On rewriting inspiration

 When you ask me to revise a poem you ask me to meet again the Muse who seldom responds to invitation. She comes in suddenly through the door left open, announcing Her presence with words that have never sat together before. She says what She has to say and goes quiet; goes away or gets broken down into elements of the universe that I absorb without an intent.

Where am I to find this forceful genius?

I’ve been told to look for Her in spaces in-between words and lines, rhyme and rhythm, movement and breaks, language and sound. But I don’t find my Muse there; I find a key in a foreign language to a map that She drew.

Is She hiding in the white glow that lights my keyboard when I switch on my workstation? So, I should work and work and work on my verses. Or, is She in the deep breath that helps me ease into sleep? Then, I should breathe and breathe and breathe with my eyes closed to trick her into appearing. Perhaps it’s She who is the trickster: a mirage; a playful spirit that whispers in my ear. In which case I am cursed with the burden of loneliness.

With or without Her it seems it’s going to take a lot of time to re-see a moment that no longer exists, to re-write it in a way so that it exists forever.


I am beginning to grapple with the abstract idea of “completion” in creative writing which seems even murkier when talking about poetry. I read recently that “a poem is not truly finished until it has been seriously revised” and also “be wary of a poem that appears to be finished“. Statements that, as an amateur with 8 weeks of formal education in poesy, I find contradictory.
I need to also say that the poems you have been reading on my blog are not “seriously” revised. They have been written quickly, in a matter of an hour to a few hours if the form is tough (the Sestina, which is one of the hardest forms, took me about 12 hours). These poems are here more or less as they came to me. Now I am considering that all of this work here is a) probably unfinished, which is not a bad thing as, Da Vinci once said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned” and b) not good, trite, tripe. It’s making me question the quality of my natural skill for this art form. Though at present I am depressed by the thought, I am hopeful that I can see this as something to learn from; that all this self-doubt will make me a better writer and that it is a natural process. I hope it happens sooner rather than later because my Muse seems to have gone into hiding for fear that I will doubt Her every word and I cannot sleep because thoughts only She can give birth to have grown louder in my head in her absence.
I have received only love from this wonderful blogging community, for which I am immensely grateful but this post is not about  wanting an ego-boost. At this point I just want to learn from you, specifically about the role of revision in your creative process. Any and all thoughts are welcome from everyone, poet or not. Who knows who might be inspired by your comment!

Here’s an example of the creative process of the great Walt Whitman,

Original Manuscript: To a Locomotive in Winter by Walt Whitman (1874).
Original Manuscript: To a Locomotive in Winter by Walt Whitman (1874).

Summary of the manuscript (from Boston Public Library)

Written in Walt Whitman’s own hand, this early manuscript version of To a Locomotive in Winter shows Whitman’s creative process as he revised and reworked the poem, changing words and even pasting paper overlays of new passages until he was satisfied with the result. This manuscript poem is dated February 23, 1874, but Whitman continued to modify the text and it was considerably altered when published in 1876 in Two Rivulets, a companion volume to the 1876 edition of Leaves of Grass. This poem was republished in the 1900 edition of Leaves of Grass, well after Whitman’s death.

Image Source and further details: Boston Public Library (CC BY 2.0)


23 thoughts on “On rewriting inspiration”

  1. I am scared to learn too much because then I will realize how weak and ineffectual my writing actually is. But then I realize I write because I enjoy it, and that’s the main reason. Don’t be afraid to write. I’m not afraid to write, but I am afraid to learn because in doing so I may become afraid! In fact I do become afraid when I read some of the other amazing poetry on wordpress, so it is a lesson I have to keep reminding myself, my voice is my own and unique to me. I have learnt with editing to let go of some of my writing and not be afraid to improve on it, but also to be careful to keep that initial voice that spoke it to me. Best wishes on your writing travels, you have amazing talent so don’t doubt yourself 🙂

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    1. “I have learnt with editing to let go of some of my writing and not be afraid to improve on it, but also to be careful to keep that initial voice that spoke it to me.” – That’s excellent advice. Thank you Vee for sharing it.
      As for being afraid, I don’t know how much it is fear and how much it is about being a perfectionist. I have been a biomedical researcher for so long and I am used to working to the precision of 0.001 significance from the first try. But Art is not like that and I think this is just my left brain trying to intimidate my right brain. It’ll all be sorted out amicably I hope, and soon 🙂 For now I am not going to write poetry. I am taking the pressure off in order for my creative self to gain balance.
      also, please continue all your good work. You do have a unique voice and I have enjoyed hearing it. And, thank you for the encouragement. It means a lot, coming from you 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you so much. I must admit with the course you have been doing, and all the well thought out and well crafted poetry that has been flowing from your site, I have been gleaning what I can (defn of sestinas etc), and feeling somewhat inadequate. It is strange how one’s normal day-to-day insecurities can present in a blogging environment. I can fully relate to how you feel. After a one-day poetry workshop in feb last year I felt so inadequate that I never wrote until sept, when I wrote merely to comfort myself. And so that is my position now, I write for myself and to comfort, and am willing to share in the case that it comforts others, but is does not have to fit into any specific form or adhere to any standard apart from making me feel happy. In a way that’s why I said I will only write one sestina. It was a left brain challenge to see if I could put one together, but it was not my inner voice that spoke it to me, it was my logical left brain that crafted it, and that is not the reason why I write. Xx

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  2. Brilliant contribution, rewriting is something I’ve been struggling with. There is definitely talent in you if your work up so far is “unfinished” with minimal revision. Learning more about poetry has made me question a lot of what I just scribble down naturally. I’m thinking a lot more. But that initial burst of creativity draws out the idea an image and feel I have in mind. If my muse is kind enough to return, together we dance over the words so refocus the lens and see the picture clearly.

