Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Jan Brogan's Writing Challenge

by Julie Hennrikus

Jungle Red Writers is the blog of six Sisters in Crime--Rhys Bowen, Jan Brogan, Hallie Ephron, Rosemary Harris, Roberta Isleib and Hank Phillippi Ryan. Earlier this month, Jan Brogan issued a challenge--for six weeks, write a page a day BEFORE you get on the internet. Just one page. Dozens of writers signed up, agreeing to check in at least three times over the next six weeks with their progress. The initial post has 101 comments. The update has over 30 comments, many from inspired writers.

Jan, did you expect this reaction to your challenge?

I actually worried that in August, when so many people are on vacation, that I wouldn't get enough people to even read the post, let alone reply. I was grateful my Blog sisters so eagerly signed up, because at least then, there would be the six of us. I was surprised at the groundswell of other writers, who like me, needed a way to attack their Internet procrastinations.

What made you think of it?

 I read about a really cool challenge in the New York Times, it was a fashion challenge: You had to choose six items of clothing -- any six -- and that's all you could wear for a month. (not counting shoes and accessories). A number of  women signed on and learned interesting things about their fashion/shopping addictions. I thought -- what kind of challenge  would be appropriate to writers?  I knew  I needed to be more productive and that  my biggest enemy was the Internet -- because once I start checking email for the day, it becomes a way to distract myself from a story problem. I chose one page a day because it's doable. There's really no excuse NOT to write one page -- no matter what's going on in your life. And starting is always the hardest problem for me. Once I get going, one page leads to another.

The lazy days of summer are one thing, but do you think the challenge will continue after the six weeks? Are you hoping to inspire new habits?

I'd love it if the challenge continued past the summer. For me, I plan on expanding, rather than stopping my own new, improved habits. Even now, I'm not checking email until after noon. Email and the Internet are incredible time thieves that make you THINK you are working when you are just goofing off. 

Have you had any unexpected results from the challenge?

Yes, the enthusiasm and the comments I've gotten -- which have been so terrific. One woman suggested doing the same thing AFTER Lunch. Writing a whole page before you check email again. Hank suggested a Twitter hashtag to search and follow #JRWRITEFIRST, and authors have come to share some of their daily frustrations with me there, as well as with all of us on the blog. I feel like I'm making new friends.
Journalist Jan Brogan is the author of the Hallie Ahern series, set in Providence and the stand alone Final Copy, which won the Drood Review of Mystery’s Editors Choice award. She recently finished a screenplay based on the 1976 Combat Zone murder in Boston which has been accepted by a director. She is currently writing a narrative non-fiction account of the same murder, as well as a comic noir mystery, The Devil In Waverley. 

J.A. Hennrikus is a member of the Sisters In Crime Guppy Chapter and on the board of the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime.


Judy Clemens said...

That is such a great idea, Jan. You're so right that the Internet is such a time sucker. Count me in!

Edith Maxwell said...

It's indeed a very doable challenge. Don't tell my boss, but I have been writing my page right when I get to work every morning at 6:30. It takes so little time that I figure I could have been wasting that many minutes just chatting over the water cooler later in the day! And on my 3 non-work days, I often just keep on going past the single page.

Thanks, Jan, for prodding us.

Pauline Alldred said...

The challenge is so simple and so effective. The fact that so many writers responded to it encourages me to keep on writing past the first page.

Jan Brogan said...

Hi Judy, Edith, and Pauline,
Thanks, I'm so glad its working for you guys as well as its working for me.

I went with the one page count for a couple of reasons, but mostly because is low enough to get you started.

I've done the same thing with every new regimen I've wanted to start -- from exercise to guitar to meditation. Starting small gets you started, which, for me at least, is especially important for writing.

And the Internet is just too tempting a distraction. Plus, there's something that goes on with me -- must be the same thing that addicts the kids to video games -- but once I'm inside that "Screen" I want to stay there. It's almost like a drug. So I've got to stay away from it. At least until I accomplish my priorities.


Roberta Isleib said...

Edith, you are one sly dog!

Jan, I read the blog post quickly. Did you tell them that we are encouraging people to check in on Sundays to let us know how it's going? And don't forget the prizes:)

Alison E. Bruce said...

This is a great idea... except if you do your business via email. The web doesn't usually suck me in -- except today when it led me here. It's responding to emails and following up (and my horoscope if truth be told). It's all intertwined. So here I am in the middle of the day, sitting at my laptop in my nightshirt having done maybe an hour of work an hour of goofing off with a side order of tidying the kitchen while my coffee brewed. Yeah, I'll try the challenge.

Jan Brogan said...

Yes, Roberta, you are so right! Thanks for reminding me.

What's been so great is the enthusiastic response from writers who come to the blog on Sunday and let us know about their daily obstacles -- like Alison's - (email is my biggest challenge too, I can totally relate) and how they manage to get around them. Or not. We all have good days and bad days and no one is supposed to be perfect, Just trying to improve productivity.

If you sign up for the challenge and comment on Sundays at least three times, we put you in a drawing for prizes. We're giving away signed copies of all our books, plus for first prize -- the option of me critiquing your work -- up to 60 pages. Anyway, its all spelled out in the August 6th post which can be accessed via the archives in the right hand column.

Its never really too late to sign on.

Now get off the Internet and go WRITE FIRST!!

Hallie Ephron said...

I was stunned at the response! And I'm forever getting sidetracked in my writing by the Internet.

So simple but it works!

Dona said...

i've been on this challenge for a week now and i am finally working again on the novel i'd been meaning to get back to for YEARS --THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS!!! it's stupid i couldn't do it on my own, but of course there were always good reasons not to write, more urgent stuff to get done. i have to check e-mail every day for a bunch of reasons, so not being able to do so until i've done my page provides a sense of urgency to the novel-writing that it hadn't had before-- i kept on thinking, 'tomorrow i'll get back to that novel', or 'next week', or 'as soon as we're properly moved into our new place'

Rosemary Harris said...

Well...I knew going on a hiking and camping vacation was going to play havoc with the challenge for me. I started off well and then fell off the wagon (not easy to write on the trail.) But like a diet, you have to keep trying and I'm starting again - tomorrow. Since I'm writing this now, I guess I've blown today...

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Yup, it's a great thing! And I am still doing it..it's incredibly empowering. Come to Jungle Red--there's still time to join us!

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