The 100 Day Writing Challenge – Episode 0 Transcript
Hello and welcome to Death Of 1000 Cuts, making you an awesome writer, one cut at a time. My name’s Tim Clare, and this is the introduction, episode zero, if you will, of my hundred day writing challenge. A couple of years ago I made an eight week writing course in podcast form called the Couch to 80k Writing Boot Camp. This is like an evolution of that. And in this episode I’m just going to run through what it involves, who it’s for, and hopefully give enough information that you can decide whether it’s something you’d like to try.
Very quick summary in case you don’t fancy listening to my noodly philosophising for twenty minutes: this is a free fiction writing course, by podcast, that takes 100 days. Each day I’m going to ask 10 minutes of writing from you. There’s no homework, the timer’s in the episode. It’s meant to be gentle, low commitment, but also ambitious. I make no distinction between first timers and experienced novelists and I will be giving you challenging tasks that will stretch you, sometimes feel uncomfortable, and hopefully help you to grow.
There, that’s the short version. If you want some more depth here we go:
So look, I put out a free writing course back in what was it, 2017, I had some unexpected downtime, I was struggling with my own fiction, I had a one year old daughter so I was chronically sleep-deprived and off work to look after her, and it was just something I could write and record in small chunks. It was modular. I’ve taught creative writing almost all my adult life. Even back at university I ran weekly workshops for the creative writing society, you know, even when I was manifestly unqualified to teach creative writing, I was teaching creative writing.
And I’ve always been fascinated to the point of obsession by creative writing pedagogy. As a teenager I got loads of creative writing manuals out from the library, my nan had a load of pamphlets from a mail order course in the 70s that I’d read through, I went on my first week-long writing retreat at 18, down at a place called Totleigh Barton with the Arvon Foundation, not knowing that twenty years later I’d find myself teaching other teenagers creative writing in that very same barn.
Um, you may or may not know I’m a writer. I’ve got two novels out, a poetry collection and a non-fiction memoir. And I’ve been doing this podcast, Death Of 1000 Cuts, about writing, for nearly 200 episodes now, talking to authors, looking at listeners’ first pages, discussing the craft.
So I’m proposing here, what I’m offering in this 100 day challenge, is, like the Couch to 80k, something hopefully fun, relatively low-commitment, that pushes you forward on the three tracks, the three metrics that I think matter most in creative writing. One, writing more. Two, writing better. And three, being a bit happier while you do those things.
And where maybe this one is going to be a bit different to the Couch to 80k, maybe a bit more ambitious – aside from just being longer – is that I want to work in, as we progress, some self-editing skills as well. Some stuff where you can return to work and look at ways of making it better, of studying your work critically and optimising it.
Because look. Fundamentally I created the first course – and I’ve talked about this before – because I was getting emails from people who listened to the show going I love your critiques of listeners’ first pages, they’re so useful. Which is great, right, so far so flattering. But then they’d go the only problem is, now I’ve got your voice in my head when I write, and I realise how bad my work is. It’s hard to get anything done!
And I’m like oh. Oh no. I’ve spread my own unhealthy relationship with writing, my own perfectionism, my own self-loathing, my own inner miser, to the world at large. And to be honest, at the time, I was struggling with my own writing. So depending on how charitable you’re feeling the course was either a massive disingenuous displacement activity or an attempt to heal my own relationship with this craft I’ve devoted my life to.
So who’s the course for? Well, if you write every day, you really enjoy it, you’re really amazing at it and you’ve got this huge backlog of ideas you’re working through then it’s possible you’re better off sticking with your routine. And I’m genuinely delighted for you. There are writers out there for whom that is the norm – you know, fluctuating round a steady median, there are better and worse days, but more or less writing is good, writing is doable, challenges can be worked through, let’s roll our sleeves up and see what happens today.
For everyone else, this challenge will, I think, have something to offer. If you’ve always wanted to write but never made the time. If you wrote years ago but haven’t for a while. If you’re like me, and you do write, maybe you’ve written a lot, maybe you’ve got a few books out, but you periodically feel bruised, shy, worn out, disheartened, baffled, or frankly, like you can’t be arsed, this is your way back in.
There’ll be some psychology to it, you know, thinking about the why of writing, but at its core this is going to be about learning through doing. We’re getting match fit, we’re building confidence through building competence. So what I won’t be doing is just feeding you this empty air-punching yay, you’re awesome cheerleader flimflam. I mean you are, fundamentally, awesome, as a human being. Miraculous. Worthwhile. Unrepeatable and better and more valuable than you could ever know. Those are all good things for you to come into an awareness of. But they’re also kind of ancillary to the business of putting words on a page and telling a good story.
