December Writing Challenge 2020: Ready, Set, Write!

Welcome to the December Writing Challenge! I posted the rules for the challenge on the blog yesterday. You can remember them pretty easily, as they boil down to “write at least a little bit every day this month.” I include some ways to make that easier on yourself, but in general, the goal is to keep your writing momentum going.

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Most writers have resolutions or goals regarding their careers. When a new year rolls around, they brush off those goals and dive in. But if you spend December NOT writing, because you’re busy with holidays and year-end distractions, writing becomes more difficult.

Your brain needs training, like every other muscle. If you don’t use it for a particular task for a while, it won’t forget how to do it, but it will get a little bit lazy about it. The December Writing Challenge forces you to flex that muscle, even if just for half-an-hour, each day so you’re ready to get back to business in January.

Now, we all know 2020 has been a very rough year. It’s played hard and fast with many people’s ability to focus, to be creative, and that hasn’t magically become better because there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. By all means, be kind to yourself. But take this opportunity to try and get your writer’s brain back on track. Make a small effort each day. They add up.

I will be posting prompts and ideas and encouragement here on the blog all month long. You will also find me cheerleading over on Twitter @NepheleTempest, under #DecWritingChallenge. In the meantime, I’ve a few tips to get you going.

Challenge Tips:

  • Schedule your writing time. Look through your calendar and make a few writing appointments, with reminders and everything.
  • Tell your friends and family what you’re doing. Make it clear your writing time is sacred and you need to take those minutes for yourself.
  • Find a writing buddy to hold you accountable. I mentioned this yesterday and I can’t stress how helpful it can be. If you do the challenge together, you can check in and give each other a mental boost on days when it’s more difficult.
  • Make your writing time an occasion. Fix a cup of coffee or tea, light a candle, grab a couple of delicious cookies. If you like writing to music, put on your favorite playlist. Treat yourself to your ideal writing conditions as often as possible.
  • Try a different medium. If you’re having trouble writing, try pen and ink if you normally use a computer, or pull out an old typewriter from your attic and put it to work.
  • Play in someone else’s sandbox. If you’re feeling blocked on your own project, try your hand at fanfiction for your favorite book, film, or TV show.

I hope these give you some inspiration to get started. You deserve the time to write, to create, to reach for your dreams. If you have an existing writing habit, good for you. I hope this motivates you to keep going. If you’re thinking about writing, start. Today. Right now. Go write. I challenge you.

December Writing Challenge 2020: The Be-Kind-to-Yourself Edition

Welcome to the last day of November. Long-time followers know this day brings the announcement for my annual December Writing Challenge. Each year, I urge you all to keep up your writing momentum during this busiest of months. Maybe you’re coming off NaNoWriMo and have successfully churned out 50,000 words in November. Or you missed that goal, but still have your NaNo project you love and wish to continue. Maybe you think NaNoWriMo an insane endeavor, and you’re just plugging away at your current WiP or poking at a new story idea. Regardless, this challenge is for you.

Photo by René Porter on Unsplash

The December Writing Challenge focuses on showing up and doing the work. This challenge has no minimum word count or page goal. Instead, the idea is to keep your writer’s brain in gear through the holiday season, when distractions rise up and steal your free time. I challenge you to steal those minutes back, and dedicate them to writing.

Rules of the Game:

  1. Write every day in December. You don’t need to accomplish a lot, or put in hours and hours. Maybe you manage an hour, maybe less, but try for at least 30 minutes per day.
  2. You can take two days off from writing over the course of the month, if you really need them. Maybe you’re cooking a big holiday dinner for your pandemic pod. Maybe you need a day to just stare at the ceiling. Whatever. Try to write every day, but know you can have a couple of breaks if necessary.

That’s it. Those are the rules. At least, those are the traditional rules, by which I’ve run this challenge every year for… I’m not sure how long.

But this year is 2020, and we all know that translates to endlesss special circumstances. So this year I offer up some variations to my typical challenge. Feel free to charge ahead with the traditional rules, but if you need to be a little bit kinder, gentler with yourself, I have additional suggestions.

