Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Great Challenges

Lost Three This Week…

Two writers from the Short Story Great Challenge and one from the Novel Great Challenge.

And that is no surprise, considering the holiday stuff. In fact, to me, honestly, it is more of a surprise that more didn’t drop this week. And this next week will be brutal for many as well.

However, the two in the short story workshop both had done over 26 stories in a row, so both of them got $900 in workshop credit. And over 26 new stories to market, use for promotion, get up indie.

Total win!

26 short stories is more stories than most writers write in years. So it is a fantastic accomplishment.

I am fairly certain that there are a few writers still signed up and going that will make the 52 stories in one year, one per week, if they can get through this coming week. They have the pattern down and have already survived a bunch of roadblocks.

And of course, they will get their choice of a Lifetime Subscription when they hit the 52. That’s a pretty good carrot, not counting having that many stories done.

The novel person got one novel finished and out, and got the $600 in workshop credit back that they paid in. So also a win.

A number of people have asked if the challenges are still open and they are. A great way to challenge yourself in 2020, I will admit.

6 novels in 12 months, one every two months, or one short story per week for a year. If interested, read the instructions on each challenge on Teachable. (And yes, you can do both. A couple have tried it and done well.)

Cost is $600 (can’t use credit) and if you miss, you get the $600 in workshop credit back, plus you have the stories or novels that you got done. And if you make it, not only do you have a lot of stories or six novels done, but you get a Lifetime Subscription for the $600 fee.

Great challenge, good deal, no-lose, all-win situation. Jump on in, the water’s great.

Sign up on Teachable.


  • Stephanie

    Do you get a lot of questions about how far along challenge participants are? Gotta admit I’m always curious how it’s going–and if people have tips for getting through big life events–or even just staying on schedule during the holiday madness.

    So very easy to get derailed by the holidays, never mind family health emergencies and whatnot that seem to always hit in the worst months (winter of course–when it’s cold and snowing and icy to beat all…).

    Thanks for the updates on this. Glad to know folks are trucking right along on the challenges (As much as they can anyway.) And no shame in starting but not making it to the end. One novel or a couple dozen or more short stories adds up faster than expected for sure.

    • dwsmith

      Exactly, Stephanie. And it gives writers a boost in inventory, and since even if they miss, they get the same amount in credit (or more if the writer gets past 26 stories or three novels), it is a total win situation.

      How many are still going? A number are making it, more than I had expected to be honest. So I am impressed and happy and always seemingly behind on my reading.(grin)

    • Kate Pavelle

      The biggest trick, for me, is to at least start the story by Tuesday. Then it will simmer in the back of my mind as I do other things. By Friday I get all panicked: My story, my story! I write some more. Some weeks, I finish on Friday and all is good. Other weeks, I time-shift into the small hours of the night, beating the deadline because I’m on East Coast time and the deadline is West Coast. That’s very bad. I try hard not to do that… being done by regular bedtime on Sunday is my goal, and I usually am.
      I’ve seen a number of life rolls: death and funerals, new job, kids moving in and out, health issues. But it’s just a short story. It can be as short as 2k – I can write that. My personal rule is that the story has to be complete and have an actual ending. No partial stories allowed – that wouldn’t be fair to Dean.

    • Carolyn Ivy Stein

      It’s so great to hear from the others doing the Great Challenge! I turned in Week 32 last night and it felt great.

      Every week is a new adventure with the short story. Sometimes they come reasonably easily. Sometimes I am in a panic on Saturday because nothing works. The Great Challenge taught me how to write no matter what was going on around me and how to finish.

      I’ve written trapped in an elevator. I’ve written in lines. I’ve written traveling on trains, planes, and automobiles (dictating into a recorder in the case of the automobile). I’ve written sitting in the kitchen while my mother had a conversation with me during a family emergency. I’ve written hiking. I’ve written while sick.

      A year ago, I was a hothouse flower who could only write if the situation was perfect. It feels like a superpower that I can write almost anywhere now.

      I have three secrets:

      1) I prioritize the story high up on my list.

      2) I gratefully accept the support and help of my husband and friends.