How much time is it going to take? Well, to begin with at least, I’m going to ask for 10 minutes of writing a day. Each episode will probably take 20, including my little spiel at the beginning. I’ll talk about some aspect of writing, explain the writing task for the day, then there’ll be ten minutes of silence while you write, then a gentle little gong noise – listen, I even bought a gong specially for it – and I’ll say bye and that’s it.
Unlike the Couch to 80k course, it’s not arbitrarily split into weeks. So the idea is you do 1 10 minute session a day, for 100 days. But. But but but. I would be astonished. Amazed. Confounded. Bowled onto my bottom were you to complete the full course in a simple linear progression of 100 unbroken days. Life doesn’t work like that. And in fact I think this is something that’s really important to learn about writing and routines and any sort of longform creative endeavour.
Unless you’re a being of pure light who moves from origin to destination via the power of thought and subsists on prana you live in a world where things go wrong. Or, at least, not according to plan. You’re going to get ill. Or worse, I’m afraid. Maybe something happens with your job. Maybe you have a stressful meeting with your landlord and have to move out. Maybe you go through a breakup, or someone you care about goes through a breakup or needs you in one of a hundred ways. Or it could be good things. You get invited to an awesome party, you go on holiday, you get a new nephew or niece or puppy.
So much of the advice around creative writing, the jabber the you-must-do-this finger pointing claptrap from authors or indeed randos on the internet assumes you live in this hermetically sealed plastic bubbles where there’s nothing to do except make the binary decision, do I write now or do I sack it off?
And look, sometimes we do get presented with exactly that decision in its Platonic form, but for the most part life is much more complex. And people – like you, like me, we’re people, we don’t get to duck out of this – have to write while also living lives where we might be dealing with health issues, or negotiating a divorce, or falling in love, or working a job we don’t like, or managing anxiety or depression, or we might have friends and family we love who want to see us, a house that needs cleaning, books to read, adventures to embark on, sleep to have, who knows?
And it’s so easy to get knocked off your axis, to be a human, fail to cleave to some rigid timetable of how much writing a writer should do, and to conclude, based on all this ‘writers write’ bollocks, I’m a failure, I’m not a writer, I can’t do it, what’s the point.
Well, what I want to say to begin with is: one, if you’re asking ‘what’s the point?’ that’s actually a brilliant question, because if you can find some answers to that woo boy you’re off to the races. And two, look. Don’t be alarmed by the term ‘weeks’ when I talk about week 1, week 2, etc. They’re just ways of organising parts of the course by theme. You’re not obliged to work through it at any particular speed.
I expect you to encounter delays. Setbacks. In fact I’m kind of counting on it. I was speaking to a child therapist Dawn Heubner a few weeks back – if you’ve not seen her TED Talk on anxiety I really recommend it – and she said that sometimes when a child comes to a session and proudly says ‘I’ve not felt anxiety once this week!’ part of her feels weirdly disappointed, because it’s in their encounters with anxiety that they have the capacity to learn and grow.
Similarly, learning to not just tolerate, but to learn from, even to incorporate and thrive on, setbacks and delays in your writing, is such a valuable skill. Because you’ll always have them. And the danger is – and I see this again and again, and it’s heartbreaking – someone hits a bad patch in their life, you know a relationship ends, a job goes sour, they or someone they love gets ill or dies – and so understandably they’re not sitting down every morning through that and going ‘ooh, righty right, let’s work through the plot problems in Chapter 23 of my military Sci-Fi epic’. And it falls by the wayside, and they lose confidence, and somehow the trauma of that period of their life and the fading of their writing habit become intertwined. It’s like writing brings back some of the feelings they had at that time.
And I say it’s tragic not because they owe the world a book. Not because your life is less meaningful if you don’t write. But just because I know the problems here aren’t to do with writing. They’re psychological. They’re about expectations we bring and assumptions we have and modes of thinking we use both to motivate ourselves and to try to avoid mistakes.
When we write in a healthy way. You know, when we bring to it a sense of mischief. Also reverence. Also joy. It can be such a source of happiness in our lives. It can be a playground, a refuge. A workshop. A dojo. A temple.
