Mini Prompts for the December Writing Challenge

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.

Photo by Katie Az on Unsplash

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.

Mini Prompts:

  • 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!

Friday Links for a Bookish Weekend

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.

Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

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.

The Power of Poetry: A Prescription for Creative Inspiration

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.

 

Friday Links: How Is It December? Edition

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.

Photo by Guneet Jassal on Unsplash

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.

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!

Countdown to the December Writing Challenge 2019

Each year, I challenge you to spend your December writing a little bit every day. Why? Because for most of us, December marks the busiest part of the year. Between holidays and end-of-year work projects, traffic and crowded stores, family and entertaining, it can be chaotic. Writing often takes a backseat to all your other tasks and commitments. Then January hits, with its new year resolutions, and your brain stalls out immediately on your writing goals.

Girl-on-laptop

 

My challenge involves prioritizing your writing. You don’t need to write a great deal (unless of course you have a deadline or other motivating factor). The idea is to write a little bit every day. Try and grab half an hour, but fifteen minutes will do. Warn your friends and family that  you’re setting aside a little time each day for your writing. Mark it in your calendar. Whatever you need to do to commit to the page.

I’ll post the full rules for the writing challenge later in the week, and I’ll be back on Sunday, December 1st, to kick it off officially. Over the month, I’ll be posting mini peptalks here, with suggestions to keep you going. I’ll post reminders on Twitter daily, too, along with a little cheerleading.

I hope you’ll join me for this year’s December Writing Challenge. If you’re working on NaNoWriMo, it’s a great way to keep up your momentum. If you’re hoping to make inroads with your writing in 2020, this will give you a push. Dare to take your writing to the next step and see what you can do. Happy writing!

Friday Links: A Little Writerly Food for Thought

Sneaking this week’s post in under the wire today. It’s still Friday here, so that counts, right? Things have been a bit chaotic this week, everyone getting ready to take some or all of next week off for Thanksgiving. Even now, I’m breaking to post this before I go back to the rest of my to-do list.

Girl-with-laptop-and-stack-of-books

So the food-for-thought thing is a bit of a holiday joke. I might be contemplating the merits of Yukon gold vs. sweet potatoes between reading manuscripts. But that doesn’t mean I don’t come bearing thoughtful links this week. There are the usual book lists and so on, but also some wonderful writing tips that I hope will inspire you. It’s a pretty broad range, so I think there’s something for everyone.

I know those of you doing NaNoWriMo are heading into the last leg of the challenge. Wishing you lots of wonderful words, and not too many ninjas slipping in to pad your pages. Just keep on writing. Don’t delete, don’t worry about it. Plenty of time to edit come December.

Happy weekend, everyone!

This week’s links:

The Gift of Penciling It In. – Author Maggie Stiefvader talks about the process of writing, and deleting, and writing some more.

Edith Wharton Will Teach You Everything You Need to Know about Naming Characters. – A great look at how the names Wharton chose fit the characters and also their journeys.

Inside the Last Occupied Apartments of the Chelsea Hotel. – The NYC institution has housed an assortment of famous and interesting people. If you’re looking some great writing prompts, check out the photo gallery with this article.

NYC Midnight Annual Short Story Challenge. – Check out the site to enter this multi-round contest where every entry gets feedback from the judges. Open internationally.

The 20 Must-Read Books of 2020. – Bustle might be jumping the gun, but it’s still a great list of what to be on the lookout for in coming months.

Kill Your Idols: On the Violence of Experimental Literature. – A look at what it means to step away from the examples set by the writers who came before you.

The 100 Must-Read Books of 2019. – Per Time magazine. Yes, those lists are starting already.

Setting Writing Goals for 2019

Setting writing goals at the end of December helps you get the new year off the a great start. Resolutions get a bad rap. Everyone knows how fast they fall by the wayside. But goals? Those can be set at any time. I just happen to like setting new ones at the beginning of the year.

Setting writing goals for 2019

Before you set your new goals, think about this year’s writing. Maybe you’re coming off of NaNoWriMo and my December Writing Challenge and want to keep that momentum. Maybe you’ve finished drafting a novel and need to revise. Do you feel ready to shop a project to agents? Are you just starting out and hoping to finish a first manuscript? Your recent progress and writing habits help set the stage for your next steps.

