This is a continuation from last week’s article, because in literature, everything is connected.
Finding inspiration in writing poetry is like pouring alcohol — precise, thrilling, foreshadowing — while developing the piece is bold like taking the shots you just poured in one breath, and editing the finished poem — the words intoxicated and the stanzas ecstatic — is the morning after.
You wake up, hungover, the taste of alcohol and poetry lingering in the air and in the back of your throat. There is a beautiful mess from last night. Suppose it’s like picking torn-up confetti and broken bottles off the ground, but the jagged edges turn into knives, or like closing the tab for a horror film you couldn’t have gotten out of bed to turn off, but flashbacks still haunt you with the sun over the horizon. It hurts to read your own drunken thoughts — because you know they’re true, because you know that if you wanted to say something drunk then you wanted to do it when you were sober. It hurts to know that you’re hurting.
The point of editing is never to turn a piece into something it's not; but rather, to convey the message with greater effectiveness. Note that the word effectiveness doesn’t not mean faster, clearer, more straight-forward — it is to have readers feel exactly what the author intended for them to go through.
A common issue with creative writing, particularly poetry, is that there are redundant adjectives and adverbs: a dark night, a soft whisper, a happy smile —these italicized words are implied in the noun or verb that they modify. Readers don’t gain depth or insight from the narration reinforcing something matter-of-fact. Every word in writing, be it academic or creative, should progress the piece forward, and normally, modifiers in creative writing should either build on or challenge the subject.
Instead of stating that the night is dark, tell the readers something beyond their comprehension — something that isn’t necessarily new information, but something is definitely not on their minds. The sky seemed to be domed in the outline of her black eyes. The night glides away into a raven’s feathers by your doorstep. Descriptions like these are telling the same thing — the night is dark — but they force readers to stop and take in that information, and that’s kind of the whole point of writing. Other than adding depth, a modifier can also contradict with the subject — a bright night, a loud whisper, a sad smile — and the paradoxes they create change the meaning of the noun or verb entirely, leaving the reader wanting to read more.
The other point of entry is through a change of verbs and conjunctions. In the chapter “Bolts and Nuts” from Richard Hugo’s 1979 Triggering Town, Hugo invites readers to experiment with syntax. The example given showcases his point clearly: “this blue lake still has resolve” becomes “this lake’s still blue with resolve.” Like always, a big part of editing is taking out what is unneeded, which in this case, are meaningless verbs such as is or has.
On the topic of short, disposable words, another way of changing syntax is through omitting conjunctions. In the examples given by Hugo, “So I wait here, high outside the city, while in / your reality dreams come only at will.” is changed into “I wait here, high outside the city. / In your reality, dreams come only at will.” and “All these trails we can follow, / the trails of comets that disappear at sunrise / but stay on the dark tablet of the eyes for months.” is revised as “All these trails we can follow, / the trails of comets that disappear at sunrise / stay for months on the dark tablet of the eyes.” By leaving out some words, associated lines become more complimentary, and contradicting ones give a sharper turn.
Taking a step back to see your edited work, you know that if you want to save yourself, save that intoxicated version of you first. Write drunk, edit sober — you know what to do.
A few years ago, Taiwanese writer Yun-Fei Wang had begun using fiction as an escapism from the overwhelming sadness of being alive. Now that she's 16, falling deeper than ever, she can fortunately affirm that literature has been, is, and will be the only fragment of sanity in her life. Find her at a silent midnight, or at @immortalrainpoetry on Instagram.