Five days, 15 authors, 18 writing challenges, and a total of 53,000 words – the equivalent of a novel. These are the stats for a recent series of writing challenges – or “dares,” as the participants called them – orchestrated by members of OneFour KidLit, a collective of middle-grade and YA authors whose debut books are due out in 2014. The authors vied to see who could write the most words in designated 30-minute sessions during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

The 140-member collective is an information- and support-sharing online writing community, which posts a blog and links to members’ social media profiles on its Web site. OneFour KidLit, whose name and tagline (“All for One & One for Kids”) is a mashup of 2014 and “All for one, and one for all,” is the third annual such collective of debut authors. This year’s group announced its formation on Twitter, Facebook, and by word of mouth, and prospective members applied via the Web site. In order to join, authors had to have a book scheduled for 2014 release by a publisher recognized by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (rather than a self-published work). OneFour KidLit authors communicate with one another via a private message board as well as on its public Web site.

Christina Farley is one of 11 administrators who coordinate the collective’s Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter chats and YouTube channel. The author, whose novel Gilded will be published by Amazon Children’s Publishing/Skyscape in March, emphasized the value of debut authors having a platform for swapping tips and sharing their experiences with colleagues. “I’ve made bonds with other writers who are going through the same things,” she said. “Publishing for the first time is a process that can be overwhelming to face oneself.”

The OneFour KidLit writing challenges sprang from Rachael Allen’s pre-Christmas post on the group’s Web site. “I asked if anyone was planning on writing a ton over the holiday break,” said Allen, who will publish 17 First Kisses with HarperTeen in June. “I wanted to write, but felt I needed some motivation – kind of like having workout buddies. Several people responded that they’d be interested in writing a lot over that time period, but we didn’t have any idea of how to go about doing that together.”

Let the Writing Games Begin

OneFour KidLit member Rebecca Petruck, whose Steering Toward Normal is a May release from Abrams/Amulet, came up with a solution. She created the hashtag #30mdare on Twitter and announced the joint writing project on the group’s message board. “It was one of those spur-of-the-moment things that ended up being just right,” she said. “People would spontaneously announce that a dare would take place at a certain time, and anyone who participated would report back with their word counts. Whoever wrote the most during the 30-minute sprint got to choose the others’ online profile pictures – most turned out to be good-naturedly bad – which stayed up for 24 hours or until the next dare.”

Farley won the first challenge, held on December 27, with a word count of 731. The author, who is working on her third novel, found the competition enormously helpful. “The dares really focused me, and I was surprised at the quality of my writing during them,” she said. “They also encouraged me to write during times I wouldn’t have otherwise been writing, given the holidays and my children’s school vacation. I was shocked to realize that I wrote 12,400 words that week – some of them not during dares. I really got in the [writing] mode.”

She wasn’t the only one. Petruck was the top word accumulator during the holiday challenges, racking up a total of 9,523 in five days. Elle Cosimano (Nearly Gone, Penguin/Dawson, March) and Elizabeth May (The Falconer, Chronicle, May) both completed sequels to their debut novels. And dare winners Joy Hensley (Rites of Passage, HarperTeen, Sept.) and Terry Lynn Johnson (Ice Dogs, HMH, Feb.) each surpassed the 1,000-word mark during multiple writing sprints.

Petruck noted that the dares have continued into the new year, with several new authors joining up, including Dana Alison Levy (The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, Delacorte, July), who averages some 1,400 words a dare. “Fourteen hundred! I can’t think that many words in 30 minutes,” said Petruck. “Though at year’s end I stopped maintaining the spreadsheet tallying the word totals for the dares, I’m sure we’ve already cracked 100,000 words among us – and that’s probably an underestimation.”

She added that the freewheeling challenges foster innovation as well as creativity. “The dares are great for turning off that internal editor,” said Petruck. “The challenges encouraged me to try anything with the first draft I’m now writing, and let my muse flow, which is hard for me to do. I might not have let myself try some of the ideas that hit the page during the dares if I’d thought about it too much. And the other authors made me laugh and reminded me that writing really is fun.”