3 Things I Learned From #20kin5Days

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

-African Proverb

It has been more than a week since my #20kin5Days writing challenge ended. I meant to post about this sooner, but it’s taken a while to navigate my feelings around it. Mostly I’m stunned and amazed that I managed to get so many words down at once. But I also feel a bit melancholy and deflated that the impromptu challenge is now over and I’m now craving that camaraderie and support.

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What is #20kin5Days

On September 25th while at a Trifecta Mastermind with my friends Latoya and Jame, I announced that I would be hosting a writing challenge. I’ve been thinking about doing something like this for months, tweaking and changing the parameters, but I still hadn’t found the guts to launch it. However, I knew that once I said it out loud to my business besties, I had actually to follow through with it. Latoya actually helped me work through some limiting beliefs that I was holding onto, and that’s helped me plan the last quarter (thank you, Toya!). So when we parted ways, I felt super-confident about announcing the challenge on Monday (the next day).

I was barely holding on to that confidence on Monday morning with I posted the challenge on twitter, expecting (and halfway hoping) it would get lost in the numerous tweets of Romancelandia drama. Well, there must not have been much going on that day because not only did other romance authors see it, they wanted to know where they could sighing up! Suddenly this crazy, and possibly terrible idea was something I had to actually do!

*Cue anxiety spiral*

But after I came to terms with the fact that I would have to not only write four thousand words a day for five straight days, I also had to offer encouragement for those who decided to do it with me! And honestly, the idea of donning my pom-poms to cheer on other writers was the motivating factor for me to follow through with this challenge.

I wanted to give everyone a week to plan their 20k, and by everyone, I mean me. I have a ton of ideas in my “what if?…and it’s a romance!” file. I needed to sift through them to decide which one of them was easy enough to stuff into a twenty-thousand word novella and would be a good standalone with new characters. I love the characters in my established romance world, but to be honest, I needed a break from them. I chose to write a May/December with a divorcee and a younger man (who is her professor). This was one of two ideas that were pretty well-developed and ready to be written.

Considering the limited word count, I thought it would be smart to focus on one POV. I broke out The Basic Character Creation Workbook to develop my main character, and Romancing the Beat to write a quick and dirty outline. My version of quick and dirty means one line for each plot point. That was the hardest part for me, to be honest. My outlines tend to be uber detailed and can take me as long as two weeks to draft. Somehow I managed to get it done by Friday I was ready to write.

But right away I realized I’d made some mistakes.

I launched this thing on labor day weekend. While Labor Day doesn’t mean much to me, apparently a lot of folks have BBQs and get-togethers on Labor Day. My bad. Lesson learned. I need to pay more attention to the calendar.

The second mistake was immediately after announcing the challenge, I reached out to Kate and Tiffany about going to the Decatur Book Festival that weekend. I foolishly believed that it wouldn’t be a problem. My friends love me and support my writerly aims. I needed only to make the time to bang out that 4k on Saturday and Sunday, right?

Right. Sure. None of this is a problem.

Here’s a blow by blow commentary of my #20kin5Days:

Day 1: I was pumped. I arrived on my timeline with pom-poms in hand, executed a few single and double herkies, rallied the participants into a froth, and got down to business.

I was so excited that I stayed up until midnight on August 29th to get a jumpstart on the word count.

Well, let me be totally honest here.

I wanted to get a jumpstart beaus I wasn’t sure I would be able to meet the 4k word count goal. To be honest, writing fiction has been difficult lately. Really difficult. I needed #20kin5Days to work more than I was ready to admit.

You see, I’m a slow writer, and for that reason, I always feel like I’m behind. Behind who or what, I don’t know, but I’d convinced myself that fast drafting was the only way I could “catch up.” But implementing everything I knew about fast drafting hadn’t worked. #20kin5Days was a last-ditch effort to make that work so hitting the 4k word count on the first day was validating and more than a little emotional.

Day 2: Yeah, this was the day me, Kate, and Tiffany went to the Decatur Book Fest. No words were made. Not a one. We ate our way through the festival, and I purchased a trilogy of illustrated erotic short stories that I can’t wait to dig into. No regrets.

Day 3: I woke up early and put in 2k before heading to brunch—a long brunch where we made friends with two sisters sitting at a table near us who joined our discussion about anime, and books in general. It was a lovely afternoon. I hit weird traffic on the way home though, so instead of getting that last 2k in, I went to straight to bed.

Day 4: Those regrets I didn’t feel on Saturday? Well, they came down hard on Monday. Regardless, I was determined to hit the daily word count goal plus some. I did two or three sprints, and partway through the day, while I was prewriting one of my plot points, I got really angry with myself. I realized that if I hadn’t slacked off, I would have written 20k. Easily. The thing is, you train your brain by setting goals and creating habits to meet those goals. If I make a habit of quitting before I begin, what kind of author does that make me? I finished the day with 6,088 words and a certainty that day one energy wasn’t a fluke. I can write more than 2k words a day.

Day 5: I had a daunting 8k words to write and the feeling at the top of the day was that I wouldn’t make it, but refusing to give into it. So many participants had already hit the goal or were so close that they definitely would make it before the day was out. I was so happy, but also feeling a little down on myself. Did I set up a challenge that I couldn’t win?

So I focused like a ninja.

I don’t know how many sprints I did, but I stayed up until midnight again in an attempt to meet the word count. I didn’t quite make it, but At 16,819/20,000, most of which was written in the last two days, I think I’ve made an impressive dent in this brand new manuscript. I call this a motherfucking success.

Here are the three things I learned during this writing challenge:

1. I really am an excellent motivator/cheerleader. People have told me this before, but this challenge was the first time that I paid attention to the dose of good feelings I felt seeing my author friends succeed gives me. By the way, Lucy Eden, L. Penelope, CM Lyon, Jasmine Silvera, Ash Dylan, and I’m sure some others that I’ve missed, actually wrote that 20k! Several people finished manuscripts that they’d been plugging away at for weeks or months. Some just found the right amount of support and camaraderie to get writing after taking an extended break or feeling blocked. That’s just super dope to me.

2. Going hard for a few days feels soooooo much easier than trying to sustain that same energy for a full 30 days. #NaNoWriMo is great, and I love the energy that shimmers through the fiction-writing world during that time. We’re all in it together and cheering each other on. #20kin5Days had all of that energy just in a shorter time frame.

3. Contrary to what I previously believed, I know how to write a standalone, but I still struggle with brevity. On Day 5, I realized that even if I made the 20k, it would only get me to the midpoint of my book. I just wanted to write something short, you guys. Why can’t I write a complete story in 20k words? I don’t know, but I’m gonna keep challenging myself to do that until I make it happen!

All in all, #20kin5Days was fun, and I’m definitely going to do it again. I’ll announce the challenge on September 23 which will give us a week to plan. The actual challenge will start September 30-Oct 4th. I can’t wait!

Thanks again to the writing ass writers who joined me in this writing challenge! Your support and participation kept me going. Maybe next time I’ll actually write something short!

Until next time… happy writing!