December Writing Challenge 2022: Coming Soon!

Are you ready for the December Writing Challenge? Each year, I challenge writers to make their writing a priority, despite the busy nature of the month. Between the holiday season and year-end wrap ups, it’s very easy to let your writing time slide, especially if you have not yet made the jump to professional writer. But a writer is someone who writes, not someone who gets paid to do so. And so I challenge you to keep writing during the craziness of December, no matter where you are in your career, even if you only manage to steal a little time each day.

The back of a white woman with long blondish-brown hair, seated at a wooden counter against a window, writing at a laptop with an orange portable hard drive plugged into it on the left. There is a beige messenger bag resting behind the laptop to the right. Outside, snow covers the ground.
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

It might sound insane to try to write with any set schedule in December of all months, but there is a method to my madness. First of all, many writers spend November participating in NaNoWriMo. That’s a month-long, very intense attempt to produce 50,000 words. And while it’s tempting to take time off after that sort of slog, I say make the most of the momentum you’ve built up. Your brain becomes accustomed to producing words after 30 days of demanding output. But whether you’ve been writing all month or just on your normal schedule, keep going. Don’t allow your creative muscles to grow flabby. A writing challenge offers a little bit of a framework to help.

The second reason to write through the month of December comes in January, when you’re staring down a brand new year and thinking about your writing goals. Whatever you wish to achieve in 2023, you’ll have a head start if you’re already in the habit of writing regularly. Set your goals and dive in, no need to get yourself back up to speed or to flex rusty skills. Future you will definitely thank present you for putting in some desk time over the holidays.

The Basics

The December Writing Challenge hinges on a few very simple rules.

  • Write every day during the month of December.
  • No minimum word count, no mandatory amount of time per day (though I recommend you try to squeeze in at least half an hour).
  • Write whatever you want: Novel in progress, poetry, short stories, nonfiction, one project all month or bits of different things.
  • If necessary, you can take up to two days off. Try not to, but this is a nod to the time of year. So if you’re entertaining or traveling or whatever, and you have a day when you just can’t imagine stealing a few minutes away from everything to write, use one of your free days.

Advice for Managing Your Writing

There are always people demanding your time and attention, especially during the holidays, so one tip I have is to tell your family and friends that you’re participating in this challenge. Let them know you want their support. Ask them to honor your commitment to your writing by leaving you alone when you have a scheduled writing session (emergencies aside, of course).

Next tip: really schedule that time to write. Look at your calendar at the start of each week and pick a time slot for your writing. Consider it an appointment or date with yourself. Block it out, complete with a reminder/notification, and stick to it the way you would a meeting or trip to the dentist.

If you have writer friends in your neighborhood, set up a buddy system. Meet for a writing date once a week at your favorite coffee shop or the library. If you’re avoiding public places, set up a joint writing time on Zoom. Cheer each other on while you keep each other accountable.

A notebook open on a table, black handwriting filling the pages, with a pen to one side, and a coffee cup resting in the distance behind int.
Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash

Keep your writing portable and take advantage of downtime when you’re out and about. If you have a notebook and pen in your bag/car/office, you’ll be more inclined to jot down some words over your lunch break or in the doctor’s waiting room or sitting in the pickup line at your kids’ school.

Break your writing up if you can’t fit a full session one day. Try writing for 15 minutes over your morning coffee and again during lunch, if that’s the only time you have. The important thing is to get a few words down and to train your creative mind to show up when you call.

The Option to Push Yourself

Feel free to set yourself some additional mini challenges, especially if you’re concerned about what to write every day. Maybe you fear writer’s block or think you won’t be able to get going on your WIP in a small window of time, or perhaps you’re between projects and don’t know where to start. Take an hour before the beginning of the month to set yourself a few writing prompts/challenges you can fall back on when you need ideas or a little extra motivation to write. Make them fun or silly or weird—whatever will make you more likely to sit down and write for a while.

