I sometimes write poetry. The creative process for the first draft can be summarized in these steps:

  1. I first choose a global structure (e.g. a ballad, a sonnet, a free-stanza-but-fixed-verse, etc...);
  2. I make a soft decision about the tone and mood;
  3. then I create verses that sound good in my head in terms of music and beat;
  4. finally, I start counting syllables and try to get consistency between verses, according to the chosen structure.

My question is about the transition between the last two points. Quite often, in order to preserve structure I need to destroy something which, at first, sounded good in my head.

To draw a parallel, as a lousy music composer, I first write down a melody, then match the chords, and then fill the gaps by following basic harmony rules. Only then I dare moving a few notes around or add embellishments, but at that point the basic foundation of the piece is set. In my poetry writing, it seems that I have no such strong base on which to build.

To give you an example, the first two edits of the first stanza of my entry for the current writing challenge show something which sounded better in my head (first version) and something which has a better metric, but lacks the music (second version).

Question: Are there standard approaches to perform the last task without significantly hampering the music? I am wondering if there is some obvious pattern, which I am not aware of, such as "remove/replace only articles and adverbs", or "place the verbs on the same beat in related verses", and then fill the gaps from there.

1 Answer 1


The problem here is that you're trying to combine two different approaches to poetry together, and perhaps in the wrong order. Your rough draft takes an intuitive approach, listening for the inner music of the poem. Your final draft is structured and rule-obeying, but it's comparatively clunky and infelicitous.

Try swapping 3 and 4. Write to rule in step 3, making sure each word as you compose it meets the requirements for rhythm, stress and length. Then go back through and revise to make it more musical, intuitive and emotionally direct. It will be easier to start with the fully structured version and then let the magic in, then to try to tame an intuitive verse without killing it.

  • Just noticed, this is a much closer analog to your approach to songwriting than is your current approach. Jun 11, 2019 at 17:45
  • put in this way, it has quite a similarity
    – NofP
    Jun 11, 2019 at 21:19

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