This week I’ve been thinking about how the year has passed so quickly. Do you remember that feeling when you were at school and the weeks seemed to drag? Or how it seemed that you were fifteen forever? Every birthday took an age to come round and you really, really, wanted to be older, worldly, making your own decisions. How does the way we experience time change so fast? As I sit here in bed with my husband snoring gently beside me underneath our still summer duvet, listening to the wind rattling the ageing windows of our Edwardian semi and picturing the autumn leaves turning red and gold, I know that another year is nearing its end. And what a year it has been. I have spent it mostly with our son, accompanying him on his journey from red, squealing newborn to the determined, toothy, almost-walking man-child he is now.
Fleeting time and conflicting priorities
Does time run away with you too? For me, my dream of sitting by the sea, with the wind blowing in my hair and a notebook on my lap as the world melts away, just isn’t feasible right now. My family needs me (thankfully not all the time!) and as I’ve said in my post on Parenthood, Creativity and Time, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Many of you have family commitments, day jobs, friendships and more, which dwindle your writing time. If you’re anything like me, however happy you are doing things other than writing, there is always a part of you that is longing to get back to the page, impatiently waiting it out before you can close the door and get back to your train of thought, immerse yourself in the world you have created. The older I get, the more conscious I am of the finite amount of time available to us. So how do we as writers maximise the time we spend on our craft when time is at a premium? From my experience, and as friends such as @West1Jess have found (find her excellent blog here), writing challenges are one way to crank up that word count.
What’s in a challenge?
Writers procrastinate. Sometimes procrastination feeds our craft, allowing ideas to gain traction, to cross-fertilise each other and ripen until they spill onto the page. At other times procrastination leads to uselessly whiling away hour upon hour, when your fingers could have been flying across your keyboard. Hats off to the writers who have mastered the art of having their morning coffee and making it to their work station without going via facebook, the remote control, the fridge, Ikea, the fridge again (you get the gist). The thing is, I’m not one of them. Not always. Sometimes, when I am tired or my head is full of my real life, I need little tricks to get me in the right mindset to write. And that’s when a writing challenge is just the ticket into my fictional world.
What are the benefits of taking part in writing challenges?
- Honing your skills in unusual, unexpected ways
- Increased self-confidence at trying new things
- Taking part in the writing communities that often build around these challenges
- Just like agents, editors, writing circles and competitions, writing challenges can help to keep you and your writing goals on track. Not everyone has the self-discipline to write regularly without the input (or arse-whipping) of their peers and colleagues.
- Do you remember doing dares as a child? Or that *uck it moment just before you step off the precipice and do something out of your comfort zone? Some of the best challenges are just like that. Act fast enough and your fears and doubts won’t have time to keep up.
My top 5 writing challenges
- Flash! Friday hosted by @postupak – there’s nothing quite like flash fiction to get your creative juices flowing when time is short. This challenge consists of a weekly prompt, after which you have a day to submit your entry. There are generous rewards for winners including an ebutton for your blog or facebook page, your own winner’s page at Flash! Friday and a feature article on you.
- National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) takes place every November. Whether you’re a pantser or a planner, the idea is to write a novel from start to finish of at least 50,000 words or more. The team behind Nanowrimo provide fun pep talks and there is a handy stats section so you can track your progress. No Nanowrimo month is complete without hanging out in the online support forums, checking out the online shop (I have some gorgeous Nano prints adorning my walls) and going to a write-in where you can write your novel in the company of fellow Wrimos.
- David Morley’s Writing Challenges – Morley heads up the Warwick University Writing Programme. I’m a little biased here as I went to Warwick for my BA (in English and German Literature) but seriously, these podcasts are a special find. Morley has a voice which works well in this format, and he fills the podcasts with writing tips, challenges and food for thought.
- The Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge is posted every Monday and accepts submissions until the next challenge is posted. The best entries are published on Freshly Pressed each Friday.
- #ThursThreads hosted by @SiobhanMuir – this is another flash fiction challenge. The prompt is a line from the previous week’s winning tale. Entries should be between 100 and 250 words long and there is a twelve hour submission window. Winners receive a bright shiny badge for their websites.
This is by no means an all-encompassing list. If there are writing challenges that you are aware of and have enjoyed, please let me know about them in the comments section. As for my next challenge, I’ve decided to take part in Nanowrimo again this year. I’ve not reached the 50,000 word mark required to ‘win’ in previous years, but upping my word count by 20,000 fairly decent words in four weeks both times was a huge confidence booster and I’m looking forward to burning the midnight oil again this year. Will any of you be joining me?
‘Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.’ Christopher Parker
‘The greatest danger for most is not that aim is too high and we miss it, but rather our aim is too low and we reach it.’ Michaelangelo