What I’ve Learnt from my 31 Day Writing Challenge

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I have more stories in me that I had realised

I thought I wouldn’t have enough words in me to last for 31 days, but I did. I have a lot of stories to tell. They just need time and the right setting to come out.

I don’t like writing about myself.

Around day 12 of this challenge, I seriously considered quitting this writing challenge. Why? I was sick o writing about nothing else but myself. Who wants to talk about nothing but themselves for so long?! I’m fine with including personal details in a blog post to make it grounded, but I got tired of having me be the subject every day. I’m glad I felt this way though. I’m not as narcissistic as I had suspected me of being. 12 blog posts is all it took for me to be sick of me.

Writing requires time

When you’re posting everyday, you’re always aware of the clock. There is no time to put your writing away in a drawer and pull it out again another day because you’re already thinking about the next post. I look at some of my blog posts from early in the challenge, and now with the benefit of a couple of weeks between me and them, I see things that could be changed, things that could have been said differently and ideas that should have been more prominent. Writing requires time for ideas to simmer.

People Respond to Passion and Enthusiasm

My most popular posts are not the ones I spent hours poring over and tweaking right until the last second before I pressed published. The popular posts are the ones that I had the most fun writing about. They’re the ones that drip in enthusiasm. Take a look.

  1. Why do you blog?
  2. I don’t like cricket. I love it!
  3. Rocky Mountain High

People respond to passion. When you’re enthusiastic, it shows in your words and that excitement transfers to the reader. How else would you explain an article about cricket being popular :-)

Thank you for joining me on this journey. I’m taking a break from this blog, but remember I’m still blogging over at Curious Chido,

Day 31: Dear Chido

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Epilogue: Write a letter to yourself

Dear Chido

Congratulations.  You did it! You actually got to the end of this writing challenge despite contemplating giving up many times. I see this victory as not only a testament to your renewed commitment to writing, but also you sticking to your New Year’s resolution of not giving up too easily.

Another commitment to yourself you made was to do things that would make you proud of you. Well I am. I am so proud of you. I’m proud of you for persevering with this challenge. I’m proud of you for having the courage to admit the things you don’t like about the life you’re leading and making the necessary changes. I’m proud of you for sticking to your honors thesis, even though most of the time, you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. And I’m proud of you for deciding that 2013 is going to be a defining year in your life, the year you stop playing small.

I leave you with words from Pink’s song “Try”. The song is about messy relationships, but I think anything that involves passion is bound to be a little messy.

“Where there is a fire there is gonna be a flame,

Where there is a flame someone’s bound to get burned

But just because it burns doesn’t mean you gonna die

Gotta get up and try, try, TRY.”

Don’t be afraid to try new things Chido. It feels safe to stick to what you know, but if you never try, you’ll never know how awesome it might have been.

Love Always

Chido

Day 30: What’s Next?

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What is the next step for you?

My mother would love to know the answer to that one. I’ve spent the last year and a half trying to figure it out. I have no idea where I’m going to be in 6 months time. All I know is I will have graduated, I will still be writing and I will be working on my first novel. So what’s next for Chido Muchemwa?

Honors Thesis

My last semester of college will be dominated by Honors Thesis, a project that seems to grow bigger and bigger everyday. It’s about Zimbabwe fiction and censorship, but I frequently find myself studying Orwell and finding parallels with situations in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Despite complaining all the time about it, I’m loving working on a thesis. I really think every Senior student should be required to complete some sort of individual project. It’s a wonderful way to take all you’ve learnt in the last four years and turn it into something meaningful to you. Plus, you’ll be surprised by just how much you’ve learnt.

Graduation and Beyond

My undergraduate career is finally coming to an end and I have to admit I’m starting to get really excited. Sure, I haven’t decided what I’ll do next. I don’t know what career I’ll pursue. I’m not sure if I’ll go to graduate school. I’m not even sure what part of the world I’m going to living in. The only decision I’ve made is that I won’t be staying in Texas. I love my Texans dearly, but I think I’m ready for a new scene. There are only so many 100 degree summers I am willing to tolerate. I also think it might be time for me to start my first novel. I’ve been carrying the idea in my head for 5 years now. It’s time to let that story see the light of day.