A few potential prompts:

  • A list of first sentences for new stories
  • Settings you’d like to describe
  • Weird real-life events that could be twisted into fiction, such as the infamous Darwin Awards, missed personal connections, what-ifs based on bumping into people from your past or celebrities or someone you thought was deceased
  • Memories of holidays long past
  • Retellings of fairy tales or myths
  • Something in a different genre from what you typically write
  • Craft exercises, such as writing a scene only in dialogue, or writing a scene multiple times from different points of view
  • Do some online image searches—for cities you’ve never visited, mountain tops, forests, cabins, castles, beaches—and use the resulting photos as inspiration
  • Try your hand at fanfiction if you’ve never done so; rewrite the ending of a favorite film or tie up loose ends from a beloved series that got canceled prematurely
A dessert mug resting on a book, both supported by two unfinished wooden boards sitting on a fuzzy white cloth in a window. To one side there's a fat lit candle and a box of wooden matches.
Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

Have Fun

Whatever else you have going on this month, try to remember what you love about writing, what started you down this path in the first place. A busy schedule combined with the frustration of a plot that’s not cooperating or perhaps looming deadlines can make writing feel more like work and less like something you love to do. And while writing can be work, it should also have an element of joy to it. It’s not something you should do if you hate the process unreservedly. So take a few moments to embrace the joyful aspects of writing. Allow yourself to play with it. Appreciate the rhythms of a well-crafted sentence. Admire a deft description. Pat yourself on the back over that witty dialogue. Be proud of your writing accomplishments, at every stage of your journey.

I’ll ask again: Are you ready to write? Ready for a bit of a challenge? Prioritize your writing this December. Remember what makes it important to you, and why you love it.

We kick off the challenge on December 1st, here and on various social media platforms. I look forward to hearing how your challenge progresses. Happy writing!

New Announcements for the New Year: Time to Redecorate

Toward the end of last year, I mentioned I planned to make some changes here on the website moving forward. Given how infrequently I blog, it makes sense to shift gears. This site will continue as an informational hub from now on. I plan to maintain the archive of posts, but in future things will be more news/announcement focused.

Photo by David Pisnoy on Unsplash

What does that mean? This site will remain your go-to spot for finding out what I’m looking to take on/represent, and where I’m traveling once the world opens up and we start to see in-person conferences again. If I’m teaching online, I’ll include that information here. Plus, announcements about TKA clients, book covers, and so on.

What’s going away? Anything that feels like an actual blog post. It doesn’t make sense to maintain a blog if I only write occasionally.

Instead, I’ve started a newsletter for anyone interested in the more personal side of publishing life. I plan to chat about the industry, books, reading, and writing, plus likely a bit of cultural overlap. Whatever I’m feeling passionate about at the moment. Right now the goal is two issues per month, directly to your inbox. The first post is up, so if you’d like to check it out and/or subscribe, you can find me over on Substack at Tempest in a Teacup.

One last announcement for now: Queries reopen on February 21st. I’ll likely update the wishlist here right before reopening.

Happy New Year: Welcome, 2022!

Wishing you all a happy, healthy new year, filled with accomplishments, joy, and love! It’s been a tough few years, and we certainly don’t want to put too much pressure on 2022. But I, for one, choose to go into this new year with hope for positive change, new energy to stand against all the strife, and a belief that we can all do better, whatever that means in your life. If nothing else, we can celebrate that we’ve made it this far.

Photo by Philip Myrtorp on Unsplash

Countdown to 2022: Out with the Old, In with the New

With about a week and a half left to the year, now is the time to tie up loose ends and plan for 2022. If you’re participating in the December Writing Challenge, go you! Keep going. Even if you have to take a couple of days off, your writer’s brain will be warmed up for the new year. But don’t forget to take a moment to reflect on what you’ve accomplished, also. Figure out where you are so you can decide where to go next.

Photo by Alexey Savchenko on Unsplash

I encourage everyone to go easy when it comes to assessing the last year. It’s been another difficult one. Don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t reach your goals. Consider every small bit of progress to be a win. If you just made it to December still standing, I applaud you. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to where you are, both personally and with your writing.

Looking Ahead:

Think about what you’d like to do in the coming months. What changes would you like to make? Consider what tactics have been working and what no longer motivates you. And while it’s great to think big and come up with a major goal for the year ahead, give yourself plenty of small challenges, too. Finishing something with a shorter time horizon or that’s less demanding will give you a sense of accomplishment. Getting the thing done motivates you, not the other way around.

Remember to focus your goals around things you can control. What steps lead to where you want to be? Which ones do you take yourself, and which require input from others? Stick to the first and try and be zen about those other ones. And keep on writing.

