Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

More On Challenges For 2022

A Goal vs A Challenge…

Right about now, here on the 6th of December, it is a great time to start looking at the year ahead. For many writers, setting a challenge is not a good idea. But in any business or art, setting a goal can really help. So tonight I thought I would talk about the difference between a goal and a challenge. I believe both are good.

And by setting a challenge, you are also setting a goal.

But often goals are not challenges.

Last night I listed four things that I thought were important when deciding on a challenge. They are:

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.

Now those four things sort of rule out some areas. For example, if you say “I want to do what I did last year in words or stories or whatever” then you are setting a goal, not a challenge. Perfectly fine to do.

A goal can be to up your word count, or to write at Pulp Speed .5 (meaning a half a million words over the year). A great goal. And if that number is a ways above what you normally do, then it would also be a challenge.

A challenge is a way of thinking more than a goal. A goal fits most people. A challenge type of thinking fits very few.

For example, last year when I set that I wanted to publish 70 major books in my 70th year, most people heard that as a challenge. (It was a goal, but mostly a challenge because it was so far above the norm, it seemed impossible.)

Almost all writers who hear that I did that 70 in 70 just can’t grasp it. It makes writer’s eyes glaze over, actually. Publishing a dozen major books in a year is our hardest challenge on Teachable, let alone six times that many. But setting that as a goal for my mind would not have had the excitement of setting it as a challenge. I know, silly, but you have to know how your mind works. If you are not a normally challenge kind of person, stick with goals.


Most people look at what they did the previous year, up it some, and set a goal. I think that kind of building is by far the best way to go.

But make it enough of an increase to push you. For example, take your best month last year, and imagine doing that for all 12 months. That would be a challenge. If that is too far away from the reality of what you did, adjust it so that next year you must have at least three good months instead of just one. That would be a great goal.

Of if last year you did 4 novels, make your goal to do 5 novels next year. Then boil the goal down to what you need to do each month and then what you need to do each week to hit that goal.

Goals are what we all need to put under us for the new year.

My goals express themselves as challenges.

But to look at a challenge, I first look at what I have done in the past. For example, last year to do 70 books, I needed to average publishing about 6 books per month. Had I done that in the past? Many times, but I had not done it for an entire year, month after month, thus the challenge.

I also needed to look at reality. With my life, could I do six a month every month or would I miss on some months and be able to catch up? I would miss, so I looked at how I would catch up and knew I could.

For the publishing challenge last year, I also needed to look at if I had the product and if my normal writing levels would keep up. If I wrote normal, it would not be a problem with the projects I already had scheduled. For example, I planned to bring Smith’s Monthly back in January, so that would give me 10 products right there (starting in January to November… actually only got 9 because November issue published after the deadline of the challenge.)

In other words, I did a lot of planning ahead. I am doing that this year with my new writing challenge.

On Both Goals and Challenges…

You have to be mentally ready. If not, set your goal lower and don’t do a challenge. For example, if you know you have some health issues coming up that will stop you for a time, set a goal with that in mind and stay away from a challenge.

And keep in mind that streaks are very powerful things to use as well. So use short term or long term streaks to get over rough patches.

So look with very clear eyes what you have done in the past. The with the same clear vision, look at your year ahead. Set your goal slightly above what you accomplished, or the same depending on the year ahead.

But if you are really going to jump your goal, your production in some way or another and do something you are not sure you can do, then call it a challenge. If you are willing to try it anyway because failing will still get you above your last year’s numbers, then call that a challenge.

Most challenges fail, but still get you a lot extra. Set a challenge to push yourself. And be happy when you get a push, even if the challenge drops away after a time. Make sure if that happens, you will still come out ahead.

Plan for success in a challenge, but if you fail, make sure you fail to success as well.


  • Cheryl

    So a challenge is a goal with a firmer spine, is that it?
    Seems the best thing about either is building muscle so it becomes routine habit, a reinforcing cycle.
    Working on it.

    • dwsmith

      One way of looking at it. I look at it as a challenge is the elephant I am eating. A goal, or as Thorn put it, “project goal” are the bites I take to eat the elephant.

