The Beautiful Writers Workshop #18 Writing Challenges: Why Word Counts and Time Limits Work

Today’s blog will be short as I’m embarking on a new writing challenge brought to me by the fantabulous people over at Zombie Pirate Publishing. Not only is it a genre that I have yet to dabble in, but the subject has to involve a planet I know relatively little about.

What madness would possess me? Well…I don’t like boxes. I don’t like to be put into one, and I don’t like to contain anyone else in one. I think we were gifted free-will for a purpose. I also believe that it’s a lot more fun to participate in life than it is to sit on the sidelines, stuck inside some box somebody once, a long time ago, put you in.

So while I’m busy researching space travel and alternate dimensions and typical characteristics of rebellions, I encourage you, sometime this summer, to find a writing challenge that pushes you outside of your comfort zone and into that strange and beautiful place of self-awareness.

You see, until we’re faced with a challenge, we never really know what we are capable of. If we are always comfortably in our box, we assume those lines around us won’t bend; that the walls can’t be broken. Challenge brings change, and with it a casting off of limits. When we break through walls/limits we come to understand how amazingly capable we really are, and then realize how much our excuses have held us back.

I believe in every single one of you. I believe you can write 15,000 words in seven days, edit it, and submit it for consideration in a publication. I believe you will finish a 50,000 word novel in a month. I believe these things because I’ve seen it happen. Because I’ve done it. And I’ll keep doing it, especially in times when my tank is empty and I start to question my worth. Because I know I am capable…deep down. I just need reminding. We all do.

Writing challenges not only force us to sit our asses in the chair and knock our procrastination methods to the curb, they also show us how much we can actually write when we focus. Sitting for thirty minutes on a good stint will sometimes give me 1,500 words. (This doesn’t account for the editing which probably will drop a third of that). The point is, when you know you don’t have the time to second guess or organize your sock drawer, you give yourself the freedom to just write the damn book.

And, sad as it may seem, sometimes that’s all we need; permission.

Go and write. Look into the Zombie Pirate Publishing site, check out local groups in your area. I did an amazing one a year or two ago for the Rocky Mountain Writers that lasted one weekend and garnered 12,000 words. One of the most fun novellas I’ve ever written and my first foray to action/spy-fi (yes…spy-fi. It’s a genre I just now made up. Copyright.)

That’s it…that’s all I’ve got. No fun pictures or anything. I’m on a mission now, I ain’t got time for that. I gotta make up some swinging character names and decide how genetic mutations might let someone breath H2 and He.

Go find a mission. If you can’t find one, make one. Give yourself a time limit, and a word count and make it a little more than you think you can handle. Hell, make it a lot more than you think you can handle and watch how you surprise yourself.

I’ll be back next week with a full report of how often I found myself crying in the closet and banging my head against the wall for comfort.

Until next time, kids, happy writing.

Undiscovered You

 

Now, I know last week I talked about taking life down a notch, enjoying the time we have and not stressing about impressing others. And I was honest in my expression of those thoughts.

Then what did I do? I turned around and signed up for a writing challenge last weekend, sponsored by the lovely folks at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, a volunteer group based in Colorado. The challenge was done through a dedicated page on FaceBook and the aspiration was to reach 25,000 words in 4 days, with daily check ins.

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I know. I know. I said I wasn’t going to push beyond what I needed and no one needs to finish a novella or half a novel in four days. That being said, of the few things in life that bring me true joy, writing is one. So to have a challenge that gives me reason to put my writing first above all other priorities was very good for my practice and for my mental health. I had a justifiable reason to get on the computer, shut out the world and work. I had a goal to get to!

And here’s what I learned:

1.) Sometimes a thing seems impossible; until it’s not.

That is to say, that mountain looks insane and unclimbable when all you’re doing is standing at the base looking up at the top. But if you start walking and focus on the trail ahead of you, taking on the obstacles in your present moment one at a time, soon you’ve found you’ve reached the next rise… and the next, and the next.

Large things aren’t accomplished in one step. They are accomplished by persevering through all of the little steps on the way.

2.) My family didn’t fall apart when I retreated into my writing for a while.

Sure…eventually if you lock yourself away in hermitude, giving everything you have to your craft, your children forget they had a mom, your spouse doesn’t remember what you look like, and all your houseplants will die.

But nine times out of ten, when you need an hour to focus on your work in progress, your kids and family and houseplants will manage just fine. They might even be better for it, having been so bored for so long that they had to go and make their own fun.

In your life, the laundry can wait, the e-mails, the FaceBook updates, the schedules etc, can take a back burner temporarily while you work on a dream.

3.) Writer’s block sort of disappears when you don’t have the time to self-edit or doubt.

Now listen, this thing I wrote is rough. I mean ROUGH.

The spelling, the punctuation, the grammar, the inconsistent plot line and character flaws… the total lack of reasoning in some cases…it’s a bonafide mess. But it’s also raw and flowing. There were no stutter stops or abrupt changes because I didn’t have time to stop and rethink. Character’s said what they meant, and did it efficiently because I had a story-line to build. And I think my ability to follow the character’s lead improved, letting them do what they do without my intervention led to a more interesting twists, and brighter characters.

4.) Never underestimate the power of having people in your corner

Ya’ll…I didn’t even know the people who participated in the Spring Novelrama either to write, or to mediate writing sprints, or to send memes and inspirational videos. And yet not a single one of them, from what I read, had a disparaging word for their fellow writers. When the word counts were paltry, or life was distracting us, or if someone had gotten caught up editing and *gasp* lost words, every response was that of “I’ve been there, I know it, you’re gonna get through this! You’re doing great!” And getting told that three or four times a day by writers more experienced and talented than you can really start to make you feel like:

5.) I’m kind of awesome.

Now listen, I know that sounds cocky. But if any of you know me in real life, you know that I’m not very generous when it comes to dolling out self-esteem. I’ll be the first to tell you all of my flaws and give you a detailed list of why I’m the least capable person in the world for anything.

But when you get to the top of a mountain that you once thought was impossible to climb, you learn a lot about yourself. How dedicated you can be. How well you can step up when something matters to you. So the next mountain over still might be scary but now you know you have the determination and persistence to conquer it. And knowing that is half the battle in recognizing your awesomeness.

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So big picture message here is this: Don’t not try something just because it seems hard or even impossible. Mastery is achieved by accepting difficulties. Living in the moment and taking the steps we can until the impossibility passes beneath our feet like rocky ground. Go do something amazing today, startle yourself, challenge yourself. Whether it be in your work or in your passion (I would love if, for all of us, that was one and the same), take a little leap and trade the fear for faith that it will all work out.

Surround yourself with good people who are sympathetic to your struggle but won’t be enablers to your pity party.

Thank you to all that participated and helped run the contest. Thanks for my quirky new novel that has everything from deep-rooted government conspiracies, to genetically modified super soldiers, to in depth conversations about leg shaving.

Go on now writer. Set a goal, give it a timeline, and get on with discovering who you can be.

You’ve got awesome written all over you today.