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.

Photo by Justin Kauffman on Unsplash

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

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.

Photo by Ksenia Yakovleva on Unsplash

The Advice

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.

The Stretch

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 for a Bookish Weekend

I try to bring you a shopping guide this time of year, suggesting gifts for writers. This year, between the number of people staying home for the holidays and the overall stress of the pandemic, I’ve gone back and forth on whether to do one. Gifts are lovely, but getting them to people is difficult. Particularly when you consider the slowness of the post in recent months. So instead of suggesting all sorts of presents that require purchase and shipping, I’m just going to include some bookish links today, to go with the ones last week. Remember that you can call indie bookstores near your loved ones and arrange gifts through them. Or you can send gift cards, either by email or tucked into a holiday card. Bookshop.org now offers gift cards, so you can still support indie booksellers. Give the gift of something cozy to read.

Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

Gift-giving aside, don’t forget the December Writing Challenge is still in full swing. It’s a low key year, but with everything going on, try to prioritize your own interests a bit. Schedule time to work on your current project. You don’t need to hit a certain word count or number of pages. Just sit with it and keep your brain tuned in so you don’t lose momentum. And if you do find yourself on a writing roll, by all means take advantage of it!

Wishing you a great weekend, filled with some holiday music and stories and a bit of writing time for yourself!

This week’s links:

16 Authors Share the Best Books They Read in 2020. – A nice list of recs from authors through the folks at Bookish.

Our 65 Favorite Books of the Year. – This roundup, from Lit Hub, offers a good cross section of genres and titles less frequently discussed.

The Twelve Days of Christmas. – For Austenites and fans of Regency life/writing, a look into Christmas life of that era, brought to you by the staff at Jane Austen’s house. Includes bits of Austen’s letters, recipes, illustrations, and some short readings courtesy of Emma Thompson.

The Talented Ms. Calloway. – An intriguing look into the world of a certain sort of publishing, and what it means to self-promote and to publish oneself in a very literal manner.

Electric Lit’s Favorite Novels of 2020. – As it says. A nice selection for reading/gift-giving inspiration.

The 50 Greatest Apocalypse Novels. – For those of you thusly inclined. Given the state of 2020, once I saw this, I felt I had to include it.

Friday Links: How Is It December? Edition

Where did December come from? We’re four days into my December Writing Challenge, yet still, the month surprises me. So much of this year snailed along, but we hit Labor Day and zip, zip! Not that I will miss 2020, but it’s still a shock to realize how quickly this last part of the year has gone.

Photo by Guneet Jassal on Unsplash

Today I bring links, but first, a bit of chatty business. As mentioned above, I’m holding my annual writing challenge this month. You can find all the rules and the kick-off post earlier this week. Please join in, even if you missed the start. I try to keep the challenge encouraging and low key, particularly this year with the pressures of the pandemic. Come for a bit of inspiration, some pep talks, the occasional prompt or writing sprint. Posts will appear hear, and I’m tweeting daily as well. So, come write. The more the merrier.

We’ve entered end-of-year booklist territory. Yes, some of them are ridiculous. There are far too many. And yet, I love them. I’ve included some below, to help with holiday shopping or holiday reading of your own. There also might be some soon-to-come booklists, just to mix it up. But there’s no real theme to this week’s links. We’re very casual around here in December. Kick off your shoes, grab a mug of something hot, and stay a while. Wishing you a great weekend, and happy writing!

This week’s links:

NPR’s Book Concierge 2020. – A wonderful roundup of recommended books that came out this year, with the added ability to search by genre, audience, and more. Previous years’ lists are also available. By far my favorite year-end booklist, just due to sheer volume.

19 Books by Northeast Indian Authors. – As the article says, so good you’ll be adding them to your reading list ASAP. I know I’ve added a few to mine.

BookExpo and BookCon Are No More. – The announcement that these events, cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, will not be returning in their previous form.

Jason Reynolds bought up all his own books from local DC bookstores and gave them to readers. – The generous act of an author on Giving Tuesday.

8 Books about Feminist Folklore. – An intriguing set of titles both for pleasure reading and for research.

32 LGBTQ Books That Will Change the Literary Landscape in 2021. – A list of upcoming books to keep on your radar.

This Holiday Season, Support These 8 Charities that Hand Out Books. – A great list of organizations that donate books to those that need them. Consider one (or more) for your year-end charitable contribution.

