The Dickens Challenge (2)

December 13th, 2007

Well, hasn’t this been interesting?

There have been many more replies to the Dickens Challenge than the ones you see here. I also put it up on Crimespace, and people responded to my page there, while others used the CONTACT TIM button on my site rather than responding to the blog post.

All that response has expanded my idea of how this might work. I’m going to list some of those below, but first, a request: Could everyone who plans to participate please send me your URL, your name (or whatever name you want used), 2-3 sentences about yourself, and either a title or a very brief description of what you’ll be writing? I’ll pull all that material into a central linking document so anyone who visits my site can go to yours, and then (if you want) you can copy it, modify it as you like, and put it on your own site. That way, we’ll all be referring our readers to the other writers in the Challenge. (Please also send me your e-mail address so we can communicate directly and privately — if there are questions, for example.)

About the Challenge:

1. We’re not challenging Dickens, which would be suicide, and we’re not challenging each other, either. We’re challenging ourselves — to loosen up in our writing, to stop being obsessive about each comma and modifier, and to put something out there while it’s still in progress. This is supposed to be fun and maybe to let a little light into a writing process that has, perhaps, gotten cramped, as mine certainly does from time to time. There are no winners, except to the extent that each of us benefits from the exercise.

2. Any kind of writing is cool. It can be a novel, a novella, a memoir, a biography, a chain of linked shirt stories — anything.

3. A chapter (or some kind of unit) per week is ideal. Assuming that we eventually attract readers, this is probably the frequency that will keep them coming back. I think it’s also a manageable amount of writing. I found out myself that writing my chapter early gives me the chance to fiddle with it some before pushing it out of the nest.

4. While the writing is open, in the sense that anyone can read it, I would like to institute a closed forum that only contributing writers can enter. This would serve as an extended writers’ group, where we could all post reaction to the work while observing the usual group rules –no destructive criticism, emphasize strengths, etc. I have my Web guys working on this. In the meantime, though, I think it would be great if participants used the comment function for each post to weigh in.

5. Some of us are starting this coming Monday, December 17. Anyone may start whenever he or she wishes. I’d like it if you sent a response to this mail letting me know when you’re going to start so I can post it. Other members of the Challenge might also want to post it.

6. Anyone may quit whenever he or she desires. We’ll miss you if you do.

7. Eventually, I’d love to see a dedicated site for this, with an explanation of the project, rundowns on the contributors, and links to all the writing. For the present, I’ll just do this on my site, and each of you can do as much or as little as you like on your own.

8. More than anything, I’m hoping this will be fun, that it’ll blow out some cobwebs, and that it will help to teach us how to put our inner demons in their proper places, which is to say locked in small iron boxes. All the best to all of you. And let the Challenge begin!

(Trumpets and a short excerpt of the Hallellujah Chorus.)

7 Responses to “The Dickens Challenge (2)”

  1. John Dishon Says:

    This all sounds good to me, except for point four. I don’t see how a closed forum would be a good thing. It seems counterintuitive to say you can read my work, but you can’t comment on it. And I think an open forum would be more fun because we would get to see a wider range of opinions and experiences. There have been a few people who have said they don’t have the time or the guts or whatever to commit to the challenge, yet they look forwarding to reading and cheering the rest of us on. It seems unfair to exclude them from the discussion just because they’re not writing a serial themselves.

    This is just my two cents, but I think it would detract from the fun of the challenge to exclude people.

  2. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Perhaps a terribly naive question, and I apologize if it is, but…if we post our WIP online, is that considered “published,” possibly causing complications a little ways down the road?

    Regarding the trumpets and the Halleluja Chorus, the Trams-Siberian Orchestra is singing Christmas carols on TV right now. How appropriate!

    Thanks for posting this challenge, Tim. I left work early today, fairly buzzing with the impetuous to write. 3000 words later and I’m still buzzing, but I have to get up for work at 0-dark-thirty tomorrow.

    Time to sleep and allow the well to refill.

  3. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, John —

    I understand what you say about point four. I was trying to do two things — first, to create a central space where we could have a dialog, as opposed to scattering it out among comments boxes on a number of sites. I thought some comments might provoke discussion, and a forum would be a good idea. Second, I thought we might get to a point where we would be more candid with each other in a closed forum than we would in an open environment, such as comment boxes.

    But I don’t insist on it — I just think it would be kind of cool to have a sort of campfire we could sit around and exchange views. And, of course, that wouldn’t mean that we shouldn’t publish reaction in people’s comments boxes, too.

