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.

 

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!

Friday Links: A NaNoWriMo Inspiration Edition

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.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

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.

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

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

Friday Links: NaNo Inspiration and Motivation

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!

This Week’s Links:

Messy Attics of the Mind: What’s Inside a Writer’s Notebook. – Interesting look at the act of keeping notes and the ongoing fascination with the origin of story ideas.

5 Books Featuring Women in Love with Women. – Tor offers up some wonderful SFF titles for anyone looking to mix up their reading list.

7 Wonderful Classic Reprint Series. – When you favorites get a new look. Nice peek at some great new book designs.

The Draw of the Gothic. – What fascinates us about this particular story mood.

Inside the Rooms Where 20 Famous Books Were Written. – A peek at the room where it happened. Yeah, I know, but I couldn’t resist.

How to Renew Your English Degree. – A bit of humor courtesy of McSweeney’s.

3 Principles for Finding Time to Write. – Tips for how to prioritize your writing.

 

Tackling NaNoWriMo: Tips for Writing a Novel in a Month

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.

Tackling NaNoWriMo header with writing supplies for November

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.

Tackling NaNoWriMo:

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.

Friday Links: Online Listening Edition for Podcast Fans

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.

microphone for online listening

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.

Other PPL with Brad Listi. – An old favorite of mine; one-on-one interviews with authors.

First Draft. – Another favorite. Interviews with young adult and middle grade authors.

Lit Up. – More great author interviews.

What Should I Read Next? – A book rec podcast run by Anne Bogel, of the popular blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy.

A Few Other Links:

Romance Bookstore The Ripped Bodice Poised to Bring the Genre to Television. – Announcing the store owners’ deal with Sony TV.

Bloomsbury Group’s Countryside Hub Opens to Visitors Year-Round. – In case you’re making literary travel plans…

23 Book Cover Designers to Follow on Instagram. – Pretty much what it says.

Regency Rendezvous: Inside the World of Jane Austen Fandom. – For diehard fans, a chance to step into the period.

 

Friday Links: Writing Foundations

Every writer’s work develops from their writing foundations, their earliest impressions as young writers and readers. Although new experiences always add to the writer’s perspective, nothing is so formative as those first encounters. This week’s links focus on the usual range of topics, but several include interviews with authors talking about their writing identity and early influences. Consider your own favorite books that inspired you to write, or life events that might affect your writing themes. Sometimes knowing the questions that fascinate you can help you dig more deeply into the story you wish to tell.

As always, I hope this week’s links leave you feeling excited to write. Wishing you a wonderful weekend, with some time to read, write,  and maybe to investigate your own writing foundations. Enjoy!

This week’s links:

On the 13 Words that Made Me a Writer. – Author Sofia Samatar talks about her youthful obsession with fantasy and how it inspired her.

When Your Imposter Syndrome Is Out of Control. – Everyone feels unsure about themselves at some point. A great reading list to help fight self-doubt.

The Crack Squad of Librarians Who Track Down Half-Forgotten Books. – A look at those talented folks who help find that book you can’t quite remember.

Jason Reynolds: “What’s Unusual about My Story Is that I Became a Writer.” – The multi-published author discusses how his early experiences led him to write books that wouldn’t bore his audience.

Writing Wisdom from Guest Author Maureen Goo. – The YA author talks about her approach to writing.

Five Books about Unconventional Pirates. – Because I have a pirate thing, okay? And everyone’s TBR stack should have a pirate book on it.

Reading Horror Can Arm Us Against a Horrifying World. – NPR looks at horror as a way to make sense of reality.

Year-End Friday Links (on Holiday Delay)

Apologies for posting the year-end Friday links a bit late this week. I spent most of Thursday and the early part of Friday traveling home from visiting my parents. Due to various flight issues, I arrived about the time I should have been waking up. I declared yesterday a nap day.

