December Writing Challenge: Helpful Hints for Daily Writing

Looking for some helpful hints to keep the words flowing during the December Writing Challenge? You’re in luck. I know that this challenge can feel like a lot, even without the pressure of hitting a certain word count each day. Many of you are coming off NaNoWriMo and feel you’ve earned a rest. Others of you are just so busy with holiday prep, or end-of-year work deadlines, that writing takes a back seat. So I’m zipping by to give you a few tips on ways to squeeze in a little bit of writing time each day. Remember, it doesn’t need to be a big chunk of time. Just enough to keep your creativity on track and your hand in the game. That way, come January, you won’t lose a week or two trying to get back in the habit.

helpful hints for daily writing

Helpful Hints for Daily Writing

  • Take a long look at your calendar and figure out what days are going to be the worst for you. Parties? House guests? Big work project due? Kids home for winter break? Then figure out how you can manage half an hour of writing time on those days. Maybe you want to schedule yourself a writing lunch. Or it could be as easy as taking a tape recorder on your morning walk and dictating some words instead of physically typing them. But assign yourself a writing block for each of those tough days and set a calendar reminder so you don’t forget.
  • Line up a fun project to work on. This can be instead of or–even better–in addition to whatever your current WIP is. It can be anything that you look forward to working on; a short story, some fanfic, a set of short rhymes, something holiday themed. The sky’s the limit, and there can be as many of these as you’d like. This way when you sit down to work on your main project and the words don’t want to come, you can trade off and get a few words down on the alternate project. You won’t feel nearly as stressed, and you may find it helps you kick any blocks on your main project to the curb.
  • Carry a small notebook and pen with you everywhere, and write if you find you have a few extra minutes. Maybe sitting in the pickup line at your kid’s school, maybe at the dentist’s office–wherever. Put down your cell phone or that three-year-old copy of People, and write instead.
  • Buddy up with a writing partner and make a point of meeting for coffee and writing time. You can trade off houses or hit your favorite coffee shop–whatever is fun but not too distracting. Do a couple of ten or fifteen minute timed writing sprints together, with short breaks in between to chat. Set a timer so  you don’t just talk your day away. It helps to be accountable to another person, so cheer each other on.

Remember that every bit of writing is forward momentum, even if you end up rewriting those words later on. The idea is to spend a few minutes each day thinking about your work and making a bit of progress. All the words count. Good luck, and happy writing!

Friday Links: Holiday Gift Giving Edition

Each year I like to offer up a holiday gift giving guide of sorts, mostly geared toward writers and readers. So that’s the slant of this week’s selection of Friday Links. Whether you’re shopping for the holidays or a birthday–or hinting at things you’d like–I hope these give you some ideas.

holiday-gift-giving-wrapped-presents

There will be plenty of book-centric posts in the next week or so. ‘Tis the season for end-of-year lists, after all. So for this post I’ve focused more on useful items and fun toys. But before I get to the links themselves, I have a few more general suggestions if you’re shopping for the writer in your life.

Writers tend to spend a lot of time hunched over a desk. Gifts that counteract that can be both helpful and luxurious. Think about gift certificates for massages or other spa treatments, a yoga class, or a new pair of running/walking shoes. Bath salts, a new wrist wrest, a good supportive desk chair, or even a standing desk might be excellent stay-at-home options.

Lack of writing time can be a frequent complaint. Give your favorite writer time to themselves for the holidays. Offer up babysitting services, take over a few extra chores for them while they’re finishing a project, or buy them time at a shared work space in their area. On the more extravagent end, send them off for a short writing retreat. That might mean a weekend at a local bed and breakfast or a week in a nice hotel with room service.

And finally, writers always appreciate new tech. Even if you’re not up to buying them a new laptop, a gift certificate to Best Buy or the Apple store might be a welcome contribution.