The Hidden Literary Heritage of Harriet the Spy. – An intriguing look into the history of this beloved literary character.

Friday Links: A NaNoWriMo Inspiration Edition

Happy Friday, and welcome to the middle of October. For the many writers, October serves as the countdown to NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. In today’s selection of links, I offer up a bit of inspiration to help you get into the writing groove. Check out how other writers tackle their projects, or learn about new twists on older ideas. Be sure to visit the official NaNo site for additional tips on getting ready.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Before I delve into this week’s links, I want to remind you that I reopen to queries on Monday the 19th. I updated my wishlist here on the blog, but for anyone looking for a quick genre overview:

At this time, I’ll be looking to take on women’s contemporary or historical fiction; contemporary or historical single-title romance; magical realism; young adult contemporary, mystery, or historical fiction.

I will continue to adjust what genres I’m accepting every few months, based on current market needs, my reading interests, and what I’ve recently signed on. Please do not attempt to query outside of the requested genres, as I will auto-reject without reading.

Without further ado, I give you a mishmash of links to explore this weekend. I hope they inspire you to try new things in your own writing, or push yourself in whatever ways you need. Happy writing!

This week’s links:

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books: Stories & Ideas. – Initially, The LA Times postponed this year’s festival due to COVID-19. Eventually, they decided to go virtual. Register now for free panels starting this weekend and running into mid-November.

15 of the best first lines in fiction. – Having trouble kicking off your book? Check out these stand-out first lines for some creative sparks.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia on Writing a More Authentic Mexico. – The author chats with Maris Kreizman on her podcast on how she approached depicting a more realistic version of Mexico for readers more familiar with clichés.

On Learning of My Autism While Trying to Finish a Novel. – Madeleine Ryan discusses neurodiversity and how she now thinks of her own characters.

A New Edition of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Crosses Its T’s and Dots Its I’s. – Ever wonder about those partial letters between characters? This edition includes physical copies, fleshed out based on clues from the text.

NaNoWriMo Prep: The Ultimate Plot Development Guide. – This blog post provides a great breakdown of tips for getting reading for NaNo.

Querying New Material: An Update

My submissions box reopens to queries on Monday, October 19th. As I mentioned a few posts back, I am changing how I handle requests for material. Due to the extreme influx, I can no longer accept queries for every genre I represent simultaneously. It’s a wonderful problem to have–all those great stories coming my way–but I can’t keep up.

Image by Birgit Böllinger from Pixabay

Instead of taking queries on all fronts, I plan to rotate what genres I’m open to seeing. Which genres open will depend on the current market, what I have signed on recently, and what I feel most interested in reading at the time. I expect to review my decisions every few months, and to change what I’m looking for accordingly.

Accepted genres will be updated on my QueryManager page prior to my reopening on the 19th. I will also update my wishlists here and on The Knight Agency website. I hope this new system will lead to speedier response time, especially on partial and full manuscript requests. Looking forward to seeing what you’ve all been writing!

Give Yourself Permission to Be Creative: Ethan Hawke via Ted Talks

Ethan Hawke puts himself out there. Whether he is acting, playing music, or putting pen to paper, he throws his full effort behind the task. In his recent Ted Talk from quarantine, he shares some sound advice and demonstrates the honesty behind his craft. Even if you’re not a fan, you should give it a watch. I particularly recommend it for anyone suffering from imposter syndrome, or struggling due to the pandemic.

Friday Links: Falling into Autumn Edition

Somehow, despite the global pandemic and the west coast burning and what has often felt like the slowest year on record, we’ve reached October. Autumn in SoCal is nebulous at the best of times. Predictably, I’m writing this in the midst of a heatwave. No hot tea or cozy sweaters for me. More like ice cream and air conditioning. But fall still brings to mind school supplies and productivity, and I am way past due for an update.

Things on the horizon:

Utmost in most of your minds, no doubt, is when I plan to open again to submissions. The answer is, in a couple of weeks. I haven’t set a firm date yet as I’m tinkering with a few things. I’m also making decisions on some lingering projects in my inbox. Right now I plan to make a more formal announcement late next week.

That said, there will be some changes in what I’m looking for in terms of new material. I’m not making any huge shifts in what I represent, but I will no longer be accepting queries for all of those genres at the same time. I can’t keep up with the influx. I will update my wish list both here and on the agency site, and my QueryManager page will offer a much more limited list of genres I am accepting.

