Although some might argue that Christmas Eve calls for A Visit from St. Nicholas, I vote for Dickens. And you can never go wrong with Neil Gaiman. Wishing all who celebrate a wonderful Christmas with friends and family.
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 Did you ever experience a holiday where something bad superseded the holiday celebration for your family?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!
Anyone who has spent much time visiting this blog knows I’m a sucker for seasonal reading. I love matching some of my reading choices to the time of year, and of course Christmas begs for this sort of treatment. As an adult, my favorite reread in December is Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, but I’m also happy to cherry pick from a volume of Christmas stories or delve into something new. Romance readers know that this time of year brings a wealth of holiday-themed romances, both novels and anthologies, because romance goes so well with winter activities such as sleigh rides and ice skating and shopping for the perfect gift for that special someone. Young adult fiction has a handful of holiday choices, too, and of course, children’s books provide the most plentiful selection, with books about Santa Claus or Hanukkah traditions, holidays from different countries and cultures, or holiday mishaps.
Do you pick up something special to read this time of year? What are your holiday favorites?
I am sitting at my parents’ kitchen table. My mother has the New York Times spread out next to me. My father is floating around somewhere. At the moment, all is quiet, and so I’m taking the time to post here for all my December Writing Challenge folks, as well as anyone who has tried to get a little work done in the presence of family members.
Writing with a person or people as a distraction might be the ultimate challenge. I can tune out the radio or the TV, construction noise from outside, ambient sounds from strangers in a coffee shop, and even an annoying bird chirping loudly outside my window. But what do you do when someone starts to talk to you? Your mother or sister, your child, your spouse? They have something important to say. They want your attention for some bit of trivia. Or, as is often the case with my mother reading the paper, they just want “to read this one thing to you.”
Now, my mother knows I’m working right now. I explained to her that I had to post for my blog, and that’s why I showed up at the table with my laptop in tow. I’m not on Twitter or surfing websites. I’m writing. So far this means she hasn’t felt the need to read to me from the paper. The only thing she has said since I started was that it sounds windy outside. Honestly, this, for my mother, is surprising restraint. When I was in high school, she was known to stand in my doorway and tell me things while I was working on homework, and having my nose in a book is an invitation for her to come chat at me. I am fair game at all times.
However, I explained what I needed to do. How much time I needed. And she’s respecting my wishes. So if you need to get a few minutes of writing done today while family is around, try telling them straight up that you need half an hour to get something done. Children may have a harder time with this concept, but try explaining to the older ones and showing them on the clock when you’ll be finished, then stick to that promise. With smaller ones, try finding a small project for them to work on (or, I’m sorry to suggest, a half-hour holiday special to watch) and set them up to do their “work” while you do yours.
Writing with family at home or in town for a visit can be one of the more difficult aspects of creating through the holidays, but it is possible. If you can’t steal the time away to do some writing on your own, explain to the people around you that you just need a little bit of time to finish one important thing. They might surprise you with how cooperative they can be.
Now it’s time for me to let my mom read me that one thing she’s been marking with her finger between two pages of the paper. Have a wonderful weekend, and happy writing!
In years past, I’ve posted some fairly extensive lists of suggested gifts for the readers and writers in your life, or that you might want to hint about to people wondering what to buy for you. This year I’m being a bit more low key about it, as I’ll admit I’ve not done as much scouting for cool writerly stuff recently. Last Friday I posted a few links to some great gift lists other sites have compiled, and today I’m going to share some of my favorite items to round them out. Please note, this is not a sponsored post, merely a list of items I personally have used/read/found useful.
Writers write, so it’s a no brainer to pick up something they can write with. This can mean stuffing their stocking with an entire box of their favorite everyday pen from the stationery store (I’m fond of the Pilot Precise V5 extra fine, personally), or investing in a lovely refillable pen that they’ll cherish for years to come. Many writers are members of the cult of the fountain pen, and the sea of colorful inks they can use, but there are also rollerball and ballpoint pens that come with nice gift boxes and refills available. I recommend Goulet Pens for their enormous selection, informational videos, and excellent customer service, but an online search will also net you the name of your nearest stationery store that stocks pens and pen supplies.
If you’re looking to gift your favorite writer (or aspiring writer) with a new writing program for their computer, check out Scrivener. Many authors swear by this multi-faceted program that allows writers to compile their story in any way they wish — linearly, piecemeal, etc. — and include research, references, and inspirational photos all in a single file. The program is available for both Mac and PC, and can be found at Literature and Latte, along with helpful video tutorials.
Whether a writer prefers to write longhand or on the computer or a combination of both, they can always use a pocket-sized notebook on hand to jot down ideas or bits of information when they come across it. I love these little Field Notes notebooks. They’re sturdy enough to take a bit of throwing around, but not so precious that you worry if a corner gets bent or the cover gets a coffee stain on it. They come with your choice of interior — lined, plain, or graph paper — or you can purchase a combo pack.
Books for Writers
I’ve a few go-to writing books that I recommend when asked or during presentations. This year I’ve added a new favorite to the bunch: Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life. It’s a quiet little book that’s part memoir, part advice for how to navigate the challenges of a creative practice.
A similar-yet-different book that I’ve recommended for years is Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers. See comes down more on the advice side of things, with a number of practical tips for writers regarding things to consider before they even get a book deal.
For a book that focuses more on craft, check out The Making of Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing by Alice LaPlante. This big, detailed book includes both exercises and readings, just as you might expect from a Norton book of this type.
