Wishing those of you who celebrate a very Merry Christmas. To everyone else, have a happy, healthy weekend. As we push through to the end of this difficult year, we all need a little peace and joy. Take a breath, do something you enjoy, and know that things will be better this time next year.
Finding it difficult to steal time for your current writing project? Or maybe you can find the time, but your brain refuses to cooperate. I know it can be difficult to focus when so many other things are going on. The world continues to spin at a slightly wonky angle, and now all the holiday fuss piles on top.
Sometimes all you need is a little nudge or a fresh idea to keep you writing. I’m not suggesting you toss out your current project, but maybe you need a little break. Instead of skipping a writing day, try working on a fun mini project that can keep your creativity flowing. Here are a few little ideas to get you started.
- Think of a holiday from your childhood when things went wrong, and write up a few pages to save for posterity. Did the dog get the turkey? Did a storm knock out the power? Were family members fighting? Remember what it felt like from your perspective at the time, whatever age you were.
- What’s your favorite holiday tradition? Write up a description and why you love it that would help someone from a different culture appreciate why it’s special to you.
- Plan your holiday for this time next year, once people have been vaccinated and we can get together once more safely. What would make a perfect occasion? Write about it.
- Think of your favorite holiday movie. What do you like about it? Now imagine how you could change it for a fresh version, whether that means a gender swap or a modern take or something entirely different. Write up some notes for it, and if you like the concept, add it to the future projects file.
- Consider things historically considered important at this time of year: light, warmth, food, family, comfort, hope. Pick one or two and write some thoughts about how those things matter in the 21st century.
Go grab yourself a cozy warm drink and some paper or your laptop, and give yourself a few thoughtful moments to write from the heart. Not every project has to be the next great novel or something to pitch. Find a peaceful corner, and remember why you love to write. Consider it a little holiday gift to yourself. Enjoy!
I try to bring you a shopping guide this time of year, suggesting gifts for writers. This year, between the number of people staying home for the holidays and the overall stress of the pandemic, I’ve gone back and forth on whether to do one. Gifts are lovely, but getting them to people is difficult. Particularly when you consider the slowness of the post in recent months. So instead of suggesting all sorts of presents that require purchase and shipping, I’m just going to include some bookish links today, to go with the ones last week. Remember that you can call indie bookstores near your loved ones and arrange gifts through them. Or you can send gift cards, either by email or tucked into a holiday card. Bookshop.org now offers gift cards, so you can still support indie booksellers. Give the gift of something cozy to read.
Gift-giving aside, don’t forget the December Writing Challenge is still in full swing. It’s a low key year, but with everything going on, try to prioritize your own interests a bit. Schedule time to work on your current project. You don’t need to hit a certain word count or number of pages. Just sit with it and keep your brain tuned in so you don’t lose momentum. And if you do find yourself on a writing roll, by all means take advantage of it!
Wishing you a great weekend, filled with some holiday music and stories and a bit of writing time for yourself!
This week’s links:
16 Authors Share the Best Books They Read in 2020. – A nice list of recs from authors through the folks at Bookish.
Our 65 Favorite Books of the Year. – This roundup, from Lit Hub, offers a good cross section of genres and titles less frequently discussed.
The Twelve Days of Christmas. – For Austenites and fans of Regency life/writing, a look into Christmas life of that era, brought to you by the staff at Jane Austen’s house. Includes bits of Austen’s letters, recipes, illustrations, and some short readings courtesy of Emma Thompson.
The Talented Ms. Calloway. – An intriguing look into the world of a certain sort of publishing, and what it means to self-promote and to publish oneself in a very literal manner.
Electric Lit’s Favorite Novels of 2020. – As it says. A nice selection for reading/gift-giving inspiration.
The 50 Greatest Apocalypse Novels. – For those of you thusly inclined. Given the state of 2020, once I saw this, I felt I had to include it.
Mid-pandemic, we all seek reassurance. We want to know the world will return to normal, that our friends and family will be able to gather, that we can once again go to a movie theater. But writers look for more than the personal. On the creative side, writers seek assurances that their ideas will continue to flow. That the nature of their talent and career won’t be fundamentally altered by this weird time in our lives.
