Here's a challenge that will separate the brave and possibly dumb writers from the cowardly and perhaps more intelligent ones. More...Read on for details.

Charles Dickens was probably literature's greatest pantser. When he died, in 1870, he left one of the world's most famous unfinished novels, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Attempting to finish this book has become something of a cottage industry, in part because Dickens left behind not a note, not a scrap of a note, not a sentence fragment, to indicate where he was going with the story.

But he was an even more committed pantser than that would suggest. As he wrote sections of the book, they were immediately published in monthly installments that began in April of 1870 and were supposed to continue through March of 1871. Dickens' death, however, cut it short when he was exactly halfway through; only six of the planned dozen installments ever saw print.

This means that Dickens was not only making it up as he went along, but that he couldn't go back and rewrite. Whatever he wrote in those early chapters, he was stuck with it.

Is anyone reading this brave enough (or crazy enough) to take the Dickens challenge? Write a chapter a week or so and post them as you finish them until you've gotten through a whole novel (or novella, if you come up short).

I'm thinking about doing it. If two other people will bite the bullet, I'll commit: I'll post a chapter in a few days. I want to keep the commitment time short so neither I nor anyone else can knock out a book, go back and fix it, and then start posting a chapter at a time.

I'll be posting my effort here and on my own site, I'd be happy to host anyone else's effort, or to link my site to it.

Any takers?

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I've been doing this for a website geared towards people interested in things and people of Japanese descent. I've committed to writing 12 chapters for a year. The fourth chapter will be posted on Friday. The name of the website serial is "The Nihongo Papers."

If you can link your site to this ongoing series, that would be great!

I don't have any outline for this. I know that I need to prepare a chapter for the first Friday of every month, so I sit myself in a chair for a couple of hours and see what happens.
Naomi --

This is great. I'd be happy to link to it. We ought to think of a way to get a bunch of writers skywriting without a parachute and create a central link so people who are interested can find a way to find them all. I'll link to your story, and maybe you could find a way to note on your own site that I'm doing something similar and offer a link to it.

I'm redesigning my page now and in about 5-6 days I'll be up with a section for The Dickens Challenge that will have my first chapter and links to anyone else who's willing to give it a try.

You could make The Dickens Challenge its own website, a la NaNoWriMo. That would be a central place for everyone to go to access these serials.
I would be happy to help out in this area. I could create the site and post all links or chapters.....
I accept your challenge, as long as it's OK that it's not a crime novel.

I will post my chapters at

Would you set a deadline for the first chapter so I can have time to properly procrastinate?
Hi, John --

Absolutely doesn't have to be a crime novel. I'm in the middle of a site redesign right now -- could be a week to ten days before I can go up with a section for the Dickens Challenge. In the meantime, why not set the deadline for Monday the 17th, and I'll put my first chapter up as a blog. By the time I get to the second chapter, the site should be redesigned. Does a chapter a week sound reasonable?

And I'll link to yours and you link to mine.


Sure, sounds good. A chapter a week is just fine. After all, this used to be SOP for novel writing.
Great -- I'll put my first chapter up on Monday. Can you e-mail me at and we'll exchange URLs, etc.?

This is going to be terrifying. I can't wait.
I actually work like that myself. It has its drawbacks.

As for the plan: I tend to want to publish whatever I'm working on. As far as I know, that means no prior electronic versions. In any case, I'm struggling (see: the drawbacks!) with tying together and concluding my current novel and so have no time to spare.

But it sounds fascinating.
Doesn't that suck that prior electronic publication, even if it's not the whole work, can exclude you from print publication?

Just another example of industry tying the hands of the creator. Mark my words: one day this will not be so.

Anyway, revolutionary zeal aside, good luck with finishing your novel.
Oh, thanks, John. That was very kind. May you, too, succeed in your work.
Hi, IJ --

I had no idea what I was getting into when I had this harebrained idea. But John and a couple of other writers have said they’re willing, so I’m stuck. In fact, I wrote half of my first chapter last night, and I’m going to put the whole chapter online next week.

My opening line is, “People who say they’re their own worst enemy are usually forgetting about someone else.” I did about six pages, and it’s kind of funny and obviously going to be a mystery.

What I thought when I came up with the challenge was that it might be fun not to shoot for lapidary perfection for once — in fact, not to take myself so seriously, and just write for the joy of it, as I did in the old days, on the assumption that readers would be forgiving, given the circumstances under which the piece was written. I figure if it’s entertaining, I’ll have done my job. And if I crash and burn, well, that’s why God made Band-aids.

I’m writing a novel right now that’s coming very fast — 1500-2500 words a day, with another, the first in a new series, waiting in the wings. But I figure that I can do a 1500-word chapter once a week, probably in a single sitting or, at most, two, and still continue to work on the books that are paying the bills.

Or maybe not, but it was fun to get started yesterday and write from a somewhat lighter place for a little while. It's also cool that Mystery Dawg has volunteered to create a “ring” site that will focus on the Challenge and link to all the sites of the writers who have decided to play.

I have to think of it as playing, or I’ll probably freak out.

And I had no idea you were a pantser. I've read every one of your books and they are so meticulously plotted.

About the publishing thing -- I know. I feel pretty much the same way. But it's a new world, and who knows? Maybe if enough writers get involved we can get an e-book publisher (I know a couple) to play along for some money, or maybe even sell some advertising on the ring site.


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