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.

Photo by Alexey Savchenko on Unsplash

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.

Looking Ahead:

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: Plotting and Planning for the Rest of the Year

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!

This week’s links:

7 Magical Realism Short Stories Haunted by Emotional Ghosts. – A little bit of Halloween-adjacent reading.

22 Highly Anticipated Books Hitting Shelves in 2022. – Plan that TBR well in advance (and maybe clear off some more recent titles to make room for incoming.)

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.

Slightly Foxed Podcast, episode 36: Graphic Novels: A Comic Turn with Posy Simmonds & Paul Gravett. – One of my favorite podcasts looks at the history of graphic novels as well as some more recent offerings. Interesting for both newbies and fans of the format.

NaNo Tips: Preparing for National Novel Writing Month. – Some ideas to help you prep if you’re interested in participating in this year’s write-a-thon.

7 Books about Older Women Behaving Badly. – Because women don’t just disappear as they get older, and some remain visible with distinctive style.

‘Domestic Terrorists’ Challenge Books in Texas, Indiana, Maine and More. – Back-to-school season always means more uproar over what the children are reading. A roundup of recent kerfuffles.

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.)

A woman wearing cut-off shorts and a brown tank top, lying on her back on wooden steps, holding a paperback above her face to read. A wood-toned picket fence lines the property, with a city street beyond.

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.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

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.

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: Helpful Hints for Daily Writing

Looking for some helpful hints to keep the words flowing during the December Writing Challenge? You’re in luck. I know that this challenge can feel like a lot, even without the pressure of hitting a certain word count each day. Many of you are coming off NaNoWriMo and feel you’ve earned a rest. Others of you are just so busy with holiday prep, or end-of-year work deadlines, that writing takes a back seat. So I’m zipping by to give you a few tips on ways to squeeze in a little bit of writing time each day. Remember, it doesn’t need to be a big chunk of time. Just enough to keep your creativity on track and your hand in the game. That way, come January, you won’t lose a week or two trying to get back in the habit.

helpful hints for daily writing

Helpful Hints for Daily Writing

  • Take a long look at your calendar and figure out what days are going to be the worst for you. Parties? House guests? Big work project due? Kids home for winter break? Then figure out how you can manage half an hour of writing time on those days. Maybe you want to schedule yourself a writing lunch. Or it could be as easy as taking a tape recorder on your morning walk and dictating some words instead of physically typing them. But assign yourself a writing block for each of those tough days and set a calendar reminder so you don’t forget.
  • Line up a fun project to work on. This can be instead of or–even better–in addition to whatever your current WIP is. It can be anything that you look forward to working on; a short story, some fanfic, a set of short rhymes, something holiday themed. The sky’s the limit, and there can be as many of these as you’d like. This way when you sit down to work on your main project and the words don’t want to come, you can trade off and get a few words down on the alternate project. You won’t feel nearly as stressed, and you may find it helps you kick any blocks on your main project to the curb.
  • Carry a small notebook and pen with you everywhere, and write if you find you have a few extra minutes. Maybe sitting in the pickup line at your kid’s school, maybe at the dentist’s office–wherever. Put down your cell phone or that three-year-old copy of People, and write instead.
  • Buddy up with a writing partner and make a point of meeting for coffee and writing time. You can trade off houses or hit your favorite coffee shop–whatever is fun but not too distracting. Do a couple of ten or fifteen minute timed writing sprints together, with short breaks in between to chat. Set a timer so  you don’t just talk your day away. It helps to be accountable to another person, so cheer each other on.

Remember that every bit of writing is forward momentum, even if you end up rewriting those words later on. The idea is to spend a few minutes each day thinking about your work and making a bit of progress. All the words count. Good luck, and happy writing!

Tackling NaNoWriMo: Tips for Writing a Novel in a Month

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.

Tackling NaNoWriMo header with writing supplies for November

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.

Tackling NaNoWriMo:

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.

Friday Links: With No Theme Beyond Bookish Pursuits

Some weeks there’s just no theme other than bookish pursuits to connect the links I’ve collected to share with you. With a little work, I can generally find one; everything is reading and/or writing related, after all. But I’ll admit this week was long, and I’m likely working straight through the weekend, so I’m just going to throw the links out there and hope that will do. I wish you all a wonderful weekend, and some good writing and reading time along with whatever you have planned. Enjoy!

