Challenge Me

I’ve been thinking about writing. A lot. And by thinking, I’m not talking about, “Oh, I think I should go write,” and then I don’t do it and/or feel like I can’t. That’s writer’s block, to a point, and I’m rather well-researched in that (in fact, I taught a class on it). Rather, I’ve been thinking about the act of writing, and what’s going on in my head/life that isn’t giving me the gas I need to actually write. I’ve come up with a lot of interesting conclusions, but those conclusions are for a separate post.

Today I’ve been emailing with a friend of mine who is doing a final read on Telepathic Soulmates* before I lay into the manuscript and polish it into a diamond. We’ve been talking about my work from a more thematic standpoint, and it’s quite an interesting discussion, especially since she’s very familiar with the current as well as previous drafts of Telepathic Soulmates as well as my most recently completed novel Magic Elves. And I can’t tell you why I realized the following, but it was an epiphany of sorts, and I think I know what I need to start a new project.

Because having a wicked cool idea isn’t enough to make me write. Some people write to see how the wicked cool idea plays out. I just play it out in my head. So scratch that for inspiration.

The idea of having my work published and in the hands of readers is also not enough to inspire me. In fact, it does quite the opposite, for reasons I’ll talk about in a future post.

No, what keeps me going, what makes me write and stick to it come hell or high water, kicking and screaming, is a challenge.

Challenge #1: Actually finish writing a book (this applies to the first completed draft of Telepathic Soulmates).
Challenge #2: Rewrite and finish and improve Telepathic Soulmates so I could get my Masters (done, with the student debt to prove it!).
Challenge #3: Write a page-a-day and complete a novel in a calendar year (done! With Magic Elves. It needs a complete rewrite, but it’s done!).

Realizing this, I kind of sat back at work and asked, “What’s next?”

Idea challenges don’t work for me: cool ideas are just that: cool ideas. As I mentioned before, it doesn’t keep me writing.

Publishing goals don’t work either: it also won’t produce a new novel. Rather, said goals (sending manuscript out to agents, etc) are cleaning up old writing, not producing new.

So I’m pondering. Those of you who know me and personally know my work are, admittedly, at a better advantage to know what makes me tick and what might be a solid goal that’ll get me working on a new novel. Because once I meet a goal, I just can’t do it again. The point of a challenge is to find out if you can do it, and once you’ve done it, it’s not a challenge anymore, is it?

But whether or not you know me, I’m open to suggestions. The challenges listed above that resulted in complete novels (and trust me, if you were to see the first draft of Telepathic Soulmates, you’d understand why I count three completed novels under my belt rather than just two. When I rewrite, I eviscerate!) aren’t exactly ground-breaking or super-ambitious, but they were what I needed to write and keep writing.

So share with me: what are the challenges you’re working on in your own fiction? What gets you writing? And what could my next challenge be?

* = a reminder: all titles listed on this blog are code names for the real titles. I explain why here. Because that’s how I roll.

15 thoughts on “Challenge Me

  1. I’m a pretty self motivated writer, just in terms of “hit word count.” I’m a routine writer. I have made a routine out of writing. So getting words on paper isn’t a problem. I know that doesn’t work for everyone but the vast majority of the time, it works pretty well for me.

    FINISHING THINGS, however, is a problem. I tend to get very frustrated and want to start over about halfway to two thirds of the way in.

    1. I am trying to finish the draft of AIP (I’ll explain in an e-mail but you know, that thing of mine I’ve been writing.) Right now, of course, the struggle is “finish the damn rough draft” rather than wail and start over from the start because it DIDN’T COME OUT LIKE I WANTED. You have been very good about encouraging me there. I hope you know I appreciate it. I know that when I finish it, even if I end up having to do a nearly end to end rewrite/revision, I will have a FAR better idea of what needs to happen when than if I don’t, which is frankly what’s keeping me going. That and sheer stubbornness. But mostly the “I need to finish it even if the ending sucks and it all sucks so the next draft will not suck.” Because I’m, uh, stubborn…but not that stubborn. So remembering “if we want the next draft to not suck rocks, self, we need to finish the draft that does, self” is pretty important to me right now.

