The rules of a Writing Challenge are never all that difficult: “Do [this] for [a certain number of days], and hold yourself accountable.”
“If you are able to complete the challenge, reward yourself in self-appreciation, cookies, sending your work out, or other such pleasantries.”
“If you are unable to meet the requirements of the challenge, or miss a few days, don’t feel bad. These challenges are difficult, as is bringing ourselves to write on a daily basis (as most of these challenges require). Consider where you went wrong, and improve these areas for future challenges.”
Seems easy. Straight-forward. Simple.
However, how do we really measure whether or not we’ve successfully completed a challenge, or failed? Is it really as black-and-white as “if you’ve fulfilled all the requirements, you’ve won”? Or should we break this down further into “Well, I didn’t really like what I wrote during the challenge, but I at least pushed myself to complete the challenge!” and / or “No, I didn’t write every. single. day., but I loved what I wrote and intend to revise it and am genuinely happy with my performance!” How do we measure success?
I think what it may come down to is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic values—the difference between personal gains and the appearance of gains, or success. If one chooses to complete a writing challenge to fulfill the appearance of writing on a daily basis, then the entire focus will be on the quantity: whether or not the writer manages to write a poem per day, and post them. However, if one chooses to complete a writing challenge to learn something (whether about writing poems, or their writing process, or to reflect on a larger project, etc), then fulfilling the requirements of the challenge consistently become more of a “bonus,” rather than a requirement. The appearance of writing regularly and writing well, as opposed to the learning process and personal gains of writing, goes out the window.
I’m not trying to be deceitful and dance around the fact that I didn’t “complete” the challenge. I didn’t complete the challenge. There was one day that I missed fairly early on, and I simply had other things to do in the last few days of August. But I had fun, and I wrote poems that I want to revise and that I feel (for the most part, with just a few exceptions) that these could be strong, future contenders for my first full-length manuscript. These poems also got me thinking about other writing projects I could get myself into, and they really centered me as far as what I want my full-length manuscript to be, which earlier in the summer had been undecided. Even if there are not thirty-one poems to present here, they taught me a lot, and I don’t regret them—and I don’t regret the few that didn’t make it to the page for a challenge’s sake (which is certainly not to minimize the importance and place of a writing challenge, but only to suggest that there are times when breaking the rules are better than fulfilling requirements).
August was quite the month, and the Poetry Postcard Fest was quite the challenge; I imagine I’ll probably do it again next year and will aim to actually write a poem on a daily basis—but in the hopes that I will learn as much, and feel as confident about, those poems as I have felt about these.