The Challenges of Editing Poetry

Proofreading poetry is a delicate business. As there are fewer words in a poem, the slightest change you make will have a much stronger effect. Whether you choose to put in a comma leave it out will determine the shape of a verse, or even the whole poem. I’ve been asked by a local poet to wield my editing scalpel. I’m flattered that this person has trusted me with her poems, which she’s hoping to put into a collection. She asked me to do a light proofread and suggest an order for the poems.

The delicate task of editing poetry.


Read Like a Reader: When I’m first editing a job, I let the words wash over me, the way you normally do when you’re reading a book. This helps me to connect with the material and to figure out what story the person is trying to tell. In this case, as they were poems, I read them aloud to get into the rhythm of them. Reading aloud also helps you spot patterns of errors the person makes.

Ordering the Poems: It’s extraordinary how themes naturally emerge in people’s writing, without any forethought on their part. There are issues or themes people will naturally gravitate towards, and that was the case with this collection. Four or five themes came to the fore, and fortunately, the numbers of poems which fall under each theme is relatively equal, which will add body to the collection.

Proofreading: There’s always more to proofreading than you originally think. Often the problem isn’t with spelling and grammar, but with structure. In this case, I discovered bigger problem with the rhythm of the poems, and I flagged those up using Track Marks, the computer equivalent of the red pen. Also, when you make one change, you have to make changes for all instances where the error needs to be corrected. This manuscript soon becomes festooned with red marks.

Second Proofread: When I’ve finished track marking, I will create a new document and accept all the track marks. This incorporates all the changes I made and will give the poet a clean copy to work with. I’ll then clear up any remaining errors before handing it back to her.

Giving Feedback: Proofreaders largely concentrate on spelling and grammar, but I’m going to add a feedback document, pointing to poems that need work and suggesting ways of correcting issues related to the rhythm of the poems. The poet can then implement the suggestions herself if she wishes.

Have you ever edited poetry? If so, how do you approach it? If you’re a poet, what would you look for in an editor?

Christmas Writing Workshop for Children

I’m delighted that after a gap of a couple of years, I’m giving a Christmas themed writing workshop for children. Christmas is a time for stories, and this workshop will give children a chance to write their own stories. Have you ever noticed that a lot of Christmas stories are about unlikely heroes: a grumpy Santa Claus, a disruptive elf, a seemingly nerdy child who prevents his family home from being robbed?

The Christmas story the children in this workshop tell features an unlikely hero, an elf who’s clumsy, and who the other elves laugh at. But this elf has a secret power, so when the treasure that gives Santa his magic is stolen, only this elf can save Christmas for all the boys and girls in the world. The children will build this story step by step, and by the end of the two-hour workshop, they’ll have completed their story?

Here are the steps we’ll be taking.

The Warm-Up: This part won’t have anything to do with either Christmas or storytelling, but it’s necessary for building bonds and getting in the mood. I will do activities that have been very successful in other workshops, which will make the children laugh and help them get into the right frame of mind for writing.

What If: A lot of great stories start when the writer asks what if? The children will imagine three things they would do in the event that different unlikely Christmas events may happen: for example, if Christmas were cancelled. Some of the scenarios will relate to the upcoming story, such as what they would do if they got control of Santa’s sleigh.

Character Sketch: Every story has a central character, and this activity will get the children thinking about theirs. They’ll receive a picture of the hapless elf and come up with a bio for them, using different headings laid out on a page. The most important aspect of this character is their special power. This is what will drive the success of the story.

The elf at the centre of the children’s Christmas story.

Creating a Country: Stories also need a world for the characters to live in. This workshop is for 8-12 year olds, and this age group loves world-building, the power that comes with creating your own country. In this case, the children will imagine that Santa’s workshop has relocated to a magical Christmas land of their own making.

Story Spine: The previous activities helped the children come up with the ingredients for their story. The story spine will help them put those ingredients together. In a story spine, you are given a set of sentences with blank spaces, and you fill in the blank spaces to create the structure for a story. The children will use the information from the previous activities to fill in the blank spaces.

Writing the Story: With the story spine, the story is more or less complete, but the children can also use it to expand the story, to add flesh to the basic details. Most children come away with a one-page story, complete with little pictures to add colour.

