Friday Links: Holiday Cheer for Writers

As this is the last Friday before Christmas, I thought I’d try and whip up a bit of holiday cheer. I’m afraid I can’t offer a festive cocktail or share my Christmas baking, but these links have a nice holiday bend. They still include some writing advice, and a few reading recs, but I tried to keep the spirit of the season in mind.

This weekend promises to be busy, but I hope you all manage to carve a little personal time. Whether you want to read your favorite Christmas story, get some writing in, or just find a quiet moment, it’s important to take a break in the middle of the chaos. Wishing you a wonderful weekend, whatever you celebrate. Enjoy!

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This Week’s Links:

What the LitHub Staff Is Reading, Watching, and Listening to This Holiday Season. – A fun round up to inspire your own holiday entertainment.

Ghosts on the Nog. – Five forgotten Christmas ghost stories. Charles Dickens isn’t the only author who liked a ghostly tale for Christmas. Note: the link for one story in the original post is broken, but you can find it here: A Strange Christmas Game.

How to Write: 10 Tips from David Ogilvy. – Some advice from the original Man Man of advertising. Not all of it applies if you’re writing a novel, but the basics are sound. Plus it’s entertaining, regardless.

Why I Hate Christmas (But Love Songs about Hating Christmas). – A slightly different take on the holiday.

Overflowing with Magical Shoes: The Elves and the Shoemaker. – A look at one of the few stories by the Brothers Grimm to mention a holiday.

9 Books about Faith that Even Atheists Can Believe In. – Some reading for the less religiously minded.

 

Holiday Break 2017

I’m packing it up for the holiday break and heading back east to visit family. The Knight Agency offices are officially closed until January 3rd. I will post updates here on the blog, however, through the end of the month. Look out for Friday Links and more December Writing Challenge encouragement. In the meantime, don’t forget to schedule your writing time each day for the challenge. Mark those calendars, set alerts in your phone, stick a note on the fridge door. Do what you need to in order to put in a bit of writing time. All the words count!

Those of you waiting on responses to submissions, I hope to get a few more out this week. More news about those, plus an update regarding when I’ll reopen to new submissions, after the start of the year.

Safe travels to anyone on the road, the rails, or heading into the friendly skies!

Writing Goals: Planning for 2018

Writing goals, both making and working toward them, should be a year round process. But at the end of the year, it’s good to look ahead and sketch out a rough plan for where you’d like to go. You should also consider the bigger picture, and how your writing fits into your life.

I’m not a big fan of the term resolutions. Resolutions are things you start ignoring by the middle of February. Instead, I prefer to set goals and then come up with systems to help achieve them. The system becomes the habit, and the goal the result. But how do you make and keep your goals? What makes them different from the forgotten resolutions?

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If you took time to look over your 2017 goals last week, you may already have a good idea what works and doesn’t work for you. But regardless, I have a few places for you to start.

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Focus on goals that are within your control. You may wish to sign with an agent, but whether you do depends on whether your writing is where it needs to be, and you connecting with the right person to represent you. Instead of making “get an agent” your goal, determine what you need to do to make it happen. Maybe you want to send out ten queries by the end of January, or five queries per week. Other goals within your control might be to complete the research for a project you’ve been considering, finish a first draft, or to send a short story out on submission — and keep sending it out if you get rejected.
  • Don’t be afraid to think big. Huge goals can be manageable; you just need to break them down into smaller bites. So if your goal is to write your first novel this year and you haven’t started, don’t shy away from it. Instead consider the typical word count for a novel in your genre and divide that by the number of weeks in your writing year. Now you have a goal of how many words you’d like to write each week to get that first draft done.
  • Consider the calendar when setting your goals. Are you going to travel a lot this year? Take that into account when scheduling your  writing goals. Chances are you won’t get much writing done if you’re touring the capitals of Europe. Also think about busy times at your day job, or commitments to host for the holidays.
  • Create a Balance. If you’ve chosen a major goal for the year, that might be your entire writing focus. You’ll break it into smaller, sub-goals that will keep you occupied all year. But you can also balance your year with several smaller goals, or a mix of larger and smaller ones. Some goals might be for later in the year; you might have one you start in January and aim to complete by late March, and another that starts in April. Wrapping up a few small goals early can be great for keeping you motivated.

Creating Systems for Your Goals:

Once you have your goals in mind, you want to determine what it will take to accomplish each one. Set yourself mini-deadlines to keep things on track. For instance, if you want to get an agent, you might set that goal of sending out a number of queries per month. But before you can do that, you must write the query. You also need to come up with a list of agents you wish to submit to, and decide which ones you want to query first. Your eventual system might include a schedule for researching each batch of agents, including what they rep and their submission guidelines, and personalizing your query slightly when it seems appropriate.

