Challenge,  On Writing

Making a Challenge Sane (Sort of)

Restructuring My Writing Challenge…

If you have been following along this fall, I decided back in September to try to do 10 novels in 100 days. That was to get me back writing again after a long year of life-rolls, so why not go from zero to light-speed instantly? Yeah, that always works. (grin)

So I ran into a number of problems right off. The first was changing my schedule of 35 years, the second was learning to live in Las Vegas. The third was the life roll was far from finished.

Those problems just didn’t allow the challenge to get off the ground, so I restarted in October, failed again, then restarted January 1st.


Why? A number of reasons.

The Life Roll (meaning life getting in the way) wasn’t quite over yet and actually will just finally end on February 1st.

Second, I have yet not learned how to live here, but almost have that under control.

Third, I flat haven’t figured out how to write in the morning after 35 years of writing late at night. But slowly gaining on that as well.

But slowly is the word.

But Kris put her finger on the real problem a week ago. She asked me how I got back to writing after the life roll of my friend Bill dying and me taking care of his massive estate. (I was not writing for almost a year, just as this last year has been.) That recovery took me five months and I wasn’t even changing my schedule, and then I got back to a novel a month pace, not 10 novels in 100 days.

After five months.

That was also when I started this daily blog which has now been going since August 1st, 2012 without a break. (Damn that is a long time to do something every day.)

Then Kris asked me how I was preparing to run a marathon. That question is simple and firm in my mind. I am losing weight and running some 5ks regularly, then in April I will do a half marathon, maybe another in May, then a marathon in September and another in November, the one I am aiming for.

So Kris asked, “Why don’t you build to your writing the same way you are doing with your running since you have been off for so long and are out of shape? Just as you built to the writing again after Bill died?”

The next morning, on a note pad, she had written down a plan for me to think about. Moment I saw it I knew she was right.

So here is the plan she wrote down that I am going to follow. (And anyone is welcome to try to match this as well because I think this is sane, as much as any challenge I do is sane.)

— Starting March 7th (300 days left in the year), I will write 5 books in 100 days.

— Then in the second 100 days, I will write 7 novels.

— Then in the last 100 days of the year, I will write 10 novels in 100 days.

Ramping up, getting my new morning writing schedule in place, getting used to Las Vegas, and putting some distance between me and the life roll. And I might even finish a novel I have started before that first 100 days.

Note, that gets me, if I hit all three 100 day challenges, 22 novels this year. That would be a good year.

I will, during each challenge, talk here about how it is going as I ramp up. And during the last 10 novels in 100 days challenge, I will write about each day like I used to do with some short story challenges.

So finally, I feel like I have a plan that might work. I am not jumping from zero to light speed and wondering why it wasn’t working. This way I get the time to get used to my new writing time (breaking a 35 year writing habit is a bitch, let me tell you.) And I get time to really explore and enjoy my new city.

Stay tuned. And ride along if you want to try for 22 novels 300 days. Might be fun.

I know now it will be for me.

Thanks, Kris, for the help.



  • Harvey Stanbrough

    An absolutely excellent (and sensible) challenge, Dean.

    One question: If you finish your fifth novel before June 14, will you “bank” those extra days and allow them to move over to the next challenge? And likewise for the second 100-day challenge?

    I’m writing 10 novels in 150 days. I finished the first (and started the second) on Day 12, giving myself three extra days on the second book. Just wondered whether you might do the same for this one.

    I completely understand ramping up, but there’s also something to be said for not losing momentum, especially since occasional non- or less-writing days that are out of your control must be factored in.


    • dwsmith

      Harvey, yes, I will bank them, without a doubt. Keeping momentum once you have it is everything, keeping the plane in ground affect is critical. This sputtering along on the ground is too damn painful. (grin) So yes, I will bank anything I get ahead on. Especially that first part. I tend to write novels in 10-15 days when comfortable and writing easily. So the 20 day pace will be nice on the first 100 days, the 14 day pace for the next 100 days will remind me what I normally used to do, and then the 10 day pace for the last 100 will be a push. That however, depends on if I get myself into this morning routine and get my creative voice trained to show up in the morning. (grin) I think I almost got it. Feels like it. But I will be writing and training until March 7th. Hoping to have one novel done (not counted or banked) when I hit March 7th in this pre-challenge month.

      • Harvey Stanbrough

        Sounds perfect, and I’m pleased to hear you’ll bank days when you can. I finished the second novel of my lesser challenge this morning and was able to retain a 3-day bank. (grin) Onward!

  • Vera Soroka

    Sounds like a good plan. How is Kris doing with her writing? Did she write at night like you as well?

    • dwsmith

      She’s doing fantastic. Just turned in a new Grayson book and also a massive Diving novel. She has always written mornings and afternoons, so now that she is healthy she is thriving here, which is wonderful to see and helps a ton for me as well.

  • Kate Pavelle

    Wow that’s insane, Dean! 🙂 If anyone can do it, you can. Are you doing the 100 short story paperbacks along with it? That’s *publishing* not just writing. I find publishing eats about 50% of my “creating publishable content” time at the keyboard, sigh. (“Other keyboard time” is reading blogs, news, and working on my website. And blowing off mindlessly, although I’ve gotten a LOT better about limiting that time sink.)

