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.

 

 

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.

 

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

2017-December-Writing-Challenge

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!

Friday Links: Holiday Writing Inspiration

Everyone can use some holiday writing inspiration, and this marks the start of my annual pep talks for the season. We’re heading into Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and from there it’s one occasion after another until New Year’s. I run a December Writing Challenge each year, but I encourage you to schedule your writing all through the holidays.

Check out this week’s links for industry information, ideas on characterization, and ways to drum up that holiday writing inspiration. And keep an eye on this space for more writing challenge information coming soon. Enjoy, and happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

It Is Okay to Change Paths. – Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen talks about changing her career from doctor to writer.

Paper is a wonderful technology. – Austin Kleon shares how an exhibit at the Ransom Center inspired him to embrace his paper notebook.

Ilana Masad on the Shrinking of the Industry, Literary Social Media, and Hidden Criticism. – The writer and podcast host discusses how social media has changed literary criticism, and other shifts in the industry from a reviewer’s point of view.

50 Noteable Works of Fiction in 2017. – The Washington Post weighs in on some of the best titles of the year.

Inside the Dystopian Visions of Margaret Atwood and Louise Erdrich. – At a time when Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale serves as a sort of feminist dystopian bible, Erdrich adds her own take on the idea of reproductive slavery.

Marvel’s Black Panther Rules. Literally. – A wonderful interview with actor Chadwick Boseman, with excellent thoughts regarding how characters build from the setting and politics of a fictional nation in this installment in the MCU.

Tor.com Reviewers’ Choice: The Best Books of 2017. – Another best-of list, with some great titles for your own TBR or gift-buying lists.

A Night at the National Book Awards. – A look into what may by the shiniest event in the U.S. publishing world.

 

Friday Links: Weekend Writing Inspiration

Are you looking for weekend writing inspiration? The end of the year brings so many challenges for writers. Holidays loom, making you plan and shop and rush to finish projects by December 31st. But you still have that writing project that calls to you. Maybe you’re participating in NaNoWriMo or up against a deadline. Or you simply started a new novel and you’re twitching to work on it. Set aside some time this weekend to write. Fight the start of the holiday chaos, and remember to make your writing a priority. I hope the links below will help give you a bit of a kick in the right direction.

This Week’s Links:

Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. – Strapped for time? Try to write a super short story and enter this Writer’s Digest contest. Or look through finished or drafted projects to see what might work.

13 Tips for Actually Getting Some Writing Accomplished. – Author Gretchen Rubin offers some great tips for pushing past your busy calendar and getting words on paper.

Austin Kleon: Pencil vs Computer. – The writer and artist discusses his own process and how different mediums set the mood for stages of his work.

How YA Literature Is Leading the Queer, Disabled Media Revolution. – Looking for ways to be inclusive in your work? Get your weekend writing inspiration from some of these fabulous YA titles.

10 Novels Agents Have Already Seen a Billion Times. – You might want to steer clear of these ideas, or if you have to write one of them, find a great way to turn them on their ear.

Cove Park Literature Residencies: Applications Close 11 December. – Shake up your writing by finding a new place to work, and apply for a writing residency.

Interview with Janet Fitch. – The author discusses research, writing process, and her latest book, The Revolution of Marina M.

Ready, Set, Write: Turning Off Your Internal Editor

Ready, set, write. It sounds incredibly easy to do. You sit down at your keyboard or a notebook, and get to work. But most writers hear the nagging voice of their internal editor from the first sentence. That voice says you’ve started at the wrong spot. Or it insists your opening sentence is boring. Maybe you should start with a different scene. Are you sure that’s the correct point of view? Your internal editor pokes and whines and insinuates as you write, growing louder with every paragraph. It makes you doubt yourself, and slows your progress.

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Silencing Your Internal Editor

Writers everywhere have their own methods for silencing the nagging voice in their heads. The one that tells them they’re doing it all wrong. Here are a few things to keep in mind when working on your first draft. Post your favorites over your desk or tape them to the edge of your monitor. Maybe create a mantra or two.

