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NaPoWriMo: Say Whaaat?

I swear I didn’t know NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) was a thing until now, and if you’ve read my thoughts on NaNoWriMo (see sidebar for link) then you know how I feel about this. But somehow, I hate NaPoWriMo even more.

You may chalk my disdain up to older sibling syndrome (there’s a new baby in town trying to be as cute as I’ve been all this time) and sure, maybe that’s part of it. I generally despise anything having to do with mass participation that does not appear to have sprung from intrinsic motivation and original thought. I’m super judgmental, we all know that.

I’m not trying to discourage anybody’s spreading their poetry wings and freeing their spirit to frolic in the beauty of the written word *smirk*. But I will be stifling a lot of laughter and a hefty amount of grumbling during the month of April.

Because my God, what the world needs is more shitty poetry.

And we especially need more shitty poetry that conforms to predetermined themes and forms- daily prompts which relieve us from the bothersome task of coming up with something on our own.

“Write a persona poem from the viewpoint ofΒ the first thing you see when you look away from the computer screen.”

“Grab a blind person and write a sestina using the first six words they point to in the newspaper.”

I’m sorry, are we poets or are we vending machines? What the hell kind of poet prides themselves on “Hey, pick any random form and subject and I’ll make a poem out of it in 20 minutes or less or your money back.”

Based on my experience, no poem written in response to a prompt has ever had half the chops of something written for the sole purpose of writing in itself. If I used writing prompts for my 365 project I’d hang myself for being a big fat cheater and that’s that.

One of my favorite poems, by Charles Bukowski, which embodies my philosophy of poetry nicely, is quite simple:

“As
the
spirit
wanes
the
form
appears.”

If you got nothin’ to say, you got no spirit left, go find a writing prompt and do what it tells you. When you have something to say, forms and rules and guidelines and prompts be damned.

And here we are once again at the same conclusion- if you’re a baby poet and you need some anonymous program to help you think of something to write, by all means, knock yourself out. You’ll never be any good, and I guess that’s fine because you’re obviously just in it for funsies.

Just make sure you buy my damn book, ok?

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38 thoughts on “NaPoWriMo: Say Whaaat?

  1. This can kill any budding poet in a heartbeat.

    It kills me just reading it and realizing that while I try to write poetry to the best of my ability, there really are people out there who honestly believe they are better than me (and believe there are billions of them who are better than I am) who say out loud how shitty my poetry is, prompt or no.

    • No personal offense to anyone, but if you’re afraid of heights you’re probably not meant to be a skydiver.

      If you’re afraid of what people think of your poetry, then you’re probably not meant to be a poet.

      • I’ve been writing poetry since grade school and we learned through reading and also through prompts when it came to writing them. For some it’s natural and for others, it’s a necessary step to let one’s skills grow. Practice makes perfect after all till it becomes organic and natural. To generalize someone using prompts to write poetry as churning out shitty poetry is cruel to a budding poet.

        Not everyone has thick skin like you and me. And not everyone is savvy enough to discern intent if it is meant in good spirits. This one didn’t seem to be done in a good light at all and can dash one’s hopes of wanting to write some poetry, to express how they feel, even if they have to start at it via prompts.

        I’ve been reading your poetry and blog posts for some time, but this one struck a raw nerve because of its cruelty – not necessarily to me because I’m fine with my poetry and criticism of it – have been for a long time. And maybe I’m not meant to be a poet, and that’s fine with me, too. I do better holding judgment over things that I do not know much about and this poetry judging business is one of them.

      • As you’ll note, this is an opinion piece on a blog which is dedicated to sharing my poetry. If I was concerned with encouraging other budding poets I would have one of those lovely little blogs full of inspiration and writing tips which seem to be everywhere.
        While my intent IS to inspire people to take a crack at poetry and by doing so be more open and honest, I also intend to lead by example. I have never and will never support the use of writing prompts. If you’ve got something stirring inside you, you’ll find a way to unleash it. You don’t need somebody to tell you how to feel.
        Poetry as a hobby is all well and good, but poetry as a lifestyle takes far more than “I feel bad because somebody on the internet said my poetry was shitty.”

      • I assume you missed my intent at being facetious with feeling shitty there. I am not here to pick a fight with you or with anyone, least of all, about poetry of all things. I do appreciate and understand your opinion about prompts and respect that – that is why I read through the whole thing and commented on it.

        I was reacting to the tone of the piece, and whether it was meant to be snarky or not was completely lost on me. I don’t call my poetry a hobby – for it is just the way I am, and no one in my family has ever understood my love for it though they, too, call it a hobby, just like you call it.

        Hobby or not, I’ve lived with poetry as my inspiration when I’m feeling down in the dumps and when I’ve been at my lowest and most vulnerable, when the one thing I wanted to do was end everything. Poetry saved my life, and it’s one of the things I respect its immense power in either uplifting one or putting them down, and that includes poets to fellow poets, whether it’s their lifestyle, hobby, or they’re just wondering if they should “heed” that call or urge to pursue it.

        I’m going to leave with this. This is your blog and I respect your views. I reacted to your post, and if it will come down to labeling one another, and name calling and demeaning each other with passive aggressive attacks, then so be it.

        I wish you all the best with your poetry and your other writings. I truly do.

      • I was not referring to you specifically. You said you are a poet and have a similar thick skin; when I say “you” I mean the general populace and not you as an individual. I wasn’t meaning to call your poetry a hobby, I was making a general statement.
        There has been no name-calling or passive aggression. I would never stoop to that or allow it here.
        But I didn’t think anyone, after reading my poetry, would be surprised that my snark permeates through everything I write.
        Best of luck to you as well πŸ™‚

  2. ahahahaha I hadn’t thought of it this way, even though I wouldn’t partcipate. It would be like peeing on demand at the doctor’s office…I’d freeze and not be able to write a damn word! Better to have incontinence of the mouth (fingers) any ole time. πŸ˜‰

  3. I understand your point and agree that any writing is always best if its inspiration comes from something personal and meaningful. I don’t however think there’s anything wrong with beginners wanting to dip their toe in the water or otherwise using prompts as a source of possible inspiration in a dry spell. I imagine others will use prompts similarly to force themselves into writing about subjects they may not have otherwise, which in turn forces them to see things from a new perspective and hone their ability to adapt.

    Personally I don’t use prompts for poems either. All writing is inherently creative though and anything creative is subjective to personal taste. I think therefore the best thing is for everyone to just do what works for them and helps to reach whatever personal or professional goals they may have. If that means not using prompts, that’s fine; if it means using them, that’s fine too.

  4. I’ll credit NaNoWriMo with getting me out of a slump, but that’s about it. I’d finished a couple of novels already but had no luck selling them and was feeling down about my ability as a writer. The first year I did it I ran with the thing and finished, though even then I had a lot of problems with the “Just Write! and Who Cares About What You Write?!?” mentality on the forums and the suber-uber-duper-happy cheerleaders who ran it, especially the ones who ran the local events. (I was asked to leave a write-in once because, instead of participating in themed wordsprints… in what is supposed to be a coherent work of art… I sat at my table and wrote, and didn’t play along. Apparently, one wasn’t supposed to actually write at that write-in.) Still, the year I took it seriously and the years I used it as a tool did help, and it is one tool of many I can recommend to people. Similarly, I credit various play-pants products by Pampers with my excellent bladder control, but I don’t think I’ve worn them since I learned what they had to offer.

    Do something creative every day. If you do and at the end of the month you have a 200 page book (or more), or a poetry collection, awesome. If you have two good stories, ideas sketched out for another two, and a poem that came to you while you were trying to figure out why your main character was about to betray the man he loved more than anything in the world, then who are you (and who the HELL is anyone else) to say that you failed? That’s the only take-away I have from NaXxxYyyMo. Set out to do something, work on it every day, and finish it. Poetry prompt lists and themed writing days are insulting, at least to me.

    I don’t think your comments are harsh at all. Especially in the world of self-publishing, the world does not need more shitty poetry or novels or music. The world may indeed need you to create and refine and give it your art, but hell, it’s possible to write a quick program that will comb the Net for enough info to make a book, and be done in time to play Go against the computer before Tea Time. If you’re going to make something, take the time to learn the craft and refine the craft and make something of quality. That’s what you’re doing. That’s what I’m trying to do. That’s what anyone who really wants to create should do. I don’t think that thinking that makes me harsh or insensitive. I think it makes me one who is committed to being a professional and a craftsman. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

  5. I did NaNoWriMo this past year and obviously did not pop out with a readable, sellable novel, but it did get me started. I needed something to get me started. I had these ideas and, yes, I had soul, but I needed something, even a faceless organized writing challenge, to tell me that my soul was worth writing down.

    I appreciate the poem you shared and I agree – If your work doesn’t have soul behind it, it’s time to move on to something else.

  6. Rant over? πŸ˜‰ haha. You have a book? where can one get it?

    Don’t worry like another poet / artist said “all the others are just imitating, will the real slim shady please stand up.” (yes, i just quoted Eminem for you.)

