Challenge is a mind set!

‘I can’t write. Writing is beyond me,’ said my wife.

‘You can. Writing needs just two things. Something to write with and something to write on. You have both.’

‘But writing needs to be full of life.’

I just couldn’t resist the temptation to take off my tee and point to my back. ‘Here, write something on a surface that pulsates with life.’

No, I’m not telling you what happened after this because I merely wish to focus on how people try and run away from writing. Writing isn’t difficult at all.

Is writing as difficult as playing cricket is?

It is, if you think you need to go to a stadium with the best equipment and an entire team of enthusiasts. It is, if you want to insist on having a band of cheer leaders and a lot of noise and at least a few dozen fans for applauding. It is, if you ask for Shane Warne to come and tell you how to hold a cricket ball. This is how difficult playing cricket is.

Now, if you dream of writing only when the AC is switched on and you are sitting on a plush revolving chair with an Apple desktop with a screen size that is bigger than the size of the TVs in most homes… and you have a forced silence zone around you… and a broadband connection with a blazing 8 mbps speed, you’re asking writing to get more and more difficult.

But playing cricket is much easier.

All you need is to climb to the terrace, manage a tennis ball and a bat of any size or even a thapi (used in Indian households to beat the dirt out of clothes!). I have seen terrace cricket played for hours together without enthusiasm flagging even a bit. You can see them bowling underarm Malingas with finesse, incredible fielding done to prevent the ball from bouncing seven floors below, superbly controlled batting done to place ground hugging shots to enable singles and twos… yes, terrace cricket is exciting indeed. You also have the gali cricketers, the lawn cricketers, the badminton court cricketers, and those who go to larger fields where multiple matches are played… yes, multiple matches where a slip fielder for one team is almost positioned as a wicket-keeper for the other… and India produces its Dhonis, Sachins, and Kapil Devs from such a mish-mash!

Even writing is as easy as terrace cricket.

All you need is the passion for a subject… it is up to you to decide to bash it, mash it, idolise it, laugh at it, make it cringe uncomfortably like the IMF boss in a NY jail, inject it with the pompousness of Amma, or make it a daredevil that happily prancing at being last in the 2011 IPL matches! It’s all up to you. You have the topic waiting to dance the way you want it to…

As I explained all this to my wife, she said: ‘Phew! Now I’m afraid to write even the official memo that I was planning to.’

‘You really have this knack for making simple things complex,’ I thought to myself, and said aloud: ‘You need to challenge yourself. Writers do this quite often to beat the dreaded writer’s block.’

‘I don’t want to challenge myself,’ she said with finality in her voice.

I reminded her of the 8-day challenge of some multi-vitamin capsules that I had seen on the telly last night and added that there were these 7-day, 30-day challenges as well that promised anything from a fair skin tone to an ultra-white shine for the teeth!

‘So…,’ she slowly seemed to be losing her gip on opposing this idea of writing, ’is there some such formula for writing as well?’

‘Ahhh,’ I thought to myself, ‘these challenge-ads then aren’t as daft as they seem to be.’ ‘Yes, I have been scouring the net for some time now and have found these wonderful ready-made formulas flourishing there.’

The writing challenges on the net

‘Do they promote some kind of formula writing?’

‘No, they don’t have any formula. But wait, I’ll tell you everything about them… and more.’

The first of these challenges that I came across on the net appeared to have struck the blogging world like some deadly virus. There were a lot of these young and not-so-dedicated writers looking for a loyalty pill. They really wanted to write but were often running short of ideas and topics on which to write. These are the sort of people, I concluded, who were you-give-me-a-topic-and-I-will-write kind of writers, people who, in management jargon, qualify as the great implementers. Truth is that it is from this massive flock of implementers that the great strategists are born… or in the writing parlance, the creative writer!

‘Interesting,’ she said, ‘I think you need to tell me more.’

Well, the commonest challenge that I encountered was the 10-day challenge and had a set of topics that was common to most of those who followed it.

All this challenge wanted was to have you blog continuously for 10 days with no break and it suggested this sequence:

10 secrets, 9 loves, 8 fears, 7 wants, 6 places you want to go to, 5 foods, 4 books, 3 films, 2 songs, 1 picture of yourself

However, there were a few variations too. There were a few people who twisted this commonest challenge sequence to become clearer and more converging on a specific topic:

Day One: Ten things you want to say to ten different people right now.

Day Two: Nine things about yourself.

Day Three: Eight ways to win your heart.

Day Four: Seven things that cross your mind a lot.

Day Five: Six things you wish you’d never done.

Day Six: Five people who mean a lot (in no order whatsoever)

Day Seven: Four turn-offs.

Day Eight: Three turn-ons.

Day Nine: Two smileys that describe your life right now.

Day Ten: One confession

The blogs that I surveyed had people with all types of writing skills and writing will… there were some who stopped after writing a couple of lines for each day and there were others who went on and on and on to the limits of dreariness! The challenge here, I presume, is to write a passage or a few paragraphs of reasonable length where the topic is dealt with in some detail. The aim is to make you sit and analyse a subject, do some research, and then write every day. Therefore, one-word answers would be like treating this challenge like an objective task that needs to be done clinically. These challenges would surely work if one stops acting like a surgeon using a scalpel for a routine incision.

