With about a week and a half left to the year, now is the time to tie up loose ends and plan for 2022. If you’re participating in the December Writing Challenge, go you! Keep going. Even if you have to take a couple of days off, your writer’s brain will be warmed up for the new year. But don’t forget to take a moment to reflect on what you’ve accomplished, also. Figure out where you are so you can decide where to go next.
I encourage everyone to go easy when it comes to assessing the last year. It’s been another difficult one. Don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t reach your goals. Consider every small bit of progress to be a win. If you just made it to December still standing, I applaud you. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to where you are, both personally and with your writing.
Think about what you’d like to do in the coming months. What changes would you like to make? Consider what tactics have been working and what no longer motivates you. And while it’s great to think big and come up with a major goal for the year ahead, give yourself plenty of small challenges, too. Finishing something with a shorter time horizon or that’s less demanding will give you a sense of accomplishment. Getting the thing done motivates you, not the other way around.
Remember to focus your goals around things you can control. What steps lead to where you want to be? Which ones do you take yourself, and which require input from others? Stick to the first and try and be zen about those other ones. And keep on writing.
I asked you to remember what you love about writing this month during the December Writing Challenge. Find your joy. Have you done that? Or if not, would you like to give it a go? Carry that attitude into 2022. There will always be difficult moments in your writing process, but if you remember the joyful parts, they will help you continue down the path toward your goals.
My New Year:
In keeping with my own advice, I’m making some changes going forward. I’m no longer setting a reading goal for the year through the Goodreads Challenge. I don’t want to feel like I’ve failed because I have a slower reading year and don’t hit an arbitrary target. It’s enough to keep track of what books I’ve finished and enjoyed.
In addition, I intend to make changes here on this site in the new year. I post so infrequently, the time has come to reimagine things. It will transition to more of a hub than a blog: a resource for news, archived advice, information on submissions, and links to what I am doing around the internet. I love sharing Friday Links, so those might show up in another format. Stay tuned!
I’ll be checking in again before the year ends, but will mostly continue cheerleading over on Twitter. But before everyone vanishes into the depth of holiday hussle, I want to wish you health, happiness, and success, now and into 2022.
Let’s kick off December with a writerly bang! For those of you who missed it, my December Writing Challenge for 2021 started on Wednesday, and I posted the day prior with a quick rundown of how the challenge works. Don’t panic if you haven’t started yet; you can still join. I aim to keep this challenge low key and encouraging. Have fun, and remember that all the words count!
As for Friday Links, I know they have been few and far between lately. I will likely be making changes to this site come the new year, but in the meantime, I do have goodies to share. Mostly, I’m offering up some lighter fare in the spirit of the season, and how busy we all are. But I hope you find something entertaining and/or inspirational.
Wishing you a weekend filled with good writing time, a fabulous book, and some holiday cheer, whatever you celebrate. Enjoy!
Welcome to the December Writing Challenge 2021. Each year, I encourage writers to challenge themselves during the month of December. Most of the time, the aim is to maintain the momentum you achieved during the year through this final, often busiest, month. That way, come January, you will be ready to attack your goals with energy.
Last year, the December Writing Challenge took on more of a self-care aura. 2020 destroyed many writers’ ability to focus, to meet deadlines, to feel creative. It seemed necessary to encourage everyone to be kind to themselves, even as they tried to put down new words.
We learned in 2021 that there is no such thing as a quick solution to a global pandemic. This year felt dedicated to picking ourselves up and attempting to discover our new normal. How to juggle lock-downs and health directives with resuming typical business and life activities. And so the challenge shifts again.
This December, I challenge you to redefine your writing habits if you need to, whether that means reminding yourself of your goals and priorities, or giving yourself permission to put less time into that work-in-progress. No, I’m not letting you off the hook entirely. But I do want you to take an hour or two and really consider what you want from your writing, and how any changes in world view might have altered your plans.
Whatever you believe, whatever holidays or end-of-year tasks steal your focus in December, take out a bit of time for joy. Specifically, the thing about writing that brings you joy. Do you love the adventure of a new project? Does world-building make you excited? Maybe dreaming up new characters and throwing them into danger fills you with glee. Pick something. Anything. And make that your December challenge project.
