A Month of Letters

LetterMo2013postcard-227x300Last February, author Mary Robinette Kowal launched A Month of Letters, the idea being that you write one real letter or put one item in the mail every day the post runs during the month of February. Between the short month and the holiday, there are only twenty-three days of U.S. mail in February (fewer if you live in a country where there is no Saturday mail service). The challenge invites people to take a bit more time to craft a letter than they would if they were shooting off an email, to get back to the thought process involved when you know the recipient won’t see your note for at least a few days. It gives people a chance to reconnect on a different level. Besides, who doesn’t love getting real mail? Something that’s neither a bill nor a flyer trying to sell something, but instead an actual bit of communication from a friend or loved one.

A Month of Letters was a huge success, and many of the correspondence that began that February has continued on over the year. With another February looming, it’s the perfect opportunity to dust off your pens and stationery and think about writing to someone. The challenge website offers all sorts of suggestions on how to get started, and how to find people to write to if you’re looking for some new pen pals. For those of you interested in participating but scratching your heads about what to write, I offer up a few ideas:

  • Valentine’s Day cards
  • Book recommendations to your fellow bookworms
  • Snippets of poems you’ve read or written
  • Epistolary stories or novels, with a new installment sent each week (especially wonderful to send to children, who might never have gotten a real letter in the mail)
  • Descriptions of strange dreams
  • Old photographs
  • Sketches
  • Homemade bookmarks
  • Humorous stories about your pets
  • Discussion of travel plans, either practical or the ultimate dream vacation

Your letters can be long and rambling or short notes that simply tell someone they are in your thoughts. Be creative with your subjects and with the medium you use. Write by hand or rely on your typewriter. There are no rules, beyond mailing something each day and replying to the letters you receive.

Friday Links

Apologies for the radio silence this week, but I managed to catch myself a nasty head cold, complete with the sort of cough that rattles your brains and leaves you checking to see if your lungs are still intact. Trust me, you don’t want me to attempt to write something coherent in that state.

However, links I can do. So… I bring you a few fun and interesting sites to kick off the weekend. Wishing you all some good reading/writing time and a lovely Friday. Enjoy!

A Month of Letters – February is around the corner, and with it comes Mary Robinette Kowal‘s Month of Letters challenge. Get out your pens and stationery and join the letter-writing party!

How to Start a Writer Blog – Helpful tips for anyone just starting, or for those looking to assess their current approach.

A Calm Place to Think: On Reading the Classics – An interesting look at how we read and react to certain types of books.

Edith Wharton by Design – A look at the New York City where Wharton was born.

Stolen Treasure Hoard Discovered in N.S. Home – Police have uncovered a collection of rare books, paintings, and more.

Friday Links

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you’ve had a great week and have equally wonderful plans for your weekend. And per the norm, I have a handful of links to share to some fun, interesting, and educational sites that I hope will entertain you if you have a few minutes to spare. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Letters in the Wind: A Writer’s Evolution – A writer discusses his various levels of progress and revelation.

Amelia Bedelia Turns 50 – One of my favorite books from childhood.

BBC to Recreate Netherfield Ball for 200th Anniversary of Pride and Prejudice – I want to attend but will settle for watching on TV at some point.

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling – Charming and helpful.

Refilling the Well: Branch Out to Enrich Your Writing

January is all about goals and aspirations for the year to come, but for writers one of the hardest things can be to find a balance between forming good writing habits and falling into a rut. There’s a danger in sitting down in the same place every single day and approaching your project with the identical mind set. You can become too rigid about your writing habits to the point of placing undo pressure on yourself; an attempt to hone your personal style and voice can result in repetitive writing, over-used vocabulary or catch phrases, or predictable descriptions; seeking your niche can give you tunnel vision, or a limited scope, and books that all start to sound the same.

So how do you keep things fresh? How do you develop a steady writing practice while still allowing your imagination to run free? What do you do to make sure that you continue to grow, to acquire new skills and hone your craft?

No matter how hard you try to clear your mind before you sit down to write, you will always bring real life with you when you get to work, and really, you wouldn’t want it any other way, as that life is what you tap into in order to create a believable world in your manuscript. So take advantage of that, and mix up your real-life experiences in order to bring something new to the page.

When was the last time you did something completely new, that you’d never done before? We talk frequently about refilling the well, the idea being that creative work requires inspiration, and that time spent outside the creative process gives the mind new material from which to draw. But even playtime can get repetitive. How often do you treat yourself by going to a movie or for a walk or window shopping? The chances are you have a set routine, even when it comes to taking time away from your writing.

Climb out of that rut and explore a little. Check the local paper for something different going on in your town as opposed to the same old choices you normally make. Find an auction to attend, go to a horse race, volunteer at a soup kitchen or with Habitat for Humanity, take a one-day class in something completely outside your comfort zone. Maybe you’ll be inspired to give a character a new hobby or profession, or maybe you’ll just see some new people with interesting clothes or gestures or ways of speaking.

Beginning writers are often told “write what you know,” advice that can be a double-edged sword, particularly for authors of fantasy or science fiction. The best writers combine both life experience and imagination to create their stories, using their knowledge of real world emotions and actions to inform those areas of the story that require them to imagine themselves into the situation.

Get out and broaden your horizons. The more things you experience in the real world, the more inspiration you will bring when you sit down at your keyboard. Make it a goal to try a few new things this year, whether they apply to your current project or not. You never know when a real-life encounter will spark the next big idea. Have fun, and happy writing!

Friday Links

TGIF! I don’t know about all of you, but I’m finding 2013 a bit crazy so far. This first full week of the new year has been a roller-coaster ride, but I’m hanging on and excited to see where things go.

And so I bring you a collection of links for your reading pleasure. Like the week I’ve had, they’re a combination of fun, hopeful, and less-than-optimistic items, but I found them interesting and informative, and I hope you agree. Wishing you a great weekend, with plenty of time to read and write!

The Wrong Goodbye of Barnes and Noble – An update on the state of the major bookstore chain.

Edward St. Aubyn: By the Book – A quick, fun Q&A interview with the author of the Patrick Melrose novels.

Yearlong Creative Projects – Photographer/writer Leslie Fandrich talks about creative projects that last a year, and includes an intriguing short film by Jonathan Britnell, whose work represents a year of shooting video.

Graphic in Nature – Colleen Mondor has a wrap up of some intriguing new graphic novels over at Bookslut this month.

Most Anticipated: The Great 2013 Book Preview – Each year, The Millions posts a preview of some of the most anticipated new books of the year to come. This list has me rubbing my hands together, cackling with glee. (Depression will follow, when I realize I don’t have time to read half the titles I’d like to read.)

Agent Q&A Day!

Usually I run these over at The Knight Agency blog, but we’re experiencing some technical difficulties over there, so I’m going to do a Q&A here instead.

For those of you unfamiliar with these, it’s very simple. Just leave your questions about publishing, writing, getting an agent, etc., here in the comments of this thread. I will return late tonight or early tomorrow morning and answer at least three of them, though I try to do more if time allows.

So, what would you all like to know? Go ahead and ask! And don’t forget to check back to read the answers, even if you don’t have a question of your own. Someone else might ask something you never realized you wanted to know.

ETA: Q&A closed for this session. All answers are posted below each of the questions. Thanks to everyone for participating!

Fresh Year, Fresh Start

I don’t believe in making New Year’s Resolutions. The term comes with too much baggage and that impending sense of doom, the secret suspicion that you’ll forget all about your resolutions by Valentine’s Day. Plus “resolve” is such a stern sounding word. For me it brings to mind a grey-faced Puritan pounding on the pulpit, warning parishioners against the dangers of frivolity. We must resolve to be better, to be different, to be something other than what we have been in all those previous years. But that belittles our previous efforts, despite the fact that they’ve brought us this far.

