Poetry and Imposing Restrictions

e1d57-atoz2019tenthannSay it with me:  I work best under an externally imposed structure.  I need some sort of scaffolding and some sort of blueprint or guide to follow in order to best function.  That’s why schedules and checklists work well for me, and why I always performed exceptionally well in class, but often had panic-ridden, down-to-the-wire meltdowns when doing assignments outside of school.

And it probably sounds antithetical to the whole idea of being creative, but I produce my best work (or at least the best rough drafts) when I impose restrictions on my writing, particularly my poetry.

Now, I have to say up front:  I’m not bound to these restrictions.  I’m not incapable of writing without them, and if, in the course of my writing, I stray from these restrictions, that’s fine — they are intended, generally, as a means to help generate ideas and structure me thinking.  If I move beyond the need for them while I’m writing, that’s fine.  It means they’re served their purpose.  (By the way, while not speaking in the exact terms I am here, Jeffery Cranor and Joseph Fink address the idea of limitations as being beneficial to creativity in the second episode of their new podcast, Start With This.  It’s worth a listen).

Mostly, these tips have been helpful to me when I’m trying to write to a deadline, or attempting to complete a significant amount of writing done in a short span of time (i.e., during NaPoWriMo).  These are, on my end, specific to the writing of poetry, and the resources I provide speak, primarily, from the point of view of poetry writers.

Tips for ADHD Poets

Commit to write in a particular form.  I can’t explain why, but committing to a form feels like solving a puzzle; it’s challenging, fun, and allows me to play with language in a way I hadn’t thought of before, but it also imposes a structure (syllable count, rhyme, repetition, length, etc.) and gives me a means through which to filter and focus my thoughts.  This post on Writer’s Digest has a list of 100 forms with explaination and examples.  If nothing else, it’s interesting reading, but over the last few years, I have written in dozens of the these forms (not always saving the results, sadly), and while not everything I’ve written has been gold — I’ve written.  You know?

Challenge yourself to include a particular word, phrase, or set of words.  Back in my old LiveJournal days (how many other old-school LJers are there out there?), there was a community called same_oh (which still technically exists, even if it’s dead) where users posted lists of words with the challenge to include all the words in a piece of writing.  I used these lists primarily to give form to a series of sestinas that I wrote, using lists of six words as the limiting end words of my lines.  It was hugely, hugely helpful to me, and those remain some of the poems I am most proud of to this day.   On Twitter, there are several places where you can find various prompts; MicroPrompts, Sense Words, Verse Angel and The Quill Diaries are just a few.  Also, this poetry prompt generator does something similar, along with an additional prompt that’s pretty cool.

Use curated imagery to inspire a piece of writing (and read what other people have been writing to see how differently you can approach a prompt).  Rattle Magazine posts an ekphrastic challenge every week, and allows you to read previous weeks’ winners.  It’s a lot of fun, and the images run from abstract collages and composites, to photography, to paintings.

Those are the things that have worked best for me.  Does anyone else have any tips on how imposing limitations has improved their own writing, creativity, or productivity?

Rarely Tidy Writing Update

white ceramic teacup with saucer near two books above gray floral textile

With April fast approaching, I want to remind any followers who may have originally subscribed to this blog during a run on NaNoWriMo or NaPoWriMo or any of its variants that I have a creative writing blog, Rarely Tidy Writing, that I have created specifically to house those challenges (and any other writing that I see fit to share).

Since moving the backlog of OctPoWriMo 2018 poems over, I have added a number of other poems for archival purposes, some of which may be familiar to-long-time readers of this blog, and some of which I know no eyes have seen before.

If you are interested in reading any of my poetry or other creative writing, please follow Rarely Tidy Writing!

Reflections on Inktober and OctPoWriMo

ReclaimingWell, October was a quite a month, creatively.

I’ve never attempted more than one challenge at a time before.  Moreover, I’d never attempted something that wasn’t a writing challenge before, and this October saw me do both (this was a really special month, you guys).

OctPoWriMo was not a wellspring of expertly crafted poetry.  I was not fond of many of the suggested forms, but because of time constraints, and because of the lingering funk I was in when it came to creativity, I opted in to many of the suggested forms and prompts, even when I didn’t love them.  I’d argue that was good for me; it forced me to be okay with what I considered to be sub-optimal writing — it kind of gave me permission to create something not up to my nearly impossible standards.

In the end, I produced thirty-one poems, a few (very few, but still – a few) of which I am very happy with just as they are — Blue,  Are We Damned?, Here There Are Trees, and A Doe in the Woods come most readily to mind — and several others that I think would be good with some work — Siren, Snake, How Do You Know if Love is Real?, and both of the haibuns fall easily into this category.

The poems that fell entirely flat (to me, at least), are the ones whose forms seem the most “gimmicky;” the blitz, for one, never truly felt like writing poetry (though, as I’ve said several times, I wouldn’t discount it as a writing or brainstorming exercise), and many of the non-traditional syllable counting poems didn’t come out as well as I’d hoped.  Rather than count this as a failure, though, I’d like to walk away considering this a learning experience for me as a writer, discovering and uncovering a little more about what works for me (and what doesn’t) as a poet and writer.

What Inktober did, though, was interesting.  I jumped on Inktober more or less on a whim, because I have never, ever, considered myself a visual artist.  I’ve always liked doodling, but my drawings rarely ventured into more elaborate territory.  People would sometimes compliment a drawing I’d done, but it never went beyond that — I never defined myself as an artist the way I did as a writer.  As a result, I went into Inktober with no expectations — or, maybe the expectation of sucking.  And because I assumed I’d suck — because I “wasn’t an artist” — every time my drawings came out with even an inkling of potential promise, it was a huge, positive surprise which kept me motivated to keep with it.

And at the end of thirty-one days, while I still have a long, longlong way to go, I can see very plainly that the stuff I’ve been producing sucks a little less.  That giving myself permission to not be great and keep going anyway actually lead to me getting better.

I’m am spending my creative energies in November doing NaNoWriMo, as I have almost every year since 2002, and taking a break from (structured, challenge-based) creative endeavors in December (working on lowkey, low pressure personal projects) before jumping back in for another challenge in January.

In retrospect, even if I’ve not been thrilled with the all of the products of my labors in October, I’m proud of hanging in there and producing.  And whether or not I win NaNo, and whether or not I reach 50k, I’m hoping to at least see it through day by day and word by word.

Here’s to a productive November, a recuperative December, and a creatively fulfilling 2019.