Curious Chido

I will still be posting to my main blog, Curious Chido. My goal is to live up to the first half of the name a little more. I think my routine-filled life could do with a little more spontaneity. I’ve had an enforced break from the blog because this writing challenge has been taking up so much of my time, but the break has been useful as I’ve been working on a few ideas for the blog. This writing challenge has made me see the potential of writing series. First of all, it’s easier to come up with content because you always have a theme. Furthermore, it creates a routine that makes it easier for readers to keep coming back for more. I’m still toying with some ideas like Motivation Monday, but what I would really like to do is create some sort of series that forces me out of my comfort zone and into the world. This blogging thing is fun, but it shouldn’t take the place of living, so expect a little more living from me.


Day 29: Isn’t 23 a little too young to be giving up on dreams?

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What WAS your biggest dream in life (you wanted to do as a kid but no longer can)?

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” – George Eliot

Approaching today’s prompt was a little strange for me. It doesn’t seem like a question that people should be asking, especially not a 23 year old. Isn’t that a little young to be contemplating about dreams lost? Shouldn’t I be full of dreams I’m actively pursuing right now? Anyway, I’m not the same person I was at 8. Some dreams have changed.

I’ve done a lot of soul searching in the last couple of years trying to figure out what career I wanted to pursue and one of the things I did was try look at what I dreamed of doing as a child. I was just as indecisive then as now. At one point, I wanted to have a different job for each day of the week. One of my dream jobs was to be a research scientist. I thought I would discover the cure for cancer or HIV/AIDS. That’s a dream I can no longer achieve because I don’t like biology or chemistry. I had a dream of meeting Pope John Paul II. Obviously, I can’t do that because he’s dead. I also had the dream of being an Olympic gold swimmer (Blame Leisel Jones). That one is also out because 23 is a little old to start Olympic training plus I’m not into swimming enough to commit my life to it.

Look at all those dreams claimed by time. A person could get depressed if they thought too much about the opportunities that have passed them by that will never come again. However, thinking about childhood dreams you never fulfilled shouldn’t depress you. You’re not the same person anymore and that’s why I don’t like today’s prompt. I may be reading too much into it, but it seems to be coming out of this fascination in American culture with the wunderkind. There seems to be a lot of belief that if you haven’t made it by 30, you’ll never make it. It’s such a ridiculous idea, especially when you think about how much easier it is to change direction in America than anywhere else.

I could still become a research scientist despite having a BA in English and French. It would be difficult, but not impossible to make that dream come true. True some dreams do have sell-by dates, but there is no need to be dwelling over them. This life is too short. Accept that the dreams are gone and get some new ones.

Day 28: I want to be a paperback writer

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What is your biggest dream in life (what one great thing do you want to accomplish)?

My biggest dream is to be a published author. The thought of walking into a store or a library and picking up a book with my name on it, knowing that this creation came out of my head makes me feel tingly all over. I always imagine that I’ll publish a moderately successful book that starts to slide into obscurity when one day, a person will meet me on a bus or on the train or something like that. And they’ll say, “Are you Chido Muchemwa? I loved your book. It got me through some tough times.” That has to be one of the best feelings in the world, having someone tell you that something you wrote helped them get through some things.

Yes, I want to be a writer :-)

Day 27: What is your calling?

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What is your vocation (why are you here on earth)?

“Here I am Lord. Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night.”

When we were in school, they used to tell us that there were three vocations, being a teacher, being a doctor and being a priest. So what does that mean for the rest of us? Are we left to blunder our way through life? I don’t think so. I sincerely believe that each one of us is put on this earth with a specific purpose. I’m just starting to think that it may not be a profession.