If you missed it, my December Writing Challenge is now underway, so please do join in. Now, witout further ado, I give you this week’s links. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Holiday Gift Giving Links:

21 Gifts Under $21 for Writers and Book Lovers (2018 Edition). – A fun assortment of useful book- and writer-themed items, some novelties and some quite helpful.

25 Gift Ideas for the Writer in Your Life (Even If That’s You). – A thoughtful collection of suggestions both writer- and reader-centric.

The Reader’s Catalog for The New York Review of Books. – One of my favorite bookish catalogs, where you can find literary napkins, classic character book tags, pencils with quotes printed on them, bookish jewelry, and more.

Storiarts. – A lovely, artistic shop featuring tees, totes, pillows, scarves, etc. with quotes from classic literature on them.

The Literary Gift Company. – Exactly what it sounds like. I’m particularly fond of their collection of journals with fun covers.

Goulet Pens. – My favorite spot for shopping for lovely fountain pens and beautiful colors of ink. They offer other stationery items as well. Worth a visit.

Freedom. – The app that temporarily blocks internet access from your computer, tablet, or phone. Help the writer in your life focus on their work and ignore the lure of social media, etc.

Literature and Latte. – Home of Scrivener writing software, which is my personal favorite, and useful for organizing writing projects of all sorts, from novels to blog posts to scripts to presentations.

 

December Writing Challenge: Maintaining Momentum

Maintaining momentum with your writing can be difficult at any time, but December offers some unique obstacles. Whether you’ve just finished NaNoWriMo and hope to keep writing so you can finish your novel, or you despair of getting any work done in the coming weeks, this challenge is for you. The December Writing Challenge seeks to help writers generate words during what is probably the busiest time of the year. December comes with a collection of holidays, all requiring cooking and shopping and socializing. Plenty of distractions from your work in progress. Plus it’s not just the fun distractions. Year end means finalizing work projects, reconciling finances, and other less pleasant but unavoidable tasks. What’s a writer to do?

Every year I challenge writers to keep their writing going. Don’t let the busy season keep you from maintaining momentum. If writing is important to you, you’ll commit to working on that latest project, whatever it might be, all month long.

So what’s the challenge? I challenge you to write, every day in December, for at least a little while. That’s it. There are no manditory word counts or goals for the month, just a commitment to putting your rear in the chair. I hope you’ll manage at least 30 minutes per day, but 15 will do if you can’t swing more.

Why every day? I know there are plenty of successful writers who do not write every day. But I’m a fan of building a habit, and the idea here is to keep your brain primed for the new year. Most writers charge into January with all sorts of writing goals, so this keeps your imagination churning in the meantime. Train your brain to come to the table–or desk–expecting that it needs to produce. You’ll be much happier come January 1st.

I do, however, acknowledge that life happens, especially in December. You’re traveling. You have guests staying with you. Holiday traffic leaves you trapped on a freeway for hours. I get it. So you are allowed two free days, to use at will, when you can take the day off from writing. Use them for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Use them for the day the in-laws hit town. Whatever. Your choice. Choose wisely.

Of course, there’s no grand prize if you complete this challenge, beyond the satisfaction of knowing you did. Oh, and that lack of dread when you head to your desk in the new year. It’s all up to you. But I believe you can do it, and maintaining momentum with your writing will give you a great head start on those 2019 goals.

I’ll be putting up some cheerleading posts here and also on Twitter as the month progresses. I hope you’ll have fun with this challenge. Work on a couple of projects. Start a new story. Experiment in a different genre. Hit that upcoming deadline. You decide what to write; the sky’s the limit.

Enjoy, and happy writing!

Friday Links: Being Thankful

The importance of being thankful gets a lot of attention this time of year. With Thanksgiving next week here in the U.S., the subject has started coming up. The holiday brings some problematic historical baggage along for the ride, particularly in light of ongoing racial strife and feuding over immigration policies, but I prefer to focus on the sentiment of the word rather than pilgrims and turkeys. In difficult years, I think it’s more important than ever to consider what makes us grateful. Holding on to the good things gives us strength to push through all the rest. Especially when all the rest feels completely overwhelming.

