What I Learned Writing a Haiku Every Day for 100 Days
WTF’s a haiku?
I’ve heard some variation of this question many times over the past couple of months. You likely know that a haiku is a form of poetry; you might even know that it’s composed of three lines — the first containing five syllables, the second with seven, and the third with five.
But even I didn’t know that it’s considered a “mood poem” and that similes and metaphors aren’t technically allowed, according to some sources. Well, I messed that part up, but we’ll get to that.
The reason why my brain has been so haiku happy is because I took part in the 100 Day Project, spearheared by Elle Luna and The Great Discontent. She challenged anyone and everyone to do something, anything, every day for 100 days straight. My friend Cassie was the one who planted the seed — she planned to do 100 days of lettering (and you should take a look at her awesome results here). I’m not a designer, however. And I like to doodle, but I wasn’t sure I’d make time for it every day for 100 days.
I do pride myself on being a writer though. When I was a community and then a business journalist, I wrote every day. And even when I was writing objective, clinical journalistic pieces, there was still room for creativity and a clever turn of phrase. I came up with some of the cheesiest headlines you’ve ever heard, but at least it was a creative outlet.
Now, I’m at Shopify as a marketer, and I still write every day, and I love what I do. But I’m not writing creatively as often as I’d like. It’s like that old screwhead. Leave it alone and it’ll get all rusty. Worst metaphor ever, and didn’t I just call myself a writer? But whatever; I’ve been training myself not to rely on metaphors because of my haikus, so let’s move on.
I decided I would do something that involved writing, every day. I wanted to be realistic. I couldn’t commit to a short story each day for 100 whole days; writing a chapter of a novel per day was even more daunting; keeping it as generic as “writing” wasn’t something I thought I’d be able to hold myself accountable to. Thus, haikus. They’re short! A total of 17 syllables for god’s sake; easy as pie.
Let me tell you something. It wasn’t easy as pie, but it was as satisfying. I love pie.
Picture this: you lie down in bed after a long day, after consuming what may or may not have been way too many glasses of red wine, and you’re in that beautiful, hazy state where your eyelids and body feel extra heavy with the sense that any moment you’re about to slip under into a state of oblivion. And then it hits you. You haven’t written a haiku yet. Shiiiiiit.
Or when you’re having a not so creative day. They happen! And more often than I’d like to admit, at least in my case. Sometimes you’re drained of your ability to produce intelligent thoughts, and so I’d put out something like this:
But then there were days, really good days, where I was proud of what I’d accomplished, even though it was only a simple poem on an Instagram feed with a relatively small audience, like this:
I should note that I’m not clever enough to have come up with the design. I used an awesome app called Notegraphy to help format these babies. So many variant themes that I could use a different layout each and every day if I chose.
Do you remember being in grade school, and the teacher handing you back a test, and you were afraid to look at the mark because it might not be good? And you kept it upside down for as long as possible before peeking at the mark? No, just me? Well, I kinda feel that way about my work even as an adult. Oftentimes I’ll write something and then hide it away for a long time before coming back to it. To this day, I still haven’t reread my self-published book because I’m so embarrassed for myself. I’m proud of it; don’t get me wrong, but it makes my insides crawl a bit to read it. Like actors who can’t watch their own movies.
Okay, so what does this have to do with haikus? It’s really effing hard to share your work. Especially when it’s not polished, or even particularly well thought out. There were some haikus that I churned out in under a minute. The moment you hit publish, it’s out of your hands. I can’t tell you how many times I thought to myself, after rereading a haiku an hour (or even a minute) later, “Well, damn. Why didn’t I choose this word instead?” Here’s one example:
“As such, I shall bask” is so much stronger!
But that’s also what I loved about this challenge. You come up with some tiny kernel of an idea, and you throw it out to the universe. And at first, it really mattered to me what people thought — whether they liked it, or even better, commented on it. But when you have a small following, you can’t get too down if you don’t have dozens of likes.
