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.

Let the moment begin

When it began by Beth Henary Watson

Given that we can live only a small part of what there is in us—
what happens with the rest?
Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon

A meeting.
A guest speaker.
Lunch.
Emails.
Another meeting.
An assignment,
Small, of course.
Suddenly
You are theirs
And this is
Your everything,
They are
Your everything
Because you
Took the flier,
Went to
The meeting
After the man
Stepped
Into your path
As you were
Walking by
On the way
To somewhere else.

 

 

The New Year by Adrianne Cook

Silver and white decorations,
Pointy hats,
The promise of a new page,
A new pen,
A new year.

When the confetti settles,
A smile dawns.
Let the moment,
A new year,
Begin.

 

© 2015

An Open Letter

An Open Letter by Beth Henary Watson

I spent a whole day crafting a letter
That would alter life for those on my side,
Gave another to revision, then a
Week to harvest signatures from those who
Agreed this shouldn’t be necessary
But admitted to its necessity,
Only to receive an error notice
At deadline after clicking Submit on
The Health and Human Services website.
What could have, should have been wasn’t to be.

 

An Open Letter by Adrianne Cook

Dear sports announcers,
Please refrain from all those negative comments
About my team—you are assuming
The worst, immediately, without
Giving them the benefit of the
Doubt.

When will football season be over?

 

© 2015

Leftovers

Leftovers by Adrianne Cook

Boxes of decorations
Spill from the garage.
Everything sparkles.

Christmas goes up:
A perfect painting
From Rockwell.

Except
Broken, leftover ornaments
Litter the bottom of the box,
Remnants of people and places past
With no place in the present.
And I can’t throw them away.

 

Remains of a Century by Beth Henary Watson

What remains of a century
Is very little: magazines,
Books, newspapers of foreign times,
Otherworldly in their distance
Here to there, across inventions
And war zones, both profitable
And tragic at final outcome
For the world, though they mostly
Brought vacuum cleaners, dishwashers,
The hope of college for the kids.
From this recliner, little is
Left over from where I started
Over 100 years ago.

 

© 2015

Luxury

Luxury by Beth Henary Watson

Luxury is the every day
At our house: your choice of foods,
Leather seats in garaged sedan,
All-inclusive Mexican trips.
Here in the U.S.: middle class.

Luxury also gives us a
Private library, media room
So we musn’t brave discomfort
Of the crowd or of poor choices.
Detached, single-family home.

 

 

Roasted lamb (c) 2009 by Catherine Mak. Unaltered under a Flickr Creative Commons license License language

Roasted lamb (c) 2009 by Catherine Mak. Unaltered under a Flickr Creative Commons license
License language

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luxury by Adrianne Cook

Fire crackling
Soft blanket
Warm slippers
Dim lights
Smooth music
Crisp wine
Sparkling lights
Evergreen tree
Happy memories
Luxurious holiday night.

 

© 2015 the authors

 

Love

Love by Adrianne Cook

I love the idea of the holidays:
A taste of indulgence
Space to reset.

And then I am reminded:
Family bickers
Food falls flat
The house shrinks
Tempers explode
And I wonder why we bother.

Maybe next year.

Falling in love (c) 2006 by Marcus Zorbis. Unaltered under a Flickr Creative Commons license License language

Falling in love (c) 2006 by Marcus Zorbis. Unaltered under a Flickr Creative Commons license
License language

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love by Beth Henary Watson

Love hangs out in kitchens and bathrooms
Among the green bean casseroles and
The almost-readies and the waiting.

It beats on stock pots with wooden spoons
And is predictably tested when
The people and food are not ready

At the same time.

 

© 2015

Apologies

Apology by Beth Henary Watson

“I am a part of all that I have met.”
–Tennyson, “Ulysses”

I’m sorry, not for you, but for me,
For all that I missed in your presence;
When you were present, I really wasn’t
And it is only now, years later,
Decades on, that I can say I would
Do it all differently, be someone
Who mattered, not to me, but to you,
For I know you have forgotten me,
But you far away are still with me
And I will always regret that I,
Be sorry that I failed in friendship.

 

Apology by Adrianne Cook

I’m sorry for
Not listening,
For assuming,
For shutting you out.

I’m trying
To keep it together,
To be perfect,
To stay in front.

One day
I will be better.

 

 

© 2015

 

Waiting

Waiting for night by Adrianne Cook

Where I can take a breath
Process the day
Look at my empty accomplishments,
My overflowing to-do list.

When I can sit
In front of the fire,
Contemplate a glass
Of white sweet relaxation.

Where I can think
Without interruption, within
Serenity,
And mentally prepare for tomorrow.

 

 

Waiting for Christmas by Beth Henary Watson

For a kid who wants a transport vehicle,
The wait for Christmas seems interminable:
A stretch of months, days, hours neverending,
Filled with disagreeable family dinners,
Banal school assignments and vicious classmates,
Television.

Sweaters socks toboggans bedding keep him warm
While he is here thank you oh so very much,
And the right kind of book is somewhat helpful,
But at eight he wanted skates, at twelve, money,
At sixteen, a car. Christmas always left him
Disappointed.

 

© 2015

It’s so strange

Saturday’s Poem A Day Challenge was to write a “strange” poem.

 

Strange by Beth Henary Watson

As I get older, it seems strange
That the winter falls much colder,
My lap blanket ever warmer
As I sip my peppermint tea.

When I venture outside the leaves
Scrape-dance against the pavement
Louder than they did in past ears;
Strange, given my faded hearing.

 

Dream by Adrianne Cook

I had a strange dream
Last night.
The clock,
Adorned with scrolls and
Cherubs,
The symbol of my husbands childhood,
Broken,
Shattered.
Chimes rise from the ashes.

What does it mean?

 

© 2015

Ideas

Resonance by Beth Henary Watson

Certainly it was there most of the time
In my life’s libraries and booksellers,
Persistently displayed on the merits:
An historical drama unsurpassed
In character or scale of tragedy
Spilled black and white on four hundred pages
That stop just when the saga gets underway
Although most of the ground has been covered.

It reached out to me from among the stacks
Once I realized I was a survivor
Of the war that raged between those covers,
Of the burning churches and libraries
That so incensed those distant observers
Who like me mistook the situation
At first to be tribal, undeserving
Of any resonance with one like me.

 

The Epiphany by Adrianne Cook

Two months after we met,
After the instant connection,
I knew.

I was standing under the burning shower,
My mind wandering through
The new world I found myself in.
And I shivered with a sudden understanding.

Eight hours away from normal,
One month removed from when the world
Shattered on a Tuesday morning.
A city far from my comfort zone.

These things should have scared me,
Formed reasons why I should go home.
I didn’t.

That October morning, water dripping,
I knew.
We were meant to be together, somehow.

After that epiphany,
It was just a matter of rearranging,
and it did take a while.

And now, against all odds,
We’ve built the life I saw in that sudden flash,
That morning in the shower.

 

© the authors 2015