There are number of reasons I enjoy writing. One is definitely the challenge. I was reminded of this recently when I met with a former colleague I hadn’t seen in several years. I remembered something he had said to me when I was leaving the company we were both working for at the time (note – never underestimate people’s ability to remember for a very long time something which was meant just as a throwaway comment). I was bored there, with no realistic prospect of that changing. We had been talking about what it would have taken to get me to stay and he said ‘we were going to give you incremental challenges.’ That stuck in my mind until now because it encapsulated what I don’t want, need, or benefit from. I don’t do incremental challenge as an approach. It’s simply not meaningful enough to me. Of course, that has to be balanced with keeping a degree of sanity because you can’t do everything at once. And it doesn’t mean that new challenges feel any easier at the time, but they certainly aren’t boring.

My personal challenges in 2015 are, in addition to those associated with my main job, running a marathon at what seems a ridiculous time (under 2 hours 45 minutes, there, now I’ve said it) and finishing my novel. The marathon time comes from it being a round number that isn’t something I already know I could do. Last year, I finished in 3 hours 13 minutes, so I reckon I could do under three hours. That feels like incremental improvement to me. What I don’t know is how much faster I could go. 2:30 is definitely too far a push, so I settled for 2:45. It might even be a time that gets me automatic entry to the Berlin marathon, which would be even better. Last year, I was running for a Boston marathon qualifying time, even though I then found out how much it would cost to get there and run the race, so I’m waiting until I’m fast enough to make the trip worthwhile. My new training plan for next May started a couple of weeks ago, so I have that goal in mind now.

On the writing front, I also have a plan with dates on it, backed up with my updated goal of writing every day, without fail. The basic principle is 1,000 words a day, 2,000 on weekends unless I really am away all day, in which case it reverts to 1,000 again, and somewhere between 2 and 5,000 on Mondays. I’ve also been applying a lesson I learned when I started running. I would get out of bed an hour earlier to get a run in because otherwise I wouldn’t have the energy in the evening. And then it was done, not hanging over me all day. So I’ve been getting up at 6 again (and going to bed earlier!) and writing for an hour in the mornings, while having breakfast, all in peace and quiet. Lovely, if very dark. When everyone else gets up, I’m done or finishing up and can get on with the rest of the day.

And I’m also trying to figure out what makes (fiction) writing work. A book I’m working through at the moment is Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing.

Sol Stein

Stein has written nine novels, edited other books, taught creative writing, and written non-fiction books, screenplays and TV shows. So I’m going to listen to what he has to say. Here’s what he has to say  on page 3:

‘The correct intention [of writing] is to provide the reader with an experience that is superior to the experiences the reader encounters in everyday life.’

Right, that counts as a challenge.

The chapter I’m currently reading – I’m taking this book slowly, there’s just too much to take in – is about characters. But the chapter title says it much better – ‘Competing with God: Making Fascinating People.’ It is incredibly helpful to see sentences and paragraphs through Stein’s eyes and see the techniques he describes in action. And better still to then try them out and see the difference. It’s a good job you can edit your text afterwards.

So those are my current challenges, both are something I don’t already know I can do based on previous experience, and that makes them interesting. And they aren’t incremental. Anything other than incremental…

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