Previous Challenges

Want to check out what we’ve been up to? Not feeling the current month’s challenge? Take a look at the descriptions of our past challenge below and browse our archives for lots of writing inspiration. Or get inspired to create your own monthly challenge. The point is to Write Words Now!

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Onward to something new!

In September we are going to do the first of a two-part lead-in to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I have participated in NaNo three times. Last year I actually “won,” meaning I reached the 50,000 word goal, but my manuscript, a mishmash of freewriting and plotted story, did not have a clear structure and could not be called a complete novel, even by the most generous reader. This November, I intend to be prepared!

The two-step plan is this. In September we are going to generate a lot of raw material and explore ways to turn some of it into a novel. We are also going to learn a little about what makes a good story. And in October we are going to dive straight into the world of our novel and do all sorts of plotting and world-building exercises.

This month, all you need to do is grab a good old-fashioned prompt book (I’ll be using 642 Things to Write About, by the San Francisco Writers Grotto) and Write Words Now! My goal is to write in the space provided in the book for at least two prompts per day. I also bought a cheap spiral-bound notebook for overflow writing, in case I’m really on a roll with something.

We’re also going to absorb some lessons about good storytelling from Lisa Cron’s Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel.

Ready writers? Grab your pens and let’s go!

August 2018 – Experience Journaling

Hi writers! In August we are going to try our hand at journaling. And not just any “Dear Diary, this is what I did today” journaling. We are going to collect some experiences, those moments of adventure, big and small, that expand our worldview,  that enable us to write more confidently and more broadly about the world around us.

Here’s the plan:

Step 1: Set a journaling goal/schedule. Do you want to write one page each day? Every other day? For a set number of minutes per day? Come up with a schedule that works for you, buy yourself a nice new notebook, and get ready to write!

Then, you can do one of two things, or some combination of the two.

Step 2 (Option A): Try something new for 31 days and journal about it. This should preferably be some sort of tactile skill, something you can do with your hands or your body that is not writing, researching, or learning a new language. And ideally it should be something you can do for at least a few minutes a day or several times a week.  Here are some examples:

  • playing an instrument
  • learning a new sport
  • jogging, hiking, or swimming
  • yoga or meditation
  • taking up painting, sculpture, or photography
  • learning to knit, sew, or quilt
  • trying new recipes or learning how to be a mixologist
  • trying out birdwatching or gardening
  • starting a collection

Whatever you choose, remember, you don’t have to become an expert at it! Private lessons and classes are great. So are YouTube videos and how-to books. This is about trying something new and writing about it. It’s about expanding the universe of experiences you have to draw from when you sit down and write. There is no failure unless you fail to write about your failure.

Write about your experience from start to finish. Why did you pick this activity? What do you hope to achieve over the course of one month? Are you seeing improvement? Experiencing frustration? Have you met any fellow musicians/artists/chefs/birdwatchers? What is your setting? What are your tools? Describe what you are doing using all five of your senses.

Step 2 (Option B): Seek out new experiences to journal about. I came up with a list of 31 different things you can try, one for each day of the month if you’re feeling ambitious. Or maybe one or two a week is more realistic. The point is simply to experience something or someplace new and use it as a jumping off point for your writing. You don’t have to hike the Himalayas to expand your world. You can do it one small step at a time.

Ready writers? Let’s fill our summer journals with new experiences!

July 2018 – Playwriting Workshop

Hi writers, are you ready for a new monthly challenge? How about a summer playwriting workshop? I’m a pretty regular theatergoer and sometimes, when I have an idea for a story, I think, wow, that might actually be a cool play. Small problem: I have no idea how to write a play. I looked into taking a class and there are a few, but they’re pretty pricey and don’t always meet at convenient times. So I’m going to give myself a one-month crash course in playwriting. Sound fun?

Here’s the plan. We’re going to do daily writing exercises adapted from The Playwright’s Handbook, by Frank Pike and Thomas G. Dunn. (Note: this book appears to be out of print, but used copies can still be found. You don’t need to find a copy to follow along with what we’re doing here.) In Week 1 we’ll do some warm-up exercises to get us thinking about characters, setting, dialogue, and conflict. In Week 2 we’ll do intermediate-level scene-writing exercises. And in Weeks 3 and 4 we’ll work on the first draft of a full-length play. If you’d like to work ahead or modify the exercises to suit your own project and goals for the month, I’m going to post the exercises in advance.

We are also going to be reading and thinking about a few plays. I’ll post comments about a new one each Saturday, starting on Saturday, July 7. If you want to follow along, here are the plays. We’ll start with Death of a Salesman because it is easy to get your hands on quickly (most libraries have a few copies and the Kindle download is only a few dollars). I was able to get the others by interlibrary loan, but they are also available on Amazon and your local bookstore can order them for you. I tried to select a mix of plays from different time periods, involving different types of relationships (friends, siblings, spouses), written by both male and female playwrights.

