Now, have I written one each day? No, there have definitely been points where I lagged behind and then caught up, drafting several poems in a day. I’ve got one to go right now, actually, a prompt from a few days ago involving the idea of shadows and shade.
Have I written sixteen good poems? Definitely not; most are first drafts, and some I knew were not very good, even as I wrote them down.
So what is the value, then, of a challenge like this? I would say part of the value is that you push yourself to pile up a lot of shitty first drafts, as Anne Lamott wrote in her wonderful book on writing, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (please buy a copy of that if you don’t already have it, whether you use my link or not). The value of the shitty first draft is overcoming procrastination and perfectionism and getting something down on paper without worrying about whether it’s good yet or not. According to Lamott, every good writer has to do these drafts before you get to the good drafts, and I think I’m not alone in finding this reassuring. There’s a version of this sentiment at work in National Novel Writing Month as well, where they value “enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft” and say, “Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.”
Will I revise each and every one of these drafts further? No, probably not. But I can tell already that some of them have potential as ideas, and I know also that some of them have some good lines, or at least the germ of a good line, and any poet knows the value of one great line.
I think that once I’m done this challenge, I’ll have some good candidates for further revision, and some recoverable lines that I’ll plant in new poems. But more importantly, I’ll have gained some momentum through carving out time to regularly engage the poetic gear of my writer’s mind, and that will surely benefit me.