November Poetry-Writing Wrap-Up

So, I completed my November experiment: drafting or revising one poem per day. How did it turn out? Well, I ended up with 21 new poems, and 9 revisions, more new poems than I expected, some drafted with my accompanying grumblings and mutterings.

I wrote some more poems about prayer (as part of a manuscript, Your 21st-Century Prayer Life), poems about the weather (standard fare for me), poems about writing, and poems about writing poems. A love poem or two as well.

Full disclosure: I’m glad to be done with this project, not because I don’t enjoy writing poems anymore (because I certainly do), but because I enjoy writing short stories even more. I’ve been ruminating on two story ideas throughout this month, and I’ve put off beginning them until December.

When January arrives, I’ll be back in poetry drafting and revising mode, seeing as I’m teaching a poetry-writing course in the spring, and I tend to write most in the genre I teach at that time. August, September, and October were short fiction and fiction, hence several blog posts, a creative nonfiction piece, and first drafts of several short stories.

Writing all of these poems, especially toward the end of the month, taught me more about being thankful for the gift of writing and the secondary gift of being published. Two weeks ago I received an acceptance for a short story that I’m really proud of (proud of enough to end a sentence, minus the parenthetical aside, with a preposition). In the span of three years, the story was declined by a couple dozen journals, with a handful of those rejections including notes about how the story “almost made the cut” or how the editors liked my “literary style.”

I persisted, and then arrived the acceptance from Whitefish Review, a wonderful journal out of Montana. The editors went so far as to tell me that it was one of four stories that they selected from a batch of over 200. That news was almost more exciting than the acceptance itself.

Octavia Butler said that “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” She’s right. Write a line (or a sentence), and then write another line (or a sentence), and then keep doing that until you finish a draft. Set it aside, and then return to it, reworking lines and sentences, before setting it aside, and again reworking lines and sentences (and so on, and so on, and so on).

A Poem-Saturated November

As November begins, I find myself thinking back to 2004 and 2011, respectively. November is National Novel-Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, as it’s more cleverly known. In each of those prior years, I took the challenge to write a novel first draft of 50,000 words or more. The first time, I finished with a few days of the month to spare, and the second time, I finished with one day to spare. In both instances, I was working full time (the former as a services coordinator for people with developmental disabilities and the latter as an English professor), yet I made the choice to write between 1-3 hours per day.

I mention all of this because as November 1 neared, I considered trying this challenge again. I remembered the fun I had in those two Novembers, immersed in two different stories, in two different locales, at different stages of my life. Neither of those drafts have progressed to a second draft (which is another story, or, really, two stories), but the 2011 manuscript is one to which I do plan to return. Perhaps during the summer of 2015, I might take a go at it, since I did at least begin a second draft.

But for 2014, I decided against doing NaNoWriMo, not because I wouldn’t enjoy it or couldn’t complete it, but because I felt the call back to poetry, and decided to create my own discipline for November: draft or revise one poem per day. The busyness of the academic semester is intensifying, and stanzas are more manageable than paragraphs right now. During the forty days of lent, I drafted around thirty new poems, so I figured I was about due for another concentrated period of poetry writing.

Besides, since the school year began, I’ve already written first drafts of 5 short stories, and multiple drafts of a creative nonfiction piece. By my count, that’s about 20,000 words. However, there’s nothing like the pressure (and delight) of the poetic line. And with the most demanding time of the school year approaching, I take great comfort in zeroing in on images, on the sounds of words, on the play of sentence across and against lines. I am returning to that first literary love.