This Week’s Links:

Fresh Voices: 50 Writers You Should Read Now. – A great list of suggestions across various genres, both fiction and nonfiction.

The 7 Creepiest Manor Houses in Mystery. – Some great reads for those of you who enjoy mysteries set in creepy old houses.

The Paris Review Names a New Editor: Emily Nemens of The Southern Review. – This week’s announcement regarding the editor set to replace Lorin Stein, who left the journal after allegations of sexual misconduct.

These Writers Are Launching a New Wave of Native American Literature. – An introduction to some talented up-and-coming authors.

First Draft with Tomi Adeyemi. – Great podcast interview with debut YA author Tomi Adeyemi about her recently released CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE and her journey to publication.

Does Having a Day Job Mean Making Better Art? – An interesting look at the life of the artist and what contributes to their creative output.

Here Are the Literary Guggenheim Fellows of 2018.  – Some talented writers on this year’s list. Worth checking them out.

Friday Links: Winter Weekend Distractions

I realize winter weekend distractions seem to disregard the southern hemisphere, but I promise that these work for hot summer days as well as snowy ones. Or damp and rainy days, if you’re currently in my neighborhood. This week’s links include some wonderful bookish fare to get you reading, or considering what you read, as well as some writerly food for thought. Whether you’re curling up in front of the fire or the air conditioner, these sites should give you some entertainment.

January can be a difficult month, with its emphasis on fresh starts and resolutions. So I hope these links give you some less-stressful ideas for how to structure your days, as well as some encouragement on the writing front. Wishing you all a wonderful weekend. Enjoy, and happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

The Keynote. – Author Liza Palmer shares the wonderful closing keynote she presented at the October, 2017, Surrey International Writers Conference. I’m including a hankie warning with this one, but it’s well worth it. Please do check it out.

50 DIY Reading Challenges to Make 2018 the Best Year of Your Reading Life. – Pretty much as described. Includes some fun ideas for customizing your reading year.

A Winter Reading List. – A great list of suggested titles, both new and classic, to provide cozy winter weekend distractions no matter the weather.

What I Learned from Reading 300+ Books in 2017. – An interesting look at one reader’s effort to up her numbers, and the results.

John Jeremiah Sullivan: There’s No Such Thing as Wasted Writing. – The writer shares his experience of the writing process.

Bookish’s 2018 Reading Challenge. – This should really be plural; it’s a different challenge for each week of the year. Pick and choose as you’d like.

Residencies for Writers in 2018. – A great resource for anyone considering applying to a writer’s residency soon.

Repositories of Memory: On the Country House Novel. – This sort of novel has always struck me as a very wintery read. Two writers share their thoughts on the genre.

I Rearranged My Books by Color and Died a Little Inside. – One booklover describes her attempt to organize her shelves in this recent popular fashion.

Friday Links: A New-Year Writer’s Jump Start

Welcome to 2018, and a writer’s jump start to kick things off right. Whatever your goals for the new year, I hope you’ve included plans to stretch your writing. Maybe you want to submit more stories, search for an agent, or finish a work-in-progress. Or perhaps you’re a published writer intent on taking your work to the next level. Whatever your goals, I aim to help, with Friday Links to inspire and entertain, future posts looking at craft and the publishing world, and some surprises I have in the works.

The first week of the year always feels a bit slow, as everyone gets back into the swing following the holidays. Next week, I’ll have some announcements regarding submissions and more, so be sure to check back. But first, I bring you some links to get your creativity flowing and maybe help move forward with your goals. There’s a little something for everyone, so enjoy, and happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

A Few Things to Consider before Submitting Your Work to a Literary Magazine. – Great tips to help you put your best foot forward.

How to Take Great Bookish Selfies. – For anyone whose new year’s goals include becoming more active on social media.

Making British Characters Realistic as an American Writer… and Vice Versa. – Advice for how to make your characters ring true.

A Guide to Short Story Contests in 2018. – Places to submit your short fiction in the coming year. Mark your calendars!

Words to Add to Your Vocabulary, Especially if You’re a Book Lover. – Some terrific words for the bookworms among us.

15 Books You Should Read This January. – A rundown of some of the month’s hot new titles, several of which have gone directly onto my TBR list.

Literary Hub’s Favorite Books of 2017. – In case you might have missed anything…