I asked you to remember what you love about writing this month during the December Writing Challenge. Find your joy. Have you done that? Or if not, would you like to give it a go? Carry that attitude into 2022. There will always be difficult moments in your writing process, but if you remember the joyful parts, they will help you continue down the path toward your goals.

My New Year:

In keeping with my own advice, I’m making some changes going forward. I’m no longer setting a reading goal for the year through the Goodreads Challenge. I don’t want to feel like I’ve failed because I have a slower reading year and don’t hit an arbitrary target. It’s enough to keep track of what books I’ve finished and enjoyed.

In addition, I intend to make changes here on this site in the new year. I post so infrequently, the time has come to reimagine things. It will transition to more of a hub than a blog: a resource for news, archived advice, information on submissions, and links to what I am doing around the internet. I love sharing Friday Links, so those might show up in another format. Stay tuned!

I’ll be checking in again before the year ends, but will mostly continue cheerleading over on Twitter. But before everyone vanishes into the depth of holiday hussle, I want to wish you health, happiness, and success, now and into 2022.

 

Friday Links: Kicking Off December Edition

Let’s kick off December with a writerly bang! For those of you who missed it, my December Writing Challenge for 2021 started on Wednesday, and I posted the day prior with a quick rundown of how the challenge works. Don’t panic if you haven’t started yet; you can still join. I aim to keep this challenge low key and encouraging. Have fun, and remember that all the words count!

As for Friday Links, I know they have been few and far between lately. I will likely be making changes to this site come the new year, but in the meantime, I do have goodies to share. Mostly, I’m offering up some lighter fare in the spirit of the season, and how busy we all are. But I hope you find something entertaining and/or inspirational.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Wishing you a weekend filled with good writing time, a fabulous book, and some holiday cheer, whatever you celebrate. Enjoy!

This week’s links:

10 Books to Read in December. – A rundown of some new releases heading your way.

The Joy of Reading Slowly. – As someone who reads for work and is always trying to finish more books, I love this appreciation of the joys inherent in taking your time to savor something.

11 Literary Podcasts to Distract You from Your Life. – If you need to multitask or are just looking for something bookish to listen to, here are a bunch of ideas.

Artist Opportunities with Upcoming Deadlines in December and January. – If you’re looking for a writing residency (or maybe something in another discipline), this list provides some places to consider.

Novels That Aren’t The Handmaid’s Tale About How America Treats Women. – For readers who can’t quite shake current events but want to sink into a fictional world.

The 36 Best (Old) Books We Read in 2021. – Some distinctly not-recent releases, if you’re looking to add some more timeless titles to your TBR pile.

December Writing Challenge 2021: Chasing Your Goals

Welcome to the December Writing Challenge 2021. Each year, I encourage writers to challenge themselves during the month of December. Most of the time, the aim is to maintain the momentum you achieved during the year through this final, often busiest, month. That way, come January, you will be ready to attack your goals with energy.

Last year, the December Writing Challenge took on more of a self-care aura. 2020 destroyed many writers’ ability to focus, to meet deadlines, to feel creative. It seemed necessary to encourage everyone to be kind to themselves, even as they tried to put down new words.

We learned in 2021 that there is no such thing as a quick solution to a global pandemic. This year felt dedicated to picking ourselves up and attempting to discover our new normal. How to juggle lock-downs and health directives with resuming typical business and life activities. And so the challenge shifts again.

This December, I challenge you to redefine your writing habits if you need to, whether that means reminding yourself of your goals and priorities, or giving yourself permission to put less time into that work-in-progress. No, I’m not letting you off the hook entirely. But I do want you to take an hour or two and really consider what you want from your writing, and how any changes in world view might have altered your plans.

Photo by Justin Kauffman on Unsplash

Whatever you believe, whatever holidays or end-of-year tasks steal your focus in December, take out a bit of time for joy. Specifically, the thing about writing that brings you joy. Do you love the adventure of a new project? Does world-building make you excited? Maybe dreaming up new characters and throwing them into danger fills you with glee. Pick something. Anything. And make that your December challenge project.

Yes, I know, some of you have deadlines or are so, so close to finishing something. And that’s fine. Obviously you should finish the thing you need to turn into an editor. But if you’re not there, or if you can steal fifteen minutes at the start of your work window, let yourself play a little. Give yourself the gift of writing, rather than considering it a task.

A writer friend recently started a shiny new project, for which she set aside a nearly done novel that just wasn’t working for her. Now she reports her word count with so much happiness every day. Her excitement is contagious. Finishing projects is important, but sometimes, some projects… they work against you. This coming month, find the thing that reminds you why you wanted to write in the first place.

December Writing Challenge 2021: The Deets

The Basics

The basics for this year’s challenge are the same as ever. Write every day in December. No mandatory word count or even amount of time, though I urge you to try to work in at least a half an hour. Just write. Work on your novel, try your hand at poetry, consider a short story or personal essay. Start a new project every single day and then see what you want to continue with come January. Whatever you want. All the words count.

You get two free days, if you really need them, to take off for general December business or simply because you need a day off. Maybe you’re cleaning house for incoming relatives or you have a ton of holiday shopping or cooking to do. If you’re the one traveling, you may be stuck behind the wheel for too long one day to face sitting at your laptop. That’s fine. You be the judge. But try not to take the days if you don’t have to, and to limit them to two.

This is not me saying that you have to write every day to be a writer. That’s not a rule, you do what works for you. But this is me saying that December can be crazy, and it’s all too easy to have busy day after busy day rob you of your writing time. Then come January, when you are excited about new goals for the new year, you are feeling rusty and out of practice. Maybe can’t even recall what you were working on. That slows you down.

Aim to write every day. By January, you will have a limber writer’s brain, ready to face whatever goals you dream up for 2022.

Photo by Ksenia Yakovleva on Unsplash

The Advice

Tell your family and friends that you’re participating in the challenge, and that you will be guarding a bit of time each day to prioritize your writing. Let them know this is important to you, and you expect their support and encouragement.

Make a date with yourself. Look at your calendar and add your writing window in each day as a physical appointment, complete with reminder notifications. Keep your date like you would a dental appointment.

Get a writing friend or two to join you in a kind of buddy system. Cheer each other on. Maybe do a coffee or hot chocolate date to get some writing done together. If you’re avoiding coffee shops and other enclosed spaces, do a Zoom write-in together and hold each other accountable.

Keep a notebook and pen in your bag or car so you can do some long-hand scribbling if you’re picking up your kids or stuck in a waiting room somewhere. Or write bits on your phone’s Notes app.

The Stretch

If you’re feeling really inspired, go ahead and add layers to your challenge. Maybe you do want to write a poem every day, or try a completely new genre. You might check a few writing books out of the library and work your way through the exercises or prompts they include to improve your craft. Pick an aspect of your writing you really want to improve on and focus on just that, like writing a whole story just in dialogue, or writing description that somehow also moves the story forward. Feel free to make the challenge as complicated as you’d like, if that’s something that gets you excited.

The December Writing Challenge 2021 kicks off tomorrow, but if you find this post later in the month, please do join in whenever. The goal is to keep your writing muscles limber, and the prize is a writer’s brain ready to tackle new year goals. I will be posting encouragement here and on Twitter all through the month, so check in if you need a boost. Otherwise, I wish you all a wonderful final month of 2021, and very happy writing.

Friday Links: Plotting and Planning for the Rest of the Year

Welcome to mid-October! The calendar insists on speeding us toward year-end, so now is the time to make some decisions. Are you doing NaNoWriMo next month? Did you promise yourself that this was the year you’d submit your writing somewhere? Have you set a reading goal for 2021?

I believe pandemic-time means being a little gentle with yourself when it comes to hitting those marks. But at the same time, you won’t get these years back, so take a few minutes to assess where things are. Maybe make a mini goal for the next couple of months. You’ll feel better come January.

This week’s links offer up the usual assortment of bookish and writerly sites to visit, but I hope a few will inspire you to do some writing or read something terrific. Wishing you a wonderful weekend. Enjoy!

This week’s links:

7 Magical Realism Short Stories Haunted by Emotional Ghosts. – A little bit of Halloween-adjacent reading.

22 Highly Anticipated Books Hitting Shelves in 2022. – Plan that TBR well in advance (and maybe clear off some more recent titles to make room for incoming.)