Please note that I will be changing which genres I’m accepting queries for from time to time, based on the balance of my client list, the market, and what I am most interested in reading. So if I’m not accepting projects in the genre you write, that does not mean I won’t be taking them again in a few months. But please, do not try to sneak your query to me by labeling it under some inappropriate genre or emailing it directly. It will be rejected unread in the first instance, and deleted in the second.

I realize some of you will be frustrated by this, and I am sorry. All I can say is, like many people, I have found my state of mind profoundly affected by world events, particularly the pandemic, and the result is my reading interests and ability to focus have shifted. I bounce off books I should adore. I sink into things that previously would not have interested me. Fighting it doesn’t do anyone any good.

So that’s where things stand on the business front. Now on to the fun stuff. I’ve a mishmash of links for you this week, and I hope you find them interesting and inspiring. Wishing you all a lovely weekend and happy writing!

This week’s links:

So What’s the Difference Between a Myth, a Fairytale, and a Legend? – An interesting look at three similar types of story and their definitions.

Word Matters. – The new-ish podcast brought to you by Merriam-Webster focusing on grammar, word origins, and other word-related things.

With His New Mystery Novel, John Banville Kills Off a Pen Name. – An entertaining history of the Irish writer’s relationship to his alter ego, and why he needs to live on in Spain.

Why Goodreads Is Bad for Books. – A review of the site’s history and stagnant existence, plus an intriguing peek at a new potential alternative.

Susanna Clarke’s Fantasy World of Interiors. – A lovely interview with the author, discussing the long break between her books and the mysterious ailment affecting her ability to work.

Are We Running Out of Monster Metaphors for the Disasters of the Real World? – Looking at the ways in which we cope with our real-world fears through fictional threats.

Up Close: A 1574 Map of London. – Take a look at the city’s layout during Shakespeare’s lifetime.

Friday Links: A Celebration of Books and Booksellers

Today I wish to celebrate both books and the people who sell them. Independent Bookstore Day is tomorrow, and fall titles start hitting shelves in a few days. Reading good books takes some sting out of this ongoing pandemic, so what better time to praise all things bookish?

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

 

What have you all been reading during this period of safer-at-home? I know not everyone can focus on books right now, but sometimes that means returning to old favorites or finding joy in poems or shorter books. I’m doing some rereading, myself. Old romantic mysteries by Mary Stewart. Humorous poetry I discovered as a child. But also new romances and women’s fiction. Fantasy as long as it stays well away from dystopian situtations. All mixed in with “homework” reading: how to be a better, more active ally to BIPOC people, and political titles about the state of our democracy. If that sounds like a lot, it hasn’t been. It’s been slow going, spread over months, with more books piling up on my TBR behind them at a rapid rate.

Fall always brings a wealth of new titles. I’m trying to keep my pre-orders at a minimum, simply because there are soooo many new books I want to read. But pre-orders are the way to go in this new pandemic economy. Let publishers know they should print copies of the books you’re looking forward to reading. Supply chains are still moving slowly, so reader interest helps publishers know where to make their best efforts.

Meanwhile, here are a bunch of links to give you ideas of what to read, and where to get your copies. Plus the usual writing/industry chatter. I hope you find something interesting and inspiring. Have a great weekend, filled with wonderful books and maybe a little quality writing time!

This Week’s Links:

Independent Bookstore Day. – A resource of online and in-store events taking place to celebrate independent bookstores across the country.

117 Black-Owned Bookstores. – A great resource if you’re looking to support Black-owned businesses. You can even check for stores in your own state.

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

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

Paris Stories: The Writing of Mavis Gallant. – A short film about the Canadian author and her approach to writing, with interview footage as well as the author reading samples of her work. Inspiring, plus a lovely bit of armchair travel.

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

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

The New California Curriculum. – An interesting look at what it means to be a California writer, and where these writers fit into the literary landscape as we reconsider what types of books should be considered “canon.”

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

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

Friday Links: Writers On Writing (and Reading)

I sifted through the links I discovered this week and found many focused on writers discussing writing. Normally, I need to hunt for these sorts of links to share. They appear mostly on niche sites. This week, for whatever reason (and I could speculate), the world is discussing narrative. Points of view. Truth versus fiction. Who should have a voice. I love that so many writers have joined in, whether to tell personal stories or to share a wider perspective. Regardless, I’m pleased to pass along these interesting stories, as each offers up some wonderful food for thought to take back to your own efforts.