    2. I’m writing something for my father, as a gift (because he inspired me to be creative, in part by reciting the (sometimes edited for age appropriate content) plots of science fiction and fantasy classics to me as bedtime stories). And that’s pretty encouraging because I don’t want to let him down (and he will also like nearly anything I produce because 1. I know what he likes and 2. I wrote it for him, so he’ll like it, which takes pressure off.) I’m using this as a chance to practice making an outline and writing from said outline, and it’s also refreshing to write something VERY different from AIP with VASTLY different kinds of characters and conflicts after spending a year and a half on the setting that AIP takes place in. So when I get tired of bashing my head against the end of AIP for a day or two and wailing about how much I suck as a writer, I am letting myself write a chapter or so of Gift Project (though not more than that because I need to finish this draft of AIP.) That does a pretty good job of re invigorating me to go back to AIP without wanting to open my window and chuck my laptop onto Main Street while screaming about wire hangers.

    Some things I think helped you in MAGIC ELVES and possibly in TEL SM:

    1. You were writing to a crowd on a time table. Granted, in MAGIC ELVES it was basically a crowd of two. But you knew we were waiting for more and from stuff you said, I think that often was what got you to stick your butt in the chair and write even when you didn’t feel like it. I imagine that probably helped with TEL SM, particularly when you were in school and had deadlines. Also: constant feedback is encouraging. Waiting for feedback? not always encouraging (sorry I’m lagging by the way–I ended up more family committed last week than I expected for various reasons I know you’re basically aware of.)

    And now we will be cut off for a severe thunderstorm. More later.


    1. And now we back after a severe thunderstorm and a grocery shopping trip:

      2. I’m not sure how you manufacture deadline stress. You did it when you said “I will finish Magic Elves in a year!!!!” But I suspect it will help if you make it one where you have to be accountable to other people. Maybe another writing challenge? Maybe one with more people? Where you have produce a set amount in set intervals, and other people are doing same, and your competitive instinct will kick and force you to keep pace? I’m just throwing stuff out there.

      3. Maybe it would help if you set up a scenario you think will be challenging to pull off and dare yourself to pull it off? Something that’s harder to pull off in your head or that you can imagine but you know would be tricky to write (or trickly for YOU to write at least)? Again. Just tossing stuff out there, but if part of what drives you is “ACCOMPLISH GOAL” then setting up a challenging project that you know will stretch you might give you ACCOMPLISH GOAL!!! satisfaction AND be repeatable, if you can think of a new stretch each time. Although, uh, I’m not sure how you’d actually do this.


      1. You know, I realized you just hit the nail on the head with your first comment: it’s having an audience and getting feedback. Even if what I’m writing is shit, knowing and actually getting daily words of encouragement BASED on what I just wrote was very motivating. When I started Space Vampires, I didn’t get comments as quickly, and didn’t want to keep moving (to say nothing of the problems with the initial start, so there was that too). Then with grad school, I was getting feedback once a month, but there writing to the deadline was the goal, regardless of feedback. Getting the feedback was just icing. With Magic Elves, the feedback became the primary motivator, with the deadline (really, the goal of page-a-day) being not icing on the cake, but the necessary evil to get comments.

        Thursday I was struck by the idea that maybe I could do an episodic SOMETHING in this blog. Your comments today make me wonder if that may not be a bad idea….


        1. I feel kinda bad about that with Space Vampires. It was bad timing for me when you did Space Vampires because I was on that Crazy Hours Job. I try to be timely on stuff people post that’s short (longer stuff gets more variable but I know when someone posts something short they would like feedback soon and I try to get to it within 24 hours if I can.)


          1. Don’t feel bad. Seriously. My husband never did respond to chapters two and three! If he read them, he didn’t tell me. You at least still responded! 🙂


        2. in Re: Blogging a Story in Short Parts. Robin McKinley seems to have recently done something like that she appears to have found very invigorating (I didn’t follow it: I like her novels and i check her blog now and then to see what her progress is on some, but I don’t care for her blogging style as much: too wordy and with too many asides. You may now die laughing: I recognize the irony. End ironic aside.). I’d read and comment, anyway.


          1. I don’t care for her blogging style as much: too wordy and with too many asides. You may now die laughing: I recognize the irony. End ironic aside

            Ha! Irony noted, but that’s okay. There’s a time and place for wordiness and asides. 🙂


        3. “Thursday I was struck by the idea that maybe I could do an episodic SOMETHING in this blog.”

          I’d read it. I’d like to see some of your writing.

