December Writing Challenge: 2016

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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!

Friday Links: The Endurance of Art

Happy Friday, everyone! I’m afraid I have a rather abbreviated set of links for you this week, given that my attention was generally elsewhere during my downtime this week. But I do have a few tips and a bit of a pep talk, especially for you NaNoWriMo participants, who may be struggling with output about now.

Art endures. Whatever your feelings about the outcome of this week’s election, I encourage you to continue to do your best work, to focus your frustrations and joys and heart into your writing and into making the best art you can. So get words down, or go read your favorite book, or discover a wonderful new novel and get lost in its pages. Pick up some cheap theater tickets or head to the movies. Spend a quiet hour in a museum. Take a little time for your spirit and your creativity, whatever else you feel it’s necessary to do right now.

5 Benefits of Using a Typewriter on Your First Draft – An interesting theory of process.

Why Fiction Matters – Why you should keep plugging away at your work.

Toni Morrison on Reality TV, Black Lives Matter, and Meeting Jeff Bezos – An interview with the acclaimed author.

Writing Trans Characters – Some advice on how to write an accurate portrayal.

The Words and Works of Leonard Cohen – Saying goodbye to the talented singer/songwriter/poet.

Friday Links: The Fly-By Edition

Happy Friday, everyone! This is my last weekend in town for a while, as I’ve got back-to-back conferences coming up, so I’m going to keep this short but sweet. As you might imagine, I’ve a very long to-do list about now. So without further ado, I offer up this week’s links. Enjoy, and don’t forget to put aside some writing time!

26 Maps Reveal a New York City Hiding in Plain Sight – Writing about New York? Pondering the different sides of a city — any city? These might give you some ideas.

Bullet Journaling for Fiction Writers – Ideas for organizing your thoughts, research, writing schedule, and more.

What Makes a Children’s Book Good? – A discussion of pretty much what the title states.

Alexandra Kleeman & Lincoln Michel: On Genre, Influence, and Getting Weird in Fiction – Two writers known for their short fiction discuss the format and their own perspectives on writing.

Why Melissa de la Cruz’s Immigration Story Matters Now – A look at the author’s new book and her experiences as an immigrant to the U.S.

Study Storied Women with Iowa’s International Writing Program – Details on a new, free online writing course offered by the University of Iowa.

The Literature of Creepy Clowns – Fitting, given the approach of Halloween and also the strange clown threats popping up across the country.

Friday Links: Resources for Writers Getting Down to Basics

Happy Friday, everyone! This week has simply flown by and I have a huge pile of things to get done today, particularly since my new iPhone is supposedly on the truck for delivery, which means I’m having a technology update sort of weekend. Not only does the phone need to be set up, but my new computer is sitting in a box on the floor staring at me, waiting patiently for me to take a day to sort through four years of file accumulation (and email!) and migrate what I want to keep to the new machine. So that’s my exciting weekend plan. Come Monday I will be thoroughly modern and up-to-date. At least until Apple releases the new OS.

I’ll admit the good thing about this plan, other than a phone battery that will hold a charge more than half a day and a computer that moves with a bit more pep, is that file migration takes time. Time during which I can lie on the couch and read. I have a stack of books I’m twitching to get to, so I’m hoping to tackle one or two this weekend as well. I never quite outgrew that feeling of September signaling that it’s time to head back to school, which means my brain really wants to crawl into study mode for the next few months. This is probably about as close as I can get.

Of course, I have Friday Links for all of you, so whatever plans you’ve got brewing this weekend, take a few minutes to check these out. There are some writing tips, places to submit your work, and of course a few reading recommendations because at the end of the day, it’s all about the great books. In particular, there are some terrific links for anyone just starting out or who is looking to get back to the basics with their writing. I hope you find some inspiration here. Wishing you a wonderful weekend, and happy writing!

Katie Khan on Choosing the Perfect Name for a Novel – On that pesky chore of deciding on a title for your book.

The Millions Quiz: The Best Political Fiction – Some great book recommendations for anyone who can’t get enough of the political scene, or maybe for anyone wanting to hide from the current U.S. campaign chaos.

The 7 Biggest Mistakes Personal Essay Writers Make – Great tips for anyone looking to master (or publish) this format.

Opportunities for Writers: October and November 2016 – A great list of contests, calls for work, and other places where you can submit your writing, with deadlines over the next couple of months.

How to Be a Writer: 10 Tips from Rebecca Solnit – Solnit offers excellent advice on various aspects of the writing career and process.

10 Books on the American Immigrant Experience – A wonderfully diverse list of titles featuring the experiences of immigrants in America.

Start Writing Fiction: A Free Online Course Starts 3 October – An online course on writing fiction, offered for free by Open University, kicks off October 3rd.