      3) When I’m in the mire I take in some of DWS’ classes. I find him soothing and always helpful. That is the great value of the Lifetime Subscription to Workshops for me. I can usually find a classic workshop to deal with the problem I’m having at that moment. The one I keep going back to is “The Insider’s Guide to Fear of Failure” but others have been helpful as well.

      I am deeply grateful for The Great Challenge. Nothing has improved my ability to write and complete stories as much as this has.

    • Alexandria Blaelock

      I’ve submitted my 33rd challenge story (working on 34), and I’ve written 39 stories in that time. The streak is a powerful motivator, and hubs is finally on board asking if I’ve submitted or what Dean said. Many times I’ve felt like giving up, but each completed story makes me feel like less of a liar when I call myself a writer.

      It’s a safe place to “practice,” to try out new things and get professional feedback – it’s a great feeling when Dean likes something. I’ve learned I can write a story in a day, and two, sometimes three in a week. Shorter stories are harder than longer ones. Some come easy, some come out kicking and screaming all the way. Some have the potential to be novels, some don’t.

      And when the Writers of the Future tell me I didn’t place, and invite me to rewrite and resubmit, I always smile and send something new because like Glenn Palmer, I’ve written more this year than in the five previous. Finishing is a great motivator too.

      As the others said:
      • Start early.
      • Build a routine.
      • Keep going.

      Like Dean says, follow Heinlein’s rules.

      Like FDR said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”

      Now that I’ve got a good backlog behind me, I’m going to start self-publishing them. Like Kristine, one a week for free. Then I’ll do a monthly collection, and then themed anthologies.

      And maybe when I get to week 53, or maybe earlier, I’ll join the Great Publishing Challenge. It’s not that far away.

    • Michael Kingswood

      I turned in story 36 last night.

      It was real, real, real hard to write last week. Moving into a new place and getting it fixed up. Mad corporate job busy-ness. Change to kid custody arrangements with the ex. Christmas preps.

      Yesterday evening I put on Die Hatd and was assembling some new furniture. And it was getting toward 8ish and I said, “Screw it! Don’t wanna!”

      A half hour later I was typing because Can’t! Wimp! Out!

      It was a short short story, but it was a story, in a half hour before deadline (Dean can attest I often push the deadline – it’s the hard deadline that drives my excuses away, I’ve found).

      So…yeah. Rough week. This one may actually be easier. We’ll see.

      16 more to go. Got my eyes on that Lifetime prize. 😉

      • dwsmith

        Got zero doubt you can make it. No excuses (even though you have some very real ones), just finish and turn in. (grin) It’s only a short story, after all.

    • dwsmith

      And you have 17 stories you can get out indie, use for your mailing list, send to major magazines, and so on. A total win all the way.

  • Jim Turmbo III

    On the teachable site it says the challenge starts April. Does this still hold true? Looks like an amazing and fun challenge.

    • dwsmith

      That was when it started. I added the phrase, you can start at any time you want, which includes this first week of the new year coming up. Thanks for pointing that out, I went and updated the instructions slightly on both challenges. And watch shortly, there will be a third challenge, just as fun. Not kidding.

      • Jim Turmbo III

        I cannot wait! I am new to you. Read Writing Into The Dark and it resonated 100%. I am a big fan now because you’ve done what I’ve always that was possible – making a living off short pulp-ish stories. However, the “gurus” say it ain’t so. Glad you’ve proved them wrong opening up the door for story tellers like myself. Stories from July is amazing so far and your monthly magazine in next one my list.