Yes, I know, some of you have deadlines or are so, so close to finishing something. And that’s fine. Obviously you should finish the thing you need to turn into an editor. But if you’re not there, or if you can steal fifteen minutes at the start of your work window, let yourself play a little. Give yourself the gift of writing, rather than considering it a task.
A writer friend recently started a shiny new project, for which she set aside a nearly done novel that just wasn’t working for her. Now she reports her word count with so much happiness every day. Her excitement is contagious. Finishing projects is important, but sometimes, some projects… they work against you. This coming month, find the thing that reminds you why you wanted to write in the first place.
December Writing Challenge 2021: The Deets
The basics for this year’s challenge are the same as ever. Write every day in December. No mandatory word count or even amount of time, though I urge you to try to work in at least a half an hour. Just write. Work on your novel, try your hand at poetry, consider a short story or personal essay. Start a new project every single day and then see what you want to continue with come January. Whatever you want. All the words count.
You get two free days, if you really need them, to take off for general December business or simply because you need a day off. Maybe you’re cleaning house for incoming relatives or you have a ton of holiday shopping or cooking to do. If you’re the one traveling, you may be stuck behind the wheel for too long one day to face sitting at your laptop. That’s fine. You be the judge. But try not to take the days if you don’t have to, and to limit them to two.
This is not me saying that you have to write every day to be a writer. That’s not a rule, you do what works for you. But this is me saying that December can be crazy, and it’s all too easy to have busy day after busy day rob you of your writing time. Then come January, when you are excited about new goals for the new year, you are feeling rusty and out of practice. Maybe can’t even recall what you were working on. That slows you down.
Aim to write every day. By January, you will have a limber writer’s brain, ready to face whatever goals you dream up for 2022.
Tell your family and friends that you’re participating in the challenge, and that you will be guarding a bit of time each day to prioritize your writing. Let them know this is important to you, and you expect their support and encouragement.
Make a date with yourself. Look at your calendar and add your writing window in each day as a physical appointment, complete with reminder notifications. Keep your date like you would a dental appointment.
Get a writing friend or two to join you in a kind of buddy system. Cheer each other on. Maybe do a coffee or hot chocolate date to get some writing done together. If you’re avoiding coffee shops and other enclosed spaces, do a Zoom write-in together and hold each other accountable.
Keep a notebook and pen in your bag or car so you can do some long-hand scribbling if you’re picking up your kids or stuck in a waiting room somewhere. Or write bits on your phone’s Notes app.
If you’re feeling really inspired, go ahead and add layers to your challenge. Maybe you do want to write a poem every day, or try a completely new genre. You might check a few writing books out of the library and work your way through the exercises or prompts they include to improve your craft. Pick an aspect of your writing you really want to improve on and focus on just that, like writing a whole story just in dialogue, or writing description that somehow also moves the story forward. Feel free to make the challenge as complicated as you’d like, if that’s something that gets you excited.
The December Writing Challenge 2021 kicks off tomorrow, but if you find this post later in the month, please do join in whenever. The goal is to keep your writing muscles limber, and the prize is a writer’s brain ready to tackle new year goals. I will be posting encouragement here and on Twitter all through the month, so check in if you need a boost. Otherwise, I wish you all a wonderful final month of 2021, and very happy writing.
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.
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!
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.
For anyone looking for a bit of NaNo inspiration, I have some thoughts beyond my tips from earlier in the week. That post assumes you will use NaNoWriMo more or less as intended by the organizers. To win NaNo, you need to write 50,000 new words in November and submit for verification I hinted there were other ways to tackle the challenge, so today I’d like to elaborate. And yes, links will follow. If you’re not interested in NaNoWriMo, feel free to skip ahead.
The beauty of NaNo lies in the community that forms around it. People who love writing and/or stories get together and celebrate this crazy act of creativity. Many are hobbyists, searching for a fun group activity. A good number never plan to publish a book. They write fanfiction for fun or play around with writing a novel for their own enjoyment. But NaNo works even if you do have major aspirations. Plenty of published writers started out in the NaNoWriMo challenge. And if you search, you’ll learn that many disregarded the rules and made NaNo work for their needs. They used what served their goals, and ignored the rest.
