By Elizabeth Kauffman
November got me thinking about how a 30-day challenge makes you a better writer. Of course, my favorite 30-day challenge is National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo), where writers commit to writing 50,000 words of new fiction in a month. There’s something about knowing I have to write at least 1,667 words a day if I want to hit that 50,000-word finish line that lights a fire under me in ways that my “regular” life doesn’t. I can push past the voice of doubt for just a little while to achieve my goal: words on the page.
Maybe NaNoWriMo doesn’t seem tempting to you at all, though. 30-day challenges are good for more than just rushing past your inner critic. They give you space to learn about your writing in a way that your regular practice can’t. And you can find (or create) a 30-day challenge for just about any aspect of your craft, and maybe even convince other people to join in with you.
Here are five ways a 30-day challenge makes you a better writer:
1) You give yourself permission to try something new.
Maybe you’re a non-fiction writer, but you’ve always wanted to try writing short stories! Or maybe you’ve always wanted to write poetry, but you’re not sure you’re any good at it. Or maybe you want to challenge yourself to create content for your blog. Give yourself 30 days to try something that’s outside of your usual writing routine. Your other writing will be there when your 30 days are up and you’re ready to get back to it. And asking yourself to think outside of your usual creative box will refresh you to bring new inspiration back to your usual work.
2) You give yourself a finite timeline.
Thirty days can seem like a long time, but it’s really not. Dedication and versatility are essential skills in your writer’s toolkit. You know how most people give up on New Year’s Resolutions before the year is half-over? A 30-day challenge offers you a shorter timeline for a reason. It’s not about permanently changing your habits, it’s about trying something radical for 30 days and finding out what you learn by the end of it. The finite timeline allows for you to try, fail, and pivot with no strings attached.
3) You get to collect data on your writing process for 30 days.
Because hopefully your 30-day-challenge stretches you outside your comfort zone, sometimes you’ll have to push yourself to write, even if the muse isn’t ready and waiting. You’ll have to plan some, and wing it on the days when the plan goes horribly wrong. Maybe you’re trying out writing at a different time of day, or writing a certain number of words every day, or using the Pomodoro method to increase your productivity. As you progress with your challenge, make sure you keep track of what works and what doesn’t work so that you don’t get stuck. Then use that data to help make your regular writing practice stronger.
4) You can plug into a community of writers who have the same goals.
Some of the bigger challenges like National Novel Writing Month or Story-A-Day have built-in communities that you can join for the benefit of mutual encouragement and inspiration. But thanks to the magic of social media, even if you make up your own challenge, you can probably find others willing to test their writing limits with you. Post about it on Facebook or Twitter and see who else is game. You can broaden your writing community and try something new at the same time!
5) You might discover a new passion.
When you try something new and different with your writing practice for 30 days you might find that you actually enjoy the new direction you’re taking. The key is giving yourself space to experiment. Of course the converse is true, too. People have strong feelings for and against every aspect of the writing craft. But don’t take someone else’s word for what’s best for you and your writing. How can you know what you’ll love or what you’ll hate unless you give it a try?
At the end of 30 days, you’ll have a giant pile of 50,000 words, or a stack of stories, or 30 blog posts, (or more!) to show for your effort. Sure, it’s probably not perfect, but that’s not the point of the challenge. You’ll have honed your skills as a writer. You’ll have learned your writerly sweet spots (how many words per minute/hour/day/week you can do comfortably, what time of day you write best, etc.). And you’ll be a better writer for having pushed yourself to try something new, even if it’s only for 30 days.
Elisabeth Kauffman is an editor, an author, and an artist. She edits fiction and memoir for independent clients as well as for publishing companies, and coaches writers to find their voices and connect to the magic in their creative lives. Using creative writing exercises along with tarot, visualization, and more tactile forms of art, she encourages her clients to take risks and tell stories that matter. She volunteers for and speaks at the San Francisco Writers Conference, and with local writers’ groups. She is currently represented by Bradford Literary Agency and hopes to publish her first book (a tarot deck and guide for writers) in the near future.
Elisabeth grew up reading Mary Stewart, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and the like. She loves creative, imaginative storytelling, and regularly obsesses over board games, Doctor Who, and Harry Potter. Learn more about her at www.writingrefinery.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.