This morning I sat down in front of my computer to transfer "a first final draft" of a six-line poem from my A4 notebook to a Word file. This was after a dozen pages of handwritten drafts since an initial idea arrived in July.
These records are crucial to my writing process. If I'd typed directly on to a screen, I would have lost all the blind alleys and red herrings that I often later pillage for other lines in the poem, juggling the components until they fall into place. The physical act of marking a blank page, meanwhile, is also significant. There's no delete key in my notebook!
And so 59 words are now typed out and placed in a folder, yet that's far from the end of the process. I'll read the poem a few more times over the next few days, but then I'll force myself to put it away and slowly fall out of love with it.
Once a couple of months have gone by, I'll look through the poem once more. That's when previously unnoticed faults tend to show up. I'll try to sort them out back in my notebook, often referring again to those records of my first set of notes, before typing up "a second final draft" and stashing it for a further period. And so on and so forth. This process continues until there comes a point where I go back to the poem and feel no more changes are necessary. On a few occasions, this occurs quickly, but it usually takes at least a year from start to finish.
And then there are the poems that simply refuse to click, poems that keep dodging attempts to make them work even though I'm dead sure there's decent verse in there somewhere. How to deal with them...? Well, that's what friends are for...