#EscApril Writing Challenge Hits Lancaster: We tried to see how long we’d last

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With the annual April writing challenge spanning across the Easter break and term three deadlines, two Lancs students decided to try keep up with 30 days of poetry and three terms of coursework.

via Instagram (@LetsEscApril)

EscApril, sometimes referred to as NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) is an annual challenge where participants write one poem a day every day of April.

For most Lancaster students, the four-week Easter break comes with piles of revision and coursework to be completed in time for Summer term. Between the upcoming Roses varsity and exam season lingering overhead, two Lancaster writers, Ami Clement and Maria Hill, decided to take on the challenge.

In it’s fourth year, a popular route to take for EscApril is to follow writing prompts, posted by publishers, poets, and the founder of the challenge, Savannah Brown via the official @LetsEscApril Instagram account, and post the poem each day using the hashtag ‘#EscApril.’

Our two Lancaster University writers sat down to chat about how the month is going.

Ami: Writing prompts are the marmite of the poetry world. I personally like a prompt every so often to pull me out of a writing slump and to help me when the inspiration runs dry. I like to write without rules but sometimes a bit of restriction really helps me focus my work and keep it cleaner, more coherent. As this year was my first time taking part in the challenge, I thought a mix of my own work and prompts would be an easily manageable way to get involved, without making it another task on the ‘to-do’ list.

Maria: I don’t often use poetry prompts. I find that they can be quite restricting. However, when I saw so many people’s amazing poetry from all over the world last year, I thought that I would give #EscApril a go.

A: My goal for #EscApril was simply to keep up with it as much as I could between work, deadlines, and other commitments. Ideally, I would like to have some good first drafts to use in future portfolios but the quality of the poems can be improved at a later date. As a second-year English Literature and Creative Writing student, writing begins to feel like a chore sometimes. To reclaim it by a small amount during this challenge was exciting.

M: During 2021, I gave a feeble attempt at the challenge. My stamina ran out after the first couple of days. This year, I was determined to write for it every day, rain or shine, no matter how many assignments I had to complete over the Easter Holiday. I hoped this would turn me into a somewhat consistent writer and, studying Creative Writing, re-kindle my love of writing for pleasure rather than for the sake of a grade, although it was certainly a challenge to try and find time for daily writing with an essay and coursework due at the beginning of term three.

‘School Holidays at 608 Blackpool Road’ by Ami Clement

A: At the end of each day I don’t touch the poems. I leave them in their raw draft form to then be explored more at a later date. I think the process of writing is more important to me than the end result. A poem, novel, or script is never perfect in its first draft. So, leaving all thirty of them to be looked at further when I can engage with it better works for me. I can then mould them into something much stronger to add to my Creative Writing projects, or possibly even to send to literary journals.

M: You’re not obliged to do anything with your #EscApril poems after they’ve been written. Although I’ve mainly written this month for the experience and to challenge myself, personally, I might submit the works I particularly like to magazines (whilst crossing my fingers, toes, eyes, and intestines). I know it’s daunting to find the confidence to submit your writing, especially as a first-year looking at your older peers and their amazing work. Despite this, it’s important to remember that every great writer has started where you are right now and that, for every dozen or so disappointing submission responses, there will be moments of satisfaction to cling onto.

A: One challenge for me was trying to keep up with it daily. Between shifts at work and essays, as well as attending the Student Publication Awards in Sheffield with SCAN, it became very easy to forget or become too busy. On days like these I wrote a Haiku or a short four-line stanza, which likely won’t end up as a poem by itself but might be extended to something better. Although, this challenge has helped me make time for it, and find inspiration from broader sources, making me stray away from my typical writing style.

I know I need to write a poem so: what can I work with, what notable has happened today that could be written about with a poetic flair? Sometimes the burnout gets to you, with the Easter break acting as less of a holiday and more of an extended break from classes to focus on the big scary essays. Some days, I am just tired and lack the motivation to do anything. But by taking on this challenge, I’ve been able to hold myself to account and force myself a bit, which has been beneficial, even if it doesn’t seem it at the time.

M: The other benefit of writing daily is that I simply couldn’t overthink what I was producing. There’s a perfectionist within every writer. However, when you have to produce something daily, you don’t get time to agonise over every sentence until you decide you don’t like it, screw it up, and abandon it in the bin. Such a task as Escapril has helped me to embrace Haruki Murakami’s philosophy:

“There’s no such thing as perfect writing, just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.

‘We’re not [always] alone’ by Maria Hill

Alongside this, Escapril is a community and it’s encouraged that you post your work on social media, or share it with your friends, (although you are certainly under no obligation to). Hence, this builds up your skill. You learn what gets good responses, you take in constructive criticism. You grow as a writer.

Putting your work out there, even if it’s a rushed first or second draft, is also great if (like me) you have a rejection complex when it comes to your work. Especially as student-writers, the amount of rejection emails and letters you’ll be given before you succeed is enough to dampen your spirit. So, learning to show people your writing no matter the consequences will help you build a backbone.

A: I’ve had my work published in a small handful of different places, including Lancaster Literature Festival (@litfest_lancaster) and campus-based FLASH journal (@lancasterflash). But for each ‘Yes!’ there are ten ‘Thank you for submitting your work. Unfortunately, you have not been successful at this time.’

As a young writer it is important to try and establish yourself and have the confidence to try, even if there are a hundred rejection emails. Like Maria said, one will return with good news eventually. SCAN’s very own Associate Editor, Beth Train-Brown, is in her third year and has a full poetry book being published in August by Renard Press. It’s inspiring to have people around you are succeeding the same way you want to, and part of #EscApril is about perseverance and confidence.

The Living Poet’s Society will be hosting an #EscApril Open Mic Night on Friday 29th of April in the Bowland Bar JCR at 7pm, followed by a bar crawl.

If you’re curious about #EscApril or you want to share any work that you’ve done for the challenge, you’re more than welcome to come. Feel free to ask more questions on our Instagram @lancspoetry.

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