What’s your favourite Christmas story? And have you ever written a Christmas story of your own?

The Shape of Writing Workshops

I’m always amazed by the tiny things that determine the success of the writing workshops I give. They’re governed by all sorts of intangibles: the weather, the quality of the snacks, the size of the group. But by far the most important of these ingredients is the shape of the room. The way the chairs and tables are arranged has a huge effect on the atmosphere of a workshop, on how comfortable people feel and on how quickly they bond.

Here’s a run-through of three arrangements I have used, and each have a markedly different effect on the atmosphere of the workshops.

  1. Classroom Style

This is the most traditional style, with chairs and tables in rows, facing the teacher. When I arrive at a venue and find tables and chairs arranged in this way, I always ask for them to be changed. People feel that they are back at school and it drives a wedge between tutor and participants. Having said that, in modern classrooms, children sit around big tables, so in a children’s workshop, sitting them around one big table creates the right mood. The structure is familiar to them and feel comfortable.

  1. Circle

In theory, the circle is a great arrangement. It’s informal, and a circle is a symbol of unity. But I find it a little too informal. For a circle to really be a circle, you can’t have tables, and people don’t like not having something to lean on when they write, so it’s not actually a comfortable arrangement for them. You still need to strike the right balance between structure and friendliness …

  1. The U Shape
This is an ideal seating arrangement for writing workshops. Credit: Google Images


… and the U shape, in my experience, provides exactly that balance. People are facing each other, just like in a circle, so the bonding happens more quickly. But there’s also a structure for the seating, and people have tables to lean on. It’s true that the tutor is sitting a little apart from the participants, unlike with a circle or big table, but you can position yourself in a place where people feel they have easy access to you, and you can spot what’s going on.

What seating arrangement works for you as a workshop tutor or participant?

Finding the Words

A very fine blog. A must for all book lovers.

The Literary Sofa

img_1316‘There are no words.’



How often have you said, read or heard one of the above this year?  They seem to encapsulate everything 2016 will be remembered for, alluding to the inadequacy of language to convey the full force of shock, outrage, disillusionment, at one event after another. The irony is that we cannot even express that without words.

And yet, we all know the power of words: to speak of love, to make someone laugh, to create bonds, to tell stories. Growing up, I lived in the same village as my grandparents and my Nan was fond of the platitude ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me’. It always amazed me that any grown-up could believe this.  Even the most casual put-down, or mildly sexist or racist remark can cause lasting hurt (I bet we all have a few stingers we…

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A Writer Goes To A Book Fair

Many years ago, I wrote a book (well, five, actually). Long-time blog followers will know that I blogged about it enthusiastically at the time. The book had varying fortunes, and in recent times, I had let it gather dust in my house. So when I saw a notice a couple of months ago about the inaugural Copper Coast Geopark Book Fair, I was delighted. I thought it was time my book, The Pink Cage, came out of its, well, cage (sorry).

Preparing to Sell

Finally, the day of the book fair arrived. The thing I was most apprehensive about was how my book stand would look. Other people on my Irish Writers Facebook group had elaborate plans for their stands, but visual display is not my strong point. Luckily, my husband has a strong visual sense, and he helped me display my books around an actual pink cage he had bought me some time ago. I ended up wearing a pink jumper as well (the subconscious is indeed powerful).

Displaying my wares at the Copper Coast Geopark Book Fair, Photo Credit: Orlaith Hamersley.

After we set up, the doors opened and the punters poured in. Given the remoteness of the location, this was pretty impressive. Another challenge for me was deciding how to interact with punters. I thought about what I like when I go up to a stall. I prefer that people don’t talk to me, but have an approachable look and are happy to chat once I initiate the conversation. So that was the approach I took with punters.

How Was It Overall?

Overall, the experience was great fun. I enjoyed chatting to the customers and watched with interest how other stand holders interacted with theirs. It was particularly interesting to watch a bookseller who’s been in the game for decade. His books were real treasures, and his enthusiasm for his books won him many customers. I shared my stand with a friend of mine, a great local character, and I was particularly delighted to meet Pam O’Shea (@pamlecky) and Fiona Hogan (@cookehogan) from the Facebook group I set up – always great to meet Facebook buddies in real life.

