The six-month story writing challenge lies at the heart of NSTB. Every winter and summer, we challenge ourselves to write or edit as many words as we can in half a year. As a participant, you will join one of three teams and engage in friendly competition with other members of NSTB. As you write or edit, you will earn points for your team and ultimately propel it to victory!
Our two challenges alternate as follows:
- The Summer Challenge runs from March 1st until August 31st. During this time, Team Blue, Pink and Tangerine compete against each other.
- The Winter Challenge runs from September 1st until the last day of February. During this time, Team Green, Purple and Black compete against each other.
“Mow the lawn!”
— A specimen of Team Purple shouting their war cry against Team Green.
The Challenge in a Nutshell
This section contains the most crucial information about the challenge and will serve as a quick introduction to teams, projects, milestones, Initiates, and how to join the challenge!
TeamsEvery challenge participant is part of a team, each being a community within our community, with its own chat, branding, culture, and hunger for victory. You earn points for your team by completing projects. The team with the most points wins the challenge. This is central to NSTB: to propel your team forward, you will be more motivated to write. Our system has already improved the productivity of many of our members; it can also do it for you!
“Even though our challenge relies on fake internet points, it still gets us writing every day.”
— Marco, Founder of NSTB, Benevolent Dictator for Life, and Our Glorious Leader
ProjectsParticipating in the challenge means tracking projects. A project is any kind of story you're working on. The more you write and edit, the more points you will earn for your team. We differentiate between drafts, developmental edits and copy edits. Finishing a draft provides a huge point bonus.
MilestonesYou will earn milestones at 10k, 25k, 50k, 75k, 100k, and 125k words written for your tracked project, which color your name on the Discord server and on this website according to the team you are part of.
For example: When you are part of Team Green, your name will go from a light green to a darker green as you earn higher milestones. These colors show other members of NSTB how far you are with your current project.
InitiatesWhen you join the challenge as a new member, you won't immediately
be part of a team. Instead, you will be an Initiate. You need to earn your team spot! Write 10,000 words
and gain your first point. Then you can ask
@The Whip to be added to a team.
JoiningTo join the challenge as an Initiate, go to our
#daily-progress channel and ping
@The Whip, telling us: your project name; whether it's
a first draft, developmental edit, or copy edit; and your current word count. The request could look like this:
Hey, @The Whip. I'd like to join the challenge. My current novel 'Alice Does Her Taxes in Wonderland' is a first draft and currently at 15k words.
And that's all you need to know! Read on for more intricate details, but also feel free to come back and check out the guide as needed.
Projects are our term for stories such as novels, novellas, serials, and so on. To understand projects, you need to know the following terminology:
- The starting word count is the word count of the project when it was registered in the challenge. Since you only earn points for words you have written during the challenge, we need to track this number. For example, if you want to track a novel which you've already written 20,000 words for, you will need to track it with a starting count of 20k.
- The challenge word count reflects the words written during participation in the challenge. This metric is used to calculate the score.
- A project can either be in progress, finished or abandoned.
Going beyond novels?
NSTB is focused on writing prose and so the challenge is mostly designed around that, although we also try to accommodate poetry, screenwriting, etc. Most of our members are interested in fiction writing, but there is nothing stopping you from participating in the challenge as a writer of non-fiction.
We differentiate between the following project types. For each project type, there is a different scoring mechanism, which is also explained.
- Drafts are new stories, basically first drafts or substantial rewrites. Drafting earns you
one point for every 10,000 words you write. This score is doubled upon finishing.
At the beginning of the challenge, you track a novel with a starting word count of 20k. Intermittently, you track your progress. At the 60k mark, you have written 40k during the challenge, hence you have already earned four points. You finish the book at 90k words, meaning you have finished the book with 70k words written during the challenge. This nets you a total of 14 points.
- Developmental edits are substantial edits of a draft. We assume that you will change a substantial part of your story, be it plot, character, world building, or anything else. You earn one point for every 10,000 words you edit. There is no bonus upon finishing.
- Copy edits are paragraph- and sentence-level edits that aim to improve the prose. You earn one point for every 25,000 words you copy-edit. There is, again, no bonus upon finishing.
Medalist Status, Gold, Silver, and Bronze
After finishing a draft or developmental edit for the first time, you will earn Medalist status for life.
This gives you a few perks: you will be able to track two projects at once; you will have the eternal respect of
your peers; and gain access to
In addition, when finishing a project, the following badges are applied to your account based on the project type:
- Drafting earns you Gold badges, which are granted in 100k intervals, counting all drafts you have ever finished during the challenge. For example, let's say you have finished your first draft at 80k words. You will earn the Gold: <100k badge. You finish a second project's first draft at 40k, meaning in total you have drafted 120k. Hence, you earn the Gold: 100k badge.
