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!

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: A Celebration of Books and Booksellers

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?

Independent Bookstore Day logo of a hand holding an open book.

 

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.

The Importance of Bookstores During the Pandemic. – A lovely homage to bookstores and all they do for us, especially in difficult times.

Eight Trends in Book Cover Art, From Busy Botanicals to Women Walking Away. – As it says. Some beautiful examples, attached to some great reads. (I’m personally partial to the botanicals.)

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.

Why It’s Not Empowering to Abandon the Male Pseudonyms Used by Female Authors. – A thoughtful look at the recent decision to release a number of books written by women including their birthnames over the pseudonyms they chose, and why this is not a simple situation.

9 Books about Disreputable Women by Women Writers. – Great books featuring the inside stories of women society labels disreputable.

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.”

Plotting Your Fantasy with a Bullet Journal. – One writer’s system for organizing their writing, plot, and world building.

We Need People Within Our Publishing Houses Who Reflect What Our Country Looks Like. – A great interview with Lisa Lucas, who will be leaving her post as head of the National Book Foundation at the end of the year to take on the role of publisher at PRH’s Pantheon and Schocken Books.

Friday Links: Reading Your Way to Summer’s End

This Friday I propose we all forget about the pandemic (metaphorically) and focus on our TBR piles. Stay home this weekend, fix yourself a pitcher of tasty cocktails (or mocktails–your choice), grab a lawn chair or hammock and get reading. I will admit I’m spurred on by my own weekend reading list. Mine is all client-and-submission related, but the rest of the proposal stands. And you should feel free to tackle all those great vacation reads you’d normally enjoy on a plane or by a pool. (If you have a pool in your yard, even better.)

Not sure where to start? You are in luck. This week’s links feature lots of book lists. So if you are wondering what to read, or just what to pick up first, check below for inspiration. Ignore the insanity of the outside world and sink into a romance or a fantasy or thriller for distraction. Cheers!

This Week’s Links:

Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2020 Book Preview. – Frequent flyers here know I love this feature over at The Millions. Twice a year they present an enormous list of books coming out in the half-year or so ahead.

What 100 Writers Have Been Reading During Quarantine. – Tons of great ideas here. Some are recs, some just straight lists of what these writers have been reading recently.

The 50 Most Impactful Black Books of the Last 50 Years. – As the title says. Fantastic assortment.

John Scalzi and Mary Robinette Kowal in Conversation. – A great chat between these two authors where they discuss process, science fiction, and more. For those of you looking for writing inspiration instead of reading inspiration (or both).

Independent Bookstore Day swag. – Independent Bookstore Day is creeping up, and you can now buy swag in the form of face masks or coffee mugs to honor/support the event.

2020 First Novel Prize: The Long List. – The long list for this year’s First Novel Prize by the Center for Fiction. I’m not sure every single one of these titles are out yet–I’ve heard buzz about ARCs for a couple–but many are, and you can always make a mental note for later if something appeals.

Friday Links: Inspiration and Influence

We discuss inspiration a lot when talking about what we write. We want to read, to fill the well, to take in new ideas. Things inspire you to go in a particular direction with your work-in-progress. Sometimes it’s a snippet of conversation or a bit of reading, other times it’s more nebulous. Colors in the trees. A flashy outfit on a woman across the street. A moment of fear when it looks like something terrible might happen.

Girl_on_mountain_stretching_at_sunset

But past influences? I think we mostly discuss those in relation to published writers, asking them to look back at who they’ve read and what they’ve experienced that made them a writer. It’s harder to think about it in the moment, to look at your half-formed manuscript and recognize the pieces of your past that form the roots. It’s something to consider, next time you hit a wall or find your momentum slowing. Think about where you’re going, but also about where you’ve been. Ask what brought you there. It might help you figure out what comes next.

Along those lines, I offer up this week’s Friday Links, with plenty of inspiration and maybe a few looks at influence, too. I hope they give you a push in the right direction. Wishing you a wonderful weekend and productive writing!

This Week’s Links:

Five Books about Artists and the Magic of Creativity. – Maggie Stiefvater discusses the natural melding of art and magic and how that comes across in books.

