#ResolveToWrite: A February challenge to keep 2016 on track

It’s already February. How’s that writing project going?

That’s right guys, we’re now in the second month of 2016. (Is anyone else still writing “2015” in their notes and furiously scratching it out every time?)

There’s a decent chance that these past few weeks have gone by in a blink of an eye for many of us who have been struggling with slow progress, stagnant attempts or missed goals in our writing—not the start of a new year most of us envision. This is totally normal, but frustrating.

Luckily, there are still 11 whole months left in 2016 to get back on track. I thought February 1st seemed like an apt time to come up with a writing challenge. So behold! Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to complete these 29 writing prompts for each day in February. (Turns out 2016 is a leap year—consider it a bonus.)

#ResolveToWrite: A February Challenge

The purpose & who it’s for

The goal is simple: My hope for you and me both is that we write something every day for a month—even if, some days, there’s only time for 15 minutes. I also want you to feel inspired and playful. Even though this is a writing challenge, it should be fun—not a chore!

I had so much fun coming up with unexpected, thought-provoking prompts that writers of fiction, nonfiction and poetry alike would enjoy interpreting these prompts however they see fit.

How to participate

Starting today, dedicate at least a few minutes every day for a month to writing something—a blog post, a short story, a stream-of-consciousness diary entry, a microblog on Instagram, whatever. Document your experience, progress and anything you publish online using the hashtag #ResolveToWrite. (Tweet about it now.)

This challenge is not about arbitrary rules that don’t apply to your writing goals. So if you’re working on a novel and want to focus on that, you don’t have to use every single writing prompt. (Though you may find some of the prompts will spark inspiration for a scene, conversation or turn of events.) And if you join in late, no worries. You can start this challenge any time. As long as you use the #ResolveToWrite hashtag, I’ll be there cheering you on.

Perks if you join in!

If you join in during the first two days using the hashtag #ResolveToWrite, I’ll feature you and any work you’d like to promote in WTH Weekly, the newsletter I send out every Saturday. (You must also be subscribed to the newsletter—after all, you’ll want to be able to see it and forward it to your biggest fan!)

And if you participate at all during the month using #ResolveToWrite and are subscribed to WTH Weekly, you’ll be eligible to win this “Write Like a Motherfucker” mug from The Rumpus. (The Rumpus is not sponsoring this giveaway—I just thought the theme and the heart-shaped design were too perfect for a February writing challenge!) All you have to do is fill in your info using the Raffelcopter widget below to verify. See below for entry details.

#ResolveToWrite giveaway

photo and mug from therumpus.net

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Does that sound like fun or what?! I’m looking forward to doing the prompts along with you and will be tweeting updates from my personal account.

If you’re on board, sign up for the newsletter here, send a tweet (here’s a pre-written tweet for you), enter using the Rafflecopter widget above, then get to work! Let’s make the shortest month of the year count. Happy writing!

Every writer could use some help (updates & resources for you)

Witty Title Here - Resources for Writers

I woke up to a very nice surprise yesterday. Witty Title Here was voted one of 100 Best Websites for Writers by the popular and oh-so-helpful blog The Write Life. How cool is that?! Witty Title Here earned a spot among some amazing (not to mention high-profile) sites like ProBlogger, The Middle Finger Project, Brain Pickings and lots more of my favorites. (You can see the whole list here.) Needless to say, I’m psyched to be in such good company.

This news couldn’t come at a more apt time, because I just made some major changes to the resources page, where you can find tons of helpful links to all sorts of writing tools and inspiration, including scholarship info, writing prompts, composing and editing software, and other blogs to follow. (Though I’ll have to add more links to that section once I’ve checked out some more of those sites on the Write Life roundup!)

I’ve also included a bunch of great links to sites that compile submission deadlines for things like contests and fellowships. These links are where I find the submission deadlines I include in my newsletter every week, but if you don’t want to have to comb through these listings constantly, you can sign up for WTH Weekly and I’ll send them to you instead.

So take a look at the resources page, and let me know what you think! This page will be updated frequently—eventually with more resources created by yours truly!—so be sure to check back periodically. I’d also love your suggestions for any of the categories listed, plus anything else you think would be helpful to your fellow writers.

And stay tuned for a writing challenge that will kick off in February with the intention of keeping us on track with our writing goals. Now that we’re a few weeks into 2016, it’s a great time to reinvigorate ourselves, whether you just need a little extra motivation or are struggling to keep up with the goals you set for yourself at the beginning of the year. Sound good? See you then!

“We write, not with the fingers, but with the whole person. The nerve which controls the pen winds itself about every fibre of our being, threads the heart, pierces the liver.” ― Virginia Woolf

Don’t die a hoarder of your words

Don't die a hoarder of your words

One of the best stories I’ve ever written sits unpublished in a Google Docs folder.

