The Race: An Explanation

Dean Wesley Smith originated this, back when he was coming up. It’s a point tally method of self-motivation that can also work well in groups. I’ve seen variations on these rules, as far as how points are awarded, but I use the system as originally devised.

It’s extremely simple:

1 point = every single piece of short fiction you have out to paying markets.
3 points = every novel synopsis + three chapters you have out to paying markets.
8 points = every complete novel you have out to paying markets.

Simultaneous submissions do NOT count!
As soon as something sells, its points come OFF the tally.
Previously sold work that is in the running for foreign sales, anthology sales, etc, goes back ON the tally.

At present, my tracking sheet shows that I have 12 individual short pieces of fiction submitted to paying markets. I therefore can award myself 12 points. If I were to get a novel synopsis + 3 chapters out the door by the end of June, I would jump my score to 15 points. If I added a new, whole novel by the end of July, it would jump to 21 points. And so on and so forth.

The goal?

Dean says that everyone from the original Race group who kept their scores up in the 60 to 80 point range — or higher — eventually went on to become a working pro. Likewise, Dean says nobody who let their score stay down in the lower echelon — teens, twenties, etc. — made it as a working pro.

Scientific? Not really. But results speak for themselves. The emphasis is on consistent production, constant effort, and not taking forever to do revision or re-drafting. Also, no points if you don’t put it into the mail! So there is no excuse for sitting on work because you’re got the jitters. You can’t give yourself the points unless the work is in the mail.

Me? I’ve committed to doing The Race for several reasons: as a way to motivate myself, as a way to track and meter progress, and also as an experiment. I want to see if it’s true that if I can get my score up high, and keep it high, that I’ll move on to being a working pro. Not that I doubt Dean. I don’t. Rather, I’d like to be the latest “proof” that the Secret To Writing™ is no secret at all: write, submit, and refuse to give up.

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9 thoughts on “The Race: An Explanation

  1. I hadn’t seen this before, Brad very interesting. And disheartening.

    My score was 2 awhile ago. Now it is 1 (story got accepted and I got paid a whole $10!)

    I would be battling my butt off just to get up to the double digits. I cannot see haw I could ever get up to the 60’s!

    And I’m not going to try and completely change my life to do it because I have responsibilities, but I am going to push hard to get it higher. I’ve been thinking of putting out some synopses. Maybe its time to polish them off and cast them out. . .

  2. I think I know how you feel, John. I’ve got a lot on my plate too. Married, with child, civilian job, military job, a house to take care of… I often find myself wondering where I will get the time to write. I also find myself occasionally wondering if it will all be worth it, or if I am not just fooling myself?

    One thing I am trying to do lately is use “stolen moments” to get the prose down. Little chunks of time, otherwise spent on web surfing or just idle nothing, that I try to now devote to getting a few sentences or even a few paragraphs completed.

    This is a huge shift for me, because ideally I need an hour just to get warmed up on writing, and then I want several hours to roar ahead. This is how I used to do it in the beginning — prior to marriage, fatherhood, full-time employment, Army, and house responsibilities — but I’ve since learned I will most likely never have time like that for writing ever again.

    Not until I am supporting my family on my writing income, then I can justify locking myself away in my (as yet to be completed) home office for 8 hours a day, just to write.

    So I suppose you can say part of my motivation is desperation: I want to become a full-timer so I can get back to writing in huge chunks that last for hours. (grin)

    Anyway, I think the best thing to do is just start small. Little sips.

    Your score is 2. That already puts you waaaaaaaaaaay ahead of a lot of people, whose score is 0 and stays at 0 because they never even write. Or if they do write, never send.

    Do you think you could bang out one short story per month? What length do you like to work at? Short stories, or novels?

  3. Brad, I to am figuring out that stolen moments are it, but really my only opportunities are:

    Lunch break at work. This is a solid hour, which isn’t too bad
    30min before lights out, if i’m not too knackered.

    So overall i guess that isn’t TOO bad for a day. I can’t seem to translate that into fast writing though. I can knock out a draft fast, but then i edit, then i edit again then i do a line by line edit then i send to Baens Bar and get reviewed by you and others and then don about 3 or 4 edits at baens before i feel its actually ready. so thats one fast draft and 8 slow edits, which is where i run into my problems.

    It takes me about half a year to get a short story ‘ready’ way too slow.

    I thought I would apprentice in short stories and once I had a few acceptances in short stories, I would then know that my writing had merit and I could move back to the novels, where I ultimately want to write. (I’ve written a 150k novel, but it is garbage 😉 )

    Thats where I’m at anyway. I might not be winning the race, but like you say, at least i’m in the race.

  4. Beware overedititis. Too many edits, especially beyond superficial editing like spelling and grammar, and you might wash out the voice. KKR and DWS advise minimal editing. If Baen’s or any other group points out a significant problem, KKR and DWS advise re-drafting, as opposed to rewrite/edit. Re-drafting: harvesting core aspects of the story, and writing an entirely new story from scratch. Assuming you agree with any problems your first readers point out.

    I used to edit my stuff to death too. My production was at a crawl. KKR and DWS — yeah, I know, I tend to treat the advice from these two as gospel — advise strongly against rewrititis and edititis. You have other stories to tell. Don’t spend forever trying to get one story “perfect” because you’re probably making it worse — not better — in the process.

  5. Pingback: Are You Subbing? Try the Race Score Challenge « Flash Fiction Chronicles

  6. I like the system quite a bit. And I of course Credit Dean Smith for all of it. It’s a system that served he and several other professionals quite well when they were starting out, and myself and some other Deaniacs (Smithiacs?) have been trying to revive it for our own use. I am glad others are doing the same — good luck with your work!

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