Being Thankful fall image

In daily life, I tend to frame my gratitude as an afterthought. It comes out sort of like, “I gained so much weight this year, I have to stop sitting so much, but at least I can afford new clothes.” This probably isn’t the best approach. Being thankful should be a conscious choice. Taking a step back and considering what you appreciate in that moment. That has impact. When life ramps up and the world feels like it’s spinning faster, it makes a difference if you pause and think, “Hey, I accomplished this,” or “I’m so glad I got the chance to see so-and-so.”

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I’d take a moment before posting this week’s links to list a few things I’m thankful for this year. No disclaimers beyond stating that it’s incomplete and a work in progress. As it should be.

I’m thankful for:

  • My family and friends, the whole crazy bunch.
  • That my parents are still alive and independent into their eighties.
  • My coworkers, who are always ready to chat books and publishing, and to trade information about our work.
  • My clients, with their talent and persistence and willingness to dig in cheerfully to make their wonderful stories even more wonderful.

On the smaller side of things, I’m thankful for a year of delightful books and movies–so many great discoveries. For entertaining writing challenges like NaNoWriMo and 4thewords, that keep ideas and words flowing. I’m grateful for the lovely spaces in my town that allow me to take a break and clear my mind. For houseguests and visitors. For writers conferences and other opportunities to travel and see new things. For relatively good health and a functioning car and an apartment I like.

Being thankful mostly feels like a small, quiet thing. But when you start listing all the things that come to mind–that bring you joy or relief or just allow you to function–it can feel much bigger. What are you thankful for today?

And on that note, I offer up this week’s Friday links. They’re kind of a mishmash, but I hope you find something entertaining. Wishing you a wonderful weekend, because I’m thankful for all of you. Happy writing!

This week’s links:

You Can’t Rely on Inspiration: Essential Writing Advice from J.G. Ballard. – Thoughts on writing and keeping the words flowing.

Writing Excuses on NaNoWriMo 2018. – The podcast offers up a mini episode with advice and encouragement.

7 Free or Cheap Writing Residencies to Apply for in 2019. – Pretty much as stated. For anyone looking to get away to write.

Applications Now Open for the Sesame Street Writers’ Room. – Information on how to apply before the December 3rd deadline.

Anyone Obsessed with British Authors Should Add These 4 Literary Destinations to Your Travel List. – Great spots to visit if you’re a fan of Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Virginia Woolf, and/or Agatha Christie.

Having No Time Is the Best Time to Get Writing Done. – An argument for being forced to write when you can squeeze it into the rest of your life.

Friday Links: NaNo Inspiration and Motivation

For anyone looking for a bit of NaNo inspiration, I have some thoughts beyond my tips from earlier in the week. That post assumes you will use NaNoWriMo more or less as intended by the organizers. To win NaNo, you need to write 50,000 new words in November and submit for verification I hinted there were other ways to tackle the challenge, so today I’d like to elaborate. And yes, links will follow. If you’re not interested in NaNoWriMo, feel free to skip ahead.

The beauty of NaNo lies in the community that forms around it. People who love writing and/or stories get together and celebrate this crazy act of creativity. Many are hobbyists, searching for a fun group activity. A good number never plan to publish a book. They write fanfiction for fun or play around with writing a novel for their own enjoyment. But NaNo works even if you do have major aspirations. Plenty of published writers started out in the NaNoWriMo challenge. And if you search, you’ll learn that many disregarded the rules and made NaNo work for their needs. They used what served their goals, and ignored the rest.

NaNoWriMo for Purists

If you’re a fairly new writer, you might hve an idea for a novel but lack the discipline to work on it regularly. Participating in NaNo encourages you to put your seat in the chair and get those words down. Don’t worry if the words aren’t so great; first drafts tend to be pretty crappy. But they give you a place to start, so you’re no longer staring at a blank page. And by tackling that draft during NaNo, you get a huge support system that’s built into the challenge. Find a write-in group near you and meet with them once a week. Check out the forums and chat with people writing in your genre. Ask questions of seasoned NaNo participants. Read the great pep talks that get posted by the pros. New writers can also find peers in November who become critique partners well into the future.

Already started writing a novel? Pick up where you left off and continue working on it during NaNoWriMo. Novels for adults run far longer than 50,000 words, so take what you’ve written and add to it. You might actually have a complete draft by month’s end. If you track new words written–using a new document, for instance–you can still submit to verify completion of the challenge. And again, make the most of the offers and community that come with the event while you write, letting that NaNo inspiration motivate you through the tough parts.

NaNoWriMo with a Twist

Maybe you’ve been at this a while and have a draft that needs rewriting. Use NaNo and its support systems for your editing project. You might not have a new 50,000-word manuscript to hand in come November 30th, but you’ll still make progress. It’s far more important to hit your own goal than the goal set up by the challenge organizers. And in the meantime, enjoy the cheerleading that goes on during the month. Use it to energize and encourage you as you tackle your rewrite.

What about pacing? Maybe the idea of writing 1,667 words per day (roughly what you need to complete NaNo) makes you panic. So don’t write that fast. Don’t aim for 50,000 words in a month. Make your goal half that, or whatever feels like a doable stretch. Perhaps the challenge for you lies in actually writing daily. Set a time goal instead of a word goal–30 minutes a day until the end of the month. Make the writing habit the aim instead of the finished product.

NaNoWriMo works so well because the challenge offers you one potential route to success, and then encourages participants to come play on your own terms. Now, maybe none of these options appeal to you, and that’s fine too. But if you’re looking for a way to participate in NaNoWriMo, I say go for it. Figure out what you want to achieve, and adapt the challenge to meet that goal.

With that bit of NaNo inspiration out there, I’ll move on to the links for the week. Wishing you all a wonderful weekend, and happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

Messy Attics of the Mind: What’s Inside a Writer’s Notebook. – Interesting look at the act of keeping notes and the ongoing fascination with the origin of story ideas.

5 Books Featuring Women in Love with Women. – Tor offers up some wonderful SFF titles for anyone looking to mix up their reading list.

7 Wonderful Classic Reprint Series. – When you favorites get a new look. Nice peek at some great new book designs.

The Draw of the Gothic. – What fascinates us about this particular story mood.

Inside the Rooms Where 20 Famous Books Were Written. – A peek at the room where it happened. Yeah, I know, but I couldn’t resist.

How to Renew Your English Degree. – A bit of humor courtesy of McSweeney’s.

3 Principles for Finding Time to Write. – Tips for how to prioritize your writing.

 

Happy Release Day to Archangel’s Prophecy by Nalini Singh

Wishing a happy release day to ARCHANGEL’S PROPHECY by Nalini Singh, the latest installment in her Guild Hunter series of paranormal romances. The cover for this one makes me so happy, between the gorgeous colors and the fierce expression on Elena’s face. Big thanks to the wonderful folks at Berkley for bringing so much talent and love in support of these books.

Archangel's Prophecy cover featuring Elena, wings spread, carrying knives

Return to New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh’s darkly passionate Guild Hunter world, where human-turned-angel Elena Deveraux, consort to Archangel Raphael, finds herself at the center of an eons-old prophecy…

Midnight and dawn, Elena’s wings are unique among angelkind—and now they are failing. The first mortal to be turned into an immortal in angelic memory, she’s regressing. Becoming more and more human. Easier to hurt. Easier to kill.

Elena and Raphael must unearth the reason for the regression before Elena falls out of the sky. Yet even as they fight a furious battle for Elena’s very survival, violent forces are gathering across the world. In China, the Archangel Favashi shows the first signs of madness. A mysterious sinkhole filled with lava swallows a man whole in New York. In Africa, torrential monsoon rains flood rolling deserts. And in Elena’s mind whispers a haunting voice that isn’t her own.

You can find ARCHANGEL’S PROPHECY both in print and e-book format, as well as audio, at your favorite retailers. Check it out today!

Tackling NaNoWriMo: Tips for Writing a Novel in a Month

Tackling NaNoWriMo–or National Novel Writing Month–challenges any writer, whether they have participated for years or are new to the event. Each year, I offer advice on how to get the most out of the month, whatever your personal goal. The key to NaNo is to remember to have fun. This challenge aims to help you get words on paper, to push through a long project without overthinking. It’s great for anyone who tends to stop and rewrite repeatedly before moving on. Because that strategy? Doesn’t work for NaNo. If you want to write 50,000 words in November, you need to ignore your mistakes and just go.

Tackling NaNoWriMo header with writing supplies for November

So where do you start? These few days before the November kickoff allow you a chance to prepare. Below, I have some ideas for what you might want to do, both in terms of writing your NaNo project and for maintaining your sanity during the challenge.

Know Your Goal:

The rules state that NaNoWriMo consists of writing a new 50,000-word project between November 1st and November 30th. Reality allows you to adapt this to whatever works for you. If you’re starting a new project, great. (And most of my tips below assume such.) But you can easily finish a novel already in progress, too. Just start a new file for the remainder of the book, to keep track, and write another 50,000 words.

Regardless of your goal, NaNo offers plenty of support for anyone writing in November. Take advantage of it.

Plan What to Write:

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser–someone who prefers to outline ahead or just let the spirit take you–it’s helpful to start NaNoWriMo with at least some idea of what you want to write. That doesn’t mean you need a detailed outline, but a few basics will go a long way to get your creativity flowing.

Think ahead about your characters. Who is your protagonist? What do they want? What sort of obstacles might they face? Do they have a love interest? Arch enemy? Cohorts? Friends and family? Adding these characters and describing them over the course of the story will add to your word count.

Next think about your genre. If you’re writing romance, you know you’re aiming for a happily ever after. For fantasy or science fiction, your characters might not all be human. Do you have special technology in your story? For a historical, you will need background research. And many types of stories rely heavily on setting and/or world building. Don’t hesitate to hit the library or do some online searches regardling locations, tech, history, etc. Take notes, so you’ll have lots of great detail on hand to weave into your writing.

Finally, consider scenes you’ve already envisioned. How do your characters reach those points? What happens after the scenes? Think about repercussions. It’s good to have some key scenes you’re excited to write, especially on days words don’t flow easily.

Organize Your Life:

Let friends and family know you’ll be tackling NaNoWriMo, so they understand your time might be tight for a few weeks.

Stock the fridge with healthy snacks in addition to the fun ones. Fruit, nuts, yogurt, etc. make great brain food when you’re on a writing tear. Also, cook some easy meals ahead and freeze them for quick dinner prep.

Check supplies of important staples: coffee, tea, tissues, toilet paper–anything you’d hate to run out of in November.

Prepare to take care of yourself. Put reminders in your phone so you go for walks or hit the gym during NaNo. The exercise will help keep your mind fresh.

Tackling NaNoWriMo:

Schedule a few smaller writing sessions per day rather than trying to hit your daily goal in one goal.

Do write ahead on days you’re feeling strong. If you have the time, keep going. You’ll stockpile words for days you’re busy or less inspired.

Don’t feel you need to write linearly. Skip around if it helps you keep writing. Just make notes of places where you need to fill in later.

Don’t stop to edit. Don’t fret over sloppy writing or repetition. Just keep getting your ideas down. You’ll have plenty of time to rewrite later.

If a scene isn’t coming, jot it down in note form as a place holder. The words will count and you’ll replace them with even more when you finally tackle that section. Again, flag where you’ve done this so you remember to go back.

