I think it’s important for a writer to always be looking for new challenges. If the thing you’re working on isn’t teaching you something then how are you going to grow?

My current challenge is the Writeathon challenge over on Royal Road. Writeathon has some similarities to NaNoWriMo, which I’ve done every year since 2004. In both cases the challenge is to write a set amount according to a fairly tight deadline. NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words of a first draft in 30 days. Writeathon is 55,555 words in 5 weeks but the words have to be published to a single fiction on the website. The daily writing total is lower for Writeathon but you have to edit as you go, which is very different to the “Writing with abandon” atmosphere of NaNoWriMo.

The thing I love about NaNoWriMo is the permission to suck. Nobody ever has to see the bullshit you come up with at three in the morning when you’re desperate to just keep the story going, and so a bunch of ninjas jump out, and menace your romantic leads who’ve been stubbornly refusing to kiss for three fucking chapters.

Writeathon does not come with permission to suck. It comes with permission to care what other people think about your writing. A lot of writing advice boils down to “Write to please yourself.” This is true and important. If you’re not enjoying the story then writing it just isn’t sustainable in the long term. It is possible to write stuff that you hate but writing it will destroy you eventually. The temptation is to avoid that by forgetting about the audience completely.

However, if you never think about the audience then you end up writing stuff that no audience will be able to enjoy. At some point you need to consider clarity and coherence for readers who don’t live in your head. I think it’s perfectly valid to leave that consideration until it’s time to edit but there’s something to be said for cleaning up your messes as soon as you make them.

Ray Bradbury is often quoted as saying “Throw up in your typewriter every morning… – Clean up every noon.” I’m a night owl, and also incapable of sticking to any routine for long, but throwing up story into my laptop for a bit and then cleaning it up when I run out of steam might be sustainable. I’m going to spend five weeks finding out if it is.