Should You Sign Up for that course or challenge?

I love a writing challenge. I love NaNoWriMo. I’ve taken part several times and learned a ton. It even inspired me to start StoryADay (you can read about the day I met NaNo founder Chris Baty!)

But every October the Writing-Internet becomes so obsessed with NaNoWriMo that it almost feels like you have to take part or you’re not a ‘real writer’.

In reality it’s not for everyone.

And that’s OK.

This got me thinking about all the ways we allow Shiny Object Syndrome to distract us from doing the writing we ought to be doing; the writing that helps us progress towards our goals and our personal vision of success.

So I wrote this article for you.

Cover image workbook: should I take part in NaNoWriMo or other creative writing challenges, courses

There’s an accompanying flowchart and downloadable workbook too, to help you make the “Should I?” decision every time you’re tempted to take a new course, join a new challenge or buy a new book on writing.

(Spoiler: sometimes the answer to the question will be an easy yes or an easy no. Read on to find out to get to one of those answers, faster, every time)

So Many Challenges, So Many Courses

Have you ever lost an afternoon reading all about how to market your novel…before writing the novel, never mind figuring out how to revise or publish the thing? 

Or figuring out if you should take part in the latest writing challenge all your friends seem to be doing? 

Or maybe you spent way too much energy deciding whether to invest in a new writing workshop or class instead of buckling down and practicing our creative writing skills.

Yeah, me too.

Instead of trusting that the work we’re doing will inevitably lead to progress, we get distracted by Shiny Object Syndrome!

But going down endless rabbit holes will leave us no closer to our goals than we were before. 

In fact, it can leave us overwhelmed, discouraged and stalled. 

How can we make the courageous choices that really lead to progress in our writing life? And how can you decide if that new writing course, challenge or book is Shiny Object or a Shiny Opportunity?

Spend Some Time With Future-You

What do you hope for when you open a new book about writing, sign up for a course, or embark on a new writing project? 

You don’t just hope to complete the course, or the book or the challenge.

When tempted to try a new Shiny Object, you probably build an image in your head of Future-You, a you who has unlocked something with a magical key that is this Shiny Object. 

What does Future-You look like? Happy? At ease? 

When they sit down to write, does it feel inevitable that they will write and write well?

Hope motivates us to learn that new thing, take that new course, or start that new project: the hope that we will become the writer we’ve always wanted to be. 

And that this Shiny Object will be the one that gives it to us.

And it maybe it will be, if we do it properly

(Download the workbook for some tips on how to do that).

But sometimes it backfires and we end up discouraged, and no closer to our goals than we were when we first caught sight of the Shiny Object. 

The ABCs of Learning The Writing Craft 

We can’t absorb everything at once, nor can we progress faster than we progress!

When considering how to learn the craft of writing, we should do it with care.


What are you trying to achieve?

Be specific.

Ask yourself when do you want to achieve it by/when you will reassess and see how much progress you’ve made?


Ask yourself what resources you already have on tap? A bookcase full of books on writing? The StoryADay site’s prompts, feature articles and podcasts? Online courses that you have signed up for but not completed? Course notes from conferences and courses you took in the past?

What wealth is hidden in those treasure chests?

Might you find the answer to ‘how should I show that my heroine’s heart is breaking, without saying that?” in one of those resources? 


Sometimes we’re tempted by Shiny Objects because of our own lack of confidence. 

Can you become your own best cheerleader and give yourself permission to keep working on what you’re working on now?

Ask yourself:

What do you already know how to do well?

In writing – what are you doing when writing seems easiest? 

In life – and how might those skills support your writing. Are you already an expert organizer? Can you schedule (and stick to) writing/learning time on your calendar? Are you excellent at connecting meaningfully with other people? Can you use that to write powerful emotional scenes? Or are you the one people trust to set up writing dates, for accountability?)

Now that you’re feeling secure in the skills you already possess, you should be able to more clearly assess whether or not you really need the Shiny Object and whether it’ll really help you, right now.

A Process For Investing In Yourself

Sometimes, of course, a great opportunity comes along: a teacher you’d love to work with, a writing challenge that seems exciting, a book recommendation that you can’t stop thinking about.

Sometimes taking advantage of those opportunities is the right thing to do.

How can you tell which Shiny Objects are actually Shiny Opportunities?

Don’t stress, I’ve got you covered. Here’s the StoryADay Shiny Object Decision Flowchart. Go through it any time you need to make a decision. But, before you go, download the free workbook that goes along with it and expands on each of the flowchart questions.

Download the StoryaDay Shiny Object Workbook now
(with bonus Decision Flowchart!)

StoryADay Shiny Object Decision Flowchart - Should you take part in NaNoWriMo, StoryADay, or other creative writing challenges and courses

Download this flowchart and the accompanying workbook now

Leave a comment: what Shiny Object/Opportunity were you most recently wrestling with? How did you make your decision? How did it work out?

8 thoughts on “Should You Sign Up for that course or challenge?”

  1. I’ve attempted nano twice previously, first time spur of the moment, then realised my story went in a circle. Realised I really wasnt ready. Last. Year tried again, but struggled with health and gave up before starting!
    This year I feel as though I’ve learned a lot. One that I need discipline, writing daily helps me feel better & makes me easier to live with. Going back into lockdown for November, it meshes perfectly! This time I know a lot more about how to end a piece of writing, growing a character, using conflict and so much more, thanks Julie!

  2. Thanks for this, Julie!
    I can’t wait to listen to the podcast, but already know this will be super helpful for the magpie in me.

    Especially when it comes to classes!

  3. Thank you so much for the podcast, this post, and the workbook. Just what I needed right now to think about where I’m stuck right now and what best will get me unstuck. Since fictional writing craft is new to me, I almost decided NaNo wasn’t the right move. But then I thought maybe the real area I’m struggling with is freeing my writing for fiction – not being so practical and held back by non-fiction realities. So I’m going to use NaNo to go wild and crazy (or as wild and crazy as I can manage), with a lower word count than 50,000.

  4. But the shiny thing! It’s so…..shiny!
    This was a really illuminating post. I wish I’d had read this years ago, the amount of time and money it would have saved me.
    I also really like the details about what to do to make the shiny thing a success if you do decide it is right for you.

  5. Thank you Julie. I’d never hear of NaNoWriMo until you’d emailed to ask me if I was joining it this year.
    I didn’t sign up – felt a big too grown up for me. Maybe next year.
    Thank you very much for the workbook.
    With best wishes, Dawn

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