The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

I Took the Poem-A-Day Chapbook Challenge

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I’m turning in a poetry chapbook Wednesday.  This all came about unexpectedly, but I’ve rolled with it and it’s turned into a quality writing experience.

Most people have heard of National Novel Writing Month.  I could be considered a bit shallow since I’ve never having participated in it based mostly on the abbreviated name and how ridiculous it would sound to tell someone that I’m heading over to Starbucks to work on my Na-No-Wri-Mo words for the day (the goal is to write a 50,000-word novel in the 30 days of November, which comes to a little under 1700 words a day).  Plus, it all sounds like a gimmick to me.  Many novelists say that 500 words a day is much more reasonable when you consider 500 quality words and not merely a 500-word spurt.  Forget about it with a 1700 word spurt 30 days in a row.

What I didn’t know was that November is not exclusive to Na-No-Wri-Mo.  Writers Digest has put up the Poem-A-Day Chapbook Challenge for the past six years.  I stumbled upon it November 2 and blithely accepted the challenge to write a poem each day of the month.  They supply the prompts on a daily basis.  Contestants have the time from the end of November to January 7 to edit and shape their poems, ultimately compiling them into a chapbook that can have no more than 20 poems.  I have ten squared away and ready to go.

I learned that I can write every day.  I had never done that before, not even when I was under pressure to produce a lot of work.  It didn’t matter to me that it was “just” a poem.  I was putting pen to paper each day, sometimes more than once or twice.  I wasn’t trying to write a poem each day.  That’d be ridiculous, much like trying to write 1700 words a day.  But I was developing ideas from the prompts and getting some thumbnail sketches of what I could do with a poem based on whatever prompt I was considering.  There were plenty of nights when I was lying in bed and responding to the prompt was the last thing I did before lights out.  There were other times when I woke up and attacked the daily prompt right away before even getting out of bed.  More frequently than either of those were the days when I woke up at my regular times and wrote the prompt down right away.  Sometimes it wasn’t touched until 14 hours later, but I was usually writing it in my head throughout the day.

Also, I soundly kicked the ass of my internal critic who consistently whispers in my ear that some of my ideas are too stupid or uninteresting, or that some ideas are great but will take too long to develop.  He also asks why I’m writing certain passages–what the hell am I thinking?  Sometimes that other-worldly voice booms, sometimes it whispers, but it is almost always chattering in some way or another.  But what I found out is that the voice will shut the hell up if I’m consistently working, literally day by day, no matter what is coming out of the pen.  I muted the voice by developing an  understanding that maybe today’s prompt isn’t going to generate much, or that whatever is done will be revisited and reshaped later.  It’s not about being perfect right off the bat.  It’s about producing.  You can come back later and revisit some of the work.  I ended up writing some completely unexpected and even inane passages that I never would have written before because of the damn inner critic.  Some of the them have made it into my chapbook.

By about November 18th, I was ready to type out several weeks worth of bad or partially-developed poems.  Not poems, exactly, but prose passages that I would continue to winnow and distill until I could start to find line breaks and stanza breaks.  I set up a document on Google Drive and added to it every few days.  When November was over, I printed the thing out.  I ended up with thirty mostly awkward and ugly pages and set to the task of weeding out the ones that weren’t holding my interest or that were just plain inane.  I followed my gut most of the way.  If some poems didn’t look good upon a second draft, I shuffled them to the bottom of the pile.  Some were better than I remembered, so I kept them for redrafting and continued shaping.  Some nagged at me or popped into my head at strange times, which was a blatant signal that I needed to keep working on them.  Pretty soon I had about fifteen poems I liked and knew I would have fun with as I continued drafting them.  This meant that I had effectively flushed my poem slamming George W. Bush, another philosophizing about The Wild Bunch, and another about insights into ending romantic relationships.  I kept ones that included insights into buckets, clever and lusty flirtations between couples, and reflections on mortality.

There were other considerations to make as I approached the finish line.  I had to look for some themes or recurring ideas.  I had to decide on quality so my best poems are at the top of the order.  I had to decide on a title.  Actually, a title came to me early on.  That didn’t stop me from combing through my ten poems and extracting catchy lines or phrases, one of which might have made a good title for the book.  That was fun to do, but it didn’t serve to change my mind about the title.

So will Jeff Burd be the chapbook contest winner?  Yes.  I firmly believe he will, but the (imminent) failure to claim that title will only result in greater effort.  The wrestling team at my school encapsulates their work ethic thusly:  Pound-pound-pound.  After writing every day in November and working diligently the past five weeks to redraft and shape, I think I know what they mean.

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Written by seeker70

January 4, 2015 at 10:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. As always, inspiring!!! Good luck JEFF BURD!

    Cory Fosco

    January 5, 2015 at 2:56 pm

  2. […] I mentioned this last year, having stumbled upon it unexpectedly early in November.  I instinctively clung to it, even early on when I had to work on two prompts a day.  An interesting assortment of crazy things happened, the most notable of which was that I found all kinds of time to write in little nooks and crannies throughout the day that I would have otherwise ignored.  I created some effective organizational philosophies to keep my work and brain in order, and managed to stomp the balls of my inner critic who would otherwise be whispering really?  you’re going to write that?  what the hell’s your problem?  And those are the nicest things he says day in and day out. […]

  3. […] in a flurry of short-short pieces I was writing.  I had poetry on my mind after last year’s Poem-a-Day Chapbook Challenge, and the concision I had been practicing (along with the use of symbol, inference, and all kinds of […]

  4. […] are such things as unicorns and long-time followers of The Seeker, the latter might remember that I’m big on the Poem-a-Day Challenge.  It happens every November, and the idea is to write a poem every day for the month of November. […]


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