Organizing a Poetry Collection: What I Learned

As I’m sure you know, I’m hard at work on my upcoming debut poetry collection Inside a Writer’s Head. Since initally deciding to make this collection and amassing all the poems into one Google doc, I’ve learned a few things.

1. Don’t pick categories first.

This might be more relevant to collections that are already topic-specific. Inside a Writer’s Head is a collection of poems written about writing, so they have that theme in common.

I made the mistake of grouping poems together by topics when I was putting them into the Google doc. I had no idea how I wanted the poems arranged when I did this. I didn’t know which poem would open the collection, which would close it. I created buckets without knowing if I’d use them or how many poems would be in each bucket.

This made it harder for me to move forward because the poems were already “organized,” so I wasn’t sure how to “reorganize” them to make a cohesive collection.

2. Do play around with the order.

Move the poems around. Try different poems at the start of the collection, at the end. See what goes together and what you don’t like. What that means will depend on your purposes.

I have a few poems I paired together to create a humorous effect, or because they had a similar implication in some of the lines, or because they gave some clarification to each other.

I’m still not done doing this. I’m much happier with this draft over the previous one, though.

3. Don’t be afraid to cut, combine, or otherwise change the poems in the collection.

I had three poems about my novel-in-progress. They didn’t fit the collection. They would’ve needed some explanation and context and I didn’t want to interrupt the collection and the flow of the poems in order to add that. So I cut them. I didn’t want to, not really, but I did it anyway to improve cohesivity and order.

I had two poems that were very similar thematically, such that they were almost two versions of the same poem. So I made them one poem. A couple other poems needed lines cut or some other changes to be made.

You want the poems to individually be the best they can be. You want the collection as a whole piece to be the best it can be. For that to happen, you will have to make changes and edits. Also, just because you cut lines or a whole poem doesn’t mean you can’t still use it or that it has no merit. But you have to recognize when it doesn’t fit in the collection or the poem.

4. Do make the collection what and how you like it.

This is your piece of art, own it. If you’re not happy with it, it won’t matter how happy everyone else is. Everyone else could think it the best collection in the world, but that won’t make you happy with it.

Take control over your creative product, make it what you want, make it how you want. It’s in your name, you need to own it.

(That’s actually one of my reasons for self-publishing.)

 

I’ve only just finished a second draft. I’m not done crafting the collection, reordering the poems, etc. These are four things I’ve found to be important over the last few days when I moved from draft one to draft two.

For anyone looking to make your own poetry collection, I hope this helps.

If you have any questions about organizing your manuscript, Inside a Writer’s Head, or advice for me, put it in the comments! I’d love to discuss this with you.

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