Friday, April 29, 2016

Moonlight Musings















Surviving April: 

NaPoWriMo and all that 

Well it could be worse. It's not NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month) where would-be novelists must churn out thousands of words a day (not necessarily with much attempt to make them good words). 

I did that one year; which was, well, educational – but never again. After all, I am no novelist; I just wanted to get more idea of what writing one would be like, for the sake of my writing students. I managed it with lots of coffee and chocolate, weight gain, sleep deprivation, and a very obliging husband who did everything else that needed doing. I produced an incredibly bad novel and a great lack of interest in trying to improve it. That was actually my second attempt at a novel. The first, years earlier, soon bored me so much that I abandoned it. If your writing bores YOU, not much hope of it interesting others.

It happens that – for no particular reason – I've never actually done NaPoWriMo, meaning the site of that name from whence prompts issue daily for the month of April. But there are other, similar sites which I have tried. April is National Poetry Month in the USA, which means that online it becomes international (just as NaNoWriMo does, later in the year). Everyone signs up to write a poem a day, at that site and/or various others. For some years I participated at Poetic Asides, but so many people joined in over the years that it became too unwieldy for me. Nowadays I play in much smaller groups, where there is some chance of finding time to read other participants' gems and them read mine – on top of finding time to write a new poem every day.

The aim of NaNoWriMo is not polished work but the completion of fifty thousand words. (Amazingly, some people do produce publishable books.) I suppose it's the same with Poetry Month: the requirement is simply to produce a poem a day. However, we poets do like to make our pieces as good as we can in the time available. It's not the length, it's the poetics! In fact, at Poetic Asides, there are now acclaimed poets judging each month's offerings, and an annual anthology of the winning poems.

I know a number of you do participate in April Poetry Month, at one site or another (or several!) while a number choose not to. I have been making resolutions that this year is my last. I always start off well enough, pleased with new, exciting prompts. Then there comes a time, somewhere past the halfway point, when I find myself writing stuff that seems like drivel. Of course, at a poem a day, they must all be regarded as drafts anyway, but even so.... Readers don't seem to agree with my low estimation of those poems, but The Disempowerer in my head says, 'They are just being kind and polite.' At that point every year I make the same resolution: this is the last year I'll do this.

But then, every year, as we near the end of the month, some gear shifts and I start producing things that I am, to my surprise, very happy with. I even start getting inspired to extra poems that aren't prompted! So then I wonder – what if I just kept on forever, writing poems every day? Would I get really, really good at it? And I put the decision to stop on hold again until next April, by which time I am once more raring to go.

I don't, however, continue writing every day – by the end of the month I am ready for a break and keen to do other things, such as clean the house and weed the garden. Perhaps even get out and about a bit. A month-long commitment, even if it's not for thousands of words of prose, tends to interfere with the rest of life. 'We need some life to put into our art,' I used to tell my writing students, advising them not to chain themselves to their desks. After seven decades of living, I have many memories which I can surely use in my writing, but it isn't quite the same. 

And what about revision? Everyone says it's vital, and I agree. When I'm producing a poem a day, I don't spend much time on revising. Even creating just a few new poems a week, as I respond to the slightly less frequent prompts that happen in other months, leaves little time to revise. Luckily, the problem is the solution. (Well, almost.) Because of writing to prompts – not to mention having been engaged in the making of poems for roughly six decades so far – I get progressively quicker at matters of craft. 

I guess we all do a bit of immediate revision at the point of creation; they are not really FIRST drafts we post. We get adept at producing quite decent poems quite fast. Some enviable people seem always to be outright brilliant! 

All the same, there is delight in returning to an old draft years later – or even a piece one had thought 'finished' – and seeing at a glance just what it needs to become as good as it can get. Or, if it's really in a desperate situation, finding a completely new approach to revive the poor thing. There's even satisfaction in the worst-case scenario, deciding to let some die quietly.  (You know they then become compost for new growth, don't you?) 

Well, it's only one month in the year. Why not go for broke, just one month of the year? (No, don't tell me about November at Poetic Asides, where they not only write a new poem a day all over again, but this time weave them around a theme so as to produce a new chapbook, with the possibility of getting it taken up by a reputable publisher ... I told you not to tell me that!)  

