Labor Day Weekend I wrapped up The Great Challenge, a project where I wrote a short story (minimum 2K) a week for an entire year. That’s 52 stories. For doing it, I received a lifetime subscription to writing workshops.
It was a huge learning experience. Among other things:
It’s easy to procrastinate finishing a story if you have lots of time. The week deadline forced me to complete stories, some of which I did in one day. My longest was 6K.
Someone asked me, “But you’ll go back and revise them, right?”
Nope. They’re done. I’ll have to do a pass through to clean up typos and things that made sense to me when I wrote them, but now I’m going “Huh? What was I trying to say?” And I’ll probably have to fix the validation at the end, which is a common pantser problem. I didn’t always have time to circle back and make sure it got a little extra attention. When in doubt, I don’t change something.
The first scene is the foundation for the rest of the story. If it doesn’t work right, the rest of the story won’t. I spent more time on that scene in every story than the remaining ones.
This was a huge challenge for me. I ended up putting my novel, Superhero Portal (which was nearly done) on the back burner. I just couldn’t muster energy to do the short story and then work on the novel, in combination with the day job. But now I’m back on Superhero Portal, getting that ready for a January release. If you sign up for my newsletter, you get one of the stories from the Great Challenge (Superhero Convention) and the first six chapters form the books. Plus other cool stuff.
I managed to take four classes, all of which I’m glad I did and I shouldn’t have because it made working on the stories very challenging.
Details have been the bane of my existence. I struggled with them, partially because I’m not detail-oriented. But also, because much of the writing community actually discourages them (while saying you need telling details. Go figure). So the habits were deeply embedded. I worked for two years learning how to get setting into the story. Now that’s second nature.
Towards the second half of the challenge, I took several science fiction workshops. Science fiction is a genre where you have to add a ton more details because the reader has no frame of reference. You can’t call an ordinary object like a chair a chair. You have to provide an additional detail for reader. The result is that I’m starting to get a lot better at seeing what I need to add (I’m studying J.D. Robb’s books). Even in a contemporary superhero fantasy, instead of “sidewalk” it becomes “cracked sidewalk.”
Early on, I remembered the stories and how much of a challenge they were. I always remember them wrong, like how hard it was to write. Or, one of my last ones, I thought it needed a cycling pass to add more detail about the theme. Nope. That needed only a fix for the validation at the end (100 word addition). But I’m shocked to look at some of the titles and not remember the story at all. They started to blur together.
My writing did improve. I learned more about my process. I tried new genres like cozy mystery. Though I grew up thinking I would write mysteries like Nancy Drew, the majority of the stories were speculative fiction.
I did think about trying literary fiction, just because. But when I hit one of the big paying magazines, the stories were awful. I couldn’t see myself writing a story like this one where a character worried about her stuff for 10 pages because she asked a stranger to watch it and another stranger to watch it because she didn’t trust the first one while she went to the bathroom. Yikes.
I also found myself hitting the thesaurus and dictionary more. Sometimes I looked up a word to make sure it meant what I thought it did, and sometimes it didn’t. But I sometimes wanted a different word than what popped first into my head, something that didn’t feel like low hanging fruit.
One story won honorable mention in Writers of the Future, two won silver honorable mention. One was short listed for an anthology in the final 31, but didn’t make the cut. Now I have another one submitted to that anthology and Writers of the Future, so we shall see.
I actually planned to do this, the Ray Bradbury method, but like you mentioned, it’s a killer when you also want to work on your novel, maintain your blog, and hold a full-time job. Much respect to you for doing this. Maybe you’ve inspired me to start on it after all. Thanks for the inspiration!
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If you decide to do it, try signing up for Dean Wesley Smith’s Great Challenge workshop. Costs a bit, but you get a lifetime subscription to writing workshops iwhen you get to the end.
Congratulations on finishing The Great Challenge! That’s a huge thing. Do you have plans for the future? Perhaps not a story a week but some sort of practice to keep your short story chops fresh?
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Right now, my focus is on getting longer fiction out and practicing that. I’ve never had trouble with short stories. But I have to do better than one novel a year. I’m hoping what I learned on the challenge will benefit me there, too.
Did you find Dean’s prompts helpful? I’ve been debating starting this challenge – mostly because I haven’t written a lot of short stories in general, and wonder if the prompts are worth the cost, or whether I should figure out some other system.
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The prompts are only if you want to use them for inspiration. You can write on anything you want, as long as it’s a short story. I didn’t use many of the prompts myself and took inspiration from other sources.
It is worth it for three reasons
1) You’re going to learn a whole lot about your writing process and improve your writing skills.
2) You’ll have all those stories to indie publish or send out and make a profit on
3) You get to the end, you get a lifetime subscription to Dean’s workshops. If you’ve never tried his workshops before, they are nothing like the basic beginner’s ones everyone else teaches. These are ones that will work your writing muscles and make you want more.
And if you start and miss, you get workshop credits, so you win across the board.
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