Pandemic Add-ons:

  1. Any new writing counts. Normally, I’d urge you to tackle a novel, short story, poetry, personal essay, memoir, nonfiction book proposal–something that is work/career related. But in this terrible year, that might feel like more pressure than you are up for. And I’d rather you write something than walk away from the challenge because you can’t imaging writing something substantial. So if you want to write something a little more low key, start a journal or write letters to your friends and family. Script out what you want to say over your holiday meal. Write a letter to yourself about your plans for 2021. Play a bit. Don’t take it too seriously. But make it something new (if you already keep a daily journal, for instance, don’t count it for the challenge) and try to have fun with it.
  2. Editing counts. I acknowledge that what you work on depends on where you are in your career, and if you’re up against a deadline, sometimes your writing time gets dedicated to other tasks. I try to encourage a mix of editing and new writing where possible, since keeping that writing brain limber is your goal. But edits are your focus, go for it. Try to write at least some new material this month, but any project work counts as a challenge day checked off.
  3. Find yourself an accountability partner. This is always an option, of course, but this year I really urge you to find a writing buddy to help keep you on track. Set up a time to Zoom or Skype and write together virtually. Do it once a week or do it every day. Whatever helps you. E-mail each other pages–not to read, but just as proof. Let someone else cheer you on and encourage you to write.
  4. Pick one writing skill to work on. Instead of tackling an entire project, figure out some aspect of your writing you’d like to improve and do some writing exercises to focus on that one thing. Create a character and come up with their background, wants, needs, personal tragedies, etc. Maybe you’ll use them in a story, maybe not, but see how well you can flesh them out even outside a specific context. Pull up landscape photos online and write descriptions of them that bring them vividly to life. Write a page of dialogue between two characters with no descriptions or narrative; see how much you can convey to the reader. Tackle something different each week in December. Make it a game.
Photo by Anthony Garand on Unsplash

Here’s the thing: Life doesn’t stop. There’s a pandemic. This had been a terrible year for so many reasons. But we can’t put our lives on hold indefinitely. Take all the reasonable precautions you can to keep yourself and the people around you safe. Maybe that means working from home, wearing masks, ordering groceries online. Or you’re out of work and struggling. It weighs heavily, all of it.

But you can control some small things. Maybe not the output, but the effort. Tell yourself your dreams are still worth it. Try. The world will get a little bit better, you’ll feel a little more hopeful. Because this one thing is in your power. Take a few minutes to yourself, and write. I challenge you. Join me here tomorrow for the official kick off. And happy writing!

Give Yourself Permission to Be Creative: Ethan Hawke via Ted Talks

Ethan Hawke puts himself out there. Whether he is acting, playing music, or putting pen to paper, he throws his full effort behind the task. In his recent Ted Talk from quarantine, he shares some sound advice and demonstrates the honesty behind his craft. Even if you’re not a fan, you should give it a watch. I particularly recommend it for anyone suffering from imposter syndrome, or struggling due to the pandemic.

Virtual Writing Cruise Setting Sail, March 28th!

None of us are heading to a writer’s conference any time soon. Spring vacations are canceled. Writers everywhere find it difficult to focus. But your muse is not lost, just in need of a creative boost! Join me, and a faculty of terrific publishing professionals, for a week of virtual cruising and writing inspiration.

The Creative Academy Virtual Writing Cruise presents a full lineup of online workshops and Q&A sessions, plus daily writing sprints to get you back in the groove. All workshop sessions will be recorded and available later as part of the community’s resources, so sign up even if you can’t attend live. Both Academy membership and the cruise itself are free.

We kick off Saturday, March 28th, with a virtual happy hour! Courses over the week range from craft to research to the business side of publishing. I hope to see you in my query workshop, Friday, April 3rd, at 11 am PDT.

Why are you still here? Go sign up!

Futurescapes Workshop: Masterclass

I’m excited to be teaching at the Futurescapes Workshop in Utah again this year. The workshop itself is full, but masterclasses have been opened up to the public. If you’re in the Provo area, I’ll be teaching my First Pages class on Sunday, February 16th. Find full registration details HERE. Class runs from 9am to 10:30am at the Provo Marriott Hotel and Convention Center.

First Pages: What Keeps Agents Reading

Grab your reader from the beginning. It’s great advice, but what does it mean in practice? And even more important, what does it mean in your manuscript? While it might be easy to recognize a fabulous beginning in a favorite novel, it can be difficult to determine what works in your own writing, especially after a few drafts where nothing seems to pop. Join me to learn what elements make for a compelling opening, what I look for in the first pages of a manuscript to keep me reading, and how to avoid the mistakes that most typically negate a fabulous first paragraph.

Because the workshop itself focuses on science fiction and fantasy writing, the masterclass does skew in that direction. However, the lessons taught apply to writing the opening for any novel. Hope to see some of you there!

