In my last blog entry, I waxed lovingly about the benefits and the necessary prerequisites to submitting oneself to a Forced Creativity Experience such as the National Novel or Poetry Writing Months in November and April, respectively, and my experience in a songwriting circle that does a similar thing in the musical realm. I subtitled that entry “the good, the bad, and the ugly” because I thought I could cover them all–but in 1000 words I could only say the positive things. And that’s just fine–because mostly my experience with these activities has been utterly positive. But are there pitfalls? Might there be problems in paradise? How could there be anything negative about the experience of participating in a public or social networking activity that encourages one to be productive and creative, to be doing something that one longs to do?
Well, I experienced a few aspects, that if not downright pitfalls, were at least setbacks significant enough to give me pause. These are feelings I had along the way that, while perhaps not absolutely “bad” or “ugly,” were essentially negative–and whether these feelings emerged from some inner self-doubt, some personal insecurity, or whether they are truly problems inherent in the experience, it’s difficult for me to say, and I’m sure the verdict has much to do with individual idiosyncrasies than anything else. Nevertheless, let’s start.
This certainly would be a non-issue if I were participating in NaPoWriMo in total private, writing in my little composition notebook, a poem for each day that may never be seen by anyone. But I chose to participate officially, which meant that I registered as a participant, created or used an existing website, blogsite, or social network forum to publicly share the results of my labor–not because anyone’s keeping score–but so as to join a community of persons sharing the same writing goals, people who may visit, like, and follow my progress. So, the public nature of the thing creates some strangeness.
First off, when you are forcing yourself to create under the gun, so to speak, essentially you are publishing for the world your rough draft material–and as any writer knows, rough drafts can be shitty. And because of the forced nature of your output, perhaps, while you may produce a whole heck of a lot more writing than you normally would over the same period of time, your shittiest work might be shittier than usual, as some pieces are squeezed out of you like blood from a stone in order to come in under deadline. Again, not that anyone is keeping score, or that somehow you’ll be penalized, demoted, lose face or any of that if you don’t get a poem done each day–it’s just that some people (yours truly) take the parameters of a poem a day pretty seriously–in the same way that, despite the chagrin of my wife and songwriting partner, I take the six songs in a single day of our songwriting circle very seriously. The results can sometimes be disastrous, and that disaster is published for all comers. I can think of some benefits of this, too, one being that if you can put your best at the moment out there(which might be your worst), you’ve moved beyond some serious writer insecurities, and that’s got to be a good practice–but I’m supposed to be talking about the bad and the ugly.
Here’s a thing: I’ve read some pretty stellar poetry from some of my fellow NaPoWriMo participants, but I’ve noticed that none of the published poets I know and consider serious about their art, at least to my knowledge, were partaking of the festivities. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but if I’m not, what’s that about? Maybe the pros just don’t need the kickstart. They’re already cooking on all burners. Somehow I doubt that. Maybe there is something they find unsavory about publishing work which has not been satisfactorily “finished” or vetted by the usual arbiters of quality.
So, there’s the “I’m-publishing-my-shitty-rough-draft” problem, but there’s another difficulty I thought about, again only as the result of a decision to participate publicly. I experienced a kind of Stat Blip Addiction. It was not enough to get the poem written and published on my blog site; I found myself, more often than I am usually wont to do, checking my stats with a kind of annoying and obsessive regularity. And I was egged on by more “likes” and new followers than I’ve ever received, even though I’ve had other entries (not poems) that were more widely read. I became a little embarrassed with myself for being so needy and excited about the approval of my “readership.”
And then, perhaps what’s worse, I found myself at times looking into who some of these people were–which I think is what bloggers are supposed to do anyway–and trying to gauge, through comparison perhaps, why it was that these people, mostly strangers, liked my stuff. Here’s the most disconcerting part: when I found people who were following me apparently despite some serious and significant aesthetic or philosophical differences, I found myself second guessing my material or subject matter or creative choices–so as to write poetry that would not “turn off” any of my readers. This strikes me as a potentially dangerous problem. I think, for the most part, I avoided the pitfall, that I didn’t find myself writing to please these readers–but perhaps I subconsciously avoided certain material or stylistic choices, maybe I avoided taking some risks that could have made more lively or challenging art. I guess I mean to say that I recognize that the nature of publishing immediately may have certain bizarre and unfortunate consequences on one’s creative mind.
Hey, despite these concerns of mine, none of which undermined the experience for me, I’m glad I did it and I will likely do it again–maybe with or without the official structure of Novel Writing Month or National Poetry Month. Maybe poem #31 will show up here some day soon, or maybe, not in November when I am in the throws of a new school year, but perhaps in July, a draft of a novel might be written–although I doubt that I’ll do that publicly. Meanwhile, my wife and I will keep writing six songs on a single day of every month and “publish” those songs to our circle of musician friends. Despite my hesitations after the fact, Forced Creativity Experiences will ensue–and there will continue to be much rejoicing.