    • dwsmith

      Oh, yeah, but not worried about that in the slightest. Looking forward to doing the 100 paperbacks and three major collections. That will be fun and something I can just pace along.

  • Topaz

    Hi Dean,

    your new plan sounds like a great way to train.

    I need about 30 to 36 days for a novel. Thank you for the invitation to try match the challenge.
    I’ll think about trying to do the first stage of your challenge entertaining myself along with you.. Write 5 books in 100 days already sounds like a huge challenge to my writing speed. Although I know the Math and how much hours in the chair it would take to make me succeed at that. 😀

    Anyways, I’m glad seeing you with a plan to get that challenge going again. 🙂

    Best wishes,

    • dwsmith

      Yup, just all math. I like that a lot better than thinking it is magic or something. Nope, just math of hours writing.

  • Lloyd MacRae

    Your sane (sort of) challenge sounds interesting. I’m going to give it a try myself, riding alongside you to get 22 novels in this year. Thank you for allowing us inside a professional writer’s life and how you deal with the problems that arise. Good luck on your personal challenge.

    p.s. It doesn’t hurt to have a smart and beautiful wife to help you (grin)

  • Julie

    I’m curious about why you used to prefer to work at night. I’ve just been reading a book on productivity that suggests that you identify the time of day that you’re at your sharpest and that you prioritise your creative work during that time – which for me is the morning.

    I know your philosophy is that we can write at any time but I do find it easier in the morning and I think that’s how I’m wired. It sounds as though you’re approaching things in a different way, though.

    • dwsmith

      When I started at night it was because all the crap in the day was done and I was tired and my critical voice no longer cared, so it was a lot easier for me to write then. No critical voice back in the day when I was fighting that more. Now, after 35 years it’s like breaking a fantastically ingrained habit. Just doesn’t occur to me to write in the morning. So that has been 80% of this fight and still is. Never had a 35 year-long habit I’ve had to break before.

  • Phillip McCollum

    Sounds like your collaboration with Kris has resulted in a solid plan, Dean. It seems like it’s even give you a road-map to write more novels this year than you probably anticipated. We’re all rooting for you and have no doubt that you will still write a heck of a lot more than the rest of us. ?

  • emmiD

    Here’s to sticking to a schedule, avoiding disruptions, and staying motivated. Love Kris’s plan! I’ll be rooting for you as it goes.

    I got disrupted after I moved at summer’s end in. 2017. After thinking all was well during the autumn, I rolled under and was flattened by the juggernaut of 2018.

    At the end of last week I was congratulating myself for climbing into the juggernaut’s driving seat. Nope, derailed on Monday and Wednesday. Here it’s now ending the noon hour. For days and days I’ve completed the bulk of my writing before noon, but today I’m only now getting to it. Distractions, necessary commitments, jeez! And look! I distracted myself by picking up the smartphone. ?

  • Linda Jordan

    I used to write at night and loved it. Then my life changed, had a kid. When she went to school, I was forced to get up early. And writing in the afternoons was out, so was evening. The time I had alone was mornings.
    It took a while to make that transition. I still write in the mornings, just not so early these days – 10ish. It helps a lot for me to do the writing before anything else. I rarely schedule anything in the mornings. I’m simply not available, unless I’m planning to take the day off from writing. And I don’t make contact with the world until I’m done writing. That helped me from being distracted by social media or any commitments.
    I’m looking forward to seeing you knock down these goals! Still a big challenge, just not quite as crazy as the one you’ve been chewing on.

  • Thomas E

    Got to admit when I signed up as a supporter for this project originally I never thought it would go on this long… Kind of thought you’d smash it out of the park right away. Had no idea the amount of life rolls you would get.

    Go, Dean, Go!

  • Rikki Mongoose

    I have a challenge too. Much modest.

    An military fantasy novel & some short stories in next 45 days.

  • Edmund de Wight

    I can’t imagine keeping that kind of pace myself – OK I can but I think the pace would make me crazy. So impressed that you can keep the pace and still put out good stories. Gives me goals to aim for.
    BTW, just curious as a fellow Las Vegas dweller – what about living here have you not yet learned? If it’s not too personal to ask that is.

    • dwsmith

      We moved from a seven thousand person town on the end of nowhere on the Oregon Coast. Twenty-three years used to the weather and isolation there. Now we live in a high-rise condo in downtown Las Vegas. Kris had no where she could eat out in Lincoln City, we have ten restaurants she feels safe eating at within a short walk from here, not counting the thousands of other places around town. Just figuring out which was was north and south here took me a month. (grin… easy on the coast. Ocean always west…)

      Just the simple aspects of having things to do. I have wanted to live here since 1972, the first time I tried to move here. So sitting alone in a room and making something up at the moment isn’t as exciting as the city around me. We go out at least once every day, if not more. LVAC with the running takes time. And so on and so on… Just such a massive difference and one we both love.