Tag Archives: forced creativity

Gearing Up for NaPoWriMo 2018

napofeature1

In six days I will embark once again (for the fifth year in a row!) on the endeavor to write a poem a day each day for the entire month of April. Won’t you join me? I will post every single one of these things, the good, the bad, and the ugly, right here up in this blog site.

What might you expect? For starters, a poem a day for 30 days. In four years I have never once failed to produce one. On one or two occasions, I may have missed a single day and then produced two on the following day, but that was rare. But you never know what life will throw you in the middle of a forced creativity event. To date, life’s been good to me so far–for writing poetry in April.

What might these poems be about? The subject matter will likely vary widely, but I have noticed, in years past, that my subject matter often comes from whatever the cruel month of April brings, and typically includes the stuff I am most consumed with during these 30 days. Last year I wrote poems about the Whole 30 diet because I was on it. The year before last, performing as Lord Capulet in a community theater production of Romeo and Juliet, I found myself writing poems about acting, about Shakespeare, about the characters in the play. And in previous years, the subject matter came from my classroom and was often bubbling around what I was teaching and what was happening with my charges. I’ve got a few Gatsby poems. Some poems about the ancient Chinese masters. At least one poem about Toni Morrison’s Beloved. This April, my students are reading Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Death of a Salesman, and Frankenstein. So it would be highly irregular if those works did not show up somewhere in the poems, and, given those titles, it would be odd if the poems were not likewise on the morbid side. Don’t worry. I’m really not a morbid writer by nature. Not really. What’s morbid in my work might be backed with a healthy dose of humor. Unless I’m being serious about something, which often happens. Given the year we’ve had, socially, politically, culturally, I could see some seriousness seeping through.

But sometimes I am desperate for material, and thus desperate, I will depend on the daily prompts from www.napowrimo.net. A fantastic website, by the way. I go there every day to see the prompt, even if I don’t use it. And if not for subject matter ideas, I’ll go there to learn about new types of poems. The website often prompts us to use a formal structure of some kind–which, for me, is super cool–because I am not a formalist. I find it challenging and good for me sometimes to follow the confines of a formal structure, so you’ll see those crop up from time to time.

Will these poems be any good? That remains to be seen. I don’t find myself to be a very good judge of my own poems, but I can tell you that, as a result of my first four years of participating in National Poetry Writing Month, I have found enough material to compile a book-length manuscript with which I am pretty darn pleased. Maybe I’m doing something right. I hope to revise and finish that manuscript this summer and perhaps a book will come of it.

To close here, I’d like to ask of you, dear reader, a favor. I would invite you to feel at liberty to send requests. Sure, send me a request. You want a poem about bumble bees? Send me a request. You want a sonnet about blueberry muffins? Send me a request. You want a political poem about our Orange guy? I’ll give it a try. No guarantees, but I think it might ad a little fun to the proceedings if readers could participate in some way. What do you think? Let me know. Send requests through the comments and we’ll give it a whirl. That’s the best we can do. Otherwise, see you on April Fool’s Day!  Seriously.

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Embarking On Yet Another Forced Creativity Experience

TLTNPM

Happy National Poetry Month! Beginning tomorrow (this is no April Fool’s joke), I will attempt for the second year in a row to participate in the NaPoWriMo challenge of writing a poem a day for the entire month and publishing each poem here on the blog site. I promise, no cheating; I will not be publishing poems I have written earlier, but only those poems I write on each day of April, 2014–the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I remember last year the challenge of squeezing out a poem every day, and squeezing out the time somewhere to get it done, and the rewards and pitfalls of writing fast, off the cuff, without time for revision, sometimes from prompts, sometimes from the mundane events of the day, and often inspired by what I was doing in my classroom. That last bit will prove a challenge this year; in both of the classes I teach we are studying the same material I looked at last year with a different group of students: the Chinese poets of the T’ang Dynasty, and American Romanticism. So, I’ve already got a whole series of poems about these things! Is there more to say? I’m sure I’ll find something! It is a cool coincidence (I swear I didn’t plan it this way) that in both my IB English class and my American Literature class we are studying poetry during National Poetry Month.

If you would like to help with the cause, you can.  Feel free to send me suggestions for poems–subject matter, specific prompts, stylistic guidance, particular forms, special challenges.  I’m up for almost anything, provided it’s not ridiculously hard, e.g. write an epic in 300 numbered quatrains about the Spanish American war entirely in iambic pentameter.  You could also help by reading, commenting, and following, which I appreciate immensely.  Otherwise, wish me luck.  I hope you can check it out, if not every day, every once in a while.

Meanwhile, here’s a couple of cool related items of interest:

A great resource for poetry:  http://www.poets.org

A place to play for free books of poetry:  http://ofkells.blogspot.com

A place to learn about and play the poem a day for a month game:  http://www.napowrimo.net

Cheers!

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Forced Creativity Experiences (Only the Bad and the Ugly)

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.

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Forced Creativity Experiences (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly)

April concludes and the new month begins with my successful participation in the National Poetry Month challenge of writing a poem a day for 30 days.  I’m happy to say that I missed not a single day and that all 30 poems are posted here at michaeljarmer.com for your reading pleasure.  I thought I would take a few moments here at the end of that process to take stock, to reflect on some key observations, and to speak generally about the strategy of these kinds of Forced Creativity Experiences, the good, bad, and the ugly.

