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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Learning to be a ‘Real’ Writer: Part 2—Inspiration from Dean Wesley Smith’s Short Story Challenge

Okay - so, I wasn't going to post this until August... but then I decided it was time to have a bit of courage. So, here goes:

On July 1, 2015, professional writer, DeanWesley Smith, started a challenge he’d set himself: to write a short story each day for the entire month of July, which he then intended to publish in a single volume. In his blog posts leading up to the start of the challenge, he blogged about what he was going to do and why he was going to do it, and then he blogged about the power of the challenge as he wrote. You can find the first ofthose blogs here, and I recommend them. I didn’t come to it until early in July, and I read it backwards from where he was at to where he had been. It was nothing short of inspiring.

And I thought, I thought, I should try that.

So I looked over the challenge he’d sethimself, and I realised I had been doing what Dean was doing, but more inconsistently and on a much smaller scale. He’d been writing a novel a month and was now setting to writing a short story each day. I’d only been writing a couple of pieces of poetry and flash fiction every day. This was encouraging, and it made me think about what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be.

Along with novels, I wanted to write short stories. The aim sitting at the back of my head was one a month published, and then anthologies later. I also wanted to submit more work to other markets, crowded though I knew the markets were, which brought me back to where I was.

University resumes in a fortnight, my little one is home on school holidays, and I am very, very behind on my other writing commitments. Still, it was very tempting. Dean Wesley Smith’s methodology for writing short stories was very similar to the method I used for writing the flash fiction and poetry pieces I set each day… except he chose a title first. Well, that was okay, our methodologies didn’t have to match.

So I thought: what if I try to match each of Dean’s stories by writing one of my own? In other words, I’d see what he wrote, and then I’d write a short story of a similar length. Would I share the titles? No, no that didn’t seem right. What about the genre? No, we write differently. Okay, then, what if I just settled for matching the length?

Matching the lengths, the day after each was written. Yeah, that sounded right, and fun. And maybe, I could match the length or make it the minimum that would let the stories be what they wanted to be. Yeah, I was gonna try that—let Dean’s stories set the length. I have to get back into the practice of writing longer, and I need to hone that skill.

The problem is, that I lacked confidence so, on the day I decided to try this, I decided I would keep it as a pact with just myself—at least for a little while. And I would either succeed or fail on my own, without pressure from outside. Is it fair? Perhaps, perhaps not, but it was something I could handle, and that mattered a lot at the time.

To increase the challenge, I must not only catch up on what has already been done, but maintain my commitments to the anthologies I was working on. This, I decided, was all part of learning to be a writer, a ‘real’ writer. I had to learn my limits. I had to write. And I had to work on next year’s release schedule. The challenge could help me in all these.

The Task?


- To match Dean Wesley Smith’s short story writing in July, as a means of learning how to produce words and to increase writing discipline... also to find limits and capabilities, and to hone.
- To catch up with what he’s already done this month. To date:
  • 1 x 4,000-word ‘warm-up’ story (The Library of Atlantis)
  • 1 x 3,700-word story (The Case of the Dead Lady Blues)
  • 1 x 4,050-word story (A Bad Patch of Humanity)
  • 1 x 3,450-word story (They were Divided by Cold Debt)
  • 1 x 4,550-word story (Best Eaten on a Slow Tuesday).

- To maintain production on 366 Days of Poetry and 366 Days of Flash Fiction, which consists of a minimum of 2 pieces for each collection
- To maintain production on Another 365 Days of Poetry and Another 365 Days of Flash Fiction, which consists of 1 piece for each collection.

I decided to call it The Story Match Challenge. And, no, I will not be publishing it in a big anthology at the end. Each piece will be published separately over the next twelve months, and all pieces will appear in the annual round-up of short pieces to be released next year... and some will appear in other anthologies, but the main purpose is to move to the next level... whatever that might be.

Let's see how it goes.

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