Instead of resolutions, I’m a fan of aspirations. I think about what I’ve achieved the previous year, where I might have done better, and I come up with a set of goals for the year to come. No deadlines, no huge looming personal threats, just things I’d like to work toward. Generally these are things I can break up by month or quarter, so I can make progress toward smaller chunks of my goal. That way, if I don’t quite manage to achieve the final result during 2013, I can still point to all the progress I’ve made along the way. For instance, saving $6,000 sounds much more difficult than saving $500 a month. Maybe some months I’ll only manage $400 or $300. Maybe by year’s end I’ll come up a little bit short. But if I save $5,500 by the end of the year, that hardly seems like a failed resolution to me; it’s $5,500 that I didn’t have before, and very close to my ultimate goal.

This works the same way with writing. Where do you aspire to take your writing in the next year? Do you have a word goal in mind? A professional aspiration, such as finding an agent or publication? Break it down into steps. What tasks are required to work you toward that goal? Can you do one thing a month? One a week?

If you want to write 250,000 words in 2013, that’s less than 700 words a day. But if you know some times of the year are busier for you, work out your goals on your calendar to match your schedule. Put in more writing time when things are slow, so you can afford to take a family vacation in June and not worry about hitting your daily goals.

If you want to get an agent, first determine if your writing is ready to submit. Do you have a finished manuscript? Has it been revised to the best of your ability? Perhaps January’s goal will be a final look; February could be for researching agents and prioritizing who you’d like to work with; March might be writing your query letter and synopsis, and revising them; April wave one of sending your queries. You get the idea.

Published writers are often tied to a set schedule due to deadline commitments, but that can make it even easier to determine when you might have a little time to work on a new idea. Work out when you need to write or edit contracted projects, and if your schedule allows, slip some smaller, goal-oriented projects into the slower months. Maybe you’d like to experiment in a different genre — difficult if you’re building a readership for a certain type of novel, but very doable if you play with short fiction on the side. Perhaps you’d like to use that extra time for a new marketing campaign or to create extras for your devoted readers to find on your website. Whatever your goal, break it into smaller segments and work it into your existing commitments so you won’t feel pressured or overwhelmed.

Those writers who participated in my December Writing Challenge discovered what many other writers already know: You can almost always slip a few minutes of writing time into your day. Keep this in mind when you’re determining your aspirations for 2013. Virtually any goal is attainable if you chip away at it bit by bit.

So what do you aspire to for this new year? Where would you like to take your writing in 2013? I hope to keep you all inspired in the months to come. Happy writing!

Friday Links

Welcome to a brand new year! It’s been a bit slow around here these past few days. Well, more like I’ve been struggling to crawl out from under the pile of holiday e-mails that attacked me when I walked back in the door after my trip home for Christmas. The thing about getting back up to speed following a long vacation is that there often doesn’t seem to be much obvious progress for a while. It might be time to clean out a closet or something, so I get that sense of accomplishment that comes from noticing an actual difference.

However, I have scrounged up some fun and interesting links to kick off 2013, and I’m happy to share them with you here. Next week we will return to actual content, including talk of what everyone has planned for the new year in writing. Wishing you a wonderful weekend, and happy reading!

The Obscure Early Lives of the Artists – Or stalking Harper Lee. Either way, good read.

My New Year’s Resolution: Read Fewer Books – I’ve been known to panic over the idea that I’ll never read all the books I want to read, but I still thought this was an interesting look at the annual books-read tally.

Crews Remove Borders Sign from Flagship Store – A moment of silence, please.

North Polar Bear’s Leg Got Broken – Yesterday was J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday, so in honor of that, a link to a 1925 Christmas letter, with illustrations, that the author wrote to his boys as part of their annual holiday tradition.

Experience Required: A Group of Writers – An entertaining tale about MFAs, writer’s groups, and late starts.