How a Writing Challenge Can Help YOU

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Writing

We’ve been talking a lot about writing challenges here at DIY MFA lately. Last week Becca shared 29 reasons why you should do them and earlier this week Melinda talked about what results you can get from a challenge.

Not sold on the concept? Here’s how a writing challenge can help you write more, write better, and write smarter.

1) Write More

Most writing challenges focus first and foremost on making you write more words or pages. This is because writing more is the first step to getting that book published and in the hands of your readers. The only way to get there is to start putting words on the page. But wait, there’s more.

Writing is is like Newton’s 1st Law of Motion. The more you write, the easier it is to keep writing. Just as “objects in motion stay in motion and objects at rest stay at rest,” the more often you write, the more momentum you build up. Writing regularly also helps you build stamina and mastery. You’ll be more confident each time you sit down to write because you know you can do it. After all, you just did it the day before.

On the flip side, if you haven’t written in a while, it can be harder to get back on the bandwagon with each passing day. Here’s the good news: you can use a writing challenge to jumpstart your writing or get back in the groove after a long break. Just make sure you’re gentle with yourself, especially in the beginning. The last thing you want is to try leaping too far too soon. If you do that, you risk setting yourself up for failure, which in turn might make you feel miserable and maybe even give up.

2) Write Better

While many writing challenges might seem like they focus on quantity, they can also have an impact on the quality of your writing. The more words you write, the less precious each one will feel and that will make it easier for you to rewrite or cut things altogether. Writing is re-writing, and every true writer knows that the first draft supposed to be an ugly mess. The key is putting words on the page so you have something to work with later on. You can fix just about any problem in revision, but you can’t revise a blank page.

While you may not produce a polished piece during a challenge, that habit of writing regularly will improve your skills and techniques. In fact, it’s not uncommon for the later parts of a draft to require much less revision than the beginning. This is because when you first start a project it takes time to find your voice and figure out the direction of the story. After you get in the groove, though, the writing may flow more easily and become better overall.

The #1 way to increase your odds of getting published is to write the best book possible. There are many factors that play a part in getting you published: talent, luck and the quality of your writing. Unfortunately, you can’t control how much talent was handed to you at birth and luck is just… luck. Skill, on the other hand, now that’s something you can work with, it’s something you can control. The better you get at writing, the better your book will be. And if your book improves, so will your odds of seeing your name in print.

3) Write Smarter

One of the best ways to approach a writing challenge is to treat it as a testing ground for writing habits that you can continue after the challenge is over. After all, let’s be realistic. Unless you live in a cabin in the woods and do nothing but write, there are likely other things in your life that take time away from writing. A writing challenge forces you to find the time to write and make all these pieces of your life fit together.

It might be tempting to put real life on hold while doing a challenge, but I would caution against it. Instead, try to establish sustainable writing habits so that you can keep up that momentum for the long haul. Otherwise, you might find the challenge will give your writing a momentary boost, but it won’t have a lasting impact.

Also, make sure you have a before-during-and-after plan for your writing. The “before” piece is all about easing yourself into a challenge so you build mastery and avoid setting yourself up for failure. And the “during” component is also straightforward since most writing challenges have a structure to guide you through. The trick is figuring out what to do after the challenge is over. This is why you need a plan.

Whatever writing challenge you choose, make sure you sketch out a few milestones for the months after it’s over. This will give you a set of goals to work toward after the safety net and structure of the writing challenge is gone. I see many writers get stuck in that “serial first draft” rut where they keep jumping from challenge to challenge, producing new drafts but never following through and submitting the manuscript. Other writers query too soon and don’t take time for that all-important revision step after the challenge and wind up with a slew of rejection letters.

Instead, take time to map out your post-challenge goals before the challenge even starts. Just assume that you’ll finish the challenge and plan your next steps accordingly. Not only will this give you a roadmap to follow after the challenge is over, but these goals will motivate you even more to win the challenge in the first place.


 

Conquer the Craft in 29 Days!

Speaking of  challenges, check out Conquer the Craft in 29 Days (#CTC29).

It’s a prompt-a-day challenge designed to help you write more, write better, write smarter.
There’s still time to join, but it’s happening now so hurry and sign up. Click the link for more info.


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