NaNoWriMo is a wonderful thing, but sometimes it is just too big. Even the pages of Book-in-a-Week can sometimes feel daunting. Fortunately, there are plenty of other, smaller scale, challenges that can make a huge difference to your writing.
When I started my Master of Arts in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, one of the first modules was called Exploration and Experiment. In it Mimi Thebo challenged us to write fifty haiku in a week. We had the choice whether to follow strict form (three lines, with five syllables in the first, seven in the second and five in the final line) or to use free form and just keep to the tradition of three short lines focusing on a moment in life or nature.
With the goal of writing so many haiku in a week, the quality of my output was variable to say the least, but I gained far more from the experience than a few satisfying short poems.
Writing haiku made me look harder at the world. When everything is a potential subject, every detail becomes significant: not just the beautiful trees in the park, but the single carrier bag blowing around them, pale as a tiny ghost.
I am usually more of a big picture person, but the brevity of haiku forces me to hone in on the small details which distinguish a scene, a person or animal, or a plant or flower. Write a haiku a day about your local park for a year, and by the end, you could probably move on to writing a textbook about plant life.
This increased focus on details brings an intensity to writing which carries over from writing haiku to describing settings and characters in fiction. Haiku demands a focus on the particular which also helps to bring imagined scenarios more vividly to life.
All in all, haiku writing is such a good discipline, that I return every so often to the challenge of writing a haiku a day. On a good day, it acts as a warm-up to a more sustained piece of writing. On a bad day, one haiku may be all that I write, but I retain the awareness of the world, and of language, that the task demands. That, in turn, ensures an easier return to writing the next day.
If you would like to take on a haiku challenge, or you are just curious about the form, you can find out more about haiku at The British Haiku Society.