Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing,  Smiths Monthly

New Year Starting…

Writing This Safely From Home….

…On New Year’s Eve, after midnight.

2020 has left the building. 2021 shows ugliness to start and promise over time.

So thought I would talk about the writing challenge I am going to set for myself and some thoughts on how you could ramp up a writing challenge in the New Year.

Here is how I would suggest you come at doing a writing challenge in 2021.

  1. Decide where you want to be at the end of 2021 with your writing. Some people use word count, I use project or story counts, but I do track words just for fun as well. On good years for decades I did between 1.2 and 1.4 million consumable words.
  2. Look at what it would take to get you to the desired year-end result you pick for yourself. Does it seem doable to reach?
  3. Set a weekly, daily, monthly goal above what you need to do and think you can do. Make it a challenge. Push yourself. Failing to your goal is just fine. But if you only push yourself to the desired year-end result level and then fail, you will also miss that result. So set your short-term goals high.
  4. Set up a streak to hit your challenge. Daily streak or weekly streak. Just has to have a short time limit.
  5. Realize that starting a streak is the hardest. First five are really hard, next five are difficult, but by the end of 20 times hitting the streak you will have set habits and patterns and the streak will have enough power that you do not want to break it. (Writers who managed the 52 stories in 52 weeks challenge discovered this.)
  6. Believe in yourself. If critical voice is telling you it can’t be done, challenge that, figure out how it could be done, and then set the challenge and then the goals.
  7. Then every day remind yourself where you want to be at the end of the year. Focus on the desired result, then on the daily or weekly challenge goals, not the problems each day tosses at you.
  8. Have fun. If a writing challenge is not fun, there is no point at all in doing it.

So What Do I Have Planned?

For years I have wanted to try a writing challenge, a really ambitious challenge, even for me. I have finally, after almost three years here in Vegas, got my writing and sleeping and working routine back under control. In reality, it ended up not much different than the routine I had on the coast for twenty years. Go figure.

And I am ramping back up Smith’s Monthly, with the first new issue (#45) out this month (January). So all good there. And I have a lot of short stories unpublished and about six novels that need to go into the magazine, so I have a head start if I want to use it. (I need a novel, part of a novel or a nonfiction book for a serial, and four or five short stories per month. I do not repeat anything from any previous issue.)

So all that said, another piece of information. I have done five different months over the years where I did a short story a day for the month. Four succeeded, one in November three years back only got twenty stories. The last one I did was April in the year Kris and I moved down here. I decided to do a story a day while moving. Started down here, was two weeks on the coast, then back down here. I got behind (no surprise) and got to four days left with only twenty stories done.

And I still hit the challenge.

That’s right, on one day, sitting at the dining room table here with an iPad (no office set up yet), I wrote four short stories, none of them under 3,000 words, in one day. Another day I did three. Another day I did two. And one day I did one and hit the 30 stories in the 30 days of April.

I have proven to myself that I can catch up on short stories if I drop behind. That was huge.

So my challenge for 2021 is to write a story per day for the year, plus write a novel per month, plus publish over 70 major books. 

No chance in hell I will not miss on some days. 365 stories is a lot of stories, far more than most writers can manage in their entire lifetimes. But if I miss, I will set time aside to catch up.

I will also do a novel per month, more than likely a thousand to two thousand words a day, just sort of plinking along at it.

I have been working toward this now for a month or more. Even got some help with spread sheets to track everything.

And thanks, Kris for talking to me about this so many times. And Allyson and the gang up north at WMG really encouraging me to give this a shot.


I want to really, really focus these first few weeks and set up a streak. That will be critical to making something this long and this consistent.

A streak also helps me get the writing into what is called “Ground Effect.” Basically, once I get lift-off with the writing, it will be a ton easier to stay in the air with a certain amount of writing every day than have to start and stop, pounding into the runway. To get ground effect in writing, I need a streak that has power. I know I can do 32 stories in 31 days because I did that in July one year. (You can buy the book with all the stories and all blogs about writing each story called “Stories from July.”)

If I can hit 31 days in January, with 31 stories done, that streak will have a ton of power to keep me going forward.

So now to get started. (I hate starting.)

And since I do this blog so late at night, I will always be lagging one day behind. January 1st story will have a note about it in the blog you will read on the 2nd. I will try to make a note of the story title and number each day. And at times I will blog about the writing if something different happens. Or more than likely if there is a struggle. (grin)

This will be fun. A struggle at first, but fun as it gets into the air. I hope that 2021 will be a powerful writing year for you as well and hope the suggestions above help you some.

