Tag Archives: NaPoWriMo

I Triple Dog Dare You

Yes, I’m late today, but at least I’m not as late as I was last Monday. Today I want to talk a little about writing challenges and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

There are a lot of writing challenges available for writers of all sorts to participate in on the web. Some take place annually, such as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo which I participated in). Some are weekly all year long, such as The Daily Post’s Tuesday challenges and Charli Mills 99-Word Flash Fiction weekly challenge over on her blog Carrot Ranch Communications (which our very own AJ takes part in). Really, just google “writing challenges” and take your pick.

So why are there all these challenges? Why should you elect to participate in one?

No one says you have to do anything you don’t want to do. But, how are you to know your limits if you don’t test yourself? That’s something a challenge will do for you. Challenges, by definition, are a sort of call to action. To take part in something, to question the truth or validity of a thing, to invite someone to engage in a contest. When you participate in a challenge, whether for writing or anything else, you are questioning your ability to accomplish a task. Can you do what needs to be done? Are you good enough?

The problem with challenges, or at least participating in them, is that we tend to doubt our own abilities. We can’t do it so we don’t even try. We’re comfortable writing what we’ve been writing and we don’t want to try anything else. And that’s when your writing gets old and stale, and you find yourself in a writing rut. Then you ask why isn’t anyone liking what you write.

If you don’t push yourself to write, if you don’t try something new, your writing becomes a dry, crusty piece of bread that no one wants to eat. It ends up in the trash or food for birds. Committing to a challenge isn’t even necessary. Just challenging yourself to write something, even just a grocery list, can be a challenge in itself. Try just sitting down once a week with a piece of notebook paper and a pen (no computers) and filling in the entire paper. It doesn’t matter what you write as long as you fill in the paper. The challenge can be just writing once a week or just actually sitting your butt in the chair to write (something a lot of writers have trouble doing). And no one ever has to know whether you succeed or not.

Get out there and look up challenges this week and just see if there might be anything that catches your eye. You might find yourself attempting to write out of your “normal” genre, or maybe attempting poetry. But no matter what you challenge yourself with, keep challenging yourself and pushing your limits.


Practice Puts Brains In Your Muscles

“Wrong, Do it again!”
“If you don’t eat yer meat, you can’t have any pudding. How can you
have any pudding if you don’t eat yer meat?”

(Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2-Pink Floyd)

Before any of my compadres make any kind of sarcastic comment about my age or how they are surprised I might actually know who Pink Floyd is, yes, I am actually old enough to know who Pink Floyd is AND what that song is about. So there.

The next question is what the blazes does that have to do with writing? Thank you for asking. I will explain. Basically, it’s the “how can you have if you don’t” part that I’m focusing on in relation to practicing. We’ve all heard the adage “practice makes perfect”. Except that it doesn’t. Not really. Even if you practice something a hundred times a day, you still will not be perfect. But you will be better at whatever it is you are trying to do. With writing, practicing is a must. How can you become a better writer if you don’t bleed ink? (Bleed ink is my new catch phrase-let’s make it a thing.)

No one starts out being a great writer. All of us have terrible first projects. Oh please, yes, you do. Just admit it. Your very first attempts at writing sucked. I know mine did. I have some really bad teenage angst poems. However, I kept writing, and as I matured so did my poetry. I have some terrible first draft stories as well. But I kept writing and practicing. I’m still practicing. Every day. I call it blogging but it’s pretty good practice. And I’m getting better at it. I’m learning and putting brains into my writing muscles.

OK, pop quiz. True or False-Benjamin Franklin copied articles from a paper he enjoyed called the Spectator.

True. In his autobiography he stated that he would buy copies of the Spectator and thought the articles in it well-written and he wanted to imitate them. So, he’d read the articles and make notes. Then he’d put them away for a short while. During that time he’d go back and try to rewrite the articles exactly as he’d read them using whatever words came to mind. Then he’d go back to the paper and see how close he’d gotten. He kept it up until he got it right or had something he thought was better in his own words.

Now, I’m not telling you that you should do the same. Although, copying from great writers can show you things. Your brain will pick up on the clues the writing leaves you. Like a trail of bread crumbs. I am telling you that he practiced this technique until he was satisfied. But should you stop there?

While I was online I looked up quotes about practice and this one stood out:

“Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.”