But what is one to do with all those April poems? All those years of April poems? Make chapbooks? Collect them as Christmas presents for friends and family? (The ones who want to read my poems have probably seen them on my blog already.) Just leave them on the blog, letting that be my magnum opus? Take them off the blog soonish (to avoid accusations of prior publication) and/or revise, then submit to prestigious literary journals and anthologies? 

Maybe what to do with them is a different question; anyway it only applies if we do keep producing hundreds of poems every year. The question I am trying to explore here is about the value or otherwise, to us as poets, of participating in Poetry Month. And there is the further question of whether we should – or could – keep up that pace of creation all the time.

I don't know. Perhaps it would be good for me to take a long break from writing new stuff and start some serious revising, even some culling. Perhaps I could make a whole lot of collections around themes? Or forms? (I really fancy the idea of a book of haibun, when I have enough of them.) And yet, not writing new poems at least sometimes would get boring, I think. Creation is exciting!

April Poetry Month is thrilling, challenging, daunting, inconvenient, impractical ... and, unquestionably, productive. This May I do plan to ease off on the writing for a bit. But has it swiftly become such a habit that I'll have withdrawals? We shall see.

And then in June.... Well, you see, some weeks back, before April began, I accepted an invitation to be guest poet for a month at a blog of Aussie poets, where the idea is to post a new draft every day. I must have been mad! At least I have given myself a month in between. And at least they are only supposed to be drafts. (In the habit of quick composition, will I be able to leave my posts as actual first drafts, I wonder, or will I be impelled to tinker?)

I'm glad anyway that we at Poets United have no plans to start hosting our own poetry month. Midweek Motif and the Poetry Pantry, interspersed with articles about poetry and poets, allow for a nice balance between frequency of writing and leisure to craft the work – particularly as we can dip in and out as we like, according to what else is going on in our lives. It allows for those sweet moments when the Muse may whisper in our ears, unprompted.

What do you think, United Poets? Is Poetry Month a blessing or a curse, a chore or great fun? No-one twists our arms, so I guess if we do it, we must really want to.

Feel free to share your thoughts.


31 comments:

  1. Two more days to go! No time to comment! Call me the Write Habbit! Just kidding. LOL. I don't know whether I "did April" because I needed a break from writing my novel or whether the novel paused because I have been writing poetry. But one thing I noticed this time is that I often forgot to look at prompts (except my own) and wrote after morning spiritual disciplines instead and when reflecting on the lack of risk in my life. I have prayed about whether this constant writing is what God wants from me or if I should be out protesting and changing the social injustices I see daily, paying my dues for freedom and privilege. But I continue to write. And, along with not reading prompts, I stopped reading my daily feed of others' poems--I dropped out of sight from PU Pantry, for one, though I continued to read anything written for PU Midweek Motif. I feel as if I am always behind, rushing and seeking touchdown moments. No wisdom here, Rosemary, though I am happy for the opportunity to ruminate aloud and looking forward to other responses.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am no theologian, but I believe that following the deepest joy of one's heart is also following God's guidance. I also believe in banishing 'should'; I think that we instinctively (and individually) know what is the right thing to do, and that too is guidance. I limit my activism now, from considerations of health and energy levels – but we are writers; that too can be a form of activism. We do what we can, and go with what we are given.

      Delete
  2. Rosemary. I see it, as a challenge, to see, if I can do, and still maintain a sense of balance, in my healing and writing processes. Although, I haven't formally join any other site dedicated to this. Surprisingly, have manage to write, an 2 poems/day, which exceeds my normal 25 or so poems/month. Will admit, I have written some forgettable poems that I want dumped, but it's of the process and the journey, I have travelled to date. Not sure, if this helps, Rosemary.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes it does. An interesting perspective: to take on a poem a day for April, without tying oneself to any particular site or group.

      Delete
    2. A poem a day minimum, I should say. :)

      Delete
  3. I love the PAD Challenge. It seems it gets my creative juices flowing...and often write several other poems in a day....just keeps poetry "right there." Where I like it...good exercise. I like to write to Writer's Digest...maybe I'll try another one day?

    I would like it is PU had prompts for the PAD Challenge.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry, annell, PU has no plans to do that. We feel there are enough other good sources of daily April prompts – PAD for one. Great that it works so well for you. I love your writing; more of it can only be a Good Thing.

