5 Lessons from a Group Writing Challenge

Last week I shared my own lessons from the 28-day writing challenge. But I am just one person! An awesome person, admittedly, but still only one. So I thought it’d be fun to share some of the insights from everyone else who took the challenge alongside me. Here’s what this beautiful burgeoning community had to say:

Accountability Works

One of the main reasons I started this challenge was to help people build the habit of writing daily. Sometimes it’s hard to do that when it’s just you, sitting alone in a room, knowing no one can see you. Because what does it even matter? Turns out knowing that people can see whether or not you complete your writing each day can be pretty damn motivating. And, further down the line, so can not wanting to break your streak.

Half-term and I feel I’m just about managing to squeeze in my writing, but without the challenge I know it would have been put on the back burner entirely. Such a boost to get it done. – Cathy T.

Accountability. This is something that we all know and have heard a million times, but it works. If you’ve said you’ll do something and you don’t do it, you’re a disappointing liar. – Chris A.

I really had to push tonight because I’m exhausted and didn’t have time to do it at work. But at least I got the damn thing done. Almost 2 weeks down and I’m not gonna give in yet! – Amber S.

Not missed a day so far and determined to make it to the end now. I do think it is becoming a habit which is what I had hoped for. – Shirley W.

I haven’t missed a day yet which is starting to make me nervous! But now I suppose I’m really prioritising my own writing as I just don’t want to break that chain! It’s amazing what a little accountability can do! – Vanessa G.

I found the discipline of belonging to a challenge group incredibly helpful to glue me to habits that I would otherwise have let slip. And it was especially important last month – a time when I entered a personal twilight zone. I found out a few days into the challenge that I was having a miscarriage. I went from writing and thinking about pregnancy, identity and the new shape of my family to writing and thinking about loss and bewilderment. That event dominated the rest of my month, physiologically and emotionally. I doubt I would have found the energy for daily writing without the challenge, but the writing became a necessary sanctuary. I journalled my way through. Not read much of it over yet, but I’m grateful to have that record.

As a dabbler I’ve recognised a challenge group can see me through the honeymoon period into the necessary grind that lies beyond. – G. J.

Similarly, it can be hard to get back on track once you’ve missed a day (which is why I opted to write every single day, not just week days):

I did my writing today! First time all week. Gosh, it’s a lot harder to get back on that wagon than it is to fall off it! Once I missed a day, it just snowballed. Going to make it through the rest of this challenge though. Just watch me! – Helene M.

Another useful accountability-related thing? The notifications in the Facebook group. When I created the group, I recommended that everyone turn on notifications. This meant that everyone who did so got a daily reminder that they needed to complete their writing for the day when they logged on.

I almost forgot about writing today. Thankfully I got on FB and was reminded by this lovely post. – Nerissa M.

Forming One Good Habit Helps Encourage Others

I didn’t anticipate this one, but it totally makes sense. In the same way that ticking one thing off your to-do list makes you much more likely to tackle the next item, it seems that building a daily writing habit can also encourage you to have a more positive mindset and more productive days. Good habits beget good habits.

Number one thing so far: the discipline of daily writing and seeing how much I accomplished in a short time just by doing little pieces each day has inspired me to do the same in other areas of my life. So suddenly I’m getting shit done all over the place! And I’m also in a perpetually good mood, and feeling optimistic about life. Which is not always my norm of late. – Helene M.

Am finding this writing challenge is seeping into other parts of my life – I suddenly want to make big mad changes to my life that I can neither afford or have the energy for! But my unconscious is making a mad dash for freedom.

I think that doing writing exercises where you connect to your unconscious and let it run wild without censorship brings your true wishes to the fore. I found I was able to access my true feelings better. Specifically, I had a meditative experience where I was suddenly able to identify and ‘accept’ a major blockage of mine, resistance.

