This past April I participated in National Poetry Writing Month. After summarizing that experience, I decided to continue the challenge and go for hundred poems in a hundred days.
I’m unable to articulate my reasons clearly, it just felt right. Sometimes we chase strange goals because they resonate and it’s better to simply feed these odd cravings instead of rationalizing the dream away. As far the benefits and lessons of pursuing such creativity challenges, I think there are several:
YOUR IMAGINATION IS ENDLESS:
Our capacity for work and potential output is significantly greater than we think. Right when you think the well of your imagination is dry you come up with something else. I had no idea of the number of verses and poems I had lying in wait in my brain prior to starting the challenge.
If you produce this quickly, with little time for reflection, your work will be of mixed quality. But it’s far easier to strengthen those raw ideas when you have them on paper as ‘prototypes’ of their future selves instead of waiting for something to be close to perfect in your tiny brain. Only when things are physical can you refine and curate the best of your ideas.
For more about the need to constantly create in the face our fears, you can read my previous post on this topic.
YOU ARE ALREADY ‘READY’:
Prior to the challenge, I had wanted to take poetry seriously for some time – and the word ‘seriously’ for me usually translates to reading a book or taking a class on the subject before actually doing something. In the past it’s been easy for me to create prerequisites to physical action, a clever way of justifying procrastination.
But by bypassing any kind of ‘curriculum’, I accomplished significantly more on my own than I could have under someone else’s guidance. I was inspired by other poets, visitors to this blog and my own mistakes – these were my teachers.
ANCHOR THE DAY:
Not only does working this way mean you increase your output, put you also become more fluid in your medium. After a while the daily work become a part of your daily rhythm and you start to feel wrong without it. It becomes a kind of meditation, a morning jog, a holistic force that sets the tone for the day, that reminds you that today matters, so use it.
CONSUME THE WORLD:
Seeing and experiencing the world through the filter of the medium you’re working in is very exciting. My morning walks in Amsterdam became like scavenger hunts, where I’d search for an image, a detail that could inspire that day’s work. The city and my thoughts became a precious thing that I was constantly trying to put into words.
I am now more convinced that as creators we must consume the world around us and respond to it, in the voice and medium of our choosing, on a daily basis.
But it doesn’t have to be all serious work. Play with your process when your stuff gets stale and you get tired. You can change up things by experimenting with different tools. For example, I tried writing out poems on paper cups, with tape recorders and apps (like OmmWriter).
During the challenge, I obsessed on quantity – not quality. And ironically a side-effect of shutting off my internal editor is that I did produce some things I was proud of. The challenge combined with blogging created a kind of sandbox where I could mess around with no real intent or ‘master plan’ – yet I was extremely productive and surprised myself with the results. Odd.
I wonder if our insistence on making ‘one of a kind’ work right out of the gate prevents us from eventually making one of a kind work one day? Final outcomes we can be proud of are the result of constant experimentation and wrong turns as we find our way down a foreign road. And sometimes you have to lock your ego and editor in the trunk just to make some real progress down that foreign road.
I still need to give some more thought on how to apply this kind of experimentation on my career as a filmmaker. In the meantime, if you decide to pursue a similar challenge this year, please leave me a note in the comments or email me – I’d really like to follow along on your journey, regardless of your personal or professional goal.
Also, I encourage you to journal these daily artifacts you create – via twitter, tumblr, wordpress, etc. – opening yourself to the feedback and inspiration of others; allowing some transparency to your bungles and successes. I promise you that kind of transparency is not as embarrassing as it seems. It’ll give you some accountability to finish your challenge and be a great reminder not to take yourself too seriously.
P.S. You can view some of my favorite poems from the challenge here.