Stay tuned and stay safe.






  • Scott

    Well reading your goals for the year was the boot up the arse I needed! Here was me huffing and puffing about joining the short story a week challenge and you are doing one a day and a novel a month. Jeez that put my critical voice in its place. Off to sign up for the challenge now.

    I am excited to follow your progress on here.

    Happy New Year to you and Kris!

    • dwsmith

      Scott, thanks. Hoping it would help a few. Tomorrow I’ll do a post on the math of it all. You should never let writers near math if they want to keep their critical voice holding them back. (grin)

  • Sheila

    I love it when you plan challenges! I won’t be able to match you with this, but I’m working on my own modest plan for the year. I have to get to writing again, after the disaster that was 2020. Urgh.

    Anyway, I’ll be watching your progress with interest.

    • dwsmith

      Shelia, never put these up thinking anyone can match me. I have had decades to work up to this level, break down all the critical voice stuff stopping me, learn how to manage time, and so on. And I have always admired the old pulp writers who wrote on manual typewriters far more words year after year than I do. So I am a rare one. And the only reason I put this out there is because I hope I can help a few break down their own barriers.

      So have fun with your writing and keep this year fun as much as possible.

  • Kate Pavelle

    Dean, you wroe about writing 1.2-1.4M words per year, and I thought… “Wow, I’d love to write a million words this year, but I don’t think I can do that (because reasons.)”
    And THEN you write, “challenge why you think you can’t,” so I pulled out my calculator app. Holy smokes! It would take between 2,500 and 3,000 words per day, every day, to reach that number. A bit under twenty thousand words a week.
    I’ve done that before. Not for the whole year, but I’ve had weeks like that, or even higher. So I guess I can, even while looking for a job outside of writing. Because it doesn’t take all that long to write those words.
    My challenge here is consistency and the streak process, not output.
    So I’m doing it.
    Let’s streak!

    • dwsmith

      Yup, amazing how small amounts just add up when you are consistent. I count blog words and fiction words, but not email or responses like this one. I call them “consumable words.” And streaks do help a ton.

  • Dave Strand

    Holy cow! I thought I had big goals.
    If you can reach yours, I can do mine.
    Since I’m participating in The Great Challenge, I’ve already committed to writing a short story a week. Those stories over the year will give me;
    52 stories I can publish as well as enough material for 4 collections
    In addition, I’ll push out 6 novels/novellas (one every 2 months).
    Plus, I’ll create one blog post as well as a teaser about that week’s story (the full story will be made available to folks in exchange for their email.).

    Goal setting should excite and challange you, so…
    In 2020, I published my first ebook, took some amazing classes from you, and survived a pandemic.
    In 2021, I’ll publish 62 items, seriously kicking off my writing career.
    Added to that will be continuing my education (writing, marketing, etc…), earning a living, oh and surviving the pandemic.

    BTW –
    Dean, your classes were a very positive and helpful part of what was a horrorshow of a year. Thank you for the great lessons and for showing us what’s possible.


    • dwsmith

      Thanks, Dave. And remember to keep the writing fun in the challenge. Don’t make it important, just fun.

  • Philip

    Dean, I’m rooting for you. I’m really hoping to see you hit your goal.

    Your theory on the power of streaks is dead on target. It’s a psychological hook that works wonders. For example, two years ago my diabetes was causing me major life-threatening complications. I cured them all through eating protein and veggies and cutting out sugar. The first month was difficult. By the time I hit 3 months, I didn’t want to undo my steak. By the time I hit 2 YEARS, the habits became so ingrained in me that NOT sticking to my diet seemed foreign and unthinkable.

    I’ve always been a fan of spending January 1 reflecting on the prior year and setting a bunch of goals for the new year. I posted here the other day that I want to do your Making A Living on Short fiction challenge but I’m wondering if I can push myself even harder and try for even more than 180 stories this year. I love many genres, so ideas certainly won’t be a problem.

    I’ve always wanted to be prolific, leave behind a huge body of work. I’m 41. Time to start pumping out way more words.

    • dwsmith

      Philip, the key with something like I am trying is that I proved to myself numbers of times in other challenges I can do this if I put it all together. That’s why I talked about the monthly challenges and such. I have already tested this story a day in January (fail), April (succeed twice), June (succeed), July (succeed), October (succeed) and November (fail).

      So before jumping too far and learning the wrong stuff, try short sprints along the way. What I am setting out to do is a marathon. But I know I can do the distance because I have worked up to it. Make sense?