I reread it for the first time in a long time the other day.

I reported and wrote it more than a year ago for a magazine writing class that focused heavily on creating vivid scenes through powerful dialogue and concrete details. It had been a long time since I’d done that kind of writing, which I’d mostly only ever attempted in fiction, but I became obsessed with the process.

The story lent itself well to such detailed description. It took place in an impoverished desert town a couple hours outside of Los Angeles, where stray dogs dart in front of cars and the streets have names like “Avenue R.” My main source was a vigilante on a mission, a tough yet generous woman, but the central character of the story was a dangerous, evil man—and the cause of a lot of division in the small community.

When I opened this story for the first time in months (with the idea of possibly fictionalizing it), I expected all its flaws to immediately jump out and remind me why the sole editor I pitched it to rejected it. But instead, all I thought reading it was, “I can’t believe I didn’t send this around. What was wrong with me?” As many publications as there are out there, this story could have and would have found a home, I’m now sure.

This lack of follow-through upon the completion or near-completion of a piece of work is certainly not unique to me. How many writers at some point in their lives have abandoned a story halfway through, given up after getting rejected once, or never let their work see the light of day because it’s never quite perfect? My guess is every single one. After all, no one shits rainbows every time.

But how many writers continue this self-defeating behavior throughout their lives, limiting themselves to mediocre success at best, disappointment and disenchantment at worst? More than we could ever know or guess, all because they’re not letting themselves be vulnerable to rejection and criticism.

Everyone has their excuses. For me, it was that the story still had some minor flaws in the structure I was unsure of how to fix. I didn’t have access to expensive court documents that would’ve taken it up a notch. I was afraid that the story’s central character—the violent, evil man—might find and hurt me. These were all valid concerns, but they were lousy excuses for letting the story die.

The kicker? The day after I dug this file up again, a major newspaper ran their own version of the story. The same central character, the same facts, even some of the same sources I’d written about and reported on more than a year ago! I have a feeling life will keep cheerily providing such lessons as this if I don’t make some adjustments.

Luckily, that was not the last good story I will ever write. The same goes for anyone else who blew an opportunity or is simply in a rut. Because contrary to the irrational yet commonly held fear that creativity is a well that runs dry, there will always be more to tap into as long as we remain open to it. We can’t be fully receptive to it, though, if we keep the things we create to ourselves. What good is shielding our hearts and our words from scrutiny?

If you still need further convincing, just remember, there is plenty of terrible writing readily available on the internet that’s thoughtlessly published every day by people who don’t even consider themselves writers. That content machine just keeps chugging. Don’t let those voices be the majority.

Death doesn’t discriminate, and it’d be a damn shame to die hoarding our work.

So quit tweaking, fiddling, second-guessing, and giving up, and start pitching, publishing, promoting and celebrating your writing. If you don’t, who else will?

A reminder about resolutions

A reminder about resolutions
Happy 2016, writer ladies!

If you’re like me, you love the fresh start a new year offers but are wary of making resolutions just for the sake of announcing them to the world (and promptly forgetting them). Still, when everyone else in blog and Twitterland seems to be making bold promises, it’s hard not to feel like we should be pushing ourselves to do more.

For writers, it’s the pressure to interact constantly on social media. To write and publish an ebook—then give it away for free. To promote your blog posts 12x a day. To write every day and not make excuses because you will never be a real writer if you don’t.

Do you feel guilty yet?! And that’s just the everyday stuff—never mind New Year’s resolutions.

So how about instead of setting ourselves up for failure and guilt because of this social need to set grand intentions, we all agree on something first: Do what you want and need. But don’t do anything that won’t help your process as a writer and human person because of external pressures—real or perceived.

In fact, maybe the answer is to stop doing certain things instead of adding more to our plates.

Listen, I do think as writers it’s important that we engage with our communities, put ourselves out there, and consistently show up to the computer even when it’s hard. (Because if we gave up the second things became difficult, we’d all be this guy.)

But if social media or marketing or writing content for the sake of having content is stealing joy away from your process and existence as a writer, maybe, like, do less of it. Maybe that’s your New Year’s resolution: Less social media.

If it’s more you’re after, however, set goals that don’t feel like a chore, that offer a little wiggle room and make writing fun. Don’t let anyone else’s big plans affect how you make decisions for yourself. Focus on the important stuff: the writing.

Cool? Cool.

2016, you’re shaping up to be a fine year.