If finishing a first draft of your novel is important, schedule your writing sessions each week on your calendar. Set alerts so you don’t forget. And if you’re concerned about making enough progress, try giving yourself a “catch up” writing day once a month. Maybe make yourself accountable by joining a writing group, or finding a writing buddy, if you haven’t already

Checking in with your goals should become part of your overall system. Again, mark it in your calendar, for the end of the month or once a quarter. Just take a half hour to look over your goals and see how your system has been working. Is everything progressing well? Or do you need to tweak things a bit?

Be Flexible:

At the end of the day, these are your goals. You determine what they are, and how to achieve them. If they are truly important to you, you’ll find a way to get them done. Don’t hesitate to change things up mid-year if your ambitions have shifted. And if things are going better than anticipated, you can always add new goals later in the year. Ultimately, the idea is to keep on writing. Good luck!

Friday Links: Writing Diversions for a Crazy Weekend

After piling on the book lists and recommendations, I’m offering you some writing diversions this week for a change of pace. This weekend marks the midpoint of the month, which means the middle of the holiday crazies. So if you need a bit of a break from shopping and such, check out a few of these links. And if you’re not caught in the holiday bustle, congratulations! You’ll have even more time to visit a few of these sites.

For those of you participating in the December Writing Challenge, you’re just about halfway there! Check your calendar and schedule your writing time for next week. The busier it gets, the more you need to plan ahead. And don’t forget to think about what you’d like to accomplish in the new year. 2018 looms around the corner.

Enjoy the writing diversions below, and happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

The 26th International Radio Playwriting Competition. – Entries close January 31st for this annual competition. Try your hand at writing a radio play for this contest sponsored by the BBC World Service.

9 Essayists of Color You Should Know About. – Take a break to read something short and engaging while diversifying your reading list.

Literary Holidays You Should Add to Your Calendar. – A fun roundup of dates to note for a more bookish 2018.

Why Write Fiction in 2017? – A look at the disengagement required this year to ignore the real world and focus on a fictional one.

Nova Ren Suma and Emily X.R. Pan Launch a Platform for YA Short Stories. – A quick look at plans to develop a montly offering of short YA fiction in all genres.

Bookstores Escape from Jaws of Irrelevance. – More proof that indie bookstores are back on the rise, and some of the ways they’ve drawn in shoppers.

These Imaginary Islands Only Existed on Maps. – Literary locations that fire the imagination, from stories to myths to hoaxes.

The Year in Review: Time to Assess 2017

Before you start setting goals for next year, it’s important to assess 2017 and see where you stand. This has been a difficult year for many, and that can make it frustrating to consider your progress — or lack of it. But not every year will shine. Some years bring major challenges. Here are some tips for considering this year in an honest fashion, and for gearing up for 2018. So grab your list of goals for 2017 if you made one, and some paper, and get ready to analyze.

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Considering Your Goals for the Year

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know I encourage writers to set goals every year. So if you joined me for that process, or did it on your own, you should have some sort of list or spreadsheet of what you wanted to achieve. This will help you assess 2017. Take a look at what you wanted to accomplish, step by step, and see how you did. Be honest, but don’t be overly critical if you fell short. Just note what went well, what you pulled off, and where you made progress. Congratulate yourself for the things that got done. Then look at what you didn’t finish, or maybe gave up on. Maybe there were projects you never even started. Ask yourself why some goals went better than others.

  • Were some goals easier?
  • Were you more interested in completing certain things?
  • Did you get frustrated by roadblocks or lack of progress and slowly give up on any of your goals?
  • Did you underestimate the time you needed for something?
  • How did life get in your way?
  • Did any of your goals just become less important as the year progressed?

The key here is to think about where you got in own your way, and where other factors came into play. That way you know where to focus your attention in the future. Don’t beat yourself up for any failures; they’re learning opportunities.

Considering How to Make Goals More Manageable in the Future

We fall short on goals for many reasons, only some of which you can control. Understand that there will always be things that happen that require you to shift your focus elsewhere or set projects aside. But you can take your own habits and tendencies into account, giving yourself an advantage. A few tips:

  • Make sure you’ve broken your goals up into sufficiently small parts.
  • Build a little extra time into goals that you know depend on other people’s cooperation.
  • Consider if a goal is time sensitive, or just something you decided you wanted to do; deadlines tend to motivate.
  • Keep your list of goals to a manageable number, and consider the level of difficulty for each one; one big goal and a few small ones or several medium-sized goals can help balance your efforts.

Once you’ve had time to assess 2017 and all you’ve accomplished, you’ll be ready to start looking forward to your goals for next year. Don’t jump right into it. Take a few days to let ideas percolate. Think about where you want to go with your writing, but also with other areas of your life.