  • Mihnea Manduteanu

    Once again, so inspiring. Have a great year! As someone obsessed with tracking everything in Excel, would love to be able to take a peak at that spreeadsheet of yours.

    • dwsmith

      Oh, trust me, I know nothing about spreadsheets. Gwyneth at WNG sat it up for me and I can type in the blank spots. That’s my level of spreadsheet use.

    • dwsmith

      Thanks, Dave, but this requires me just sitting in a chair, unlike doing the marathon where I actually had to make 26 miles on my feet. This marathon of writing is a thousand times easier. (grin) And I got all year to do it.

      • Kate Pavelle

        Since both you and Dave are both marathoners and prolific writers, how about a webinar collab on comparing your motivational methods and accountability systems? Having more than one POV is always useful. He’s a teacher so he’ll be good on Zoom.
        We all have our goals and resolutions, and it would be useful to get a boost once the natural excitement wears off at the 30% mark.
        For some it would be a reboot, for others an affirmation.

  • Kevin McLaughlin

    Hi Dean!! I was just writing my own “I’m taking on a big challenge this year” post, mentioned your challenges in the post, and wandered over here to grab a link to one of your old Pulp Speed posts. Only to find you’re doing another cool challenge!!!

    I love these. I love watching you have fun with them and love challenging myself even more.

    I hit a million new words this year for the first time ever. Even had one month at Pulp Speed Three. So for this year I’m kicking it up a notch and doing “A Year At Pulp Speed Five” for my big stretch goal.

    This is gonna be fun. 🙂 Have a blast with your push! I look forward to seeing how it goes.

    • dwsmith

      Way to go, Kevin. Great fun!! I’ll do a math post tonight on that, might even bring back up the Pulp Speed post. (grin)

  • Frank Theodat

    This is by far one of my favorite blogs I’ve discovered this year! For starters, I love seeing more experienced writers demystify the writing process by pulling back the curtain. I learned about Harlan Ellison doing the same when he would write stories in bookstores – so cool! Second, seeing all the work that goes into being prolific has lit the fire in my belly to write daily, finish the stories I start, and let go of perfectionism.

    Dean, you took fire from the mythical gods and gave me the knowledge (and courage) to go out, produce, and have fun during the process. For that I must say – Thank You!

    Looking forward to seeing how you progress on your 2021 goals. Have fun!

    • dwsmith

      Thanks, Frank. Just the old guard before me that told me a lot of this, often, I must admit, over drinks. (grin) But figured since they helped me, I just needed to pass it on where I could.

      You folks should also be reading Joe Lansdale on Facebook lately. He just said screw it and decided to tell folks his methods. They might sound familiar. (grin)

  • Kevin Johnson-Vindiola

    I was looking forward to this post! I’ve been following you since the beginning of this blog and I absolutely love when you break these challenges down. Always helpful for those of us who still have a 9 to 5 and forget that small goals are vital for success. That being said, I finished a challenge a few weeks ago publishing 13 books in 12 months. I’ve started on my first short story (out of 52) for the year tonight. And I’m adding on only 6 more novels this year since I have to account for two life events that are coming up (and fast).

    It was a blast (and it really helped sales, so there’s that). I’m a firm believer in challenges now. Seriously, you’re the best.


    Hey Dean, I’m glad you posted this. I’m not setting any daily word goals. I am focusing on getting into the chair and writing everyday. Once I get going, my word count usually takes care of itself. Don’t tell my critical voice, but I am averaging about 1,500 words a day. I expect It will go higher.
    Some of the stress of 2020 has dissipated for me. The Covid stress looms large, however, as it does for all of us. But Creative Voice is asking me when one of my characters will be rescued. I did leave the poor little guy in a bad place a few months ago so I’m writing his rescue now. Which brought in a few other characters good and bad, which means the story is kinda exploding into something longer, but I really don’t care. This story is fun and I have no clue where it’s going. And isn’t that where we should be? . Critical voice is firing torpedoes, but I’m launching counter measures and moving full speed ahead.
    Back in October F & SF rejected a story I sent there. But there’s a new editor there so I’m sending it out again.
    Best wishes to you and everyone else who might read this. Be well and stay safe.

  • Desikan

    Happy New Year Dean & Kris,

    This is an inspiring post to kick start writing for the year. I am setting up my own streak and chalked down monthly goals.
    Definitely getting more writing done compared to earlier years. I cant believe from where all I am finding time to write with a full time job. But it is happening and I am loving it.

    Your blogs are helping me in quietening my critical voice to good extent.

    Keep it going. All the best for your goals !!