How long does it take to write a poem?
That’s a question people often ask. My answer is … there is no answer. The question is a bit like ‘How long is a piece of string?’ My quickest poem took, maybe, a minute – and I didn’t change a word. My slowest (so far) took about ten years. I’d go back to it and not feel happy. Then, one day, I suddenly realised that one verse added nothing, so I took it out. I then tweaked a word or two here and there and – hey presto! it worked. Some poems may never reach that stage and still sit waiting to be polished.
Writing poetry, stories, letters, anything really, takes practice. And just as artists make lots of sketches before achieving a finished painting, so poets need to ‘sketch’ with words. So for every good poem, there are probably four so-so to OK to not-so-good ones. I cannot overstress the value of drafting and redrafting – and reading out aloud what you have written. Putting work away in a drawer and coming back to it after a few days or weeks helps, too. By distancing yourself, you can spot the flaws and find ways of fixing them. Sometimes it can be frustrating, though, especially if you are ‘writing against the clock’ for an urgent deadline. Publishers don’t like to be kept waiting – and writers don’t get paid until they come up with the required text. I’ve just finished the third draft of a third little book of stories and rhymes for a publisher in Hong Kong. Phew!
I do enjoy the polishing process, but my brain gets tired. It will all be worth it when I hold the books in my hands and imagine children as far away as China enjoying my stories. (Do you know, children there start learning to speak and read English – a foreign language to them – as soon as they start school? They do work so hard.)
Meanwhile, here’s a little poem that didn’t take long to write. (May need a bit more polishing yet, though. What do you think?)
My brain’s gone west,
and my body’s up north.
Don’t believe a word
that leaves my mouth:
My brain’s in the east
and I’m down south!
© Celia Warren 2011