I’m back. It was a crazy weekend. My in-laws arrived, my birthday passed, and I wrenched my ankle. Good times.
Yesterday (Tuesday, 18 June 2019) I asked a writing student of mine to write a five paragraph essay about a time she messed up and what she learned from it. I, too wrote a five paragraph essay, but about something slightly different. My essay is about one of the greatest experiments I have ever done and the outcome it yielded. This experiment was the Poem a Day challenge I ran from March 2013 to March 2014. It covered times of great joy, sorrow, anger, and more. It was a year long slice of my life. I decided that I needed to give myself five paragraphs about that. Here they are:
I have written over 500 poems, a good deal of which are flops that will never see the light of day. Nearly 400 were written within the span of a year, during which time I set off to write one poem every day for that year. I learned quite a bit during that time, namely that I really didn’t like rhyming poetry. My rhyming poetry was the worst, and as a result of writing nearly 350 poems that are bad, in my opinion, I learned what I like and dislike when crafting a poem. Some of these dislikes are rhyme, aggressive sentimentality, and writing without sufficient inspiration. I found that I liked “shapeless” poetry like the compositions of modern spoken word poets far better than Emily Dickinson and other Romantic era poets that I had admired greatly before composing hundreds of poems of my own. Perhaps I couldn’t get the rhymes the way I wanted, perhaps it was that I just really didn’t like rhyming poetry for its tendency to be overly sentimental. Whatever the reason, it didn’t work for me. Upon emerging from this year of poetry, I learned three things. First, I knew my voice far better than before, second, I learned the importance of making time for my craft, and third, I learned that I could rise above naysayers who didn’t believe in me.
Before spending a year writing poetry, I was content to imitate the poets I had read in class or otherwise. Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson were two of my early influences, and they were masters of the rhyme. I think that I followed them so closely because I believed that poetry had to rhyme. If it didn’t, it wasn’t poetry. I remember being disgusted with a free-verse poem I wrote in middle school because it didn’t seem like a poem, it seemed like a more schmaltzy story. I barely touched free verse in the years that followed. I went into my poem-a-day challenge with that mindset, and it shaped the outcome. I was very inspired for the first two months or so, and then it began to feel like a chore. I didn’t quit, though, and became inspired again towards the end. These months of chore-like writing felt like they dragged, but they helped me learn what I liked and what I disliked about my poetry. That was the important part – once I started writing, had a considerable body of work, and was writing simply to practice writing, I was able to have a large enough sample size to look through later and learn from it. I ended up largely disowning that body of work, but I was able to learn that I was not meant to be an imitator of Dickinson and Shakespeare – my writing was meant to be something else. I would not have known that without the daily practice of writing.
Another highly important thing I learned about was the importance of making (not just spending) time on my craft. There were days when I wanted nothing to do with poetry; it felt like the world’s biggest chore. I would write some pretty bad poems then, but I wrote. That was important. That is one thing that always trips me up with writing nowadays. I get so caught up in wanting to create good content that I freeze up and don’t create at all. I made time for my craft, I didn’t just spend time working on it. The aspect of making time is highly important – to me, spending time with something is well and good, but when the going gets rough and your task inevitably feels like a chore, making time becomes so important. If I don’t intentionally carve out time to write in any form, it never happens and the days turn into weeks without me ever touching the keyboard or pen. I learned during that year that making time was so important, even if I knew that what I wrote was going to be crap and either be scrapped or gutted later. I think that’s the genius of it all. I can let my writing sit for a year and hate every single word, but in the end, I wrote. I made time for writing. I got better.
The final thing I learned was that people’s opinions of my aspirations or speculations about the outcome of the task at hand don’t affect me unless I let them. I remember people saying at the beginning that I should start small with maybe a poem a day for a week, but the philosophy I developed was similar to that of twelve step programs. One day at a time. I wrote for a year, blowing the same people that had once doubted me out of the water. I blew myself out of the water. I gained so much experience, even fueled at times by others’ criticisms or doubts. I wrote about my life. When something made me sad, I wrote about it. When something positive happened, I wrote about it. I used my setbacks and my joys as fuel for further art. It worked, and I had around 370 poems at the end of it all. I didn’t let what people say about me or my craft bring me down. I used it as fuel.
In the end, the challenge of writing a poem every day was one of the biggest learning experiences of my mid teens. It was a lesson in dedication. It was a lesson in patience. It was a lesson in time management. Above all, it was a lesson in consistency and practice. I didn’t realize how much it affected me until I revisited my old poems and reacted to them with new work that was a step above what I had made in the challenge. Without taking the time to find my voice, making time in the day to write, and using setbacks as fuel, I would not be in the place I am today.
In other words, this experiment means a lot to me and I will do it again starting today.
Thank you for reading!