  • Glenn Palmer

    I’m one of the Challenge participants, just submitted my 34th story.
    Doing this challenge is one of the greatest experiences of my life and I can’t believe that I’m still at it. My biggest writing problem was always not finishing. Every week, I go through a period of terror, convinced that this is the week when I fall off the horse. So far, I’ve always managed to submit something.
    I never tried to write a short story before taking on this challenge. Shorts seemed impossibly tight to me. Now, I love them.
    One reason I’ve been able to keep going is that I just don’t have a lot of distractions that other people face. I’m seventy-two years old, retired and live in northern Canada near the Yukon border. It’s winter now, so I don’t even go outside, except to walk my dog three times a day. If anyone should be able to complete the challenge, it’s me.
    I’ve wanted to share my situation for a long time, and to express my appreciation to Dean for putting on the Challenge. Don’t ask me why, but I never thought of leaving a comment on the blog until today. I still might not have thought of it, if not for Stepanie’s comment.
    So, to all my fellow participants, good luck, glad to be here with you. To anybody who is considering jumping on board, it’s a huge commitment but the rewards are worth it.
    That’s all I have to say for now, except that I’ve written 232,958 since last May, and I did NaNoWriMo as well. That is twice as many words as I produced in the previous five years, all thanks to Dean’s Challenge.
    If anybody wants to exchange emails, I’ll give my address here:
    Happy holidays to everyone from up here in the frozen north. Thanks for putting on the challeng, Dean.

  • Anthony St. Clair

    What’s helped for me is treating the Challenge short stories the same as I treat every other project, whether it’s for myself or a client: Start at the top of the week, break the tasks into manageable chunks, write within the length range (and cycle back to touch up earlier material as needed to keep things synced and polished), give a quick edit, file early, and repeat. And, above all, take it seriously while having a hell of a lot of fun.

    I started when the Short Story Great Challenge began in April, and am 36 for 36 (and starting #37 after leaving this comment). Making it week to week has been all about pacing and setting realistic expectations—while managing other writing and consulting projects, plus working with my wife to homeschool our 2 kids.

    Success in this is all about pushing yourself while playing to your strengths. For example, all but one of my stories have been set in an alternate world for an ongoing series I’m building, so I’m pretty much just going gangbusters in a playground I’ve been developing for years. That makes the Challenge way more approachable for me.

    I start on Sunday or Monday. Sometimes I use Dean’s prompt, sometimes I don’t. I scribble out a few ideas or senses of direction, and then get going. No outlining or detailed plan, mostly written into the dark—and wow, week after week have there been some fun surprises. Sometimes I’m introducing new characters that I haven’t met yet; sometimes I’m exploring a facet of a character that’s appeared in other stories or books, or that I’ve got extensive notes on in my core story document.

    Dean’s rules are that the story has to be 2,000–12,000 words, and that’s a great range. You can do a 2K story that’s a very simple one-character moment of decision, or with 12K you can pretty much reach for novella length with some additional plot and complexity. That’s really helpful. There are weeks where I’ve had a lighter writing and project load, so I’ve reached for the far end; there are weeks where I’m writing and filing multiple articles or deliverables for a client, and I aim to scale that week’s Challenge story accordingly.

    For example, I’m writing this comment on Dec. 23. This week has 2 birthdays on top of Christmas, and I’m mostly out of the office, so my Challenge story is the main work I’m going to be doing. This is not the week I’m reaching 12,000 words. This is the week I aim for the shorter end of the range (and I sketched out the broad strokes for story 37 during a few minutes break from birthday party prep yesterday).

    A big help for me? Remembering that I’m building a world with realistic characters, not just books and stories. I’ve loved the Challenge for how I’m building out more of my series world in actual story, not just for-my-eyes-only notes.

    After 36 stories, I’m now starting to publish them direct to my audience. I’ll be publishing one per month during 2020, on the 19th of each month. That’s something I’d been wanting to do for years, and only am now because of doing the Challenge. I’m currently giving each Challenge story a last pass—mainly, after taking Dean’s Depth in Writing course, to make sure I’ve got the depth right, and then the 2020 stories are going to my copy editor and I’ll be setting up each story for publication.

    From there I’m taking the other stories, doing the same pass for depth, and submitting to publications. I’ve already been collecting rejections from the best in the science fiction and fantasy business—but a fair few of those have had personal notes, so I’ll gladly tip that into a glass and raise it to Dean.

    If you’ve been considering the Great Challenge but feel wary, it is really really worth it. The worst-case scenario is you miss a week and get workshop credits. The best-case scenario is you have finished stories ready to go that you probably would not have had except for the Challenge.

    The water is indeed fine.

    Happy Holidays, and I’ll see you on THE END of week 37.

  • Tina Back

    Things I learned from the short challenge (Week 33):

    You can write a new story short story every week, day job and 4h commute be damned – this makes it really hard to make up new viable excuses as to why you can’t get your writing done.