Literary Magazines: General Submissions. – A helpful list of places currently open to new work in Sept/Oct; note that The Lumiere Review provides an updated list every month or two, as some lit mags open to submissions seasonally.

Slightly Foxed Podcast, episode 36: Graphic Novels: A Comic Turn with Posy Simmonds & Paul Gravett. – One of my favorite podcasts looks at the history of graphic novels as well as some more recent offerings. Interesting for both newbies and fans of the format.

NaNo Tips: Preparing for National Novel Writing Month. – Some ideas to help you prep if you’re interested in participating in this year’s write-a-thon.

7 Books about Older Women Behaving Badly. – Because women don’t just disappear as they get older, and some remain visible with distinctive style.

‘Domestic Terrorists’ Challenge Books in Texas, Indiana, Maine and More. – Back-to-school season always means more uproar over what the children are reading. A roundup of recent kerfuffles.

Friday Links: October Goodies Suitable for Fall

Apologies to the Southern Hemisphere, but it’s autumn now here in the northern half, no matter the temperature. It’s in the 90s here today, but I’m ignoring that. Pumpkins and maple flavoring exploded all over Trader Joe’s in the last few weeks, people have pulled out sweaters; it’s fall. This means I can add fall reads to my TBR, and I plan to enable you to do the same.

What sort of books do you gravitate toward at this time of year? Halloween-y choices are obvious. Witches, vampires, ghosts. But I love a big fat novel that might carry my into winter, and I miss having the time to indulge. Academic settings also push my buttons; it’s the back-to-school vibe. I want books set at universities to go with a pile of new notebooks and pens.

I can’t swear all the book recs in this week’s links have autumn leanings, but there are a ton of them to sort through. I hope you find something to inspire and entertain you. Per usual, there are some random other links included. Enjoy, and have a wonderful weekend!

This week’s links:

Fall Books 2021.The New York Times has a list of lists to make your fall TBR overflow, including fiction, nonfiction, memoir, books for younger readers, and so on. Be sure to check it out.

The Coolest Literary Tattoos on the Internet. – A fun peek at the art bookish folks have been putting on their bodies.

Buckle Up, Me Hearties: Best YA Pirate Stories. – I love a good pirate tale, and this list offers up a bunch of them.

It’s Time to Put Down the Beach Read and Pick Up a Crunchy Autumnal Novel. – A look at what makes a great autumn read, with a particular eye toward SFF.

7 Indian Women Writers You Should Be Reading. – For anyone looking to read more diversely or do a bit of armchair traveling, some wonderful authors to check out.

Yiyun Li on Starting a Virtual Book Club During the Pandemic. – Some of you might recall the read-along of War and Peace early on in the pandemic. This interview with the author who kicked it off gives an inside look at why she started the project and what it meant to her during such a period of isolation.

This Year’s MacArthur ‘Genius Grants’ Were Just Announced–Here’s the Full Winners List. – I’m always interested to see who makes this list each year, not just for the writers but for the overall creativity it displays.

Twenty Years Later: Remembering 9/11

Last year at this time, I wondered how it would feel to recall 9/11 from the other side of a global pandemic. How many major tragedies do we witness in a lifetime? I know there’s no number. It depends on the life–how long, when one lives. You cannot hold up one event and compare it to another. Each one resonates differently for each of us. And today, after twenty years, 9/11 still feels shocking and visceral in a way nothing else does.

The 9/11 memorial: Two beams of light shining up into an evening sky in lower Manhattan.

People hold complicated opinions about New York City. They love it, hate it. Admire it. Find it too dirty/busy/noisy. They consider it dangerous or magical or full of itself. And frankly, all of those opinions are fair. But New York also represents things that many people strive for; success, wealth, culture, creativity, importance, excellence. There’s the old line from the song: “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.” NYC serves as a proving ground. A challenge. It’s part of what made it a target.

On the Day

In September, 2001, I worked at 100 Park Avenue, for a mutual fund firm, in corporate communications. Finance. The sales team had desks one section over on the same floor, with TVs suspended from the ceiling so they could have CNN and CNBC running all day. That’s how we all learned what was going on.

