Wishing you all the best as we transition into 2023. The last few years have been difficult, so I hesitate to weigh this new year down with too many expectations. But when in doubt, choose optimism. Health and happiness to you in this holiday season.
Let’s Write: December Writing Challenge 2022
Let’s write! Today marks the official start of this year’s December Writing Challenge. But what does that mean?
December might well be the busiest month of the year. Stuffed with holidays that require shopping, cooking, travel, and entertaining. That end-of-the-year push to finish up everything your job demands. How can you think of taking time to write? But my answer is, how can you not?
Maybe writing is your job already, and you have a deadline on the horizon. Or perhaps you’re still working to get published. Either way, if writing is important to you, make it a top priority. You don’t need to devote hours each day to putting words on the page, but do set aside a small block of time for your work-in-progress or some writing sprints or a bit of literary playtime. You will keep your creative muscles limber through the holiday season, ready to pounce on those new year’s goals. Plus your friends and family will see, if they don’t already, that writing is a vital part of your life.
Full details for how to tackle the December Writing Challenge in my previous post. I’ll be cheering you on throughout the month, both here and on various social media platforms. You can find me @NepheleTempest on Twitter, Instagram, Mastodon, and Hive.
So pull out your calendar and set some writing dates for yourself. Maybe pick up a new notebook so you can jot down words on the fly. However you commit to the challenge, start by commiting to yourself. Happy writing!
December Writing Challenge 2022: Coming Soon!
Are you ready for the December Writing Challenge? Each year, I challenge writers to make their writing a priority, despite the busy nature of the month. Between the holiday season and year-end wrap ups, it’s very easy to let your writing time slide, especially if you have not yet made the jump to professional writer. But a writer is someone who writes, not someone who gets paid to do so. And so I challenge you to keep writing during the craziness of December, no matter where you are in your career, even if you only manage to steal a little time each day.
It might sound insane to try to write with any set schedule in December of all months, but there is a method to my madness. First of all, many writers spend November participating in NaNoWriMo. That’s a month-long, very intense attempt to produce 50,000 words. And while it’s tempting to take time off after that sort of slog, I say make the most of the momentum you’ve built up. Your brain becomes accustomed to producing words after 30 days of demanding output. But whether you’ve been writing all month or just on your normal schedule, keep going. Don’t allow your creative muscles to grow flabby. A writing challenge offers a little bit of a framework to help.
The second reason to write through the month of December comes in January, when you’re staring down a brand new year and thinking about your writing goals. Whatever you wish to achieve in 2023, you’ll have a head start if you’re already in the habit of writing regularly. Set your goals and dive in, no need to get yourself back up to speed or to flex rusty skills. Future you will definitely thank present you for putting in some desk time over the holidays.
The December Writing Challenge hinges on a few very simple rules.
- Write every day during the month of December.
- No minimum word count, no mandatory amount of time per day (though I recommend you try to squeeze in at least half an hour).
- Write whatever you want: Novel in progress, poetry, short stories, nonfiction, one project all month or bits of different things.
- If necessary, you can take up to two days off. Try not to, but this is a nod to the time of year. So if you’re entertaining or traveling or whatever, and you have a day when you just can’t imagine stealing a few minutes away from everything to write, use one of your free days.
Advice for Managing Your Writing
There are always people demanding your time and attention, especially during the holidays, so one tip I have is to tell your family and friends that you’re participating in this challenge. Let them know you want their support. Ask them to honor your commitment to your writing by leaving you alone when you have a scheduled writing session (emergencies aside, of course).
Next tip: really schedule that time to write. Look at your calendar at the start of each week and pick a time slot for your writing. Consider it an appointment or date with yourself. Block it out, complete with a reminder/notification, and stick to it the way you would a meeting or trip to the dentist.
If you have writer friends in your neighborhood, set up a buddy system. Meet for a writing date once a week at your favorite coffee shop or the library. If you’re avoiding public places, set up a joint writing time on Zoom. Cheer each other on while you keep each other accountable.
Keep your writing portable and take advantage of downtime when you’re out and about. If you have a notebook and pen in your bag/car/office, you’ll be more inclined to jot down some words over your lunch break or in the doctor’s waiting room or sitting in the pickup line at your kids’ school.
Break your writing up if you can’t fit a full session one day. Try writing for 15 minutes over your morning coffee and again during lunch, if that’s the only time you have. The important thing is to get a few words down and to train your creative mind to show up when you call.
The Option to Push Yourself
Feel free to set yourself some additional mini challenges, especially if you’re concerned about what to write every day. Maybe you fear writer’s block or think you won’t be able to get going on your WIP in a small window of time, or perhaps you’re between projects and don’t know where to start. Take an hour before the beginning of the month to set yourself a few writing prompts/challenges you can fall back on when you need ideas or a little extra motivation to write. Make them fun or silly or weird—whatever will make you more likely to sit down and write for a while.
A few potential prompts:
- A list of first sentences for new stories
- Settings you’d like to describe
- Weird real-life events that could be twisted into fiction, such as the infamous Darwin Awards, missed personal connections, what-ifs based on bumping into people from your past or celebrities or someone you thought was deceased
- Memories of holidays long past
- Retellings of fairy tales or myths
- Something in a different genre from what you typically write
- Craft exercises, such as writing a scene only in dialogue, or writing a scene multiple times from different points of view
- Do some online image searches—for cities you’ve never visited, mountain tops, forests, cabins, castles, beaches—and use the resulting photos as inspiration
- Try your hand at fanfiction if you’ve never done so; rewrite the ending of a favorite film or tie up loose ends from a beloved series that got canceled prematurely
Whatever else you have going on this month, try to remember what you love about writing, what started you down this path in the first place. A busy schedule combined with the frustration of a plot that’s not cooperating or perhaps looming deadlines can make writing feel more like work and less like something you love to do. And while writing can be work, it should also have an element of joy to it. It’s not something you should do if you hate the process unreservedly. So take a few moments to embrace the joyful aspects of writing. Allow yourself to play with it. Appreciate the rhythms of a well-crafted sentence. Admire a deft description. Pat yourself on the back over that witty dialogue. Be proud of your writing accomplishments, at every stage of your journey.
I’ll ask again: Are you ready to write? Ready for a bit of a challenge? Prioritize your writing this December. Remember what makes it important to you, and why you love it.
We kick off the challenge on December 1st, here and on various social media platforms. I look forward to hearing how your challenge progresses. Happy writing!
Countdown to 2022: Out with the Old, In with the New
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.
Friday Links: Kicking Off December Edition
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!
This week’s links:
10 Books to Read in December. – A rundown of some new releases heading your way.
The Joy of Reading Slowly. – As someone who reads for work and is always trying to finish more books, I love this appreciation of the joys inherent in taking your time to savor something.
11 Literary Podcasts to Distract You from Your Life. – If you need to multitask or are just looking for something bookish to listen to, here are a bunch of ideas.
Artist Opportunities with Upcoming Deadlines in December and January. – If you’re looking for a writing residency (or maybe something in another discipline), this list provides some places to consider.
Novels That Aren’t The Handmaid’s Tale About How America Treats Women. – For readers who can’t quite shake current events but want to sink into a fictional world.
The 36 Best (Old) Books We Read in 2021. – Some distinctly not-recent releases, if you’re looking to add some more timeless titles to your TBR pile.
December Writing Challenge 2021: Chasing Your Goals
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.
Friday Links: Reading for Long Summer Days Edition
Welcome to the long, not-so-lazy days of summer. We’re a few weeks in, and while this summer ranks far better than last, things are still a little… different. (If you hail from the southern hemisphere, this goes for chilly winter days, too. Pandemic life affects all seasons.)
Life and work continue to pick up pretty steadily, which means reminding my pandemic-brain how to function at normal speeds. In my heart, I yearn for a long vacation with a stack of books by the pool. The vacation part still looks unlikely, but the reading is a go. So this week I thought I’d try and revive Friday Links with a few good to-read lists with summer indulgence in mind. Of course, I’m throwing in a few writerly links, as well.
What are you all reading these days? Has the pandemic altered your book preferences at all? I’d love to hear what you’re up to. Meanwhile, wishing you a lovely weekend and some good reading and writing time. Enjoy!
This Week’s Links:
July’s Must-Read Books. – Pretty much as described. Some great sounding titles here.
Here are all the romance books you need to read this summer. – Not quite all of this summer’s romance releases, but a good number of them, particularly if you’re looking for a good rom-com.
Best Books of 2021 So Far. – BookRiot rounds up a huge list of excellent titles published between January and June of this year. Great for playing catch-up.
How to Submit to Literary Journals. – Some excellent tips for those of you looking to write some shorter works this summer.
Words Matter: Copyediting as a Process for (or Against) Social Change. – Interesting look on the role of copyediting in our cultural shifts.
A Brief History of Russian Science Fiction. – A look at the development of the genre as the national identity moved from Russian to Soviet and back again.
How Do You Keep a Novel Alive When It Keeps Trying to Die? -On writing and persistence when working on a long-form project.
How Do You Keep a Long-Running Series Fresh? The Secret Is Character. – A discussion about series and how to keep your readers’ interest across future books. Couched in terms of crime fiction, but great tips for all types of novels.
Goal Setting for the New Year Ahead
Most years, I start discussing goals for the new year a few weeks before the end of December. I advocate for taking time to review the year you’ve just gone through to see where things stand. Have you written as much as you’d like? Did you make more progress or less than you wanted? What needs finishing? Improving? Where do you need to just keep up the good work? You need to know where you stand to figure out where you want to go.
As with all things, 2020 proves the exception. I still think it’s important to take stock of your current writing progress, but looking back over the year is a personal decision. For many of you, it’s better to just plow forward because it’s been a year of frustration and lost focus. If you’ve achieved your goals for 2020, kudos! But many, many people will have fallen short. Don’t beat yourself up. We’re living through extraordinary times and it’s important to be kind to yourself.
So what does this mean for 2021? New years deserve new goals. I’m not a huge resolution person, as many of you might know. I feel like the expectations are huge and the follow-through unlikely. Goals come at any part of the year, however, and you can always add to them or adjust them based on circumstances. Consider them guideposts for your writing plans.
Setting Goals for 2021
By all means, take a day or so to think about what goals you’d like to set for your writing next year. Make them measurable, and things you can control, especially after this past year. Don’t say “I’m going to get an agent,” because you only control part of that scenario. Instead, plan to complete the steps required. A series of goals related to finding an agent might include:
- Finish writing manuscript.
- Revise/edit manuscript until it’s ready to submit.
- Research agents and agencies (to see who reps your type of writing and who might be interested in your work).
- Write a synopsis and a query letter.
Those are all manageable steps, things you can check off your to-do list and call completed. Finishing a manuscript takes far more time than writing a query letter, so it would be a larger goal. You might research agents in small bursts over several weeks. Revising requires more time, especially if you plan to let a manuscript sit until you have a fresh perspective.
Wherever you are in your writing journey, from newbie to pro, I recommend setting a few goals of different sizes and then estimating when you might reasonably finish them. A big goal might take all year, but smaller ones might be complete in a couple of months or so. Set them up on a calendar, and stagger some of those smaller projects. For instance, you might have a major goal that runs until December, as well as a medium one that runs January to June and a smaller one from July to September.
Making Allowances for Life
2020 won’t be the only year to mess with you careful planning. Consider your typical year and allow more time during periods where you get busy or have other responsibilities, whether to a day job or family. If the December holidays are usually packed with chores and family gatherings, you might aim to finish a larger goal in mid-November so you don’t feel the pinch for time. But keep in mind, you can also tweak your timelines based on your life and what comes up. Stay flexible. They’re your goals; unless you have a publishing deadline or something similar tied to your goal, you’re the only one who can say when and how it needs to be done. Don’t let yourself off the hook for every tiny detour, but don’t beat yourself up if you honestly need to alter your original schedule.
Finally, remember to write your goals down somewhere you’ll see them often, and keep them fresh in your mind. Review them at the end of each month or quarter to assess your progress and see what needs to be updated. If you’re ahead of schedule, you might wish to add a new goal at some point during the year. And always find at least some little way of congratulating or rewarding yourself when you hit one of those goals. Achievement should be celebrated.
Mini Prompts for the December Writing Challenge
Finding it difficult to steal time for your current writing project? Or maybe you can find the time, but your brain refuses to cooperate. I know it can be difficult to focus when so many other things are going on. The world continues to spin at a slightly wonky angle, and now all the holiday fuss piles on top.
Sometimes all you need is a little nudge or a fresh idea to keep you writing. I’m not suggesting you toss out your current project, but maybe you need a little break. Instead of skipping a writing day, try working on a fun mini project that can keep your creativity flowing. Here are a few little ideas to get you started.
- Think of a holiday from your childhood when things went wrong, and write up a few pages to save for posterity. Did the dog get the turkey? Did a storm knock out the power? Were family members fighting? Remember what it felt like from your perspective at the time, whatever age you were.
- What’s your favorite holiday tradition? Write up a description and why you love it that would help someone from a different culture appreciate why it’s special to you.
- Plan your holiday for this time next year, once people have been vaccinated and we can get together once more safely. What would make a perfect occasion? Write about it.
- Think of your favorite holiday movie. What do you like about it? Now imagine how you could change it for a fresh version, whether that means a gender swap or a modern take or something entirely different. Write up some notes for it, and if you like the concept, add it to the future projects file.
- Consider things historically considered important at this time of year: light, warmth, food, family, comfort, hope. Pick one or two and write some thoughts about how those things matter in the 21st century.
Go grab yourself a cozy warm drink and some paper or your laptop, and give yourself a few thoughtful moments to write from the heart. Not every project has to be the next great novel or something to pitch. Find a peaceful corner, and remember why you love to write. Consider it a little holiday gift to yourself. Enjoy!
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.