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!

December Writing Challenge 2019: Mid-Month Check In

Hey there, writers! Today marks the halfway point for the month of December, and with it the December Writing Challenge. Are you still writing? Have you made a little time for your work-in-progress each day? If not, have you still written more than you might have otherwise?

I know December runs away with us sometimes. Even when you think you’re on top of everything you need to do, something will sneak through the cracks. But if your writing is important to you, take that time to commit to it, even when life gets hectic. Something can always come up. There will always be emergencies or sudden demands for your time. You decide what ranks high enough to disrupt your routine–but you need to determine the routine first.

I hope making the effort to write daily in December shows you how much you want your dream–and that you can put it first in many instances. Not always, of course. Everyone has responsibilities. But if you plan for it, if you think about it and say “this needs to happen,” you can make it work. The key is to write enough to keep your brain nimble and the words flowing the next time you have a good chunk of time to write.

Good luck with the rest of the month! You can keep up the momentum. I’ll be back in a couple days with thoughts on making goals for the new year, so be sure to check back. Happy writing!

Friday Links: The Completely Random, Tired-Agent Edition

Welcome to this week’s unapologetically theme-free Friday Links. Work and holiday prep beckon, and my brain refuses to conjure up a creative topic for these babies. Yes, they’re all bookish. Or writing related. But otherwise, they’re just things I stumbled across this week, or recently, and found fun or useful. Themes will return when I’m no longer falling asleep at my desk, likely in the new year.

The December Writing Challenge keeps on trucking. Are you writing every day? Is the challenge proving hard? Or are you setting your schedule and sticking to it? Remember, even a short writing sprint counts. You can do this!

And on that note, I’m off to do a million things before the weekend can start. Have a great one, and happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

The Best Overlooked Books of 2019. – 10 titles Vulture thought got too little press.

Little Women Is a Big, Important, American Masterpiece. Let’s Treat It Like One. – A.N. Devers looks at the history of the novel and its adaptations as we wait for the eighth film version to hit theaters.

How to Spend a Literary Long Weekend in Chicago. – A fun itinerary for bookish visitors to the Windy City. Keep in mind for your next trip!

At a Romance Cover Shoot, There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Wind Machine. – A terrific and wildly amusing look behind the scenes of a recent cover shoot for Milla Vane‘s A TOUCH OF STONE AND SNOW (A Gathering of Dragons, book 2: July 2020).

By the Book: Edelweiss, Edelweiss? Julie Andrews Loves Reading about 18th-Century Plant Hunters. – The actress and author talks about her relationship to reading, books she’s loved, and what’s on her current TBR stack.

Mistakes Writers Make When Submitting to Literary Magazines. – An older post (one I’ve likely linked to previously) with excellent advice, much of which carries over to submitting to agents.

December Writing Challenge: Why Write Daily?

My December Writing Challenge asks you to write every day this month. However, the point is not to convince you that you need to write daily. Rather, the challenge focuses on squeezing in your writing time, no matter how busy life gets. If you aim to write every day, you might miss one or two (I give you two freebies), but you will manage to write most of the time. Even if it’s just for a few stolen minutes. Writing becomes your priority. You become your priority. Your writing goals are important, and I hope to help you see that through this challenge.

Plenty of successful writers do not write every day. Others do. Only you can decide what schedule works best for your life and your career in the long term. And writing habits change over time. I do believe writing on a fairly regular basis helps train your brain to perform on command. It’s not a perfect system, but your brain is a muscle, and conditioning it to be creative isn’t a bad thing. However, I will never claim that writing daily is the only way to become a good writer. Creatives follow many paths to their goals, and your journey is your own.

Come January, you might resume writing four days a week or only on weekends. You might find that daily writing boosts your creative juices, and continue to work a session in each day. Maybe you’ll try something else entirely. But for December, give daily writing a chance.

If you’re already sailing along with the challenge, thank you for joining in and good luck with your writing! For those of you who are just dropping by or who haven’t considered daily writing but who are curious to give it a go, it’s never too late to start the challenge. You can find the full explanation of how it works over here.

Wishing you all the best as you navigate this busy month. Now go write!

December Writing Challenge 2019: Lift Off!