I can’t offer guarantees, other than to say we are not the first generations to go through a world-changing experience such as this. There have been wars and pandemics and shifts in power before. Creatives came through those other events, often with fresh perspectives and new outlooks. It will likely happen again.
Part of holding this year’s December Writing Challenge is offering the reassurances I can give you. The brain is a marvelous, resilient thing, capable of amazing feats. Try giving it free rein this week. See what you come up with. But don’t forget to feed it, too. Read something a bit different, find a new playlist online, search out some virtual art exhibits. Or do a puzzle. Cook something. And then sit down at the page and figure out where your head is in that moment.
When in doubt, I offer up poetry. Not the romantic or epic sort we read back in school, although that has its merits, too. Find something funny. Something recent. Get inside the language. Don’t worry about the “right” reading of it. See what it says to you.
For inspiration, I’m posting the video below, which celebrates poetry for every occasion. For sadness, for feeling different. Even for Brexit. I hope it gives you some fresh creative energy. Enjoy, and happy writing.
Where did December come from? We’re four days into my December Writing Challenge, yet still, the month surprises me. So much of this year snailed along, but we hit Labor Day and zip, zip! Not that I will miss 2020, but it’s still a shock to realize how quickly this last part of the year has gone.
Today I bring links, but first, a bit of chatty business. As mentioned above, I’m holding my annual writing challenge this month. You can find all the rules and the kick-off post earlier this week. Please join in, even if you missed the start. I try to keep the challenge encouraging and low key, particularly this year with the pressures of the pandemic. Come for a bit of inspiration, some pep talks, the occasional prompt or writing sprint. Posts will appear hear, and I’m tweeting daily as well. So, come write. The more the merrier.
We’ve entered end-of-year booklist territory. Yes, some of them are ridiculous. There are far too many. And yet, I love them. I’ve included some below, to help with holiday shopping or holiday reading of your own. There also might be some soon-to-come booklists, just to mix it up. But there’s no real theme to this week’s links. We’re very casual around here in December. Kick off your shoes, grab a mug of something hot, and stay a while. Wishing you a great weekend, and happy writing!
This week’s links:
NPR’s Book Concierge 2020. – A wonderful roundup of recommended books that came out this year, with the added ability to search by genre, audience, and more. Previous years’ lists are also available. By far my favorite year-end booklist, just due to sheer volume.
19 Books by Northeast Indian Authors. – As the article says, so good you’ll be adding them to your reading list ASAP. I know I’ve added a few to mine.
BookExpo and BookCon Are No More. – The announcement that these events, cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, will not be returning in their previous form.
Jason Reynolds bought up all his own books from local DC bookstores and gave them to readers. – The generous act of an author on Giving Tuesday.
8 Books about Feminist Folklore. – An intriguing set of titles both for pleasure reading and for research.
32 LGBTQ Books That Will Change the Literary Landscape in 2021. – A list of upcoming books to keep on your radar.
This Holiday Season, Support These 8 Charities that Hand Out Books. – A great list of organizations that donate books to those that need them. Consider one (or more) for your year-end charitable contribution.
The Hidden Literary Heritage of Harriet the Spy. – An intriguing look into the history of this beloved literary character.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!
I ignore Thanksgiving most years. I find it difficult to get behind a holiday linked to so many troubling aspects of our history. But that said, I still believe in taking a moment to be thankful for the good things in my life. This year in particular calls for gratitude.
At its core, Thanksgiving in the United States revolves (supposedly) around being thankful for survival in the midst of adversity. It’s evolved to be about family and food and excess, but those weren’t the initial intentions. I think a pandemic that has killed more than 260,000 people in the United States and infected nearly 13 million Americans counts as a time of adversity. We’ve lost so much this year.
I tend to be a glass-half-empty person. It’s how my brain works. I see the negatives because I want to fix things. Things that work don’t require as much attention. But focusing on the bad can wear you down, so today I’m ignoring the projects and the politics and the pandemic (while staying home, very much by myself). Today, I’m thankful not to be ill. I’m thankful for food in my kitchen and my mother still on the other end of the phone line. For friends around the world who are healthy, and for those who are not but still manage to hang on. I am so grateful for my lovely co-workers and clients. For the existence of books in the world, and music and streaming TV and the delightful pen pals who fill my mail with something other than bills. I’m especially thankful for a few glimmers of hope that maybe, possibly, we can pull ourselves together and do better in the new year.
