Whether you are already a fantastic, productive writer who can’t wait to get to your manuscript each day or you are stuck or struggling with half-done manuscripts, a backlog of pieces in your “to-revise” pile, and a feeling of dread when you open your computer each day, you are invited to join the monthly AGT Writing Challenge.
Each month, participants agree to write at least 400 words per day for 5 days each 7 day week, Sunday through Saturday. We start on the FIRST Sunday of every month, and since there are no breaks between monthly challenges, we are usually ending in the following month. If you meet your goals, you will write at least 8,000 words in a month with 4 weeks and 10,000 words in a month with 5 weeks.
Here’s how it works:
You buy in to the challenge with $20, payable via PayPal or, if you prefer, check. (Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask where to send it.)
You write 5/7 days each week, at least 400 words. Each day that you write, you send your writing to me at email@example.com with the word count in the subject line. If you meet your goal for the month, you get your $20 back.
If you miss a day, you lose $3. If you miss 2 days, you lose $6. If you miss more than 2 days, you lose the full $20.
Forfeited funds go into a kitty that funds a small monthly prize, drawn at random from among those who meet their 20-day goal; occasional random drawings among participants for other contests; and administrative costs associated with organizing the AGT Writing Challenge.
How do I get started?
From the email address you prefer to use in our correspondence, email me with your name, the email address associated with your Facebook profile (so I can add you to our Facebook group), and how you plan on paying (PayPal or check). If you’d like an accountability partner, please let me know in email. Send any other information you think is important and any questions you might have.
While you can email me your intention to join and put in your $20 at any point, each AGT Writing Challenge begins on the first Sunday of every month. You may join up to two days after the start date but those two missed days will count as your skip days that week, so you’d need to write Tues-Sat of that first week to meet your goal. After the first Tuesday of a month, it’s too late to join for that month, so you’d need to join in the following month. Each challenge runs for four or five weeks–until the next month’s first Sunday.
Participants include professional writers, those writing after a hiatus, and people coming to writing for the first time. Some people are working on professional projects, while others are working on personal ones. Our writers are working on novels, short stories, academic articles, academic books, dissertations, blogs, religious devotionals, memoirs, and more.
What can I write about? Can I work on more than one writing project?
You can write about anything you like. Some folks work on one project the entire time they participate, while others switch between ongoing projects on a regular basis–sometimes even within the same day.
The AGT Writing Challenge is a good opportunity to work on writing that you might avoid otherwise–a spot in your novel where you are stuck, an academic article that has been languishing, or a short story that you think could be good if you’d just revise it.
Do you read my writing?
No. If you send your writing within the body of an email, I’ll see the first few lines when I open the document, but I don’t read it. If you send your writing as an attachment, I don’t open it except to do a word count if you’ve not included a word count in the subject line.
How does the AGT Writing Challenge support my writing?
In addition to regular email check-ins, you can participate in our secret Facebook group, where writers share inspiration and advice, ask questions, and support each other. If you like seeing your daily writing total add up, you can check in with our Google Sheet, an online spreadsheet where you can self-report (using your real name, initials, or a pseudonym) your daily writing progress and see how your efforts are comparing to others in the group. And you can request to be paired with an accountability partner from the group.
How do accountability partners work?
On the first day of the new Writing Challenge, I’ll use Facebook to ask everyone if they would like a writing accountability partner. Just tell me there or email me, if you prefer. Within the first few days of each month, I match partners mostly at random, after making sure that they don’t already know each other or work in the same field or at the same institution to insure that they might not be working on projects that put them in any competition with each other. You and your partner are matched for the whole month, with new partners reassigned each month. You should figure out how you want to check in with each other (FB Messenger, text message, or something else ), how often (daily, M-F, every other day, etc.), and what you want to do in those check-ins (Sometimes a regular, specific question works well: “Did you write for that grant project you have due soon?” “How many words did you add to your chapter today?”).
What can I expect to get out of this?
If you stick with your goal, you will write at least 8000 words. But while many people join to pump up their output in terms of word count, they often find they experience other benefits like:
- getting old “revise and resubmit” articles out the door
- wrapping up lingering writing projects
- improving relationships with co-authors
- producing templates for documents that they will use again and again (such as emails, author queries, and letters of recommendation)
- experimenting with their writing habits (writing early in the morning, trying the Pomodoro technique, or trying new revision strategies)
- seeing real progress on dissertations, book manuscripts, and other massive projects that are often required but unsupported in academia
- attempting new genres
- building a daily or near-daily writing habit that they know they can rely on
- building confidence that they can accomplish large writing tasks
- getting their writing done on time or even in advance of deadlines
- writing faster as they get in the habit of writing daily, so those 400 words come faster and faster as you keep at it–giving you more time to write more words!
- enjoying writing
- enjoying not writing without the guilt of an overdue project hanging over their head
- knowing that if they skip a day of writing, they won’t be behind–because they have already written a few thousand words that week
How does this work?
Some participants have called the AGT Writing Challenge “magical,” and I don’t disagree–but it’s not clear that the magic works the same way for everyone. Some folks are very motivated by the idea of losing their $20. Others see the $20 as a reward and put it toward a prize of their own to reward their hard work. Most people find that they can do 400 words a day–it’s enough to push their writing forward (You can get an idea out, develop an example, or write an important point in 400 words.) without it being too daunting. Watching your project advance is its own kind of motivation. By the time you’ve had your seat in your desk chair long enough to write 400 words, you often find that you have the time and energy to write more. 400 words can be done in lots of different settings and in a short amount of time, so it becomes harder to say “I don’t have time.”
When you overcome a writing obstacle–whether that’s a technical difficulty in writing, a plot point you’ve been struggling with, a piece of data you couldn’t explain, a bad habit (like interrupting yourself to check email), or something else–you become more confident that you can overcome the next difficulty.