I like that. It goes back to my statement that practice doesn’t make you perfect. Because, in my opinion, perfection is based soley on one’s perception. What I think is perfect is not the same as someone else’s idea. The best we can do is keep going until we get it right. But “right” according to whom? My “right” or your’s? The one thing I think we can agree on is to do it until you can’t get it wrong. And if you aren’t practicing, then you are getting it wrong.

Writing takes a lot of effort. There is a lot of work involved and, despite what muggles (non-writing folk) think, it is h-a-r-d. You’ll spend 3/4 of your time trying to write and the rest actually writing. The best way to change that is to practice. Have I made my point yet?

One of the best ways I’ve found of practicing isn’t just the blogging. CJ told you last Wednesday that she and I are doing challenges for the month of April. She’s doing Blogging A to Z and I am doing both Blogging A to Z and NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month). The Blogging Challenge is to blog every day in April (except Sundays) using a letter of the alphabet each day. The NaPoWriMo Challenge is to write a poem every day for thirty days. It has an optional prompt we can use or we can do our own thing as long as it’s a poem. And let me tell you…I’ve already been hit twice with a couple of prompts (because I like doing the prompts) that made me want to cringe. I didn’t ignore the prompts though. I completed them. And I’m glad I did. It was really good practice.

There are also online prompts that you can use to help get you started, or you can do stream-of-consciousness writing. What matters is that you practice and you keep doing it. Find some way of sitting your butt in a chair every day and write. Even if it’s just the grocery list.

Now, get out there and let me see you bleed ink!


Up to the Challenge?

Sometimes I need a nudge to get me writing.  Sometimes I need a push.  And sometimes I need a flat out dare.

There’s something about having a challenge laid out, a gauntlet thrown or any added incentive to force you out of a comfort zone.

I know I can’t be the only one. The success of popular writing challenges, NaNoWriMo being one of the most popular, shows that we writers like to challenge ourselves sometimes to get the words on the page.

This week Jesi and I are both doing the A to Z Blog Challenge, which is for all types of bloggers, not just writers, but is a fun way to challenge yourself.  During the month of April, we participants will be posting every day except Sundays following the A to Z through the end of the month. Most people choose a theme for their posts and many writing blogs use the daily post for flash fiction, poetry or even serialized short story or other work. On my blog, every day will be a quote or a few lines from a famous novel, short story or poem which can serve as a writing prompt. Some days I will post something new based on that writing prompt, but am not promising that for every day.  That is unless someone dares me and then, uh oh, well, who knows? 🙂 And this is probably where our resident instigator, I mean encourager (cough, cough) AJ, will cackle with joy and immediately issue a dare.

April is also National Poetry Writing Month so another popular writing challenge is NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) where participants are writing a poem a day for 30 days.  I did a similar challenge in October of last year (and may do again this year) called OctPoWriMo, where organizers posted a prompt and a suggested form to try for a daily post. I’m a newbie poet so it was a huge challenge for me, but it was a great way to push myself and stretch those old writing muscles.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) every November is hugely popular and for good reason.  The organizers offer a wealth of resources, lots of support and plenty of fellow challengers to help you along the way. I haven’t ever made the commitment to do NaNo since it requires a significant commitment and that time of year is crazy busy with my family, but I hope to give it a go at some point just to see if I can.

That’s one of the best things about the challenges, it’s a dare you make with yourself to see if you can do something new. It’s saying I will commit to giving this a try. It’s the start we sometimes need on a new writing path.

Sure, not everyone needs a challenge, and some just don’t like the organized ones.  Setting your own challenge or goal may work best for you. I gave myself a daily writing challenge last year. I had to write something every day. Sometimes it was a character sketch or just brainstorming for a scene.  Sometimes it was a poem. Sometimes though it was an entire scene or more. Having set the goal, the challenge, the dare for myself, I couldn’t let myself get by with just saying I wanted to write, I had to write.

So how about it? Are you up for a challenge? Look around, there are plenty! Or set one for yourself. It never hurts to have a little extra push (or a friendly kick in the pants) on occasion to get yourself moving forward.

Have you participated in a writing challenge you’d like to recommend? Tell me about it in the comments. Absolutely hate them and think they are a waste of time?  Feel free to share that as well. We always welcome your feedback.

Thanks & have a great week!