More General Books
Whether you’re looking to give a book to a reader who just reads or one who writes as well, book subscriptions or mystery boxes can be a fun way to go. Book Riot currently has a book package on offer featuring four of the best books (by their estimation) of 2015, all of which they believe have flown somewhat under the radar (meaning it’s less likely someone’s already read them all). The book also includes three bookish-items (think tote bags, magnets with book covers on them, etc.). They also have a seasonal subscription that features a new bookish box quarterly, and a second one focused on young adult books.
Or create your own! Pick a few of your favorite reads from the year and assemble a box with some other bookish treats — tea and shortbread, a fun bookish bag, a small reading lap, etc.
Other Odds and Ends
If you don’t want to go the obvious route (reading and writing), think about some of the other things a reader or writer might appreciate. My favorites include:
Coffee or tea: One or the other is likely to please. Make up a nice gift basket or fill a stocking with an assortment pack.
Gift certificates: For a massage, manicure and/or pedicure, or anything else that will ease them after hours at a desk.
The gift of time: Promise them a break to read or write while you take their kids out for the day; provide them with a professional housecleaning; or give them a long weekend in a nearby inn or hotel, either to relax or to get their manuscript done.
Happy Friday! We’re two weeks from Christmas, smack in the middle of Hanukkah, and on day 11 of the December Writing Challenge. All of which says to me that most people are probably extremely busy.
In terms of the challenge, I’m simply going to remind you to make some writing dates for yourself over the weekend. Call up your writing friends and arrange to meet for hot chocolate and a couple of writing sprints, or schedule some solo writing time. Put your writing dates in your phone and/or planner, set alerts to remind yourself, and treat them the way you would any other important appointment. Good luck!
As for this week’s Friday Links, I have all sorts to share. Unsurprisingly, we’re slipping into the “best of” time of year, when all the lists of books start popping up. Even though they can get a bit out of hand, I still always love checking them out to see if I might discover a great title that flew under my radar earlier in the year. So yes, I’ve got a few lists in the links. But there’s also ideas for holiday shopping, as well as the typical writerly/bookish stuff. I hope they make for an enjoyable break or tangent today or at some point over the weekend. Enjoy, and happy writing!
Best Books of 2015: The NPR App – One of my favorites when in comes to these annual lists. This covers all sorts of genres and interests, and allows you to winnow the list if you’re looking for the best of a particular type of read.
26 Brilliant Gifts Only English Nerds Will Appreciate – Some great ideas for the writers and/or readers in your life.
American Publishers Put Out Significantly Fewer Works in Translation in 2015 – A look at the major dip in this segment of the publishing industry.
The Best of the Bests: Ranking the 2015 Best Books Lists – Brooklyn Magazine sorts through some of the many lists out there.
30 Gifts Under $30 for Writers and Book Lovers – More fun ideas.
Notes from a Bookseller Under Pressure – On selling books through the holidays.
The Best Diverse YA Books of 2015 – An excellent round-up.
One Goal to Rule them All: Five Things to Consider before You Write an Epic Fantasy – Some wonderful advice regarding all the balls you need to juggle writing in this sub-genre.
Happy weekend, everyone! I hope you’re enjoying yourself and making time for some writing along with everything else on your to-do list. If you’re participating in the December Writing Challenge, you should have a bit of writing time scheduled already, but even if you’re not, take a few minutes for yourself and indulge your creativity.
People-watching during the holidays can be a great way to spark a new idea, or just practice getting descriptions down on paper. If you’re out shopping or at a holiday event, grab a seat and a warm drink and spend a few minutes writing down what you see. Are people in festive clothes? Struggling with shopping bags? Humming Christmas carols? Imagine where they’re headed or where they just came from, and write up a scene to go with it. Making time to write doesn’t always have to mean adding to a WIP. Sometimes a few minutes on a fun writing exercise is all you need to keep the pump primed. Enjoy!
Welcome to day 3 of the December Writing Challenge! Whether you’ve written the previous two days or you’re just joining us, it’s an important day of the writing week because it’s Thursday. What makes Thursday so special? Well, it tends to be the last day of the week before weekend brain starts to set in and lure you away from your good intentions. So not only are you going to write today, but you’re going to plan ahead so the weekend doesn’t interfere with all your good work.
As crazy as a work day can be during this time of the year, weekends blow them out of the water. Between shopping for gifts, holiday parties, your kids’ recitals and concerts and Nutcracker performances, and decking the halls, it can seem like you don’t have a minute to spare. That makes it even more important to schedule some time for yourself, specifically time to write.
At some point today, take a look at your calendar, whichever one you use to schedule important things, like dentist appointments and business meetings and anniversaries. You’re going to schedule your writing time in for the weekend, and set an alert or reminder on your phone or computer. This is a commitment. It’s a date with yourself to get in your writing time, even if it’s just a half an hour as part of a mid-afternoon coffee break each day.
If you really want to hold yourself to it, team up with a friend (or several) who writes and agree to meet them for a writing sprint. Go to your favorite coffee house or bar and promise to work through a couple of 15-minute writing jags between beverages, or grab lunch and write between your entree and dessert. To change it up a bit, have each writer participating bring a short prompt, and take turns setting the writing topic for the sprint.
December weekends fill up quickly, and no doubt you already have a few commitments on your calendar. Just make sure your writing doesn’t get pushed to the side. Take the time for yourself, and get those words out. Happy writing!