The Second Shelf. – A peek into the world of A.N. Devers’s wonderful second-hand bookshop, located in London, where books by women get a second life in a market that is traditionally dominated by male writers.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of November. – Some great new titles topping the list per Amazon.

How to Unlearn Everything: When it Comes to Writing the ‘Other,’ What Questions Are We not Asking? – Alexander Chee looks at the importance of including diverse characters versus what it means to let a person tell their own story.

Explore the List of 100 Novels that Shaped Our World. – The BBC shares a broad list of titles voted on by a collection of writers, critics, etc., focusing not on what books are “best,” but on what works had the most influence on them and their surroundings.

Philip Pullman On Children’s Literature and the Critics Who Distain It. – The author looks at the what the label “children’s literature” actually means, and why these books are no less worthy of an adult’s attention than any other type of writing.

How to Review a Novel. – Advice on the process, but also something interesting for fiction writers to consider. Reviewers and pleasure readers can have very different perspectives.

A Roundup of 2019’s Major Science Fiction and Fantasy Award Winners. – Pad out your TBR list with some of these amazing award-winning novels.

Friday Links: New Year Booklists

New year booklists are one of my favorite things about January. If December brings lists of the best books of the previous year, the new year’s lists focus entirely on anticipation. These lists give me something to look forward to, rather than reminding me of what I wish I had a chance to read already. So this week’s Friday Links offer up lists of a ton of great books coming out in the months ahead. Be warned: your to-be-read lists might explode as a result. Mine certainly looks unreasonably long, as there are some fabulous sounding titles on the horizon. I’ve tried to include a good mix of genres and so on, and of course not every link leads to book recommendations. But there are a lot of new year booklists out there. I hope these will be sufficient to inspire you.

New Year Booklists: Piles of books to read in 2019

No Time to Read

I also want to point out that, for those of you hoping to read more books this year, the upcoming 24 in 48 Readathon provides a great chance to get a jump start on that TBR. It takes place the weekend of January 26th and 27th, and the idea is to read for 24 hours out of a 48-hour period. It’s the sort of readathon that encourages you to get some sleep, go for a walk, and live your life, even as you put in some serious reading hours. You’re also free to join in for fewer hours if you’d rather, or if you have a busy weekend. Sign ups are open over at the readathon website, and you can find more complete details there regarding how the event works. It makes for a fun, weirdly social weekend considering that it revolves around reading a lot.

With that, I’ll head right to this week’s Friday Links. Wishing you a fabulous weekend, filled with lots of reading and writing time. Enjoy!

New Year Booklists and More:

Most Anticipated: The Great First-Half 2019 Book Preview. – This bi-annual list features a huge collection of books releasing in the coming months. Always an excellent roundup, filled with titles that might otherwise not be on your radar.

105 Books Sci-Fi & Fantasy Editors Can’t Wait for You to Read in 2019. – Pretty much what it sounds like. Tons of great-sounding titles.

The Most Anticipated Crime Books of 2019, Pt. 1. – Enormous list of mysteries, thrillers, etc.

2019 Preview: Most Anticipated Romance. – A terrific list of upcoming romance novels, including titles by TKA clients Nalini Singh, Alyssa Cole, Melonie Johnson, and Cat Sebastian.

28 Young Adult Books Coming Out in 2019 that Will Seriously Get You Pumped for the New Year. – Like the title says…

How to Make Your Imagination Work Harder. – Great advice from Danny Gregory for anyone feeling a little overwhelmed, burned out, or possibly even blocked.

What We Gain from Keeping Books–and Why It Doesn’t Need to Be ‘Joy’. – In the midst of the backlash from booklovers against Marie Kondo’s method of cleaning out bookcases, a lovely look at what books do for us.

Yay, Yea, Yeah, or Yes? – A quick look at these often-used, but only sometimes interchangeable, words.

Setting Writing Goals for 2019

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

Setting writing goals for 2019

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

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

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

Tips for Setting Writing Goals:

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

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

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

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

Keeping Your Goals

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

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

Friday Links: Holiday Insanity Edition

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

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

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

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

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

This Week’s Links:

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

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

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

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

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

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