Why did I want to do NaPoWriMo? I’m a far-too-busy prose writer, with deadlines to meet and children to look after (when I remember), so why take on another creative responsibility?
Because I thought challenging myself to try something new as a writer would be interesting, and possibly even useful.
I already knew I wasn’t a poet. I was put off poetry at school (yes, just like everyone else) so I don’t read poetry very often, and I never attempt to write it. I do write riddles, because my Fabled Beasts adventure series contains lots of magical creatures and characters who use riddles as clues, tools or weapons, but I think of riddles as verbal puzzles than poetry.
And NaPoWriMo14 has certainly confirmed that I’m not a poet.
I did enjoy writing the poems, I did manage at least one a day, and it was fascinating discovering that the subjects I wanted to consider in poetic form were very different from the subjects I’m drawn to examine in fiction. (Observation rather than question, emotion rather than thought, location rather than journey.)
However, the most important thing I discovered is that I don’t like rhyming.
But I tried very hard to rhyme a few of my poems this month, and while doing that I discovered why I don’t like rhyming. I want to pick the absolutely right word for the job, the word which most precisely and vividly tells the story. I don’t want to pick a word just because it ends with useful letters and sounds.
I don’t feel like I’m telling the truth when I rhyme.
None of this means I can’t admire and enjoy rhyming verse written by someone as skilled as Alan Ahlberg or Julia Donaldson. But when I try to rhyme myself, it comes out as either forced or flippant.
So this month of poetry has taught me more about what kind of writer I am. I am a writer who cares about the meaning of the words much more than the sound, and as I already knew I was a writer who cares more about plot and ‘what happens next’ than any other aspect of a novel, that makes sense. Perhaps that explicit realisation will allow me to be more analytical about my editing decisions in the future.
This sudden discovery (well, month-long discovery) about my relationship with words reminds me of the night I discovered that I’m not a stand-up comedian. I already knew that too, but I was invited to take part in a project linking storytellers and stand-ups, and I do love a challenge. So when I was telling a story in a comedy club, with lights in my eyes, unable to see the audience, only able to hear them when they laughed (which they did, occasionally!) I realised that I’m not primarily interested in the moments of humour in a story. I’m not interested in the laughs. I’m interested in the moments which make an audience or reader gasp or sit forward or hold their breath. I’m interested in the moments of drama.
So I had to stand up in a comedy club to realise what is important to me in a story.
And I had to spend a month writing poetry to realise what is important to me in a word.
Perhaps that’s the main value of trying out new ways of writing or performing: it allows you to discover more about the core of what you do best.
Did anyone else try NaPoWriMo14? And if so, what did you discover?
Lari Don is the award-winning author of 21 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers.