2016 December Writing Challenge Wrap Up

Today is the final day of this year’s December Writing Challenge. How did you do? Did you write every day? Make progess on our current project? Start something new? Maybe experiment a bit? At the very least, I hope you set up some good habits for the year ahead.

Many writers have successful careers without producing material daily, but regardless of your writing schedule, creativity is a muscle that must be exercised regularly. Train your brain to produce on demand and you will find the ideas flow much more easily than if you attempt to write merely when the whim strikes you. If you’re just starting out, you’ll develop good habits that will help you continue to write under deadline or when you’re traveling or when your day job rears its head and demands your attention. If you’ve already been at this a while, you probably realize that writing can be more of a challenge if you fall out of the habit of sitting down and tackling the work in a set rhythm.

Regardless of your progress this month, I hope you’re heading into the new year with some wonderful ideas and plans to write, and that you make excellent headway with all your goals for 2017. Wishing you a wonderful New Year’s Eve! Stay safe and enjoy.

Friday Links: Out with the Old, In with the New

It’s the last Friday of 2016, so I’ve a selection of forward-looking links for you to help you get started on those new year’s goals. You have been thinking about your goals for 2017, right? If not, check out my tips from Wednesday’s post to help you get started.

I think we call all agree this was an extremely eventful, and in some ways traumatic, year. This past week’s celebrity deaths hit particularly hard; I feel like my childhood is being stripped from me in enormous chunks. But I still plan to kick off 2017 with as much enthusiasm and determination as I can muster. Only we can create a world that helps cushion us from the inevitable heartbreaks of life — one where people can reach for their dreams and live in health, safety, and a measure of achievement. It may feel far off sometimes, but that’s no excuse not to keep pushing in the right direction.

On that note, I offer you some inspiration for the coming year. Best of luck with whatever you strive to accomplish. Happy writing!

Writer’s Digest Shop Sale – There are some great markdowns at the moment on books and webinars to help you with all your writing goals.

Submission Strategies: Advice from a Literary Magazine Editor – Some tips to get your work past those gatekeepers.

67 Best SEO Tips for Bloggers – Strategies for getting more traffic to your blog and website.

The State of Flash Fiction – A look at this very short form of storytelling and how it’s role is developing in the marketplace.

10 Overlooked Books by Women in 2016 – Catch these before the new crop of titles makes your TBR pile fall over.

Anticipated Books of 2017 – Bookriot.com shares the titles they’re looking forward to next year on the All the Books podcast.

Creative Live – Online courses across a wide range of creative fields, including inspiration for writing, marketing and PR, social media, web design, branding, freelancing, and much more. They also have some great sales going on at the moment.


Writing Goals: Planning for 2017

The new year is on the horizon, and at this point many people start to draft their new year’s resolutions. If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you know I’m not really a fan of the idea of resolutions. The concept brings to mind vague promises to get thin or save more money, usually broken by sometime in February. What I am a huge fan of, however, is goal setting.

What’s the difference between a resolution and a goal, you ask? For me, making goals is all about setting concrete, measurable achievements to aim for in a specific amount of time, complete with a list of tasks needed to hit them as planned. While I don’t always manage to make all my goals, I find this approach to be much more successful overall than the resolution route.

Begin by aiming high. I like to dream up one or two big things I’d like to accomplish over the course of the year. Things that will take all the way until December. These can often be broken down into smaller, mid-point goals that keep me on track. For instance, if the goal is to sign six new clients, I’d aim for one every 6-8 weeks.

Next, outline some smaller goals. Everyone loves a sense of achievement. It encourages you to keep striving. So think of goals that won’t take anywhere near an entire year to accomplish. Maybe you have a few 30-day goals, and three or four that might take 4-6 months.

Determine what each goal will require of you. For each goal, you need a game plan — a list of tasks you need to perform in order to achieve your end result. These might include doing something entirely new, stepping up your productivity in a certain area, etc. If I go back to my hypothetical goal of six new clients, I might dedicate more time to reading submissions, spend time seeking out likely sounding authors by reading shared work on various online forums, agree to judge some writing contests, etc. Some of the tasks on your list might end up small goals you can check off — like researching a topic for a book, purchasing the domain name for a new author website, or making a list of agents to submit to.

Design your Goal Calendar for 2017. Take a look at your schedule and figure out when you want to tackle the short-term goals from your list. Keep in mind that some small goals should get pushed until later in the year. Don’t try to tackle everything at once on January 1st; that just leads to frustration and fatigue. Consider any travel plans you might have or big work projects that you anticipate keeping you especially busy, and work around them. And remember that your long-term goals will also be taking place across the span of the entire year. If you’ve broken them down into smaller chunks, place those goal due dates on your calendar as well.

There you go! You’ve got your plan for the year and a road map for how to achieve your goals. Of course, it’s not quite as easy as that. You’re going to want to put a little time into planning what your goals are. Consider what you’ve achieved this year, where you’ve hit your targets and where you’ve fallen short, and how that might reflect on your choices for 2017. Plus, remember that all of this is yours to design and to alter as you go. The best plans are flexible. Sure, you should strive to achieve the things you’re aiming for, but be honest with yourself and allow those goals to shift and develop as the year progresses, if circumstances call for it. Life happens, and that means what you want to achieve right now might not be what you want to work toward come September.

Whatever your goals — for writing, for improving your health, for spending more time with your family — this approach will allow you to create a concrete plan for achieving them without becoming overwhelmed or losing sight of your targets. Happy planning, and best of luck for a wonderfully productive 2017.


Friday Links: Writing into the Holidays

Happy Friday, everyone! Whether you’re gearing up for holidays or simply motoring through the end of your week, it’s a festive time of year and I hope you’re taking some time out to enjoy a great book or squeeze in a little writing. Those of you participating in the December Writing Challenge are in the home stretch now, with just over a week left until the end of the month. Keep up that daily habit and you’ll find yourself all primed to write your heart out in the new year.

In case you’re looking for a little bit of a break from all the hectic activity this time of year, I’ve got some fun links for you this week. I hope they give you some inspiration or just a nice change of pace from shopping and cooking and getting ready for friends and family. Enjoy, and happy writing!

The Art of Revision: Most of What You Write Should Be Cut – Some handy advice, especially for anyone reworking their NaNo novel.

Farewell to the Reader in Chief – A look back at President Obama’s dedication to reading and literacy.

Stephanie Danler on Having Your First Book Blow Up – The author discusses her experiences with having her debut become a hit.

18 Non-Book Gifts for Literary People – Some last-minute shopping ideas for those bookish types on your list.

The Paris Review Staff Picks: Our Favorite Reads of 2016 – A series of lists from various Paris Review contributors.

The POC Guide to Writing Dialogue in Fiction – Some tips on how to get it right.



Friday Links: Gearing Up for Next Year’s Writing

Happy Friday, everyone! We’re preparing to head off for the holiday break here at The Knight Agency, so it’s been a particularly busy week. That said, I plan to post through the holidays, if only to keep encouraging everyone who is participating in this year’s December Writing Challenge, so do check in if you have some down time and are looking for some inspiration.

We’re getting into the difficult part of the month, where events and to-do lists collide and it feels even more impossible to carve out a few minutes to write, but you can do it. Take a notebook with you on your coffee or hot chocolate break; put in a little writing time before you start your day; pause before you head to bed at night and make sure you scribble a few paragraphs if the day has gotten away from you. You’ll feel so accomplished, and also continue to build those great writing habits to help you start 2017 on the right foot.

I’m sending you off this weekend with a nice assortment of links, some of which will hopefully give you something to aspire to or plan for in the new year. Enjoy, and happy writing!

One Word Leads to the Next: Unconventional Conjunctive Devices – Some thoughts on pushing boundaries and experimenting with language.

What a Novel Looks Like Before It’s a Novel – Six novelists on their early writing process.

A Guide to Short Story Contests in 2017 – Start planning now and mark your calendar with anything you’d like to enter.

25 Days of Christmas Romances – This list will get you into the mood in more ways than one.

How to Create Art and Make Cool Stuff in a Time of Trouble – Chuck Wendig dishes out some advice for anyone struggling to focus on their writing in the wake of all the really terrible news flooding the air waves, internet, etc.

10 Things You Didn’t Know about How the NY Times Book Review Works – A peek inside the workings of this industry mainstay.

December Writing Challenge 2016: Prompts

We’re nearly halfway through the month of December, so it seems like a good time to check in and see what sort of progress everyone is making with their December Writing Challenge efforts, and to provide a little nudge for anyone who has strayed off track. Have you been making time to write every day? Is your work-in-progress buzzing along? Are you polishing and revising and getting a new draft done? Remember: all those words count, whether you’re writing them or rewriting them.

Not everyone is mid-novel, however, so for anyone looking for things to inspire that daily writing habit, I’ve got a few prompts and ideas that you might use if your own imagination is letting you down. Some might inspire a short story or essay, while others can be used as a simple writing exercise. It’s all practice, and it all helps you flex those creative muscles, even if the thing you write just ends up buried in a dusty folder or languishing on your hard drive. So make a date with yourself to sit down at the keyboard or pull out your notebook, and get to work. Happy writing!

Quick Prompts to Keep the Words Flowing

  • Recount a favorite holiday experience, whether from your childhood or something more recent. Try gearing it toward a specific audience: a child, your significant other, someone you’re just falling in love with… Set the tone (and subject matter) accordingly.
  • Set your iTunes or other mp3 playing software to shuffle, or listen to your favorite radio station, and jot down the titles of the first 5 songs you hear. Use them as prompts for short stories/vignettes.
  • Flip open a dictionary and, with your eyes closed, point to a random word on the page. Do this two more times, with fresh pages, then write something using all three words. Pick more than three random words if you’d like, or if the ones you chose are too mundane for inspiration.
  • Check out the images on the following websites, and choose one (or a combination) as the basis for a short story or vignette:

Striking Portraits of Lonely Cars in 1970s New York

Sparkling City of Moscow Celebrates Orthodox Christmas

Spotted in Tokyo

Weird old car

Girl on cliff

St. Mary’s Church, Norfolk

Budapest bridge

Beauty of perception

Friday Links: Reading-List Wrap Up

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful week and that those of you participating in this year’s December Writing Challenge have lots of new pages accumulating on your projects. Be sure to keep an eye on the blog, because next week I’ll have some fun writing prompts/ideas for anyone struggling to keep the words coming daily and/or anyone interested in some quick writing exercises to get their imaginations pumped up.

