Writing challenges. They’re dreams boiled down to self-imposed deadlines, Discord servers, and a very special kind of high fantasy. But do they work? Well, yes and no. The answer is: it depends. There are pros and cons behind every challenge, and the deciding factor is always you.
Writing challenges give a clear, measurable goals for those lost in the storm of aimless plot bunnies. They’re great options for writers who have a plan, need a plan, or are planning to stop planning and just do the work.
A challenge may validate the time you set aside to write, or prompt you to add writing to your daily planner. It’s like a selfcare reminder – it’s something you need and/or something you need to affirm.
While writing is a lonely sport, challenges bring the huddled masses together in a frenzy of cheering, sprints, and bellyaching. New writing friends can make great stand-in audiences for those without alpha readers in their daily lives offering encouragement and support. It’s always worth putting your story to words when people say they want to read it.
The ultimate pro is – of course – progress. Even if you miss the moon, you’ll land among the stars and all that jazz. Challenges can help you do the thing.
If you don’t have a plan and aren’t ready to follow the challenge’s guidelines to make one – then you aren’t ready. And if you jump into a major challenge you aren’t equipped to tackle, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration. The sad fact is that signing up for a NaNoWriMo account won’t guarantee a win. The work has just begun.
Sometimes, simply signing up for a challenge feels like accomplishing something. Technically, you have. However, if you find yourself jumping from challenge to challenge without adding significant numbers to your word count, you may be using challenges as a distraction.
Challenges also come with a high risk of burn-out. Is it worth crushing a 10,000 word goal if you’re going to be catatonic for the next three months?
The ultimate con – sometimes – is taking two steps back. If you don’t achieve what you set out to, and you end a challenge on a low note, not only are you baking up a fine garnish for your writer’s block, but you get to feel extra bad about it.
Sorting Out the Mix
The hard truth is this: your current situation determines whether the pros or the cons are stronger. The right choice depends on your health, free time, living situation, etc. If you’re already stressed, the pressure of a writing challenge probably won’t make you feel like writing. But if you feel aimless and alone when you sit down to write, the clear objective and communal support of a challenge team may be your solution. Things change, and so do you.
So, next time you’re tempted to join a writing challenge, have a conversation with yourself. Have you ever participated in a writing challenge? How did things go? Share your thoughts with other writers below!