Friday Links: Make Writing (and Reading) a Priority

Happy Friday, everyone! It’s a crisp fall-like morning here in SoCal (though we’re definitely looking at summer temperatures by lunchtime), and it has me completely energized. Which is a great thing, given my laundry list of to-dos for the weekend. I have serious plans involving work-related reading, a library visit to donate books, a fun run on the calendar for Saturday morning, dust bunnies to battle, and if I’m very good, a bit of time with my personal TBR stack. Depending on the whims of the weather, I will try to spend at least part of my reading time outdoors, because this week was nose-to-grindstone and I’m feeling pale and confined.

So what do you all have plotted out for this weekend? Chores? Family jaunt? Time with a good book? I hope you have at least a little writing time scouted out. Remember that putting it on your official calendar/schedule/day-planner/whatever can be very helpful when it comes to maintaining that commitment to yourself. If it’s important to you, make it a priority. Don’t let the other responsibilities of life throw you off your goals.

While you’re busy scheduling your next couple of days, be sure to leave a little window of time for checking out this week’s links. I’ve got a great lineup and I hope you find them entertaining, edifying, and just plain inspirational. Enjoy, and happy writing!

21 Novels by Women to Add to Your TBR This Fall – Great list. I’m itching to read more than a few of these.

This Ebook Publisher Doesn’t Have Authors. It Has Writers’ Rooms – A peek at the concept and the people behind Serial Box.

Introducing: Bookselling in the 21st Century – A new series from Lithub about independent bookstores.

2016 National Book Awards Longlists – This year’s nominated books, by category. Yes, more things to add to your already topping TBR pile.

Craft Thoughts: Why You Should Edit As You Write – One theory on the writing/editing process from Lincoln Michel.

Roald Dahl: Long-lost poem recovered by Tyrone school – Yet more unknown work by an author of note coming to light after years. This seems to be a weekly occurrence, but I say keep them coming.

My Best Writing Tip by William Boyd, Jeanette Winterson, Amit Chaudhuri, and more – Pretty much as described. Nice round up, followed by a few additional tips from an agent and an editor.

How to Interview a Writer (and How to Be Interviewed) – Some helpful tips for any of you running blogs and/or podcasts, or who have been invited to guest on one by someone else.

Friday Links: Inspiration to Get Your Writer Brain in Gear

Another Friday has arrived, and with it that sense that it’s time to get busy. The holidays are already in sight — if you judge by retailers, Halloween is moments away — and with them come all sorts of new distractions and obligations. So now is the time to set yourself in writing mode — whatever that means for your current project. Need to do some plotting? Have a list of research questions to tackle? Ready to pull something out of the drawer and get down to a serious edit? Or maybe you’ve been procrastinating getting those first sentences down on an empty first page. Whatever your goal, wherever you stand, it’s time to leap. Think how accomplished you will feel once you’ve made that next bit of progress.

This week’s links are rather a hodgepodge of different sorts of inspiration. Things to read, authors to admire, new ground to cover, and hints to help polish your work. In many ways, it’s my favorite sort of week because diverse links make for more connections with all of you, and also provide plenty of ways for you to stretch your writer brains. So take a look and see what strikes your fancy. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Planes Flying Over a Monster: The Writing Life in Mexico City – An armchair tour of the writing community in Mexico City.

6 Books that Get What It’s Like to Work Online – With more and more people working from home and using the internet as place of employment, these titles are relatable on many levels. Plus they’re just good reads.

Against Accessibility: On Robert Irwin, Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Imbolo Mbue’s “Behold the Dreamers” – A commentary on the somewhat narrow selection of modern African fiction available to Western readers.

How non-English speakers are taught this crazy English grammar rule you know but have never heard of – Fascinating look at this more intuitive aspect of English grammar structure.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Final Unpublished Collection Set for Spring 2017 Release – Yet another “lost” work by a revered writer.

Lisa Lucas Wants to Make Reading Fun Again – An interview with the new(ish) director of the National Book Foundation, in which she discusses her goals and her attitude toward reading.

100 African Writers of SFF: Part One, Nairobi – Not just a list of authors and/or books, but information about the country and profiles that include background, influences, etc.

The Writer’s Toolkit: 6 Steps to a Successful Writing Habit with Simon Van Booy – Information about the author’s new self-paced writing course available on Skillshare.com, for anyone who wants a little kick in the pants.

Friday Links: Writing Inspiration for a Long Weekend

This week I’m wondering not just how it got to be Friday, but how it got to be September. I swear, the earth is spinning just a little bit faster every year. If you haven’t already, you might want to take an hour or so to check in on your writing goals for 2016, and reassess your plan going forward. We’re officially two-thirds of the way through this year and I think it’s pretty clear that time waits for no one.

