The Challenge With Challenges

My hindsight has a lag time. It comes to me, and I ignore it, sure that it’s just a current of negativity that wants to derail progress. I’ve had that happening with me since the middle of April, when I wrote down an idea for my writing challenges for 2014.

I’d already decided that a repeat of the approach I used this year would be a mistake, and thought that having a list of potential would be preferable – and the requirement for taking one of those challenges would be that if I’d let my ‘current pet project’ slip for more than four days, I would have to do a challenge as penance. It was the first sign that maybe this year’s approach wasn’t the best.

The goal was subjectively admirable – to strength my writing, to push what my words could do into directions that I hadn’t really considered, and to make sure that I was consistently writing every month. Having done NaNoWriMo a few times, I know what the usual drill is in the recovery phase. December, we give writing space, and make our existence known to friends and family once again. January starts with the resolutions, and maybe a first re-read (unless we still think it’s too close). Before we know it, the year’s gotten away from us and we’ve done nothing. I know people who did NaNo last year that have only just started writing again this month. The event does take its toll on us, even if we meet such amazing people during each November – another reason I’m not ready to close the book on it. The challenges were thought up as a way for me to combat that complacency.

Each month, the challenges took up more time than they were due, and the writing I was trying to do was pushed back. Writing the blog isn’t quite the same, and doesn’t take anywhere near the effort that my other writing does, those being either standard writing goals, or completing challenges. The challenges were crowding me.

kirk-tribble
Plot Tribbles > Plot Bunnies

This month I was meant to stay up late one night, get drunk, and write. The month isn’t over, but the time of times that I could have done that were last night, when I stayed up very late, had an amount of wine that would get me into such a state, and… well, I didn’t have a pen handy. The worst part of that excuse is that I was literally surrounded by writers at the time.

Last night, Saturday the 18th of May, the Aurealis Awards were held in Sydney, recognising Australian writers of speculative fiction, for writing in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, Young Adult, and Children’s fiction. The site shows who the winners were (if you’re into that sort of thing – yes, the success thing), though the experiences of reading the names from a list and being there in attendance are not comparable. Prior to the start of ceremonies, with the wonderful Scott Westerfeld as Master of Ceremonies, was an animated title screen on repeat.

Westerfeld gave a great perspective on the rise of speculative fiction throughout the world, with a counterpoint between the world as it was when the Aurealis Awards began in 1995, and now. The largest convention in 1995 was an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in San Diego, and some research reveals that was the 10th A.A International Convention with an estimated 56,000 people in attendance. Conventions today are more regular synonymous with speculative fiction, with the largest in the world being Comic-Con (also in San Diego), and recent con have seen upward of 130,000 people. There were so many other examples of the way the speculative fiction world has taken over in books and film, but it’s this example that demonstrates the passion we have so well. Three minutes into that, I felt an immediate sense of the community I was inadvertently a part of.

As a little kid, I adored my science fiction and fantasy, got lost in my own worlds and the worlds of others, though there was always a sense that this was far from the mainstream. As a big kid now, that particular brand of loneliness is an illusion. In that moment, I wished that they could all be there – all science fiction fans, all fantasy fans, all the comic book readers, the gamers, the cosplayers, the writers and of course, the readers. All of them. It would have been a tight squeeze fitting a decent percentage of the world’s population into a small auditorium of 150 seats, but any response to that wish would’ve been via magic and the practicalities can be ignored.

At the end of the presentation, there was an after-party at a nearby hotel, and it’s there where my tangent comes back to my reason.

Here I am, halfway through a bottle of Moscato, sitting at a table with real legitimate writers who have finished stories of their own. I’m completely in awe, whether it be because they’re names I’ve heard of, or just the fact that these are living people who write, and get it done. It was surreal to realise I was (at one point) at a table with the fantastic Kate Forsyth (who I also had the pleasure to meet earlier in the night) as well as Scott Westerfeld, and well, many other writers also. At this stage I’m sure that the writer of the worst book on earth sitting beside me, talking to me about what they’ve done or their process, and I’d still be fascinated because it’s a person that has accomplished something. Note, I won’t be nominating anyone for that honour, though wouldn’t be surprised to see suggestions in the comments. In this moment, I felt itchy. It would have been completely pretentious to do so, but right then and there, I wanted a pen and my notebook and to dive into the novel again. I could mentally hear a song in my head that I’ve written alongside, and felt nostalgic for my own damned story.

I held on to that until today, and will staple that burst of inspiration to my soul if I get the chance, but it leads me to this. I can’t do these challenges when the real challenge of finishing my book is there.

4 thoughts on “The Challenge With Challenges

  1. LOL @ Plot bunnies. I find those under my bed and in my dryer as well. They are taking over the world.

    Worst book ever written? The one that never made it out of the author’s mind.

  2. A long while back, nearly seventeen years or so, my sister reminded me that I wasn’t much of a ‘writer’ if I never attempted writing a story or novel to its finish. She likened it to a someone calling themselves ‘a gymnast’, when all they did was practice, and never went to a meet or conference and competed there. We are writers when we stop practicing and exercising and begin, then finish, a piece of work. In my case, doing it sober is extra points awarded for style. Your sense of self may vary.
    ej

    1. Ah – the challenge itself itself was intended as a “write under less-than-ideal circumstances”, rather than a way of idolising the idea of a writer three-chapters deep in a bottle of scotch. I’m very lucky in that I can be in those moments, and still know what I want to write strong enough that I feel compelled to do so. It used to happen to me whenever I’d read books on writing. I would reach a point where I found my urge to write so invigorated, that I would want to put the book aside and get back to my scribbled messes.

      I think we’re always writers if we’re writing, but sometimes the obstacles we set ourselves are at odds with the goals we want to achieve – and you need to have the courage to stop the former, for the sake of the latter.

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