 

Writer Spotlight: Estelle Maskame

Writer Spotlight: Estelle Maskame

I’m so excited to introduce yet another teen author in the Writer Spotlight series—this time, Estelle Maskame, the 18-year-old author of the Did I Mention I Love You? trilogy. Growing up in Scotland, Estelle began writing about teens in faraway cities when she was just 13 and finished her DIMILY trilogy three years later. Estelle’s writing has garnered more than 4 million hits on Wattpad, and she’s amassed a huge Twitter following to boot. The third installment of her trilogy will be out in January.

Meet Estelle Maskame

Tell us about your upbringing and how you got into writing.

To put it simply, I wasn’t really good at anything else while growing up. Most of the people I went to school with were in dance schools or taking gymnastic classes or were on a football team, so it took me a while to figure out what I was good at and what I enjoyed.

Once a week at school we were required to do “storywriting” where we were usually given a prompt and were asked to work from there, writing a page or two. I could never write enough. Writing those short stories at school were my favorite time of the week, and I couldn’t get enough of it, so I began writing at home. I’d spend hours on end in my room, typing away on my laptop, crafting together short stories which gradually turned to novels. I was twelve when I decided that I wanted to be an author, and I’ve never looked back.

Your books are set in several different cities. Have you been to those places before, or did you do research? Describe your process of establishing setting and making it realistic.

I’ve never stepped foot in any of the cities mentioned throughout the trilogy. The last time I was in the U.S. was when I was seven, so I didn’t have that much knowledge about the country as a whole other than what I’d read in books or watched on TV. I honestly can’t count how many hours I’ve spent in total researching these cities over the past four and-a-half years!

There are so many small details that need to be looked into, and I try to be as accurate as I possibly can be, so it takes a long time. After I’ve researched what I can by scrolling through Wikipedia, Google maps, weather history and so on, I usually talk to people who live in the city just to verify that everything is correct.

Do you have a writing routine or process? How do you avoid getting stuck or burned out?

I don’t do anything fancy. I don’t create a plan, but rather I just start writing and see where it takes me. Sometimes I totally hit a wall after I’ve been writing for too long or if I’m writing an important scene that I’m trying too hard to make perfect, and I find that just stepping away and taking a break does wonders for me. I end up coming back later with a clear head.

You’ve talked about the darker side of success in the form of cyber bullying. How do you deal with the trolls and keep the negativity from affecting you and your work?

It used to really get to me when I was younger, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that those who want to tear others down are the ones who have the problem, not me. I’m the one who was working hard and having fun and had pride in my work and was actually achieving something worthwhile, while they were the ones spending their time focusing on my life rather than their own. They weren’t gaining anything from making me feel bad, because I only worked harder to prove them wrong. Now that I’ve got my book deal, I feel like telling them, “Look at me now.” And it’s fair to say that it’s all gone quiet over on their end!

Describe what it felt like seeing your books in print for the first time. What went through your mind?

It was honestly the most overwhelming feeling in the world. Seeing the books in stores for the first time was what hit me the hardest, because it was always something I had dreamed about which I never thought would happen. Walking into a store and picking up something I wrote will forever be insane to me.

Writer Spotlight: Estelle Maskame

What can readers expect in the third installment of DIMILY? What do you love most about your third book?

The third book is different in the way that it focuses a lot more on the family as a whole this time rather than mainly just Tyler, Eden and their friends like the first two installments. The third book is very complicated and intense, I think, and it’s definitely a bumpy ride, but I like the way every scene plays out.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

John Green, Jennifer Niven, Rainbow Rowell and Lauren Oliver are just some of my favorite authors!

Do you plan on being a career writer? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I don’t tend to plan too far in advance into the future, mostly because things can change so easily, but ideally, yes. That would be another dream come true. And in ten years’ time, I like to think I’ll still be hunched over a laptop every day stringing sentences together. That would be nice.

What advice would you give to young writers?

I think a lot of young writers feel that their writing isn’t up to par or that they’re not taken seriously because they’re young. The most important thing when writing at this age is to keep on going, because this is when our writing is constantly changing and improving the most, so don’t worry if your writing isn’t yet up to the standard that you want it to be. I can’t even look back at the stories I wrote when I was 12 without cringing, but at the same time I’m proud of them because without writing them I would never have improved. Always be proud of what you write!

Young writers have the ability to write novels as unique and interesting as a person in their fifties could, so never think of your age as a setback, and don’t be afraid to get your work out there. I really do recommend posting online. It can seem terrifying to let strangers read your work, but on sites like Wattpad, people are never often negative. You’ll always find people who love your work and you never know who could be noticing it—a lot of writers get discovered online, and you could be one of them.

 

Thanks so much, Estelle, for stopping by, and congrats on the upcoming release of your latest book! If you enjoyed Estelle’s interview, please let her know in the comments, and don’t forget to follow her on Twitter.

 

ICYMI: Writer Spotlight on Anna Caltabiano