Some people start their poems in notebooks. I understand the appeal as I love a good notebook myself, and there is something satisfying about the scratch of a nib on the page. I once lost a notebook however and so lost all my work. Ever since I always use a digital-first method when writing poetry. This is what I do.
Start in Obsidian
I always start my writing in Obsidian. This is a free note-taking app that uses Markdown. The new editor now renders Markdown into a WYSIWYG view so you don’t have to see the code if you don’t want to.
The mains reasons I picked Obsidian are:
- It’s free.
- The editor is stripped of all unnecessary nonsense like formatting bars. It’s just you and want you want to write.
- You can link your ideas together using square brackets like this [[example]]. When you do so, your note starts to obtain magical powers. Each note links to a new note based on the link word. I’ll explain this and why I like this so m much for writing poetry in more detail below.
- The Knowledge Graph. The is a beautiful visual rendering of all your notes and how they link together. If you want to see an example, I’ve posted digital notes I’ve made while studying for an MA in Writing Poetry at the Poetry School and Newcastle University. They are my first attempt at creating a Digital Garden  If you want to know more about Digital Gardens, Maggie Appleton has you covered. You can visit my notes here. You can see what the Knowledge Graph look like. It is in the top right hand corner and reflects what your clicking on in the left-side panel.
- Super fast search. You can find anything you write really quickly.
- Tagging is a useful organising adjunct and Obsidian handles this really well.
I begin a new poem by opening a new document in a folder I’ve created called ‘Draft Poems’. Each poem must have a file name. I always use the prefix ‘PD’ which stand for ‘Poem Draft’.
This ensures I won’t mistake the file for a research file. For example I recently draft a poem about a yew three. My poem draft is entitle ‘PD-Yew’. I have separate note which includes information I have gathered about yew trees. This file is titled ‘Yew Trees.’ I link the files together by using square brackets.
In the PD file I have a ‘See [[Yew Trees]] entry. When I mouse over this link, I see the note I made about yew trees. In the ‘Yew Trees’ file I reciprocate with a link back to [[PD-Yew]]’.
I can also if I choose, open both files side by side. Really handy when you want to check nomenclature or other key bits of information.
Once I have draft complete, I draw a line under it by typing’—–‘. I do this so the next time I come back to look at the poem I can copy it under the line and insert a date at the top. I find it is useful to retain all my edits and to have them date stamped. Sometimes I go back to an earlier edit if I feel like I’ve butchered the poem through too much editing.
When I feel the poem is getting to close, I copy it over to Pages (I work on a Mac so this is Apple’s Word equivalent.
I set the Obsidian to Dark Mode as I find that is easier on my eyes. When I switch to Pages, my text now appears black on white. This altered view helps me to stand back from what I’ve written so I can look at it with fresher eyes. This is useful as I begin to edit.
Writing poetry has become an almost daily routine for me. Keeping tabs on everything I do digitally could quickly become very difficult without a system.
I love how Obsidian helps me to manage versions, failed poems, ideas, thoughts, memories and feelings, linking them together so I can find pattern and meaning for use in my writing.
I feel like nothing is ever lost this way. For anyone who writes creatively, I think one of our greatest fears is losing something we think is good or has value. I’m happy to feel secure about this aspect of my creative process.
If only writing good poetry was this easy.
What Do You Do?
I’m curious about how poets or other creative writers work. I’d be interested to hear what you do. Leave a note in the comments below.