Coming Together – 5 things I’ve learned from our writing challenge

Karalee’s Post #20

jazz vespersI went to Jazz Vespers last Sunday to hear musicians and singers give tribute to the life of Jerry Wennes, the founder of these Sunday concerts at St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church.

I’m not religious by any means, but I am open to listening, and this jazz concert invites both musicians and the public no matter what one’s spiritual thinking is. Besides, this particular church is well worth the visit simply for its spectacular architectural beauty.

It struck me that musicians from all over the city had come together to give tribute, and many had never played and sung together before. Of course, this got me thinking about my book and how my characters have come on and off stage too, interacting with other characters as they weave their own musical way to the climax near the end.

Fitting for a book I’d say. I sat back and enjoyed the concert as I mused.

This is the last week of our five month writer’s group challenge to complete a new manuscript with new characters, setting, and/or new style of writing. Has mine come together?


It’s got strong bones and is fleshing out like a coming-of-age adolescent standing in front of an open refrigerator. I will need to encourage a few gorging sessions in the coming weeks, but I look forward to them. Writers enjoy these type of days when words come spilling out faster than our fingers can type.

Those are the best.

So what have I really learned along the way?

  1. Outlining helps. For me this is the organizational structure, writing down my ideas from character creation to storytelling. I establish Act One, Two and Three and then fill in the rest as chronologically as I can. I do a rough outline in table format.
  2. Structured time helps. I have a routine I follow where I exercise first thing, write mid-day, and spend time with family in the evenings. Of course there’s room for flexibility and my family support is awesome. I’m NOT a night owl so writing in the evening doesn’t work unless caffeine-induced.
  3. Exercising helps. I try to be active every day whether going for a run, yoga, walking with a friend and/or my dogs, winter sports, biking, or if the weather is too miserable, even doing some housework. Not only am I healthier, my back thanks me and it helps clear my brain for the next session of writing.
  4. Reference books/information help. I don’t know about you, but when I’m stuck for ideas or need to find out about some  plot detail I will turn to the internet for information or pull out a book on character development, writing humor or emotions, etc. It’s all part of the ongoing learning and it does take time.
  5. Dedicated writing area helps. I never used to have my own space to write, not until one of my children became an independent young adult and flew the nest (only a ten minute drive away which is very nice). With a laptop I can still be mobile, but now I can set up my bubble web plotting on the wall and keep who/what/where/when/why in front of me. I love it!


This time next week will be the start of a new chapter in our challenge. What will we do? I see a group decision coming over coffee and laughs.

Productivity: this has been a challenging week. I’ve tightened my timeline to increase the tension in my book which required backtracking and changing dates, etc. but my plot-line is much better. Progress yes, but added word count not so much.

Happy writing.

12 thoughts on “Coming Together – 5 things I’ve learned from our writing challenge

  1. I can already offer my congratulations for your accomplishments in this challenge, Karalee. It sounds like you’ve found your groove and I can’t wait to read the results!

  2. Wow, Karalee, you did it! I can feel it, I can taste it. So looking forward to read the results of your commitment and hard work. I’m afraid I am nowhere near that disciplined.

  3. It’s great that you’ve learned things from the challenge you set yourselves. That’s part of growing as a writer, for sure. But I hope that part of your debriefing both individually and as a group focus on what did and didn’t work to get a book written by a deadline. That’s got to be a conscious part of what you take out of this, or all your guilt and angst and feelings of failure (and yes, some of you will be feeling this) are wasted and anything really positive and constructive will be lost. I’d like to ask some questions that I think you might want to ask yourselves and each other in your final meeting on the 5 in 5:

    Why did I finish? Or, why didn’t I finish? And saying “I wrote enough” or “I didn’t write enough” isn’t an answer. Why didn’t you? What about this process – one novel finished in 5 months – didn’t work for you? How could you have produced more words over the five months? How can you find a structure and framework that will give you the discipline you need to get this done? What strategies, tactics, hints, tips, schedules and plans could you have implemented that would have ensured more output? What things do you use in the rest of your life (especially in the professional and business and working parts) that help you achieve goals? Would those work for you in your writing? Silk saw that in her comment on her “In the Mood” post – she works better and more successfully with incremental deadlines, or goals. That’s the best lesson she could get from this exercise, because now she can use it to up her wordage per day. If you did finish, analyse what you did that produced the book (or as close to finished as you got) in that time, and refine it to allow you to do more in the same time.

    What you’re looking at here, over and above any writerly lessons you’ve learned is that you need to manage your time so that you can produce words to a deadline. If you don’t know any strategies, go find some, and be creative. Block out time every day – set a daily/weekly goal of number of words, number of pages, finished scenes, finished chapters – whatever it takes to let you get the words down. Do you respond to colour? And does guilt motivate you? Then use those two things to make you feel guilty enough to write.

    One thing I learned is both of those work for me, and I’m outer directed. If I have an external deadline (the publisher needs the story by this date, or the crit group has to have the next scene to crit) I’m good to go. But if I don’t, I’m lost until the guilt piles up enough to get me to the desk. About 20 years ago, I got hold of a device that allowed me to track, in colour, what I’d done every day. Not in detail – I could put in a blue block for writing but not what or how much, a brown block for exercise but not what or how much, a grey block for volunteering at my kids’ school, a green block for housekeeping and errands, and so on. After three months or so, I could see, at a glance, how much time I’d spent over a week, a month and a quarter doing things and what those things were. I only recorded things I had done, not things I planned to do. It started as a way to figure out why I never seemed to get anything done, but was busy all day long. And boy, was that one blue writing block lonely. It got me going – just to see, after the next three months, that I had done more writing than the previous three got me into the chair and the keys tapping. I’m still using it, and it still works to keep me writing. That may work for you – it may not, but it’s a creative way to push yourself into the chair and get the words down. Find something equally creative, along with maybe setting goals, or giving yourself rewards – I’ll have an extra glass of wine if I finish that scene. Or whatever.

    The point is that if you don”t figure out WHY this didn’t work for you, and how to work around that, you’re not going to get better at being disciplined at writing, and all the other really good lessons you learned are not going to be of any use to you.

    And I want to make a suggestion. All of you have made some progress, even if you didn’t finish. Keep going. Set another major goal – finish the book in X time – whether that’s a group goal or an individual one. Then use the time to try out the micro strategies and see how they work for you. But please, finish the books you started. Get them in shape to send them out. Even if you’re rejected, you’ll have had a rite of passage – you’ll be fully fledged, honest to goodness writers – you have a finished book and a rejection to prove it!

    • Bev, your advice is so valuable – I can’t thank you enough for your thoughtful comments and constant support. You are one wise woman.

      • Thanks so much Bev. For me having a deadline is imperative and I’m good at setting myself one too. I have achieved more than I thought I would with my personal issues that have risen as well as my priority with the family. My youngest is finished high school this year and I will have even more time to devote to writing! Less cooking especially 🙂

    • Bev, thanks for those words of wisdom. I will make sure to print this out and bring copies to our next meeting. Really useful stuff!

    • Bev, I have so enjoyed your insightful comments and suggestions. For me, this challenge has been cathartic. I learned a new skill – outlining- and if nothing else comes out of this, that will be enough for me. But I have also so enjoyed having feed back from writers outside our little group and wanted to thank you so much for being one of our biggest fans. We’ll have a lot to talk about in the debrief!

    • Like glue! Congrats on your writing achievements too. We’re both into more social media connecting as well, so who knows where it will all take us.
      Happy writing.

  4. I am so impressed with the bloggs you have written, so can’t wait to read the finished work. my thoughts are with you as you get through this crucial stage. Diana

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