Friday Links: Holiday Insanity Edition

Holiday insanity seems to have struck full force, so this week’s Friday Links are more fly-by than focused. Everyone apparently realized over the last few days that there’s about a week of business left before people vanish for the break, so all the work needs to be done. Right. Now. This means meetings, phone calls, and extremely-late-night reading sessions.

A few quick announcements before I move on to the links for the week. First, in case you missed it on Twitter, I will be closing to new submissions as of tomorrow, December 15th, through January (more or less). I’m trying to slow the deluge going into the holidays, and then I hope to catch up reading existing submissions. I’m still behind from our switchover to Query Manager. I love the new system,  but juggling two sets of submissions has been challenging. I hope to get through the backlog from the old system so I’m just down to one set of projects to read. Currently, I plan to reopen to submissions around the end of next month. I’ll post here and on Twitter when I’ve got a precise date.

Also, the December Writing Challenge continues! If you’ve missed some days, don’t sweat it. Just get back to writing and make an effort to set aside at least a small window of time for your work each day. You can do it, and you’ll be so happy come January that you didn’t get completely out of the writing habit.

Finally, we’re coming up on the time of year for setting new goals. I’ll be talking about goal-setting next week here on the blog, so start thinking about what you might want to accomplish in 2019.

And with that, I will move on to this week’s links. I hope that you find them entertaining, and a good break from the holiday insanity. Enjoy, and happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

A True Utopia: An Interview with N.K. Jemisin. – This lovely interview over at The Paris Review blog discusses short fiction vs. novel writing, what Jemisin envisions for the future, and more.

Tin House Magazine’s 20th Anniversary Issue Will Be Its Last. – Tin House announces the end of an era. Full focus will shift to their book publishing division and their workshops.

How a Cover Letter Can Help You Get Published. – Great tips, many of which hold true whether you’re submitting to periodicals or to agents/editors.

Kate DiCamillo, Chronicler of the Hard Truths of Youth. – NPR interviews the author about her honest approach to children’s fiction.

A Tour of a Writer’s London Sitting Room. – Take a peek into the world of author Ben Schott.

13 Libraries Book Lovers Need to Follow on Instagram. – A great assortment of library accounts, though just the tip of the iceberg.

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!

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!

December Writing Challenge Kickoff

It’s the December Writing Challenge Kickoff!

Writers, start your engines!

Writing-Challenge-Fireworks

The truth is, this is a low-key challenge. No huge word counts or goals for the month. Just write every day. For full rules, you can check yesterday’s post. Today I’m here for the official writing challenge kickoff, and to provide you with a few more tips to keep you writing through December.

Life goes a little crazy in December. Writers who crave quiet can find it difficult to carve out time to work on their current projects. Thoughts turn to lists of gifts to buy and plans to make. Everyone wants your attention, your time, your participation. Your boss needs something done before the holiday break. Your kids want you to take them to see Santa. Hanukkah starts on the early side. Your in-laws plan to visit. Suddenly your sister’s turned vegetarian, throwing a spanner in your holiday dinner menu. And you love it all, because the holidays are a wonderful time of year. But… you also love to write.

Tips for Getting to Your Desk

Make yourself a priority. The key to writing regularly is telling yourself, and everyone else, that writing is just as important as any other vital thing on your to-do list. Commit to your writing, and to yourself.

  • Schedule your writing time on your calendar. Write it in like a doctor’s appointment. Set an alert to remind yourself when your writing window begins.
  • Make writing dates with your local writer friends. Agree to meet and do a writing sprint or two at your local coffee shop. No treats or talk until you’ve put in your half hour minimum for the day.
  • Tell your family what you’re doing. Explain that yes, you still plan to do all the normal holiday activities, but writing can’t take a holiday this year and you need to write every day.
  • Set up a signal to let family know it’s your writing time. Whether that’s a sign on your door, a place you sit that’s “writing only,” or a writing sweater you put on, make it clear. When you’re writing, they need to leave you alone unless there’s a blood-or-fire emergency.
  • Don’t limit yourself to your desk/computer. Grab a pen and a notebook and find somewhere to hide. Dust off a corner of your attic, pick a favorite spot in your local library, go to the café that has no wifi and write your heart out for a while.

Writing should not be something you steal time to do. You do not write at the expense of other things. If it matters to you, it’s earned its own space. Assign it time, and honor that commitment. And remember, all the words count, and it all adds up.

Happy writing! Don’t forget to check out the #DecWritingChallenge tag on Twitter to see who else has joined the challenge and for ongoing cheerleading. Plus, spread the word about today’s writing challenge kickoff! I’ll be back here later today with this week’s Friday Links.

2017 December Writing Challenge

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The 2017 December Writing Challenge kicks off tomorrow. Every year I issue this challenge to help writers get some words down during what’s arguably the busiest month of the year. Between holidays, family obligations, a slew of events, travel, and year-end expectations at work, many writers find their days completely packed. For those writers finishing a month of intense creativity for NaNoWriMo, taking December off from writing can seem particularly appealing. Hence this challenge.

If January is the month for resolutions, December is the month for distractions. But if you plan to set yourself some writing goals for 2018, you don’t want to lose your writing momentum now. No writing in December makes it hard to ramp up again once the new year starts. So I challenge you to write this coming month. Make yourself, and your writing, a priority.

2017 December Writing Challenge: The Rules

Because December can be crazy, this writing challenge is simple. I challenge you to write every day during the month of December. Unlike with NaNo, you aren’t aiming for a specific word count. Write as much or as little as you wish. But every day over the course of the month, sit down with your notebook or in front of your computer and do the work.

Write whatever you want. Work on your current novel. Get some editing done — including new words, not just deleting them. Try your hand at a new format, such as flash fiction or a personal essay. Focus on one project or have several going. Keep your eyes on an upcoming deadline. This challenge is for you, so you decide what to write.

As a nod to the true insanity of some people’s Decembers, I allow you up to two days off. Aim to write every day, but if you need to skip it once or twice, you have those two free days to use. Maybe you want to take a break for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Perhaps your New Year’s Eve plans require a nap instead of a writing session earlier in the day. Or you need a full day to clean in prep for your relatives coming to visit. Again, your choice.

A Few Tips

  • Even on your busiest days, try to squeeze in a bit of writing. Even 15 minutes will do, though I encourage you to aim for at least 30 minutes.
  • If you’re having a hard time finding sufficient time to write, try breaking it up into two smaller chunks over the day.
  • Do have a backup project or two at hand, so if your writing stalls on one thing, you can still work on something else.
  • Do commit to yourself and to the challenge, but don’t beat yourself up if you end up missing a few days more than planned. The point is to write enough that you don’t lose your momentum. Aim for every day, but regardless, just do your best.

I’ll be back tomorrow and periodically throughout the month with more tips and pep talks for inspiration. Also, keep an eye out on Twitter (@NepheleTempest) for additional cheering throughout the month under the #DecWritingChallenge tag. The 2017 December Writing Challenge starts tomorrow, so I hope you’ll be joining in. Happy writing!

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.

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

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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!