How I Write First Drafts (by Rose Hunter)

All of my writing these days comes initially from my journals. That’s how I started writing and that’s what I’ve gone back to it seems. A lot of it is awful, therapeutic writing, stuff I need to work through for my own sanity. I’ve heard this is not the way to do it I think, but it’s what I do. I keep it all in the same place but it’s pretty easy to tell what’s what.

So in my journal I write whatever I feel like writing, what is going on in my life and what is on my mind, etc., and every so often I’ll hit a patch that seems more interesting, and I’ll just keep writing that, across the page in the same way but maybe I’ll start putting in some forward slashes to indicate possible line breaks or to say that now I think I’m into a poem. I’ll keep writing along with that until it is out of juice or whatever happens and then maybe there will be a paragraph about something completely mundane, or anything that pops into my head, a complaint about a friend, something I see in the distance, whatever. I kind of just chat.

…I leap around. I don’t try to keep any thread or control it very much. Often I don’t finish a thought or idea before I skip to a different one and a different one again; I just go wherever I feel like although from time to time I’ll flip back and see, oh, what was I on about earlier, and then I’ll continue that, so bits of that idea might be on page three, and more on page five and finished on page ten. Or not….

When I feel like I’ve done enough I’ll look back at the pages and see what’s there. I take my blue (*important detail*) highlighter and mark off the poems that I think are there. There might be two or three possibilities. And then there is a whole lot of trash but I don’t make a judgement as to what’s what yet; I just highlight where I think the poems are and give them a working title, which will be some word in the poem most likely. I don’t think a lot about a title at this point because I don’t know what it’s about so much, I mean it’s just an inkling. If I labor over a title at this point what I come up with is almost always off-base, but if I just pick the most obvious word to remember the poem by, that’s often better and very occasionally that does end up being the final title since I also like simple titles and one word or thing-based titles. So I circle that word.

I might fill up an A4 notebook or two before I go back and see what’s there properly, and then at that point I’ll start pulling out the poems that still seem to have something, and put them in the computer. It’s a different thing that goes into the computer already, with bits of what was in the notebook, changed around, stuff added, a lot of stuff left out, etc. This is really the first draft I guess, when I put them in the computer. I’m pretty ashamed of my journal drafts/pre-drafts. They’re really embarrassing. I threw a lot of them out recently, in case I die suddenly and someone finds them. But now there are a bunch of new journal drafts because I’ve been writing quite a bit lately, and I have to keep them until I put them into the computer, so.

I also revise very extensively. So that the poems wind up a long way away from that initial journal start. For some reason it’s just the way that I like to start though, and that’s what I’m writing about here.

…Sometimes I’ll write and there aren’t any poems. That’s fine. It’s not good for me to try to write poems I think. It just needs to happen. It mostly does (I mean the attempt), because I enjoy putting words in that form.

I take a lot of photographs also, and I use them as prompts for the journal and first computer draft, to the extent that I remember them. When I get to a second draft, then I’ll often study the photo I’m thinking of more, to flesh out what I have or think of new things. But for the initial writing I’ll just go by memory. I probably remember the photo fairly well if it was one I liked, or if it had something interesting in it. If I look at the actual photo again too early I think I can get caught up in the details and don’t get the heart of it. If I write about it first from a strong memory I’ll get the heart of it, and then I can make it stronger by looking at the actual photo. That’s something I do a lot.

Here are a few of the photos I used as prompts in writing [four paths].

There’s a lot of that third photo in the poem “[intersection],” for instance.



Thanks for reading/looking!


Rose Hunter is the author of [four paths] (Texture Press 2012), and to the river (Artistically Declined Press 2010). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as EOAGH, Paper Darts, Doctor T.J Eckleberg Review, DIAGRAM, Bluestem, PANK, and Cordite. She  is from Australia originally and now lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. She keeps a photo blog here.

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