    • Ha, I love it! Every time I write one of these opinion pieces I’m singing in my head “we all need a little controversy, ’cause it feels so empty without me!” (A lil Eminem right back atcha πŸ˜‰

      As for the book, I was just being humorous. I don’t have one yet but rest assured it is in the works πŸ™‚

  7. Poetry inside of sheltered waters, is never as free as it might be, while a prompt makes for only a quick sprint down a road to the start of a hill, and more interesting undulations…

  8. I think you’re completely missing the point. In case you hadn’t noticed, each prompt is completely optional to follow and open to interpretation. (I’m sure it’s been specified for NaPoWriMo.) For people who need ideas, prompts can be good starting points. Who are you to say that quality, creative, original and thoughtful pieces can’t originate from ideas that popped up in the process of interpreting a prompt? Who are you to say that the writer’s thought and soul and love for writing can’t shine through just because he/she has dared to follow someone else’s recommendation of subject matter or form? This is not only snarky, but also rather conceited. While I’m not saying that you’re meant to be completely helpful and encouraging, you should probably be mindful of how your words can hurt others or set them back in their respective quests (of self-actualisation, creativity, variety in writing, writing everyday… anything, really). Just reiterating what others have already said here. This wasn’t very nice.

    • No offense, but I think YOU’RE missing the point. Who am I to say those things? Well… I didn’t. I didn’t say it was impossible for a writing prompt to induce quality work, but I did say that “based on my experience, no poem written in response to a prompt has ever had half the chops of something written for the sole purpose of writing in itself.”
      Much of the problem with the work of those who follow prompts is that the piece tends to be finished as soon as it meets the requirements of the prompt. And you can smell that kind of poetry from a mile away. But work that originates from the writer’s soul is only complete when that writer feels it is whole and complete, not according to anyone’s standards but their own, and as a reader you can feel it.
      As a side note, I gather that you have not been following this blog for very long because to note with any surprise that my work is snarky and conceited is a little late to the party!
      I bare my heart and soul to the world every day through my poetry; you’ll have to forgive me if I speak my opinion in a way that might hurt some poor poet’s feelings on the internet. But actually, if somebody reading this post is actually set back in their quest for self-actualization, creativity, or writing, I’d say they’ve got a loooong way to go and I’m happy to help them realize that.
      And regarding my post not being very nice… let’s just say that the word “nice” is probably my least favorite in the English language. It means almost nothing and my greatest hope is that when I die no one will ever find cause from anything I did in life to say that I was “nice.”
      Poets are not meant to be nice, they are meant to be honest. Was Charles Bukowski nice? Maya Angelou? Allen Ginsberg? Hardly. If a poet is going to be nice I think they’d better get used to being mediocre and unsuccessful…
      At any rate, thanks for reading and for your comment. We all need a little healthy debate now and then πŸ™‚
      Best wishes!

  9. Hey Charlotte,
    I always enjoy your opinion pieces πŸ™‚
    Would you mind me borrowing your text (not an official re-blog but basically the same thing) for my next Writerly Rant on this coming Tuesday? I’d also like to include a few of your comments to poets in this thread too if I may and a link to where people can buy your book!

    • Sure, you can always use my stuff, I never mind πŸ™‚ I know that anything I post on the internet can and will be used against me πŸ˜‰
      As for the book, that was just for humor’s sake but I am working on one. I’ll be sure to let everyone know when it’s finished!

  10. I think I need to read more of your blog. Your post annoyed me, but that’s because I am one of those happy souls enjoying what may appear to some a mediocre existence. So far, for me, your f**k you attitude doesn’t quite ring true. I like your poetry though, and I hate poetry generally. I shall run off and read more. My question back is to ask if setting out to write a poem a day is a prompt in itself?

    • I really don’t think I said anything quite so harsh as to be deemed a “f**k you attitude.” I don’t discourage anyone from attempting poetry. I may be snarky about it but I don’t deny that everyone has a right to try their hand at it. I am merely pointing out that I don’t believe following someone else’s prompts will bring a poet to any respectable level of competency. I’m not saying it can’t be a starting point for people who for whatever reason want to become poets, but I think that a true poet has it in their soul and they don’t need to rely on recycled ideas and pre-supplied topics to produce their art.
      I’m flattered that you like my poetry though, especially since you say you generally hate it. That’s a high compliment!
      To answer your question, I suppose I consider a prompt to be an idea, form, or theme that is given in advance by an outside source. In that respect, I don’t use prompts. I use my everyday experiences for inspiration but it is still a task to come up with what I’ll write about each day.
      If you meant prompt as in a feeling akin to duty that compels me to write each day, then I suppose yes, I do feel my own inner self prompting me to write. But I don’t twist my writing to conform around an idea that someone else said I should write about.
      At any rate, thanks so much for reading and helping to stir up discussion and reflection πŸ™‚
      Best wishes!

