Welcome to mid-October! The calendar insists on speeding us toward year-end, so now is the time to make some decisions. Are you doing NaNoWriMo next month? Did you promise yourself that this was the year you’d submit your writing somewhere? Have you set a reading goal for 2021?
I believe pandemic-time means being a little gentle with yourself when it comes to hitting those marks. But at the same time, you won’t get these years back, so take a few minutes to assess where things are. Maybe make a mini goal for the next couple of months. You’ll feel better come January.
This week’s links offer up the usual assortment of bookish and writerly sites to visit, but I hope a few will inspire you to do some writing or read something terrific. Wishing you a wonderful weekend. Enjoy!
Literary Magazines: General Submissions. – A helpful list of places currently open to new work in Sept/Oct; note that The Lumiere Review provides an updated list every month or two, as some lit mags open to submissions seasonally.
Welcome to the last day of November. Long-time followers know this day brings the announcement for my annual December Writing Challenge. Each year, I urge you all to keep up your writing momentum during this busiest of months. Maybe you’re coming off NaNoWriMo and have successfully churned out 50,000 words in November. Or you missed that goal, but still have your NaNo project you love and wish to continue. Maybe you think NaNoWriMo an insane endeavor, and you’re just plugging away at your current WiP or poking at a new story idea. Regardless, this challenge is for you.
The December Writing Challenge focuses on showing up and doing the work. This challenge has no minimum word count or page goal. Instead, the idea is to keep your writer’s brain in gear through the holiday season, when distractions rise up and steal your free time. I challenge you to steal those minutes back, and dedicate them to writing.
Rules of the Game:
Write every day in December. You don’t need to accomplish a lot, or put in hours and hours. Maybe you manage an hour, maybe less, but try for at least 30 minutes per day.
You can take two days off from writing over the course of the month, if you really need them. Maybe you’re cooking a big holiday dinner for your pandemic pod. Maybe you need a day to just stare at the ceiling. Whatever. Try to write every day, but know you can have a couple of breaks if necessary.
That’s it. Those are the rules. At least, those are the traditional rules, by which I’ve run this challenge every year for… I’m not sure how long.
But this year is 2020, and we all know that translates to endlesss special circumstances. So this year I offer up some variations to my typical challenge. Feel free to charge ahead with the traditional rules, but if you need to be a little bit kinder, gentler with yourself, I have additional suggestions.
Any new writing counts. Normally, I’d urge you to tackle a novel, short story, poetry, personal essay, memoir, nonfiction book proposal–something that is work/career related. But in this terrible year, that might feel like more pressure than you are up for. And I’d rather you write something than walk away from the challenge because you can’t imaging writing something substantial. So if you want to write something a little more low key, start a journal or write letters to your friends and family. Script out what you want to say over your holiday meal. Write a letter to yourself about your plans for 2021. Play a bit. Don’t take it too seriously. But make it something new (if you already keep a daily journal, for instance, don’t count it for the challenge) and try to have fun with it.
Editing counts. I acknowledge that what you work on depends on where you are in your career, and if you’re up against a deadline, sometimes your writing time gets dedicated to other tasks. I try to encourage a mix of editing and new writing where possible, since keeping that writing brain limber is your goal. But edits are your focus, go for it. Try to write at least some new material this month, but any project work counts as a challenge day checked off.
Find yourself an accountability partner. This is always an option, of course, but this year I really urge you to find a writing buddy to help keep you on track. Set up a time to Zoom or Skype and write together virtually. Do it once a week or do it every day. Whatever helps you. E-mail each other pages–not to read, but just as proof. Let someone else cheer you on and encourage you to write.
Pick one writing skill to work on. Instead of tackling an entire project, figure out some aspect of your writing you’d like to improve and do some writing exercises to focus on that one thing. Create a character and come up with their background, wants, needs, personal tragedies, etc. Maybe you’ll use them in a story, maybe not, but see how well you can flesh them out even outside a specific context. Pull up landscape photos online and write descriptions of them that bring them vividly to life. Write a page of dialogue between two characters with no descriptions or narrative; see how much you can convey to the reader. Tackle something different each week in December. Make it a game.