But first we have Friday Links! This time of year we see all of the “best of” book lists popping up, from retailers and bloggers and various media outlets, etc. It’s a great reminder of titles that came out earlier in the year but you might have missed or forgotten about, whether you’re looking to replenish your own TBR pile or shopping for gifts. It’s also a perfect time to round out any reading goals you might have made early in the year, whether you wanted to read more diversely or more books in translation or whatever. So while I’ve a couple of writing-related links here, the majority are bookish this week. This is just the tip of the iceberg, obviously, but I think it’s a nice, well-rounded collection of lists that will help anyone with their next bookish shopping expedition. Enjoy, and happy reading!

NPR’s Book Concierge – NPR did this last year, as well, and I just love it. They’ve accumulated a list of more than 300 of the best reads of 2016, and it’s searchable by a variety of categories, from genre to length plus a few more amusing definitions they’ve thrown in. Some amazing titles on this list, several of which I’m itching to read.

The Books We Loved: Australian Writers Nominate Their Favourite Reads of 2016 – For anyone seeking to broaden their range of global reading, some titles that may or may not have caught your attention.

Homicide Detective Roy Grace’s Reading List – A fun list compiled by crime fiction writer Peter James, imagining what his fictional detective hero puts on his nightstand.

Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” as a Parable of Our Time – A look at how this modern classic resonates in today’s world.

Let Down By the Lists – A reaction to some of the “to read” book lists that have come out featuring few female authors or authors of color, this list offers up “The Sixty Best Books by Women Every Man Should Read,” which is a nicely diversified list as well.

Notes from the Resistance: A Column on Language and Power – The rise of the euphemism. Regardless of your politics, any writer concerned with writing strong, truthful work should read this and consider the importance of precise wording.

Best Books of 2016 – The staff of Bookriot.com shares their favorite reads of the year.

Ann Patchett’s Guide for Bookstore Lovers – The author and bookstore proprietor shares a list of spots she considers to be “destination” bookstores — big, small, and quirky — and all well worth a trip.

December Writing Challenge: Tough-Love Pep Talk

Greetings, writers! How goes the challenge? No doubt you’ve had a busy first week of December. Scrambling to get work projects completed by the holidays? Shopping for gifts? Hanging up holiday decorations and planning menus? Maybe you’ve attended a party or school holiday concert. Or you could be prepping to travel — booking those airport shuttles and dusting off your suitcases. But even with all that, you’ve still managed to write each day, haven’t you?

Here’s the thing: only you can decide where your priorities lie. And I’m not telling you writing has to be a top priority. It doesn’t. What I am telling you, however, is that if you want to be a writer who publishes, who shares their work with the world, that takes diligence and practice and a lot of time actually spent writing. No other way around it. Even natural talent only takes you so far. What gets you the rest of the way is writing and rewriting and rewriting some more.

Do you want to write? Not just see your books on shelves somewhere and claim the title of published writer, but do you actually like to sit and put down the words and see your worlds form on the page or screen? Again, only you can tell. But here is a hint: If you need to force yourself repeatedly to sit down at your keyboard, if you get all your chores done rather than write, if you spend lots of time imagining yourself as a published author but don’t actually finish anything — chances are very good you’re only in love with the idea of writing.

Human beings are funny creatures. In most instance, we do the things we want to do, and avoid the things we don’t want to do. Now, as adults we generally suck it up and do a lot of things we’d rather not, like pay our bills and do our tax returns and politely eat that vegetable that smells like dirty feet because we’re a guest in someone else’s home. But writing doesn’t fall into the categories of life’s necessities or good manners. Instead if falls into that category of the things we squeeze into our lives, one way or another.

The typical excuse for not doing something is that you could not “find” the time. Reality, however, tells us that no one ever finds extra time lying around the house. Maybe hiding under the carpet or behind the long drapes in the living room. Out in the yard? No. If there’s something you want to do, you make the time.

December is a truly busy month. There’s lots to do, plenty of demands being made on your time. But ask yourself where your priorities are, and then live that decision. Is writing important to you? Do you love it, even on the days it frustrates you? Then make the time to fit it into your day. Put it on your calendar as an appointment with yourself. Turn off your cell phone. Shut down the internet. Even if it’s just for a half hour, commit to your dream, your goal, your joy. Only you can decide if it’s something you consider worth doing.

Now go write.