Playwriting Workshop Reading List

  • July 7, 2018: Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller (1949) – learn more about the play here
  • July 14, 2018: Topdog Underdog, by Susan-Lori Parks (2001) – learn more about the play here
  • July 21, 2018: Look Back in Anger, by John Osborne (1956) – learn more about the play here
  • July 28, 2018: Art, by Yasmina Reza (1994) – learn more about the play here

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June 2018 – Read/Write Challenge: weekly timed writing, weekend readings

Hi writers! In June I’ve decided to take a break from trying to create a finished product each day (because–whew!–it’s exhausting) and focus instead on maintaining a daily writing habit, generating new material, and seeking out inspiration.

So our June challenge has two parts:

Part 1: Weekday Writing 

For the writing portion of the challenge, let’s try this. Each morning (or afternoon, or evening, or whenever you can squeak time to write into your busy schedule), grab a random book from your bookshelf, open to any page, point without looking to any paragraph, and choose a sentence from that paragraph as your first line. Then free-write for 20 minutes, no more, no less. No pressure to turn this into anything, no editing, no judgment. This is about habit-formation. This is about diving into your writing without overthinking things.

Part 2: Weekend Reading 

There are nine weekend days in the month of June and I made a list of nine short stories by women authors that I want to read and learn from. Women authors because, let’s face it, a lot of the classic short stories we read in school are by men. I also want to expand my horizons a little. I have my favorites (Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty) but I want to read more diverse points of view.

In a recent TED talk on the power of stories, Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie had this to say about the power of stories:

“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.” We have so much to learn from stories, stories told my many voices, not just on the craft of writing, but on the nature of being a human being in this world.”

Whether you read along with me or create your own list, I encourage you to jot down one thing that you noticed about the author’s technique and one idea that the story gave you for your own writing.

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May 2018 – StoryADay May: write a story every day for a month

“A short story is like a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger.” – Steven King

Hello writers! Fresh on the heels of National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo), in May we are going to switch gears completely and write 31 short stories in 31 days. Impossible? Completely insane? I have no idea. I’ve never done this before. We’ll be doing it together. But here’s the thing. They can be REALLY short stories. Flash fiction, 100-word stories, list stories, two-sentence horror stories. We are going to push boundaries people! Find out what makes a story a story.

So what does this entail, exactly? StoryADay is an established writing challenge that takes place every May (some people do it again in September). Participants commit to writing a story each day for a month. Throughout the month Julie Duffy, creator of the challenge, provides prompts, ideas, and author interviews on her website and companion podcast. You can sign up to receive her updates. She also offers a lot of worksheets, workbooks, e-book guides, and organizational tools for people who are into those types of things. And this year she is offering some sort of paid membership with even more perks. But you don’t need all of that to do StoryADay. You just need to write, i.e., FINISH, a story every day for a month. What a fantastic idea.

Why a story a day? Maybe you’re like me, writing lots of little beginnings that you never get around to finishing. Or did you churn out tens of thousands of words for NaNoWriMo but not even come close to wrapping up all the loose ends of your plot? Well then I suspect this challenge is for you. If you want to pull a piece out later and tinker for three months on the character’s back story or a little snippet of dialogue, knock yourself out. But today, in the white-hot fury of StoryADay, you need to make something happen to these people and WRAP IT UP. Have them all get hit by an asteroid if you have to, but finish the story!

And if you are into more tangible enticements, think about this. Even if you doubt the intrinsic value of a very short story, what you’ll be left with at the end of StoryADay are 31 story starters. Fiction gold. Sure, some will be first crappy pancakes. But some will have real potential. You will suddenly have a whole inventory of works in progress. And that, writers, is what it’s all about.

So join me for a month of storytelling! I will be posting my daily stories, prompts, and musings here, at Write Words Now. Because I’ve never done this challenge before, I plan to stick with the StoryADay prompts for at least the first week or two before changing things up a bit.

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April 2018 – NaPoWriMo: write a poem every day for a month

“And it was at that age … Poetry arrived in search of me.” – from “Poetry” by Pablo Neruda

April is National Poetry Month. It is also, not coincidentally, National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo). Started by Maureen Thorson, a poet living in Washington, D.C., the project was inspired by National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which takes place each November. There is a dedicated website where you can find optional daily poetry prompts and where participants can link their to websites. Folks are also participating in a version of this called the April PAD (Poem-A-Day) Challenge over at Writers’ Digest.

I will post my daily poems and some alternative prompts here, at Write Words Now. Join me, it will be fun!

Why poetry? To crack open the nut that is your brain! Even if you are not an aspiring poet, writing poetry will add depth and emotion and wonderful, weird connective tissue to your writing. It may just give it that puff of air that will send it in a new direction.

I know, 30 poems is a lot. But your daily poem doesn’t have to be a polished gem. It can be a first draft. It can be three lines long. It can be a concrete poem in the shape of a dog made up only of the word “dog.” It can be a found poem snipped from the Sunday paper. It can be an erasure poem you made by taking a black magic marker to a piece of junk mail. In other words, have fun!

Learn about National Poetry Month events near you here.