Putting it all together: creating a manuscript

Now that I’ve emailed my ready-to-publish draft of “Between Gods” to the publisher this week (yay!), I’m thinking about what it took to get it to this point.

I’d been writing poetry for years, but hadn’t really thought about trying to put together a book until 2007, when the sad events at Virginia Tech took place. I returned to the campus and visited with a former poetry professor, who talked to me about the submission process for poetry. By that time, I had written many poems but had never sent one out to a magazine or journal. That fall, I began sending batches of poems out; by spring, I had received a few acceptances.

The following fall, I had several mornings a week to myself. I printed out the poems I had and weeded through them, picking out the ones that seemed, in some way, to belong together. Even though the poems were written over a period of fifteen years, about radically different topics, I could see that many of the poems focused on “between-ness” of one kind or another.  They were responses to pressure: battles between the id and superego, faith and skepticism, “Prufrock” passivity and action.  In light of this trend, and because many of the poems invoke spiritual elements, I decided the book’s title should be “Between Gods.”

“Between Gods” went through many drafts.  The most helpful resource for deciding how to put the book together was a set of articles by Alberto Rios.  In section two, he describes how to determine the order of poems in a manuscript.  After ordering the poems in some of the ways Rios suggests, I ordered them by “season” – for example, poems that are in some way regenerative would be “spring,” and so on.  The first poem in the book, “Thaw,” sets up the pattern beautifully.

The final step after establishing the order was additional pruning of poems.  Every poem had to, in some way, support the title.

After many months of looking at these poems over and over, I started to dread reading them and doubted the merits of each one. Then something happened when I put the right poems in the right order with the right title: I started to like them again.  I started to see each one as a supporting cog in the wheel.  Each poem needed to be there.

Shortly after I came up with this final draft, it was accepted for publication.  Now that it’s out of my hands – on to book two!


4 thoughts on “Putting it all together: creating a manuscript

  1. Hey, Congrats 1st of all! I’m in the same situation as you were b4 you decided to talk to the poetry professor! I have sooo many poems… And would love to do a book of poetry, But I have no clue where to start! My 1st step was creating a blog! That seems to be going pretty well! I’ll check out the site that you posted so i can see what i need to do to start this process! Seems nerve wrecking! Do you have a list of literary magazines or publishers to submit work too? Thank you for the info!

  2. Hi, thanks for the note. I really recommend Poet’s Market (book) and http://www.duotrope.com to help you find the publications that will be receptive to your work. Every writer’s list is different – different publications have different things that they are looking for.

    Good luck!

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