from left to right:
Mark Finn, Chris Roberson,
Matt Sturges, Bill WillinghamThe best writers in the business usually have four words of advice for people who want to become writers.
Write something every day.
As wanna-be writers know, that advice sounds a lot easier than it actually is. But for the group of acclaimed writers who call themselves Clockwork Storybook, a new, month-long challenge is forcing them to put their money where their advice is.
This month, six writers are participating in the "Thirty Day Writing Challenge," which is a concept revived from the early days of the Clockwork gang. Included in this month's competition are Bill Willingham (Fables, Down the Mysterly River), Matt Sturges (Jack of Fables, Midwinter), Marc Andreyko (Manhunter, Captain America and Bucky), Mark Finn (SCOUTS!, Blood & Thunder: the Life and Art of Robert E. Howard), Daryl Gregory (Raising Stony Mayhall, The Devil's Alphabet and Pandemonium), and Bill Williams (Sidechicks, Richie Rich).
The current competition, which started last Wednesday, requires them to write something every single day for 30 days straight. And those writers who lose the challenge — by failing to write on a single day — have to cook a fancy dinner and serve it to the winners at the next annual Clockwork Writer's Retreat."Back in the old Clockwork Storybook days, where we were writing stories and posting them free online, we grew confident enough with writing short stories that a few of us wanted to stretch our wings a bit more and try something longer. So we started the Thirty Day Stories, which were short novel- or novella-length stories written over the course of 30 days, of course," Willingham explained. "We’d post the day’s output each day, until we had a pretty substantial story by the end. This is basically the entire idea behind NaNoWriMo (the National Novel Writing Month), except that we beat them to it by a factor of years. Yes, that was me blowing my own horn – but just a wee bit."
"Of course, that was a dozen years ago, and we were all somewhat younger then," Sturges pointed out. "So we'll see how we hold up this time."
While the writers can't post their work online anymore -- because they plan to actually publish this stuff -- they're making comments about the competition public via their Twitter accounts (see a list of links below) and through majorspoilers.com.
"We're all doing other projects, for pay, and managing more full and interesting lives," Finn said. "Most of us are married now, and Matt and Chris [Roberson] have kids. We're not as free-wheeling as we used to be. Speaking only for myself, I used to love the notion of an audience and your fellow writers goading you on to produce, not only as fast as you can, but as best you can. And boy, do I have some unfinished projects lying around. I'm overdue for one of these things."
The idea to revive the Thirty Day Challenge came after Sturges and Willingham were waxing nostalgic about the old days of Clockwork Storybook. "Somewhere in our conversations came the idea to do another Thirty Day Story exercise, but this time to finish up some prose novels intended for publication, not just to post them free online," Willingham said.
Once Sturges and Willingham decided to reinstate the "Thirty Day" idea, they emailed other writers in Clockwork Storybook. But the idea wasn't met with immediate joy from the participants.
"I did not want to do this," Gregory said. "But when Bill Willingham wrote us Clockworkers and started double-dog daring us to join this mad scheme he'd worked out with Sturges, my fragile sense of manhood was endangered. I am, without a doubt, the slowest writer in Clockwork Storybook. For example, I've been rewriting the previous two sentences since breakfast. But there are several projects I've been mulling over, and this little contest was just the gun to the head that I needed to get rolling on them. Start typing, or the idea dies!"
"When I got Willingham's email about the challenge, I instantly thought 'no way,'" Andreyko said. "And then I couldn't stop thinking about it. Never one to think too much before doing something, I said, 'I'm in.'"
During the 30 days, Andreyko will be writing a project he describes as a "nerve-gas thriller" called Breathtaker. But he admitted that it's a big challenge to actually sit down and write. "But my fear of being mocked is bigger," he laughed.
"Doing it semi publically like this forces us to get it done, or else face the shame of failing in front of an audience of our readers," Willingham said. "This allows us no days to slack off or decide not to work, which is the bane of freelance writers in the entire history of writing and the history of history."
"The threat of mockery should help me focus on getting the words down on the page," Williams agreed. "When I got the email from Willingham detailing the challenge, I figured it would be time to take another crack at finishing a novel. I’ve got more half-finished novels than I know what to do with. And sadly, smooshing two half-novels together does not make a finished project."
