Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Set Yourself a Writing Challenge

Every year for the past five years, a teaching colleague and I have set off for Hong Kong, where we teach writing classes, run PD sessions, do lots of writing consults/critiques and I do school visits. Our aim is simply to get people writing - any kind of writing. Last year we did a session on writer's block - this year we're taking HK writers on a writing walkabout. It's all about challenging people to think differently about their writing, to break out of "rules" and "shoulds" and enjoy the process and the ideas generation experience.

Last year, we set up a writing challenge - write one page a day for 28 days, and report in weekly by email. We had eight writers take it up, and when we arrived in HK, we got together and compared notes. It was a lot of fun, and many of the participants said they'd written a lot of pieces that otherwise might never have seen the light of day! I've tried similar things on my own. Once I bought a small school notebook and wrote a poem every day for 28 days. Yes, some of them were awful, a few were OK and a few were worth working on.

What surprised me the most was that, several years later, I found this notebook and realised that more than half of the poems I'd written had re-emerged later as new poems - or should I say, I'd thought they were new poems, but in fact I'd written a very early draft of them during the 28 days. Nothing is ever lost! It's simply filed away in your brain somewhere.

Now, of course, the ultimate writing challenge is gearing up. The conversation among writer friends is about "Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?" Nano is the National November Write a novel in a Month frenzy. Last year, a friend who usually only writes short poems spewed out 160,000 words in the month! Others are inspired to write whole drafts of novels they've been thinking about for ages. Sometimes a writer will sit down and something completely new and unexpected will come out.

One day, that'll be me (the unexpected one). For now, I'm actually working on a different Challenge altogether. It's Angela Booth's 100 Day Challenge, working on nonfiction. I only have to do 20 minutes per day (I won't bore you with my list of tasks and goals) for 100 days. Let's see, that's ... 2000 minutes of writing, which is 33.33 hours, to be completed by 1st January 2011. Not 50,000 words in one month, but I figure I'll get just as much out of it, and along the way I'm cultivating the writing habit.

So if you feel as though your writing has been stagnating, or you're blocked in some way, the best strategy for moving yourself up and out of there is a challenge. Buy a notebook, commit to writing a page a day (or a poem a day) for 28 days, and stick to it! You will be surprised at what happens. Give it a go.


Lorraine said...

At last! Something that sounds achievable ... 20 minutes a day, although 100 days seems a huge commitment. At least the whole concept is appealing. Won't promise anything, but I'll certainly think about it and might even eventually commit.

newgradlibrarian said...

It works! I was involved in a 'blog every day in June' project with about 30 other library types this year and it was an interesting task - trying to produce a piece of writing every day for 30 days (knowing that people were going to be reading it, because some people in the group committed to 'commenting every day in June').

Good luck with your 100 days :-)

Sherryl said...

It's definitely more fun and you're more likely to complete a challenge when you're doing it with other people.
Being able to link up with friends on Nano is a big part of it!

Kristi Holl said...

Sherryl, without having you as a check-in partner, there are many challenges we've done that I would have quit part-way through. There's just something about having someone else "out there" waiting on your report for the day! Plus you're a day ahead of me here, so I'd read YOUR report in the morning before my day even started, and often that would spur me on! 8-)

Sherryl said...

And if I'd had a day when I hadn't checked in, you'd remind me that I was falling behind!