Beginning NaPoWriMo

by krstaten

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So we’re coming up on National Poetry Writing Month in a couple days, as I touched on a couple weeks ago. National Poetry Writing Month, or NaPoWriMo, is similar to the idea of National Novel Writing Month–except rather than a word count goal like 50,000 words, the idea is to write a poem (of any length) every single day for 30 days. And to be honest, I’m a little scared.

Partly because the only other time I tried to participate, my engagement ring got stolen nine days in and I couldn’t bring myself to write after that, so I’m a bit afraid it’s cursed. And also most of the poems I wrote then were terrible.

But I think it’s worth giving another shot.

I wrote a post back in November about the merits of NaNoWriMo, about how the first part of writing a story is getting the ideas on the page, and I want to discuss the merits of NaPoWriMo as well–except I think the merits of this idea as applies to poetry are very different.

A story or novel can afford to be, in the beginning, about “just getting the ideas on the page.” In order for the story to happen, the plot needs to happen, the characters need to happen, there needs to be a direction and a movement carried by ideas and actions and changes. The idea of NaNoWriMo is to disregard the quality of the prose–let go of agonizing over which word to use, where to put punctuation, and how to make a sentence sing, so that you can move forward with the story and get the actual ideas written.

A poem isn’t like that. Yes, of course, the idea of forcing yourself to write is important–after all, you must write in order to have written. But a poem is based entirely around which words you use, the way they fit together (or don’t), the small stylistic choices that influence meaning. All those things you disregard during National Novel Writing Month in order to build the story are the very critical building blocks of the poem.

And the thing is, forcing yourself to write and complete a poem every single day will (and does) produce poor poetry. Of course. When poetry depends entirely upon the thoughtfulness that goes into each minute choice, it becomes easy to argue that rushing poetry has no positive effect–certainly none of those attributed to NaNoWriMo. So why apply those ideas to poetry for National Poetry Writing Month?

Well, again, you must write in order to have written. But for me, NaPoWriMo carries a different kind of weight, and possibly a more important one.

It forces you to write even when you’re not feeling “inspired.” It makes you actively seek out inspiration and motivation, and makes you think about your writing process in different ways.

For example, rather than letting a poem “flow” as ideas come to me, I have to actually think hard about what is making the poem flow, and how to continue that. I can’t afford, if I lose my path, to wait until I feel like I’m in the right mindset to finish the piece–I have to figure out what it is about the poem I’m writing that is making it carry the voice that it is carrying, whether it’s the vocabulary or the spacing or the way it sounds when read aloud, and think about how to continue the poem in that voice.

I have to be much more aware of what I’m doing in order to push the poem to completion, which teaches me a lot about how I write, why I write the way I do, what factors influence my writing, and what I can do to become more effective as a poet and as a writer.

It’s less about the product, and more about the evolution of the process.

Ultimately what’s produced during NaPoWriMo might turn out to be utter garbage, but the idea behind it–at least for me–is that I’ll walk away with a better understanding of my own writing process and what can be done to improve it, to make me a better writer in the year(s) to come.

Wish me luck.

If you’re participating in NaPoWriMo as well, please leave me a comment and let me know–I’d love to keep an eye on the progress of other NaPoWriMo participants, and good luck to all of you as well!

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