NaNoWriMo for Purists
If you’re a fairly new writer, you might hve an idea for a novel but lack the discipline to work on it regularly. Participating in NaNo encourages you to put your seat in the chair and get those words down. Don’t worry if the words aren’t so great; first drafts tend to be pretty crappy. But they give you a place to start, so you’re no longer staring at a blank page. And by tackling that draft during NaNo, you get a huge support system that’s built into the challenge. Find a write-in group near you and meet with them once a week. Check out the forums and chat with people writing in your genre. Ask questions of seasoned NaNo participants. Read the great pep talks that get posted by the pros. New writers can also find peers in November who become critique partners well into the future.
Already started writing a novel? Pick up where you left off and continue working on it during NaNoWriMo. Novels for adults run far longer than 50,000 words, so take what you’ve written and add to it. You might actually have a complete draft by month’s end. If you track new words written–using a new document, for instance–you can still submit to verify completion of the challenge. And again, make the most of the offers and community that come with the event while you write, letting that NaNo inspiration motivate you through the tough parts.
NaNoWriMo with a Twist
Maybe you’ve been at this a while and have a draft that needs rewriting. Use NaNo and its support systems for your editing project. You might not have a new 50,000-word manuscript to hand in come November 30th, but you’ll still make progress. It’s far more important to hit your own goal than the goal set up by the challenge organizers. And in the meantime, enjoy the cheerleading that goes on during the month. Use it to energize and encourage you as you tackle your rewrite.
What about pacing? Maybe the idea of writing 1,667 words per day (roughly what you need to complete NaNo) makes you panic. So don’t write that fast. Don’t aim for 50,000 words in a month. Make your goal half that, or whatever feels like a doable stretch. Perhaps the challenge for you lies in actually writing daily. Set a time goal instead of a word goal–30 minutes a day until the end of the month. Make the writing habit the aim instead of the finished product.
NaNoWriMo works so well because the challenge offers you one potential route to success, and then encourages participants to come play on your own terms. Now, maybe none of these options appeal to you, and that’s fine too. But if you’re looking for a way to participate in NaNoWriMo, I say go for it. Figure out what you want to achieve, and adapt the challenge to meet that goal.
With that bit of NaNo inspiration out there, I’ll move on to the links for the week. Wishing you all a wonderful weekend, and happy writing!
Tackling NaNoWriMo–or National Novel Writing Month–challenges any writer, whether they have participated for years or are new to the event. Each year, I offer advice on how to get the most out of the month, whatever your personal goal. The key to NaNo is to remember to have fun. This challenge aims to help you get words on paper, to push through a long project without overthinking. It’s great for anyone who tends to stop and rewrite repeatedly before moving on. Because that strategy? Doesn’t work for NaNo. If you want to write 50,000 words in November, you need to ignore your mistakes and just go.
So where do you start? These few days before the November kickoff allow you a chance to prepare. Below, I have some ideas for what you might want to do, both in terms of writing your NaNo project and for maintaining your sanity during the challenge.
Know Your Goal:
The rules state that NaNoWriMo consists of writing a new 50,000-word project between November 1st and November 30th. Reality allows you to adapt this to whatever works for you. If you’re starting a new project, great. (And most of my tips below assume such.) But you can easily finish a novel already in progress, too. Just start a new file for the remainder of the book, to keep track, and write another 50,000 words.
Regardless of your goal, NaNo offers plenty of support for anyone writing in November. Take advantage of it.
Plan What to Write:
Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser–someone who prefers to outline ahead or just let the spirit take you–it’s helpful to start NaNoWriMo with at least some idea of what you want to write. That doesn’t mean you need a detailed outline, but a few basics will go a long way to get your creativity flowing.
Think ahead about your characters. Who is your protagonist? What do they want? What sort of obstacles might they face? Do they have a love interest? Arch enemy? Cohorts? Friends and family? Adding these characters and describing them over the course of the story will add to your word count.
Next think about your genre. If you’re writing romance, you know you’re aiming for a happily ever after. For fantasy or science fiction, your characters might not all be human. Do you have special technology in your story? For a historical, you will need background research. And many types of stories rely heavily on setting and/or world building. Don’t hesitate to hit the library or do some online searches regardling locations, tech, history, etc. Take notes, so you’ll have lots of great detail on hand to weave into your writing.
Finally, consider scenes you’ve already envisioned. How do your characters reach those points? What happens after the scenes? Think about repercussions. It’s good to have some key scenes you’re excited to write, especially on days words don’t flow easily.
