal, how can you edit it?

This a great question that I also asked myself when starting out as a poetry editor. In reality, a poetry editor detects the same errors you would want to avoid in any published literature. Besides correcting misspellings, typos, and grammatical errors, I also focus on reviewing poetry for style, consistency, flow, word usage, and appropriateness for your target audience.

Of course, poetry has much more flexibility in terms of the use of slang, irregular rhythm, and other literary techniques (and that's part of why I love it!) Overall, I describe my work like this: "If a poet is breaking the rules, I make sure they're doing it on purpose."

I've been writing poetry since elementary school, so the little girl in me jumps for joy to know that I could turn my passion into a profession. I've helped many a poet polish their literary gem in my years as a freelancer on Upwork, and, best of all, I've gotten to read a plethora of amazing poetry. My work has also allowed me to identify common errors, so I've started sharing tips for poets on an Instagram account @poetrytips. Below, for your reference, are the first 20 tips from a professional editor. What would you add?

1. Don't start at the beginning: One way to make your poem more captivating is to start in the middle and fill in the blanks as you go.

2. If you're struggling to choose a poem title, use the most intriguing word of your first line. If there is no intriguing word, rewrite your first line.

3. 15 common words that should NOT be capitalized in your title (unless used as the first word): a, an, and, at, but, for, from, in, of, on, or, so, to, the, with

4. You don't have to experience it to write about it: I used to only write poems about my personal experiences, for fear that anything else would be inauthentic. I've realized that there's a sense of adventure in exploring someone else's world. Try to get inside their head and understand their perspective, or create a situation of total fantasy with real emotions.

5. Make a table of contents for your poetry collection: When you need to choose a poem to perform or submit to a journal, this tip will save you a lot of time.

6. Say I love you without saying, "I love you."

7. Remember: Visual prompts are writing prompts, too.

8. It's okay to write short poems that are not haikus.

9. If you can't think of a title for your poetry anthology, try answering the question: "What are your poems about?" in two words.

10. Read through your old poetry journals, and set a deadline to complete at least one unfinished poem.

11. It just takes one memorable line to make a memorable poem.

12. Go through your poems and cross out every use of the word "different". Don't tell the reader it was different; describe what made it so.

13. Hang one of your best poems in your writing space: Let it remind you of your capacity on days you feel self-doubt.

14. It's – it is. Its – everything else. Its' – never correct.

15. Just because it's not worth sharing doesn't mean it's not worth writing: Don't be afraid to write poems for therapeutic reasons or to write just for fun.

16. Never let the poem's title reveal the poem's ending.

17. All synonyms are NOT created equal: Be sure to read example sentences when choosing a synonym. Merriam-Webster is a great resource.

18. Every day is a phrase that indicates occurrence (I don't post to Instagram every day). Everyday is an adjective that indicates common or ordinary things (It looked like an everyday post).

19. If you can't think of a title for your poetry compilation, try answering the question: "Who is this book for?" Examples: The Swan in the Jungle, Girls Riding Buses

20. "If you want to keep it simple," the editor confessed, "always put the ending punctuation inside the quotation marks."

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  • Kiersten Felch 4 days, 14 hours ago

    This is absolutely perfect for any aspiring poet!