What do to with those NaPoWriMo Poems

April’s not over yet and even if you don’t reach the 30 poems target, you may still have built up a body of work since the beginning of the month.

Do not rush to submit your NaPoWriMo poems

Editors don’t like receiving drafts and no matter how wonderful you think that poem you drafted on 2 April is, now is not the time to submit it. Read over your drafts and decide which ones you feel are nearly ready to publish, which ones need re-writing and which ones you will keep in your files (this isn’t necessary to do with the quality of your poems, but it might be that they’re too personal or were exercises). Now take a break: do some reading, write some prose, go for a long walk.

Edit, Read and Edit again

Start with the poems you feel are the better ones. Is this the best you can do? What happens if you re-write a first person poem in the third person? Is the narrating voice the best choice? What happens if you re-write the poem from a different viewpoint? Cut the first stanza – does the poem still work without it? What happens if you swap the first and final stanzas? Will those sixteen lines work if you cut them into a sonnet? Do you prefer your re-write or your original?

By changing the form, narrative voice or layout, you test your poem and discover which voice it works best in, whether it works better as a straightforward narrative or whether it’s more interesting told in non-chronological order and whether it works best in a traditional form or as free verse. Re-working the poem will also weed out unnecessary words and descriptive padding.

Read Aloud

Some poets record their readings and listen to them. You needn’t go that far, but reading aloud will force your focus onto the poem’s rhythm. You’ll discover that tongue-twister in line four or the awkward sentence structure in stanza three or how you ran out of breath in the final stanza, you’ll probably hear assonance, consonance, alliteration or repetitions that you don’t hear when reading silently from the page.

Workshop

A second opinion, even if you disagree with it, its always a good thing. If you’re not already part of a writers’ group or workshop, search social media for one that suits you. Some are ideal for beginners who are looking to build confidence and want reassurance, others are more robust and a better fit for writers serious about sending work to editors.

Be wary of groups that seem to want exclusive membership: if you’re being discouraged from joining other groups, you’ll get limited feedback and will find you’ll end up writing for that particular group rather than a wider readership. Take care not to end up joining so many groups you’re overwhelmed with advice.

Try out your poem at a local open mic event too. You’ll get pretty immediate feedback (Did you stun the audience into silence? Did they laugh at the joke? Did they laugh when you were trying to make a serious point?) but bear in mind it won’t be as in-depth or critical as a workshop where participants get to see your poem on the page or screen.

Don’t just take critical feedback on board and try and re-write your poem to suit. Filter the feedback through the lens of what you were trying to achieve with your poem and consider the feedback that aligns itself with your aims.

You’re still not ready to submit

Read the magazines you’re considering submitting your poems to and consider whether your poems are likely to be a good fit.

Don’t sabotage your submission by failing to follow the submission guidelines.

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NaPoWriMo 2018

April in the US is National Poetry Month which also means it’s National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo although there’s also a #GloPoWriMo hashtag this year for Global Poetry Writing Month). The aim is to draft or write notes for 30 poems by the end of the month, an average of a poem a day although there is no obligation to write every day and it’s possible to have some non-writing days and catch up on others.

Benefits of NaPoWriMo

  • It can kick start creativity – gives you chance to access how you write and what inspires you.
  • Gets you thinking about poems, poetic forms and approaches to writing, perhaps offering chance to have a go at a form you’ve not tried before.
  • Discipline – sitting around waiting for the muse to strike is a lousy way of writing, the practice of setting time aside on a regular basis to write, even if only for a month, shows that writing, like most things, takes discipline and practice.
  • Reasons to prioritise writing that might otherwise get left on the To Do List or procrastinated away.

Risks with NaPoWriMo

  • Writing begins to feel like a chore if the focus is on getting 30 poems and it becomes about the numbers.
  • The temptation to compare how you’re doing with others – others might find the writing every day goal easy whereas you’re the sort who does a lot of reading and thinking before drafting a group of poems. The point is to focus on what you’re doing, it’s not a race and there’s no trophy at the end of the month.
  • If you’re not goal-orientated because you write for enjoyment and don’t particularly seek publication, it can feel a bit pointless.
  • Weaker poems can get written to meet targets. However, this misses the point: those weaker poems are still practice and can still teach you a lot about your own writing.

Personally, NaPoWriMo falls at a good time so I benefit from it. I start with the loose aim of writing a draft of a poem each day, but don’t get stressed if I don’t meet a daily target because the real focus is on the month end. I know I will have 30 drafts by the end of the month and I know there’s a point, generally around two-thirds of the way through, where inspiration dips: you’re over half-way but the end isn’t is sight. That’s when it’s useful to have some prompts or just take a day or two off and read to keep you inspired.  I also know that not all of those 30 drafts will make it into poems. Some will be too personal, some will re-explore a topic covered elsewhere and that’s worth bearing in mind if you’re watching others flag up their daily totals and you’re not taking part. NaPoWriMo isn’t for every poet: it might fall at the wrong time or not fit with your approach to writing so you shouldn’t feel you’re missing out if you don’t take part.

