I love cooking. I don't think I cook well, but my husband is a chef, my godmother is a chef, and my family used to own a restaurant. I really respect people who can cook. It's a meld of creativity, knowledge, and the ability to work within constraints that reminds me a lot of writing.
Lately I've been watching Food Network's new challenge show Chopped. Like Top Chef, this show features a group of chefs competing in crazy challenges. The Chopped twist is that each contestant is given a bunch of mismatched ingredients that they have to work into the dishes they prepare. Now, these chefs are never going to use these dishes they create in the real world. A chef is never going to draw up a restaurant menu thinking "I have to put stout ale and chili peppers into this quail dinner somehow!" But at the same time, they have to have a lot of skill to make the challenge ingredients into something you'd want to eat. It's cool to watch them exercise those creative muscles.
Writing challenges are a lot like cooking challenges. I don't usually do writing challenges on my own. It's hard for me not to feel driven to produce an end product with my writing time. But really, writing isn't like factory work! Writing challenges can take us somewhere we never expected. Maybe a challenge isn't like regular, everyday revising, but like the chef working with quail and chili peppers, challenges give us ideas we can use or adapt in "the real world."
Here's a challenge I liked. It's great for a break at work when you don't have time to get into a story world. List all of the characters in your work-in-progress, no matter how minor they are. Then describe three physical characteristics for each character. This challenge helped me figure out that one of my characters wears glasses.
At the Chautauqua conference in 2007, Candy Fleming gave us a great writing challenge: write a short scene for your work in progress that doesn't include ANY characters BUT moves the plot forward and causes change. I wrote a scene with rain and wind loosening a window frame, so that a boarded-up abandoned house could now be broken into.
So if you're losing enthusiasm for your work in progress, maybe a few challenges will add spice to your butt-in-chair time. Anyone have a good challenge to share?
-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages