Looking for a new challenge for 2020? If you love to read and would like to expand your knowledge of genres and writing styles, beyond John Grisham legal thrillers and self-help books that leave you feeling more confused than before, then the 2020 Reading Challenge may be right for you. Here’s how you can participate.
Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to read one book from each of the categories listed below up to 26 books. That equates to one book every two weeks.
For an added challenge, see if you can read one book from all 34 categories. If you complete all 34 categories and there’s still time in the year, reward yourself. Either take a break from reading or read anything you want. You’ve earned it!
I won’t be handing out prizes for this challenge. The only prize is the pride of personal achievement, unless you want to reward yourself with a well-earned gift, like a massage or a copy of the latest New York Times bestseller.
I have participated in reading challenges the past three years. 2018 was my most productive year, having read 42 books. Last year was more difficult with only 27 (28 if you count the one I started the last week of December but finished the first week of January).
The experience has been rewarding. Not only have I expanded my book knowledge, I’ve discovered new authors and genres I didn’t think I would like (paranormal romance, anyone?). And I had so much fun and a sense of pride each time I crossed a category off my list.
That’s why I’m sharing this reading challenge with you. If you love books as much as I do, you won’t turn down this challenge.
So for your reading pleasure, here are the categories you can choose from. Remember, the first-level goal is 26 books — one book for every two weeks of the year. Any titles beyond that are bonuses. You can read them in any order you choose.
1. Autobiography or memoir
2. Historical fiction
3. A classic
4. Young adult novel
6. Science fiction/fantasy
7. Romance/romantic suspense
8. A non-fiction book or current events
9. True crime
10. A self-help or psychology book
11. A book you read in your childhood
12. A book you read in school
13. A book/novel published within the past year
14. A book/novel published more than 100 years ago
15. A first-time author/debut novel
16. African-American fiction
17. Latin-American fiction
18. A book by an author who is deceased
19. A book made into a movie or TV show
20. A book that someone recommended to you
21. A book set in your hometown
22. A book set in a foreign place
23. A book with a place/location in the title
24. A book with a number in the title
25. A book with a person’s name in the title
26. A book with a color in the title
27. A book with a one-word title
28. A collection of short stories
29. A collection of essays
30. A play
31. A book about sports or an athlete
32. A book that features an animal (Example: Seabiscuit)
34. Current Top 10 best seller
Of course, if you can think of another category for your own reading challenge, you can add it to the selections above. Since I’m getting a late start on this endeavor, the challenge begins now and runs through next January 7, 2021. I will check in periodically to share my progress and perhaps also book titles and authors I found worthwhile.
Happy New Year! Hope the year ahead is filled with exciting opportunities.
I love the start of a New Year. It’s always filled with great promise and hope, just like the start of the school year or the first day of spring. I’m eager to start new projects and try new things. I even try to make resolutions, and though I might fail to achieve them, I believe making them sets the tone for the year.
Yes, I know. Resolution is a dirty word for some people. Perhaps we should call them goals, plans or challenges. I’m always looking for the next challenge though, and I also remind myself that I have a full 365 days in which to achieve it.
So even if you don’t believe in making New Year’s Resolutions, maybe there’s some small goal you’d like to achieve in the coming year. If you can’t think of anything, never fear. I have a few ideas, all related to literary pursuits.
In honor of the year 2020, here are 20 resolutions for the New Year. Choose one or two to pursue, then see how your life unfolds.
1. Read the dictionary or thesaurus front to back as if you were reading a novel. What better way to build your vocabulary.
2. Choose one author whose books you have wanted to read and read every book they’ve written. Select someone who has written at least five books, but no more than twelve. You still want to leave room for other author’s works.
3. Attend a writer’s conference. Immerse yourself in the culture, build your network and rub elbows with authors and editors. Find a conference that matches your genre, like romance or science fiction or screenwriting. Bring along your manuscript and have it critiqued. Attend as many of the sessions as you can handle. You’ll walk away eager to put into practice what you’ve learned.
4. Attend an author reading in your town once a month. Brownie points if you ask the author questions afterward about their craft.
5. Participate in your own reading challenge. Set a goal for the number of books you’d like to read in the next 365 days. For example, I usually set a goal of 32 books because that’s what I’ve averaged the past few years.
6. Same as number 5 above but with a twist. Each book you read is a different genre – from light-hearted romance and detective stories to cookbooks and politics. Each fiction genre opens you to a different style of writing and storytelling, while the non-fiction books can provide background information for your latest work.
7. Start a writer’s journal. Keep track of story ideas, scenes, character descriptions, the humble beginnings of a poem – you get the idea. When you’re ready to start your next story, browse through your journal and see what inspires you.
8. Finish that story, poem or essay you’ve been working on for the past few years. Pull it out from the bottom of your desk drawer and dust it off. Keep working at it until you feel satisfied that it is your best work. Bonus points if you submit it to an editor for publication.
9. Volunteer to be a literacy tutor. There are plenty of organizations that provide reading and writing tutoring to children and adults. Share your love of reading and writing with others.
10. Clear out your bookshelves. Donate the ones you no longer want to worthy organizations. Or if you have a lot of books, host your own book sale, then donate the proceeds to a worthy organization. Either way, you’ll be clearing the shelves for more books.
11. Get up half an hour early each day and use that time to write. You can easily write a couple hundred words during that time. Do that every day, and you will have one or two chapters written within a month.
12. Select a place in your town that you’ve never been to – whether it’s a university campus, a public park, a landmark or even a coffee shop. Then write about your experience. What did the place look like? What kind of people visited the place that day? How did you feel walking through the place? The experience might inspire a short story or essay.
