Writing Dares

I like deadlines. I especially like deadlines with consequences. If other people are counting on me? Better still. That type of pressure gives me a high. I will gleefully work till midnight, brew another pot of coffee, and work till dawn.

But I’m new to the novel game. I don’t have any outstanding book contracts, and I don’t have an agent breathing down my neck for my next book. My deadlines are all self-imposed, and as such, are easily ignored. Sadly, my cat does not hold me accountable, even when I ask.

Enter the “writing dare.” I suppose it grew out of the popularity of NaNoWriMo, which challenges all players to write a 50,000-word novel in one month. There’s a comaraderie to burning the midnight oil with other writers, even if you’re a city, a state, or several continents away from each other. There’s a defined start and end to the challenge, defined rules, and even cute graphics you can add to your website if you “win.”

Dares are a fabulous motivators for some writers, but what we still lack is accountability.

The people who participate in dares generally like deadlines, but like me, they generally thrive if there’s a consequence for not meeting them. I’ve never run a dare where there was a price for failing to meet one’s goals, and I think that’s a big problem with the system. But what is a good price?

Tomorrow, I’m starting a new dare called “Labor Till Labor Day.” Give me a hand, and tell me how to incorporate accountability into the system. And hey, while you’re at it, give us a goal and join in.

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  1. 1. Josh

    I propose a new, profitable service, directed solely as writers. You hire an organization to setup tracking devices in undisclosed locations around you…ones that monitor your writing output, research, etc., plus all those activities that distract from such. Email, internet browsing, phone calls, cleaning the house. When the time spent away from writing grows to be too much, someone visits your house and…er, “physically persuades” you to apply butt to chair and get to work. Broken kneecaps optional for extreme cases, but hey, at least you wouldn’t be able to walk away from the desk, right?

  2. 2. Jenn Reese

    You know, I think there’s some real merit to that idea! And since I practice martial arts on the side, perhaps there’s a “Writing Enforcement” business in my future…

    Speaking of kung fu, I thought of a good punishment: If I fail to meet my writing goals for the month, then maybe I’m grounded from kung fu for a month (or even a week). Just the thought of that punishment makes me want to leave work early and start my revisions.

  3. 3. Josh

    You do kung fu too, huh? Yea, being cut off from practice would be a nasty punishment…but one could argue that physical exercise increases the bloodflow to the brain, thus making it more likely for you to find inspiration.

    I’m sure there are plenty of fu-related consequences we could devise. 50 more fingertip pushes everytime you skimp on the daily wordcount. 100 more high kicks…

  4. 4. Jenn Reese

    Okay, I love that idea! Pushups are pure evil, and they always make a good consequence. As do situps and crunches. And there’s the option of making myself do all my forms a number of times each day if I don’t make my goal… Lots of options! I love it!

  5. 5. Margaret Yang

    But there is no guarantee that you’d skip kung fu even if you missed your deadline.

    Here’s what you do instead–and I have done it so I know it works.

    Find a political cause that you hate. Write a post-dated check for $100. Write a letter to go with it saying how proud you are to donate to this cause. Seal it in an envelope, address the envelope properly, stamp it, and give it to a trusted friend.

    Tell trusted friend that you will deliver a manuscript of XX words on XX date, and then–and only then–can she give you the envelope back. Otherwise, she is to mail it!

    Also warn friend that an impostor might show up on the deadline date, claiming to be you, and asking for the envelope back w/o delivering manuscript. Under no circumstances is friend to believe this impostor.

    You would not believe how well this works. You will find yourself writing faster and better than you ever have before!

  6. 6. Jenn Reese

    That is absolutely the most evil thing I’ve ever heard. I both love it and hate it, because I can see how devastating it would be! Just thinking about that consequence makes me afraid to commit to it, which makes me realize how much more committed to my goals I should be.

    Wow. Thanks for this… I think. :)

  7. 7. Matthew Claxton

    Re: the post-dated cheque. There’s actually an organization now that’s set up to motivate people with just that technique, although their main market is people trying to lose a few pounds. (Lose 10 pounds and keep it off for six months of your money goes to McCain/Obama, Tories/Grits/NDP, Tories/Labour)

    My girlfriend motivated me by putting a sign next to the computer with a picture of Ian McShane as Al Swearengen on it. It says “You better not be squandering. 500 words.” If I don’t write that much, the implication is I’ll be stabbed in the gut.

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Author Information

Jenn Reese

Jenn Reese is the author of JADE TIGER (Juno Books, 2007), an action-adventure kung fu romance, with tigers. Her short stories have appeared online at Strange Horizons and Lone Star Stories, and in various print anthologies like Japanese Dreams, Sword & Sorceress, and Polyphony 4. When she's not writing, Jenn is practicing martial arts, playing World of Warcraft, or dreaming of rain. Visit site.

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