8 New Writing Challenges for 2018

Image via Alison Scott

Last year I hosted a writing group where participants challenged themselves to write one story per week for the entire year. This year we’re doing things a little differently. Taking a ‘choose your own adventure’ approach where there are a series of challenges for writers to opt into at the start of and throughout the year. With regards to goal setting and challenges, there are three points I take into consideration.

  1. The goal set has to be high enough that if you fail you don’t really fail and likely achieve far more than you ever would have without the goal.
  2. You have to believe there’s a possibility you could achieve the goal.
  3. What is the spirit and purpose of the goal?

I ensure that I always remain true to the purpose of the goal even if I have to readjust the goal itself. Say the target is ‘to write for X hours daily’ and the purpose is ‘to increase the quantity and quality of my writing.’ If three months in I find that X hours daily is unsustainable, that I’m burning out, that I resent my writing (and life) and that the quality is declining … I readjust. I scale it back.

Here are some suggested writing (and reading) challenges for 2018. Use what is helpful, discard what is not, and modify any (or every) challenge for your own personal goals. Just don’t lose sight of the purpose. Don’t be a servant to the goal.

The Constant Writer

Don’t lose sight of the purpose. Don’t be a servant to the goal.

Always have a first draft in progress. You may find it useful to split up your daily writing time into two categories: writing and editing. Right now, I’m writing the first draft of a novel in the morning and editing/redrafting short stories in the afternoon. Once the first draft is complete, I’ll start work on the first draft of a new story in the morning, editing and redrafting older fiction in the afternoon. This cycle will repeat itself for the entire year. Maybe indefinitely.

Read One Short Story Daily

I did this for the most part in 2017 and in 2018 I’m doing it again, but I’m also keeping a record (because everyone loves a spreadsheet). I encourage everyone to seriously consider this challenge, not least because the internet and modern technology make it easier to complete. Not only are there a wealth of great short story magazines, but there are so many websites that provide short stories for free—so as long as you’ve got a phone and an internet connection you can read short stories in what might otherwise be dead time. But perhaps your commute doesn’t enable you to read stories because you have to concentrate on other things—like keeping your eyes on the road—that’s where podcasts come into play. And with such a wide array of short story podcasts (check out some of my favourites here) there really is no excuse for not completing this challenge—and if you do have an excuse and extenuating circumstances, how do you have the time to read this article?!

Submissions Machine

Perhaps ‘Submissions Machine’ is a dubious title. Sounds masochistic. But, anyway, the objective here is to set a number of submissions for the week, month, or year. Those who completed the 2017 Short Story Challenge might find this of particular use as now you have fifty-two or so stories just waiting to be polished up and sent off. Personally, I’ll be shooting for at least twenty-four story submissions this year—one every couple of weeks. That’s twenty-four different stories submitted. Not just the same story to twenty-four different markets (come on!). And as soon as a story is rejected I’ll get it right back out there.

Publications Warrior

Submissions Machine? Publications Warrior? Who comes up with these titles? Is this some sort of weird role-playing game or a list of 90s wrestling superstars?

Of all the writing challenges, this is perhaps the one that you have the least control over. I mean you can’t just force/blackmail someone to publish your work (or can you?). That said, if you’re submitting loads of stories and have a backlog of stories from last year why not push yourself to get a certain amount of stories published? You’ll likely find that you write and submit more as a by-product. I’m aiming for twelve published stories this year. You might wish to modify the difficulty of this goal further by setting certain caveats such as “I will only submit to markets paying X per word.”

Jack of All Trades

Perhaps you want to experiment this year and write a different form of story every week/month. In January you write a story in the second person and a series of interconnected haiku. February’s all about writing a story per week, each in a genre you’ve never played in before. March is dedicated to poetry—we’re talking palindromes, sonnets, villanelle, limericks, free verse, songs, raps, epic poems—because who doesn’t like to go old school Homer meets Milton with a new age twist for the Snapchat generation? In April you blast out a novella. May is dedicated to creative nonfiction. Come June, find yourself a friend or two, because it’s time for a collaboration. July and August are dedicated to scriptwriting. September you take your scriptwriting lessons and apply them to audio dramas and podcasts. October is Halloween so you better make it horror month. And we all know that November is NaNoWriMo. Which leaves December for autobiography as seen through the eyes of an animal … or, you know, come up with your own month-to-month challenges. The point is to keep it fresh and stretch yourself.

Classic Word Count or Time Goal

Keep things simple. Shoot for a daily number of words written, hours spent writing, or a combination of the two. I like to get up early and write before most people are up. By the time lunchtime rolls around I’ve done most of my fiction writing for the day. How long you write and how many words will depend on your personal circumstances. Stephen King said in On Writing he writes 2,000 words per day, Jack London wrote between 1,000 and 1,500 words, and Paul Tremblay said on the This Is Horror Podcast that he writes 500 words per day. Set your limit and stick to it.

NaNoWriEvMo

So NaNoWriMo only occurs once per year but what if it could be Christmas every day? Or, at least, NaNoWriMo every month? Well, it can, damn it. Just shoot for 50,000 words every month. And don’t blame me if you burn out. I didn’t say it was a good idea.

Prompt City

This year base all your writing off a series of prompts. It could be newspaper headlines, titles of stories written by other authors, song lyrics, poetry, places, calls for submissions. Whatever grabs you. Just make sure you delete the original inspiration—nobody likes a plagiarist.


Which writing challenges will you take up in 2018? What are your goals? And most importantly, what is the purpose of your goals? See you in the comments. 

Michael David Wilson

Column by Michael David Wilson

Michael David Wilson is a professional writer and editor. He is the Managing Editor and Owner of the popular UK horror website, podcast and small press, This Is Horror. He is the founder of the ancestral health website and podcast, Paleo Minds. A qualified ESL Teacher and graduate of The University of Warwick’s English Literature and Creative Writing Programme, you can connect with Michael on Twitter @WilsonTheWriter.

To leave a comment Login with Facebook or create a free account.

Comments

curiousgcc's picture
curiousgcc from Virginia is reading How Music Works January 25, 2018 - 6:39am

Thanks for this, Michael. I'm just getting started making my commitment to being a writer and there are some great ideas here for organizing and taking concrete steps to structure that goal. My first task begins today and I'm going to spend some serious time laying out my goals and starting a spreadsheet to make everything concrete and visual. I like the idea of a short story a week and I also like the idea of the thematic months, so I think I'm going to combine the two and see where it goes.