  11. Who is telling everyone that they must write every day? I can’t see why one must. And who/what tells them that because it is written it must be posted? “I write therefore I post.” It drives me nuts. It really does. They start with “starters”, and nothing gets to stew in the brain for more than an hour or two. Starters give a diet of raw meat. (Love your poems, by the way!)

  12. Well… the ability to channel can possibly start with prompts, but I think when it starts with feeling and love (love of poetry and expanding because of love, not only dedication by doing exercises such as prompts), it goes a lot further.

    Well what I’m trying to say, is what this dude (AMAZING guitarist, musician, and youtuber) told me when I asked him for advice:

    “You can’t expand your vocabulary without reading or listening to people, can you? Same goes for music. Then find a simple lick you enjoy, and use it in every way possible. Be able to feel and anticipate every opportunity to use this lick. And most important of all: ENJOY DOING SO. True technique doesn’t come with work, it comes with love.”

    And it was just so spot on, really. Practice via prompters is great, but what makes you go the distance is the determination caused by love and passion.

  13. Pingback: An Honest Response to National Poetry Writing Month… «

  14. Just a moderate can of worms for you here. I am doing NaPoWriMo, I don’t generally use prompts, unless it tickles an idea, and at the end I get what I consider to be thirty writing ideas to work on. It is always good to throw a little controversy into the air and see where it lands, keep going, I’ve enjoyed reading your stuff as well by the way.

    Happy Days

    Jim

  15. OK. Now I’m laughing! This was me on Apr 1: What is NaPoWriMo?! (Clueless non-poet) Got the email from WP and thought, humph…I’d like to try this, what with all the heavy, grief laden pieces I’ve been writing…I’m exhausted. (Real poets cover your ears). So a poem a day sounded like a break. A creative swap for a few weeks, a new bone for this dog. And, I swear, I didn’t use any of the prompts. Never bothered to look. Instead, I told myself: “use your words…practice…build your courage & confidence…just write and stop obsessing over perfection.” Huge challenge! But I guarantee that my shitty poetry doesn’t conform to any form or theme. Yeah! (younger sibling syndrome).
    Thanks for making me laugh.
    Deanna

  16. I thought your post was pretty amusing. I rather enjoyed it in fact. I even read it twice. Actually, I am in this for the funsies. I’m also pretty sure most, if not all, of what I write is shitty poetry. But if it comes from the heart, it can’t be all bad. It won’t sell a book but I’m not writing one so that’s ok. I love reading so we need great authors (assuming you’re a great author)! Good luck on your book!

    P.S. I don’t use the prompts.

  17. Wow! Such an in-your-face perspective, but I am not offended. Different strokes for different folks, right? I wasn’t aware of any prompts. I just write and let the chips fall where they may, and the readers can decide if I’m writing something worth reading! The heart is sometimes an open book that can’t be closed even if we tried!. I just let it flow from there. In the meantime, I will continue to check out your ‘flow’ and thanks for following me….a compliment in itself which I gladly reciprocate! Keep writing and I’ll keep reading!

  18. Haha this is great! I love how you’ve voiced exactly how you feel and aren’t afraid to share that view with everyone. I am participating in NaPoWriMo and wasn’t aware of the daily prompts – I just go with my own inspiration!
    On a different note thank you for following my blog, I hope you enjoy my future posts – even the NaPoWriMo ones!! πŸ˜‰ x

  19. I actually wrote my first novel after reading about NaPoWriMo… it helped me -just-get-writing- but caused a huge amount of continuity problems when I worked (struggled?) to assemble what I had into a book. But I took a deep breath and published it (as an ebook at smashwords and amazon.)
    I am finishing a second novel now and I spent a lot of time outlining and defining characters before I started writing. What I’ve learned is: outline and develop characters even more for the next story.
    Now poetry – I think my poetry is different from most of what I read – no existentialist angst, I write poetry for fun.

  20. I was very curios to what NaPoWriMo meant and I am glad to have a broad definition of this word that, at first, sounded like I was eavesdropping on a private, intimate moment with R2D2. This collection of comments certainly gives a continuum of pro’s and con’s to prompts in poetry and yet still leave it to the reader to decide what is best for their own authorship. Thank you for opening this discussion. It is very helpful as I begin to learn more about blogging and the blogging community.

  21. Whereas NaNoWriMo can have benefits – it’s November, aperitifs on the lake are a thing of the summer past and it’s raining, the televison is crap (always) unless you’re name’s ‘Reality’ so it is a useful challenge, if nothing else.

    However, poetry is not plotted like a novel, or mine isn’t. My poetry comes to me during ‘moments’ – I either get it down or it runs away. Commiting myself to such exercise would be, and is, impossible.

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