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.

Photo by Katie Az on Unsplash

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.

Mini Prompts:

  • 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!

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 2016: Prompts

We’re nearly halfway through the month of December, so it seems like a good time to check in and see what sort of progress everyone is making with their December Writing Challenge efforts, and to provide a little nudge for anyone who has strayed off track. Have you been making time to write every day? Is your work-in-progress buzzing along? Are you polishing and revising and getting a new draft done? Remember: all those words count, whether you’re writing them or rewriting them.

Not everyone is mid-novel, however, so for anyone looking for things to inspire that daily writing habit, I’ve got a few prompts and ideas that you might use if your own imagination is letting you down. Some might inspire a short story or essay, while others can be used as a simple writing exercise. It’s all practice, and it all helps you flex those creative muscles, even if the thing you write just ends up buried in a dusty folder or languishing on your hard drive. So make a date with yourself to sit down at the keyboard or pull out your notebook, and get to work. Happy writing!

Quick Prompts to Keep the Words Flowing

  • Recount a favorite holiday experience, whether from your childhood or something more recent. Try gearing it toward a specific audience: a child, your significant other, someone you’re just falling in love with… Set the tone (and subject matter) accordingly.
  • Set your iTunes or other mp3 playing software to shuffle, or listen to your favorite radio station, and jot down the titles of the first 5 songs you hear. Use them as prompts for short stories/vignettes.
  • Flip open a dictionary and, with your eyes closed, point to a random word on the page. Do this two more times, with fresh pages, then write something using all three words. Pick more than three random words if you’d like, or if the ones you chose are too mundane for inspiration.
  • Check out the images on the following websites, and choose one (or a combination) as the basis for a short story or vignette:

Striking Portraits of Lonely Cars in 1970s New York

Sparkling City of Moscow Celebrates Orthodox Christmas

Spotted in Tokyo

Weird old car

Girl on cliff

St. Mary’s Church, Norfolk

Budapest bridge

Beauty of perception

Emergency Writing Prompts: Day 23 of the Challenge

Those of you participating in the December Writing Challenge are inching into sticky territory. Last minute shopping, cleaning the house, cooking for the holiday dinners. You name it, suddenly you can’t put it off any longer and writing might be looking like something that should take a back seat.

If you’ve saved your two days off for the month, it might be time to use one. But if you’re still trying to squeeze in a little writing and you’re feeling uninspired with the pressures of the holiday bearing down on you, here are a few quick prompts to get the ideas flowing. Don’t forget, you don’t need to write daily on a single project, so maybe a little time to play will get you over the hump.

  • Write about the absolute best holiday memory you have, from any holiday. A party, a gift, a trip, a visiting relative. Were you a kid or an adult? Were you awed or surprised by something? Make that memory as vivid as you can and get it down on paper.
  • What about your worst holiday memory? Did you ever experience a holiday where something bad superseded the holiday celebration for your family? An ill relative, an accident, some ongoing issue? Or perhaps the holiday itself turned out disastrous. Burned dinner, no-show friends, a blizzard keeping everyone trapped under one roof for too many days. Write about a tragic holiday experience, or take what was a holiday disaster and write it as a farcical experience with the benefit of hindsight.
  • How about a character forced to spend a holiday alone? Maybe they’re stuck somewhere without the money to visit family, or they’re in a situation that won’t allow them to travel: prison, quarantine, orbiting Mars. How might they celebrate? Or regret that they can’t? Or, a slightly different take: a character celebrating with a group of total strangers. How or why might that happen?
  • Write about a family holiday from the point of view of your pet. What might your dog or cat think of the human holiday traditions? Make it serious or funny, your call.

I hope these give you a little jump start, or at least set your imagination flowing. Have fun and remember that all the words count. Happy writing!


A Smidge of Inspiration

How goes the writing? Are you getting in a bit of time every day, per the December Writing Challenge? Are you finding that your brain starts to anticipate your demand for creativity?

Showing up at your desk every day can help send up the smoke signals for inspiration. You’re letting your mind know that you’re ready to write. But even the most diligent writer with the most dedicated habit can find themselves struggling from time to time. When that happens, you might find it helpful to set aside your project for a few minutes, or even for the day, and work through a couple of writing exercises or a fresh prompt just to get the juices flowing.

