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The Conscious Me Pre-Writing Challenge

I’ve mentioned Carlos more than once over the course of this blog, most notably in a recent post about getting your writing done early, when I also mentioned the Conscious Me Pre-Writing Challenge. As I said in that post:

My friend Carlos is working on a personal development blog that he started around the same time as Unstressed Syllables. Last week he wrote a guest post on some of the same principles in this article, and in the excited discussion that followed, he proposed a plan for a big pre-writing challenge. His goal is to get two full weeks’ worth of posts stockpiled, and he’s determined to get all the bloggers he knows to participate. It’s an ambitious goal, with a big group dedicated to support and advice and accountability — really, in a lot of ways, it’s like National Novel Writing Month, and you know I’ve got nothing but good things to say about that program.

So I’m in. If you’re a blogger (and, if you’ve been around for more than a week, you should be), consider joining in. You can find Carlos’s description of the event here, and watch this page for updates on how I’m doing.

Conscious Me | About the Pre-Writing Challenge

Challenge Details

The challenge is to spend a month, from February 19 to March 21, preparing two weeks’ worth of extra material. For most of the participants, I think that’s going to mean building up some timeless posts that can be used as fillers during crunch times, but I work best (as I’ve mentioned before) moving from start to finish. So my goal as of March 21 is to have the next eight posts (four articles and four writing exercises) all finished up.

That means, before I even get started, I’ll have to write everything that comes between now and then. I’ve made a good start, slamming through the next four weeks of writing exercises, but once those are all done I’ll have to settle in for the tough work. It won’t be easy, but as I said on Tuesday, it should be immensely rewarding.

I’m announcing this in a big way, because I think that accountability will go a long way toward making me follow through. If you want to watch my progress, sign up for my RSS feed if you haven’t already (or check out any of my other subscription methods).

The Posts I’ll Be Working On

As I said, I’m planning to work on this chronologically, so I had to figure out what I want to talk about four days a week for the next six weeks. I did that last night, and what initially seemed like a tedious task became a game pretty quickly. Not only that, it gave me a chance to focus on some of the principles I’m always talking about — things like deliberate structure, and careful, logical organization.

I think the result for my regular readers will be higher-quality material, since I’m not just throwing together a post at a time, but building a planned and powerful framework. If you want to get an idea of where I’m going, these are some of the topics I’ll be talking about during the challenge.

  • Writing Exercises
    • Memoirs of a Procrastinator
    • Inquisition Exposition
    • Interesting Things
    • Character Record Sheet
    • Describe Your Reader
    • An Undercover Agent in the Gender Wars
    • Everyone’s a Critic
    • Write a Sonnet
  • Articles
    • Finding a Topic
    • Reader Response Questions
    • Audience Analysis
    • RPGs and Character Profiles
    • Accurate Descriptions
    • Boys and Girls
    • The Point of Punctuation
    • Loving Language (The Purpose of Poetry)

And these are the eight posts I’m going to put together for the challenge itself.

Strip Poem (Technical Writing Exercise)

Description: Hmm, this exercise isn’t quite as naughty as it sounds. We spent last week talking about poetry and punctuation, though, and I thought this would be a lot of fun. My tech writers don’t have to try their hand at writing sonnets. Instead, I want them to practice recognizing the impact of punctuation (and whitespace, and document design). Find a suitable document, strip out the formatting and punctuation (or rearrange it to fit your needs),  and make a poem out of something entirely prosaic. Express your creativity, without writing a word.

Status: Finished and scheduled

The Shape of a Document

Description: As yesterday’s exercise showed us, there’s a lot more to good documentation than just the words. When I was teaching my Tech Writing class, one of my most powerful illustrations was when I showed the class the text of a band poster, stripped of all its formatting and illustrations. Reduced to just words, it was total gibberish. Today we’re going to discuss the impact of a document’s shape, completely apart from its content.

Status: Finished and scheduled

Writing Prompts

Description: (Previously “Creating Suspense without Abusing Readers.” I bumped that one so that I could get this article in sooner.)

When I was in fifth grade my teacher gave us an assignment to write a one-page story using at least half of our spelling words for the week. That’s what we call a “writing prompt.” Writer’s Digest offers regular writing prompts, and most creative writing courses are built at least partially around them. The goal is to get you out of your languishing manuscript and just get you writing. They usually do that by creating a scene you haven’t thought about before, forcing you to start fresh, make something happen, and then get on with your work.