Organize Your Life:
Let friends and family know you’ll be tackling NaNoWriMo, so they understand your time might be tight for a few weeks.
Stock the fridge with healthy snacks in addition to the fun ones. Fruit, nuts, yogurt, etc. make great brain food when you’re on a writing tear. Also, cook some easy meals ahead and freeze them for quick dinner prep.
Check supplies of important staples: coffee, tea, tissues, toilet paper–anything you’d hate to run out of in November.
Prepare to take care of yourself. Put reminders in your phone so you go for walks or hit the gym during NaNo. The exercise will help keep your mind fresh.
Schedule a few smaller writing sessions per day rather than trying to hit your daily goal in one goal.
Do write ahead on days you’re feeling strong. If you have the time, keep going. You’ll stockpile words for days you’re busy or less inspired.
Don’t feel you need to write linearly. Skip around if it helps you keep writing. Just make notes of places where you need to fill in later.
Don’t stop to edit. Don’t fret over sloppy writing or repetition. Just keep getting your ideas down. You’ll have plenty of time to rewrite later.
If a scene isn’t coming, jot it down in note form as a place holder. The words will count and you’ll replace them with even more when you finally tackle that section. Again, flag where you’ve done this so you remember to go back.
Do take advantage of group write-ins or other NaNo community events. It helps to have some cheerleaders who know what you’re up against.
Don’t ignore those reminders you set to get some exercise. And remember to get a good night’s sleep, too.
These are just a few ideas for ways to make tackling NaNoWriMo fun and relatively painless. Be sure to check out the main site, where there are additional tips and forums filled with encouragement. Whatever your goal for November, I wish you good luck and happy writing.
Happy Friday, everyone, and welcome to the online listening edition of Friday Links. This week I’ve been obsessing a bit about podcasts. I’m not a regular podcast listener. I don’t subscribe to any, and normally I end up streaming them from their websites rather than through iTunes or the like. My listening depends on my running across something interesting more than any adherence to a specific thing. Not to say I don’t enjoy them, because I do. But podcasts fall into the same category as audio books for me. If I am listening while doing something more complicated than driving or walking, I tune out. It’s just how my brain works. I’m more of a visual person. I like to read print. My mind wanders if I’m listening to something recorded without a corresponding image. But this week was a bit different.
It actually started with Audible, not with podcasts. I do have an Audible account and will listen to books while walking or driving more than 20 minutes or so. But Audible really got my attention by adding two additional freebies to membership. They now offer two downloads of Audible Originals per month, from a list of six titles they choose. No extra fee, no credits required. So suddenly I had more listening material at my fingertips. Mind you, I’m already working my way through The Three Musketeers (unabridged and over 20 hours), but I like having a variety. But then came the email from Danny Gregory about his latest podcast episode of Art for All–featuring an interview with Austin Kleon.
I believe firmly in branching out when it comes to seeking advice on a creative life. I like to dabble in arts and crafts and photography when I’m not nose-deep in a book. And I check out books or websites by various types of artists, as well. So I’m a fan of Danny Gregory, and Sketchbook Skool, the online art class platform he co-runs. I gave his newish podcast a try when it first started, but it didn’t really capture my attention. This week’s episode, however, was a different story. Gregory’s interview with Kleon covers so many aspects of the creative life. They discuss Kleon’s system of journaling, working on paper versus digitally, and his thoughts on why so many people are trying to turn their art into a career. So interesting, and relatable to many artistic endeavors.
Unlike many podcasts, this one wasn’t streaming from the landing page, so I ended up listening on iTunes. When I finished, I went scouting for more things to listen to and came up with a handful of other recommendations. They’re all related to books and/or writing and creativity, and I’m bookmarking for future listening binges. I’m also adding them here to the rest of this week’s links. I hope you find something fun to check out over the weekend for a bit of reading and writing inspiration. Enjoy!
Online Listening Links:
Art for All. – The main page for Danny Gregory’s art-related podcast focusing on the creative life.
The Librarian Is In. – A fabulous podcast run by the New York Public Library, featuring two very entertaining hosts, frequent guests, and diverse book recommendations.
Overdue. – A podcast where the hosts finally get around to reading (and discussing) those books that have been lingering on their TBR lists way too long.