Wishing you all a day to be thankful for.
Happy Halloween Eve! The week got away from me, as I’ve been catching up after last week’s virtual Surrey International Writer’s Conference. I started out Monday with a pile of backlog and a brain buzzing about writing structure, saggy middles, handling timelines, and more. Even agents pick up great tips at writing conferences.
So here we are, on the cusp of Halloween, plus a new month and the start of NaNoWriMo. I thought I’d offer a mix of writerly and seasonal links to kick things off. Whether you plan to watch horror movies, dress up, or just settle down with a good book and bowl of candy, I wish you a fun, safe Halloween, and a stellar start to NaNo. Don’t forget to set your clocks back Saturday night. You get an extra hour of writing time on Sunday. Sounds like a treat to me!
This week’s links:
‘I spooked myself right before bedtime:’ Authors on Their Scariest Creations. – A little Halloween inspiration to put you in the mood.
The Ghost Stories of Muriel Spark. – A peek at some lesser known works of the author that fit right into the season.
Tana French: Hope in Hard Times. – The thriller writer discusses her latest manuscript, which she has the great fortune to hand in shortly before COVID-19 shut downs ramped up, as well as other aspects of her writing on the latest episode of The Secret Library Podcast.
Where to Start with Shirley Jackson. – The author’s work seems to be undergoing a resurgence on screen, but what about actually reading her stories? Here’s a guide to how you might approach them.
When Is It Okay to Write About Someone Else’s Culture or Experience? – Part of Charlie Jane Anders’ ongoing project to write a book about story craft, which Tor.com has been publishing in installments. Great information here about what we mean when we refer to #OwnVoices writing.
How Not to Be All About What It’s Not All About: Further Thoughts on Writing About Someone Else’s Culture and Experience. – A terrific follow up to the above from Nisi Shawl.
Dissecting Suspense in Rebecca. – In light of the new adapation on Netflix (which I advise you to skip; stick to the Hitchcock version), I urge you to read or reread Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel and see for yourself all the ways suspense can build. Terrific lesson, no matter what sort of fiction you write.
Happy Friday, and welcome to the middle of October. For the many writers, October serves as the countdown to NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. In today’s selection of links, I offer up a bit of inspiration to help you get into the writing groove. Check out how other writers tackle their projects, or learn about new twists on older ideas. Be sure to visit the official NaNo site for additional tips on getting ready.
Before I delve into this week’s links, I want to remind you that I reopen to queries on Monday the 19th. I updated my wishlist here on the blog, but for anyone looking for a quick genre overview:
At this time, I’ll be looking to take on women’s contemporary or historical fiction; contemporary or historical single-title romance; magical realism; young adult contemporary, mystery, or historical fiction.
I will continue to adjust what genres I’m accepting every few months, based on current market needs, my reading interests, and what I’ve recently signed on. Please do not attempt to query outside of the requested genres, as I will auto-reject without reading.
Without further ado, I give you a mishmash of links to explore this weekend. I hope they inspire you to try new things in your own writing, or push yourself in whatever ways you need. Happy writing!
This week’s links:
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books: Stories & Ideas. – Initially, The LA Times postponed this year’s festival due to COVID-19. Eventually, they decided to go virtual. Register now for free panels starting this weekend and running into mid-November.
15 of the best first lines in fiction. – Having trouble kicking off your book? Check out these stand-out first lines for some creative sparks.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia on Writing a More Authentic Mexico. – The author chats with Maris Kreizman on her podcast on how she approached depicting a more realistic version of Mexico for readers more familiar with clichés.
On Learning of My Autism While Trying to Finish a Novel. – Madeleine Ryan discusses neurodiversity and how she now thinks of her own characters.
A New Edition of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Crosses Its T’s and Dots Its I’s. – Ever wonder about those partial letters between characters? This edition includes physical copies, fleshed out based on clues from the text.
NaNoWriMo Prep: The Ultimate Plot Development Guide. – This blog post provides a great breakdown of tips for getting reading for NaNo.