What’s the point of a writing challenge?

Maybe I should explain what a writing challenge IS first.  The most famous one I know of is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) where participants attempt to write 50,000 words in the month of November.  I find this virtually impossible on two counts: 1) November is the beginning of the holiday season and includes Thanksgiving, so I and many of my romance writing colleagues are pretty darn busy with holiday prep; and 2) 50,0000 words is a heck of a lot of writing.

Therefore I launched Jersey Romance Writing Month (JeRoWriMo) which takes place during the vastly less hectic month of February and which has 30,000 words as its goal (in two less days than November though).  Participants are members of New Jersey Romance Writers, and we have a blast emailing each other daily word counts, snippets of work, possible titles of books, solutions to writer’s block, etc. Our motto:

30K badge jpeg

But why do we take on this challenge?  Well, to grow as writers.  It’s amazing what you learn about yourself when you have to write a significant amount every day.  Do you produce some dreck?  Of course, but that’s kind of the point.  You need to force yourself out of your comfort zone to find out what you’re made of and sometimes it doesn’t work.  (Since all writing is about revising, the dreck just gets weeded out anyway.)

What have I learned about my writing process?

1)      Writing every single day keeps my head in the story all the time.  Ideas for scenes and plot points and character arcs whirl around in my brain constantly (sometimes even in the middle of the night which makes sleeping a little problematic).   That immersion makes my creativity more active and fertile.

2)      I don’t have to finish every scene before going on to the next one.  Here’s what I mean:  I always try to have an attention-grabbing or thought-provoking last line at the close of a scene/chapter, and it takes a while to develop one.  I used to refuse to go on to the next scene until I had wrapped up the one I was working on.  The writing challenge didn’t give me time for that.  Instead I would type in a row of question marks and keep going .

Now I’ve decided this is a better way to work on a regular basis for this reason: when I know what the next scene is going to be, the last line of the previous scene can be tailored to transition into it.  Eureka!  So much stronger!

In fact, I find the question mark device useful when I want a snappy line of dialogue but can’t quite come up with it at that moment.  Or I can’t find the right word but need to keep going.  It’s often so much more constructive to let your subconscious noodle around with the problem for a while without pressure.  Sometimes brilliance can result.

3)      I can’t maintain that level of productivity all the time.  By the end of February, I was wrung out.  Evidently so was everyone else because when we decided to continue on together as a group (into March Madness), we reduced our word-count goal to 15,000.  That’s easily doable.

Next year I’m sure I will make new discoveries when I push myself through JeRoWriMo again.  And each discovery will make me a stronger, more productive writer.

(Not to mention the fact that I wrote one-third of my novel in less than thirty days.  That’s a pretty significant benefit, even if you don’t care what kind of writer you are. )

So take a writing challenge yourself.  What you learn may surprise you.

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2 responses to “What’s the point of a writing challenge?

  1. JERoWriMo was a wonderful program! We stretched ourselves and it was a challenge sometimes to write, but the encouragement of all the participants made it easier. Thank you for leading us Nancy!

  2. This was interesting to learn how you write. I guess I assumed you had a daily quota to meet. I used to struggle when asked to write a story in school. Give me a term paper with a topic and I was fine. Maybe that is why I enjoy reading other people’s hard work. Do you outline the novel first? I didn’t realize New Jersey had so many writers. Thanks for sharing!

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