Every April I celebrate National Poetry Month by reading lots of poetry, convincing other people to read lots of poetry and trying to get everyone to write a little poetry. I also follow the “Poem a Day” challenge, and this year, for the first time, completed the challenge by writing thirty-five poems in thirty days.
One trick to writing a poem a day, or writing anything on a daily basis for that matter, is to allow yourself to do it poorly. Because, integral to the creative process is failure and foolishness, hopefully of the playful kinds, and just generally coming to terms with the awkwardness of making something from nothing. It’s all “elbows and knees,” or in the case of writing, passive voice and too many adjectives. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly, I also say, otherwise, expectations of perfection will interfere with the act of creation, a process that in and of itself is already perfect.
With that said, let me admit that the poems I’ve drafted this month are all pretty crappy. They are unfinished, awkward, contain trite beginnings and contrived endings, tired images and many clichés. But maybe, just maybe, there is a line or a poem’s worth of lines that will evolve into something publishable.
For me, generating poetry to use for raw material is all about the “quantity = quality” equation, one that is still sneered at by many. Maybe for writers like Tolstoy, writing the perfect sentence or paragraph before moving on to the next is the best process, but I for one need the actual act of writing to get where I am writing too, and there is a lot of support for this belief. “Writing begets writing” my Graduate Fiction Writing instructor, Susan Rodgers, used to say. It takes a million words before you can publish, or earn, your fist novel, according to Randy Ingermanson. Obviously, for Chris Baty of the NaNoWriMo phenom, it’s about writing 50,000 words in thirty days for one month out of the year. Finally, according to a wiser author than I (whose name escapes me at the moment), you have to write through a lot of crap to get to the good stuff.
But letting yourself write poorly is also about facing the blank page every day and consistently conquering it, “consistently” being the operative word there. That is, writing needs the same consideration as such daily self-care pursuits as eating, showering, and exercising (or meditating). In my life, writing must receive the same priority as a second job, especially necessary though doubly difficult since I am already employed full-time. As a second job, writing is difficult because its rewards are often delayed and are rarely monetary, its process often tedious, and its available time often gobbled up by greedy employers, needy people or insistent errands. But still I write, and still I fail to write, and still I fail when I write. But the bottom line is, I write.
But let me return to the topic of writing a poem a day in April and say that the best part of this year’s challenge is that after essentially forcing myself to write a poem every day is that it became easier to start. Similar to keeping a well primed, everything I saw or experienced had potential for a poem. And best of all was experiencing something akin to a runner’s high; moment when I felt like I could go on writing forever.