Status: Finished and scheduled

The Creative Copy Challenge (Creative Writing Exercise)

Description: Today’s exercise barely deserves a blog post at all, since I already spilled the beans in yesterday’s article.

Still, in case you didn’t make it to the end, I’ll say it again: Go over to the Creative Copy Challenge blog, and write a short story. Use all the words, format them so we can find them, and then come back here and post a link to your comment (once it gets approved by the moderators).

Still, in case you didn’t make it to the end, I’ll say it again: Go over to the Creative Copy Challenge blog, and write a short story. Use all the words, format them so we can find them, and then come back here and post a link to your comment (once it gets approved by the moderators).

Status: Finished and scheduled

Band Poster (Technical Writing Exercise)

Description: As we discussed last week, technical writing has a strong element of graphic design to it, and that’s never clearer than it is in the band poster. Your assignment this week is to create a band poster, practicing your graphic design and maybe learning a few new software tools in the process.

Status: Finished and scheduled

Manage Your Metaphors

Description: Metaphors are incredibly powerful teaching tools, and technical writing is all about teaching. The real power of a metaphor is in explaining an unfamiliar thing (to the reader) using something that is familiar — again, a situation that’s incredibly common in technical writing. Strong metaphors can create instant understanding, but if you’re not careful with your comparisons, you can confuse your reader or even provide bad information. I’ll discuss some of the common problems, and helpful solutions.

Status: Finished and scheduled

The Three-Act Narrative

Description: I’m going to describe the three-act narrative, one of the simplest and most powerful methods of organizing a long-running story. You’re probably familiar with its use in plays (where the acts are named), but it’s an incredibly effective tool for any storyteller. We’ll consider the benefits of using a pre-defined document structure, as well as the drawbacks.

Status: Finished and scheduled

Act it Out (Creative Writing Exercise)

Description: Your assignment this week is to choose a Work-in-Progress (or, if you don’t have one that qualifies, one of your favorite stories), and apply the principles from yesterday’s article to it. Make a chart of the three acts, try to identify the act breaks, the highs and lows of each act, and consider how many of the book’s pages are in each act.

Status: Finished and scheduled

The Other Participants

I learned from my first NaNoWriMo that the real value of a challenge like that is doing it along with other participants. Carlos has put together a great group of bloggers working on this challenge, and they’ve all made the same commitment I have. Check out their sites, and take a moment to say hi.

Pre-Writing Challenge Page - Conscious MeAuthor: Carlos Velez

Pre-Writing Challenge Page: Conscious Me | A Personal Development Journey

Bio: Carlos Velez is a writer with a full-time job on the side (for now!). He blogs about achieving goals and making change. Carlos’ blog, Conscious Me, allows readers to not only observe a journey to success in progress, but to participate and grow themselves.

Goal: “I normally posts 2 times a week, and many of my articles are 1500+ words, so I will count those as 1 and shorter posts as 1/2 a post. I will have 4-6 posts (depending on length) by the end of the challenge

Pre-Writing Challenge Page - Justin's Brain PanAuthor: Justin Matthews

Pre-Writing Challenge Page: Catharsis of the Bogue

Bio: Justin is a 35 year old stay at home dad. He started blogging in December 2009 to help himself practice writing. In January 2010 Justin decided to get serious and make his little blog something that will make him money. He has been learning and writing ever since. Justin has 3 kids with one due in July. He love fishing and working out with Kettlebells. He also loves to write, saying “It is one of the only things I have ever been really good at. I will have 10 posts by the end of the challenge!”

Goal: “I normally publishes 5 times per week and fiction on saturday. I have Saturdays taken care of so my goal in the challenge will be 10 posts.”

Bert Padilla | Cite-TechnologianName: Bert Padilla

Pre-Writing Challenge Page: Cite-Technologian

Bio: Bert Padilla is a 23 year old part-time blogger, blogging about technology, internet, and social media. He has a full-time job at Teradyne, Philippines. He started blogging in late 2008, and finally put up his main blog in March 2009. He also writes articles for Cebu Bloggers Society, a local group in the Philippines geared toward a civic and social awareness.

Goal: “My average post per week is 5, normally 400-500 words, except for product reviews. I don’t spend much time on my computer during weekends, so my goal is to post 10-12 articles per week by the end of the challenge.”