Consider your day job, your family and relationships, your health, finances, and community responsibilites. 2017 made a lot of people sit up and take more notice of politics, so that might affect your plans for next year. Maybe you want to travel more, or go back to school. Take it all into consideration and even make a few notes while you’re brainstorming. Then next week, we’ll talk about setting goals for 2018.

 

 

2017’s Best Books: My Year in Reading

2017’s best books, for me, are based on the titles I read this year. Release dates, unlike reading dates, may vary (though I think most of these are actually new). I always feel it’s cheating a bit, to discuss the year’s reads in December, since the year isn’t over. December books get short shrift. But I acknowledge there’s no way to squeeze these lists into the final few days of the year. People want book recs early enough to do their holiday shopping, and by the last week of December, holiday celebrations take over.

Every year I wish for more time to read published books. But as anyone with a publishing-related job will tell you, reading time is at a premium. 2017 proved harder than most years. Politics and other concerns meant I spent more free time reading the news and less reading novels. When I did pull out a book for my own enjoyment, I had a difficult time focusing.

It probably surprises no one that the books making the biggest impression on me this year were difficult books. I don’t mean long or complicated books, but books that challenge perceptions and thought processes. Books designed to keep your brain churning long past the last page. Even the less serious books below have a darkish bend. Regardless, I recommend them all. And please do share your favorite 2017 reads in the comments!

2017’s Best Books: The Ones that Hit My Heart

the-hate-u-give-coverThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas likely doesn’t need a whole lot of discussion, given how much has already been said about it. It deserves all the praise. Thomas tells the story of a black teenage girl, Starr Carter, who witnesses the unprovoked shooting of her unarmed friend Khalil by a police officer. In the aftermath, Starr finds herself caught between her poor black neighborhood and the elite prep school she attends, as friends from both social circles pass judgment and spread rumors about the circumstances of the shooting. Thomas’s writing is both honest and heartfelt, and the story, ripped from the headlines as it was, timely in a way you wish it wasn’t. If you haven’t read this one, you should.

 

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood follows the story of Wavy, the young daughter of a drug dealer, from childhood into young adulthood. It’s the sort of book that’s tough going simply because it takes time to develop any sympathy for the protagonist. You know you should feel sorry for Wavy, but she’s unlikeable for a good portion of the book. Only once you understand the treatment that caused her behavior do you begin to feel for her. Greenwood’s vivid writing makes the story fascinating, however. You keep going in the same way as you watch a car accident unfold. You can’t help but be hypnotized by this world.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay is the honest, straightforward account of Gay’s nearly life-long battle with her weight, the brutal rape she suffered as a young girl that forever altered how she felt in her skin, and all the ways in which she has slowly worked through (and continues to work through) the reality of what all that has meant to her. As Gay says right upfront, this is not a weight-loss book. She does not speak of her successes losing weight, but rather what it means in our society to be a very large woman. It is the story of a woman honing her abilities as a writer, of a person defining her sexuality and working to take back what was stolen from her as a child. Despite the difficult subject, Gay’s story rings with  determination and hope.

2017’s Best Books: On the Lighter Side

language-of-thorns-coverThe Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo collects six short fables written to fit into the world of Bardugo’s Grisha books. They stand alone beautifully, however. Fans of fairy tales or  Russian and Eastern European fables will love these clever stories. Each finds its foundation in some well-loved fairy tale, but Bardugo makes them her own. In some cases, I was nearly halfway through before I identified a story’s origins. They are both modern and old fashioned, current and nostalgic. Additionally, the hardbound version of this book is gorgeous, with illustrations and colored text. Makes a beautiful gift.

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio is a literary mystery of sorts that features Oliver Marks, a young man who has just finished serving a ten-year prison term for a murder he might or might not have committed. Marks recounts the events of his final year studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college. He and his classmates had become somewhat typecast after years of performing the Bard’s works. When one of their number turns up dead, the remaining students must determine how much they are like the roles they traditionally play. Rio studied Shakespeare and theater and this book shines with her familiarity with both the texts and the world these actors inhabit. Great read for Shakespeare fans and theater geeks alike, with an ending that will keep you questioning.

 

Friday Links: A Bookish Holiday Guide

In honor of the holiday season, this week’s links feature a bookish holiday guide to help you find gifts for the readers and writers on your list, figure out what hints to drop to your loved ones, and maybe plan your vacation reads. Everyone needs a great book to read through the holidays. Whether you pick a new release or a classic, something seasonally themed or more personal, there are books for all types of readers.

Don’t forget to schedule some writing time this weekend, no matter how much shopping you have to do. Keep up with (or join) the December Writing Challenge. Even if you just take half an hour each day, make your writing a priority. No one else can do that work for you. Train your brain to be creative even when you’re busy. You’ll develop great habits to help kick off the new year.

