On December 21, the Winter Solstice, the members of my writing group began an all-member writing challenge – 500 words/day for 100 days. One of our members was nearing the end of her’s, having been inspired by a book she was in the process of editing for the publishing house for whom she works. That book was all about setting 100-day challenges for all types of creatives. In fact, having completed a 500 word/day challenge, our inspiration is now doing a sketching/drawing/art challenge during our 100 day – Solstice to Solstice – extravaganza.
And yet…there’s always an “as yet”…it’s now February 2nd, and what I can say is that writing challenges like this one have great potential to motivate and inspire us to do the things we claim we want to do but which often slip away to other have-to-do’s throughout the day, and at the same time, great potential for guilt and shame and the resultant writer’s block. If one is prone to guilt and shame.
Which I am.
So here’s the recap: December 21, I was off and rolling, producing something like 1-2,000 words/day. Then, December 28, we packed our house. December 29, I began driving through a snow-bedecked Portland and arrived at our new home near Philadelphia on January 3rd, and even throughout that time, I managed to get in the minimum word count more days than not. About a week at our new place, the furniture somewhere still in transit, I received a call from my brother who was sitting in the E.R. while my father was being evaluated for a stroke. The next day, back to Indiana for some uncertain time, back to Pennsylvania, and look who comes knocking on the door, my good old buddy Long Covid.
All right, cry me a river, right? But here’s my point, I fell hard off the wagon and watched as my writing buddies crested the hill on the horizon and kept on going out of sight. After a number of days of not being able to generate enough energy for more than the bare minimum have-to-do’s, I sent an update to my writing group, which said only, “I’m still laying by the roadside.”
Another writer pinged back, “thing is, this wagon’s on a circuit. It’ll be coming ’round again.”
And sure enough, it did! Which is to say that I got my own two feet under me, my keyboard below my hands, and I just did the work. It’s not hard work. In fact, I worked on my Jane Austen blog (alifeinausten.com) and I am now meeting today’s goal with this post! It’s never about the difficulty of the task, but about the ways in which we prioritize (or not) our creative lives within the midst of all the other selves we have to be.
In late December and January, I had to be a packer, organizer, and mover. A cross-country driver. A parent to my children when I arrived. A house cleaner and unpacker. A daughter and caretaker. At that moment in time, the other selves were battering down the door of my hermit’s retreat, begging the one in charge to come out and help with some of these other jobs piling up around here. Flexibility. Forgiveness. These are just as vital to supporting the writer’s life.
This question of writing challenges or writing schedules (how long, how much, how strict??) has been one that has inspired/plagued many writers. Some writers swear by them, and certainly there is a truth to the power of creating schedule (ritual??) and that by making the writing part of the daily schedule, it becomes the priority it always should have been and everything else still manages to get done. (It’s actually kind of amazing!…Or maybe it’s that I can drum up the energy to fold the last load of laundry while I zone on TV, but turning off said TV to put together a decent sentence is a much bigger ask. Which is why I am embracing a dirtier house for more creative space, and recognizing that there really will be time to do all those seemingly important chores after I’ve expended my mental energy on my writing because the opposite is certainly not true. )
So what I want to do in this post, since this is not just a place to litter sob stories about my writing life…well, that’s not all it’s supposed to be, is to offer some support for anyone out there who may be reading this (possibly instead of writing? It’s ok, we all do it. You’re probably familiar with this):
Types of Writing Challenges/Schedules
- Tim Clare’s 100 Day Writing Challenge Podcast
- 365 Writing Prompts for Creative Writers
- 10 Sites for Writing Prompts
- Journal Monkey’s Deep Writing Prompts
- 100 Days of Flash Fiction Prompts
Great, so there are some resources. Give these a try. It is now February 2nd and I am doing a soft-relaunch of my 100-Day challenge. My hope is that by March 21st, as we celebrate the start of Spring, I will have “made up” the lost words for this wacky January. But the truth is, it’s not about the word counts. Generating words has never been a problem for me (ask any of my old MFA buddies who groaned through 25 page submissions each and every time.). It’s about the realization that there really is time, each and every day, to put 500 words on paper. And you know what, if I manage 200 or 300 or 400, that’s still a win.
So I hope that this little dip into my own recent creative blip offers some inspiration to you, wherever you are on your own journey.
What I’d also love is to hear what you do to maintain and sustain your creative process and energies, whether that’s something related to prompts or schedules or just some good old fashioned forgiveness and moving on. Please share!