Mostly, it’s good.  If there is a creative thing one wishes to be doing and one is in constant turmoil about  NOT doing that thing enough or at all, a Forced Creativity Experience is a good strategy.  I think National Novel Writing Month in November and National Poetry Writing Month in April are simply about kickstarting that impulse.  And, it seems to me, only four conditions are required. First, a desire to do the thing.  Second, an invitation from the universe to do that thing.  Third, a specific but intensive goal around the thing–to be accomplished over a short period of time. And four, a supportive community in which to do the thing.

NaPoWriMo is not the only Forced Creativity Experience I have encountered or participated in.  On the music front, my wife (my songwriting partner) and I have participated since 2004 in a kind of power-songwriting circle called Veronica Lodge, wherein we commit a single day of each month of the year to writing, recording, and mixing SIX new tunes. Six new tunes in a single day, once a month, since 2004 has yielded us over 500 new songs.  Before our participation in this Forced Creativity Experience, we would have been lucky to write ten new songs in a single year.   And becoming parents in 2005 was likely to inhibit our output even further. This thing worked wonders for us.  Desire + Invitation + Specific goal over short period + Supportive Community.

Anyone who ever takes a creative writing class because they want to is having such an experience–and as a young English major I took as many of those babies as my schedule and my degree would allow.  And, too, anyone who goes into a writing program of any kind is also willingly participating in a Forced Creativity Experience–and that impulse got me motivated to enroll and finish an MFA program in fiction writing.  But these things cost a lot of money, and then once the classes are over and a degree is won  –then what?  Especially when the rigors of a career and family life take hold–how does one find the motivation and time to write?  And for those of us who are similarly compelled, what are the consequences of not writing? Writer’s Groups can work for a time. I’ve been involved in a few–all of which forced out some productivity, but all of which fizzled eventually–some after a pretty good run, others not so much. I think Writer’s Groups often fizzle because they lack perhaps that third criteria that I have arbitrarily invented–they lack specific and intensive goals and they tend to go on and on and on.

Only recently have I become aware of such a thing as the November National Novel Writing Month or the poetry equivalent in April. These are both wonderful developments–but as much as I would like to be able to write a complete draft of a novel in a single month–I could not see how it would be possible to write 2.000 words every day for thirty days. I’ve got some fathering and husbanding to do, and my part of the housework to finish, and a full time job, and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.  It’s just not in the cards, especially in November, for crying out loud. But poetry! (and again, I don’t want to offend my friends who are serious poets, because I have a hunch that they work a hell of a lot longer and harder on their craft than I worked on my 30 little poems). Poetry can be written daily–poems can be finished, or at least drafted, in a single sitting.

Six songs, or 2,000 words, or a single poem.  Whatever floats your boat; all of these activities designed to enhance creative output have these things in common: they depend on a desire for productivity, they come with a kind of public invitation, they have a specific, intensive, time sensitive goal attached to them, and they all, perhaps most impressively, surround the participant in a supportive community of others who are engaged in the same process.

I’d like to close with some comments about this supportive community.  Unlike in a class, or in a program or workshop, where conflicting pedagogies, artistic temperaments, and pure ego can sometimes get in the way or undermine creativity and confidence, I find that in our songwriting circle and in my NaPoWriMo experience, it is never about receiving “feedback” or “critique” or even the euphemism of “contructive criticism.”  It is only about encouragement along the way and celebration in the face of completing the task.  It’s just a big ol’ love fest.  And it frees people up to do what they need to do, to make their art without fear and without thought of pleasing others or reaching some critical acceptance or approval.  I don’t mean to say that critique is never valuable–only that during the initial creative process of making new stuff, it’s detrimental. What we need instead is a space to work, some cheering from the sidelines, and at the end, after our 30 poems or 6 songs or draft of a novel, some appreciative nods and smiles.  Maybe a thumbs up.

I realize I haven’t said anything about the bad or the ugly side of a Forced Creativity Experience.  Maybe that’s a question for a future blog entry–but right now, even though I could probably think of a couple items, I’m tired, happy, and last night’s episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report await me somewhere in cyberspace.

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It’s April: National Poetry Writing Month!

one of William Blake's illustrations of Hell

one of William Blake’s illustrations of Hell

Wasn’t it T.S. Eliot who wrote that April is the cruelest month?  Of course it was;  it’s the first line, and perhaps the most famous line* from The Wasteland.  What’s so cruel about April, T.S. Eliot? He must have known something about National Poetry Writing Month. But there is something considerably less cruel in my estimation (I hope my poet friends are not offended) about NaPoWriMo than there is about the seemingly herculean task of National Novel Writing Month.  Again, poets, forgive me, but a poem a day for 30 days seems so much less cruel, so much more compassionate than the requirement for a novel–60,000 words in a single month, which is kind of, if you work a day job that is not writing novels, like Hell.  So I’m on.  I’m taking the plunge and/or the pledge.  I failed miserably at writing a novel in November, and failed again at revising the novel I didn’t write in January, so I’m going to write a poem a day for the next 30 days of April, and I’m going to post all of them right here.

I’m a fiction writer, primarily, and kind of a closet poet.  I’m not in the closet through any kind of shame about writing poetry, but only because I feel less “educated” about the formal and critical aspects of writing it.  I know a good poem when I see it or hear it because I think I know what good writing looks like and sounds like–but when I look at my own poetry, I have less confidence in determining whether what I have done is a good poem than I do about looking at a piece of my prose and determining its value or worth.  I’m not going to freak myself out.  I’m just going to do the best I can do in the moment and try to do one every day.  Today is April 1.  I’ll post a poem by midnight or my name isn’t Michael Jarmer–and that ain’t no April Fool’s gag.

Notes:

*(because it’s the only one anybody ever reads)**

Notes to the notes:

**I don’t mean that.

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