- Development edits earn you Silver badges, which are also granted in 100k intervals and work the same as Gold badges, just with developmental edits.
- Copy edits earn you Bronze badges, which are also granted in 100k intervals.
If you have recently finished a project and not yet started a new one, your name color will reflect the badge colors, i.e. either gold, silver or bronze.
What about long or unlimited stories?
If you expect your novel to be very long, i.e. longer than 150,000 words, you can track it in multiple parts. This allows you to earn the draft bonus points for finishing without having to write 150,000 words in six months. Please ask the mods if you want to track your novel in such a way.
As for serials, we encourage you to track your story in arcs to receive the bonus points for finishing a first draft. Tracking your serial in clear parts also helps you stay motivated, as you don't have to write a million word story, but rather ten 100k arcs.
Limitations, Abandoning, and Carrying Over
We impose a minimum total word count of 20,000 words on any project. This means that any project which you expect to reach less than 20k words cannot be tracked.
You can only track a single project at the same time. We want to encourage you to finish the project you entered with. This limitation gets relaxed once you've earned Medalist status: you are then allowed to track two projects at the same time. Finished or abandoned projects don't count towards this limit.
If you want to switch in another project, you can always abandon a tracked project. However, you will lose all points earned for that project.
If you participated in the last challenge, you can carry over a project that you had already tracked in that challenge. However, it will be treated as if it was new, with the starting word count set to the word count you had at the beginning of the current challenge. A new challenge brings with it an entirely new battlefield.
What counts as a rewrite?
We define a rewrite as writing a piece of prose from scratch. This includes changing the events, how the characters behave, the world building, and so on. The reasoning is that you would only rewrite scenes whose changes are so complex that it is easier to just rewrite the scene.
With a developmental edit, we assume that the effort you expend to reach the new draft is roughly half that of writing an entirely new first draft. Thus, developmental edits already assume that you are rewriting parts of your draft. You could say that a developmental edit means rewriting about half to a quarter of your scenes from scratch.
In contrast, if you need to rewrite more than three quarters of your draft, essentially writing a new book, you are better served tracking it as a new draft. The starting count of this project would be the word count of all the scenes you intend to recycle. For example, let's say your first draft of your novel is 80k words long. You decide to rewrite it from scratch, but expect to retain three chapters totaling about 12k words. Your starting count for that rewrite would be 12k then and we'd track it as a draft.
The Initiate System
When you join the challenge as a new member, you won't immediately be part of a team. Instead, you will be an Initiate.
The reasoning behind this is that we want to only admit members to teams who can demonstrably earn points. To
earn the right to join a team, you need to write 10,000 words in your draft or developmental edit project
counting from the moment you became an Initiate. Then you can ask
@The Whip to be added to a team.
Initiates have a group chat that is only accessible to Initiates, mods, and team leaders. It is a space to share with your fellow Initiates. Team leaders and mods will help you if you have any questions about the challenge or writing itself.
If you have been part of the last challenge, transitioning into a new challenge, you will be able to bypass the Initiate system if you have earned at least three points during that challenge. Otherwise, you will need to prove yourself once again.
This section treats teams in excruciating detail. You will find out more about available teams and their colors, team organization, the Warzone and the competitive spirit, and what happens when a team wins the challenge.
As a reminder, teams are support structures that aim to keep everyone focused on the challenge goal: Finishing. Your team peers will encourage you to keep writing, not least to win against the other team. The competitive element is all friendly, of course; the "animosity" between teams is all in good jest. We hope you'll enjoy the camaraderie.
For the weary: Teams are entirely optional.
A List of Teams
There are six possible teams, three of which are each active during the summer or the winter challenge. The cards also show the milestone colors for all available milestones. Your name on the server will be colored according to your respective milestone.
Team Blue summer
Team Pink summer
Team Tangerine summer
Team Purple winter
Team Green winter
Team Black winter
Teams are self-governed by their members. They largely organize on their own, but all teams share the following elements:
- During the beginning of the challenge, team leaders are elected democratically by each team's members. A team leader is the official spokesman of the team, the chief motivating officer, responsible for the organization of the team's branding and events, and gets access to our internal moderator chat. Team leaders are the heart of self-organizing teams. NSTB wouldn't be possible without the consistent commitment shown by our team leaders.
- A team leader can choose to appoint a vice team leader, who will support the team leader in their representative and administrative duties.
- Each team has a team chat, which only team members and moderators have access to. This chat is used to coordinate team activities, have fun within the confines of the team, shit on the other teams, and cry together when another team is in the lead.
- As the administrators of NSTB, we only give you the color of your team. The rest is up to you. A team can democratically decide its name, flag, war cries (such as "Mow the Lawn" directed towards Team Green), emojis, and so on. Any media that expands the identity of the team is called team branding.