New Year on the Way: Writing Goals for 2020

A new year looms right around the corner, so consider spending a few minutes each day thinking what you’d like to accomplish. I’m not a huge fan of traditional resolutions. Making lofty promises to turn your life around come January never ends well. Most resolutions vanish by mid-February. But goals? Goals are a different thing entirely.

Setting goals gives you milestones to hit over the course of the year. Big goals can have an enormous impact. Smaller goals provide a sense of achievement as the year progresses. Below I’ve outlined some tips for determining what goals will work best for you, and things to remember while you’re planning out your year.

Choosing Goals:

Keep in mind that goals should be something you have control over. It’s lovely to say you want to be traditionally published in the new year, but some of those steps might be out of your hands. Instead, set goals that can lead you in that direction but are up to you. You might set goals to revise your manuscript, to research agents, and to write a strong query letter. If you’re just starting out, your goal might be to complete a first draft of your novel, to take a class, or to make a list of prompts to use for daily writing sprints. Adapt your goals to where you are in your writing career, and what you’d like to achieve.

How Many Goals Do You Need:

The number of goals you set should fit your ambitions and your schedule. If you’re holding down a day job, raising kids, and/or looking out for elderly parents, you might have less time to devote to your writing than you’d like. Be realistic in setting your goals. Challenge yourself, but don’t ask so much of yourself that you become frustrated. Maybe you want to focus on several small goals instead of a couple of larger ones. Or take one major goal and break it into smaller parts.

A good way to set goals is to spread them out over the year. You can have a goal for January through April, and then another, smaller goal for May, and maybe a third one that runs the remainder of the year. Tailor your goals based on their difficulty, and also what’s going on in your life. If summer gives you more writing time, you can give yourself a couple of extra goals for June through August.

Figure Out the Steps:

Don’t set a goal and expect to magically achieve it. Figure out what steps you need to take in order to get where you wish to be. Break it down. How many hours will you need? Assign them on your calendar. Instead of waking up in the morning to find “Rewrite novel” on your to-do list, give yourself one step in the process: “Revise five pages.”

Check-in Regularly:

In order to keep yourself accountable, check in on your goals on a regular basis. This can be weekly, monthly, or at least quarterly, depending on the scope of your goals. See how you’re progressing, and determine if you need to tweak anything. Nothing is set in stone, and your goals should work for you. If circumstances change, you might want to alter your goals a little as well. Be honest with yourself and you will find the entire process more rewarding and useful. If you’re falling behind your goal, see what you need to do to catch up, or rework your schedule to account for your new pace. And don’t forget to reward yourself or celebrate when you hit those milestones!

However you picture your writing career at the end of 2020, now is the time to start making that happen. Carve out the path to your future and get ready to go. Happy writing!

 

December Writing Challenge 2019: Mid-Month Check In

Hey there, writers! Today marks the halfway point for the month of December, and with it the December Writing Challenge. Are you still writing? Have you made a little time for your work-in-progress each day? If not, have you still written more than you might have otherwise?

I know December runs away with us sometimes. Even when you think you’re on top of everything you need to do, something will sneak through the cracks. But if your writing is important to you, take that time to commit to it, even when life gets hectic. Something can always come up. There will always be emergencies or sudden demands for your time. You decide what ranks high enough to disrupt your routine–but you need to determine the routine first.

I hope making the effort to write daily in December shows you how much you want your dream–and that you can put it first in many instances. Not always, of course. Everyone has responsibilities. But if you plan for it, if you think about it and say “this needs to happen,” you can make it work. The key is to write enough to keep your brain nimble and the words flowing the next time you have a good chunk of time to write.

Good luck with the rest of the month! You can keep up the momentum. I’ll be back in a couple days with thoughts on making goals for the new year, so be sure to check back. Happy writing!

Friday Links: The Completely Random, Tired-Agent Edition

Welcome to this week’s unapologetically theme-free Friday Links. Work and holiday prep beckon, and my brain refuses to conjure up a creative topic for these babies. Yes, they’re all bookish. Or writing related. But otherwise, they’re just things I stumbled across this week, or recently, and found fun or useful. Themes will return when I’m no longer falling asleep at my desk, likely in the new year.

The December Writing Challenge keeps on trucking. Are you writing every day? Is the challenge proving hard? Or are you setting your schedule and sticking to it? Remember, even a short writing sprint counts. You can do this!