Here’s the thing: Life doesn’t stop. There’s a pandemic. This had been a terrible year for so many reasons. But we can’t put our lives on hold indefinitely. Take all the reasonable precautions you can to keep yourself and the people around you safe. Maybe that means working from home, wearing masks, ordering groceries online. Or you’re out of work and struggling. It weighs heavily, all of it.
But you can control some small things. Maybe not the output, but the effort. Tell yourself your dreams are still worth it. Try. The world will get a little bit better, you’ll feel a little more hopeful. Because this one thing is in your power. Take a few minutes to yourself, and write. I challenge you. Join me here tomorrow for the official kick off. And happy writing!
Happy Halloween Eve! The week got away from me, as I’ve been catching up after last week’s virtual Surrey International Writer’s Conference. I started out Monday with a pile of backlog and a brain buzzing about writing structure, saggy middles, handling timelines, and more. Even agents pick up great tips at writing conferences.
So here we are, on the cusp of Halloween, plus a new month and the start of NaNoWriMo. I thought I’d offer a mix of writerly and seasonal links to kick things off. Whether you plan to watch horror movies, dress up, or just settle down with a good book and bowl of candy, I wish you a fun, safe Halloween, and a stellar start to NaNo. Don’t forget to set your clocks back Saturday night. You get an extra hour of writing time on Sunday. Sounds like a treat to me!
Tana French: Hope in Hard Times. – The thriller writer discusses her latest manuscript, which she has the great fortune to hand in shortly before COVID-19 shut downs ramped up, as well as other aspects of her writing on the latest episode of The Secret Library Podcast.
Where to Start with Shirley Jackson. – The author’s work seems to be undergoing a resurgence on screen, but what about actually reading her stories? Here’s a guide to how you might approach them.
Dissecting Suspense in Rebecca. – In light of the new adapation on Netflix (which I advise you to skip; stick to the Hitchcock version), I urge you to read or reread Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel and see for yourself all the ways suspense can build. Terrific lesson, no matter what sort of fiction you write.
Happy Friday, and welcome to the middle of October. For the many writers, October serves as the countdown to NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. In today’s selection of links, I offer up a bit of inspiration to help you get into the writing groove. Check out how other writers tackle their projects, or learn about new twists on older ideas. Be sure to visit the official NaNo site for additional tips on getting ready.
Before I delve into this week’s links, I want to remind you that I reopen to queries on Monday the 19th. I updated my wishlist here on the blog, but for anyone looking for a quick genre overview:
At this time, I’ll be looking to take on women’s contemporary or historical fiction; contemporary or historical single-title romance; magical realism; young adult contemporary, mystery, or historical fiction.
I will continue to adjust what genres I’m accepting every few months, based on current market needs, my reading interests, and what I’ve recently signed on. Please do not attempt to query outside of the requested genres, as I will auto-reject without reading.
Without further ado, I give you a mishmash of links to explore this weekend. I hope they inspire you to try new things in your own writing, or push yourself in whatever ways you need. Happy writing!
Happy Friday, and welcome to the return of Friday Links! If Halloween wishes felt like a good reentry point for the blog, Friday Links makes the perfect follow up. Especially on a day when so many of you are firing up your computers and other writing instruments to get to work for NaNoWriMo.
Despite my silence here on the blog, I never quite lost the habit of collecting interesting tidbits to share in these Friday posts. I’d clean the metaphorical house occasionally, but I saved quite a few tabs for my inevitable return to blogging. I’m so happy to share these great pages with you now. Especially since a fair few offer up writing advice that might be useful for NaNo. But whether you’re tackling 50,000 words in the next thirty days or just working away on your current project, I hope you find some inspiration. Enjoy, and happy writing!
