For those of you that don’t know, I love writing. As a kid, it was rare to find me without a book in my hand, and that spilled over into writing. I used to write a lot of stories, have been semi-regular about journaling since junior high (the photo above is all my journals), and now do this blog, but in college realized that my favorite thing to write is actually poetry. I’m always reticent to tell people that because caring about it deeply makes it feel personal and vulnerable (not things I’m often big on), but I’ve been trying to work on the part of adulting that means being willing to step outside my comfort zone. I’ve also been working on goals.
NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. Traditionally, writers across a whole lot of the Western hemisphere will all band together to jointly motivate each other, and each person will write an entire novel (or 50,000 words) within the 30 days of November. I have a friend who is participating this year, and asked if I wanted to as well. I didn’t exactly have a budding novel idea on hand, so my friend — who knows my writing well — said I could just write poems instead.
For the record, the last 30 poems I’ve written were done over the course of about 16 months. So 30 in a month felt pretty intimidating. But I wanted to try. And so far, it’s been going well. I’ve written seven poems and one short prose piece, and it’s felt really good. Of course, writing isn’t everybody’s thing, so instead I’m going to break down the process as general goal-setting and accomplishment — useful in any adulting journey.
Step 1: Prep
For me, this meant going through about 5 years’ worth of phrases I had collected, writing them on index cards, and pinning them to a corkboard in my room. I now had 50-something prompts from which to choose, so that ideas would never be a problem. I also set up parameters for myself: one poem per day, any length, any style, and it has to be “done” but not perfect. For any goal, make sure you have the tools and logistics taken care of ahead of time so that you have fewer roadblocks and fewer excuses.
Step 2: Tell someone
Full disclosure, I waited to post about this on the chance it fell through and I didn’t keep up with a poem a day. You don’t have to tell the whole world about your goals from the get-go. But do tell someone, so that they can keep you accountable. I told a few close friends and family, but most importantly one friend offered that we could do the challenge together. Now we keep each other accountable, and get to see/enjoy/improve the other person’s work.
Step 3: Start
It sounds silly, but that is a really big and often scary step. You just have to do it. Getting off the ground is the hard part because you don’t have any momentum yet. But once you start, you’ll start building a practice of working toward your goal, which will make a lot of efforts seem easier.
Step 4: Give yourself some grace
When I started this I thought I was going to write the poem every morning. Turns out, that’s not super practical for me. So I still make sure that I pick a prompt every morning and can think about it throughout the day, but if I don’t have time to write in the morning or feel creatively stuck, I let myself walk away and come back later. And that’s okay, especially since a lot of research has shown that you actually need time away from a problem/project in order to let your subconscious mind work on it.
Step 5: Push through the lows
If you’re just in the drudges of something, keep going. It’s easier said than done, but it’s something you’ll be really proud of when you accomplish your goal. As another example, I’ve been working out a couple mornings a week, and yesterday ran in 41 degrees with asthma and a couple cramps. It sucked. But I did it, and my lungs are (slowly) starting to build up a tolerance to exercise.
Step 6: Be proud of yourself
You don’t have to show or tell what you did to everybody you meet, but tell a couple people who care about you. Be proud that you accomplished the thing you set out to do. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my poems when the month is up, but I do know I’ll be really happy I accomplished the goal.