Written by Caitlin Jans October 16th, 2014

The Importance of Writing Challenges

Someone told me about NaNoWriMo for the first time when I was 19. I had never heard of a writing challenge before, but the idea of there being a National Novel Writing Month, where writers attempted to complete a manuscript in just one month, was very exciting to me. I really liked the idea of trying  to write a novel in one month, I did not do it that year, but the following year I completed NaNoWriMo for the first time.

It was an exhilarating experience and even though I lost the manuscript in a crash soon after, I was very grateful that I participated. Right after I completed the novel I challenged myself to write one poem a day for the next three months. My writing improved during this period more than during any other period of my life. It was an incredible experience. Only later did I discover there is a NaPoWriMo in April that has similar rules.

A lot of people are skeptical of writing challenges. Many say that they only write when the muse hits them. I used to rely on the muse only for poetry until I wrote 90 poems in 3 months. That is when I discovered that a bad mood and a bad day can end up creating just as good a poem as a day where the ‘muse’ visits. Often it takes a lot more work to get there on those days where there is no must in sight, but that does not mean it is not worth it.

If you are going to be a serious writer, you have to write a lot, even if it is not all great, often terrible writing is the only way to get to the good stuff.

Others claim that they just don’t have the time to commit to a challenge like NaNoWriMo. Sometimes this is true, but often more time can be found. I have completed NaNoWriMo while holding down a full time job, and once completed it in 15 days because I had social obligations at the end of November. A former student of mine wrote the majority of her completed NaNoWriMo novel by typing it out on her iphone during work breaks.

Another common argument is that is that serious writers don’t take these challenges seriously. This may have been the case at one time, but lately many famous writers have taken the NaNoWriMo challenge and many have published the books they have written during that time. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, all started out as NaNoWriMo Novels.

The final argument that some writers give is that they already have good writing habits and that they don’t need to change anything.  When I am not taking a writing challenge I still write almost every day.  However when I take part in a challenge my writing still improves a lot because usually I have to write so much in such a short amount of time that I exhaust the normal subjects that I write about and my writing tends to head in startling new directions.

Now I am not arguing that NaNoWriMo is the challenge for you. It is not for everyone. However there are lots of other options out there. There is the day novel writing challenge, a 24 poems in 24 hours writing challenge, and many others.Find what works for you, or set your own challenge. A good writing challenge generates a lot of work and challenges the writer to explore new territory.


Caitlin Jans is a poet, a novelist, and the editor of Authors Publish Magazine. Her writing can be found in The Conium Review, The Moth, Labletter, Literary Mama, and elsewhere. You can follow her on Facebook.



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