Meghan Potter | Limitless LIvingAuthor: Megan Potter

Pre-Writing Challenge Page: Limitless Living – Open Yourself to the Possibilities

Bio: Megan Potter is a Spiritual and Intuitive Coach and Speaker and strives to be a general, all around inspirer (is that a word?) of people – aka a Muse. And that doesn’t even include all her normal girl jobs! Her blog at Limitless Living is meant to inspire all the normal, everyday women, just like her, to believe that they are really Gorgeous, Brave women who can change the world and live a life with no limits. She’s all about Spirit and Passion and Living Your Purpose with Creativity and Joy; even if she is learning as she goes.

Goal: “My goal is to post three time a week (one of which is a Meme I’ve been running) so my goal would be six posts plus the ones I have to blog in the interim.”

Pre-Writing Challenge Page - Violet MindedAuthor: Amanda Farough

Pre-Writing Challenge Page: Violetminded | Code & Creativity

Bio: Amanda Farough is a web rock-star, currently peddling her wares in web design and development; in a previous incarnation, she was a bad-ass software developer. Her blog is a smattering of various topics: design, development, literary debauchery, freelancing, tasty creative non-fiction about her life, love letters, and various other bits and bobs of geekery. On her off hours, she designs (and plays) video games, writes novels that may never be published, and dances in the rain.

Goal: “I’m completely erratic in my posting. This should force me to be a bit more disciplined. Most weeks, I’m anywhere from 1-3 times a week. I’ll shoot for 3 times a week during this challenge. Goal: 6 posts. Rock on. Let’s get this party started.”

Pre-Writing Challenge Page - Bad Deacon DesignAuthor: Deacon

Pre-Writing Challenge Page: Bad Deacon Design | Fine Art Woodblock Printmaking

Bio: Deacon is an artist, a mechanical engineer, and is rather handsome and charming (or so he will tell you). Deacon’s Woodblock Printmaking Studio is in the heart of Downtown San Francisco, blocks from Union Square. He writes about the art he makes and sells, printmaking, and pursuing a career in Fine Art while maintaining a DayJob to pay the bills, and what all that stuff has to do with life.

Goal: “Well, I usually publish 2 to 3, but I’d like to publish 4 to 5. Since this is a challenge, we’ll make 9 posts my target.”

Pre-Writing Challenge Page - The Blog Of Antti KokkonenAuthor: Antti Kokkonen

Pre-Writing Challenge Page: The Blog of Antti Kokkonen | Tips, Guides, Reviews and Resources to Help You Unleash the Power of Online Media

Bio: Antti Kokkonen is an IT Specialist by profession, a blogger by heart, from Finland. Antti shares his expertise and enthusiasm for all things online by writing articles, blogging and helping others. Antti has a down-to-earth approach to both his personal and business life. In addition to helping the largest companies in the world to reach better results, he helps people and their businesses to become more effective and more profitable online by focusing on all aspects of online media, including blogging, social media and online marketing.

Goal: “I post 3-4 times a week, so for this challenge I set target at 8.”

Pre-Writing Challenge Page - Professor BudgetAuthor: Dustin Evenson

Pre-Writing Challenge Page: Professor Budget | Financial Budgeting, Debt Reduction, Wealth Building

Bio: Dustin Evenson considers himself a theologian and philosopher first, and a financial coach second. He knows about the theory and practice of budgeting money, and draws on his experience and knowledge of theology and philosophy to bring this to others.

He wishes to teach through his blog and inspire others.

His blog provides practical information and opinions about budgeting money, debt reduction strategies, and wealth building.

Most articles revolve around simple ideas and practical use.

Dustin would eventually like to comment on budgeting spirituality and philosophy into one’s life through his blog.

Goal: “I normally post three times a week, but want to push towards publishing every weekday, so my goal is 10 posts.”

Pre-Writing Challenge Page - Unstressed SyllablesAuthor: Aaron Pogue

Pre-Writing Challenge Page: Unstressed Syllables | Writing advice for everyone

Bio: Aaron Pogue is a Technical Writer with the Federal Aviation Administration. He has a degree in Writing and has been working as a Technical Writer since 2002. He’s also a creative writer with nine novels, a dozen short stories, and countless essays and poems under his belt.

Most recently, he’s a writing professor at Oklahoma Christian University where he teaches Technical Writing to a bunch of people who aren’t writers. That experience became the foundation of his website. While Aaron brings decades of training as a writer, he is more and more convinced that everyone can learn to write better, with less effort.

Goal: “I post two articles and two writing exercises every week, so my goal would be eight posts total.”

The Discussion Board

To coordinate all this, as well as share encouragement and feedback, we’re all talking over at’s very own (and little-used) discussion board! Swing by and check out the conversation sometime, and feel free to join in.