    And Cynthia —

    First, 3000 words is amazing. That’s my best pace, when a book is sort of exploding at me, and I don’t get there very often. About the web and publication, my understanding is that a substantial number of books have actually come off the web — Diana Gabaldon posted her books until she got a contract, as have a few other fantasy writers, and a number of bloggers have gone on to do books based in part on content they first put on the web.

    I actually doubt that any of us would submit to a publisher a manuscript that wasn’t pretty significantly revised from what will appear here — for one thing, we’ll be able to go back and fix the first half. My feeling is that a book that is based on original material, parts of which were put on the web in a different form, would not get snagged in technicalities. For that matter, if the editor in question absolutely loves the book, she’ll find a way to publish it.

    I may ultimately want to try publish mine, and I’m going ahead with this because I like the effect it’s having on my writing.

  4. Steve Wylder Says:


    I rather like your idea of a closed forum. John Dishon makes a point that there are some who have expressed interest in the challenge, but aren’t able to participate as writers. I would be comfortable with those people having access to the forum. While your Bierce quote is true enough, some of us might not want to risk a devastating critique, which might happen in an open forum. I would trust your judgment on access to the forum.

  5. John Dishon Says:

    I agree with your central space idea and the forum idea is what I had in mind. It should be like a single campfire we sit around, only everyone is invited. So you start a forum and let anyone join, and we can start new topics when we please, and whoever wants to join in can. But yeah, comment boxes on various sites, or even on one site, wouldn’t work very well.

    On another note, I’m currently reading OF HUMAN BONDAGE by W. Somerset Maugham and I came across a great discourse on art which I think represents what we are doing here with this Dickens Challenge:

    “The only reason that one paints is that one can’t help it. It’s a
    function like any of the other functions of the body, only comparatively
    few people have got it. One paints for oneself: otherwise one would commit
    suicide. Just think of it, you spend God knows how long trying to get
    something on to canvas, putting the sweat of your soul into it, and what
    is the result? Ten to one it will be refused at the Salon; if it’s
    accepted, people glance at it for ten seconds as they pass; if you’re
    lucky some ignorant fool will buy it and put it on his walls and look at
    it as little as he looks at his dining-room table. Criticism has nothing
    to do with the artist. It judges objectively, but the objective doesn’t
    concern the artist.”

    Clutton put his hands over his eyes so that he might concentrate his mind
    on what he wanted to say.

    “The artist gets a peculiar sensation from something he sees, and is
    impelled to express it and, he doesn’t know why, he can only express his
    feeling by lines and colours. It’s like a musician; he’ll read a line or
    two, and a certain combination of notes presents itself to him: he doesn’t
    know why such and such words call forth in him such and such notes; they
    just do. And I’ll tell you another reason why criticism is meaningless: a
    great painter forces the world to see nature as he sees it; but in the
    next generation another painter sees the world in another way, and then
    the public judges him not by himself but by his predecessor. So the
    Barbizon people taught our fathers to look at trees in a certain manner,
    and when Monet came along and painted differently, people said: But trees
    aren’t like that. It never struck them that trees are exactly how a
    painter chooses to see them. We paint from within outwards–if we force
    our vision on the world it calls us great painters; if we don’t it ignores
    us; but we are the same. We don’t attach any meaning to greatness or to
    smallness. What happens to our work afterwards is unimportant; we have got
    all we could out of it while we were doing it.”

  6. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Steve; Hi, John —

    The forum is a bit in the future in any event, since a person who had volunteered to do the Challenge site is suddenly getting reluctant. I can take care of it on this end, but it’ll take a week or two. I’ve got a couple of good people working on a redesign of my own site, and I’m putting them on it.

    Amazing quote from Maugham, whom I love. Everybody who wants to write novels should read him – I think he’s one of the great structuralists and one of the great creators of character in 20th century lit.

    Here’s another view, sort of a reverse perspective, from William Gaddis in “The Recognitions”: “An artist is just the rubble who follows his work around.” In both quotations, the work has an existence independent of the artist or writer, once he or she releases it.

    I’ve got some good ideas for my second chapter, but I’m not writing them until the first one goes online.

  7. reality Says:

    I like the closed camp idea; while allowing permission to those
    a] who have expressed an interest in writing here but can’t for reasons of their own.
    b] If they come through a reference vide one of the writers. This is because we all have blogs and communicate mostly with aspiring or published writers. Where a very closed group might fear to critique one another; a semi open forum might be useful.
    However an open forum with open access is not the way to go IMO. For that we have many online communities.
    This should be a tighter gathering where people understand that writing is not easy. And that all of us are just churning out words and not the finished product.

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