      Delete
  4. I meant, I would like it if PU had prompts for the PAD Challenge.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Rosemary, I LOVE your Moonlight Musings! My fave feature! Each winter, the endless grey skies slowly asphyxiate my Muse. So I always do the April challenge in order to kick my brain back into gear. Other Aprils I have done some good work. However, this year, it didn't happen that way. I had to work at it, without highly satisfactory results, with the conclusion I may not do it again next year. We shall see what happens next March! I am, however, very grateful for the slow and steady pace at Poets United, as with some involvement at Toads, that is a comfortable amount of involvement to handle, and still be able to get other things done. A prompt a day here would increase our workload beyond what is manageable, and we don't want to risk burnout. Thanks for this interesting commentary, as PAD draws to a close. I will be glad to return to posting on the days when I feel I might have something relevant to say. Alarmingly, that isn't as often as I might like any more. I am hoping some sunshine will wake up the slumbering bear that is my muse....we live in hope!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think we all need some 'time out' to recharge the poetic (and other) batteries. Yet I think you have written some good poems this month, which I much enjoyed reading. I think it's interesting to find out that we can do it even when we don't feel particularly inspired. However, there's no law says we have to. A friend of mine says she has 'cherry-picked' amongst prompts this April. She hasn't written every day, nor stuck to one source of prompts, but has chosen only those that strongly appealed. That's yet another option.

      Delete
  6. For the most part, I enjoy the whole April challenge thing. This year, I've met a few new poets, and that's awesome.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I think I write every day more or less anyway.. actually most April I have my vacation so usually I have a backlog... but since I got back after Easter I have written poems for every prompt. Actually I find that by writing a lot I get more ideas to write.. and many times from commenting too... so it has not been too demanding. I find creating prompts more demanding actually (I have created 4 prompts during the month, which is slightly more than normal... But I think I will like it a lot when it cool down, and I might have time to write some fiction...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you 'write every day more or less anyway', too! It's often (sadly) hard for me to keep up with reading all your wonderful work.

      Yes, it's true that writing generates writing. That's part of the dilemma. Maybe I could reverse the Poetry Month process: write every day most of the year, and take just one month off for revision!

      I've liked your prompts very much; thank you.

      Delete
  8. I write almost every day. I also participate in Napowrimo every year because I think that anything that gives poetry a profile internationally is worth participating in. Writing poetry is like breathing for me so it does not require a lot of time . Also another reason for participating was to test myself to see if I would write as regularly without feedback. I was becoming reliant on comments and writing for napowrimo usually means writing (for me at least) in vacuo without them.It is a good experience but I doubt if I would be as prolific if I had not have joined the poetry sites. There is enormous value to promoting poetry in what PU and other sites do.I am hoping that somehow the popularity of poetry will increase which I believe will enhance connections between people throughout the world.Expressing feelings and thoughts through verse has more impact and depth than prose.
    So thank you PU and also all the participants for being here. I know this is a terribly politically incorrect thing to say but I don't think it is coincidental that the most welcoming and successful poetry sites are run by
    women:) Just a moment while I put up my umbrella to repel the rain of rotten cabbages being hurled my way LOL

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You make good points!

      I have found, for myself, that participating in PU and some other groups does indeed enhance connections with people all across the world, promoting better understanding – and much joy.

      Delete
  9. I so much enjoyed reading about your experience with naporimo. I suspect next year you'll be recharged an do it again. I admire you and those who commit to writing a poem daily in April. I write often but not daily and it isn't always poetry. Actually, what I submit to PU sadly doesn't always qualify as poetry, but.I try. I haven't had the courage to make such a commitment. I tell myself, "maybe next year" but when next year comes I tend to find myself too "busy". I can't even devise an original excuse. But, really, maybe next year I'll dare.
    Thank you Rosemary for this discussion. It was so interesting to read your words as well as everyone's comments.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We all really are busy! I don't know that it's good to sacrifice other things – and sometimes people – to poetry. Each of us has to find where we draw our own line, I guess. And that is not always in the same place, year after year. I have made my own choices and take responsibility for them, but I don't necessarily defend them. This in itself sounds defensive, and I don't mean it that way – only to say that, for you too it is a personal matter needing no apology. If you never do NaPoWriMo, it's not a sin or a crime. You will, when and if you feel ready; and if not, you will write as and when you choose, which is what we all do anyway, when it comes right down to it. Follow your heart! :)

      Delete
  10. Thank you for this lovely post Rosemary :D gosh its been an incredible month though I felt under pressure at times but we learn soo much.

