Not all poems are meant to be finished

Tina Sederholm poems and notebooks


Every year I fill five to six A4 notebooks with first drafts of poems, blogs, story ideas, ephemera, interesting and quirky things I’ve seen on dog walks, car journeys, trips to the shop. Around the middle of October, I go through these notebooks. I pick out things I ‘d like to play with more, often finding poems and ideas I’d completely forgotten about. Some years I don’t get near finishing this process, so the following October I end up reading notebooks from the previous four or five years.

What amazes me is how many first attempts, tentative runs that I discover. How early on I began a poem or story, abandoned it, then re-visited it as if I had never thought of it in the first place. How I have been cogitating on some questions for years.

It shouldn’t. In 2005, I visited the Dali Museum in Figuras, Spain. It was stuffed, not just with Dali’s prolific art, but also a huge number of preliminary sketches and line drawings of motifs and images that later turned up in finished works. And, plenty that didn’t.

I used to believe that I had to turn every poem into a polished version. It became a source of gnawing anxiety that I had so many unfinished projects, large and small. That it spoke to a lack of diligence or dedication. 

The truth is, some poems are finished in a day or two. Some take years. And some never get beyond those first scratches on a page. 

But they aren’t a waste of time. Even the frankly terrible ones. The ones that lost their essence, somewhere between my mind’s eye and page. The dodgy metaphors, the whiny ones, the ones written to impress a friend or rival. 

In fact, they are completely necessary. They form the compost from which a few seeds will grow into finished pieces.

Not every poem is meant to be finished, Not every idea needs to be acted upon or brought to fruition. Not every date needs to be a relationship. Not every longing needs to be your life’s work.

So thankyou, scraplings and half-borns. You are beautiful, even in your incompleteness.


Tina Sederholm is a poet, performer and editor. If you would like help with re-writing and editing anything from a poetry collection to a novel to a newsletter, you can contact her here.

Her latest book, This is Not Therapy, is out now. Buy it here.