A Writing Challenge (By Patricia Goodson, Ph.D., P.O.W.E.R. Director)


A Writing Challenge

By Patricia Goodson, Ph.D., P.O.W.E.R. Director

There’s something about watching other people push themselves to their limit. Watching the Olympics, for instance: as the hope of victory builds and athletes’ herculean efforts amaze, the promise of glory seduces, allures. We are motivated – we want to be like that, we want to do that! We, too, want to test our limits, push ourselves, see how far we can possibly go. Getting a medal in the process may not be so bad, either, we think; even just a pat on the back for effort, might do.


One of my colleagues, here in the Department of Health & Kinesiology, runs ultra-marathons (distances ranging between 31 and 100 miles, sometimes, more). His name is Dr. Mike Sandlin and you can listen to a podcast where he describes his experiences running ultra-marathons, here. I’m truly inspired by Mike’s achievements: I want to be like him, I want to do that, too!


Just one tiny problem: I hate running. Never liked it, seems like I never will (despite serious efforts to learn, years ago). So I’ll never do that. Yet, the way Mike approaches running inspires me. The way he pushes himself to the limit moves me and makes me ask: Can I be like him?


The answer, of course, is yes! Specifically, what I have learned from Mike is how to approach herculean tasks such as 100 mile-races, or that insurmountable writing project. “You do it one mile-at-a-time,” he says; “you take the whole race and break it down to one day at a time.” You plan it in reasonable, achievable “chunks”, you stay with it, day-after-day, monitor-and-adjust your responses continually, and focus only on the day ahead (not on the 90 miles left to go).


I apply the principle to my writing. No, I’m not embarking on an ultra-marathon of writing a novel in 30 days – although there are people and resources dedicated to achieving precisely that feat (take a look online). An ultra-marathon of writing would go against the principles in the POWER model, the principle of avoiding binge-writing and, instead, doing it slowly, but steadily.


Instead, I set a small challenge for myself: to write 1 page of new words every day, for 30 days on a specific project. They didn’t have to be coherent, structured, or meaningful – the words, not the days. They could be just ideas I’m developing about the project, notions I wish to explore further, possible arguments, lists of people I need to search, books and films I need to check out. Anything related to that project.


At day 12 of the challenge, I already had 26 pages of new text! As of today, I am delighted to report I not only met the challenge, but exceeded all expectations and goals (not something I can claim for other areas of my life). I generated 70 pages of text, single-spaced (even though, at first, I aimed for double-spaced text). Oh, yes, some of it is just copied quotes from my readings; some of it, just text shaped into tables, and much of it repetition of ideas or ramblings. But I have enough material to draft an article – currently, challenge # 2 (compose the article in 7 weeks).


So… have I pushed myself to the limit? Not really… but I have silenced my inner critic who kept insisting I couldn’t possibly generate text related to that specific project, especially while I was still analyzing data and didn’t have any findings to report. I still don’t have the data analyzed completely, thus no findings to report, but from the challenge emerged the idea for an additional manuscript I had not thought about previously. The challenge highlighted how much more I can write, when I think I have nothing else to say. The challenge kept me moving, generating new words, writing daily, maturing new ideas, exploring old ones.


I must confess, though: I had a lot of fun with my challenge and, when I finished and looked back at what I had accomplished, decided: I want to do that again, continue to be like that, continue to test my limits, even if I won’t win a gold medal for any of it! I must write Mike a note of thanks.