As I explained this, I came across the 10-day YOU-challenge, another variant but one that takes you for a walk through the abstractions of moments and the obvious and the not-so-obvious emotive states:

Day 10 – 10 things I absolutely LOVE

Day 9 – 9 things I could not survive without

Day 8 – favourite holiday; 8 reasons why

Day 7 – favourite season; 7 reasons why

Day 6 – 6 things about yourself

Day 5 – 5 qualities describing your perfect soul mate

Day 4 – 4 songs or artist

Day 3 – 3 hobbies

Day 2 – 2 pet peeves

Day 1- 1 wish

Challenge and the selling angle

It isn’t as if only the print and the audio-visual media have a monopoly over the challenges bait to sell. The internet has adapted this technique perfectly for selling anything from health food to yoga to even selling a nation (from the tourism angle, of course).

There is this 10-Day Fitness & Nutrition Challenge on the net that attempts to sell lifestyle changes! (–nutrition-challenge/) They graciously keep their discussion focussed on their aim to promote eating clean by making you ‘eat more often, eat lean protein, complex carbs and healthy fats.’ They cleverly add that starving you is not their aim.

‘This seems rather clever.’

‘This is just posturing… the reality of the deal generally comes later.’

The posturing doesn’t end here… it goes on to say that ‘during this 10-day challenge, YOU WILL HAVE TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE AND BE ACCOUNTABLE!! Yes, you’re going to have accountability. You will have TONS of guidance.’ After all this muscle flexing of jargon pretending to be your friend, the road takes a sudden twist and turns towards the real aim which could range from selling some energy drink or energy food or exercise machine, equipment etc.

‘This was just an example of how the challenge funda is being used by businesses to add to their profits.’

‘But there is no such hidden agenda in the 10-day challenge ideas for writers?’

‘No. None. But there are a few more rather interesting forms of challenges that I found on the net.’

For the Winter Norway Challenge, the competition website says: ‘Entries can be anything from a story showing your qualities as an explorer, a re-creation of Amundsen’s expedition to the Arctic in your garden, or telling what the 5 unique items would be for the trip and why. You can also show your explorer quality by how you conquer your fears or face challenges.’

This does sound innocent and there are no hidden sales agendas here. Moreover, this kind of twist to the challenge game does seem helpful to a writer.

While waiting for the traffic lights to turn green, I was surprised to find a saffron-clad foreigner requesting me to roll down my window.


‘We have a gift for you. It is a copy of the Gita. Please accept it.’

Before I could actually take the copy from him, he continued: ‘We also request you for a token donation of Rs 100 for the ISCKON fund.’

This was pretty much direct selling and the ISCKON people have a lot to learn. The Biblical societies all over the world have evolved to a much greater level. They have also devised the ‘Prosperity Challenge’ on the internet. Their ‘10-Day Prosperity Challenge’ guides you through several foundational Biblical concepts about how God provides and will offer you the opportunity to apply practical tools and ideas to your personal finances. No, you’re not buying anything here, but the selling is obvious.

There are sites that ask you to accept strange challenges of eating only oranges and cucumbers for 10 days and others that  ask you to take the article selling or web-space selling challenge…  but surpassing all these in subtlety is the unique 10-day Anthony Robbins Mental Challenge that uses very professional sounding gimmick concepts. They talk of the EFT or the Emotional Freedom Technique and the real aim is to do subliminal selling of his now famous books ‘Awaken the Giant Within’ and ‘A note to a friend’.  They do this by asking you to spend just 10 days controlling your thoughts and emotions which (they claim) forces you to break out of old negative patterns and habits and helps you develop new positive and beneficial ones, allowing you to move towards your goals faster than you ever thought possible.

‘Ah, there is another fact that is now clear to me,’ said my wife, ‘selling doesn’t always involve money.’

‘Selling is always a mind game. Money transactions are what just happen as a natural consequence. Hard sell isn’t anyway such a good idea… it boomerangs most of the time.’

Must writers really keep challenging themselves?

Writers having a creative block do need the crutches of such challenges… so do those who want to get better. Challenges for writers is something those that any businessman or a business leader or a management student would want to take him higher and nearer his goal. These are just mind-sets that have to be nurtured and nourished through a constant barrage of small and big challenges.

I remember I keep challenging myself… I am off tea now for more than three years now and I find this a rather refreshing challenge. There was a time when I stayed away from movie watching for an year, at another point of time I had forsaken pickles for an year… and to tell you the truth, even I am seriously thinking of going ahead with my own self-designed 30-day writing challenge.

Confidence, ideas, motivation, inspiration, knowledge, support, energy, creativity, brilliant mentors to keep one on track… are just a few things one is sure to meet in a confluence or convergence of writing and sharing it on the internet.

If the concept seems productive (for, there can be those who will find enough reasons to drop out), one can always increase the duration. After all there is no law that prevents challenges from going beyond 10 days, as Bikram Yoga Werribee says while talking of his mini yoga challenge; ‘Would love to find out if anyone is interested in a 10 day challenge – this means 10 days of yoga in a row – no break, no excuses, just come and practise 10 days in a row. You do it for yourself, you complete the 10 days, and you feel great! First we start with 10 days, and then we will build up to 20 days, and soon we can start the major 30/60 day challenge! Look great, feel great – everything to gain nothing to lose!’

Yes indeed, by taking a challenge you have everything to gain and nothing to lose! If you’re reading this article, and you nurse a wish to write a novel someday, just stop and list what you will write in the next 10 days. Let’s call today: Day 1.


Arvind Passey
19 May 2011


Featured image credit: MPMG