Chapbook Challenge

One outcome of my having a weekly po-biz time is that I rummage around different sites to see what’s going on. I was planning on promoting NaNoWriMo to my Literary Publication students as a way to get a lot of writing done very fast. In digging up that information, I found the perfect November writing project for me– The PAD Chapbook Challenge. This project will get me to write at least 30 new drafts, 20 of which, with luck, will hang together into a chapbook I can enter into contests. Since I will be entering this manuscript, I will not be posting the drafts. However, I will share drafts with my face-to-face poet friends who are also doing this project, and if any of my poet friends who live at a distance are interested, I can figure out a fair way to share without making the manuscript “previously published” in these crazy, crazy publication times where journals consider any web evidence as evidence of previous publication.Yes, even blogged drafts or even the comments to the prompts that Robert Lee Brewer gives for this challenge. He is right– posting your draft as a comment to the daily prompt creates accountability, collegiality, and community, but it also takes away the ability to publish the work. I’m not going to give that up.

For my students, I have heard nothing but good things about the NaNoWriMo project from people who have done it. For them, they can use this to create a bundle of short stories, just what they need for the market. Another possibility is to get that novel out of their system while gaining valuable writing experience. So many fiction undergraduates have a “novel” that they have “been writing for years.” This sounds impressive until you realize that the student saying this is 20 and that novel that has been in the works for 7 years was started when the student was 13. Chances are that the concept is flawed or it has a hackneyed plot or flat, uninteresting characters. I hope this doesn’t sound cynical. I know there are always prodigies out there. It’s just reasonable to note though that at 13, no matter how good you are, chances are you don’t have the reading experience to really “get” what came before you or you may not have the emotional maturity to do anything but flat characters. At 20 and after a lot of literature courses and the reading that entails (workshops too), much perspective has been gained.

Even so, students tend to cling to these early projects. NaNoWriMo makes them write a novel in a month. During that month, the non-working aspects of their general idea will either work and be done, or not. This gives a clean slate for the real work they are capable of now without the burden of that big project that has a lot of psychic weight but that may also be the same  plot for the Terminator.

On the poet side, the PAD Chapbook Challenge will help me do something that was not emphasized at all when I got my MFA, which is to create a narrative arc with a cluster of poems. Larissa Szporluk tried to point me in that direction, but like the students I’ve had through the years, I was not willing to give up the drafts I had, even though they did not sit well together in a manuscript. I am willing now, and it will be interesting to see how this intensive drafting works out.

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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