2017 has been a very odd and difficult year. Despite the distractions, I hope you all got some good writing and reading done over the past months. Even the worst periods in time have their shiny moments. If you haven’t already, take a moment to appreciate your accomplishments this year, and to think about where to go next. Although I’ve written about all the ways to set up next year’s goals, it can be as simple as jotting a few ideas down. Think about what you’d like to achieve, and how you should set out to chase down that goal.

Congratulations to everyone who has been keeping up with the December Writing Challenge. Remember that all the words count, even those you eventually edit. Just keep plugging away, training your mind to be creative on demand. Stretch your imagination and reach for the stars.

Without further ado, I offer up this week’s Friday (Saturday?) Links. Wishing you all a wonderful weekend, and an excellent end of a very hard year. Happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

Quartz’s Favorite Africa Books of 2017. – A rundown of some excellent African titles to add to your TBR list.

The Best Books We Missed in 2017. – Some less-discussed books from various genres, plus recs from their authors.

A Year in Books: 2017, vol. 1. – The editors of The Attic on Eighth take turns discussing their year in reading.

The Woman Working to Ensure No Community Is Left without Literature. – Checking in with Lisa Lucas in her second year heading up the National Book Foundation.

Mourning Sue Grafton. – Thoughts on the passing of the talented and prolific mystery writer.

What We Don’t Talk about When We Talk about Books of the Year. – A different angle on the ever-popular annual “best books” lists.

How to Sanitize a Hateful Troll. – On the dissection of the editorial comments for Milo Yiannopoulos’s canceled book.

Writers and Creators Discuss What It Means to Make Art in the Trump Era. – Talking about the effects on the artists, the art, and the audience.

2017 December Writing Challenge

2017-December-Writing-Challenge

The 2017 December Writing Challenge kicks off tomorrow. Every year I issue this challenge to help writers get some words down during what’s arguably the busiest month of the year. Between holidays, family obligations, a slew of events, travel, and year-end expectations at work, many writers find their days completely packed. For those writers finishing a month of intense creativity for NaNoWriMo, taking December off from writing can seem particularly appealing. Hence this challenge.

If January is the month for resolutions, December is the month for distractions. But if you plan to set yourself some writing goals for 2018, you don’t want to lose your writing momentum now. No writing in December makes it hard to ramp up again once the new year starts. So I challenge you to write this coming month. Make yourself, and your writing, a priority.

2017 December Writing Challenge: The Rules

Because December can be crazy, this writing challenge is simple. I challenge you to write every day during the month of December. Unlike with NaNo, you aren’t aiming for a specific word count. Write as much or as little as you wish. But every day over the course of the month, sit down with your notebook or in front of your computer and do the work.

Write whatever you want. Work on your current novel. Get some editing done — including new words, not just deleting them. Try your hand at a new format, such as flash fiction or a personal essay. Focus on one project or have several going. Keep your eyes on an upcoming deadline. This challenge is for you, so you decide what to write.

As a nod to the true insanity of some people’s Decembers, I allow you up to two days off. Aim to write every day, but if you need to skip it once or twice, you have those two free days to use. Maybe you want to take a break for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Perhaps your New Year’s Eve plans require a nap instead of a writing session earlier in the day. Or you need a full day to clean in prep for your relatives coming to visit. Again, your choice.

A Few Tips

  • Even on your busiest days, try to squeeze in a bit of writing. Even 15 minutes will do, though I encourage you to aim for at least 30 minutes.
  • If you’re having a hard time finding sufficient time to write, try breaking it up into two smaller chunks over the day.
  • Do have a backup project or two at hand, so if your writing stalls on one thing, you can still work on something else.
  • Do commit to yourself and to the challenge, but don’t beat yourself up if you end up missing a few days more than planned. The point is to write enough that you don’t lose your momentum. Aim for every day, but regardless, just do your best.

I’ll be back tomorrow and periodically throughout the month with more tips and pep talks for inspiration. Also, keep an eye out on Twitter (@NepheleTempest) for additional cheering throughout the month under the #DecWritingChallenge tag. The 2017 December Writing Challenge starts tomorrow, so I hope you’ll be joining in. Happy writing!