PLAY 002: NaNoWrimo and Other Challenges

PLAY (NaNoWrMo): A spiraling staircase up, seen from below, reveals a the colourful silhouette of a person's head, with goals on its mind.

The month of October has almost run to its completion. Last minute costumes are being frantically bought with questions of “Can you be a sexy alligator?” and “What can I make with an old sweater and duct tape?” The colder air has inspired the wearing of parkas for plus ten weather, and Frugal lovers of candy wait eagerly for the discounted haul they will be able to collect on November first. And while nothing in my books is as important as cheap, sugary confections, November 1st brings another opportunity with it; NaNoWriMo.

I love dedicated creative events and challenges regardless of the size. Whether it’s from AiS’s co-founder / regular contributor’s own Longhand Jam in The Woods Challenge to the Herculean 50,000 word novel that NaNoWriMo proposes. Because it’s not necessarily about the size of the word count that makes these experiences meaningful, but the opportunity for growth that they offer. Whether you have already been published or have just started out, everyone is on their own adventure as an artist, level grinding to try and beat the next boss (usually procrastination). And because every good adventure needs a few training montages, the month of November gives an obvious and enticing time to start one (campy background music and all if that’s you’re thing).

Writing 50,000 words in a month is something that, much like some of my crazier New Year’s resolutions, is just not something I am going to accomplish. Because having had the last 23 years to get to know myself, I have come to understand that making elaborate goals, while sounding good in the moment, end up working more against than for me. A predictable cycle will start, where I make a resolution that is both vague and large. I will be excited by this proposal, “Of course I can write a novel or a whole book of poetry during my summer break!” And for the first few days of this challenge I will even commit to it. But, inevitably, life will get in the way. I won’t make time for the writing; I realize just how hard the task I personally assigned myself is and I feel defeated after having just started.

After missing a couple of days, the perfectionism that I (and many other writers) suffer from sets in; and because I can no longer be perfect in this task with having missed a few days, there’s no point in my doing it at all. Discussing this topic with other friends in the arts, I’ve come to see that my experiences with this toxic attitude aren’t unique. The specifics may vary, but the end results are usually similar, with projects either being horribly late or not being completed in the first place. But this November I want that to be different, with a smaller, more easily accomplished challenge that won’t leave me paralyzed with it’s ill-conceived enormity.

My first instinct with this was to make the commitment of writing for an hour, every day at the same time for the 30 days of November. A month is not a very long increment of time, I still vaguely feel like we’re only halfway through October. But after taking a good, long moment to think about this idea that at first seemed reasonable, I realized I probably would not be able to commit. I’ve done other month long challenges before, and I found them to be draining from the get go. No, to do this, I had to begin small, very small. Which lead to the second idea of striving for a week of writing my visual novel every day for 45 minutes.

If this sounds like this would be much too easy, for you, it probably is. Feel free to set your own challenge as ambitious as you like. Or alternately, if this sounds too difficult, there is nothing wrong with that. Starting small is nothing to be ashamed of—starting with something doable and achievable is the real goal, whatever your version of that may be. As a chronic procrastinator, I know that the idea of committing an hour to anything is something that I struggle with, no matter how good my intentions are. Cutting it down to 45 minutes is the same strategy I used when I first started working out. Like reading a $19.99 tag on a shirt that you want, it seems just small enough as to seem cheaper than 20 or 25 dollars, even if the difference is little. I’m going for a small but meaningful victory here, where at the end I will reflect on the challenge, what days were the hardest, and if I want to take things to round two for the following week.

And I encourage you to push play for the next level of your writing adventure. Make a small challenge, whatever that means to you, and do it. Write your first short story, or make a whole new painting. Do half of a choreography, rewrite some lyrics to a song that you love but always thought could be better. Publish your first article here. For myself, I’ll be updating after the first week of November to let you all know how things went. Till then wish me luck, and let us know in the comments what you yourself will be striving for!


From Luke: Thank you very much Madeline for proposing PLAY 002. I’m really excited to participate (see below in the comments for what I’m setting as my challenge), but before I get to that, I want to take the opportunity to say to all of you, if you’ve been thinking about joining the Adventures in Storytelling community—now is your time to join! If you’ve held back because you’re waiting for inspiration for a project to work on in the Left Pillar, whether the idea is ready or not, make the final stretches to finding an idea a part of your sharing—now is your time to join! If you’ve had an idea or two (or twelve) for discussion in the Central Pillar, start crafting those articles—now is your time to join! If all you have is a comment to add to an existing article—now is your time to join! See what I’m getting at? We’ve all been in a position where we’re waiting for the clouds to part and a sign to show itself in the heavens to say, “Yes, now is my time.” Well, friends, I am that sign—now is your time to join.

2 thoughts on “PLAY 002: NaNoWrimo and Other Challenges”

  1. Once upon a time (some seven years ago) I set out to, for the first time since I’d been introduced to it half a decade before, conquer NaNoWriMo. I had even tried it once during my undergrad, but November proved an incredibly fickle beast, what with assignments, test, and just the general “being-the-worst”, and I was unable to finish my project.

    My second attempt, in November 2009, was a “success”—I crossed the 50,000 word mark on the wings of a dragon (my 50,000th word was, in fact, dragon). But the story itself was not complete. I had many more scenes still required, let alone the hours upon hours of editing the work would need to reach completion. I did not go back to that story. (Though it has never been forgotten.)

    So as NaNoWriMo approached yet again, with thoughts of Adventures in Storytelling in my head, I wondered what I should do. About this time was when Madeline emailed me, pitching this idea for PLAY 002 during NaNoWriMo 2016, and I definitely saw my sign in the heavens. But what, exactly, should I make my goal?

    There have been two things on my mind recently: the concept of “thinking comes later” when it comes to writing, and the fact that I have not finished a story in quite some time. So, with those two thoughts in each hand, I pitched this to myself:

    Sign up and attempt to complete the NaNoWriMo word count, however, this time I wouldn’t focus on one, giant project but several smaller ones:

    – My usual morning work on Charlotte’s Journey;
    – Several short story ideas that have been following me around for years;
    – Some poetry (because, when I admit it to myself, I had a lot of fun in my third year poetry workshop).

    During November, the goal is to hit the daily word count WITHOUT worrying about quality. Find a rhythm of typing and just type it all out. (I’m going to plan the month in advance, i.e. which days I’ll work on which material, but beyond that, just let the words flow out.)

    Part 2 of this PLAY will then happen throughout December. I will take ONE (and only one) of those short stories I word-vomited into my Google-Drive and start editing it down until I have a complete, truly finished story.

    (Part 3, in January, sees me actually sending this story off to be rejected from dozens of publishers, something I’ve never even attempted before, so stay tuned for some interesting learning experiences there.)

    So that’s my PLAY 002 plan:
    November — “Thinking comes later.”
    December — “Finish a story.”
    January — “Try and publish.”

  2. I’m going to be less ambitious than Luke. I’m going to work on my Charlotte’s Journey every day, no excuses. Be that actual writing, commenting on a section Luke wrote, uploading some stuff here to AiS, whatever, at the end of every day in November, when I go to write the days events in a journal, I want to be able to say some variant of “worked on AiS stuff” … because I do. I love the feeling of seeing the volume of work, and I want that pile (in my case, a literal pile, not a digital one) to grow and grow. And so it will! Forward!

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