Periodically, I’ll update my NaPoWriMo page with titles of poems drafted and whether any get accepted for publication.

NaPoWriMo 2017 Complete

NaPoWriMo 2017 is complete and I now have 30 poems and a lot of editing to do. One poem, “A Staircase of Knives” has been accepted for publication and four more are good enough to submit to editors. Of the others, a couple are too personal to send out to editors. But the rest will now be edited over the coming weeks although that process may be interrupted by new poems.

What did I write about? Most of the poems this year were based on news stories. One was a tribute to Carrie Fisher, one celebrated “Adrian Mole’s” birthday, one was based on a title generated by a random book title generator, a couple based on memories. I always find music a big source of inspiration.

The biggest hurdle in NaPoWriMo is the stamina to keep going. It’s easy to spend the last few days of March clearing the review pile, gathering a list of prompts and having ideas bubbling at the back of your mind in readiness. Sometimes life gets in the way: the unexpected event, family illness, some problem or issue that needs to be resolved. Generally, keeping the momentum going post the halfway point, is doable. It’s often at the two-thirds mark that momentum stalls. It’s the point where there’s already twenty poems but one more to the pile doesn’t seem to make much difference. The end isn’t quite in sight and inspiration seems to dry up. For me, that’s generally the time that hayfever starts and my energy’s depleted.

It helps to have a trick or two up your sleeve: sure fire exercises that trigger inspiration. Sometimes that might be reading other poems, listening to music or reading new stories. The golden shovel form (in a nutshell: take a line from a poem, use each word in the line as the last word in each line in your poem) is a good exercise – it results in a poem that later might be rewritten so it doesn’t need the line that acted as scaffolding to create the poem in the first place. Music’s good, it has a rhythm, influences mood and there could be inspiration from the lyrics, remembering where you first heard a particular song or trying to figure out what the songwriter was thinking when writing the lyrics. With news stories,  you can research into the story’s background, a item in the story or try and retell the story from the viewpoint of a minor character in the story.

A full list of my NaPoWriMo poems are here. I always say titles are important. If your poem is published in an anthology or magazine, what will draw readers to select your poem above the others?

NaPoWriMo 2017

Just over the half-way mark in National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) 2017. The aim is to write drafts or notes towards 30 poems during the month, which averages at one a day (although participants don’t have to stick to one a day). Obviously, it’s impossible to write a complete poem in 24 hours – it doesn’t give you enough space to put a poem to one side and review it with fresh eyes – but it is possible to draft a poem a day over month. But by the end of the month, participants will have enough poems to create a body of work which can be edited and will have practiced the discipline of not waiting for inspiration but actively seeking out inspiration and writing.

I’ve done NaPoWriMo before and generally found that it starts well because I’ve been preparing and have ideas in hand to start writing, the momentum carries you over the half-way mark but it starts to stall at around two-thirds of the way through the month. This is generally because you’ve got past the half-way mark but the finish line’s not yet in sight. This is where having some reserve sources of inspiration come in handy. There are blogs with writing exercise suggestions and reading call-outs for submissions on themed poems can be useful (even if you don’t write your themed poem in time for the deadline, if it’s good enough to be published, you can still submit it elsewhere).

Personally, I find news stories a large source of inspiration, particularly if you try to re-tell the story from a different viewpoint. Something I’ve found useful in the past is to pick a song at random – it’s best if you don’t use a song you are overly familiar with such as the first song you hear as you switch the radio on or if you overhear someone else’s radio/playlist, but don’t pick an instrumental. From the random song, pick a snatch of lyric such as a phrase or chorus and it doesn’t matter how accurately you’ve heard the lyric. Spend a few minutes writing down ideas or associations you make with the snatch of lyric and use that for the basis of a poem. You might find  yourself writing about the scenario described in the song, about the mood evoked by the song, about when you previously heard the song, writing about how the songwriter may have come to write the song, the effect the song has on you or an event where playing the song might be appropriate.

Do any of you have useful sources of inspiration or tips for keeping the momentum going? My list of titles so far is here: NaPoWriMo. Do any titles grab your attention?


Readings from “Welcome to Leicester” will be featured at the World Book Night event on 23 April from 7.45pm (doors open at 7.30pm) at the Donkey on Welford Road, Leicester with live music afterwards. “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” has now sold out and raised £3000 for three refugee charities.

