Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dickens Challenge Progress Report

On December 9th, I posted about Timothy Hallinan’s Dickens Challenge. The idea was to post a chapter a week of a brand new novel as an experiment to knock the creative cobwebs loose. When I posted the announcement about the challenge I had no intention of participating. I don’t write very quickly, I’d only recently started writing every day and I like to edit and revise compulsively.

Within a few days I was swept up in the excitement and less than a week before the Dickens Challenge writers planned to post their first chapters, I decided to join them.

Some interesting things happened to my process once I committed. I didn’t have any ready made story ideas, but I had the basic germ of something I thought I could work with and for two or three days, I brainstormed possibilities. About three days before the first chapter was “due” I started writing it.

The idea of winging it was terrifying. I was self-conscious about posting early draft work on my site. After all, I’d never shared any of my fiction on line and this wasn’t going to be my “A” material. One of the wonderful things about being part of this great online community is that I knew that all of you who stop here regularly would be supportive and that there was probably no better place to take chances.

It was a race to get the first chapter up. I worked pretty hard on the second chapter and really hated it when I posted it, but I didn’t want to miss my “deadline”. Once it was out there I decided it wasn’t nearly as bad as I first thought. And now, I’m actually finished with the third chapter early and will have it up Monday morning.

Some of the loose rules of engagement we’ve been following have been that we’re not going back to revise or rework chapters we’ve posted, and we’re not posting more than one chapter a week.

Having a deadline and committing to it has had a significant impact on my writing process. I suppose I could have given myself deadlines before, but it never occurred to me, even though I’ve always worked well under pressure.

Establishing a unique chapter as the weekly writing goal has been interesting. It has made the weekly goal much more fun to work toward than a word count ever was because it keeps me focused. Posting only once a week makes the need to leave each chapter with some kind of a hook or question even more important than it normally would be.

I literally don’t know what will happen from one chapter to the next, so I can’t say whether or not I’ll really be able to sustain this for the length of an entire book, but no matter what the results, this is proving to be a great experience.

We now have nine Dickens Challengers and you can check out their work at their own sites and also on the Dickens Forum. I’ve got chapters one and two on my sidebar and will continue to post links to each chapter there as we progress.

My fellow Dickens Challengers are:

John Dishon, newly married and newly out of college, is a beginning novelist with special interests in Asian culture and literature, who sees the Challenge as a way of getting one of his ideas for a novel out of his head and into written form. His book is called Country Snow and it can be found at

Nadja (NL Gassert) is working on the second book in her gay romantic suspense series set on lush, tropical Guam: When a vengeful STALKER seeks to punish Mason Ward for the sins of his past—and present—the security specialist needs to fight to save himself and those closest to him. You can read her at

Timothy Hallinan is a novelist who lives in Los Angeles and Bangkok, Thailand. The Fourth Watcher, which is the next novel in his Bangkok series, will be published in June 2008 by William Morrow. (The first, A Nail Through the Heart, is out now.) His Challenge book, Counterclockwise, can be found at

Steve Wylder is an Amtrak ticket agent and freelance writer living in Elkhart, Indiana and Bloomington, Illinois. His most recent published work is “Time Passages: Reflections on the Last Train Home,” in Remember the Rock Magazine. His contribution to the Dickens Challenge is tentatively titled “Things Done and Left Undone” and can be found at :

Wendy Ledger has an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University, and has taught there as a lecturer of introductory writing. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The East Bay Express, and Music for the Love of It. She has two blogs, and Her contribution to the Dickens Challenge, is called “The Untitled Leap,” and can be found at

Cynthia Mueller is a US Army veteran living in Las Vegas, Nevada. After more than 15 years as a technical writer, she’s working on her first novel, Casual Duty, a mystery/thriller set at a remote Army post in the southeastern Arizona mountains. When the bodies of young women start turning up on the training range, Private Bridie Traynor must overcome her fear and lack of experience to help stop a killer before he kills again. Read it at

Jennifer Duncan has been writing her first novel for eons. In faith and fear, she accepts this challenge as the search for freedom in the writing process. The two installments of “Waiting for Gauguin” have been posted at her blog ( ). Is it a long short story? A novelette? A novella? She doesn’t know. She must write to find out.