Just look at those three vocations again. They are presented to us as occupations, but what if we looked at them as skills. Then the callings are to teach, to heal, and to spread the word of God. Now, can’t every respectable occupation somehow fit under each of these categories? So perhaps when you are trying to identify your calling, you shouldn’t look for a profession, but rather how it helps other people.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about callings in the last year or so. I spent a week in Richard’s Bay sitting by the ocean, waiting for some sign about what to do next. From time to time, I pray to God asking for a sign, and then spend the next several weeks questioning everything that happens to me, constantly asking, “Is that the sign?” You see, since age 8 I’ve been waiting for God’s calling. It began the first time I heard the story of Samuel in Grade 3. When I got home from school that day, I got down on my knees and prayed to God to send his calling because I was listening. Since that day I’ve been practicing my response, ever ready to say “Speak, LORD, your servant is listening,” when God finally chooses to reveal his plan to me.

I like the idea of callings because it’s comforting. There is a certainty to it that makes the unpredictability of life bearable. Just imagine if you believed that God was calling you to be a doctor. Even if you failed your MCATs, you wouldn’t give up. You’d keep going because God told you you’re going to be a doctor and God makes no mistakes. There is no way I could waiver from a path that God had clearly outlined for me because I would be guaranteed of success, however long it might take to attain it. What God has said will be, will be.

And that’s why I have given up my search for a calling. Why do I need to wait for a calling to decide to never waiver from the path that God had lain before me? I don’t have to go searching for a calling, it will find me. If God has said it will be, then it will be. I don’t need to know and understand the plan to live it out. So instead of looking for Aha moments, I’m looking for learning experiences. I’m looking for opportunities to love strangers the way Jesus loves me. I only need to know one thing to discover my calling and that is Jesus’ commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.”

I draw your attention once again to the three vocations at the top of this post. Each one involves helping other people and I’m starting to think that helping others is the most important thing, that it is the way to happiness. I don’t need a calling to start helping people today, but I do believe if I make it my aim in life to help people in whatever way I can, somewhere along the line, my calling will reveal itself.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29 vs. 11

Day 26: If you can meet with triumph and disaster…

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How do you handle/deal with both success and failure?

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same” – Rudyard Kipling, “If”

Rudyard Kipling says to treat the two imposters success and failure just the same. I get that. The best thing would be to learn what you can from each experience and move on, but it’s easier said than done.

Moving on from success is easy for me. I can’t get away from it fast enough. It’s almost as if I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve done well, so I tell my mother what I’ve done, and nobody else. I should probably learn to celebrate a little more. Maybe then I wouldn’t always feel inadequate when faced with a big challenge. But there is something to be said for approaching each new project with humility, understanding that what happened in the past is just that, the past. The only thing that counts in that moment is what lies before you.

So my method of dealing with success needs a little tweaking, but overall, I think it has more merits than downsides. It’s the dealing with failure bit that I just can’t get a handle on. Whilst I have no problems distancing myself from my success, but I usually take failure not in isolation, but as a judgment of my character and worth. Five years later, I’m still beating myself up over not doing well on my A’ Level exams. I picked the wrong subjects and now I don’t trust myself to decide what to do next with my life. It took a year after I failed my first driving test to come up with enough courage to take it again. When I failed the second time, I was ready to throw the towel in, ready to label myself as “just not a driver” until my mother told me to stop being so ridiculous.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed from my other blog posts, I have my melodramatic moments. I turn small things into giant challenges around which I can see no way. That’s no way to live life. Failure can only define us if we allow it to. They say that the two things that are guaranteed in life are death and taxes, but I think failure should be added to that list. As long as you are living, as long as you are trying, you will encounter failure along the way. There is no point in stopping at the scene of the crash, crying over what-could-have-beens or if-onlys. Instead, failure should only be an indication that you need to change something if you’re going to succeed.

Wow. Aren’t those some pretty words? It’s so easy to type them out and to even convince myself that the next time failure comes along, I’ll see it as a learning opportunity rather than a dead-end. But I know when the time comes, it probably won’t go that way because I’ll look at the event, trying to fit it in the narrative of my life, and being as melodramatic as I am, I’ll turn it into a bigger deal than it is.

Gosh! I think I may need to do a little less writing and a little more living. The only way you can learn to deal with something, is if you encounter it often. It may be time to stop hiding in my head, and start living in the real world. Failure is inevitable, so why not take the risks?