  • It’s just a shitty first draft. No one writes a beautiful or perfect first draft. It’s supposed to be a brain dump. Plenty of time to make it pretty when you start to revise.
  • I’m figuring out who the characters are. First drafts help you flesh out your protagonist and the rest of your cast. Get to know them, determine what they want, and how they’re likely to behave while getting it.
  • Only reread the previous day’s output. When you sit down to write, don’t allow yourself to read anything older than what you wrote in your previous session. Out of sight, out of mind. And again, you have plenty of time to revise once you’re done with draft #1.
  • I don’t have to know everything yet. First drafts are for fleshing out the plot just as much as the characters. If you don’t know what happens next, skip ahead to where you do have an idea. Put brackets and come back later to fill in the details.
  • Everything is relative. Remember that the things you write start to build on each other. You may reach a juncture at page 50 or 150 or 250 that gives you wonderful ideas for shoring up earlier scenes. Sometimes you need to build the castle before the foundation.
  • You cannot edit a blank page. There’s no point in trying to perfect what you haven’t written. Write first, edit later. By this I mean the entire book. Editing a single sentence in a void is almost as bad as trying to write one perfect sentence from the start.

If your internal editor becomes particularly persistent, try some other ways of distracting yourself. Put on instrumental music to fill your head with some other sound. Scroll down the page so your screen is blank (or turn to the next page in your notebook), then take a short break to walk around; when you come back, start writing without looking at what you’d been picking over before you left. Change the font color of the last section to white so it’s invisible, then keep writing. Go for a run or hit the gym to get your blood flowing — you’ll feel more creatively inspired.

Every writer must face their internal editor, but only you can determine how much power you’ll give to your nagging voice. Whether you’re piling up words for NaNoWriMo or fighting to meet a contract deadline, there will be days when reaching your writing goal feels impossible. Remember that the internal editor is you — you at your most critical and insecure. Remind yourself that you are not alone in your efforts, and the only way to reach the end is to keep pushing through. Good luck, and happy writing.

Prepare for NaNoWriMo: Get Ready to Write

With just two weeks left in October, it’s time to prepare for NaNoWriMo, otherwise knows as National Novel Writing Month. Every November, thousands and thousands of writers around the world attempt to write a novel in 30 days. No prize awaits them. There’s no guarantee of publication. But writers still churn out hundreds of words each day, hoping to hit the goal of 50,000 by November 30th.

Why do people challenge themselves to write so much in a short period? Some do it for fun. NaNoWriMo has become something of a party over the years. Writers gather with other local participants to write in coffee shops or bookstores. Online forums provide a way to reach out and chat about your work-in-progress. Others use the energy of the event to force themselves to finish a first draft. Professional writers often join in, working on current projects or starting new ones. Writers with thoughts of publication know that 50,000 runs a bit short for a traditional novel, but NaNoWriMo still offers great motivation to get to work.

prepare for NaNoWriMo

Are you a plotter or pantser?

Plenty of writers just open up a new Word doc on November 1st and start typing at random. It can be entertaining to see where your imagination takes you. But if you prefer to plot, or you want to make sure the words flow daily, it’s a good idea to prep for NaNoWriMo. If you have at least some idea of where you’d like your story to go, it will help you build your word count and avoid facing a nasty bout of writer’s block.

How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo

Technically, you’re not supposed to start writing until November 1st, but you can still put together some notes.

  • Determine your major characters. Figure out who your protagonist is and what they want. Name some people. Give them jobs and relationships.
  • Do you at least have an idea for your book? If you do, dream up a few scenes you’re really looking forward to writing and sketch out a few short notes about them. (Not the scenes themselves, of course. That would be cheating.)
  • Get some research done. If you have to do some leg work or reading about your setting, the time period, characters’ careers, etc., now is the time to do it. Plus all that wonderful detail and vocabulary you dig up will help you increase your word count.

There’s nothing wrong with deciding to use NaNoWriMo as a time to play. But if you plan to use it to work, just a little bit of prep will help you make the most of your experience. And don’t forget: the manuscript you finish on November 30th will be a first draft. So don’t waste time editing while you write. Plenty of time for that later.

Good luck to everyone participating this year!