Because I am kind of a crazy person, I decided that the release month for my first book would also be the perfect time to embark on a writing challenge. I’d never done a writing challenge before, but I wanted a good way to kick-start my second book and this desire just so happened to coincide with July’s CampNaNoWriMo.
For those of you who don’t know, CampNaNoWriMo is a month-long writing challenge that happens in April and July each year. It is a spin-off project run by the same people behind National Novel Writing Month in November. Basically, the only difference is that in November, you have to write 50,000 words to complete the challenge, while during CampNaNoWriMo in April and July you can set your own writing goals.
For my first writing challenge, my goal was to write 30,000 words in 31 days, and I can happily announce that I succeeded! (I even finished a day early). Whether you’re deciding to participate in a formal writing challenge like I did or are just looking to do a private challenge of your own, here’s what I learned that will help you kill your writing goals. Every. Single. Time.
Accountability Is Essential
Step One: Tell people about your goals and establish a reward for yourself. If you have writer friends, it’s awesome if you can all get in on a challenge together, but anyone can be your accountability buddy: a friend, a partner, or even a co-worker.
There were definitely times during my challenge when I wanted to give up, but I didn’t want to seem like a quitter to my accountability buddies. If I hadn’t told people about my challenge, no one would have known if I’d given up, and I could have pretended like the whole thing never happened. I also made plans to go for cocktails with some writer friends at the end of the month if I met my goal (this was my reward) and I didn’t want to be responsible for cancelling simply because I didn’t spend enough time on my writing.
Every time I felt like abandoning the challenge, I stopped myself, and this was largely because I had people to be accountable to.
You Can Do More Than You Think
At first, the idea of writing 30,000 words in 31 days felt overwhelming. I knew it was do-able, but I thought I would have to put a lot of other things in my life on the back-burner in order to have enough time to finish my challenge.
I was wrong.
Turns out, when you set your mind to it, you can do a lot more than you think. Meeting my daily writing goals ended up taking a fraction of the time I expected. I learned that often we build up creative activities in our minds, making them seem daunting because we have this idea that creativity is somehow “special” or “sacred” or requires “divine inspiration.” De-mystify the experience, treat it like any other task on your daily to-do list, and you’ll be surprised to find that you can accomplish a lot in a short period of time. Once you’ve made this realization, creative work becomes a lot less scary and overwhelming.
Don’t be Afraid To Adjust
Just because you’ve set yourself a goal for the month (or the week or whatever), that doesn’t mean you can’t adjust as you move through the process and figure out what works for you.
Initially, I had it in my head that I would write 1000 words a day for a total of 30,000 words (with a one day grace period/sick day/safety net). After the first week, I realized that this wasn’t going to work for me. I’m simply the type of person who needs days off. I need time away from a project, and every so often I need a day with nothing on my to do list. It’s just how I am.
After realizing this one week in, I decided to write more each day, Monday to Friday, so that I could take weekends off. I ended up being so much more productive; I was happier throughout the process, and I was still able to accomplish the same goal I set out at the start. Don’t be afraid to change the way you work as you learn about yourself and your process.
Don’t Aim For Perfection
Here’s the honest truth about a word-count-based writing challenge: You’re not going to write a masterpiece. Not in those 30 days, at least. The point of this challenge isn’t to produce a polished final draft or even to produce something that’s ready for outside-eyes. The goal is to get the words down on the page, to learn about your characters, figure out where your story is going, and develop your themes.
The idea is that, at the end of the challenge, you’ll have a solid batch of material to work with. The point is not to have a finished product. This is just a way to take the first steps on what will be a long journey of writing and rewriting. Don’t expect perfection; don’t expect greatness. Don’t get it right. Get it written.
If you’ve never done a writing challenge before, I highly suggest you give it a try. Starting a new project can feel daunting and overwhelming and it’s a great feeling to dive right in and be able to look back after just one month and have a solid bunch of material to work with. Implement the tips in this post and you’ll be sure to make your writing challenge a huge success!