Williams will be writing a mystery called "The Lichtenstein Frame-Up" which is a detective story set in the modern world. "The story hinges on a millionaire’s missing wife and a lost masterpiece by pop-artist Roy Lichtenstein," Williams said.
Willingham, who has the added challenge of continuing his work on Fables and other comics during the 30 days, is using the opportunity to work on Tom O'Harrow, a novel that he's owed to his agents for almost a year now.
"After the Fables tie-in novel, Peter and Max, followed by the children’s’ book, Down the Mysterly River, they wanted an unrelated adult reader book from me. This is that," he said, describing Tom O'Harrow as an "urban fantasy adventure novel." "Now I’ll finish it in 30 days, because I’ve committed myself to do so."
For Sturges, the month will be spent working on something very new for him, after publishing several novels set in the world of faerie. This time, he's dealing with real-world issues.
"It's a young adult novel about a 15-year-old girl who, with the help of her aging-radical father, decides to start a union at the local big box retail store, and all of the wackiness that ensues," Sturges said. "It has no vampires or goblins or robots or time travel. Just people doing people stuff. I've never written anything even remotely like this, but figured it was time to take a leap and try something completely different this time around. It's either going to be fantastic or totally unreadable — I have no idea which at this point. And that's exciting!
Finn is taking the opportunity to finish his third "Con-Dorks" novel, which concentrates on a group of four friends who have adventures among what the writer calls the "Geek Nation." It will be the final book in the trilogy (see links below for the first two), and he's tentatively titling it One in a Million.
"Not to be crass, but doing a project this way — and I don't recommend it for everyone, because it may not fit your style of working — strips away all of the BS and excuses you set up in front of yourself," Finn said. "Writer's block, not 'in the mood...' It's all meaningless. It's like writing to a deadline. It helps to have your feet to the fire. That little bit of structure can actually enhance creativity, contrary to popular belief."
Gregory still has what he calls his "day job," and other projects with deadlines, but he jokingly said he's going to write a story about "a guy doing some things, and then getting in trouble."
"If nothing else," Gregory said, "the contest will be a convenient explanation to the kids for why I'm holed up at the coffee shop and not going to their choir concerts and 'Daddy is busy!! Yes, he loves the people at Starbucks more than you!! Stop crying!!'
"Sorry about that," Gregory added. "I'm getting into training."
The writers have already started bickering about who will win the contest, and unfortunately, who might lose.
"I think the other guys will finish," Gregory said, coming across as humbly as possible. "Willingham is an idea machine and types like a madman. Sturges once wrote 100,000 words in a month. Williams and Andreyko are pros. Me, I just hope that I get a chunk of work done on a project that I wouldn't have made time for."
"Willingham cheats," Williams added. "He turned in his first batch at one minute after midnight, and it was brilliant. Damn him."
Finn said that, in a "perfect world," all the writers will hit their marks and have people waiting to publish the results at the end of the Thirty Day Writing Challenge. "Of course, that's not likely to happen, but if nothing else, we'll have a new project to shop around," he said. "And, of course, it's nice to know that we can still produce good work at a pulpsmith's pace when needed. "
"The nice thing about these competitions is that they're not so much about results as they are about process," Sturges said. "It's the forcing yourself to create, and to do so competitively. That's the fun part.
"If a publishable book comes out of it, great. But that's not the entire point of the exercise," he added. "Another great aspect of it is watching the process of writers whose work you respect, seeing how their first drafts work. Make no mistake: these are first drafts, and there's usually plenty of editing and rewriting that goes on in situ. It's a fascinating process to see how the other folks do it."
"Contests and challenges are fun," Willingham said. "I’m pretty competitive. I’ll do things to win a bet that I’d never do just to make a living. That’s why I think I’ll cross the finish line on this in good shape. Now that we’re up to 10 members of Clockwork Storybook, we have a whopping six of us all doing this. That’s pretty cool. In addition to finishing my own work, I’m looking forward to seeing the work of the five others as it comes in, in daily installments. This is going to be one big, crowded hot tub of creativity."
Interested readers can follow the arguments between the writers on their Twitter accounts by clicking on these links (where their respective blogs are also linked): Matt Sturges, Bill Willingham, Daryl Gregory, Mark Finn, Marc Andreyko, and Bill Williams.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!