January Challenge

Early in my writing life I became friends with a woman who created perfect prose. Her language, its rhythms and word choices, sang exquisitely. Her stories evoked such overwhelming emotion in me that I often felt like crying from the beauty of it. And she did it instinctively and almost effortlessly.

My friend has only written 3 stories in 15 years, each one award-winning.

She’s been on my mind as I’ve thought about my New Year’s Writing Resolutions. I must have been thinking about her so much I’ve started channelling her. For the first 16 days of 2014 I’ve written nothing.

No, that’s not true. I’ve written teaching notes and lesson plans for my Creative Writing Classes. I’ve written emails to friends and students. I’ve edited other writers’ work. I’ve started loading stories into Pressbooks for an ebook anthology for a Writing Workshop. All activities in and around writing. But I haven’t yet written one word of writing for myself.

Habits take 21 days to consolidate so I’m well on the way to following in my friend’s footsteps.

So here’s my New Year challenge to all of us.

For the next 21 days let’s get up half an hour earlier and write. On the mornings we’re home I know once we start we won’t stop. But this challenge isn’t really about the writing.

It’s all about establishing discipline. Something my brilliant friend lacked – and that’s a tragedy.

Will you join me?

“Exercising is a good analogy for writing. If you’re used to not exercising you want to avoid it forever. If you’re used to it, it feels uncomfortable and strange not to.” Jennifer Egan

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23 Responses to January Challenge

  1. Maree says:

    Hi Karen,
    What a great idea, I’m in! In fact I did get up at 5am this morning, as I’ve had little time for writing lately. Unfortunately by 6am I was tired and ready to crawl back into bed to sneak another precious hour of shut eye. Hopefully with discipline and habit I’ll build some stamina.

    • Terrific, Maree. I set the alarm but what a horrible way to wake up. I did the half hour today but that’s all I had time for so far. It’s a start, and it’s half an hour more writing than I would do otherwise. Our writing muscles will be bulging in 21 days time. Good luck.

  2. Hi Karen, I have been trying for some time to write of a morning as it is quiet and I am a morning person and so I find my thought processes clearer than, say right now, late in the evening. It works for me, though the holidays have found me sleeping in a bit later. Can you give me any info Re: your creative writing class?

    • Hi Michael.
      I used to be a night person but now I wake up refreshed and clear-minded in the early morning. Unless I had a night like you did last night if your wonderfully evocative poem is anything to go by.
      I teach creative, travel and life writing at WEA Hunter. I also run a Writing Workshop there which meets once a month. Most of this group are working on longer projects and they’re an enthusiastic and supportive bunch. All the details are on the WEA Hunter website at http://www.weahunter.edu.au.

      • Thanks Karen I’ll look into it. Last night was a rare night, I usually get to bed much earlier but I was out late and was catching up and one thing led to another…

      • As a matter of interest should I begin in Creative writing 1

      • Hi Michael. In Creative Writing 1 we cover basic writing skills: strategies to inspire writing, use of the senses, characterisation, dialogue, voice, point of view, significant detail/description, structure of scenes and short stories. It’s hands on with lots of writing exercises and analysing published work. I’m not sure how much writing you’ve done but this course is not lightweight. We have a lot of fun, though.

  3. Margaret jackson says:

    Hi Karen
    I hear you Karen. I too have written nothing for the 1st 16 days of January. I have planned to write for the last two days but family issues have interrupted even the start of that. So I will take up the challenge but not by getting up an hour early instead I will sit for 30 min to an hour before i do any morning chores. – that way I will kick start the process. I also have to work on writing at least 30 min every day not waiting til I have a whole day to write. In the small writing group I am part of we have decided our 1st meeting will be one of planning and setting goals for the writing year. So I too need to start building a productive habit. Thank you for this insightful post. I also think that people who have a gift such as your friend who you described above, perhaps have a responsibility (if that’s not too harsh a word) to bring their writing gift to the world.

    • Hi Margaret, You’ve found a perfect solution to the challenge. It doesn’t really matter when you write, the important thing is to set a time that suits you and stick to it. Good luck!

  4. It’s a tragedy when someone who can write so well . . . doesn’t. How much the world has missed out on!

    I’m glad YOU won’t be one of them, Karen! I love your blog posts: the fictional and the non-fictional. You just use words so well! (“Her language, its rhythms and word choices, sang exquisitely” is beautiful, as is “luxuriously precise prose” from an earlier post!)

    As to your challenge, with brain fog lapping at my mind in the mornings (and sometimes submerging most coherent thought!), early morning is not conducive to writing enjoyment. So I tend to write in the evenings (if I haven’t done so during the day).

    I don’t feel good when I’ve not had my writing fix, so there’s no chance of me letting it go – even if my prose doesn’t reach the lofty heights of your friend’s! 🙂

  5. Diana Threlfo. says:

    Such wise words and a very worthwhile challenge Karen. I haven’t written anything since I left home for a holiday last Sunday but ideas and plots have been percolating in my mind. Can’t wait to put pen to paper when i get home & will take up your challenge slightly late in the day.

  6. Sue. says:

    You hit the spot again Karen for me writing is like that friend that you never phone because you know when you begin to speak to each other you cant stop and before you know it the day has gone. I must discipline myself to stop after a couple of pages then I may start more often.

  7. You must be about halfway through the challenge now… how’s it going? I haven’t found writing every day an effective exercise for my style of writing… I prefer to think about a story for a few days, get it clear in my head, then sit down and write it out quickly. Unless I already have a project clear in my mind, writing for 30 mins a day seems a waste of time. I do like the idea of trying something for 21 days though… maybe I should give it a go and I might learn from it!

    • Ah, a planner! 🙂 In contrast, I write with no formed idea or direction, and let the scene and characters unfold before me, as though I’m watching a movie I’ve never seen before.

      For the smaller projects, I’ve found writing very short stories (200-500 words), or 100-word flash fiction for Friday Fictioneers, keeps my writing muscle tuned – and of course these make excellent blog posts. 😉

      However, everyone is unique, so what we need for our best writing (and our enjoyment of it) is also unique. I’d be interested to see how you get on if you do try this challenge, or something similar!

      • This is fantastic when people start talking to each other about writing on my blog. Thanks, guys! I must confess to a few hiccups in my grand plan to write for 30 mins a day, Jessie. But I keep getting back on. Anyone had a 100% success rate so far?

        Like Joanna, my stories unfold as I write. Unless I’m working on something ongoing, the 30 mins writing becomes an exploration, or experimentation, or an amusement, and sometimes a conversation with myself or my characters about a story, or my musings on life and stuff that interests me. My stories nearly always come from these writings. The pen focuses me.

        You did the Write a Novel in a Month, Jessie. That’s a great way to get into the habit of writing everyday.

      • The short short stories are fun! ABC 500 words got me liking the shorter versions. Maybe I will do a Friday Fictoneer or two, just to see what writing without planning could reveal…

      • You’d be made very welcome by the Fictioneers gang, I’m sure! 🙂

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