Someone, (whose name escapes me) said, “All writing is re-writing.” This is the most succinct summary of the writing process I’ve ever heard. And, it is sooo true.
Recently, I read Dylan Thomas’s Collected Poems. One of the poems was unfinished at the time of Thomas’s death. The editor included the most finished version of the poem, remarking that Thomas “left sixty pages of manuscript work towards the poem.” SIXTY PAGES for one poem! Thomas is known for his especially dense poems so I would expect nothing less. All writing is re-writing.
I don’t know that I’ve ever hit sixty pages of drafts for one poem, though it’s hard to tell since I write on an iPad. I also do a lot of writing and revising in my head without typing any of it. Still, it’s not unusual for me to have four or five typed versions of the same poem before I finish it. One poem I’ve been working on the last few weeks is up to six versions. I’m trying to decide between three or four.
I’ve mentioned that I’m planning to self-publish a second book of poems, Event Horizon, sometime in 2022. One of the poems in that collection is “Beneath the Surface,” a poem which had seven versions before I finished it. I thought I would give a peek behind the curtain of my process in case it would be of interest to anyone. Just below is the final version of the poem:
Beneath the Surface Beneath the surface, in places dripping with darkness, blind, inverted creatures haunt the fanged ceilings of fractaling catacombs that reverberate with their shrieks.
I won’t bore readers with every permutation of this poem but I will give a couple, starting with the very first version of the poem:
In places dripping darkness, where stone sprouts fangs, blind, inverted creatures stand on ceilings and shriek into the void, which returns echoes of its fractaling chambers / catacombs / caverns
While the basic idea of the poem is there, the wording is awkward, and I’m wrestling with word-choices. Here’s a more developed version, but still not the final one:
In places dripping darkness, blind, inverted creatures haunt fanged ceilings, shrieking into the void where echoes wander fractaling chambers.
This version is more refined but still lacks the tight construction of the final one. There were two more revisions between this and the final.
One thing I’ve been trying to do as a writer is to push past what comes easy. That often means rejecting my first, second, third, and maybe fourth idea of how to say something. That means writing, re-writing, and MORE re-writing!