5 Tips for Surviving NaPoWriMo

NaPoWriMo-2016

Nope, I’m still doing NaPoWriMo in May, but because most people are sticking with the official April schedule, I figured I’d post these now. For those who don’t know, NaPoWriMo stands for National Poetry Writing Month, a challenge where you write a poem a day during April. I’m doing it in May this year because I want to focus on Camp NaNoWriMo, but the basic idea will be the same.

I’ve done NaPo for two years, and it’s been an incredible experience. I hope to never go a year without doing some form of it, even if it’s not in April. It is truly the best way to get better at poetry and to simply write. Don’t get me wrong, though—it is tough. Really. Some days, yes, the poem just flows, and you’re full of motivation, but usually you don’t have the time, energy, or inspiration to create anything. In light of that, here are five tips that should help you as you endeavor to stretch yourself and write thirty new poems.

{5 Tips for Surviving NaPoWriMo}

1. Be Aware. Anything can be a poem. Anything. A lot of times, I only write poems when I have inspiration. In fact, if it weren’t for NaPoWriMo, those would be the only times. But this month forces me to write even when I have no ideas, and this is such a valuable lesson. Sometimes the best poems are the ones that come from ordinary, everyday events. I mean, look at this poem by Robert Frost:

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

It’s so simple—but that’s what makes it so sweet, even so strong. We’ve all experienced something similar to that, and so we resonate with it.

So as you go through your days this month, keep your eyes peeled. Could this family walk, interaction at work, pattern of sunlight on your quilt, or trip to the store become a poem?

2. Keep paper handy. In light of point #1, always try to have paper nearby so you can jot down random thoughts, lines, rhymes, or experiences that pop into your mind. I often get ideas for writing when I’m doing the dishes, so those sticky notes in the kitchen drawer often come in handy. If you’re working on seeing a poem in everything but can’t record those ideas, that awareness is rather pointless. Remember, you don’t have to write the poem right when the idea hits you—just scribble down the gist or a few lines and finish it up later.

3. Give yourself permission to write badly. Guess what? You don’t have to be perfect. Shocking, I know. But really: You don’t have to share any of these poems. I can pretty much guarantee you won’t share all of them. See, I think people assume that you have to write a poem perfectly the first time. If you mess it up, trash it. You’re a bad poet. But have you ever heard of someone writing a book that way? Authors revise and revise and revise—oh, and did I mention revising?

Here’s a secret: Poets are the same way. Yes, sometimes inspiration does seize you, and the poem does flow out. But most of the time, you have to fight for it. You have to rewrite and tweak and correct. You have to struggle and sweat and wish you had picked some easy interest, like hockey.

Write badly. You can edit it later. You can also just write a horrible poem that no editing can fix—that’s okay, too. You’ve still written something; you’ve still gotten your creative juices flowing.

4. Short is okay. Busy day? Run off a few haikus. Jot down one or two stanzas. You don’t have to create an epic ballad or twenty-six-stanza hymn every day. NaPoWriMo should stretch you, not strain you. Like #3 says, just write something. That is the victory. And haikus are amazing, by the way.

5. Create a picture. So you have no motivation. No inspiration. It’s 11:39 pm, and you still haven’t written your poem for the day. You’re getting desperate—well, okay, you’ve been desperate for a while. Here’s what you do: Sketch a picture with words. Describe the room you’re in, the weather, your emotions, a loved one sitting nearby, a problem you’re facing, a victory you achieved.

Another helpful idea-generator is to ask questions—what am I worrying about right now? what was the strongest emotion I felt today? what made me happy today? what hurt me today? why am I sad/happy/angry/etc. right now? what does the sky look like? what’s going on in the world currently? You can either answer those questions through a poem, or you could just write a poem asking more of them.

How is NaPo going for you all? Do you agree with these tips or have any others to share? I’d love to know!

P.S. I’ve made some big changes to my Camp NaNo plan. I’ll give you an update soon, but until then, let’s keep doing this writing thing together!

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