Here in the U.S., we’re heading into the long Labor Day weekend, which means final BBQs of the season, mad dashes to the beach, and just general enjoyment of the last unofficial gasps of summer. Whether you’re relaxing over the holiday or simply heading into a normal couple of days off, I hope you find some of the following links fun and inspirational. If you’re too busy playing beach volleyball to spend any time on the internet, well, they’ll be waiting for you a few days from now as well. Of course, if you plan to get in some writing time, they might come in handy. Enjoy!

A Writer’s Guide to Hacking the Reader’s Brain (in 5 Steps) – Thoughts on what makes a story really work for your reader.

The Lost Art of Custom Illustrating Your Favorite Books – Intriguing peek at a time when illustrated books were costly, so readers came up with less-pricy solutions.

How the Brontës Came Out as Women – All three sisters started out with masculine pen names; a look at when that changed.

An Illustrated Guide to Writing Scenes and Stories – Handy tips from writer Jeff VanderMeer, with some fun accompanying illustrations.

Langston Hughes’ Harlem Home May Get Its Own Renaissance — As an Art Center – Details pertaining to the recent effort to preserve the poet’s historic Harlem-area home.

6 Podcast Episodes that Will Make You a Better Writer – A nice assortment of podcasts that specifically address ways to improve your writing or provide excellent examples of a technique done well.

The Great Booksellers Fall 2016 Preview – A list of some of the most anticipated titles coming out over the next few months, touted by the people who know. I’m personally chomping at the bit for Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow.

Friday Links: Facets of the Writing Life

TGIF! The weekend has arrived, and I hope it’s brought some time off for all of you to read, write, and sneak in a bit of relaxation. People seem to be anxious to acknowledge the end of summer, but officially we still have a few weeks to go, and even unofficially we have another week until the long Labor Day weekend. So I say make the most of it.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit this week of all the facets of the writer’s life. Even the act of writing itself varies enormously from person to person, by what they write, how often, level of commitment, etc. So it’s probably no surprise that several of this week’s links revolve around the lives of writers, including how they live, how they work, where they work, and so on. I think I’ve found a balance of serious, informational, and humorous, and there should be something here for everyone. Enjoy, and happy writing!

N.K. Jemisin on Diversity in Science Fiction and Inspiration from Dreams – Jemisin, the first black writer to win the Hugo Award for a Novel, talks about her experiences writing The Fifth Season and with the award process.

How Instagram Became the New Oprah’s Book Club – An interesting look at the social media platform’s role in book marketing.

Five Reasons Why Writers Should Move to Columbus – Ohio, that is. For writers whose pockets won’t stretch to New York or LA.

In Order to Live: Story Structure on the Horoscopic Scale – An intricate look at all the ways writers attack story structure.

Tin House Is Accepting Unsolicited Submissions for 2017 – Details on the latest open reading period for the literary magazine.

The Spoils of Destruction – The story of Thomas Mann’s Pacific Palisades house, and its current uncertain fate.

On the Barbizon Hotel, and the Women Writers Who Lived There – A look at the famous New York City hotel where young, single women stayed when they came to make their fortune in the big city.

Antarctic Artists & Writers Program – A program that enables writers and other artists to visit Antarctica for creative purposes.

Friday Links: Sending Your Inner Writer Back to School

Happy Friday, everyone! I’ve got a ton of reading recs for you this week in Friday Links, from lists of great books that have released this year to date to suggested reading for writers and a bunch in between. All great grist for the mill. And why is that important? Because September is just a stone’s throw away, and with it comes the downhill race toward the end of the year. We all know how fast those last four months fly, with kids back in school and holidays starting to loom, so now is the time to get your inspiration on and put your writer’s brain in gear. Read things that make you anxious to write, dive into that research you’ve been contemplating, stick some deadlines on your calendar. Get ready to do great things!

So without further ado, I offer up this week’s links. Enjoy, and happy writing!

The 25 Best Books of 2016 (So Far) – Pretty much what it says on the label. Some terrific titles on this list.

Hanya Yanagihara: ‘Don’t We Read Fiction Exactly to Be Upset?’ – The writer talks about what it means to be brave as a writer.

Top 10 Books Writers Should Read – Not your typical list, this offers up some fresh ideas for getting that writer’s brain tuned up and ready to roar.

President Obama’s 2016 Summer Reading List – In case you missed it, here’s what President Obama chose to read on his annual summer vacation.

Opportunities for Writers: September and October 2016 – A list of places to submit your work with deadlines in the next two months.

The Dangerous Myth of Authenticity – A look at the tightrope a writer walks when dealing in details that may stretch the reader’s ability to believe in the story.