I’m delighted to announce the launch of my online course, Master the Art of the Synopsis. Designed for writers struggling to craft a compelling synopsis, the class divides the process into manageable stages. It expands upon the course I’ve taught for years, both in person and virtually, and adds supplemental materials including a workbook and sample synopses. Students will have lifetime access and be able to work through the units at their own pace.
After spending months–or years–writing a novel, writers often hate having to tackle a synopsis. How do you distill an entire book down to a few pages, or even paragraphs? But don’t let a sense of overwhelm stall your submission process. If you or someone you know needs to polish up those synopsis-writing skills, check out the course today.
Are you ready for the December Writing Challenge? Each year, I challenge writers to make their writing a priority, despite the busy nature of the month. Between the holiday season and year-end wrap ups, it’s very easy to let your writing time slide, especially if you have not yet made the jump to professional writer. But a writer is someone who writes, not someone who gets paid to do so. And so I challenge you to keep writing during the craziness of December, no matter where you are in your career, even if you only manage to steal a little time each day.
It might sound insane to try to write with any set schedule in December of all months, but there is a method to my madness. First of all, many writers spend November participating in NaNoWriMo. That’s a month-long, very intense attempt to produce 50,000 words. And while it’s tempting to take time off after that sort of slog, I say make the most of the momentum you’ve built up. Your brain becomes accustomed to producing words after 30 days of demanding output. But whether you’ve been writing all month or just on your normal schedule, keep going. Don’t allow your creative muscles to grow flabby. A writing challenge offers a little bit of a framework to help.
The second reason to write through the month of December comes in January, when you’re staring down a brand new year and thinking about your writing goals. Whatever you wish to achieve in 2023, you’ll have a head start if you’re already in the habit of writing regularly. Set your goals and dive in, no need to get yourself back up to speed or to flex rusty skills. Future you will definitely thank present you for putting in some desk time over the holidays.
The December Writing Challenge hinges on a few very simple rules.
Write every day during the month of December.
No minimum word count, no mandatory amount of time per day (though I recommend you try to squeeze in at least half an hour).
Write whatever you want: Novel in progress, poetry, short stories, nonfiction, one project all month or bits of different things.
If necessary, you can take up to two days off. Try not to, but this is a nod to the time of year. So if you’re entertaining or traveling or whatever, and you have a day when you just can’t imagine stealing a few minutes away from everything to write, use one of your free days.
Advice for Managing Your Writing
There are always people demanding your time and attention, especially during the holidays, so one tip I have is to tell your family and friends that you’re participating in this challenge. Let them know you want their support. Ask them to honor your commitment to your writing by leaving you alone when you have a scheduled writing session (emergencies aside, of course).
Next tip: really schedule that time to write. Look at your calendar at the start of each week and pick a time slot for your writing. Consider it an appointment or date with yourself. Block it out, complete with a reminder/notification, and stick to it the way you would a meeting or trip to the dentist.
If you have writer friends in your neighborhood, set up a buddy system. Meet for a writing date once a week at your favorite coffee shop or the library. If you’re avoiding public places, set up a joint writing time on Zoom. Cheer each other on while you keep each other accountable.
Keep your writing portable and take advantage of downtime when you’re out and about. If you have a notebook and pen in your bag/car/office, you’ll be more inclined to jot down some words over your lunch break or in the doctor’s waiting room or sitting in the pickup line at your kids’ school.
Break your writing up if you can’t fit a full session one day. Try writing for 15 minutes over your morning coffee and again during lunch, if that’s the only time you have. The important thing is to get a few words down and to train your creative mind to show up when you call.
The Option to Push Yourself
Feel free to set yourself some additional mini challenges, especially if you’re concerned about what to write every day. Maybe you fear writer’s block or think you won’t be able to get going on your WIP in a small window of time, or perhaps you’re between projects and don’t know where to start. Take an hour before the beginning of the month to set yourself a few writing prompts/challenges you can fall back on when you need ideas or a little extra motivation to write. Make them fun or silly or weird—whatever will make you more likely to sit down and write for a while.
A few potential prompts:
A list of first sentences for new stories
Settings you’d like to describe
Weird real-life events that could be twisted into fiction, such as the infamous Darwin Awards, missed personal connections, what-ifs based on bumping into people from your past or celebrities or someone you thought was deceased
Memories of holidays long past
Retellings of fairy tales or myths
Something in a different genre from what you typically write
Craft exercises, such as writing a scene only in dialogue, or writing a scene multiple times from different points of view
Do some online image searches—for cities you’ve never visited, mountain tops, forests, cabins, castles, beaches—and use the resulting photos as inspiration
Try your hand at fanfiction if you’ve never done so; rewrite the ending of a favorite film or tie up loose ends from a beloved series that got canceled prematurely
Whatever else you have going on this month, try to remember what you love about writing, what started you down this path in the first place. A busy schedule combined with the frustration of a plot that’s not cooperating or perhaps looming deadlines can make writing feel more like work and less like something you love to do. And while writing can be work, it should also have an element of joy to it. It’s not something you should do if you hate the process unreservedly. So take a few moments to embrace the joyful aspects of writing. Allow yourself to play with it. Appreciate the rhythms of a well-crafted sentence. Admire a deft description. Pat yourself on the back over that witty dialogue. Be proud of your writing accomplishments, at every stage of your journey.
