When I put this item on the 4040 list, I did not have a daily writing practice. It felt like a stretch goal for sure, but one I was certain I was up for. I didn't have a topic, but I figured I had a year to figure that out.
Fast forward a year, and I DID have a writing practice and a topic, “31 Reflections of a First-Time Novelist. I also had a bit of arrogance. “I write every day. This should be easy.”
Except it wasn't. Yes, I write every day. But I don't write audience-ready material every day. This is where the surprise challenge and fatigue came in for me. But I persevered. I reminded myself of the big picture and kept at it.
The challenge held other surprises for me. I was a newbie to this 31 dayer community and its Facebook participation. I figured I'd take a backseat and watch more seasoned people do their thing while I learned the ropes. I did not anticipate taking the role of cheerleader and encourager.
It was uncomfortable hearing so much negative self-talk. A lot of bloggers had put unbelievable pressure on themselves and they expressed feelings of failure almost before the challenge began. I wasn't witnessing much joy in the process, which made me sad because my writing practice is drenched in joy.
I know why these sentiments made me so uncomfortable. I recognized my earlier self in them. These feelings of perfectionism and shame and guilt and aggravation had long been a part of my self talk and I didn't even realize it. I see now why I always felt a sense of inertia. I couldn't muster the energy to propel myself forward in my pursuits, whether it was writing or in simply washing the dishes some days. Of course, I couldn't manage forward motion. My negativity had me mired in the muck. I have worked hard—with the help of friends—at recognizing this BS and turning that noise down. My life is so enriched because of that one move. I was sad to see that this negative self talk was an obstacle for others.
I thought about Laura Munson and the impact of her positivity and mentorship. I decided early in the challenge that Laura's was going to be my approach in this community. I wasn't going to stand by as other women got mired in their negativity. I knew they were the only ones who could change it, but I wasn't going to sit by idly listening to it. I challenged them, as others have done for me, by encouraging them to take a walk (a strategy straight from Dan, my writer-coach-friend), take a deep breath, and forge ahead.
I felt like a broken record when women started lamenting how far behind they were in the challenge.
I typed these words over and over when I heard their worry over missing a day or seven:
“In a month or a year you will have created a collection of 31 posts. At that time, it will not matter how long it took to create the collection. Take a break, take a breath, and then get back to it. You can do this!”
Before this challenge, I would not have envisioned myself assuming this role, but after 270+ days of writing daily, I felt I'd earned the credibility to speak up. I could see in new ways just how valuable Dan's encouragement and challenges to my beliefs about my abilities has been.
I will admit to feeling some impatience too. While I don't know this for certain, I have a sense that a lot of participants have more flexibility in their days, meaning they don't get up and go to a job outside their home. While they are busy, they have more control over their daily schedules. I have a day job and a 90-minute round trip commute, and I managed to get my posts published most days by 7 a.m. I had to stop paying attention to Facebook complaints about how difficult it was to get the day's post completed.
I came to appreciate how a specific topic can make the writing challenge easier to navigate. I suspect for many women, they had picked a broad topic which made it harder to decide how to approach each day's writing for 31 consecutive days. The blogs I chose to follow were also very specific and I didn't get the same sense from these bloggers that they were struggling with what to write each day. Having drafted an editorial calendar for my posts was definitely a key to my success. I didn't follow it to the letter, but it served as a guide and helped me with setting a pace for my overall story and made sure that I was covering everything I wanted to say about writing my novel.
This challenge taught me that I have a lot to learn about the tech side of blogging. There are a lot of improvements I need to make. But I didn't try to add that to my list of to-dos during the month of October. I kept my focus on the writing and will whittle away at the blog improvements in the coming year. It was a situation of learning what I didn't know I didn't know. But now I do, and I can make incremental progress toward a more sophisticated blog.
If I decide to participate again, it will only be if I can find a specific enough topic that I can write about with fresh, separate posts for 31 days. Right now, I have no idea what that will be, which is equal parts exhilarating and terrifying.
I have made new connections over the past month, and I am excited to continue building relationships and readership through this community. I am really proud of my final product—my collection of 31 posts about writing a novel for the first time. It will be fun to re-read the posts as my writing life expands and includes experiences I cannot even imagine today. I am so glad I found this challenge, put it on the list, and can mark it off.