Once I did that, it sort of melted away, leaving me with a deep sense of peace and less self-judgement. I had been working towards making small changes beforehand, like moving house locally. But now my unconscious says it wants to move to Bournemouth! Next to the sea in a more lively place. – Liza K.

I’d already started to put some changes in place before the challenge, but now I actually feel ready for them! It’s weird, I feel like ‘it’s time for change’, rather than, ‘oh shit, what am I doing?’. It’s bizarre. I’ve been procrastinating on things and living too much in my own head, being concerned about what certain people might think and various other fear-based thoughts. But recently I’ve noticed that I’m starting to embrace the changes I want to make, and not actually caring what other people might think. It’s like doing a big Team America ‘Fuck Yeah!’ air punch! Haha! It feels positive-scary rather than fear-based-scary.

Like a typical introvert, I find myself living a lot in my own head, carrying around ‘what ifs’, overthinking everything, and approaching everything from a place of fear. But what I’ve found with the writing challenge is that I’m emptying my head every day. Whether I write for my blog or write in my journal, I feel like I’m making space for more positive things. I haven’t got as much to sit and obsess over, because I’m releasing it on daily basis, and I feel like I’m carrying around a lot less baggage. I suppose it’s a bit like when you declutter your house. – Lorna R.

While I didn’t keep up with the challenge as I hoped, what I found was that the awareness that doing a little bit every day can quickly lead to notable progress has spilled over into other areas of my life! Now when I see a huge job (say, mucking out 2 year’s worth of hay and manure from my barn – OMG) I break it into small pieces daily that I know I can manage even if life is crazy (just one wheelbarrow-full to the compost pile).

My tendency is to struggle to clear my slate so that I have big chunks of time to tackle those big jobs, but then that never happens and they just sit there, looming. Now I work at retraining my thinking to chunk things down and tackle just a little bit every day. It’s very freeing and empowering. I’m very excited in fact! It’s having quite an impact on my life. – Helene M.

It’s amazing how after only a week my outlook on my current job has improved, and the act of creating is giving me new ideas constantly. – Amber S.

Did some brainstorming on a mad idea for a Young Adult fiction book that came to me out of the blue. Funny how writing something, anything, every day seems to have opened a creative door! – Liza K.

No more waiting around for grand ideas. They’ll come after you start doing something creative. – Amber S.

You Can Do Anything When You’re Committed Enough

More than one person did some of their writing on their phones during this challenge. THEIR GODDAMN PHONES. I hate typing on my phone at the best of times, so trying to do 500 words every day on it would destroy me. But evidently when you’re committed to something, it can be done when there are no other options. Ditto for writing on pieces of scrap paper and forcing yourself to make time to write. It CAN be done if you’re serious about it. When you make it a priority and don’t allow yourself any excuses.

Wrote a ton today, longhand and on phone, it was great. – David A.

Uber-productive day today. Most everything was done in longhand: gel pen and one of twenty spiral-bound notebooks I snagged for 10-cents a piece during some back-to-school ‘We need to get rid of all this shit!’ sale. I do my best brainstorming handwriting instead of typing. – Susie T.

Done. 512 words on scrap paper at work. – Amber S.

Next week the real challenge starts as I’m in Taiwan without a laptop for 7 days… well hello pen and paper. – Tanya P.

Today I tried writing directly on to my phone. It went fairly well and predictive text speeds things up but I really need to learn to type with more than one finger! To really see the text you need to keep it within the screen (rather than scrolling across) and this ‘full screen’ effect makes you think you’ve written a lot more than you actually have. Generally pleased with it, though. Will def do short bursts on it again. – Liza K.

I’m only doing 500 words or so at a time [on my phone]. I can write in bed or during ad breaks without having to fire up the PC and commit to longer periods of time. I like the way it autosaves so often too. – Liza K.