The Warzone and Competitive Spirit
The Warzone is the place on NSTB to compete against the other teams. We host an event every weekend, which one of the teams can usually win for bragging rights. For example, during one of our events, we asked participants to write 1,000 words consecutively on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to achieve the most points for the event. If one day was missed, far less points were awarded. Being consistent and keeping the streak up was very important.
NSTB operates first and foremost on the tenant of cooperation. However, we also recognize that competition can be equally motivating. Hence, teams inherently foster friendly competition between members of opposing teams. There is some mock animosity between teams, but it's all in good fun. And ultimately, everything is in the service of writing more. We're not lying when we say the system just works. (Invoking Todd Howard is dangerous nowadays, isn't it?)
Winning the Challenge
A team has won the challenge when it has the most points. Simple as that. But what comes with it?
We're talking glory. Fame. Superiority. The other teams will have to admit that they lost. It just plain feels good. Also, the following perks:
- The fourteen top members of the team may choose dailies for two weeks.
Every member who contributed at least five points gets a
Team Winnerrole. These roles stack, so that members who have won two challenges with their team get a
2x Team Winnerrole, and so on.
And then we can all pat each other on the back for the huge number of words we've written. For example, during the six months of the Winter 19/20 challenge, we wrote and edited more than FIVE MILLION words collectively. That's more than FIFTY standard-length novels. The real winners are those who wrote words. No matter the amount. Every word written is a step in the right direction.
Assignments to Teams
If you are new to NSTB, you will, at first, be an Initiate. When you have written or edited 10,000 words (or 25,000 words in case of copy-editing), you will have the chance to join a team. Members who have already been part of a team in the last challenge also need to be assigned to a new team in the next, since teams only exist for the summer or winter, depending on the team. This section discusses both of these cases.
Joining During the Challenge
If you want to join a team during the challenge, you will be assigned to a team by rolling a die. A team is too large when it has three more members than the smallest team. Such a team cannot be joined. This simple rule ensures that teams stay balanced.
Being friends with members of another team is generally not sufficient to request being added to that specific team. You can and will be friends with members across teams, so there is no strong reason to join a team based on the affiliation of another member.
A month before the end of the challenge (i.e. at the end of January or July, depending on the season), we impose a general join stop on teams. Nobody will be able to join a team in the months of February and August. This is designed to dampen the impact of new members when a challenge is a very close call.
Assignments at the Start of a Challenge
At the beginning of a new challenge, teams are empty. We assign everyone who is interested and earned at least three points for their team in the last challenge to a random team by making them roll a die.
However, the top nine members of the last challenge get to choose their team, to an extent, as follows:
- We separate the top nine members into three subsequent groups, the top three being the first group, the next three the second, and so on. In each group, every member must choose a different team. This ensures that the top three all end up in different teams. The system is both a reward and a balancing mechanism.
- Each assignment happens in a private channel simultaneously to the other two groups, so that one group's decision doesn't affect the others. An administrator moderates the channels.
- The specific decision process for each group: At the beginning, the moderator asks each member which team preference they have. If they all have different team preferences, they concur and are assigned to their desired team. If two or three members have the same preference, they have to roll on it. The member with the highest roll gets to choose. Then the possibly remaining two members are asked to decide once again, this time without the already chosen team available. If they cannot concur, they roll again. This decision process will not leave much room for discussion. However, it guarantees agency over team choice unless conflicts appear.
Another constraint is the equal distribution of mods and administrators. Allowing the top nine members to choose takes precedent over this constraint, which allows mods and admins to potentially choose a team if they are in the top nine. Yet, mods or admins will potentially have to switch to another team to achieve representative balance.
Balancing changes will be made at the mods' discretion if the teams are imbalanced. For example, if one team has 30 members and the other 40, we will move willing members from the larger into the smaller to achieve better starting balance.
Switching Teams and Leaving the Server
In general, team switches are not allowed. In extreme cases, we might consider to allow one after extensive deliberation. Please speak to the mods if you have a good reason to switch to another team.
If you leave the server deliberately, i.e. not due to an accident or technical issues, the challenge system will treat you like a new member. That means you lose your current team affiliation and possibly your gold, silver, and bronze medals in severe cases. Points will stay with your previous team, but you will have to go through the Initiate stage once again and track your project anew.
Why is this so harsh? We have had cases in the past where members have left the server due to temporary differences with other members of NSTB (sadly inevitable in a large community). Instead of closing Discord and cooling down, they left the server altogether, often leaving many of their friends in the community baffled at such a rash decision. We'd like to avoid such cases in the future and spare everyone involved the emotional and administrative pain.