    I literally swam in two Napowrimos i.e one hosted by the Toads and Dark Poetry for the Cruellest Month which was hosted by Magaly Guerrero and Rommy Driks :D

    At first I thought oh my god dark poetry? What will I do? I don't know anything about this.. but I dived in nevertheless and it was absolutely worth it :D I feel grateful because I had never explored the dark side before.

    The Toads had incredible challenges this year phew I have enjoyed writing for those soo much! Then there was Midweek Motif every Wednesday couldn't just not write for Poets United.. I mean.. this is literally like my backyard! So I often mixed two prompts into one and came up with a poem :D

    Sigh... April..you will be missed!!

    Lots of love,
    Sanaa

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Sanaa - yes, busy but rewarding to do these things. I wrote for the same two sites as you did. Like you, I wondered how I would go with the dark side, but immediately loved it. (It's important, they tell us, to honour that too and integrate it with the light.) I also love writing for 'toads', such a great group of excellent poets. And I too jumped in here at PU sometimes, and sometimes combined prompts into one poem. Did I once or twice incorporate something from dVerse as well? I think so ... hard to even remember now, after such a full-on month (and not quite finished yet). And then I started responding to your Prompt Nights.... Yes, we do find unexpected things within ourselves thanks to the prompts, or else opportunities to express what we already knew but had not made into poetry yet. I am seeing all the benefits now that it's so nearly over – while also looking forward to a bit of 'normal' life for a change.

      Delete
    2. I love that you have joined in with Prompt Nights :D and I agree, we do tend to express a lot of things via these prompts which we otherwise would not.
      xoxo

      Delete
  11. I have done NaPoWriMo a few times, and there was only once i completed the whole distance, once with a "site of the day" to boot. the reasons i missed out on some of the days are mainly due to work (ahem, putting food on the table comes first) and to sickness (the pesky flu). i really think it is a good way to motivate oneself to write. you may be telling yourself afterwards, wow, did i really write this gem?
    This year i am joining the local version of this event, SingProWriMo, a facebook platform. i did not officially joined the site, knowing i will miss some days. and true to form, i missed many many days. but i did push myself to write and i was pleasantly surprised at what i produced.
    Maybe next year then, the full distance! and it's good to see so many of PU's regulars taking part.

    Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you have found the best way! Joining in and getting the undoubted benefits, but at the same time being realistic and honouring your personal needs.

      Delete
  12. What a wonderfully rich discussion you have started here, Rosemary. I used to do NaPoWriMo as well as participate in Robert Brewer's PAD in October. I enjoyed both, but truthfully as time has passed it seems I have written so many poems on so many subjects that I look at the topics presented and think...ha, I have written on that before, either that or something similar. At the moment I am happy just writing a few poems a week. Much more relaxing, and (for me) gratifying. But for those of you who did complete NaPoWriMo, congratulations on your achievement. And, Rosemary, thanks for presenting such an interesting topic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Mary. I must say, now that it is done, I am pleased with myself for having completed another April's poeming. But yes, I have in the past felt that I was reiterating subjects I'd already dealt with sufficiently; though luckily not this year. Magaly and the toads managed to come up with fresh inspirations. I take my hat off to the prompters!

      Delete
  13. Beautiful musings Rosemary. I once participated in NaPoWriMo hosted at a popular site. It was fun and also challenging. I was surprised at myself that I could do that. It was definitely a booster to the confidence level. A poem a day is a delight and as a poet if we could serve that to other word thirsty souls then we have lived not in vain. And of course kudos to your energy, Rosemary so inspirational.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sumana, your words remind me that I could have said much more about the joy of reading other poets' work, which is such a big part of the April Poetry Month. I learned all sorts of things from the other poets who participated, and my month was enriched by experiencing so much wonderful poetry.

      Delete
  14. I came again and read your musings....really loved what you had to say. About the prompts, for me, I like to write to prompts, never know where I will wander....and i like that, too. Starting in one place, traveling to another....but I am only a participant, if PU, decided to offer a prompt each day for April, maybe I would and maybe I wouldn't. It is all good for me.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I find for me, writing to a prompt I've written to before....over time, I am not the same as I was, and find I have something else to say...maybe one day to gather them up and make one "big" poem?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That would be very interesting, annell! Or a series on the theme?

      Delete