I wanted to write a haiku about an idea I was struck by, looking up at a single star that had managed to shine through even over the lights of the city around me.
My first draft, paying attention to the haiku form of 5 / 7 / 5 syllable structure over three lines, went like this:
An uncut diamond
Okay -- so there were things I liked about the draft, but it really didn't capture a unique image as much as I'd hoped.
For one thing, the words are possibly even too common, not carefully chosen enough. Why is the star lonely? Because no one is looking at it? Because it has no friends? That says a different thing altogether than what I intended, that the natural beauty of the star is swallowed up by the city lights.
I've made the star an object of the poem, but haven't explained its loneliness. If I'm going to anthropomorphize the star and give it a human emotion, I need to find some way to explore that, instead of leaving it, literally, just hanging there.
I decide to change the "lonely" to "glistens" to avoid giving the star an emotion at all, and "black" to "bleak," a more descriptive and evocative word. Losing "lonely" leaves me without any emotional content to the poem; adding "bleak" puts some back.
An uncut diamond
Better, but still not good.
Why "uncut diamond"? I've inadvertently posited the idea that no one notices the star because it's dull itself, instead of that the neon lights are bright.
Also, the most important part of a haiku after the syllable count is to make a contrast - haiku traditionally contain a natural image, and some kind of comparison that leads to a new understanding or way of looking at the world. I've missed that altogether in my first drafts.
I consider that I have several opportunities for contrasting images here, even in such a short poem. First, I can compare the star to the lights below. And, if I play it right, I can contrast the quality of the star to the quality of the city's neon.
I decide I can play on the usual impression that neon is a warm kind of light, and give it a more sanitized, cold feel, while brightening up the star, cutting and polishing the diamond, so to speak:
A bright speck diamond
The star is bright, simple, and beautiful, but the cold and busy world below ignores it.
I'd still like to warm up the star a bit, but all in all, I'm happy with my haiku.
A little editing, as you can see, can make a huge difference between a nice idea or image, and knowing that you've actually found a way to communicate that idea.
Writing is a medium of communication, after all, and editing is one of your finest tools to ensure that communication has the effect you intend.
Be sure to read more "Writer's Way" essays!