Friday Links: Reading and Writing at the End of an Era

It’s an extremely rainy Friday here in my neck of the woods, and we’re looking at more rain right through Monday. I claim gratitude, because even though we’ve made some good headway on canceling out the five-year drought California’s been suffering from, we do still need more rain. However, I will admit to being a little sick of it. My brain feels water-logged. It’s a good thing I mostly intend to stay home and read this weekend.

As for links, I’ve got a little homage to our now-former president, and his obvious love of reading, along with some other good stuff to keep you inspired through the weekend, whatever your weather patterns. I hope you set aside your writing time, and reading time as well, however much or little you can spare, and continue to put your goals high on your priority list. If you happen to be marching somewhere this weekend, good luck and stay safe. Happy weekend, and happy writing.

Considering the Novel in the Age of Obama – An interesting examination of literary trends over the past eight years.

Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books – The result of an interview with President Obama regarding his terms in office, including an internal link to some of his book recommendations.

Finalists for the National Book Award – A nice round up of this year’s titles.

Women Are Writing the Best Crime Novels – A look at the recent bestsellers in the genre, and their authors.

What Being an Editor Taught Me About Writing – Insider tips from an editor at Random House.

The 59-Book Fandom Reading Challenge – Are you a fan of something? Here’s a challenge that suggests a type of book for virtually every type of fan out there. Fun, and a little different.

Publishers Don’t Want Good Books – A tough-love look at why you may be getting rejection letters.

24in48 Readathon – Read for 24 hours total out of 48. This twice yearly challenge runs this weekend, and there’s still time to sign up. Check out other 24in48 blog posts for lists of prizes, reading suggestions, and more.

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: 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

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.

Ready, Set, Write

As I blogged yesterday, today marks the start of this year’s December Writing Challenge, so wipe down your computer screens, sharpen your pencils, and ink those fancy fountain pens. It’s time to get to work.

Whether you are just starting out as a writer and find the idea of writing daily overwhelming, or you have a long-established writing habit and would just like a little added encouragement during this busy season, this challenge is for you. The goal, as stated in my previous post, is to write every day, even if just a little bit. Work on that novel you have in progress or start something brand new. Juggle a few things or focus all your attention on one. Yes, revising counts, though you should make sure that revision time includes some writing of new text and not just crossing out things that aren’t working. The goal is to write.

So, a few tips to get you started:

  • Schedule your writing time ahead if at all possible. Make a date with yourself and put it on the calendar. That way you won’t be washing the dinner dishes and bemoaning the fact that you still need to write.
  • Have at least one backup project to work on. That way if you’re truly stuck on your main writing project one day, you can switch over and get some words in on your other idea rather than not write at all that day.
  • If you have a really hectic day, try breaking up your writing time into a couple of smaller sessions.
  • Tell your friends and family what you’re doing, so they understand that there will be a window of time each day when you really can’t be disturbed unless it’s an emergency. Added bonus: this helps train them for the new year, when you have your daily writing habit established.

Now, a brief word on writing every day. No, it’s not necessary to write every day in order to be a writer. Plenty of writers are successful writing less frequently. But a regular writing habit of any sort is like any other exercise — you’re training your muscles (in this case your brain) to perform on demand. So taking this challenge doesn’t mean you have to write every day for the rest of your career. But it will help warm up that creative muscle of yours and keep you moving forward during a month when it’s easy to let your own needs fall by the wayside. And who knows? You may like what you come up with when you write every day.

Good luck, and happy writing!

December Writing Challenge: 2016

typewriter-801921_1920_pixabay

It’s the last day of November, and the last day of NaNoWriMo for those of you participating. But whether you’ve just finished up tackling 50,000 words in 30 days, you’re falling short of the mark, or you think the idea of trying to churn out that many words in a single month is insane, I have a new challenge for you. Or rather an annual challenge. Tomorrow is the first day of December, and with it comes my December Writing Challenge.