What’s the Worst that Could Happen? – Several authors discuss their contributions to an anthology of speculative fiction and what it’s like to write stories that look at the ways technologies and social change are affecting our world and near future.
Despite appearances, I did not abandon the blog, and today seemed a good day to emerge from the metaphorical grave. Trick or treat!
When life gets busy, something needs to give a little. I love writing this blog, but it is the thing I’m most able to set aside when my schedule fills up. I do miss it, however, so this flyby marks my attempt to kick things back into gear. Today I simply wish you all a very Happy Halloween, and for those of you gearing up, cheer you on for tomorrow’s start of NaNoWriMo. Keep an eye out for more content-heavy posts coming soon.
The importance of being thankful gets a lot of attention this time of year. With Thanksgiving next week here in the U.S., the subject has started coming up. The holiday brings some problematic historical baggage along for the ride, particularly in light of ongoing racial strife and feuding over immigration policies, but I prefer to focus on the sentiment of the word rather than pilgrims and turkeys. In difficult years, I think it’s more important than ever to consider what makes us grateful. Holding on to the good things gives us strength to push through all the rest. Especially when all the rest feels completely overwhelming.
In daily life, I tend to frame my gratitude as an afterthought. It comes out sort of like, “I gained so much weight this year, I have to stop sitting so much, but at least I can afford new clothes.” This probably isn’t the best approach. Being thankful should be a conscious choice. Taking a step back and considering what you appreciate in that moment. That has impact. When life ramps up and the world feels like it’s spinning faster, it makes a difference if you pause and think, “Hey, I accomplished this,” or “I’m so glad I got the chance to see so-and-so.”
So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I’d take a moment before posting this week’s links to list a few things I’m thankful for this year. No disclaimers beyond stating that it’s incomplete and a work in progress. As it should be.
I’m thankful for:
My family and friends, the whole crazy bunch.
That my parents are still alive and independent into their eighties.
My coworkers, who are always ready to chat books and publishing, and to trade information about our work.
My clients, with their talent and persistence and willingness to dig in cheerfully to make their wonderful stories even more wonderful.
On the smaller side of things, I’m thankful for a year of delightful books and movies–so many great discoveries. For entertaining writing challenges like NaNoWriMo and 4thewords, that keep ideas and words flowing. I’m grateful for the lovely spaces in my town that allow me to take a break and clear my mind. For houseguests and visitors. For writers conferences and other opportunities to travel and see new things. For relatively good health and a functioning car and an apartment I like.
Being thankful mostly feels like a small, quiet thing. But when you start listing all the things that come to mind–that bring you joy or relief or just allow you to function–it can feel much bigger. What are you thankful for today?
And on that note, I offer up this week’s Friday links. They’re kind of a mishmash, but I hope you find something entertaining. Wishing you a wonderful weekend, because I’m thankful for all of you. Happy writing!
For anyone looking for a bit of NaNo inspiration, I have some thoughts beyond my tips from earlier in the week. That post assumes you will use NaNoWriMo more or less as intended by the organizers. To win NaNo, you need to write 50,000 new words in November and submit for verification I hinted there were other ways to tackle the challenge, so today I’d like to elaborate. And yes, links will follow. If you’re not interested in NaNoWriMo, feel free to skip ahead.
The beauty of NaNo lies in the community that forms around it. People who love writing and/or stories get together and celebrate this crazy act of creativity. Many are hobbyists, searching for a fun group activity. A good number never plan to publish a book. They write fanfiction for fun or play around with writing a novel for their own enjoyment. But NaNo works even if you do have major aspirations. Plenty of published writers started out in the NaNoWriMo challenge. And if you search, you’ll learn that many disregarded the rules and made NaNo work for their needs. They used what served their goals, and ignored the rest.