Wishing you a wonderful weekend. I hope my bookish holiday guide helps with your shopping, and that your writing project flows. All the words count!

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This Week’s Links:

NPR’s Book Concierge: Our Guide to 2017’s Great Reads. – This might be my favorite annual book list, as NPR sets up their page to help you search for books by subject, etc. Wonderful, huge selection.

The Ultimate BuzzFeed Books Gift Guide. – Another big list of great books to give and get.

YA Books Gift Guide for 2017. – BuzzFeed also offers this great roundup of young adult books for the year, for the younger readers in your life, plus the young-at-heart readers as well.

10 Cookbooks Inspired by Children’s Books. – A fun list of cookbooks that readers will love, particularly if they tend to be nostalgic for their favorite childhood reads.

Historically, men translated The Odyssey. Here’s what happened when a woman took the job. – A look at the newly translated version of Homer’s epic, a great gift for the classics fan on your list.

Diaries are evidence of our days. – Okay, a little more writer than reader, but a great arguement from Austin Kleon on keeping a daily log book, something that can appeal to anyone.

New York Review of Books’ Reader’s Catalog. – A fabulous online selection of tons of book-themed gifts, from shirts to wrapping paper to novelty items.

The Little Bookroom. – A lovely little online bookshop dedicated to travel-related books.

A Daily Writing Habit: Do You Need to Write Every Day?

The idea of a daily writing habit prompts frequent discussion in writerly circles. Do you need to write every day to become a good writer? The short answer is no, of course not. Many successful writers do not write every day, for whatever reason. Their day jobs make it impossible, they prefer to write for long blocks of time on the weekend, etc. If writing daily rubs you the wrong way, or simply is not feasible, do not panic. But if you can manage a daily writing habit, I encourage you to try, because writing daily has its advantages.

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What Can Writing Daily Do for You?

  • Creativity is like a muscle; the more you work it, the stronger it becomes. A daily writing habit helps you train your brain. When you sit down at your computer or pick up your notebook on a very regular basis, your brain understands it’s time to create. If you write every day, even just for a little while, you will see a change in how ideas flow. Everyone knows that feeling of being “rusty” from not writing for a while. The opposite is true, as well. Writing daily helps prime the pump and keeps your creative mind nimble.
  • A daily writing habit helps you fight a tendency to procrastinate. If you plan to write three days per week, it is easier to put off that day’s writing. Whereas, if you write every day, you don’t have to decide whether to fit a writing session into your schedule. There is no questioning “Is this a writing day?” because the answer is always yes.
  • Writing daily can also help lessen the pressure of deadlines. It’s no guarantee that you won’t need an all-nighter or two to finish a manuscript, but it certainly makes it less likely than if you’ve been procrastinating for weeks.

No rule of writing says that you must write every day. Even writers who do write daily will take time off here and there. Writers are human beings, and all human beings need to take breaks from their work, no matter how much they love it. Nor is writing daily a cure-all for every writing issue. Everyone faces a block now and then. But if you’re serious about writing, or trying to improve, or looking to build up new habits for the new year, give writing daily a try. Join my December Writing Challenge, or just promise yourself to write every day. You might find that writing daily works for you.

 

Friday Links: Inspiration for December Writing

As promised, I’m back with some inspiration for December writing in this week’s Friday Links. Even if you’re not participating in the 2017 December Writing Challenge, I hope you plan to get some writing done this month. The links that follow offer tips, plus some entertainment to keep you smiling as you work. And of course, there are more book recommendations to keep your TBR stocked and maybe help with gift giving. Wishing you a wonderful weekend and some terrific writing time!

This Week’s Links:

Tortoise Victories: How to Win While Writing Slow. – A lovely post that discusses how slow, steady writing will still let you meet your goals.

12 Literary Cocktails to Pair with Classic Reads. – Fun for an evening at home, or if you’re doing a little holiday entertaining!

‘Bad Sex in Fiction Award’ Goes to Novelist Who Compared Skin to Stained Bathtub. – In case you were wondering, there are certain descriptions that really don’t appeal. Great for a chuckle.

Holiday Books Guide and the Best Books of 2017. – The best-books lists continue with this offering from the LA Times.

21 Gifts Under $21 for Writers and Book Lovers. – Suggestions for your shopping list, or for you to drop in hints to friends and family.

Sci Fi Writer Nnedi Okorafor Discusses Inspiration and Influences. – A radio interview with the novelist who is gearing up to write a run of Marvel’s Black Panther comic.

Some Baffling Omissions from the NY Times’ 100 Noteable Books List – LitHub tacks on some great reads they feel got shortchanged in the NYT wrap-up.