Today, let’s talk about challenge!
We are in the Fall already, which means that two very important artistic challenges start soon: Inktober in October and Nanowrimo in November. You might have heard of them already, or you might have heard of other similar challenges in your artistic field.
And you might have thought: why should I do this? Speaking from experience: I’ve done Nanowrimo five times, and it was hard! So, why on earth should you subject yourself to a taxing, difficult, time consuming challenge?
Well, I have five good reasons for you!
It Builds Your Confidence
I remember the first time I attempted NaNoWriMo in 2015: I had no faith in my ability to write 50’000 words in a month. Worse: I thought there was no way I could write a good story in English (all my long stories were in French at that point).
After one month struggling, trying, and reaching a point where I had no choice but just write without fearing the consequences, I started building confidence in my own abilities. Yes, if push comes to shove, I can write almost 2000 words per day, even after a long day at work. And I can write in English almost as fast as I write in French. Better: the story written during that month was not as bad as I had feared! Nanowrimo proved to me that I could be a “real” writer, while until then I had considered myself an amateur.
Losing or winning a challenge is not important. What matters is what you get out of the challenge. If you enter with the goal to improve yourself and feel more confident with your abilities, you WILL succeed! And that will happen, regardless of the outcome of the challenge. I have lost Nanowrimo once (I didn’t reach 50’000 words), but it was the year I wrote my first non-fiction book. So it was an improvement!
It Pushes Your Boundaries
Challenges are made exactly for that: challenging you and what you are comfortable with. It helps you explore new avenues that you hadn’t necessarily thought about. For example, a writing competition might ask you to write in a new genre. A drawing competition might require you to be faster -and less perfectionist- than your usual self. And a music challenge might force you to think outside of the box.
This is the perfect time to experiment without any consequences. I wrote a lot of stuff during Nanowrimo that never saw the light of day, simply because I had to write something. I surprised myself many times and added skills to my repertoire simply because I dared to try them.
Too often as artists we stay inside our comfort zone and it might be scary to get out. Which is why you should challenge yourself at least once in a while. Do something that scares you or something that you are not used to. Adopt a maverick attitude towards your art for a limited time!
It Helps You Build a Routine
One of the biggest benefits that I found in Nanowrimo was that it forced me to write every day. Every November, I had to figure out a way to fit 1-2 hours of writing in the middle of my already busy life. It taught me to prioritise my art and come back to it every single day. It was quite a difficult transition for me, because until 2015 I had never had a routine. I wrote when I felt like it, which meant that I wasn’t very productive.
Nanowrimo taught me a lot of the principles that I talk about in my book The Part-Time Artist. It helped me build the habit of writing every day. It helped me find the rituals that worked to get me in the mood for writing. And it forced me to separate the act of writing a first draft from the overly critical editor side of my mind. I have read similar accounts from artists who Inktober helped become more steady and finish their drawings.
If you would like to be more productive and if you struggle building a proper routine, I highly recommend trying a challenge. Sometimes, it’s the right “shock to the system” that will trigger a good habit for the rest of your life.
It Introduces You To a Community
My favourite part of Nanowrimo has always been the dedicated Twitter community. Every year, I took part in the NaNo Word Sprints and I met fellow writers like me who struggled to add hundreds of words to their stories.
Building a community as a artist is extremely important. And often extremely difficult if your craft requires you to work on your own or if you are an introvert. Challenges are the perfect opportunity to meet other people and build contacts that might help you later in your career. You can surround yourself with artists who are going through the same struggles and who can support you while you support them. They might also teach you tips and tricks that will help you in the long run. And a great network of contact will help you with marketing too.
Who knows? Your first fan might be someone you meet during a challenge!
Yes, you might not win the Pullizer prize with your Nanowrimo project. You might not be hired by Marvel with your Inktober creations. You might even feel like you produced a big pile of garbage at the end of the challenge. But it doesn’t matter!
A challenge is first and foremost there to be fun! Compared to other, perhaps more serious projects, you can use a challenge to let your hair down.
I often talk about the importance of remembering that your art is fun. When you start being serious about building a routine, being productive and invest in marketing, art can seem like another job, chore or burden. Reminding yourself that it is still fun, from time to time, is vital. Otherwise you are at risk of burning out.
In Conclusion: Challenge Yourself!
I tell every writer I know that they should try Nanowrimo at least once in their life. Even if they don’t win, even if the result lies forgotten in a drawer forever.
So I’m going to tell you the same: whatever field of artistry you’re in right now, I urge you to seek a challenge, competition or any other type of event and participate. You might be surprised with the result!
Any experience with Nanowrimo, Inktober of another challenge? Thinking of taking part this year? Let me know in the comments!
Céline is an author and podcaster passionate about helping fellow artists reach their potential and live a happy, balanced life.