Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

The Attitude of a Challenge

A Lot Like What Is Needed To Write A Novel…

Since I have been talking about the challenges the last two nights, and I got some great letters today from a few brave souls who are interested, I thought I would go over in general the attitude it takes to do a challenge like these.

First off, you can never consider the writing “work” in any regard. Writing is play, what you come home from work to do. So part of the attitude about these challenges (or just writing in general) is take the word “work” away from it. You do the best you can and release and move on.

Second, you must realize that at times it will be stressful, but in the same way riding a roller coaster at an amusement park is stressful. You get on a roller coaster for fun and the excitement, you do a challenge for the fun and excitement. Yes, there is stress, but it is part of the fun of the creative process if your attitude is right.

Now I am an expert on these sorts of challenge things. I have written 30 stories in 30 days twice in the last year plus. And I wrote and finished four novels in July. I do know what is needed. So beside the first two important attitude adjustments, there are a few other things that I consider important to success.

Thirdly, you must have the attitude that you are going to be writing every day that you can. That means keeping the family informed and pacing the writing, like a distance runner. I call it the “dripping faucet” form of writing. You just keep dripping words until you are done.  Every day you get words done. Some days will be more than others. But almost every day you try to get words done.

Now this third attitude is why many sign up for these challenges, to push themselves to write more. It’s one thing to say you are going to write more, have a great three months of writing this fall. It is another to sign up for a challenge and then either have to send me a short story regularly or check in with me every week on your novel progress. I function as a sort of engine to make sure the faucet keeps dripping.

Fourth, you have to keep your focus down on the day’s words, not on the big picture. I really fought to never think about writing four novels in one month. That was an elephant I would not have been able to eat. But I focused on so many words in a day on the novel I was working on and when I surfaced at the end of the month I had four novels.

Fifth, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be the best you can do at this point in your writing. If you strive for perfect, you will freeze down and never write anything. Writing is an art, an imperfect art as most arts are. You do the best you can, then release and move on. This attitude is the most difficult one early on for writers. A challenge will help get you past that.

Now, of course, the five attitudes above also are important in just writing any story or novel in general. But for a time-limited challenge where you have a desire to get a certain amount of writing completed, they are keys.

One More Thing…

Today I found myself explaining my reasons for doing this challenge and being a first reader even though I will get no money for it. (You are buying two online workshops with the fee. I toss in my reading for free to help is all.)

My first reason was to help writers get things finished. This is often a major issue for writers.

My second reason is to help writers have fun with some novels or short stories.

Third is to set up some deadlines for writers that are a push, but are attainable and that will help a writer get to the next level.

And fourth I wanted to be a cheerleader to help writers through the tough times on a project.

Plus I get to read and enjoy a bunch of stories and novels if people sign up.

A total win for me and I hope for those who sign up a win as well.

So here is the information one more time… (Yes, lots of spots in both challenges.)

SHORT STORY Challenge:

Write thirty short stories in 60 days. You can take the full time or you can write them in a month. Up to you.

— I will charge $600 to be your first reader. If you finish 30 stories in 60 days, you get two online workshops of your choice, a $600 value. (In essence, I will read for free if you do the challenge.)

— If you feel the challenge is not working for you, I will offer you an off-ramp at various points and you can take it and get the two online workshops. So you can try this risk free.

NOVEL Challenge:

Write three novels between October 1st and January 15th. You can take the full time or you can write them quicker. Up to you.

— I will charge $600 to be your first reader. If you finish the three novels in the time, you get two online workshops of your choice, a $600 value. (In essence, I will read for free if you do the challenge.)

— Novels can be any length over 30,000 words and at least half of the first one must be written during the time of the challenge.

— If you feel the challenge is not working for you, I will offer you an off-ramp and you can take it and get the two online workshops. I also will give you two online workshops if a life event comes up and you can’t finish.

My duties as first reader will be this:

I will read your story or novel as a reader, comment as a reader and as an editor some. I will tell you what I liked, what didn’t work for me, and general stuff like that. I WILL NOT COPYEDIT or REWRITE your story or help you plot your story. However, I will tell you if it would work as a novel. (grin)

— Cost is $600. No restrictions. First five signed up for each challenge are in.

