National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is just around the corner. All your writing friends are researching and brainstorming for the novels they will be writing, and you want to participate too. But there’s just one problem: you’re a poet, not a novelist. Of course, you’ll get to celebrate National Poetry Month in April, but that is still a long way off.
Can poets participate in NaNoWriMo? Of course! You just have to come up with a writing challenge and stick with it through the entire month of November. The traditional NaNoWriMo challenge is to write 50,000 words in 30 days, but if you are writing poetry, I strongly urge you to scrap any notions about writing 50,000 words. Poetry is a different animal than fiction, and it has to be written differently. A solid draft of a 100-word poem could take an hour or more to write, whereas 100 words of fiction might only take you a couple minutes. You can, however, make your own goal for how many words you want to write.
Make sure the project you choose is challenging enough to push you, but not so challenging that you can’t have fun. NaNoWriMo should be, if nothing else, lots of fun. So here are three NaNoWriMo project ideas for writing poetry. They are all challenging but to different degrees. Pick one that sounds fun and feels manageable.
Write a haiku poem each day. This is good if you want to build a consistent writing practice but don’t have much time on your hands. But don’t be fooled into thinking this will be too easy. Haiku poetry, while short, follows a very strict form, and you have to find a way of packing as much imagery and meaning as possible into 17 syllables. Make each syllable count. If you want to learn more about the haiku form, check out this article from poets.org.
Carry a writing journal with you wherever you go. Write down as much as you can about what you feel, see, hear, smell, and taste. Really develop some good imagery to show what you are experiencing. When you can, write these things down in the moment they happen, rather than after the fact. Also try to find metaphors and similes that complement your experiences. These are important elements in creating rich, meaningful poetry. Set a goal for how many words you want to write in your journal during November. As you write, you may find that many of your journal entries are rough drafts of actual poems you can revise later.
Write a poem each day. They don’t have to be perfect. You can edit them later. For this month, just see if you can pump out 30 poems. If that’s too many, don’t worry. Poetry really isn’t meant to be written that fast. Try writing two or three poems per week. Either way, you will end November with a good handful of new poems.
After NaNoWriMo, you might be tempted to rush your poems off to a literary journal or publisher, but that’s probably not a good idea. I’m no expert, but my instinct tells me that the slush piles (stacks of manuscripts) editors have to deal with are pretty big after NaNoWriMo. At a writing conference we attended last week, the managing editor of Shadow Mountain Publishing said they get a big “New Year’s Resolution” pile after the beginning of the year. To keep your work from getting lost, hang onto it for a few months. Stick it in a drawer and come back to it later. This will allow you to see your work with fresh eyes and revise it wonderfully. You will be far more prepared to impress editors in March or April than in December, and editors may have less on their plate.
What is your 2016 NaNoWriMo project? Tell us in the comments below!