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The Snail’s Lament


You might think
This mobile home’s
A perfect fit
For those who roam,
But this big wheel
Tends to sag,
So, actually,
It’s more of a drag.

I confess I have this fantasy that somewhere there’s a writer who is so amazing, he or she doesn’t have to revise. But I know in my heart of hearts that this perfect first-draft writer doesn’t exist. Everyone revises. Revising is part of writing. It’s necessary, and sometimes it’s even fun. It can be a process involving play, exploration, and discovery. I like looking back at what I’ve written to see what I’ve said, what seems to want to be said, and then revising to say it more clearly or artfully. As someone who enjoys revising and as an observer of kid-writers who tie themselves in knots trying to write perfectly the first time, I’ve been wanting to share some of my revisions. So below is the first part of what happened between finding the snail and this week’s poem. This is straight from my notebook:

Maybe you think
It’s so convenient
To have a mobile home?
Actually, if it has no wheels
It’s actually kind of a drag.
Drag sag wag brag tag flag bag gag hag jag lag nag rag stag
Actually it’s hard to wag
And since it’s heavy
It’s more of a drag.
it tends to sag
and it’s hard to wag
So having a shell
Is honestly,
More of a drag.
And it has no wheels
So it’s more of a drag.
You might think
I have cause to brag

I think you can see that my first attempt wasn’t so much about writing a good poem as it was about getting an idea going—discovering a seed that I could tend and grow. I also think you can see that I found that seed there right in the first five lines—the snail’s point of view, the misconception, and the word drag. Where did these ideas come from? The snail. This poem started when I leaned over to get a good look at the little guy, and I was struck by how hard he seemed to be working to drag that shell around.
I think you can also see that I pretty quickly settled on the word drag because of its double meaning. Once I decided to go with drag, I had the voice of the poem, and I had the beginning of the rhyme scheme. I then started exploring different options that rhyme with drag, like wag and brag. You can see that after a bit of experimenting, I went back to some words I had early on—mobile home, wheel, and sag. Once I had these pieces, the rest came together without too much trouble.
When I look back at my process, I think maybe I don’t need that fantasy of the perfect first-draft writer. I think maybe that perfect first-draft writer is missing all the fun.
For more Poetry Friday see Robyn Hood Black at Read, Write, Howl.

(c) 2012 Elizabeth Ehrenfest Steinglass, all rights reserved

15 replies
  1. Marjorie
    Marjorie says:

    Thank you for the bonus of the process along with your lovely poem. I like that the slightly irritated tone conveyed in the word “actually” was there right from the start too. And yes, I do love a good pum 🙂 I shall share it with my 11-year-old when he gets home shortly – he enjoys that kind of wordplay too – and he loves bugs a lot more than I do!

  2. Liz Steinglass
    Liz Steinglass says:

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I’m glad you liked the poem and that you want to share it. I married into a family of punsters. Apparently, it’s rubbed off.
    Happy Poetry Friday,

  3. BJ Lee
    BJ Lee says:

    Liz – loved the poem and to see your process. I don’t think writing poetry would be half as much fun without the revising – the chance to play with the words.

  4. Bridget Magee
    Bridget Magee says:

    Your poem today is hilarious – poor Mr. Snail! I (sort of) miss seeing snails – we had them in our yard growing up in So. California, but none here in AZ.
    I also love seeing your draft/revision process! Thanks for making me feel better about the countless tweaks I make to poems until I get it right (or almost right some times 🙂
    Happy Friday!

  5. Robyn Hood Black
    Robyn Hood Black says:

    Your grumpy snail is wonderful! And thanks for opening your notebook to let us peek into the process of construction. It’s fun to see how far it came – honed just right from its (slightly more weighty) idea stages.

  6. Author Amok
    Author Amok says:

    Hi, Liz. I loved this insight into your process. My favorite line is the one where you list potential rhymes to choose from. I do that too.

    Final poem is pitch-perfect!

  7. Mary Lee
    Mary Lee says:

    Your process is a LOT like mine! And the process is, indeed, the fun (tho sometimes frustrating) part of writing. Because when you finally nail the poem down, the way you did with this one — ahh! pure satisfaction.

    I love everything about this poem — the rhythm, the rhyme, the wit (drag/drag)! Perfect!

  8. Linda at teacherdance
    Linda at teacherdance says:

    Late, but wanted to read about your snail & then you added a bonus of the revising process. I think that is the fun, and sometimes when I ‘think’ it’s right, I leave it, then return & there’s something else it seems good to do. I love that you actually saw the snail. We don’t often see one ‘in the wild’ in Colorado, too dry! You capture things in such brief & succinct ways, Liz.

  9. Neal Levin
    Neal Levin says:

    Hi Liz,

    Thanks for providing a peek into your notebook (looks a lot like mine) and for explaining what was going on in our head as you were revising. It’s always interesting to learn how other writers think.

    Neal Levin

  10. pennyklostermann.com
    pennyklostermann.com says:

    Hi Liz! It’s my first time here. I promise I’ll be back. I’m having fun reading through your recent posts and had to stop here and express my love for your snail poem…LOVE!!!
    Thanks for sharing your process, too! It’s meaningful to a fellow rhymer!

    Penny Klostermann

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