I hope – I don’t know, I can’t promise – but I hope I can bring some of that to you, via this course. That I can, at least, move you in the direction of those things. I’m not really interested in the publishing side of being an author, I won’t have anything to say on submitting to agents, or how to market yourself, or how to connect with readers. There are other people out there who are remarkably willing to offer you advice on that, if you want it. All I’m here for is hopefully making writing something you’re more likely to do, by making it something you like.
Now. If you’ve listened to or completed the Couch to 80k course, will this course have anything for you? Well. Maybe? It’s like a second draft, in a way, although the scope’s a bit more ambitious. But I want to build on what I learned from making the first one and, since the subject is writing fiction, I will, inevitably, be touching on some of the same territory. If you listen to tomorrow’s episode you’ll see we’re going to start with the same exercise as the first course. Because it works really well! I thought about it for a while and decided I didn’t want to swap out bits for worse ones just for the sake of making it different.
Since I made the Couch to 80k course over ten thousand people have given it a go, I’ve had hundreds of emails from people who finished the whole thing, and so I’ve tried to use that feedback to expand and grow what I put together back then.
And you know, I did it back then without really planning. I’d record late at night while my daughter was in bed. And it turned out pretty well, I think. So I’m not suggesting this 100 day challenge will be better, exactly. Like any creative endeavour, I just don’t know how it will turn out. But one thing I did learn from the last one is, sometimes, you’ve just got to take the leap. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but at the very least I’m going to learn something, refine my craft as a writer and creative writing teacher, by making this, and figuring out what do I think about writing? What matters? When everything else has gone away, how and why do we make stories?
So if you’ve done the Couch to 80k course, some of this journey will be familiar to you, some of it won’t. I’m making it with newcomers in mind, but if you don’t mind going over some old ground, you’re really welcome. I’m certainly not copying any individual episode en bloc. It’s all recorded new. Also, it’s worth saying if you’ve been signed up to my Weekly Writing Workout emails, I’ve been using that as an unofficial testing ground for new exercises, so I’ve adapted some content from those for the purposes of this course.
So. If you want to be involved, what do you need? Ideally, either a pen and notebook, or a laptop, to write in for each ten minute session. Something to play each episode on. Maybe headphones if you want a bit of privacy. That’s it. You don’t need a timer, I’ll include one in each episode. All I ask is can you please keep the writing you produce in each session somewhere where it’s easily accessible, so you can have it on hand in future sessions. Because we might generate some content one session, then use it as a jumping off point in a future one. That’s it.
And an important part of the philosophy of this course is there’s no homework. Your only obligation is writing during the ten minutes set aside for it within the episode. I might leave you with something you might like to reflect on between sessions, but you don’t have to, it’s not mandatory.
And in fact, look, I’ll repeat this in episode one, but my suggestion is, for the first couple of weeks at least, you don’t do any creative writing at all outside your daily 10 minute sessions. Go read. Hang out with your friends. Take a walk. Tidy the house. Sleep. Dance. Learn a new recipe. Embrace your sovereignty over your life.
The whole thing’s free. It’s been produced with the generous support of Arts Council England. If you go on my website timclarepoet.co.uk or search for Tim Clare 100 Day Writing Challenge there’ll be a full episode list with links to each one. They’re all downloadable. There’s also links to full transcripts of each episode so if you’d prefer text for whatever reason hopefully that makes the course a bit more accessible.
Um. I’m not upselling premium content at the end of the course or anything. There’s no paywall. I’ll be uploading the whole thing one episode at a time. You can start and end when you like. I think there’s so little quality support for writers that doesn’t cost a lot of money. I know how hard it can be, and how especially hard it is if you aren’t from certain backgrounds traditionally associated with novel writing. So, for what it’s worth this is my little drop in the ocean, hopefully helping the community, helping you, helping my lovely fellow humans to gain a bit of confidence, gain a bit of happiness, have some fun.
You know, we can make stories. We’re going to create some stuff that didn’t exist before. How exciting is that? Poof. Zero carbon production. Something from nothing. It’s the closest we get to doing actual magic.
So look. If you’re wavering, totally your shout, but why not try tomorrow, see how it feels. I’d love to go on this journey with you, and help you however I can. I’ll probably say some silly things, you might find them amusing, at some point you may decide I’m openbunnyquotes Too Much closebunnyquotes but please understand I’m only doing it because I want you to like me.
Right. Yeah. Let’s delay no longer. Thank you for listening, and I’ll see you tomorrow.