Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

My Amazing Year-Long Challenge


After reading and reviewing Vanessa Farquharson’s Sleeping Naked is Green last week, I realized it’s the latest in a hot memoir trend, which has produced some of my favourite books of the last few years. Basically, the success formula seems to be: set yourself some ridiculous life challenge for a defined period of time, usually one year, get a book deal (preferably in advance, to fund the challenge, though that’s not always the case), and write about it.  Presto! Bestseller!!

So, I’ve decided to deviate from the thankless path of writing novels and take this alternate route to the bestseller list.  All I need to do is set myself a challenge, make a plan, and start writing witty, self-deprecating reflections on how it goes.

Just one tiny problem: I have no idea what my challenge should be. Any suggestions?

Should I try to go green for a year, like Vanessa Farquharson did? I’ve tried giving up plastic for a week, but I don’t think I could do it for a year.

How about living alone on an isolated island for a year, like Robert Kull? I wouldn’t even have to go to South America — there are plenty of isolated islands right off our own coast. But I can’t build a cabin. Or cut wood. Or do — well, anything really.

Maybe I could take off on 80 blind dates located in different places around the globe, like Jennifer Cox.  Or spend a year exploring the world of internet dating, like Sean Thomas.  Except — what’s that? Oh right, happily married. Scratch those ideas.

I love the idea of trying to live by every Biblical precept for an entire year, except A.J. Jacobs has already done it so well.  Then there’s Benyamin Cohen, a Jew who spent a year exploring different Christian worship services.  I love comparative religions, but here in St. John’s I could visit the synagogue, the mosque, and the Hindu temple and still have 49 weeks to go.

Of course, if I’m willing to travel I could just hop on a plane and spend four months each in three exotic destinations, sorting out my life, like Elizabeth Gilbert.  One problem here is that my life, unlike hers when she started her trip, is mostly pretty well sorted.  I could use maybe a couple of weeks in each place, tops, but then I’d just be back to sightseeing, and then you’re just doing travel writing which is a whole other thing.

To make a cutting-edge bestseller, it seems that the ideal challenge:

1) Taps into other people’s issues and concerns.  Being green is hot.  Religion is hot. Dating is always hot.  You have to pick a challenge that’s somehow topical and that people care about, a “hook” to sell the eventual book.  I could learn to knit and that would probably take a year, and I could be hilarious writing about it.  But I don’t think it would have the requisite mass appeal.

2) Needs to mess up your life a fair bit.  A challenge that allows you to continue your everyday life without too much upset isn’t going to make for great reading.  Which is really my problem, because I want to keep my job, my marriage, and my kids, and taking on most of these types of challenges would threaten at least one if not all three. I notice hardly any of these types of books are written by married people with children and full-time jobs … coincidence? I think not.

3) Can be written about in a witty, charming, engaging fashion. Hey, I could do that part, couldn’t I?

So we’re back to finding a challenge.

Here’s my one idea so far: silence.

I am such a compulsive talker, and surely in this noisy world of ours, we need a little more silence.  What if I took a vow of silence as ancient monks did, except instead of doing it in a monastery, I’d try to observe silence in the middle of my busy everyday life as a teacher, mom, wife and volunteer?

Think of how my inner resources would be tapped! Think of how my spiritual life would deepen! Think of the life lessons I would learn, and subsequently write about. It would be a bestseller!!!

The only problems I can see are:

1) I would lose my  job instantly.

2) It would completely destroy my family life.

3) I wouldn’t last till the end of the first day.

So, not a vow of silence then. I dunno, I’m out of ideas. What have you got for me, people?


16 thoughts on “My Amazing Year-Long Challenge

  1. Trudy, I think you’re on to something!! But what that something is, I’m not quite sure… And I couldn’t agree more about the married/kids/responsibilities part. Doesn’t really mesh with life-changing-push-the-boundaries-be-out-there-doing-something-different does it?? I will put on my thinking cap and see what I come up with 🙂

  2. I got nothin’…

    I guess you’ll have to stick with novels!

  3. Hmmm … you guys are not a lot of help so far … surely someone must have a suggestion??

    • Well, if you get on Jeopardy, that might do it. You could pick up an internet stalker and have your life nearly destroyed. You could have an affair with a student, or murder a fellow employee, or get hooked on meth and have to go to rehab. I’m full of ideas, but I bet you’d like me to stop now, so I will.

    • Hmm… try being a pastor for a year!

  4. Hmm, mindfulness is also pretty hot. How about some mindfulness practice that you could do daily? And maybe force your family into?

    Then everyone could get all uppity about you making the kids do something and the scandal would sell books for you.

    Or learning something new every day? A puzzle every day? A dance step a day? A one minute lecture on youtube a day?

    Thinking too much, it’s the new black! (and I look great in black)

  5. Hi Trudy, it’s been done somewhat before, but what about some challenge pertaining to money or limiting yourself to what you can do with it. I just finished reading Bernice Morgan’s book “Random Passage” and the idea that they seldom got paid, or didn’t get paid in cash, made me wonder how difficult it might be for Newfoundlanders to have gotten ahead. But there you all are now, so whaddya think? Well, I’m off to see if I can find a copy of “Waiting for Time”. Hope you find your topic and subsequent book deal.

  6. Loving the suggestions … well, except Uppington’s. Nadia, it’s true what you read in Random Passage — most Newfoundlanders did once subsist in an almost cashless economy. Might be a lot harder to do in the 21st century … though I love the idea.

  7. One of the most common challenges seems to be that of reading an incredibly long reference work in a year’s time — Encyclopedia Britannica perhaps, or The Oxford English Dictionary.

    Might I suggest you spend the next twelve month’s reading the collected works of Ellen White, and report back to us on how it went?

    (And no, we’re not talking best-seller here — but it might get you invited to a couple of campmeetings!)

  8. Interesting thought, Pastor Greg … and should I try like A.J. Jacobs with the Bible, not just to read it all but to follow EVERY precept that I read? Maybe just the Testimonies would do it …

    I could pitch that, I bet — I mean to an SDA publisher — liberal Adventist reads and obeys every word of the Testimonies for one year.

    But would I survive the year…?

    • Hmmm . . . I’m intrigued by the thought that anyone who attempts to take Ellen White seriously is setting up themselves for all kinds of grief. If you did nothing else but disprove that idea, the book would be worth it.

      The important thing is to keep her words in context . . .

      Which is why it probably isn’t a good idea to put each one of her suggestions into practice just as soon as you come across it in the Testimonies. It’s amazing how often her commands to “get serious” needed to be followed by ones to “lighten up.”

      • Well, I don’t think you’d necessarily be letting yourself in for grief, but if you read it and applied it in a balanced, contextual way, it wouldn’t really have the humour value in the same way “The Year of Living Biblically” does. It really would be an interesting experiment, though, in lots of ways.

  9. I’m currently reading a book every day for a year and writing a blog about it. But it hasn’t threatened my lifestyle in any way, so maybe it wouldn’t make a dramatic enough book.

  10. Wow Angie … I’m a crazy-avid reader, but I couldn’t keep up that pace! I’ll have to check out your blog.

  11. I’m gonna try and go all of 2010 without taking an elevator up and only using the stairs. It won’t be the only thing I talk about on my site, but I’m sure it’ll get some page time.

    • That’s a cool one, theboilover. Of course it depends where you live. Here in St. John’s I could probably do that one and hardly even notice … it’s so rare I’m in a building that requires an elevator ride (although my aunt does live on the fourth or fifth storey of her building, which is high up by our standards!)

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