A Writer’s Challenge Retrospective

A Writer’s Challenge Retrospective

For those of you whose attention span extends beyond 29 days, you’ll remember that a month ago I entered into one of the most extreme life or death challenges known to man:

I promised with my competitive friend Blair to write 1000+ words a day until one of us dies… or a month passes. Whichever came first.

Now to the reader, it might seem like an easy way out to use the same topic that I began with. I mean, that’s not particularly creative is it?

Well, you’re right it is cheating a little bit, but it’s also meant to be a useful reference piece for people out there who would like to do the challenge themselves. So below I’m going to run through the main reasons I wanted to do the challenge with reflections about what worked, what didn’t and what makes a good sandwich.

For those of you who haven’t read my original post, you can see it here.

Getting it on the page

The idea is that sometimes it can be hard to get words down on the page as you spend time trying to construct the perfect paragraph in your head. I think they call this “writer’s block”. I call it a waste of time.

It’s also something I had to tackle head-on when I was writing my thesis, so this challenge was a means to overcome this. Of course it allowed me to do this, with me now having no problems busting  a move on my keyboard to the tune of 1000 words.

The right philosophy for writing is to get words on the page. In the words of Hemingway, “The first draft of anything is shit.”

Particularly if it’s a blank page.

Hone my creative bicep

One of my talents is being able to connect a random bunch of seemingly unrelated concepts and ideas into one.

Ever thought of a bald chicken doing a spoken word version of ‘Rocket Man’ at your birthday? Well you have now. No need to thank me. All in a day’s work. I don’t like to use the word ‘hero’ lightly, but in this case it’s appropriate. I am a hero.

Anyway, I’ve never been sure whether this ability is a consequence of creativity or a limited attention span. But either way it has consistently been an asset as it has allowed me to figure out ways of solving problems that others don’t.

However, one of the things which I think I found interesting about this challenge was that the limited amount of time I had to write meant that I would often not have time to be particularly creative. That is, I don’t feel like I came up with new topics for my blogs any easier than I had prior to the challenge.

So although I would suggest I’m naturally quite creative, I’m not sure whether this has really been improved as a consequence of the exercise. Of course, it certainly hasn’t been to my detriment, but I wouldn’t rate this as a successful outcome of the challenge.

Become a better writer

I guess this depends how a person might define a ‘good writer’, but I’d guess this has something to do with how clearly you can get ideas across. Of course the problem with this is that I’m not an unbiased observer of my own writing.

Despite this, I’m going to give myself a self-congratulatory pat on the back. I do I feel like my writing has improved as a consequence of me being more comfortable writing stream-of-consciousness style.

What I mean by this is that I am getting better at writing in a way that I would talk. I remember years ago a colleague of mine telling me that I could talk their ears off, so if I wrote like that I’d have no problem. I think this is pretty much the idea around ‘finding your voice’.

Having said that, I have to say the focus of the writing on quantity, given my scarcity of time, has meant that I have very definitely focussed on getting the words on the page. While this has made me a better writer through practice, I have spent less time critiquing my own writing as I think would have been optimal for improving the quality of my work.

Whether this quantity to quality focus could have been altered by reducing the word count is something I’m unsure of, however, I would say that as a consequence of me being able to write better and more quickly I now have more time to critique my own stuff.

Given I have 30,000 words of it to go through, I’m also sure I won’t be short of lessons.

Get over the word count thing

Wow. I’m so over this it’s unbelievable. In fact around half way through the challenge I was considering doubling my daily word quota in order to up the ante.

To give you a benchmark for comparison, my thesis was around 16,000 words and my full research report for the Asian Development Bank was almost double this. For the first one I had a full year (albeit with a number of other things on my plate) while the latter took me three months. I’ve just got the same amount of words out in a third of the time.

Now, obviously this isn’t to say that they are comparable; after all writing in a formal style can be much more cumbersome. But, it does impress upon me that I have managed to demolish my problem with arbitrary word counts. 1000 words a day really isn’t much.

Overall

So there you go. This is actually, believe it or not, something I’ve wanted to do for a couple of years and I’m glad I’ve added it to the list of random things I’ve done.

I would suggest you pre-prepare a ‘menu’ of ideas and topics to write about. The point of the month is to get the words down, so I think this is a good fall back option when you aren’t feeling particularly creative. Alternatively you could write about my singing chicken.

I would also say for those who are interested in giving it a go, one thing I definitely recommend is finding a partner in crime. For me this was invaluable, both due to the healthy competition and as it means you will be reading somebody else’s writing all the time. The upshot of this is you’ll be able to spot things which work well in their writing and who knows maybe they’ll give you some tips along the way.

Now all that’s left is figuring out what to do for my next month.

Giles

I'm an economist, data geek and public speaker.

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