There was a bit of advice I was given in college that I felt too much hubris to use until about a year ago. I call it Washing the Poem.
It came to me from Mark Tredinnick, a talented poet on his rounds reading from his book Fire Diary back in 2011. It was a lovely book, but he didn’t spend much time on that. After he read with our class we met up in a small room of one of the older buildings at JMU and he shared some of the most sage advice I have ever heard.
He said: Write it again. Don’t just make changes to the existing draft, retype every word. Make that decision again whether to keep it the way it is or change. Type it again and come face to face with every syllable and approve it one more time. That way nothing slips past, and your poem or prose is exactly as you want it to be.
For those of you who have followed my work you know that again and again and again I always hitting home that sense of looking at the poem again. I am always interested in the second look, the third look; polish polish polish. When I edit, I take the poem I already have, print it out and retype the whole poem into the computer again. Even if I have it already open in another window. It’s not about speed; it’s about details and patience. It’s about looking every word in the eye and saying, yes, that is exactly what I meant to put there. It cannot improve anymore.
I talk a lot about controlled writing, mostly because it was a recent epiphany of mine. But the idea of control, the idea of power over the poem (at least in the writing stage, forget after you publish it; it belongs to the world then) is something to be closely guarded by the serious writer.
When I edit I wash the poem over and over until it is as clean and smooth and polished as possible. Until it gleams with clarity and rings with intention. Then, and only then, does the poem look finished to me.
Keep writing and be squeaky clean!