#ResolveToWrite: A month-long 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!

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.

 

Gift guide for the literary woman

Holiday gift guide for the literary woman

It’s December, which means we are all going to remain calm and act like sane, civil adults because there are more important things than holiday shopping.

Right? Good, now that we’ve got our priorities straight, here are a few gift ideas for the feminists, bookworms, writers or some combination of the three in your life. They’re all reasonably priced, and best of all, you don’t have to go anywhere near a mall to get them. File these under “Things to Give to Someone I Love and Possibly Buy for Myself.” Because they/you deserve it.

1. Five-year diary

For the writer who wants to document short notes about their lives every day for half a decade, get a five-year diary. One day, she’ll be able to look back on what she was doing on this date five years ago. (I’m three years into mine.) Urban Outfitters | Amazon

2. Noise-cancelling headphones

Give a writer the gift of silence so she can write her screenplay or manuscript in peace. She’ll thank you in her acknowledgements. Amazon

3. The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You 

For the voracious reader and/or hypochondriac, this book by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin has a prescription for all ills. Whatever you’re going through? There’s a book for that, and The Novel Cure can recommend it. Amazon

4. Field Notes notebooks

A writer can never have too many notebooks. These little books are slim and small—great for carrying in your bag or pocket and jotting down notes on the fly. For a sturdier design, Moleskine notebooks are a great alternative. Field Notes | Amazon

5. Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist

Book lovers with an equal affinity for booze will want to keep this one handy. With chapter titles like “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margarita,” this book is for anyone who loves a good play on words. While the cocktails themselves don’t stray too far from your basics, it’s perfect if you’re the kind of person who has no idea what goes in a cosmopolitan. (You’ll find out in the chapter titled “One Flew Over the Cosmo’s Nest.”) Urban Outfitters | Amazon

6. 642 Things to Write About

With this book, your writer friend will never run out of ideas again. It’s the perfect gift for the beginner novelist who just needs a prompt to get the creative juices flowing. Uncommon Goods | Amazon

7. Mindfulness coloring book

For those times when staring at a blank screen becomes unbearable, a coloring book is like therapy. That’s right, they make these things for grown-ups now. There’s something so soothing about coloring inside the lines. Brit + Co. | Amazon

8. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I haven’t read this book yet, but I have watched the TEDx Talk it’s based on, and Adichie is a captivating storyteller. Great gift for any budding feminist in your life. Amazon

9. Banned books mug

Anyone who calls themselves a fan of To Kill A Mockingbird, Animal Farm or coffee will appreciate a mug dedicated to the injustice of censorship. Plus, it’s heat-reactive. Out of Print Clothing | Amazon

10. Rookie Yearbook Four

Another great option for young badass ladies is Rookie magazine’s Rookie Yearbook Four. Filled with inspiring interviews, stories, photo editorials and more, it’s the kind of book that will make teens want to start a coffee table book collection (even if they don’t have a coffee table). Rookie Mag | Amazon

 

Want to support independent female artists? These shops sell literary gifts:

Type Shy makes beautiful library card notebooks

The Bookworm Prints has prints of literary quotes

Buy the Book Boutique sells jewelry, keychains and other gifts inspired by literature

Obvious State makes literary art prints and bookish paper goods

Monday Moon Design sells gorgeous black-and-white literary prints

Literati Club makes scarves printed with literature

Bookishly UK has gifts for book lovers including book page art and jewelry

 

See something you like? Send this link to a friend!

Judging your worth by productivity

Judging your worth by productivity

American culture is obsessed with productivity.

You can look to apps (another obsession of ours) for proof. There are all kinds of apps dedicated to tracking, managing, organizing, rewarding and inspiring productivity. You can make lists, set reminders, coordinate your schedules, color-code emails, schedule tweets and more—all in the name of productivity. Ironically, you could waste a lot of hours trying to decide which out of the thousands of productivity apps are worth your time.

As for us writers, when we talk about productivity, we’re talking about progress in the form of putting words on the page. Simple and gut-wrenching as that.

The problem is, our sense of self-worth is often closely linked to our productivity (or lack thereof). If we fall short of even the most arbitrary of goals, it can be devastating not only to our mental health, but to our work as well. Thus creating a cycle of suckiness, or the “I Suck Spiral,” as my boyfriend calls it.

I noticed a somewhat disturbing trend when updating my five-year diary every night. I’ve completed almost three full years of it, and looking back on the past couple of years, so many of the entries refer to how productive I was or wasn’t on any given day. The more productive days reflect happy moods with exclamation points. But on some of the days I deemed unproductive, I go as far as spelling out a few sighs. So dramatic, right? I can practically see the roller coaster of emotions in my jittery handwriting.

Here’s the thing: It’s so much easier to get down on ourselves for not writing enough than it is to write one book, one blog post, one sentence that feels right. It’s hard, and it’s supposed to be, but if we stopped attaching our self-worth to how much we haven’t written and instead celebrated every crappy sentence or shitty first draft we did write, we’d all be better off.

The label “writer” is a part of our identity. Word counts and rejections and bad days are not.

Now, I’m documenting only the little victories and things I’m grateful for in my five-year diary, even—and especially—on bad days. And I don’t need an app to be productive. All any writer needs is someplace to put the words and the faith that those words will come.