How to do something creative every day for a month if you aren’t retired

The Book of Fairy Poetry, written in 1920 by Dora Owen, illustrated by Warwick Goble (c) photoc 2011 by Plaisanter. Unaltered under a Flickr Creative Commons license License language

The Book of Fairy Poetry, written in 1920 by Dora Owen, illustrated by Warwick Goble (c) photoc 2011 by Plaisanter. Unaltered under a Flickr Creative Commons license
License language


On Monday I wrote my 30th poem for the month of November, completing the Poem A Day Challenge for the Poetic Asides blog at Writer’s Digest. Never having completed a hobby project so ambitious, I have been reflecting on what made this time different from the artistic projects I’ve started and abandoned.

I did not wake up October 31 and decide to write 30 poems the next month. An on-and-off poet since high school, last year I began the November challenge but lost steam halfway through. Still, that effort provided some momentum headed into the new year. By late October 2015 I had achieved my 2015 goal of 24 poems, so the pen was primed to take on the Poem A Day Challenge.

Here’s what worked for me during the Poem A Day Challenge:

1. I used the buddy system. My longtime friend Adrianne Cook was ready to write more again, so we agreed to be accountability partners.

Not a huge fan of group activities, I had never enlisted a buddy successfully for any meaningful undertaking. It turned out to be important that Adrianne is not my spouse, sister, or lifelong best friend. With those folks it’s too easy to make excuses. On many days throughout November, the only reason I sat down with my notebook was that I thought it might encourage Adrianne to keep writing. And of course since she e-mailed me hers first many days, that helped me remember my commitment.

2. I had (and was alert to) source material. While Poetic Asides provides daily subject prompts, if you are writing every day, everything is source material. Art in the house, a piece of trash on the ground, books you are reading, going to church, stuffed animals.

It helped that I was reading a couple of good books during the month—really, that I am always reading a good book, because being an artist has a parasitic element. If we only reflected on what was within ourselves, our work would not be very interesting. I even let my husband choose the focus for a couple of poems, including Van Gogh’s Bedroom, which is not a bad first draft.

One mistake I made was failing to record a couple of good ideas the moment I had them. When I sat down to write later in the day, those thoughts had evaporated. Write every idea down if you have the slightest inkling it might be helpful.

3. I started early. Each morning I checked for the prompt at Poetic Asides, then considered it throughout the day. During the weekdays I work through lunch, so I wrote when I got home either while my husband played with our child, or after the child went to bed. Sometimes I had an idea by that point, sometimes not. But starting the day thinking that I was going to accomplish a “creative” goal made it easier to complete.

4. Freezer cooking! Well, we do some freezer cooking, but I always make sure all the meals for the week are prepared the Saturday before, even breakfast. I like to cook, but not under the gun. Minimizing routine tasks helps free up evening time. Unless cooking is your chosen art, avoid doing it every day. This has been a positive lifestyle change for our family.

5. Write everywhere. I wrote as a car passenger on the way to several outings with friends, including three dinners over four days.

6. Be willing to be imperfect. I am a slow writer, which is one of the reasons I don’t work in journalism any more. I let my poem Alone, one of the most-read on the blog, simmer for a year.

Striving to produce something each day dispenses with—temporarily, at least—my perfectionist tendencies. I did not finish the heroic epic I had planned for Veteran’s Day. It just wasn’t possible. Still, there was only one poem I wrote during November that I will not let anyone see.

Shedding the need to have a polished product allows creativity to happen in the time you have. Sometimes I only spent 20 minutes writing in a day, and never more than an hour and a half. With a somewhat regular work day and a small child, that’s not terrible.

Headed into December, I have 14 poems I consider worth reworking/improving, which is the next Poetic Asides assignment. That is 14 more than if I had not gotten started.