Welcome to the 2019 edition of the December Writing Challenge! I laid out the rules of the challenge yesterday, all two of them, so please check those out if you haven’t done so already. Today, we start! This is our official lift-off post, but I hope at least some of you have gotten a few words down already. Remember, it’s not about how many words you write, but the fact that you’re taking the time to do so.

My goal for the challenge is to encourage writers to remember that their writing ambition, at whatever stage, should remain a priority. During this time of the year, it can be difficult to do things for yourself, even important things. The season pushes us to do others; to give, to shop, to cook, to help. And that’s wonderful–something more of us should keep in mind all year long. But your own needs should not be discounted simply because a busy month asks you to prioritize the holiday spirit.

Writing asks a lot of a person. If you’re just starting out, there are so many facets of the craft you need to master. Once you’re further along, you need to continue to grow while taking a more business-minded approach to your career. People don’t often take writers seriously, because so many consider writing something anyone can do. But writing is hard work. And like any hard work, it requires dedication and training.

Writing Is Exercise

Your brain does the heavy lifting when you write. It’s the source of your ideas, your creativity, and of all the different ways you can put those down on paper. And like any muscle, your brain must be conditioned to perform on demand. You would not take a month off from running and then expect to go run your best race. Likewise, you can’t allow your writing to take a backseat to life for a few weeks and expect the words to flow when you finally return to your work-in-progress.

A little bit of writing daily, even for half an hour, will keep your brain in shape. You might not love everything you produce this month, but that can be said of any month. So make a date with your writing. Make it a priority. Remember that come January, you have lofty goals for the new year, things you want to accomplish. Keep writing now and keep that future in your sights.

I’ll be posting bits of encouragement and tips here throughout the month. You can also follow me on Twitter for more regular reminders and cheerleading @NepheleTempest. I’ll be using the tag #DecWritingChallenge. Now, go write!

December Writing Challenge 2019: Rules of the Game

Every year, I challenge writers to defy their busy schedules in December and keep up their writing. December brings so many obstacles with it. Between holidays, shopping, entertaining, travel, and work responsibilities, it can be difficult to find time to write. You intend to work on that current project, but distractions keep cropping up, pulling you away from your computer. Before you know it, a week has gone by and you haven’t even opened your project file. All the writing momentum you’ve built up over the year, whether through NaNoWriMo or just your own schedule, gets lost. Instead of making new writing goals for the new year, you just hope you can remember where your story goes next.

December Writing Challenge 2019 banner on a chalkboard

Enter the December Writing Challenge. I challenge you to make your writing a priority. Your goals are just as important as fixing the perfect holiday dinner or cleaning the house before the family descends. So decide now that you are going to write every day in December. It doesn’t have to be for long, or polished and perfected. You can work on a shitty first draft or play with a new idea or tackle a new writing exercise each day. But sit down and write. Try for 30 minutes, though 15 will do in a pinch. Commit yourself to keeping your writing momentum going through the holiday season, so you’re all ready come January for your 2020 resolutions.

The Rules:

  1. Write every day. Doesn’t matter when or where or what. Just set aside half an hour to dedicate to your writing.
  2. You can take two days off over the month, if you really need them. Planning a big holiday dinner at your house? You can take a freebie day. Travel day that sucks up hours with you behind the wheel? Maybe that’s a good day not to write. But only take them if you have to, and try to keep it to two days out of 31.

That’s it. Those are the only rules. Keep in mind, you can customize the challenge as need be. Edit if you’ve got a deadline coming, or schedule longer writing sessions. Break up your writing into small chunks over the day if that makes it easier. This challenge isn’t about word counts or finishing a novel in a month. It’s about keeping your brain in training so the blank page isn’t so scary come January 1st.

A Few Tips:

  1. Schedule writing sessions ahead of time, and put reminders on your calendar, complete with alerts.
  2. Let your family know what you’re doing and that your writing time is non-negotiable (assuming no one’s bleeding).
  3. Find a few writing friends and set up writing dates over the course of the month to keep yourself accountable.
  4. Carry a pen and notebook with you so, if need be, you can spend a few minutes jotting down words when you’re standing in a long line at the store, commuting on public transportation, or waiting in the car to pick up your kids.
  5. Have fun with it. Let yourself play around and write something different if you’re having trouble with your WIP. Don’t make this stressful, just keep writing.