  • T Thorn Coyle

    Thanks for detailing the difference between goals and challenges, Dean. That’s useful.

    I do really well with goals these days–particularly project oriented goals, ie publish 4 novels and 2 story collections or, learn how to weave more romance threads through my novels. Sometimes I do well with a challenge: In 2020, I failed to success at publishing one major project a month. I got 11 out in 2020.

    2021-2022? because of a major life roll, challenges are not working for me at all. But project goals keep me ticking along, building new worlds and publishing.

    • dwsmith

      Yeah, I too like project goals. I tend to use them inside the bigger challenge. So over all is the big challenge, to accomplish the big challenge I use project goals, sometimes set on time, sometimes set on finishing, they vary. Thanks for adding that.

  • Wes McBride

    Thanks for sharing this!

    I’m not normally a challenge kind of person, but events in life made this last year a good time to take one on. And I really needed that push you talk about. It’s helpful to be reminded of the point of taking a challenge on, and how to think about one so that failure (if it occurs) actually ends up in success.

    Thanks Dean!

  • Philip Michael Smith

    Originally, I wanted to do your Making A Living with Short Stories Challenge, which would required 180 short stories and a good organization system for submissions etc (I’m not an organized guy). In 2021, I only produced 26 stories, so my goal for 2022 is to double that to 52 and do the Ray Bradbury Challenge. His famous quote addresses how this is good for killing critical voice: “It’s impossible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.”

    I’m also going to include something much more difficult that doubling my production: following Heinlein’s Rules! I want to submit and/or publish every story AND I’m doing it under my real name for the first time ever. I feel like using my real name allows me to, ironically, kill critical voice because I take ownership and feel more connected to my work–I can’t write sloppy first drafts and tell myself, who cares, it’s a pen name?

    • dwsmith

      Yes, submit and/or publish is a critical part of that challenge. Sounds sane and at the same time a real challenge. Hits all four parts of a challenge just great. Have fun!!

  • Kate+Pavelle

    This advice is timely, Dean. I’ve been trying to plan something for next year, and running into the morass of the Great Everything That Needs To Be Done. This is compounded by the fact that last year sucked for me. I completed the Short Story Challenge and the Publishing Challenge, and they both ran into the beginning of the pandemic.
    Having a challenge was great, it gave me structure.
    Once that structure was gone, I fell off the side of the world for a bit. Not proud of that, but it’s time to forgive myself and move on. I don’t want to do just a “little better than last year.” I want to do as well as I did four or five years ago.
    What you describe in terms of publishing backlog is what I have on my hard drive, except a lot smaller. I have maybe a hundred of unpublished works. Some got sent out and been rejected, few got accepted, but by and large I have a stash of stories that need a home.
    After reading what you wrote, I decided my challenge will be a Business Challenge. I will write 5 days a week with a 2K minimum, which will get me over 0.5 Pulp Speed, and I have done that annual count before. HOWEVER, I will find a home for ALL my existing stories, and I will publish all my new on a regular schedule. I’m thinking within 2 weeks of finishing is a good plan. I am going to make an allowance for special events, such as holding off on publishing something after a Kickstarter is over. I have 3 Kickstarters planned, so I’ll have to time it so that the last Kickstarter project doesn’t drag into 2023.
    And when I say “Publish,” I mean wide, in print, and properly announced on my newsletter and in Patreon, not this half-assed stealth-publishing I have been doing over the last year. This is what makes 2022 a Business Challenge: write, publish, and maintain lines of communications with my readers.

    Thank you for pointing out an obvious blister on my foot! Let me adjust my footwear, and find a sustainable pace.

    • dwsmith

      Business Challenge. I like calling it that. Sounds like you are getting it back on track. And what happened with you, falling off the edge after a challenge is completed is normal and I try to warn people to keep going or find a new challenge, but I seldom am heard on that. (grin)

      By the way, after last year’s 70@70 challenge of books published, I have planned for this coming year about 35, plus stand alone short stories out of Smith’s Monthly each month. So not at the stupid pace of 70 in a year, but still more than most anyone would be able to do.