I’m delighted to announce the launch of my online course, Master the Art of the Synopsis. Designed for writers struggling to craft a compelling synopsis, the class divides the process into manageable stages. It expands upon the course I’ve taught for years, both in person and virtually, and adds supplemental materials including a workbook and sample synopses. Students will have lifetime access and be able to work through the units at their own pace.
After spending months–or years–writing a novel, writers often hate having to tackle a synopsis. How do you distill an entire book down to a few pages, or even paragraphs? But don’t let a sense of overwhelm stall your submission process. If you or someone you know needs to polish up those synopsis-writing skills, check out the course today.
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.
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 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.
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
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!
September snuck up on me. We’re days away from fall, which means the year might as well be over. Things move so quickly once we hit this time of year. Everything ramps up. Work gets busier, life goes into overdrive. Anyone else feeling this? But September also activates that back-to-school mentality for me. It’s ingrained after so many years of education. I crave new pens and notebooks, classic novels, and sweaters. Can’t do much about the sweater thing–it’s in the 90s here at the moment–and I do NOT need more stationery. But books? You can never have too many books.
So in catching up on a bunch of open tabs, slated for sharing here, I have book lists for you. I know, you’re shocked. But also writing tips and other publishing-related goodness to help get you in a seasonal mood, or just ramp up your creativity. I hope you find them inspirational. Wishing you a wonderful weekend!
Welcome to the long, not-so-lazy days of summer. We’re a few weeks in, and while this summer ranks far better than last, things are still a little… different. (If you hail from the southern hemisphere, this goes for chilly winter days, too. Pandemic life affects all seasons.)
Life and work continue to pick up pretty steadily, which means reminding my pandemic-brain how to function at normal speeds. In my heart, I yearn for a long vacation with a stack of books by the pool. The vacation part still looks unlikely, but the reading is a go. So this week I thought I’d try and revive Friday Links with a few good to-read lists with summer indulgence in mind. Of course, I’m throwing in a few writerly links, as well.
What are you all reading these days? Has the pandemic altered your book preferences at all? I’d love to hear what you’re up to. Meanwhile, wishing you a lovely weekend and some good reading and writing time. Enjoy!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
Somehow, despite the global pandemic and the west coast burning and what has often felt like the slowest year on record, we’ve reached October. Autumn in SoCal is nebulous at the best of times. Predictably, I’m writing this in the midst of a heatwave. No hot tea or cozy sweaters for me. More like ice cream and air conditioning. But fall still brings to mind school supplies and productivity, and I am way past due for an update.
Things on the horizon:
Utmost in most of your minds, no doubt, is when I plan to open again to submissions. The answer is, in a couple of weeks. I haven’t set a firm date yet as I’m tinkering with a few things. I’m also making decisions on some lingering projects in my inbox. Right now I plan to make a more formal announcement late next week.
That said, there will be some changes in what I’m looking for in terms of new material. I’m not making any huge shifts in what I represent, but I will no longer be accepting queries for all of those genres at the same time. I can’t keep up with the influx. I will update my wish list both here and on the agency site, and my QueryManager page will offer a much more limited list of genres I am accepting.
Please note that I will be changing which genres I’m accepting queries for from time to time, based on the balance of my client list, the market, and what I am most interested in reading. So if I’m not accepting projects in the genre you write, that does not mean I won’t be taking them again in a few months. But please, do not try to sneak your query to me by labeling it under some inappropriate genre or emailing it directly. It will be rejected unread in the first instance, and deleted in the second.
I realize some of you will be frustrated by this, and I am sorry. All I can say is, like many people, I have found my state of mind profoundly affected by world events, particularly the pandemic, and the result is my reading interests and ability to focus have shifted. I bounce off books I should adore. I sink into things that previously would not have interested me. Fighting it doesn’t do anyone any good.
So that’s where things stand on the business front. Now on to the fun stuff. I’ve a mishmash of links for you this week, and I hope you find them interesting and inspiring. Wishing you all a lovely weekend and happy writing!
Today I wish to celebrate both books and the people who sell them. Independent Bookstore Day is tomorrow, and fall titles start hitting shelves in a few days. Reading good books takes some sting out of this ongoing pandemic, so what better time to praise all things bookish?
What have you all been reading during this period of safer-at-home? I know not everyone can focus on books right now, but sometimes that means returning to old favorites or finding joy in poems or shorter books. I’m doing some rereading, myself. Old romantic mysteries by Mary Stewart. Humorous poetry I discovered as a child. But also new romances and women’s fiction. Fantasy as long as it stays well away from dystopian situtations. All mixed in with “homework” reading: how to be a better, more active ally to BIPOC people, and political titles about the state of our democracy. If that sounds like a lot, it hasn’t been. It’s been slow going, spread over months, with more books piling up on my TBR behind them at a rapid rate.
Fall always brings a wealth of new titles. I’m trying to keep my pre-orders at a minimum, simply because there are soooo many new books I want to read. But pre-orders are the way to go in this new pandemic economy. Let publishers know they should print copies of the books you’re looking forward to reading. Supply chains are still moving slowly, so reader interest helps publishers know where to make their best efforts.
Meanwhile, here are a bunch of links to give you ideas of what to read, and where to get your copies. Plus the usual writing/industry chatter. I hope you find something interesting and inspiring. Have a great weekend, filled with wonderful books and maybe a little quality writing time!
This Week’s Links:
Independent Bookstore Day. – A resource of online and in-store events taking place to celebrate independent bookstores across the country.
117 Black-Owned Bookstores. – A great resource if you’re looking to support Black-owned businesses. You can even check for stores in your own state.
Paris Stories: The Writing of Mavis Gallant. – A short film about the Canadian author and her approach to writing, with interview footage as well as the author reading samples of her work. Inspiring, plus a lovely bit of armchair travel.
The New California Curriculum. – An interesting look at what it means to be a California writer, and where these writers fit into the literary landscape as we reconsider what types of books should be considered “canon.”