Don’t just consider one side of your writing. Some things will be going well, others will have frustrated you. Take in the entire picture. Consider what writing habits need rethinking, and which work for you. Did you set goals for 2018? Be sure to review those. See what you accomplished and take a minute to pat yourself on the back. Are there any goals you didn’t meet? Some may still apply while others may have changed over the year.

Once you’ve got a good idea of where your writing stands now, it’s time to look forward. Goals should challenge you, but you should also be able to achieve them. Overwhelming yourself might result in you giving up, but going easy won’t necessarily help you progress.

Tips for Setting Writing Goals:

Choose several goals of varying size and difficulty. The smaller goals will be easier to achieve and provide a sense of accomplishment, while the larger ones will keep you moving forward all year.

Stagger the dates when you aim to achieve your goals. You might have one or two large goals that you plan to complete by the end of the year. A few medium sized goals might take you only six months, while small goals might need one month or three months, depending on their difficulty. You can stagger the start dates, too, so that one small goal starts when an earlier one has been finished.

Consider goals that escalate. For instance, if you finish goal #1 – Revise your manuscript for submission, you’ll be ready for goal #2 – Research literary agents.

Take on goals that you can control. Some things regarding your career will be at least somewhat out of your hands. You might want to sell your first book to a traditional publishing house in 2019, but part of that relies on editors. Make your goals things that involve your actions only, such as querying a specific number of agents, writing a certain number of words per day or per week, or taking a good class to help you improve your writing.

Keeping Your Goals

Once you’ve set your goals, and the dates you aim to complete them, consider what actions you need to take. Write down a few steps required to achieve each goal. I like to keep a spreadsheet for my goals each year, so I can see my action plan at a glance. You might prefer a chart on your bulletin board or something in your planner. I recommend putting reminders in a few places, so you see something goal-related every day. You might also set some more formal reminders in your calendar app so something pops up periodically. Whatever keeps you focused.

Finally, schedule a quarterly check-in on your goals. Plan to review your goal list at the end of March, June, September, and December. This enables you to see your progress. Maybe you’ve finished something early and can start another goal sooner than planned. Maybe something needs a later date because of unforseen circumstances. You can also adjust your goals if you need to do so. Remember, you set the goals, so you can do what you want with them. Add, subtract, rearrange. Consider them a tool to get you where you wish to go. Good luck setting writing goals and achieving them, and with all you do in the year to come.

Friday Links: Holiday Insanity Edition

Holiday insanity seems to have struck full force, so this week’s Friday Links are more fly-by than focused. Everyone apparently realized over the last few days that there’s about a week of business left before people vanish for the break, so all the work needs to be done. Right. Now. This means meetings, phone calls, and extremely-late-night reading sessions.

A few quick announcements before I move on to the links for the week. First, in case you missed it on Twitter, I will be closing to new submissions as of tomorrow, December 15th, through January (more or less). I’m trying to slow the deluge going into the holidays, and then I hope to catch up reading existing submissions. I’m still behind from our switchover to Query Manager. I love the new system,  but juggling two sets of submissions has been challenging. I hope to get through the backlog from the old system so I’m just down to one set of projects to read. Currently, I plan to reopen to submissions around the end of next month. I’ll post here and on Twitter when I’ve got a precise date.

Also, the December Writing Challenge continues! If you’ve missed some days, don’t sweat it. Just get back to writing and make an effort to set aside at least a small window of time for your work each day. You can do it, and you’ll be so happy come January that you didn’t get completely out of the writing habit.

Finally, we’re coming up on the time of year for setting new goals. I’ll be talking about goal-setting next week here on the blog, so start thinking about what you might want to accomplish in 2019.

And with that, I will move on to this week’s links. I hope that you find them entertaining, and a good break from the holiday insanity. Enjoy, and happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

A True Utopia: An Interview with N.K. Jemisin. – This lovely interview over at The Paris Review blog discusses short fiction vs. novel writing, what Jemisin envisions for the future, and more.

Tin House Magazine’s 20th Anniversary Issue Will Be Its Last. – Tin House announces the end of an era. Full focus will shift to their book publishing division and their workshops.

How a Cover Letter Can Help You Get Published. – Great tips, many of which hold true whether you’re submitting to periodicals or to agents/editors.

Kate DiCamillo, Chronicler of the Hard Truths of Youth. – NPR interviews the author about her honest approach to children’s fiction.

A Tour of a Writer’s London Sitting Room. – Take a peek into the world of author Ben Schott.

13 Libraries Book Lovers Need to Follow on Instagram. – A great assortment of library accounts, though just the tip of the iceberg.