I quickly learned that it wasn’t about what people thought about them. It was that I was perfecting my craft, sometimes painfully, sometimes effortlessly, and I was allowing others to watch.
As I said, that’s not easy to do. But it got easier.
I started off simple. I’m a Canadian; we love to talk about weather. And this project kicked off on one of the very first days of spring. Here was my first haiku:
Some were fun, casual and anecdotal; about something interesting that happened that day:
Others were less surface level; less mood-based (breaking all the rules!), and about some thought that had crossed my mind that day.
Speaking of breaking the rules, I caved and used a couple of metaphors (and personifications) along the way.
There were some haikus that (I thought) were reasonably good:
Some were bad:
And some were downright ugly.
But they were mine.
What I learned
100 days is a long time. Seasons changed. I changed. I lost 20 pounds as a result of another personal challenge I took on. Some things fell apart, and some things fell into place. I’m not the same person as I was when I began.
I learned that really and truly, done is better than perfect. If I had spent time agonizing over every syllable, I would have grown to hate the challenge. Sometimes, you just have to put it out there, even when there are mistakes, like this:
That damn missing space.
I was impressed that I never miscounted my syllables, even while writing and posting under the influence. There were a couple of judgment calls I had to make, because some words have syllables that are hard to count. That sounds stupid, but what about the word “actually” — three or four syllables?
Or this one:
Every: Is it two or three syllables?! My Google searches yielded conflicting results. Also, to be clear, I wrote this one while I was on vacation. I don’t normally have time to read a book a day, but I wish I did.
More than anything, I learned that it’s important to practice your passions. You can’t spend your life telling people you’re a writer if you don’t write. Which is what I was coming dangerously close to doing. I can confidently say that I am a writer. I refrain from adding any form of qualifier, because on some days I’m a good writer; on very rare days I’m a great writer; and more often than not I’m a hack. But I’m a writer, and it feels good to own that part of my identity again.
Gone are the days when I lived on the beach in Australia and did nothing but write my novel all day. But I’m still a writer. Even if that means writing down a phrase that strikes me on a semi-used napkin while I’m out for dinner. Or if I make use of that notepad next to my bed with a particular rhythm of words that just feels right. Or if I open up my laptop at 11 PM on a Saturday night and write this post like the wild thing I am.
Something powerful happens when you hit publish. There are poems, stories, pages galore of things I’ve written that no one has ever seen. But it’s like the proverb about whether a tree falling in the forest when no one is around actually makes a sound. Someone has to see that shit. You have to hit publish. And that doesn’t apply only for writing. A lot of friends participated in the 100 Day Challenge by lettering, drawing, writing postcards or taking photos. They hit publish and became creators. It was pretty inspiring to watch.
I still find myself tapping my fingers against my thighs as I count out syllables. I find myself writing haikus even when I don’t mean to. I’m sure I’ll continue to post haikus every now and again, but the pressure’s off. And I won’t miss those late night panic attacks where I realize I better think of something semi-interesting, and fast, because I haven’t published yet. But my brain is forever changed by the rhythms I’ve written for these 100 days. It was a phase that I will remember fondly.
Here was my final haiku:
Who knows what the next challenge will be. Perhaps some more smaller projects; maybe I’ll finally grow the lady balls to write the next novel that’s been pinballing around in my brain for the past couple of years. But I now feel that I can write; that I’m capable; and that a busy life and day job isn’t an excuse to fail to pursue the things you’re most passionate about.
You know that hobby you love that you haven’t picked up in awhile? Or that thing you used to be really good at, and that made you feel really good, that just doesn’t get prioritized anymore? Prioritize it. You won’t regret it.
To read more of my haikus, you can find them on Instagram.
August 2016 update: If you want to hear about #The100DayProject I did in Year 2, come read The Importance of Personal Projects, Goal Guidelines, and Creative Courage.