How to cheat during the Stephen King Writing Challenge.
Not that you would ever cheat. Of course not.
You got into this challenge for honor, glory, and a more substantial writing portfolio. You can't trick or cheat your way into that!
But one day, usually half way through the challenge, it's going to hit you.
It's going to hit you when you come home to a cold keyboard, personal obligations to fulfill, and your desire to go for a brisk walk at an all-time low.
And when that day comes, come back to this page.
Because this is the official list of substitutions that are going to save your bacon when the challenge starts to feel overwhelming.
Substitution 1: Exercise
Why it's in the challenge: I included exercise in the original four rules because Stephen King was very adamant about getting some regular exercise each day to keep the mind and body healthy.
Being a long-time resident of Maine, King spoke highly of his daily 30 minute walks in the local woods around his homes. So, in theory, your 30 minutes of exercise should be traditional exercise: walking, biking, swimming, running on a treadmill, etc.
What can you substitute? Any physical activity that raises your heart rate... so long as you do it for a minimum of 30 minutes.
This includes, but is not limited to:
- Doing the laundry that has slowly been piling up and taking over parts of your house.
- Doing the dishes in the sink that you have been studiously ignoring since the challenge began, but are worried that they will soon gain sentience and start asking for things like rides and advice about it's love life.
- Shoveling the driveway of the sweet older woman down the street, who always pays you back in those amazing Snickerdoodle cookies.
- Defeating your archnemisis in hand to hand combat after a ten year long quest to bring them to justice.
- Pulling weeds, planting flowers, and installing irritating lawn gnomes in your front yard.
- Helping your favorite acquaintance move a particularly heavy sofa into their new second story apartment.
- Rescuing small cats and/or children from drainage pipes in a nearby vacant lot.
- Finally pushing your car out of the ditch.
Just make sure you are physically moving around for 30 minutes without stopping while doing whatever your selected activity is, and it will absolutely count.
Substitution 2: Reading
Why it's in the challenge: In On Writing King frequently mentions that you need to read in order to write. Even to the point of including a list of some of the books he had been reading at the time of On Writing's publication. And he's absolutely right.
So many people get hung up on sounding like their favorite author, or their work somehow being corrupted by outside influence. Yet you need to know what the great writers of today are doing better than you, so you can adapt accordingly. You can't do that if you aren't reading their work.
This being the Stephen King Writing Challenge, you are supposed to be reading books. Preferably books so long and thick their hardcover copies can be used as boat anchors. Or charmingly brief short story compellations with tales of lethal mid-century cymbal monkey toys. Preferably.
What can you substitute? Any written creative fiction... so long as it's not an audiobook.
What if you're using this challenge to become a better screenwriter, comic book writer, YouTube documentary script writer, blog writer, or poet? Reading a good book might be relaxing for you, but it's not going to help you develop the core writing skills you need.
So feel free to open your reading horizons. Read books, read magazines, read movie scripts, read comic books. Read anything you like, so long as it gets you excited about reading.
However, this cheat code comes with one caveat: You cannot listen to audiobooks as a substitution for the reading requirement.
In any other context, I'm a huge fan of audiobooks. I often have them playing while I'm cleaning my house or puttering around on lazy weekends.
But during the first round of the challenge, everyone who described switching to audiobooks for their 30 minute reading time ended up dropping out soon after. They additionally found less to enjoy about the overall challenge as well.
I don't know if there's any science behind this weird disconnect, but it's the reason why I refuse to list audiobooks as a substitution. Much like eating a garlic burrito on a first date, it can only end in disaster.