    Start no later than Tuesday – even a slow writer like yours truly can eke out 500 words per day. By Friday the minimum of 2k will be reached. If worst comes to worst, write a stupid ending and send the sucker in.

    The only unacceptable short story is one that misses the deadline.

    A bad story is OK as long as it’s turned in – write a better one next week.

    No one cares about your bad story – and next week you don’t have time to care about it.

    Read the bad story later and it probably turns out it’s not as heinous as you thought – besides, no one cares what you think, see above.

    You can practice something particular every week, like the validation that makes for a satisfying ending, and over the weeks you incorporate the technique till you master it and do it without thinking.

    You test first and third and eighth person narrator without blinking – you’re doing the Challenge, you got nothing to lose.

    You might discover you’re not the writer you thought you were – watch what genres you default to when the weekly deadline looms.

    You discover that your brain makes mystery twists as easy as a cat makes hairballs but can’t do romance to save your life – notice what you got a knack for, work harder on the stuff that don’t come easy.

    Keep records: The prompt, the genesis story idea, genre, a logline of what the story is about, writing notes: what you aimed for, what worked, what was hard, what turned into a cluftersuck – when you’ve handed in #15 you’ll realize you’re some ways up the Everest and the fricking thing is HUGE

    You fluctuate between hubris and harakiri every single week – 8 weeks in, it’s your new normal.

    You know you’re addicted when someone says “sexy” and you think “Challenge weekly/total wordcount”.

    You’re writing faster because you show up every week and practice.

    You’re writing tighter because there’s no time to edit – if you ever do get the time, there’s less to edit.

    Every week you start writing your best story ever.

    Every week you start writing your worst story ever.

    Good or bad doesn’t matter – finishing the short story in time does.

    It’s a 52 week storytelling boot camp – you thought it’d be easy?

    You realize that this short story works as a great first chapter in a novel – you’ll come back to it later.

    You sit down to write a short story and discover a new world – you’ll be back to stake it out later.

    You discover that this week’s short story’s main character demands a twelve volume series – you’ll be back to fight that beast later.

    “It’s only a story“ – cue mad laughing.

    You see that IP ski resort take form, every finished story is a new cabin ready for rental.

    I honestly didn’t really grasp IP until after story #30 when I finally realized it’s like building housing units. I had to sit down: I’d built an IP ski resort village in 30 weeks. I’m still processing. I suspect it will take some time adjusting to being a baby IP mogul.

  • MJ Silversmith

    As someone who just turned in my 8th short story, it was great reading comments from those further along. Thanks for sharing your lessons learned and advice.

    Thanks to Dean for creating the challenge. I’ve written more in the last 8 weeks, including the 50,017 words I wrote for NanoWrimo, than in the previous 2 years.

    I’ve always found it hard to write short stuff. (Sorry, Dean.) Ridiculous how much easier it is to vomit out 10K words. I also struggle with endings. These two issues do go together.

    Hopefully practice will make…Okay, not perfect. But better.

    I’m doing the challenge with a friend. Our goal is to turn in our stories on Monday, at the start of the week. Then we start our new stories at a weekly Tuesday write-in. That’s the plan – it hasn’t always happened – but we’re keeping each other accountable.

    Happy holidays, everyone. May we all achieve our 2020 goals.

  • Maree

    Reading all of these comments has been so encouraging. Dean has been a bit cagey about how many people are in the challenges and how they’re doing. It’s amazing to suddenly see the extent of the whole community around the challenges.

    Most of my techniques and opinions have already been said better by everyone else, but the one thing I’ve got to add is that it helps to be hungry.

    I’m not impoverishing myself to do the challenge or anything, but I’ve spent all my spare cash on this, and I know myself enough to know that I don’t do anything twice. So this is all or nothing. There is no opt out because I have a migraine and try again later. I dim the screen and write the last few hundred words of what may well be gobbledygook and I turn it in, for no other motivation than the knowledge of my own psyche and the absolute determination to win this thing.

    I’ve tried doing the short story a week challenge on my own, and I feel ashamed at how much I failed. Failure at this? Not allowed.