A Poem Each Day: What I Learned

I didn't want to write a poem every day.

When good, disciplined (read: over-achieving) writers gear up for the annual rite of writerhood — the Poem-A-Day challenge to celebrate National Poetry Month —  I steer clear. I dread adding another thing to my "didn't live up to it" list. But this year, as April rolled around, something shifted. A friend — not a poet, but a novelist — asked if I would write a Poem A Day with her. I set my resistance aside and said yes. I'm glad I did because I learned so much:

Write drivel, dreck, and dregs.

I was a reluctant participant. I agreed to join the Poem A Day bandwagon with one critical caveat: I can write junk. I can write sloppy drafts and then, later, consider revision. For now, this month, I will simply write.

All month my partner and I exchanged what we called, "drivel, dreck and dregs." It's our minds that hold us back, of course, and starting each day with permission to write junk allowed us dive in and play, and cast the internal (and eternal) critic aside.

Structure is good.

In writing, as in life, structure is my friend. In my professional life, I compose a daily To Do list. I rarely accomplish everything on my list, but the process helps me filter and focus, and provides a frame for the day.

My writing life benefits from the same routine. Every day for a month, I jotted my list, leading with Write poem. This is the magic of hand and mind. Structure, agendas, lists — these are my best writing tools.

Writing is exercise.

I don't like to run, but I always feel better after a run.

Alas, the same holds for writing. Many times I don't want to write; I'm not "feeling" it. I'm too tired, cranky, or busy. Much to my surprise, in the practice of daily writing I found the strongest work resulted from the days I had little time and/or desire to write.

Like a run, I know now that I've gotta push through. With a jog, the first 10 minutes are the most difficult; my body is sluggish and my mind resistant. In writing, the same holds true. If I can get past the 10 minute mark, if I can carve out a slice of time to write, I can usually unrattle my mind and body and get to the good stuff.

A writing partner makes all the difference.

I would not have taken part in this project without a friend urging and encouraging me on. It's critical to choose your writing partner wisely, establish "rules," and cross your fingers for a good fit.

Before we began, we agreed on some ground rules:

1) Show up daily

2) We are allowed to write junk

3) Offer only encouragement

This was not the time to critique work; these were poems too fresh for the scalpel. At the same time, we agreed not to cheerlead. We could comment, or not comment, without pressure or obligation. Some days we applauded and others we simply said, Thanks for showing up.

The trust of a kindred spirit deepened my appreciation for poetry, and for my friend. In my month of writing, there may be one or two poems worth reworking, but it's the exchange — the sharing of poems and process — I value most.

Did you take part in the Poem-A-Day Challenge? How’d it go?