I think of the part of my brain responsible for writing like a muscle. When I don’t use it for awhile, it starts to atrophy and it is then a lot harder for it to do its job with any degree of adequacy. If I want to strengthen it, the only way to do that is to start regularly using it.
Just like starting a new workout regime after a period of inactivity, you can’t really expect that things are going to jump from bad to excellent right away. You need to be patient, and you need to be kind to yourself, but you also need willpower.
In May, I decided to start “working out” with this rather atrophied muscle of mine. I hadn’t been writing regularly for far, far too long. I set myself a goal of writing something every day. If I had the time, it could be a lot. If I didn’t, it was okay to simply write a paragraph or two. The important thing was that I stuck to that plan. To help keep myself accountable, I told other people.
My sister started trying to tell me that I should do some sort of writing challenge. I’m guessing that she wasn’t particularly convinced by my vague answers, so she pointed me at one in particular, one in which she’d participated herself. She even gifted me the entry cost. She is kind. Or possibly mean.
What I signed up for is called The Literal Challenge. This is a UK-based writing challenge that started out doing plays, but has now branched out into short stories. Though it is organised by UK folks, it is open internationally.
The specific challenge I participated in is called “Like The Prose”, because they like a good pun. This one was 30 days long. Every evening at 10pm GMT, or 6pm for me, a challenge would be delivered into my inbox. I had 36 hours to complete and submit this challenge, but there would be another coming along in 24 hours, so it seemed best not to wait until hour 34.
The challenges were pretty wide-ranging. Sometimes, they gave us a theme to write about. Such as “write about birth”, or “do a gothic type story, complete with moral”. Sometimes, they didn’t give us a subject, but rather a style. Such as first person, third person omniscient and the like. I learned what a haibun was because of this – essentially, it is a Japanese form that combines prose and haiku, with the prose following the same spare elegance and nature themes as haiku. It is beautiful.
Some of these were easy. Some were exceedingly difficult. Some left me feeling vulnerable and pushed my comfort level. The hardest to write was a Choose Your Own Adventure style story written in second person. Trying to keep track of all the different lines the story could take and tracking which section to put them into? Holy cow. I had to have a timeline and a list of which section was which all in separate open documents.
There was incentive not to slack, though, and that incentive is money. It cost about twenty pounds to enter the Timed Route. If you submitted every single challenge within the allotted time given, you got an even share of the pot. If you failed, you lost your share and yours got split between everyone who did manage to complete everything. Also, if you were interested in the challenges but didn’t want to have to stress about completing everything, they do have a Creative Route where you just do as much or as little as you want. Same entry fee, but you don’t get any of it back.
Personally, I think the fact that someone else was paying for it was even more incentive than if I had. After all, it wasn’t my money I’d be wasting if I failed, it was someone else’s, and the guilt would have eaten at me.
No worries, though. I succeeded. In the middle of health problems, and including one day where I had to fly to Montreal and back to Halifax in the same day for an appointment, thank-you-so-very-much. Yes, I am smug. No, I have no shame in showing that smugness.
This was a lot of work, yes. I’m not going to sugar-coat that bit. If you do this, or something like it, go in prepared that it is going to be a lot of work. But it is a lot of fun, too. It helps that they don’t impose any sort of length requirements. Aside from the one where we were literally challenged (I like puns, too) to write the shortest story we possibly could, these could be as short or as long as we wanted, so long as it was a complete, original story written by ourselves. For the most part, I took anywhere between one and three hours per story, save the CYOA one, which took me eight and is larger by a degree of magnitude than the rest.
I’m glad that I did this. So, so very glad. Not only did it put me into fighting trim, as it were, but I came out of it with a number of stories good enough for me to work on polishing and submitting somewhere for publication. Being published is a goal of mine, now. Others… not so much, but I still had fun writing them. Then there was the “write a Young Adult story” one where, partway through, I realized that what I was writing was not, in fact, the simple stand-alone story I thought it was, but more of a short-story prequel for a whole YA fantasy series. Problem: I’m still working on my first novel, a fantasy novel for adults. Whoopsie.
I will post one or two on here. Not any of the ones I think are good enough for potential publication, mind you, so you won’t see my best work with one possible exception. The haibun. I think it is very, very good but it isn’t in my genre of choice. Besides. I want to share the beauty of haibun with you all, so look out for that as an “extra” post.
The Literal Challenge does another one for plays, as I said, in February, called “28 Plays Later”. They are looking at running one for non-fiction in October which would, yes, be 31 days long. It has no punny title yet, but I have no doubt that they’ll come up with one.
If any of this interests you, here is where you can find out about this wonderful challenge-creating team:
Check them out, and do sign up if any of those three challenge series sounds interesting. Next June will likely see me repeating the insanity.