Some people were still on their way to work when the first plane hit, but I was at my desk. We thought it was an accident until the second one. The morning turned upside down. Like everyone watching, we were horrified. But also, every person in that office knew at least one person in the towers. Nature of the industry, plus many of us had grown up in the tri-state area. There were friends, family, work associates.

Everyone got on their phones. People spoke to loved ones inside those burning buildings. Early on, things seemed under control. They weren’t evacuating. But that changed fast. Coverage was live, so every terrible moment played out on the news. And the worse it looked, the harder it became to connect. Calling my mother in Connecticut, I learned she’d been trying to call me with no success; phone lines were swamped.

First one tower fell, then the second. Those toppling towers destabilized the nearest buildings, and the remainder of the morning became a tense wait to see which held on and which succumbed. You didn’t want to watch. You could not stop watching. I know I was breathing that entire day, but I only remember holding my breath.

Beyond the towers, there were bomb threats. Everything shut down. Bridges and tunnels closed to traffic; trains and buses halted. Anyone who lived outside Manhattan was trapped. We stayed at work, not because we were working, but because it wasn’t safe to leave.

Getting Out

Finally, word came trains were running out of Grand Central Terminal, starting early afternoon. I packed up and headed over. There was one train for each of the three lines: Hudson, Harlem, and New Haven. No schedule, no departure time. They packed us on, as many as fit, and started a slow chug out of the city.

It was silent on the train. No one spoke. People stared off in front of themselves, unseeing. One older man in my train car wore a dark suit covered in a grey film of ash and dirt, and had a bleeding cut on his forehead. Shock and exhaustion clung to him. I had no doubt he’d run to escape a collapsing building.

Paramedics waited at each train station, and as we slowly pulled into each stop, they scooped up the injured from the platforms.

When I finally got off the train, my cellphone blew up with messages. Everyone who hadn’t been able to get hold of me while I was in the city. I went to my mother’s house. My family sat and watched the news. I felt like I was coming down with the flu; exhausted, shaky, unreal. It had started as this beautiful, early fall day. The kind with a cloudless sky and the perfect temperature and endless sunshine. And then everything changed. What came next?

Aftermath

For the next week, I split my time between my mother’s house and my own apartment. I watched too much news, dreading each time they replayed significant moments from that day, but wanting the updates. The internet served as a lifeline, allowing people to check in and announce they were safe. So many people walked out of the city in the days following the attacks, some hiking over bridges to get to their apartments in outer boroughs. Others crashed with friends. After a few days, people who had not appeared began to be considered missing.

My office was closed, because we were one block from Grand Central, which continued to have bomb scares. I called a hotline each morning to get the status. The idea of returning to the city was nerve wracking, but I needed something to do. Staying home felt worse.

When my office finally reopened, new security measures were implimented. The lobby, once open, gained a security/ID check. But we were incredibly busy. Financial markets don’t appreciate chaos.

Flyers papered the city. Photos of those who had not come home.

Eventually I learned that four people I knew had died in the collapse of the towers. Countless had managed to get out. Somehow.

That winter I came down with first bronchitis then walking pneumonia. I lived on antibiotics. My lungs refused to clear. “It’s the air,” a doctor told me. “You work in the city, so it’s worse. You’re inhaling debris from the towers.”

I moved to California late the following September. Not because of 9/11. If anything, I delayed the move because of it. Leaving felt like deserting. But I needed a change, for many reasons, and so finally, I went.

Missing NYC

I was born in New York and I grew up with one foot in the city, even after we moved to the ‘burbs in search of lower taxes and good public schools. I spent many years working there, and even after moving away, I’ve returned for visits and work trips. It’s my city. I love it. It’s in my heart.

But we live in a different world. I watched how the pandemic hit New York, and I understood why people moved away, even as I also understood the ones who stayed. Because for me, New York is a microcosm of the nation, and I’d been feeling the same way. When the place you live feels unsafe, when you’re frustrated by your inability to fix anything, it’s natural to look elsewhere. To wonder if you could make things work if you just made a change.

This tragedy is not that tragedy. And I think more than anything, I miss living in a time and place where the answer to adversity is unity. Where we pull together instead of tearing each other apart.

Do I miss New York? Yes. Always. But more than that, I miss the spark of hope I felt returning to New York the week after the 9/11 attacks, to find nearly everyone pulling together and doing what was necessary to get things back to normal.