2015 April PAD Challenge: Tips

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We're about to start the 8th annual April Poem-A-Day (PAD) Challenge, and I hope everyone's as excited as I am. I'm sure we'll have many who've completed the challenge multiple times before, as well as those who've started and come up short. And I've already heard from many who are going to give it a go for their first time ever. All are welcome and encouraged to jump in, whether it's for only one day or all 30!

Regardless of experience level, I thought I'd share a few tips on completing this challenge that I've picked up over the years. After all, I've learned (more than) a bit while creating the prompts and poeming along with everyone too.

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Here are my 2015 April PAD Challenge Tips:

  1. Take it one day at a time. Don't think about this challenge as writing 30 poems; that can feel overwhelming. Instead, come at each day as having to write one poem. Also, if you happen to miss a day, don't worry about "catching up" until after you've written the current day's poem.
  2. Don't worry about competing. Some folks are "in it to win it," I know. But last year, there were days when more than 1,000 comments were attached to a single prompt. The odds of "winning" in such a scenario are less than one-tenth of one percent, and that's with a lot of other great poets writing. So focus on the writing, and if you win, celebrate like there's no tomorrow. Related to that...
  3. Have fun. This challenge offers some serious rewards and seriously great guest judges, but hey, it's also free and intended to be a fun environment. Take chances with your writing. Allow yourself to have fun playing with words.
  4. Read (and comment on) other poems. Of course, if we have 1,000+ comment days, you won't be able to read everything--let alone try to comment. Instead, read a little, and if you like something, let the poet know in the comments. Many poets over the years have built great online groups through these challenges by interacting with each other. Related to that...
  5. Avoid being mean or critical when commenting. Seriously, I've had to boot folks off here in the past, and I'll do it again. But I'd prefer everyone be an adult and respect each other. Everyone has a different background, different views on issues, and so on. Let's use this space to express that without resorting to personal attacks. We managed it last year, so let's keep the streak going.
  6. Focus on writing first drafts. If you have the time to revise during the day, great. But don't fall behind on daily prompts because you're trying to make things perfect; you can and should revise after the month is over. Many poets have written large sections of their published poetry collections using the April PAD Challenge, and I'm sure most--if not all--revised after April.
  7. Consider using a theme. I've done this before and plan to do it again this month. By choosing a loose theme for the challenge, I can automatically view each day's prompt through a more specific lens that will help give me focus when I'm attacking a prompt. Some poets have come into the month with the goal of writing each poem as a haiku, others have used historical characters, and one year a person had everything relate to Batman and Gotham City. And if you're theme's not working on a specific day, you can always switch to something else.
  8. Use the prompt as a starting place. The main goal of this challenge is to write a new poem each day--so each day's prompt is just a starting place. Feel free to bend and even break the prompt to help you get to that poem each day. Sometimes, I just follow my first thoughts and write without worrying about meaning; other times, I sit and think a bit; and I've occasionally broken out the dictionary and Wikipedia to look up words and/or associations related to the prompt. Whatever works for you.

The first prompt is less than 24 hours away from being posted. When it is, please paste your poem along with your preferred byline in the comments associated with that day's prompt. It is the only way to be considered.

Also, I'd suggest not typing your poem directly into the comments. Type and save your work in a word file on your computer before pasting in the comments. There have been times in the past when poems and comments have gone missing (including my own) for various tech reasons--so play, but play it safe by saving a copy before posting.

I know a lot of seasoned pros are out there. So if you have specific tips you'd like to share with those just getting started, please comment on this post--as I'm sure your wisdom and personal experiences would be helpful.

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Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer's Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World's Problems (Press 53). He edits books, writes a poetry column for the magazine, blogs, leads online education, speaks around the country, and manages a lot of e-mail.

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When he first started the April PAD Challenge in 2008, he wasn't sure if anyone would even participate, so it's been a joy for him to see how it's grown and helped poets through the years.

Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

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