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    1. Thank you Saili for your contribution to this discussion. I’ve found it very useful and as usual you are so eloquent. I am thinking a lot more about what I write naturally, which is what gave rise to this post but I am right now in deep thought which is blocking my natural abilities. I have taken a step back from posting poetry for now to regard what I have learnt thus far from a distance. “National Poetry Month” is coming up and I want to be better prepared 🙂

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      1. I have taken a step back from writing because of work and other commitments, but I’ve been reading and learning and I too have got up in the nature vs nurture of poetry. Where do we draw the line. Is there even a line? Poetry month should be fun.

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      2. “Nature vs Nurture of poetry” – a great question! I think it’s one of the key questions in understanding creativity and fostering it. I think humans have been contemplating this for centuries and the have favoured one side over the other based on who’s the hottest philosopher of the time. I could spend the rest of my life trying to answer this and I am certain that like any other complex human trait we’ll find it that it is usually both. There is no line to be drawn, just a shaded region.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Exactly that, it’s a shades area. I like the concepts of learning the rules to break the rules. Understanding these forms and techniques, learning them we’ll, then letting my natural voice dance on the new platform. It’s a beautiful choreography, you learn the rigid steps, when the muse, this music plays. You move your body in those steps with your own attitude, flare and style. That does not take away from the frustration that comes about when the theories are being learned and the natural style moves in new directions and avenues.

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  3. It sounds like you and I have been reading similar books about writing poetry. I never took a formal poetry writing class, although I had a creative writing class in high school that included poetry. I took a college class about reading poetry. Both were a long time ago.

    I only took up writing poetry somewhat sporadically over the past three years. I do revise poems, but I know I have a long way to go. However, we have to start somewhere and the more we write, hopefully, the more we will learn and the better our poetry will become. The poem Womb that I recently posted originally had the stanzas in a different order. I wrote the second stanza first. After writing the rest of the poem, I reordered it.

    If you look at the most recent poem, Gathering Pearls, I thought I had to read between the lines (or stanzas in this case) and possibly add more. But, it turns out that the original version was better and I should have trusted myself and taken the information from the books as a general guide to writing poetry.

    You have a wonderful talent for word choice and writing poetry. Trust your Muse 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “more we will learn and the better our poetry will become.” – Yes!
      Thank you for sharing your valuable thoughts Robin. I adore your work and its sincerity. I really appreciate your insight on this matter. I am learning so much! Also, thank you for the kind words 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. In my creative writing class in high school the teacher said you are never finished editing a poem. But one has to stop somewhere, don’t they? I think it really depends on what you want to get out of it. I have no illusions about being a poet. If I write something down it’s because I have something to say. I look at it this way. If I were talking to someone about something important, I wouldn’t reword in my head what I needed to say before I said it. I’d just put it all out there. So that’s what I do when I write ANYTHING.

    If you seriously want to put a collection together for publication, that’s the time, I would think, for taking a second look at the poems. Like Derrick said above. Looking at them with new eyes is good. BUT, if you change a lot of stuff, then did you even write what you wanted to in the first place? That’s a question worth pondering.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “change a lot of stuff, then did you even write what you wanted to in the first place?” – I suppose that’s when a poem is “trashed” or just kept for your own consumption.
      Thank you so much for sharing your process with me Calen. It’s been very instructive. You are such a wonderful soul. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think revision needs to be some time after the original writing, so you are looking at it with fresh eyes. With a daily blog this can’t really happen. I doubt I’ll ever go back to mine for that purpose. Jackie and Becky both enjoy being what our daughter calls my ‘poof redder’. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! I like ‘poof redder’ 🙂
      Yes, you are absolutely right. My need to write everyday should be disentangled for my need to ‘post’ everyday. It’s something I have been thinking about seriously actually – to stop coming here as regularly as I do in order to write “serious” poetry (if that’s what “seriously revised” poems constitute). Once I share my poems here they change in my mind, become more solid. I am going to go back and try revising some my earliest works earnestly because it is a skill I am least comfortable with.

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  6. Your Muse is so amazing, and the way you write about her is something I relate to completely. That inspirational spark is something very special and should be revered. I think for some people, and maybe just some of the time, the words happen quickly. I know for me, there is an energy that comes when the Muse is present that is almost hard to contain. It is all I can do to get it down. Revision comes later, and is hard too. Maybe leaving a written piece alone for a while, the Muse will bubble up with a different word here or there. To me, your words are …I don’t know, I told my husband I want to be like you when I grow up. I am in my 60s. Haha. But your Muse is something special. Trust her.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Mary, thank you so much for your kind words. It brightened up my day. 🙂
      I find your process of working very interesting. I think it will go well with my method. I appreciate you sharing it.
      What I was asked to do was cut off chunks and rethink decisions; see a poem how I would see an essay more or less which is what has me perplexed right now. I need to study more I know and one day it’ll make sense. I am waiting for my eureka moment.
      “I want to be like you when I grow up.” – that’s the best compliment I have ever received. 🙂 I can only smile graciously. Hugs.


  7. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on rewriting, Sam. No writer is ever really satisfied with what they have written, all seeing ways in which it could be improved upon later on, even after publication. But the initial inspiration is vital – that sudden spark. Sometimes that can be destroyed if rewriting is too harsh. Your poetry has that spark -and so many people love it. Hopefully we’ll see many more of them.
    I love the Da Vinci quote. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Millie for your thoughtful comment. Yes, I agree with you-initial inspiration is vita and can be crushed, which is what I am experiencing I think. I have been advised to do so extensive rewriting on a poem that was well received here and it’s crippling my ability to create, making me question all my decisions even those not yet made.
      Thank you so much for the encouraging words. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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