Usman is a businessman and writer who lives in Pakistan and has recently completed a book, which is now in revision. His work for the Challenge is a mystery/thriller called Capital Risks.

New chapters will be posted soon and it’s never too late to jump on board. For those of you who’ve taken the time to read the DC chapters, thanks for your encouragement and support!

How do you respond to deadlines? How much “pantsing” are you comfortable with? Are you comfortable with starting to write and trusting that the story will reveal itself, or do you outline and plot it all out first? For the DC writers, what are your thoughts on this experience?


kristen said...

Wow, Lisa, I am in awe of what you are accomplishing here. A deadline is a funny thing. It will motivate you to no end or paralyze you completely. Glad to see this one has motivated you! Self-imposed deadlines, however, tend to hold no power, at least that's my experience.

Charles Gramlich said...

I respond very well to deadlines, but typically live with so many deadlines in my daily work that I almost never take on an extra one that I don't have to. This was a great challenge but I didn't want to take on another deadline on my few weeks off. I honor those of you who have, though, and have been enjoying the posts.

Yogamum said...

I think it's absolutely amazing that you've taken this on and I look forward to reading all the installments!!

Larramie said...

I'm counting the hours until you post Chapter 3, Lisa. You have us hooked!

Carleen Brice said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: you're brave! Good for you! Sounds like this was just the thing for you...?

Having a deadline helps me immensely. If I didn't have one from my publisher, I'd give myself one. I should say WHEN I didn't have one from a publisher, I gave myself deadlines. There's crazy-making aspects of that, as I never feel like I really "make" a deadline because it could always be better. But since I always feel it could be better, it's very helpful to have a date that forces me to consider being done.

Good luck as you continue your challenge!

steve said...

Hi, Lisa. It's 11:23 p.m. here in beautiful downtown Bloomington, Illinois. (It was originally called Keg Grove, but that's another story.) I've downed about a keg of Diet Dr. Pepper, iced tea, and cocoa in the last few hours, (that's what I get for not liking coffee) as I use my swing-shift break (AM shift on Sunday, PM on Monday) to finish Chapter 4. I've immersed myself in the '68 McCarthy campaign, all for a few paragraphs, all to prepare the scene of Timothy's first meeting with Helena in Lincoln Park. The post should be up tomorrow.

Still, I'm glad I took up the Dickens Challenge, and am very impressed with my fellow challengers, yourself included.

Lisa said...

Kristen, I think you're right about the self-imposed deadlines. I doubt they'd mean much to me -- I let myself off the hook far too easily ;)

Charles, I don't blame you for not taking on another deadline. From what I can tell, you've got a whole bunch of actual paying writing gigs going on -- which I do not :)

Yogamum, thanks for being so nice. This kind of thing would be ideal for you -- your first drafts are like my 10th drafts!

Larramie, Chapter 3 is done -- I hope it still holds your attention, but if it doesn't, I'm counting on you to tell me that too. I've jumped into some uncharted waters in this one...

Carleen, I'm hoping that by doing this, I'll develop some better writing habits that I can stick with. That whole idea of a self-imposed deadline is tricky though because as you said -- when do you decide it's finished enough so that you feel OK about calling it done?

Steve, I know the back and forth and the shift work makes this tough and I admire your dedication. I am really looking forward to learning the history between Timothy and Helena and can't wait to read Chapter 4.

iyan and egusi soup: said...

keep going dear lisa. you're well on your way.

Melissa Marsh said...

I do very well with deadlines - in fact, if I don't have deadlines (either "real" or "self-imposed"), I have a hard time getting myself to move on a project.

Right now I'm struggling with my conflict for my next novel - I need to get it nailed down before I start writing. After that's finished, I plan to set my deadline and get to work!

Lisa said...

Olufunke, thank you for being my cheering section!

Melissa, I definitely imagine you to be someone who is very disciplined and can stick to deadlines. Good luck on your exciting new project!

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf