Organizing: The Incredible Power of a Challenge, by Randy Ingermanson

Can you do 100 pushups in less than 2 minutes?

Can you read 1000 words per minute?

Can you write a novel in 30 days?

Most people can't do any of these things. But quite a few people have found that they can do one or more of them -- once they've set a challenge for themselves.

You can do amazing things when you challenge yourself, and when you make a plan to meet that challenge.

On May 25, 1961, John Kennedy announced an ambitious challenge for the US -- to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.

Kennedy had strong reasons for setting this challenge. As he said in a speech at Rice University, "The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space."

He also knew that it would be hard and expensive. Accepting this challenge meant that other good things would go undone.

So why do it? Part of the answer was that taking on difficult challenges makes you strong. In Kennedy's words, "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

What makes a good challenge? A challenge should be all of the following:

* Objective

* Worthwhile

* Difficult

* Possible

Kennedy could have chosen many ways to challenge the US to explore space and to advance techology (sp). Most of those ways would have been difficult to measure or verify.

Putting a man on the moon is objective. You either put footprints in lunar dust or you don't. You can see the results. You can prove you did it. Your vision is clear and focused.

In issuing the challenge, Kennedy made the case that\ space exploration was worth doing. It would be an adventure. It would establish US leadership. It would advance technology. And it must be done by a nation intent on using space for peaceful purposes, rather than for filling it with weapons of mass destruction.

But Kennedy made it clear that the challenge would be extremely difficult. The US could do it only with a maximum effort. Half measures would be worse than none at all.

However, Kennedy was confident that it could be done. Humans could walk on the moon -- if only they chose to go.

As it turned out, Kennedy was right on all counts. The space program has resulted in massive technological advances. It was hard. But the US did it in the time frame allotted.

A great challenge led to great results.

A bad challenge generally leads nowhere.

If a challenge is subjective, then it's a bad challenge, because you'll never really know if you got there, so you aren't as driven to try.

If a challenge is not worthwhile, then it's a bad challenge, because when the going gets tough, you've got no reason to stay tough and keep going.

If a challenge is not difficult, then it's a bad challenge because it sets the bar too low. Yeah, sure you can challenge yourself to run a 20-minute mile. For most people, that's no challenge at all. A challenge ought to stretch you, to change you, to make you a better person.

If a challenge is impossible, then it's a bad challenge because it's pointless. You can't jump over the moon with muscle power. Trying hard may make you a better jumper, but you won't try nearly as hard as you would if you set the goal to be possible.

In my own experience, I've often found that I could do a lot more when I set myself a challenge. Something objective, worthwhile, difficult, and possible. It's easy to go easy. But going easy usually means not going very far or very fast.

If you're writing a novel and you seem to be spinning your wheels, it may be because you haven't set the task as a challenge. Challenging yourself is fun. It focuses your efforts. It drives out distractions.

What's your current challenge?

Is it objectively verifiable?

Is it worth doing?

Is it difficult enough?

Is it possible?

A typical challenge for a novelist might be this. "I will have the first draft of my complete novel of at least ______ words written by this date ______."

If you don't have a challenge, then there's no better time than now to create one for yourself. Once you take on a challenge, you won't be bored.

*This article is reprinted by permission of the author. Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 30,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

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