So in summary, pay $600 to get me as a first reader for thirty stories or three novels. Start on October 1st.  Short story challenge goes until the end of November, the novel challenge until January 15th. If you get them done, you get two $300 online workshops and my reading for free.

Any questions, feel free to write me or ask in the comments section.


  • Lyn Perry

    Hey, Dean. How often do you want the short story participants to turn in stories? And can any of these be written this month? (Or can we use story starts that we’ve abandoned and finish them during the challenge months?) – Lyn

    • dwsmith

      Short stories FINISHED in October and November only, but taking old starts and finishing them is fair game. And you turn them in as you finish them. I will wait a few weeks before I start giving any feedback to give each writer a chance to hit stride. But you turn them in as you finish them.

    • Sheila

      Lyn, I took the challenge very literally. I wrote one story every day and sent it to Dean before I went to sleep each night. I “wrote and sent” — no first reader, no re-writes, no editing beyond a spell check (and I’m pretty sure I even forgot to do that once or twice!). That worked really well for me, in part because it forced me to let go of the story every single night and wake up fresh with nothing cluttering my head about the previous day’s story. It also forced me to stay on track and on schedule. Not everyone did it that way, but that worked for me.

      I really think the key to success is Dean’s #5 above. Let go of writing a perfect story. Just write the best story you can write today. At the craft level you are at today. No one is going to see it but you and Dean. And his critiques are honest and helpful.

      • dwsmith

        Sheila, that is what I do when I am doing a challenge as well. I write it, print it, and give it to Kris to read the next day so I am done with it. It really is nice to start fresh every day. Thanks!

  • Max Spurk

    If you post about this challenge a few times more, you break my shields and I’ll send you the money after all. I had a hard time to restrain myself the first time you offered this.

    But I still write in German, so no dice 🙂

    For all people reading this and writing English novels: Take it! Pondering won’t get you anywhere.

  • Sean Monaghan

    I did the last novel challenge. Three novels over June, July and August. If you’re out there wondering if it would be worth it, let me tell you: absolutely YES. Sure there’s an element of risk, in terms of putting up the $600, but that’s galvanising. I was planning on taking some workshops anyway, so this became a bonus, with an element of responsibility myself in that I had to complete the three novels.

    I did manage to complete the novels, so, cool. I had a whole lot of fun. And the real bonus is Dean’s feedback. It’s concise, but that’s a good thing. One little phrase he mentioned about the way I’d written the first novel has fundamentally changed my approach to writing. I have done a lot of workshops and probably come across the concept numerous times, but for me this has crystallized something. Slow learner maybe.

    Now, even though I’ve always had fun writing, I’m having a whole lot more fun. And the writing is faster. Reaching that point of my fingers not being able to keep up with the ideas. That’s a blast!

    Now, this may not be the result for every writer out of these challenges, but I would say you’ve got everything to gain.

    • John D. Payne

      Were your novels short, as Dean suggests? And had you ever written short novels before this challenge? One of my concerns is that I’ve never written a novel shorter than 75,000 words before. Or a short story longer than about 10,000. This whole area between is completely new territory to me and I’m wondering if all the people who did the challenge were short-novel writers.

      • dwsmith

        Nope, many were writing novels over 100,000 words. In fact of those who did the novel challenge, very few were short.

  • Louis Doggett

    I have done NaNo four times in a row so I know something about these types of challenges and I know I can do it if I decide which one-which I better now now.

  • Kate Pavelle

    I did the short story challenge, because I had had a hard time sticking to “short form” for the Anthology Workshop. Also, like Sean above, I already wanted to take 2 online courses, so that was a win. The whole thing was a great experience. It let me off the hook on my old projects (postpone your other deadlines, y’all,) and all kinds of stories tumbled out. Aside from the obvious works/doesn’t work/is a first chapter of a novel/send to XYZ market feedback, I found one huge advantage: when I see a call for a story in an anthology due by the end of the month, the deadline is no longer daunting. I KNOW I can produce several short stories, not just one, before it’s time to hit the “SEND” button. Super bonus: I’m now taking the Self-Editing Workshop. If Dean ever decided to get an official title, I think we should call him The Writer Whisperer 🙂 And finally, a disclosure: I got 21 stories done in my 30 days, not 30. Still, a win. Just do it.

    • dwsmith

      Kate, it was a win. Completely. And knowing you can produce a short story for an anthology or market is a valuable skill. Well done!