And the AGT Writing Challenge is rooted in respect for writing, encouragement (rather than competition, which is, unfortunately, the situation many of us face at work), and the belief that we all lose when good ideas are lost–and when good thinkers don’t get their ideas out there.
What if I’m writing something I can’t share?
If you are working on a large project that can’t be shared due to privacy concerns, it’s probably not a good pick for the AGT Writing Challenge. However, if you must occasionally write a piece you can’t send in (a faculty review, a review for a book proposal, etc.), just send the word count and a note explaining what you worked on.
What do you do with the writing I send in?
I keep it in my dedicated AGT Writing Challenge email account for the duration of the month. Depending on the number of writers, it may take me up to a week to contact everyone to let them know if they met their goal for the month. After that, I usually wait about 3 days, just to make sure that I didn’t get anyone’s individual tally wrong, and then I delete the emails that contain your writing.
How long do people stay in the AGT Writing Challenge?
Some folks participate for just one month. Others pop in for a month, then take a month off, then come back. Some have participated every month since they joined. Stay as long as you like–and come back whenever you need to.
Do I have to be producing new words each day?
Recognizing that everyone needs to revise and edit (and some folks need to produce tables, which have relatively few words but are a necessary and time-consuming part of their work) here are some ways you can count these kinds of work:
- Figure out about how long it takes you to write 400 words. Use time, not word count, as a measure. If 400 words takes 45 minutes, then 45 minutes of editing or revising or producing a table can equal 400 words.
- Consider the larger project. How many pages is it? How soon do you want to have it done? If, say, you are proofing the galleys on a 200 page novel and you want to have it done in 5 days, you’d need to proof 40 pages per day.
- Find a ratio that you think reflects your efforts. Many people measure revising as 1/2 or 1/3 the “value” of new words–so, for example, you would need to revise 800 words to equal 400 new words.
- Don’t count revised words. This, obviously, is the strictest measure, and it might be right for you if you are a person who uses revision as a form of procrastination.
If you have other strategies, suggest them! And feel free to experiment with different strategies until you find one that works for your needs.
Do you offer proofreading, editing, coaching, or writing services?
I do, and you can read about them here. And if I’m not available or not a good fit for you, I’m happy to recommend other editors or writing coaches.
I’m a student. Would you write my paper for me?
No, but I will contact your academic dean, your advisor, and the instructor of the class and let them know you asked.
Where did the idea for this Writing Challenge come from?
A few years ago, I applied for IRB approval to do something like this as an experiment in an online course. My university denied it, saying that the project was too much like gambling. The state’s Department of Finance and Administration (which oversees lotteries, bingo, and games of chance) disagreed, and I argued with the decision, citing a body of literature on similar projects on smoking cessation and weight loss, but the IRB committee was adamant–anything remotely like gambling was off limits. (Those in higher ed in Arkansas might see a joke in here: the state’s lotto funds higher ed scholarships.) But I kept thinking about the idea and eventually decided to apply it to one of my other interests: supporting writers.
We often get stuck thinking that the only way to progress is through criticism. I disagree. Personally, I’ve never once improved because someone tore me apart; I’ve only ever really improved when I felt confident and when others saw potential in me. I figured I wasn’t the only one, so a project like this one might work for other people, too. And if it chips away at a culture of humiliation, that’s a bonus! At the heart of this model is the idea that we can all succeed, that there is room enough for everyone’s ideas, and that we are not in competition for scarce resources but that the more of us in the conversation, the more opportunities we have to develop our ideas.
What motivates you to host this event?
Previously, I’ve directed Women and Gender Studies at Arkansas State University and worked as a dissertation and thesis coach at the University of Kansas. In both roles, I saw my work as helping others build their capacities for writing and research. I love that kind of work–encouraging others, supporting them as they move forward. I’m especially passionate about helping those traditionally underserved by higher ed, including women, first generation scholars, and people of color.
Hosting this been a lot of fun for me so far and encouraging in every way. I’ve cleared off lingering projects, moved new ones forward, got to experiment with new forms, learned a lot about myself as a writer, and reminded myself of why I got into academia in the first place (because I love writing! and I love seeing people succeed in their writing!). And, seriously EVERY SINGLE DAY I get to see AGT writers all bringing new ideas into the world!
I have some more questions.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Conceptually, the idea of 400 publishable words per day is appealing. At that rate, I’d be churning out at least one new manuscript a month. However, it’s not feasible for most people to write 400 publishable words per day, day in and day out. But 400 words related to a project is quite reasonable once you free your mind from perfectionism and decide to just enjoy the process of putting thoughts – however rough – on the page. Then the flow of thoughts from day to day turns into a lot of words, and those thoughts and words can be worked together and shored up with theories and references, and edited into beautiful phrasings, and suddenly a pretty darn good manuscript emerges.
–“Writing, 400 Words at a Time,” by Vanessa Dennen, from her blog
I have learned so much about my writing by being serious about writing consistently. As of today, I’ve written 67,163 new words [See below.] on my various projects this calendar year [by late July]. That’s one article from scratch, one substantial revision, half an NSF grant, and 60% of a first draft of a book manuscript. And I even took a real vacation…. So I should go into this fall coming from a dangerous CV with no real publications (at the end of my 3rd year! I’m so embarrassed and scared and sad!) to having two peer-reviewed things in press and the bulk of my book manuscript down on paper.In short, while the jury is out, AGT is probably the only reason it is still reasonable for me to think my tenure case won’t be flat-out denied in two years. If I keep up like this, I should be able to produce what I need to in the time I have. And it hasn’t even been that hard.
–J, assistant professor
What we’re getting done