With that in mind, I offer up a quick suggestion to help you get back on track. Take a look at your current project and imagine what would happen if you pulled your characters out of their present circumstances and dropped them into a different genre. I’m not saying rewrite your entire book —  just play around for a bit. How would your protagonist react in the middle of a Regency romance? A steampunk adventure? A noir mystery? A space opera? Give it a try for a page or two, just as an experiment. You might find yourself learning something crucial about your characters’ personalities that will help you get them moving again back in their own worlds.

If you’re struggling to start a new project, rather than stuck with a work in progress, pick a genre you’ve never written and give that a try. Start with a setting that’s new and write description until you get a feel for the place. What sort of character might inhabit that location? What sort of trouble might they get up to there?

Writing for a career is work, of course, and you need to be professional in your approach. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fun, or that you should forget to play. Let your imagination roam and see where it takes you. Happy writing!

March Madness for Writers: Circuit #3

Welcome to the third full week of March! This means we’re slightly more than halfway through the month, and also ready to kick off another week of circuit training. How have you been doing so far, writers? Is the challenge making you sweat a bit? Are you managing to get some writing time in each day? Maybe mastering a new skill or two along the way?

For those of you participating in the circuit training portion of the challenge, today is the first day of a brand new week, which means it’s time to trade in last week’s exercise for something new. Of course, if you’re on a roll with whatever you’re doing and want to continue, please feel free. You can also take a week off from circuit training if you’re feeling a bit burnt out or just have a busy schedule ahead. The goal is simply to write each and every day; everything else is a bonus.

Whatever you decide to work on this week, I want to encourage you to take a look at your list of prompts from earlier this month and see if you need to replenish them. If you’ve been working on new story starts or short pieces at all this month, the chances are good that you’ve used at least a handful of your prompts already. Don’t forget to jot down new ideas as they come to you, or to spend an hour or two day dreaming to purposefully generate some new prompts. That way you’ll always have a good assortment to choose from when you have the itch to write something different.

Wishing you a wonderfully productive writing week. Now get to it!

A Few Thoughts on Writing Prompts

What makes a good writing prompt? Anything that gets your thoughts flowing and starts you writing. 

Some writing prompts might sound ridiculous to you, but will spark a fabulous idea for someone else. Likewise, a writer friend might discard a prompt as boring or silly that you consider story-writing gold. Prompts are not meant to be full-fledged stories all unto themselves. They serve as a catalyst for the creative juices. Therefore, any prompt can turn into a wonderful short story or novel if it happens to click for your writer’s brain.

Yesterday I provided a list of websites that offer writing prompts, but today I’d like to talk a little bit about how to come up with some of your own. Most writers have no trouble generating ideas, but it never hurts to have a few more tricks in your tool box.

  • Mad-libs style: Pick three or four great words — a few nouns, maybe a fabulous verb — and write a story around them. The more offbeat and disparate your vocabulary picks, the more fun you can have linking them together.
  • Travel and monuments: Go through old vacation photos and postcards, or search for location shots online. Use the images as the basis for your story. Why is this a vacation destination? What’s the story behind the bridge or tower or castle that’s now a tourist attraction? Who might visit the spot a thousand years from now? Will it even be there? Who are the locals and what are their lives like?
  • Works of art: Set your story inside a famous (or not-so-famous) painting. Can you do this with an abstract?
  • Song titles: Write a story based on the title of a favorite song. Ignore the lyrics of the song entirely.
  • The best laid plans: Some of the best stories come from situations where things fail to go according to plan. Think up a bunch of scenarios where deviation from the norm can lead to catastrophe, adventure, realization… What if?
  • Start with extreme settings and go from there: An out-of-the ordinary setting or surroundings can force your characters to do all sorts of interesting things. Trap someone on a narrow ledge or over the side of a cliff. Create a serious drought or a three-day blizzard. Maroon a ship on an uninhabited (or not) island.

Keep in mind that different prompts lead to different lengths of story. The more complicated the set-up, the more likely you will write a novella or novel (or series!) instead of a short story. That said, prompts might lead to your writing just once scene that can eventually grow into a longer work. There are no rules here. Prompts should inspire you to write. You can work out the rest of the details once you’ve filled your blank pages.

Good luck, and happy writing!