This year I learned about NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month). Since April is National Poetry Month, a group much like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) encouraged writers to write a poem a day. I really enjoyed NaNoWrimo last November. The novel only has to be 50,000 words. 50K wasn’t enough to finish my novel but I did show up to write more often than I would have without a deadline. More importantly, I wrote more than 50K words in a month. So I thought it would be cool to take on another writing challenge.
Sidenote: I’ve also found that writing challenges remind me how much I love writing. Challenges that require writing more often change my energy. When I’m being creative regularly I am more aware of my power, which makes me feel confident. When I’m writing at a normal speed, without a hard deadline, I go from feeling guilty to worthless for not writing or for not liking what I’ve written. In other cases, I’m struggling with self doubt. I am asking myself if I should be a writer when I look at my plot, or when I see what I make off my work. LOL!
When I took on the NaNoWrimo challenge, to finish 50k words in a month, I didn’t have time to doubt myself. I didn’t have time to evaluate every word. More often than not, I was trying to make or find time to write. Forcing myself to actually write, not think about writing, not consider plots and not reading books on writing and just actually writing streamlined it. Not focusing on the plot actually freed me to focus on the plot and ask myself where I needed to go next, instead of looking back at what was already written.
A lot of writers condemned NaNoWrimo, while asking if it was rational to basically vomit a novel in thirty days. Yep, it sure is. In fact, this might even be the ideal amount of time for some writers. The thing is, if you are a writer you are always plotting and writing in your mind. You wake up and go to sleep with your characters. The reason you haven’t finished your book, isn’t because it takes years… You haven’t finished because books don’t stop having sex with you and tell you you’re a bad spouse when you don’t write, like a lover will. Unless writing is your full time job, you won’t get fired if you don’t write, while if you are late to work or don’t set and meet deadlines at work you might be fired. Books don’t starve like children will if you don’t feed them. Your books won’t call or text and set dates with you. Your books won’t cry or try to emotionally manipulate you into spending time with them. It’s all the things in between that take books so long to be written. Writing challenges give you an opportunity to make something that won’t ask to be prioritized a priority.
Although I am a writer, I also have a full life. Unlike all the other things in my life that demand my attention, my novel never does. During NaNoWriMo, I put my book as a priority. Believe me, I had tons of push back. As soon as I said I am going to write, people I hadn’t spoke to since the third decided they wanted to reconnect… And I was able to feel what it was like to put my book first, and essentially my goals and dreams. I found that claiming time to write, helped me set writing boundaries which have led to new life boundaries, but that’s another blog. So yes, it’s totally possible to write a first draft in a month.
Also, during these challenges I usually have other writer friends going hard in the paint with me. I invited all of my published writing friends to join me during NaNoWrimo. I chose only published folks because there is any entirely different set of challenges when someone sets out to complete their first book. Which I learned, in writing my first book. I’d set up a previous challenge based on BIAM method (Book In A Month). I set it for two months because honestly, at that time I couldn’t imagine writing a decent book in a single month. I was also writing a historical fiction and BIAM did have a 100,000 word count, with the goal being 25,000 words a week. I’d already been working on my book regularly and thought it was too high of expectation with working and having a full life.
There were only two or three of us in the group who hadn’t ever finished a book. The other unaccomplished writers showed up negative. Which I admit, would make me question myself. Also, they showed up to the progress deadlines empty handed and asking for other writers overwhelmed by their own writing goals to help or motivate them. Which we all did happily, but the other first timers never finished their books. Sidenote; If you step up to any challenge already committed to failing, well, that’s your real goal. I include myself in that. I didn’t believe two months was long enough to complete my novel and I didn’t complete it in two months. Still I showed up and wrote more ferociously than ever before. I didn’t complete it by the deadline, but I completed a first draft within two weeks of the deadline.
My friends were excited and supportive of me taking on the NaNoWriMo challenge, but all those who didn’t join me had one question. “Will what you write be any good? I mean, if you are just writing to meet word count goals, will what you write be valuable or even useful?”