Do take advantage of group write-ins or other NaNo community events. It helps to have some cheerleaders who know what you’re up against.

Don’t ignore those reminders you set to get some exercise. And remember to get a good night’s sleep, too.

These are just a few ideas for ways to make tackling NaNoWriMo fun and relatively painless. Be sure to check out the main site, where there are additional tips and forums filled with encouragement. Whatever your goal for November, I wish you good luck and happy writing.

Friday Links: Halloween Distractions and Other Fall Stuff

Halloween distractions feel like an appropriate reason to post the latest Friday Links collection. It helps that my whirlwind conference schedule wrapped up last weekend. I love sharing links with all of you, but when I work three conferences in four weeks, something needs to give. In this case, blogging took a back seat. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping my eyes open for fun sites, however. Halloween-themed literary links have been popping up a lot the past week. I’ll admit I took it as a sign–the internet gods smiling down on me. Or reminding me to get back in gear. Either one works.

Halloween Distractions: spooky abandoned house

In case you missed my earlier posts this week, please note The Knight Agency announced a new submissions system. All details are available in yesterday’s post, or over at the agency submissions page. Basically, we’ve migrated to using QueryManager. All submissions sent through the old system will still receive responses; please don’t resend anything.

And with that, I’ll get right to the links. They include a mix of spooky, seasonal goodies to check out and a backlog of things I bookmarked over the past month. I hope you find them entertaining and inspiring in this run up to Halloween (and NaNoWriMo!). Now on to those Halloween distractions. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Halloween Distractions and Other Links:

How Victorian Mansions Became the Default Haunted House. – A fun look at this history of this imagery in books and film.

The Ghost Story Persists in American Literature. Why? – The ongoing love affair between readers and the supernatural.

Vincent Price’s Delightful 1969 Lecture on Witchcraft, Magick, and Demonology. – Because really, what’s Halloween without Vincent Price’s wonderfully spooky voice in your ear?

Who Are the Forgotten Greats of Science Fiction? – Some wonderful old titles for anyone interested in the roots of the genre.

Talking to Arthur Levine about 20 Years of Harry Potter. – A nice look back at the journey of the boy wizard with the American publisher.

A Premature Attempt at the 21st Century Canon. – Vulture chooses the best 100 books of the 21st century… so far. They admit it’s early, but clearly still had a good time putting this together. I like a lot of their choices and their effort to keep things diverse. Interesting, regardless, especially if you’re looking for a good read.

Roxane Gay: What Does a Political Story Look Like in 2018? – Gay talks about the challenges of choosing this year’s 20 best American short stories.

How Do I Become One of Those Writers Who Remember Everything? – Advice on how to cultivate a writer’s brain, and tricks for keeping all that information straight.

35 Over 35: Women Authors Who Debuted at 35 or Older. – Because everyone works at their own pace, and succeeding young isn’t the only way to do it.

 

Knight Agency Submissions Move to QueryManager

The Knight Agency submissions move to QueryManager starting today! I’m excited to announce that, as promised yesterday, we have officially migrated our submissions system over to QueryManager. As of now, you will be able to query the agent of your choice directly. The new system provides a confirmation when your query uploads, and also allows you to track the progress of your material. On our end, QueryManager allows us to sort queries and other submissions more effectively. It keeps them separate from other incoming email from the start.

If you submit to our old submission email, you’ll receive a message redirecting you to QueryManager. However, we do still have materials sent prior to today, and will respond per usual. No need to resend anything sent before we made this shift.

As always, you can find complete submission guidelines for The Knight Agency on our website, including links to each agent’s QueryManager submission form. Or you can submit to my directly through my QueryManager form. I am currently seeking full-length novels only, including general/upmarket fiction, women’s fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, single-title romance, young adult and middle grade fiction. My complete wishlist is available both here and at the agency link above. I have also been known to use the #MSWL tag on Twitter from time to time.