And on that note, I’m off to do a million things before the weekend can start. Have a great one, and happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

The Best Overlooked Books of 2019. – 10 titles Vulture thought got too little press.

Little Women Is a Big, Important, American Masterpiece. Let’s Treat It Like One. – A.N. Devers looks at the history of the novel and its adaptations as we wait for the eighth film version to hit theaters.

How to Spend a Literary Long Weekend in Chicago. – A fun itinerary for bookish visitors to the Windy City. Keep in mind for your next trip!

At a Romance Cover Shoot, There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Wind Machine. – A terrific and wildly amusing look behind the scenes of a recent cover shoot for Milla Vane‘s A TOUCH OF STONE AND SNOW (A Gathering of Dragons, book 2: July 2020).

By the Book: Edelweiss, Edelweiss? Julie Andrews Loves Reading about 18th-Century Plant Hunters. – The actress and author talks about her relationship to reading, books she’s loved, and what’s on her current TBR stack.

Mistakes Writers Make When Submitting to Literary Magazines. – An older post (one I’ve likely linked to previously) with excellent advice, much of which carries over to submitting to agents.

December Writing Challenge: Why Write Daily?

My December Writing Challenge asks you to write every day this month. However, the point is not to convince you that you need to write daily. Rather, the challenge focuses on squeezing in your writing time, no matter how busy life gets. If you aim to write every day, you might miss one or two (I give you two freebies), but you will manage to write most of the time. Even if it’s just for a few stolen minutes. Writing becomes your priority. You become your priority. Your writing goals are important, and I hope to help you see that through this challenge.

Plenty of successful writers do not write every day. Others do. Only you can decide what schedule works best for your life and your career in the long term. And writing habits change over time. I do believe writing on a fairly regular basis helps train your brain to perform on command. It’s not a perfect system, but your brain is a muscle, and conditioning it to be creative isn’t a bad thing. However, I will never claim that writing daily is the only way to become a good writer. Creatives follow many paths to their goals, and your journey is your own.

Come January, you might resume writing four days a week or only on weekends. You might find that daily writing boosts your creative juices, and continue to work a session in each day. Maybe you’ll try something else entirely. But for December, give daily writing a chance.

If you’re already sailing along with the challenge, thank you for joining in and good luck with your writing! For those of you who are just dropping by or who haven’t considered daily writing but who are curious to give it a go, it’s never too late to start the challenge. You can find the full explanation of how it works over here.

Wishing you all the best as you navigate this busy month. Now go write!

December Writing Challenge 2019: Lift Off!

Welcome to the 2019 edition of the December Writing Challenge! I laid out the rules of the challenge yesterday, all two of them, so please check those out if you haven’t done so already. Today, we start! This is our official lift-off post, but I hope at least some of you have gotten a few words down already. Remember, it’s not about how many words you write, but the fact that you’re taking the time to do so.

My goal for the challenge is to encourage writers to remember that their writing ambition, at whatever stage, should remain a priority. During this time of the year, it can be difficult to do things for yourself, even important things. The season pushes us to do others; to give, to shop, to cook, to help. And that’s wonderful–something more of us should keep in mind all year long. But your own needs should not be discounted simply because a busy month asks you to prioritize the holiday spirit.

Writing asks a lot of a person. If you’re just starting out, there are so many facets of the craft you need to master. Once you’re further along, you need to continue to grow while taking a more business-minded approach to your career. People don’t often take writers seriously, because so many consider writing something anyone can do. But writing is hard work. And like any hard work, it requires dedication and training.

Writing Is Exercise

Your brain does the heavy lifting when you write. It’s the source of your ideas, your creativity, and of all the different ways you can put those down on paper. And like any muscle, your brain must be conditioned to perform on demand. You would not take a month off from running and then expect to go run your best race. Likewise, you can’t allow your writing to take a backseat to life for a few weeks and expect the words to flow when you finally return to your work-in-progress.

A little bit of writing daily, even for half an hour, will keep your brain in shape. You might not love everything you produce this month, but that can be said of any month. So make a date with your writing. Make it a priority. Remember that come January, you have lofty goals for the new year, things you want to accomplish. Keep writing now and keep that future in your sights.

I’ll be posting bits of encouragement and tips here throughout the month. You can also follow me on Twitter for more regular reminders and cheerleading @NepheleTempest. I’ll be using the tag #DecWritingChallenge. Now, go write!