Yep! It sure was. Ego has to take a back seat to the characters and plot. It’s beautiful to be in that space of listening. Sometimes I’d get stumped while writing, but not to the point of ending the writing session. Usually sitting quietly and reading what I’ve written will trigger the rest of the scene and/or words. I learned to trust myself. I’d be lost in the world I was creating… I feel ego and writing without a deadline can anchor you in your own world… so you can’t see the character or their world authentically.
I had such an amazing experience… and I’m still learning my novel writing groove… so all of this could change. But right now, I think I’m going to try and get on a schedule to write first drafts in two months. If it’s a contemporary novel I might push myself and do a novel in a month, but if it’s something I’ve done a lot of research on, I’m going to give myself a couple months.
Anyway, I don’t want to judge anyone else’s writing process, but I don’t believe it takes a year to write a novel, or even two if you show up to the page every day. Also it gets easier to write when you train yourself to be creative once a day.
So having this great experience with NaNoWriMo I decided to do NaPoWriMo. Like I always do, I invited my writer friends to join me… I posted on my Facebook, text folks and tagged people. Someone wrote on the post, they don’t write poetry by assignment. LOL! Others declined and gave various excuses. Mostly they said they had to be spiritually moved. If you are trying to be prolific and/or make writing a career you can’t only write when you are moved. At least I don’t think so. Again, I can’t judge.
Anyway 12 days into this challenge.
After poets started accepting, they wanted to know how we would keep each other honest. They wanted to know if there would be a space so they could share their work. Finally, they requested that I create a secure space where they could post their poems daily. I didn’t expect them to want to post their work. Also, I write long hand then type my poems out so I didn’t want to worry about final compositions. I didn’t want any extra steps I just wanted to show up to my journal and write…
When I invited them on this writing challenge, I didn’t intend to be online. Usually when I’m doing a challenge, I shut down all my social networks and write. In fact, I lost my phone on the 4th of this month and didn’t realize it until the 6th.
Still, I created the group. I added all the poets who accepted the challenge. April 1st, I started getting notifications being the group admin… They were posting poems all through out the day… Which moved my spirit immensely. I loved how they cheered each other on, and took time to read each others’ posts. Let me also add, many of them I don’t know well so it was beautiful to see so much positive energy.
I wrote but I didn’t post. I struggled to write every day. The poems I was turning out were so bad I didn’t want to share them. Not to mention, I have a love hate relationship with social networking every day, while being present in my life and in my creative space. Some part of me felt responsible for facilitating the group, so I checked in and read tons of poems.
I am still amazed by how talented the poets I know are. Every day they’ve been posting these awesome thought provoking poems… Some are writing more than one a day.
One day, I think I didn’t even write. So I set a goal for the next day to go to the library when I got off work instead of coming home. I wrote most of my first novel in the college library of UNLV. So, I hoped magic would strike, again. To be honest I don’t love all of my poems.
When I got to the library, I read over some material about the theme I’m focusing these poems on. I also had my head phones and listened to Alice Coltrane. I didn’t write one poem I loved, I wrote several.
I came home planning to type out the poem I’d decided to share in the group. Still in a creative space I wrote something off the top of my head. It was sooo liberating and well received. So I’ve been doing that every day.
Now I don’t really have a theme and I don’t know what I will be moved to write. I’ve been doing free writes. I also like releasing the poem and editing it in real time. Poems feel different when you know someone is reading as you write… It feels more urgent.
I am going to play with different kinds of poems this month… I felt today, that the poem begging to be written didn’t need to ever be shared. Who knows… I like to examine life, not just my life. I think I’ve read some good poetry by other poets that I really loved about their own life. There are those common themes: love, belonging, fear, evolving, god… but there are other things I want to explore outside of myself… this revolution going on. I’m trying to push myself this month…
Still, typing off the top of my head in real time has been a stretch… I use to feel more connected to my writing when I had a pen or pencil in my hand and I could feel and hear the paper being stained with thoughts. Now, I’m learning my hands on this laptop keep up with my thoughts better than they do with a pencil.
Sorry, not sorry for this long ramble of thoughts… I just really felt like blogging and sharing this experience.