NaNoWriMo for Purists
If you’re a fairly new writer, you might hve an idea for a novel but lack the discipline to work on it regularly. Participating in NaNo encourages you to put your seat in the chair and get those words down. Don’t worry if the words aren’t so great; first drafts tend to be pretty crappy. But they give you a place to start, so you’re no longer staring at a blank page. And by tackling that draft during NaNo, you get a huge support system that’s built into the challenge. Find a write-in group near you and meet with them once a week. Check out the forums and chat with people writing in your genre. Ask questions of seasoned NaNo participants. Read the great pep talks that get posted by the pros. New writers can also find peers in November who become critique partners well into the future.
Already started writing a novel? Pick up where you left off and continue working on it during NaNoWriMo. Novels for adults run far longer than 50,000 words, so take what you’ve written and add to it. You might actually have a complete draft by month’s end. If you track new words written–using a new document, for instance–you can still submit to verify completion of the challenge. And again, make the most of the offers and community that come with the event while you write, letting that NaNo inspiration motivate you through the tough parts.
NaNoWriMo with a Twist
Maybe you’ve been at this a while and have a draft that needs rewriting. Use NaNo and its support systems for your editing project. You might not have a new 50,000-word manuscript to hand in come November 30th, but you’ll still make progress. It’s far more important to hit your own goal than the goal set up by the challenge organizers. And in the meantime, enjoy the cheerleading that goes on during the month. Use it to energize and encourage you as you tackle your rewrite.
What about pacing? Maybe the idea of writing 1,667 words per day (roughly what you need to complete NaNo) makes you panic. So don’t write that fast. Don’t aim for 50,000 words in a month. Make your goal half that, or whatever feels like a doable stretch. Perhaps the challenge for you lies in actually writing daily. Set a time goal instead of a word goal–30 minutes a day until the end of the month. Make the writing habit the aim instead of the finished product.
NaNoWriMo works so well because the challenge offers you one potential route to success, and then encourages participants to come play on your own terms. Now, maybe none of these options appeal to you, and that’s fine too. But if you’re looking for a way to participate in NaNoWriMo, I say go for it. Figure out what you want to achieve, and adapt the challenge to meet that goal.
With that bit of NaNo inspiration out there, I’ll move on to the links for the week. Wishing you all a wonderful weekend, and happy writing!
Tackling NaNoWriMo–or National Novel Writing Month–challenges any writer, whether they have participated for years or are new to the event. Each year, I offer advice on how to get the most out of the month, whatever your personal goal. The key to NaNo is to remember to have fun. This challenge aims to help you get words on paper, to push through a long project without overthinking. It’s great for anyone who tends to stop and rewrite repeatedly before moving on. Because that strategy? Doesn’t work for NaNo. If you want to write 50,000 words in November, you need to ignore your mistakes and just go.
So where do you start? These few days before the November kickoff allow you a chance to prepare. Below, I have some ideas for what you might want to do, both in terms of writing your NaNo project and for maintaining your sanity during the challenge.
Know Your Goal:
The rules state that NaNoWriMo consists of writing a new 50,000-word project between November 1st and November 30th. Reality allows you to adapt this to whatever works for you. If you’re starting a new project, great. (And most of my tips below assume such.) But you can easily finish a novel already in progress, too. Just start a new file for the remainder of the book, to keep track, and write another 50,000 words.
Regardless of your goal, NaNo offers plenty of support for anyone writing in November. Take advantage of it.
Plan What to Write:
Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser–someone who prefers to outline ahead or just let the spirit take you–it’s helpful to start NaNoWriMo with at least some idea of what you want to write. That doesn’t mean you need a detailed outline, but a few basics will go a long way to get your creativity flowing.
Think ahead about your characters. Who is your protagonist? What do they want? What sort of obstacles might they face? Do they have a love interest? Arch enemy? Cohorts? Friends and family? Adding these characters and describing them over the course of the story will add to your word count.
Next think about your genre. If you’re writing romance, you know you’re aiming for a happily ever after. For fantasy or science fiction, your characters might not all be human. Do you have special technology in your story? For a historical, you will need background research. And many types of stories rely heavily on setting and/or world building. Don’t hesitate to hit the library or do some online searches regardling locations, tech, history, etc. Take notes, so you’ll have lots of great detail on hand to weave into your writing.