But the selling environment was a little challenging. I had initially believed that this was a book fair for authors looking to sell their self-published book, but it turned out that there were a number of second-hand book stalls. The stands were intended to raise money for the Copper Coast Geopark, so I can understand why they were there, but it was difficult for us authors to compete with them. We’re not familiar names to the public, and because we produced our books ourselves, they cost that bit more.

Still, I sold as many books as I expected to sell. I’m proud that I put my book back out into the world, and that I represented myself as well as I possibly could. Have you sold at a book fair? What were the challenges and what were the benefits? If you run a book fair, how do you manage to make it viable, and what advice would you have to authors who take your stands?

Straightforward Web Content

Last week, I wrote about how brands can have hidden messages. This week, I’m writing about a very different challenge: how to do content marketing for a business that has a very simple purpose. In this case, it was a financial business. A business like this has to follow standard procedures when dealing with its clients. The trouble is, all its competitors follow the same procedures. How was I going to write content that would make this business stand out?

How do I write fresh web content for a standard business?

In situations like this, it’s easy to resort to cookie-cutter content, and the business did have a lot of this content at its disposal. But I encouraged them to look at ways of saying things in a fresher, more original way. Here are three of the steps I took to enliven their web content.

1.      Talk to the Business Owners

The business may follow standard procedures, but the people who run the business bring their own individual qualities to it. That’s why I always make sure to talk to them, to get their own version of how they run their business. I strive to capture their enthusiasm, their commitment to their business and their expertise. I can also pay attention to the words they use to describe their business and weave those into the content.

2.      Use of Statistics

In the background content the business gave me, there were a few eye-catching statistics and I placed them in a prominent position, so they would catch the reader’s eye. These statistics demonstrate the expertise of the business and suggest that the business may be able to resolve an issue that a potential client may have.

3.      Speak to Customer Concerns

The Why Us page on a website is a good place to show potential clients that you understand the position they’re in and can offer reassurance to them. In this case, the business wanted clients to know that they could take the headache out of dealing with their financial affairs and leave them financially better off.

If your business is required to follow certain procedures, what do you do to differentiate it from other businesses in your field? If you write web content, how do you create content that makes businesses stand out?

The Hidden Messages of Marketing Content

Sometimes as a copywriter, you have the privilege of working with a company that makes a difference in people’s lives. Over the past few months, I’ve worked with a company which offers hospital beds that don’t look like hospital beds. Their adjustable features make it easy for people who are elderly or have chronic illnesses or disabilities to be cared for at home, and to improve the quality of their sleep.

copywriting image
Marketing content can have many hidden messages.

This was the core message I helped the company identify. The challenge was that customers didn’t want to be reminded of their illness or advancing age, so this core message wasn’t one they wanted to hear. Instead, the company wanted me to focus on how great the beds looked and how comfortable they were.

Core Message of Content

Recently, the company asked me to write two pieces of content, one that plainly outlined the core message, and one with the core message hidden. The first was a questionnaire for a magazine editorial and the second was content for three pages of their website. The differences between the two pieces of content was in the information I gave and the words I chose.

The questionnaire was for a public sector magazine, and I had to provide answers which would then be used for the editorial. The emphasis was on the company’s dealings with the public sector, so the emphasis was on the company’s dealings with health professionals and its ability to provide medical backup. There was a stress on dignity and independence, but I also used the language of the medical world, referring to hospitals, carers and patients. I also made references to specific illnesses that the beds could help people deal with.

Hidden Message of Content

For the website, the word hospital appeared nowhere in the content. I didn’t even mention words like dignity and independence. Instead, I used words like “comfort,” “rest” and “ensure.” The company wanted people to feel it was their choice to buy the beds. In my content, I wrote about what made the beds unique and about how they could help improve the quality of people’s sleep.

I also wrote about how good the company was at looking after their customers. I used the words “care” and “looked after” a lot. In this way, I was able to sneak the company’s core message through the back door. People would know from reading the content that with this company’s beds, they could live happily at home for years to come.

How do you decide what your message is? How do you get that message across in the content you create?