I think so far, apart from helping me to empty my head every day, the challenge has made me realise I do have time to write. Before I started it, I would look at my to-do list for the day, and writing would always be something I did ‘if I had time’. So, more often than not, it wouldn’t get done. I think because I’m not getting paid for it yet, I saw it as less important than other things. But now, my confidence is growing in my abilities and I’ve realised that I actually want to get my website sorted out again and advertise my writing services. – Lorna R.

It is challenging to get 30 minutes of writing done all in one go when the kids are awake. I had to chunk it into two 15 minute sessions. It’s not just a rumour, little kids are demanding! – Stefanie B.

Struggled to get going today but so happy with the outcome! I think it’s true about some of the best stuff coming from those days where it’s hard! – Vanessa G.

Writing Every Day is Therapeutic

This was SO true for me, as I recounted last week, and I’m glad to see it was true for others, too. Even if you have to force yourself to do it, you still feel good afterwards, but oftentimes the actual process itself is enjoyable and therapeutic. Yay!

Writing is being very therapeutic for me as I’m finding out I have a lot of pent up frustration. I don’t quite like this side of me but it is what it is. All I can do is work on it and change my outlook. – Amber S.

I can only think that this creative writing challenge is affecting my whole psyche! So, thanks for the free therapy, Karen. – Liza K.

I am enjoying how much material I am producing to edit down and redraft into poems. Also trying to channel my anxiety into my writing rather than having it boil over in my head, which is proving very helpful. If you can’t beat it, put it to work at least! – Becca M.

I’ve re-realised that the best way to channel any negative, nervous energy is just to keep creating, and keep putting out new material without initially judging whether it is ‘good’ or not. I have recently pulled through some negative stuff so anxiety is rearing its ugly head again, and writing bits of poetry and prose has helped me channel it into something more positive and productive. Good stuff so far. – Becca M.

Having a Supportive Community is Massively Important

Many of the people who read this blog and who took the challenge are freelance writers or people who otherwise work alone. Working alone can be tough mentally, especially if you also live alone. Humans need social interaction – like they actually NEED it to feel okay – so, when you work alone, having a strong online community to turn to can be sanity-saving.

It seems taking part in a group challenge in which people shared their thoughts and progress with each other daily was helpful to not just me. I shared these in last week’s blog post, but I think it was one of the best things about the whole challenge, so I’m sharing some of them again here (because warm and fuzzies are nice).

Did 600+ words today. Took an hour though. Had missed the last seven days – bad news, emergencies, illnesses… basically more bags of lemons by 2016. Yet, on this last day of the challenge, when things got momentarily in control, I’m glad I found it in myself to get up and write, instead of giving up completely. And I think my participation in the last 3 weeks played an important factor today… felt a sense of belonging, and just couldn’t vanish without saying a goodbye!

Karen, I cannot thank you enough for setting this up. My patchy participation may not seem like much… but in what has been one of the most challenging times of my life so far, this simple exercise has grounded me in so many ways. I joined this challenge to support my professional growth as a writer, but the outcome is far more personal. This writing challenge turned out to be a serendipitous opportunity to find my deepest reserve of strength, when I needed it the most. – Rajashree N.

Had a bit of an emotional day today at my last antenatal class today so I wrote about that. I wrote four pages of fears and hopes which has made me feel a bit better. Then I come here and everyone is making me emotional again!! I’ve really loved this challenge and I’m definitely up for keeping up with this. I’ve written more than I ever have in such quick succession. I think a monthly challenge with would be great. Then you can dip in and out. Glad so many people are up for it too. Thanks so much to Karen for starting this challenge at a very transitional point of my life, I feel like it was kismet. – Mel G.

Participants’ Own Recaps

A few of the people who took part in the challenge have written up their own recaps. I’ve loved reading through them:

28 Day Writing Challenge – Amber Styles
Inktober and Untamed Writing 28 Day Challenge Recap – David Ashton
Thoughts On My 28-Day Writing Challenge – Lorna Roberts
What I Learned from My 28 Day Writing Challenge – Mel Green