For those of you unfamiliar, the December Writing Challenge is designed to help you keep up your good writing habits through what is arguably the busiest month of the year. With all the holidays, the year-end wrap ups at work, and planning for the year ahead, writing efforts often get short changed. This becomes especially problematic for anyone who has resolutions for the new year that have to do with their writing — writing more, better, finishing a project, getting an agent, etc. Bad habits formed in December take a little bit of time to correct in January, and so writers end up starting off the year on the wrong foot.

The December Writing Challenge aims to help you maintain (or even build) good writing momentum now, at the close of the old year, so you can start the new year off with a bang. It helps you keep writing even if you can only steal a little bit of time. Only you can decide if writing is a real priority in your life, and this challenge can also help you determine how much you want this life.

The challenge is simple: Write every day during the month of December.

  • You can be working on a novel, revising something, tinkering with some short stories, writing personal essays for periodicals, putting together a proposal for a new project… whatever. You can work on one thing or many things.
  • You can write for as little as 15 minutes on a really busy day, though I’d ask you to aim for at least 30, even if you have to break it up into chunks.
  • Because I know this time of year is crazy, you can give yourself up to two days off during the month. You choose the days. Maybe Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Maybe New Year’s Eve. Maybe the day your family all arrives to stay with you. But plan ahead and keep in mind that the goal is to take no more than two days off.

That’s the challenge. No difficult rules to track, no weird stunts to pull. Just write, every day, over the course of the month. Give yourself some quiet time to get those words on paper or pixels on screen. Make writing a priority. Let your family know this is nonnegotiable. Keep your head in the game.

I’ll be posting prompts and pep talks periodically throughout the month to help you keep at it, but ultimately the choice is yours. You can do it. Happy writing!

Readathon Wrap-up

Here’s a quick wrap-up for anyone curious as to the outcome of my readathon experience this weekend. I made it about 18 of the 24 hours, but because things geared up at 5am in my time zone, I was pretty much done by 11pm, without a lot of hope for waking early and reading more before the 5am deadline the following day. So I crashed and just got up briefly to cheer everyone on Twitter, then conked out for a few more hours.

Still, I read two entire books over the course of my readathon, one full comic book trade (about 6 regular-length issues), and made it about 50 pages into a third book, so I call it a win. Sunday, I did very little, and certainly no more reading, but it made for a great weekend, and as always I found the readathon experience to be tons of fun. There’s something about knowing so many other people around the world are settled in with their books and keeping track along with you. The social media aspect makes it even more enjoyable. A different experience for what is normally such a solitary activity.

Books read:

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

How to Set a Fire and Why by Jesse Ball (ARC)

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (in progress)

Secret Avengers v. 1: Reverie by Nick Spencer and Luke Ross

Readathon: Six Hours Down

BuriedGiant

We’re just over a quarter of the way through the readathon, and I’m about two-thirds of the way through my book. I always have high hopes for these events, but the reality is I rarely manage more than three books over the course of a readathon, and that’s only if I read pretty steadily for the full 24 hours. Today I will probably grab something short to read in the middle, once I’ve finished the Ishiguro, so I have a bit more sense of accomplishment.

I do realize that reading speed is personal and enjoying your book is the important part of the readathon, but at the same time, I’d love to make more of a dent in my TBR stack, which is enormous. All I can do is keep plugging away, and put down any reading picks that aren’t suiting my mood to move on to something that might engage me more. And on that note, I’m headed back to my book.

Ready, Set, Read!

Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon kicks off this morning. It’s an east-coast-centered event, which means for me here in SoCal, the reading starts at 5am. I’d considered delaying a bit and reading slightly later than the rest of the crew, but what’s the fun in that? So I set my alarm and now I’m wide awake and raring to go. This means: coffee is brewing, I’ve pulled out my Jane Austen mug for the occasion, I put an extra pillow on my couch, and the coffee table is weighed down with books. I’ll post here occasionally throughout the day, but will probably be updating on Twitter: @NepheleTempest, so if you’re curious about my progress or what I’m reading, that’s the place to check. Happy reading to anyone else participating!