I’ll ask again: Are you ready to write? Ready for a bit of a challenge? Prioritize your writing this December. Remember what makes it important to you, and why you love it.
We kick off the challenge on December 1st, here and on various social media platforms. I look forward to hearing how your challenge progresses. Happy writing!
Welcome to the December Writing Challenge 2021. Each year, I encourage writers to challenge themselves during the month of December. Most of the time, the aim is to maintain the momentum you achieved during the year through this final, often busiest, month. That way, come January, you will be ready to attack your goals with energy.
Last year, the December Writing Challenge took on more of a self-care aura. 2020 destroyed many writers’ ability to focus, to meet deadlines, to feel creative. It seemed necessary to encourage everyone to be kind to themselves, even as they tried to put down new words.
We learned in 2021 that there is no such thing as a quick solution to a global pandemic. This year felt dedicated to picking ourselves up and attempting to discover our new normal. How to juggle lock-downs and health directives with resuming typical business and life activities. And so the challenge shifts again.
This December, I challenge you to redefine your writing habits if you need to, whether that means reminding yourself of your goals and priorities, or giving yourself permission to put less time into that work-in-progress. No, I’m not letting you off the hook entirely. But I do want you to take an hour or two and really consider what you want from your writing, and how any changes in world view might have altered your plans.
Whatever you believe, whatever holidays or end-of-year tasks steal your focus in December, take out a bit of time for joy. Specifically, the thing about writing that brings you joy. Do you love the adventure of a new project? Does world-building make you excited? Maybe dreaming up new characters and throwing them into danger fills you with glee. Pick something. Anything. And make that your December challenge project.
Yes, I know, some of you have deadlines or are so, so close to finishing something. And that’s fine. Obviously you should finish the thing you need to turn into an editor. But if you’re not there, or if you can steal fifteen minutes at the start of your work window, let yourself play a little. Give yourself the gift of writing, rather than considering it a task.
A writer friend recently started a shiny new project, for which she set aside a nearly done novel that just wasn’t working for her. Now she reports her word count with so much happiness every day. Her excitement is contagious. Finishing projects is important, but sometimes, some projects… they work against you. This coming month, find the thing that reminds you why you wanted to write in the first place.
December Writing Challenge 2021: The Deets
The basics for this year’s challenge are the same as ever. Write every day in December. No mandatory word count or even amount of time, though I urge you to try to work in at least a half an hour. Just write. Work on your novel, try your hand at poetry, consider a short story or personal essay. Start a new project every single day and then see what you want to continue with come January. Whatever you want. All the words count.
You get two free days, if you really need them, to take off for general December business or simply because you need a day off. Maybe you’re cleaning house for incoming relatives or you have a ton of holiday shopping or cooking to do. If you’re the one traveling, you may be stuck behind the wheel for too long one day to face sitting at your laptop. That’s fine. You be the judge. But try not to take the days if you don’t have to, and to limit them to two.
This is not me saying that you have to write every day to be a writer. That’s not a rule, you do what works for you. But this is me saying that December can be crazy, and it’s all too easy to have busy day after busy day rob you of your writing time. Then come January, when you are excited about new goals for the new year, you are feeling rusty and out of practice. Maybe can’t even recall what you were working on. That slows you down.
Aim to write every day. By January, you will have a limber writer’s brain, ready to face whatever goals you dream up for 2022.
Tell your family and friends that you’re participating in the challenge, and that you will be guarding a bit of time each day to prioritize your writing. Let them know this is important to you, and you expect their support and encouragement.
Make a date with yourself. Look at your calendar and add your writing window in each day as a physical appointment, complete with reminder notifications. Keep your date like you would a dental appointment.
Get a writing friend or two to join you in a kind of buddy system. Cheer each other on. Maybe do a coffee or hot chocolate date to get some writing done together. If you’re avoiding coffee shops and other enclosed spaces, do a Zoom write-in together and hold each other accountable.
Keep a notebook and pen in your bag or car so you can do some long-hand scribbling if you’re picking up your kids or stuck in a waiting room somewhere. Or write bits on your phone’s Notes app.
If you’re feeling really inspired, go ahead and add layers to your challenge. Maybe you do want to write a poem every day, or try a completely new genre. You might check a few writing books out of the library and work your way through the exercises or prompts they include to improve your craft. Pick an aspect of your writing you really want to improve on and focus on just that, like writing a whole story just in dialogue, or writing description that somehow also moves the story forward. Feel free to make the challenge as complicated as you’d like, if that’s something that gets you excited.
The December Writing Challenge 2021 kicks off tomorrow, but if you find this post later in the month, please do join in whenever. The goal is to keep your writing muscles limber, and the prize is a writer’s brain ready to tackle new year goals. I will be posting encouragement here and on Twitter all through the month, so check in if you need a boost. Otherwise, I wish you all a wonderful final month of 2021, and very happy writing.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.”