Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Figuring Out a Challenge

I Realized A Few Important Things About a Challenge…

You have to have the following…

1… It actually has to be a challenge. Something you haven’t done before.

2… You have to remember what the challenge is on bad days six months after you start and why you are doing it.

3… The results of the challenge need to be something that can be used and advance some part of your writing or publishing world.

4… If a Writing Challenge, it has to follow Heinlein’s Rules.

Okay, those all seem simple, right? And for most writers and most levels of challenges, they are simple. Until you get to a level of production that I am at.

My challenge last year was to publish 70 major books in my 70th year. So looking at it by the numbers, #1 it was not something I had ever done before and was a real challenge. #2 it was easy to remember, #3 yup, those 70 major books are already being used and making me money a great deal. #4, it followed the 4th rule of Heinlein’s Rules, so great there even though it wasn’t a writing project. Still I had to start and finish every one of those projects over the year and have a supportive team behind me and propping me up.

So today I did a lot of thinking about the challenge I might start on January 1st. It’s a writing challenge. And my biggest problem for me isn’t if I could do it or not. I know it will be difficult and I will slip along the way. I’m okay with that. And I can remember it without a problem.

My problem is #3 and #4. If I do the challenge I am thinking about, and make it, I will end up with far more finished writing than can be used in any real sense and thus I will miss #4 of Heinlein’s Rules, which honestly has always been my toughest anyway. I still have almost 50 short stories unpublished and printed out in a pile behind this computer screen.

My problem is that if I start the challenge, the massive amount of product starts to build up and nothing is being done with it, I will just cancel the challenge. May, June… along in there. That’s where the remnants of my critical voice hang out, in the “What’s the Point?” of not doing anything with something I have written. Especially if sometimes the writing makes me lose sleep and be stressed in any fashion.

So the challenge now is how to deal with #3 and #4 above. I will be back shortly to let you know how I figure it out and either start over with the idea of a challenge, or just not do one, or announce it. Either way I will tell you what I am thinking.

But when setting up your own challenges for 2022, keep firmly in mind those four elements. And if one element seems like it might be a problem, figure it out before you start. If you can see a problem coming ahead of time, it most certainly will be one during the year.


  • Victoria+Goddard

    An excellent point, Dean! I’m organizing with a friend to aim at Pulp Speed One in 2022, and we’ve both stopped to ask “how do we do all the logistics of getting our million words of new writing into publication?” We’re still working on figuring this out, so any tips will be appreciated. 🙂

    • dwsmith

      On thing at a time, Victoria. Don’t let it get backed up is the key. That’s why I put the 3rd and 4th thing in this list. In this new world, it is all a unit now. I know a lot of writers do a “publishing day.” Like write for six days, then publish it on the 7th. It sure seems to work until they skip a publishing day or two and get behind.

  • Vincent Zandri

    I have similar problems at present. I have full length manuscripts that have been gathering dust for two years now. I’m constantly writing new material and the backlog grows and grows. So when I announce the rather weak challenge of my publishing a novel every month in 2022 its not really a challenge since the writing is done. But by writing a new novel and at least two short 10k thrillers every month, now there’s a real challenge for me.

    • dwsmith

      But you are failing in the last two. The writing is doing nothing for you (Unless you are just considering it practice) and you are missing Rule #4 in Heinlein’s Rules. And eventually that will grind you to a halt on the writing side. This is a new world. Writing and publishing are now balanced for all of us.

  • Mihnea+Manduteanu

    Well this is intriguing. Can I just put it out here that if you end up not doing it, I am up for finding it out anyway, even in private, to understand what got you so fired up, because a huge amount of product is what I aim for, at this stage in my “career”.

    • dwsmith

      Oh, I’ll post about all the different challenges I have been thinking of and why or why not I went for them. See my answer to Harvey for part of what I an struggling with.

  • Harvey+Stanbrough

    I look forward to seeing what you come up with for a writing challenge, Dean. In my own production, I had to remember and re-set some priorities. My primary job is Storyteller. Publisher is a sort-of close second. The more I write the more my grandchildren will benefit.

    (Besides, without publishers, what would writers do? They would write. But without writers, what would publishers do? Hint: It would include saying, “You want fries with that?”) (grin)

    Anyway, you have publishing covered with your folks at WMG. I know you choose to do a lot of the publishing-side stuff yourself, but you don’t have to. If I may be so bold, remember way back when you and Nina KH were writing, submitting, and writing some more? Like that.

    • dwsmith

      Yup, a great challenge for a lot of folks would be exactly what Nina and I did. Write and submit a story a week to major magazine markets. We did that for years when we were both starting out. Fun challenge and fits all four.

      As for WMG, it is about the size of Baen Books and we do Pulphouse and other projects, and they publish me and Kris. I do my own layout on Smith’s Monthly and covers and such. The problem is that without more employees, which none of us has a desire to get into, they simply can’t keep up with me at full speed and do Kris’s stuff and all the rest of the stuff we do. I know that and thus I slow down or take over my own production and thus the problem with this challenge. I have to, just like you, calculate in production time and such.

      • Harvey+Stanbrough

        I’m in a unique position. I still write primarily because it’s a great deal of fun and I’m curious to see what my characters are up to in their world. I can do that because I stopped worrying about making money, and I did that because of my age and health concerns. (Don’t take me wrong. I very much enjoy finding new cash in my account from royalty payments and I spend it with glee.)

        However, I’m counting on my grandchildren to be able to make a ton of money from my writing, so the more I write the better, regardless of whether I publish it. My stories and novels occasionally begin to stack up. And now and then the thought hits that nobody can read them if they’re on my desk or still in my computer. Then I design covers, write sales copy, and publish them. But I count myself fortunate that I’m able to keep the writing a fun escape.

  • Ed Teja

    Does the challenge have to be about quantity? What if the challenge is simply to do something new and different? To advance your writing, perhaps it could be a stage play, if you haven’t done one.
    Just thoughts.

    • dwsmith

      Of course it could. And that would fit all four if you knew what to do with the play after you finished. I did this one year with scripts, wrote a number of them. Got money for all of them, which is flat unheard of. But discovered I didn’t much like the form.

  • Kimberly Gordon

    Looking forward to hearing about your challenge, and I’m excited about starting the Great Publishing Challenge next year. Will also be doing my first Kickstarters. 2022 is going to rock!

  • June Leung

    I started writing some very short fiction, like under 3k words apiece, in a genre I don’t normally write in early in the year. Now I have more than a hundred of those I am fighting to get them out while working on my other novel. I don’t think I completely failed rule #3 since the site they are on does pay me, but in terms of putting them onto actual book retailer sites, I am at under twenty published.
    Sometimes they are so short I just want to throw everything into collections and call it a day. Putting every single of them up as their individual short stories seemed to be a long battle.
    Maybe it’s fear bothering me, but sometimes they seem to be too short to charge 1.99 a piece on their own.
    I can only imagine if I really get close to pulp speed, how messy things can get.

  • BDS

    Aside from quantity, some challanges I’ve set for myself:

    1. Write a novella (into the dark) based on a cover you’ve never seen before. (Inspired after I saw a cover someone had for sale that I just fell in love with. I usually make my own covers and had no story to go along with it, but I bought it anyway.) The novella (“Pride and Pestilance”) came out great.

    2. Write a novella, round robin style, with the AI (artifical intelligence) app on my phone. This turned into several micro stories unified by a common theme (the AI’s attention tends to wander) but the final result was nothing short of amazing.