Topic of the Night: My Seven Keys of A Challenge

A number of people have written me and made comments on the blogs about how they like the crazy challenges I come up with. Let me give you, in seven points, my reasoning about any challenge.

1st… I have learned it has to be short term.

My memory and attention span is so short that if I try for long-term challenge that can’t be broken down into much shorter challenges, I will stop cold or just forget, which is more likely to happen.

2nd… It has to be something I haven’t done before, or have an element that makes it new.

Again, short-term attention span. If I have done it, why do it again? Now I have run a marathon when I was thirty, but not run since, so this is a real challenge and I am fighting the age thinking of being 65/66, so it is interesting and challenging every day.

Another example: I wrote thirty-two stories in July a year ago, so this year when I started that I lost interest. I had already done it.

3rd… The challenge has to have a goal larger than just the challenge.

Writing a novel gets me another book, running gets me to finally drop this weight and get healthy. Challenge alone is never enough. There always has to be a bigger goal that I feel has value.

4th… The challenge has to be specific.

For the running, I want to get to that starting point in Las Vegas and feel like I might actually have a chance of finishing that marathon in five hours or so. I might not, but getting to the starting point is the key with this challenge.

Year-long goals of trying to write x-amount of words just fail for me. Not specific enough. Doing twelve novels is too general as well. I keep setting up the long-term challenges for myself and then just forget about them in short order. And announcing them here doesn’t help.

5th… The challenge has to fit who I am at this point in time.

That becomes a problem because at this age, after this many years of writing and publishing, challenges that come up are often just a shrug for me with the thought, “Did that.” So I listen to other writer’s challenges and I know they are good, but seldom do they fit who I am.

6th… I never do a challenge for the feedback from others or any kind of praise.

I do the challenge for me only. Learned that lesson early on.

7th… I always need to have fun.

Doesn’t mean a challenge won’t be tough and take a lot of hours and sweat, but it still has to be fun before I will even think of it. In fact, when I am looking at a challenge, if I hear myself say, “Oh, that would be fun.” I know I am on the right track.


So I hope those help some of you as well in setting up challenges. You need to check in with yourself. See what works for you. I just detailed these out to give you a framework to figure out how a challenge might work for you.

Or not work. Realize that challenges are often bad for some writers. Too much pressure of a challenge can freeze some writers down to a chair full of stone. So make sure that isn’t an excuse to not challenge yourself, but if pressure actually doesn’t help you, then avoid challenges.

But either way, remember to have fun. That really is the secret.