Finally, consider scenes you’ve already envisioned. How do your characters reach those points? What happens after the scenes? Think about repercussions. It’s good to have some key scenes you’re excited to write, especially on days words don’t flow easily.
Organize Your Life:
Let friends and family know you’ll be tackling NaNoWriMo, so they understand your time might be tight for a few weeks.
Stock the fridge with healthy snacks in addition to the fun ones. Fruit, nuts, yogurt, etc. make great brain food when you’re on a writing tear. Also, cook some easy meals ahead and freeze them for quick dinner prep.
Check supplies of important staples: coffee, tea, tissues, toilet paper–anything you’d hate to run out of in November.
Prepare to take care of yourself. Put reminders in your phone so you go for walks or hit the gym during NaNo. The exercise will help keep your mind fresh.
Schedule a few smaller writing sessions per day rather than trying to hit your daily goal in one goal.
Do write ahead on days you’re feeling strong. If you have the time, keep going. You’ll stockpile words for days you’re busy or less inspired.
Don’t feel you need to write linearly. Skip around if it helps you keep writing. Just make notes of places where you need to fill in later.
Don’t stop to edit. Don’t fret over sloppy writing or repetition. Just keep getting your ideas down. You’ll have plenty of time to rewrite later.
If a scene isn’t coming, jot it down in note form as a place holder. The words will count and you’ll replace them with even more when you finally tackle that section. Again, flag where you’ve done this so you remember to go back.
Do take advantage of group write-ins or other NaNo community events. It helps to have some cheerleaders who know what you’re up against.
Don’t ignore those reminders you set to get some exercise. And remember to get a good night’s sleep, too.
These are just a few ideas for ways to make tackling NaNoWriMo fun and relatively painless. Be sure to check out the main site, where there are additional tips and forums filled with encouragement. Whatever your goal for November, I wish you good luck and happy writing.
After NaNoWriMo, it can be difficult to remember that slow, steady writing should be the norm. NaNo provides participants with a fun month of frantic output, a crazy goal that might seem less crazy by month’s end. But most people cannot sustain that writing pace. Even a full-time writer, with an output goal of 2,000 words per day, won’t generally keep that up every day, month after month. Writers need to take days off. If they maintain a daily writing habit, they still build in a “day of rest” or breaks between projects. Everyone finds themselves working overtime to hit a deadline on occasion, but it’s important to limit those situations.
If you’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo, you might be nearing the finish line: 50,000 words. Or, you may not. Plenty of writers fail to hit that goal, but still find they’ve achieved a lot of words in a month. Other writers never intended to hit 50k, but used NaNo to motivate their work. However you approached the challenge, the key takeaway now that the end is near should be that words add up. Whether you write for an hour a day or five, the words you craft in that time build, day in, day out. There will be days you only write a little bit, days you rewrite and end up with fewer words than when you began. But over time, words add up. Writers write, words add up, and yes, you can do this.
Many of you already know how this works. A good number of you even follow the idea up with action. Plenty of people refuse to join NaNoWriMo each year because they have no wish to push themselves to write fast. They prefer to show up every day and put their words on paper or pixel, until they get where they’re going. But whatever your feelings about NaNo, there is a great deal to be said for the momentum it helps develop. While the challenge emphasizes output, it encourages work ethic.
In a few days, I’ll kick off my annual December Writing Challenge here on the blog. I’ll post the complete details later in the week, but the basic thrust of the challenge is to write every day in December. Keep going with that NaNo novel. Start a short story. Work on your next contracted project. Play around with a few different things. You don’t have to write for a set time, although at least 30 minutes a day makes a great goal. There’s no minimum word count involved, just slow, steady writing. So as you wind up your NaNo projects, or just continue your typical writing routine, mark your calendars for Friday. You’re going to write your way steadily into the new year.