          I actually made a second LJ page specifically to post short stories and stuff, but I haven’t done much with it at this point.


  2. For most of my writing career (such that it is–I think “career” might be a bit generous), I’ve rarely finished anything. My problem is, I keep coming up with new ideas, which then I immediately want to start working on, so whatever project I was working on up to that point gets put to the side.

    The first and only novel I ever finished was 300+ pages of overly-dramatic, overly-romantic, overly-violent drek. I was sixteen at the time–which seems really early, but the fact was that when I wasn’t at school, I didn’t go to parties or go out with friends, I just sat at home on the computer and typed. And it still took four years to finish the thing. And I’m probably going to scrap nearly the whole thing and start over from scratch, because I now have a completely different idea as to the story I want to tell with this book. The only thing that isn’t changing is the names of the main characters and the general premise.

    I actually stopped writing for a long time after my computer crashed and I lost upwards of thirty pages of the project I was working on at the time (I just couldn’t bring myself to write anything after that), and then I was in college studying English and didn’t have the time to work on my own projects. I had a really bad time at college, such that I actually fell out of love with writing for awhile–and I think the serious depression I was going through at the time also had something to do with it.

    HOWEVER, I did finally get back into it, fairly recently. I decided to focus on just one project, the one I felt most capable of finishing, because I knew how I wanted it to end. When I get an idea, a lot of times it’s just an idea for a particular scenario, or a character, or a situation, and a lot of times I start writing it without really thinking about where it’s going. But I think the fact that I thought about this story for so long before I actually started writing it made it a bit clearer where I wanted to take it.

    I’m pretty close to finishing this one. In fact, I’m almost up to the climax–mostly I’m waiting until I have a nice long period of time where I don’t have anything else to do, so I can just sit down and write the whole thing out in one go, because I don’t want to have to stop right in the middle of it.

    I guess the long and the short of it is that a cool idea is usually incentive enough for me. Usually it goes something like, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if blah blah blah…omg that’s an awesome idea, I better write it down before I forget! *scribble scribble scribble*”

    Also, I don’t know if this is common, but a lot of the time seeing a movie or reading a book, or even just a book blurb, makes me want to write. It’s like seeing somebody else’s completed work spurs me on to complete mine. But I really want to be published.


    1. Ideas are inspiring and when I get them, I write them down. It’s the execution/exploration of the idea that isn’t enough, if that makes sense. I’ve got a post I want to write up about the stuff I was mentioning at the start of this one: Rather, I’ve been thinking about the act of writing, and what’s going on in my head/life that isn’t giving me the gas I need to actually write. I’ve come up with a lot of interesting conclusions, but those conclusions are for a separate post.

      Hopefully I can get that up in a few days. 🙂


      1. I’ll look forward to it–I always enjoy hearing about what the process is like for fellow writers.

        I was also going to say, I understand about the title thing. That’s one of the hardest things to figure out for me. While I’m writing, I usually refer to the story by the name of the main character.

        And I actually have a question for you: if you happen to mention to someone that you’re writing a book, do you ever get that dreaded question, “What’s it about?” Because I’ve been asked that more times than I care to remember, and it always makes me cringe.


        1. Yeah, I hate that question too. I need to come up with some kind of clever answer to avoid talking about it. 🙂


  3. Good ideas already. I guess I’ll tell you what works for me!

    I’m a fan of goals. One thing that’s important to me is that my goals need to be specific, and quantifiable. It’s why “exercise more” doesn’t work for anyone’s new years resolutions but “exercise 5 times a week for 30 minutes” is something people can deal with, because you feel if you’re actually working towards something tangible instead of this big nebulous idea. I also like the idea of little goals that lead into big ones. “Write a novel” sounds so difficult, but “Work on novel for 1 hour a day” is much manageable to me, making it a good sub-goal.

    So whatever you end up doing, I wish you the best of luck! I know you mentioned the idea of posting fiction here, which is something that I’ve been thinking about doing on my blog as well. At the same time, I know one road block I’ve come across in my short story submission is a lot of markets see “I posted this online” as an example of something that’s already been published, and won’t consider publishing it again. If it’s something you end up doing, just keep in mind that it might not be publishable elsewhere as a result.


    1. Don’t worry, I’m well aware. If I do decide to post something online, it won’t be something I intend to shop around. 🙂


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