Next weekend I’m heading off to Utah to teach at the Futurescapes Workshop. In case you missed it, I posted yesterday about how to attend my masterclass there if you’re in the neighborhood.

This weekend, however, I’m nose down in a client manuscript, plus a pile of submissions. I’ve closed the query box temporarily, because I was a bit behind from the holidays and then more than 400 of you queried me in January. That’s not even counting partials/manuscripts I’m trying to get through, so I’ve shut the gates. I plan to reopen on the 21st, once I’m back from the workshop and a bit caught up.

In the meantime, wishing you all a wonderful weekend, filled with good reads and some productive writing time. Enjoy!

This Week’s Links:

How to Write Fiction When the Planet Is Falling Apart. – Author Jenny Offill discusses her new novel, which addresses climate change.

Screenwriter and Novelist, Turned YA Author, Christopher J. Moore: Author Spotlight. – An interview with the talented, versatile writer.

Women Writers Are Driving Philadelphia’s Literary Renaissance. – An interesting look at the group of authors leading the recent surge of notable books from the Philadelphia area.

A Year in the Life: 2019. – Author Roxane Gay shares her annual roundup of books she’s read and things she’s written in the past year.

I Don’t Want to Be the Strong Female Lead. – Filmmaker Brit Marling talks about the difference between male- and female-centric stories, and what gets lost when women replace men at the head of a traditional quest narrative.

The Secret Feminist History of Shakespeare and Company. – A look at the life of Sylvia Beach, original owner and driving force behind the bookstore. I’m not sure how much of a secret it all is, but it’s definitely interesting.

The Great Vision of Houston’s Arte Público Press. – A brief history of the publisher’s efforts to bring Hispanic authors ignored by mainstream presses out into the public’s eye.

Friday Links: Year’s End Review

I’m squeezing my year’s end review in with Friday Links today because, in many ways, I’ve already started to tally up 2018. I discussed book lists for the year, plus some of my own favorites, which leaves some thoughts on the year overall.

year's end review over coffee

It’s been a lovely year for book deals and for reading wonderful new books by my clients. On the submissions front, I fared a little worse, having a hard time getting through all the projects coming across my desk. One of my first goals for 2019 involves catching up there and continuing to work our new query system. But goals call for a different post.

Outside my little book bubble, the world continues to rage and distract, from politics to tragedies to the loss of various public figures whom we’ll miss. Put this way, it sounds much calmer than if I go into specifics, so I won’t. We all know the chaos brewing. May we find a saner middle road in the year ahead. I hope to post a much more positive year’s end review come next December.

On the personal side of things, good and bad news seemed to take turns. This year saw close friends moving away and others coming to visit. My parents continued to get older, as people do. I managed some great travel for work and pleasure, and met a few new people I’m excited to know better. It all seems to balance out.

This week’s links reflect my year’s end review mindset in many ways, some looking back while others look forward. It’s an eclectic mix, so I hope you find them interesting and inspirational. Don’t forget to keep writing daily if you’re participating in the December Writing Challenge. Just a few days left! Have a great weekend.

This Week’s Links:

The World of Nora Ephron: A Reading List. – In honor of the 20-year anniversary of You’ve Got Mail, a lovely look at Ephron’s approach to filmaking and writing. Great suggested reading list, especially if you’ve never read any of her work.

10 Books by Debut Authors to Watch in 2019. – A wonderful list that includes the debut women’s fiction by my client Erin Bartels.

Tired of Series? Try These 10 Standalone Fantasy Novels. – I love a good series, but committing to yet another one can make me twitch. Some great recs for anyone who feels the same.

Megan Abbott’s Work Diary: ‘My Psychiatrist Notes How Tired I Look, Which Is Great’. – A peek inside the busy life of a successful author.

28 Young Adult Books Coming Out in 2019 That Will Seriously Get You Pumped for the New Year. – Pretty much what it says on the wrapper.

12 of the Best Romance Novels, According to the Author of The Proposal. – Jasmine Guillory shares some of her favorite reads from the past year.

From Dragon Riders to Winter Slumberers: Winter’s 10 Hottest Sci-Fi & Fantasy Reads. – A roundup with something for everyone.

A Guide to Short Story Contests in 2019. – Start marking your calendar now.