4 lessons from 4 years of writing 30 poems in 30 days

It’s cliché, but this experience was formative in seeing myself as a ‘writer’. Since April is National Poetry Month, the challenge is to write a poem every day for 30 days. I’ve participated in this challenge on HitRecord now for four years. A lot has changed since I started this challenge four years ago, especially for my creative process. Hopefully these lessons can help you with your creative process too.

1. Edit edit edit

I won’t lie: part of what got me through writing at the beginning could have been called a self-delusion. I really thought I was a great writer, even better than other people. I thought each of my poems was amazing, becoming so excited that I immediately released every poem.

In some cases, the poems turned out well. In some cases not so much. Perhaps that delusion was a good thing, it kept me writing.

Yet, there was another side of the issue. I didn’t know how to edit poetry. Editing an essay or a short story for grammar is one thing. Poetry, with so many formatting options and styles, made editing ambiguous at best.

So I improved the hard way: by writing hundreds of poems over time. Eventually, I started editing others poetry as well, which helped me look at my own work with a more critical eye.

Today, I spend more time going over and rereading poetry before I share it online. This year, this meant whole sections of poems being moved up and down. Sometimes, it’s keeping a theme moving through the whole piece, such as a fire metaphor in this poem. Perhaps it has made me more persnickety when it comes to my own work, but it also ensures I share better quality work with a few more minutes of work.

Pro-tip: Sometimes you’ve been staring at your own work too long. Find a friend who also works in that field to give feedback. You preferably want someone who can be both honest but also constructive.

2. Set time every day

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A favorite time for me to write? Whenever I’m waiting.

Most years when I do this challenge, I often find myself writing more than a poem a day. Still, it’s easy to go through the day and realize that I missed a day or two just because life got busy. To stay on track, I find it’s easiest to have a routine.

This year, I did it right after my morning pages. It felt like a perfect time for me, I was already on my computer and warmed up from over 750 words of journaling. By getting it done early, I wouldn’t have to worry or write something before bed.

Whether you’re a night owl or a morning bird, creating a scheduled time every day is great for daily challenges. It makes it a habit that’s easier to follow through on. You can focus more on writing and less on finding time to do it.

Pro-tip: Combine your activity with something else you do daily. For instance, do you have an evening ritual after dinner? Incorporate it into that. Or, add it after your morning cup of coffee. This can be your trigger, ensuring you don’t forget.

3. Leave space for the reader

There are great poems about the meaning of life. Honestly? These poems usually drive me nuts. The reason, usually being, that they’re talking at me, telling me what I should know. I only took one philosophy course in college for a reason.

Initially as a writer, I thought about myself (honestly, I still do). What did I want? What was important for me to say? That is half of the equation but it’s only half. I wasn’t thinking about an audience.

Yet, by putting my writing online, I was also asking for an audience. Writing poetry isn’t about pandering to an audience. It’s about leaving space for a reader.

What do I mean by space? Sometimes I do this by what isn’t said. This can be outright or a play on words. For instance, la petit mort (French for the little death) is an allusion to an orgasm. The other fun of poetry is using spacing, repetition, to give across an emotion (such as desire almost but never connecting)

Each of these forces the reader to do work and participate in the piece. This creates more engagement and connection between writer and reader.

Pro-tip: Focus not on what you want to say but how you’d say it. Is your character hungry? What kind of hunger is it? Are they tired, hungry? Is their stomach making noise? Poetry is about imagery and detail. Find ways to get your point across without spelling it all out.

4. Quantity, not quality

Wishing well

Every year I seem to forget this one (recovering perfectionist over here). The challenge isn’t to write your best poetry. It’s about showing up. Just like professional baseball players, even great writers will struggle. Looking back on my poetry this year, there are some I’d rather throw away.

Still, I keep them online and even part of my poetry album for that month. Why? It helps me remember. By showing up I also created poems I adore. Working on bigger projects, I haven’t been writing as much poetry. This got me to show up and create again.

Quantity challenges, whether it’s a daily poem, or finishing your sketch book this year, aren’t about creating your best works. It’s about showing up. We can be our own biggest critics. It can make anyone throw in the towel. Sometimes you’re right to be critical, sometimes our work is crap. Yet, if you show up you create more opportunities to go above and beyond.

Pro-tip: If you struggle with a hard inner critic, set a timer and just do your creativity activity for a set period (ex. Sketch for 5 minutes). Whatever comes to your head first, no filter, just do it. This doesn’t have to be something anyone sees. It can help you start creating more and doubting less.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this challenge for four years. A lot has changed in my life and writing since then. Still, I love this challenge and hope to continue doing it in some form or fashion for the next four years. Hopefully writing better and even wiser than I am now.

Have you done a daily challenge? Share your lessons/thoughts below!

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