World Book Night event 23 April 2017

NaPoWriMo 2015 and Poem Titles

Progress so far: 15 draft poems in 15 days:

1 April – Between Dances
2 April – An alleged Gas Bill for the Nettle Emporium
3 April – A Dance in a White Dress
4 April – The Typist on the Thames
5 April – A Day to Breathe
6 April – This funeral won’t be televised
7 April – It’s not just the dead who haunt the living
8 April – An Abandoned Football
9 April – Before our meal
10 April – Sequins and Bubbles
11 April – Karaoke
12 April – Reluctant Perennials
13 April – The Library’s Blue Curtains
14 April – The Unused Prop
15 April – Over a Far City, a Rainbow

Any of these titles grab you?

With poems, the title is of utmost importance. Not only can it make an editor snowed under with submissions stop and read your poem but it can draw a reader in. Most poems are published in an anthology format: either in a magazine or book or listed on a search engine results page if someone is searching for  poems on X. Someone scanning down a list of titles or skimming through a pile of poems isn’t going to stop and read “untitled”. After all if you can’t be bothered to title your poem, why would anyone read it?

 

 

 

NaPoWriMo April 2014

I wrote 30 drafts of poems in the 30 days of April 2014. Last year, I made a last minute decision to join in so spent a lot of April reading poems in magazines and online to find inspiration. This year I was more prepared. I’d spent January writing a small stone each day so if inspiration wore thin, I could refer back to one these daily observations for an image or theme to kick-start a poem.

In between the poems I also wrote five book reviews. None of these books yielded inspiration for any of the NaPoWriMo poems. This isn’t a surprise because reviewing is about criticism, whereas when writing new ideas, you need to turn the critic off and just write. It’s when you return to edit that the critic needs to surface.

Like last year, some draft poems are more fully formed than others. In order to meet the target of a draft poem per day, the less fully formed poems, i.e. the ones with working titles or the untitled one, get put to one side so I can draft the next day’s poem. Now NaPoWriMo’s finished, the real work of reading and editing begins.

Do any of the titles below grab your attention?

Stars Fade, Memories Linger
Famous Blue Dress
Skin Boundaries
Turn Up the Volume
The Size of a Cow
Save Me The Waltz
Like This
The colour of January is a huge red stop light
Undertone
An Ideal Dinner Party
What could be more English than this?
I want to give you this…
The call of the ice cream van
Sorry isn’t the hardest word
How things fall between gaps
[Untitled] – first line “It begins at St Margaret’s church”
The flowers on the wallpaper seem to move
Where the results are irrelevant
How I learnt to read upside down
It’s like liquid honey
Clockwatching [working title]
Revival
You fall in love too easily
How to do a blistering cover version
Targets and a Blind Spot
Billy [working title – will change]
Lyrics [working title]
I finally recognised a tune a colleague was humming
I learnt to create illusions
An English Earthquake

These are also listed on my NaPoWriMo page and I’ll update if any get accepted for publication.

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NaPoWriMo

Whilst this year’s NaPoWriMo is underway and I’m keeping up with the draft poem a day target so far, I thought I’d look back at last year’s poems.

I did manage the 30 poems within the month target. These were 30 draft poems, some in rougher shape than others. I took the more polished drafts and worked on these first, reading them aloud, editing them and rewriting until they were publishable. Then I looked at the remainder.

There are five that I have no intention whatsoever of publishing. These are simply too personal and I don’t think I want to put them in the public domain. I don’t see this as a problem because I don’t intend to publish every single poem I write.

Of the remaining 25 drafts, there are 4 that will probably not go any further than being drafts. These is either because the subject is too similar to poems I’ve already written or that I don’t feel the poems are strong enough to be stand alone poems. In effect, these were practice poems I wrote to try out an idea or to see if an idea would become a poem. This doesn’t make these poems failures. A failed poem is one I never tried to write. Even published poets need to rehearse poetic ideas and give a new idea a try out. Experience tells you whether a practice poem could become good enough to become a published poem or whether it’s better to keep it in a notebook. It still may be the case that I’ll come back to the idea at a later date with a fresh pair of eyes and see a different approach or with a second theme that can be weaved into the original draft to create a stronger poem.

April 2013 left me with 21 draft poems that are capable of being published poems. These are the ones I have been spending more time on, editing and rewriting. This is not a bad return. Of these 3 have been accepted and published, “Flooded by Communication” (The Interpreter’s House), “The small hours have become my friends”, “Creating a Scene” (Message in a Bottle) and a further 2 accepted for future publication, “Hotel Life”, “Letting Us In” (Aquarium by the Ocean). These are not the only poems I’ve had accepted for publication in the last 12 months.

That leaves 16 poems which are of a publishable standard and are some of these are currently with editors. Given the slow process of publishing, I’m not surprised that there have been only 5 acceptances so far. However, by April 2015, I’m confident I’ll be reporting more acceptances from poems written during NaPoWriMo 2013. It’s too early to tell yet whether 2014’s drafts will be going anywhere.

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