Hard to believe, but I’m now halfway through the Poem-A-Day Challenge. I’ve had some thoughts about the whole process.
JUST WRITE // The old adages are true: You can’t be a writer if you don’t write. So the very obvious thing I’m loving about the PAD Challenge is that it’s a built-in exhortation to write each day.
SOMETIMES WRITING IS ABOUT NOT WRITING // A necessary though seemingly-contradictory corollary to No. 1 is that in order to write, I need to think. I’m guessing there are people who think primarily BY writing and there is always an element of that when I write. But I tend to do a lot of ancillary thinking about what I’m working on when I’m not actually sitting in front of the page. And I’ve realized that this ancillary thinking takes two forms: passive and active.
— Passive thinking occurs when I’m driving or having a conversation with someone or preparing a meal. I’m guessing that passive thinking is effective precisely because it’s passive; I’m focused on other things during these times, so the thinking is secondary to what’s happening. It’s like an undercurrent, or better yet an incubating seed that gets fed and watered by the primary action.
— Active thinking occurs when I’m on a walk or people-watching or sitting at my desk watching tree branches dance outside. Active thinking is when I can make thinking the main focus or purpose, when I have time and freedom to notice things, to deeply ponder an observation, and to chase down any possibly conclusions, deeper meanings, or symbolism.
I’ve also realized that reading falls into this category in a unique way. It begins as passive thinking (I’m reading something and enjoying it as its own experience) but often it triggers a thought or a connection to something I’d previously observed and suddenly I’m moved into active-thinking mode. (One of the very many reasons I love reading!)
WRITING LEADS TO OBSERVATION LEADS TO WRITING // Another famous idea (related to No. 1) is that writing begets writing. That is certainly true for me and why it’s so important not to let my writing routine go by the wayside; as soon as I let up on myself, I get out of the habit and it becomes much harder to get back to it. But when I’m writing every day, I become more and more observant about the world around me, and that makes me want to write about what I’m seeing. It’s a helpful symbiotic thing.
ACCOUNTABILITY IS GOOD // I struggled with whether even to use the word “accountability” because really no one is keeping track of whether I post a poem every day (and if they are, they’re not confronting me when I don’t!). But posting the poems publicly has made me accountable to myself. It’s like a metronome that keeps me marching on and pressing forward until the poem seems done (or at least the first draft is done). I couldn’t follow this approach constantly because I’d eventually get burned out, but I definitely benefit from it as a periodic practice which is why I’ve enjoyed participating in November’s NaNoWriMo for many years also.
SOCIAL MEDIA EFFECTS // Like many people, I have a complicated relationship with social media so I toyed with not posting anything during this project at all. Aside from a few random flurries here and there, I had been off social media for a couple of years by choice and wasn’t sure I was ready to enter the fray again. I didn’t want to be distracted by whether anyone was reading my poems or liking them, and I knew there was a danger of my being discouraged by a lack of response and giving up altogether. But there were also benefits to posting: It would make me consider audience to some degree and stop me from getting too stuck in my own head, it would create a record of my work that will be included in my automatic Chatbooks, it would help with my personal accountability (see No. 4), and it would keep my friends in the loop on what’s going on in my life. And then, of course, there’s the very obvious benefit: it is really encouraging and helpful to receive a comment every once in awhile! It can put a little extra gas in the tank. So I decided two things.
— I would give myself permission to stop before the end. I figured I’d share a simple post to Instagram / Twitter every day and if it ever became distracting and/or discouraging I would just stop posting.
— I would set my expectations accordingly. I already knew that even when I was really active on Instagram, a lot of people listed as followers didn’t actually follow my activity or weren’t themselves actively involved (i.e., commenting, liking), so it was likely that a lot of them weren’t going to be engaged in this project anyway. And of those who do follow what I post and are loyal responders, most of them aren’t really that interested in poetry. So I went into it focused on the other benefits of posting and at peace with knowing that any feedback I did receive would be a welcome and much-appreciated bonus rather than an expectation.
SOMETIMES WRITING IS JUST WRITING // I have produced SO MUCH DRIVEL during this process. Ugh!!! Sometimes it’s really infuriating to me that I can’t adequately capture an idea or I can’t get out from under the considerable weight of cliché and idiom. It’s really hard for me to keep pushing through these times, so it’s been helpful for me to A) have this daily goal so that I HAVE to keep going and B) remember that all writing is helpful even if it’s in the way that Edison figuring out X-thousand ways NOT to make a lightbulb was helpful. I’m learning to be OK with writing some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad stuff (thank you, Judith Viorst!) because at some point it will be not-so-terrible, horrible, etc. And the victory is ever more satisfying when I know what failure has surrounded it!
WRITING IS FUN! // There’s a reason I’ve always loved writing and that I can’t stop writing even if I don’t share it or no one cares when I do share it or it makes me no money whatsoever. It’s so, so FUN! I really love writing and seeing the world differently because of it, and I’m so very grateful to God for giving me this satisfying obsession.