Do you remember when you were a kid and your best friend dared you to kiss a lizard, a frozen light pole, or a boy named Johnny? With your honor on the line you stupidly agreed…and it didn't turn out well. Johnny ran away screaming about girl cooties then gave the other boys on the playground cootie shots. The lizard ran up your arm and got caught in your frizzy hair. Your lips stuck to the pole and your “friend” laughed and snapped a photo.
But can a dare be useful? I never thought so, but I changed my mind after reading that challenges have been the catalyst for an author to break out or begin a career.
Agatha Christie wrote her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, as the result of a challenge from her sister, Madge, who dared her to write a detective story that kept the reader guessing the killer’s identity until the end. Christie accepted the challenge with gusto. Her book featured detective Hercule Poirot who would appear in twenty five more novels. As an aside, Madge also enjoyed making up stories and told tales about a fictional, mentally deranged sister.
Dr. Seuss enjoyed a good challenge.
William Spaulding, director of Houghton Mifflin’s educational division, dared him to “write a story that first-graders can’t put down.” He wanted it to contain only 225 words selected from a first grader’s vocabulary list.
Ultimately, Dr. Seuss used 236 unique words and it took him nine months to write what became The Cat in the Hat. The story was supposed to be about a king and queen cat but “queen” wasn’t on the acceptable word list. “Hat” was, and it rhymed with cat, so he made a story out of it.
Another challenge was issued by his editor, Bennett Cerf. He bet one dollar per word that Dr. Seuss couldn’t write a book using fifty unique words or fewer. Green Eggs and Ham resulted from that wager. According to some sources Seuss won the bet, but Cerf never paid up. Since the book was a best-seller he probably didn’t need the $50.
When Stephen King first began writing, his short stories were published in risqué centerfold magazines such as Cavalier. This earned him a reputation as a writer just for men and criticism from readers. “You write all those macho things,” one said. “But you can’t write about women. You’re scared of women.”
King took it as a challenge and Carrie was born.
Why were these dares successful? I’m not entirely sure, but they have a few things in common:
- A highly regarded person (in King’s case a reader) issued the challenge/bet.
- The author was held accountable for the end product and might have been ridiculed if it was bad.
- The dare encompassed specific parameters or goals for what would be considered successful.
- Each author had a problem to solve. My guess is the subconscious mind was constantly working to find a solution.
- It wasn’t a competition. The writer didn’t compare her/himself with anyone else.
So, I double dare you to write one sentence of that scene, book, or short story that you have been procrastinating because it’s scary or overwhelming. Even though I can’t pay you, success is its own reward.
Has someone ever dared you to do something?