13. Participate in a local write-in. A write-in is a day set aside where visitors can use the time and space to simply write with no interruptions. Universities, writing studios, even some libraries host write-ins. You don’t have to stay the whole day. You can spend one hour or four. Either way, it’s a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the writing process surrounded by other people who are doing the same thing. If you have trouble sticking to a daily writing schedule, attending a write-in can be just the thing to jump start your progress.
14. Write a review of a book you’ve completed or a movie you’ve just seen. For example, if you saw the film Little Women, how did it compare with other film versions? How did it compare with the novel? Even if you’ve never written a book or movie review, trying it once or twice is good practice to develop analytical skills.
15. Visit a different bookstore once a month. Even if you don’t buy anything, browse the current releases to see what is being published.
16. Visit the library once a month. Even if you don’t have a library card or borrow books, there are plenty of resources to browse through. Read the newspaper or a magazine, do some research, or bring a notebook to write with little interruption.
17. Find a writing buddy and meet with them once a month. Having someone along on your writing journey can keep you motivated.
18. Join a Meetup group of writers or book fans. If you’re working on a screenplay, for example, check your local Meetup to see if there is a group for screenwriters. Or maybe you prefer poetry or non-fiction. Whatever your passion is, find like-minded individuals to share it. If there isn’t a Meetup group that meets your interests, start one of your own.
19. Learn about a different writing style or genre. If you’re a business writer, maybe you want to transition into doing personal essays. Find a class or two about writing essays or stock up on books about that topic.
20. Volunteer for an organization that provides reading services to the visually impaired. Many students and seniors have difficulty reading because of their impairment. Organizations like the Blind Service Association in Chicago
need volunteers to read and record everything from textbooks to magazines, whatever is needed. Check to see if there’s a comparable organization in your area.
There you have it – 20 ideas for resolutions for literary types. Hope you see one or two that you’d like to try. You may find it opens up new opportunities in unexpected ways.
Editor’s Note: In the spirit of the holiday season, this post is republished from December 2018.
Happy holidays, and ‘tis the season for gift giving. I’m taking a break from my usual posts about writing to indulge in a little brainstorming for gifts for the writing and communications professional in your life. The gift can even be for yourself.
1. Books. Naturally, books will fall on any writer’s wish list, especially books about writing, reading or creativity. What writer wouldn’t want to add to their library? There are plenty of books available about becoming a better writer, improving your habits, overcoming writer’s block and more. Check out some of these book suggestions.
2. Writer’s tools of the trade. Every writer needs a dictionary, thesaurus, AP Stylebook and/or University of Chicago Manual of Style to complete their library. Add The Elements of Style and a basic grammar book, and their library is complete. They might have a dictionary, but since they are updated annually, it never hurts to give the writer on your list a more current version.
3. Caffeine containers (also known as coffee mugs). No writer or communicator should be without their supply of caffeine. Check out this collection of humorous coffee mugs from Café Press that are sure to put a smile on your face.
4. A really, really nice pen set. Many writers begin writing their stories longhand, so they need plenty of writing instruments to get the job done. Consider giving them a really nice stylish pen set (within budgetary reasons, of course), or a stock of their favorite pen, if they have one. Working with a stylish pen can put them in a more serious frame of mind when they write. Add a stack of notepads or legal pads, and your writer friend will be well stocked and ready to write before the New Year begins.
5. Professional development. Instead of a physical item, consider the gift of experience or education. Continuous learning is important to most writers and communicators. Writers are constantly searching for ways to improve their own craft and become better writers. Consider a gift of a Writer’s Digest subscription or an online course through Mediabistro.
6. Writing exercises and word puzzles. Brain power and creativity are key for writers. Word puzzles and writing exercises can help boost a writer’s creativity. Try magnetic word games, for example. Each magnet contains a word, and with 100 or so word magnets, you can create numerous combinations of some pretty imaginative poems. Put them on your refrigerator, and let the family create their own mini-short stories as they grab the milk.
Another option is the Writer’s Toolbox, described as “more exercises and games to inspire ‘the write side of the brain.’ Get the family involved with a Once Upon a Time storytelling card game. One person begins as the Storyteller and begins telling a story using the elements described on their cards, guiding the plot toward their Ending Card. But other players can interrupt the Storyteller with their own elements and the right to take over as the new Storyteller. All these options are sure to be fun for you and the whole family.
7. A book of writing prompts. Occasionally writers need help generating story ideas. To get the creative juices flowing, they might appreciate a book of writing prompts. Before you know it, the writer in your life (or even the writer in you) will be off and running on their next story.
8. Do Not Disturb signs. Some years ago, I saw a sign that read “Do Not Disturb. Genius at Work.” I laughed at the time, but I think it succinctly describes the sentiment most writers feel when they are at work. Writers are creative geniuses who need privacy and quiet, uninterrupted time to plot, daydream, and craft their stories. Let people know that once that sign is on the door, it’s time to get down to work.
I hope these ideas give you a head start on your gift shopping for the writers in your life. And don’t be shy about giving a gift to yourself. The more you invest in yourself, the more you improve your writing life.
The Christmas season is in full force. There is much to do – shopping, baking, decorating, attending parties, socializing with friends – you name it. This is on top of your usual obligations – work, school, housekeeping, family time, volunteer work, and self-care. There isn’t much time left for your writing practice.
Or is there?
It all depends on how you allocate your time.
If your writing is important to you or if you are currently working on a deadline, then reaching your writing goals is critical. To reach those goals, you need to have a plan. If faced with this dilemma – and most of us are – you have several options:
1. You can put your writing practice on hiatus.
Going on hiatus will obviously clear the way for you to enjoy your holiday more without worrying about what your next essay will be about. Then when you begin working again, you come with a fresh eye. On the other hand, a hiatus can take you out of your writing rhythm. You could lose momentum on the current work-in-progress. Come January when you sit back down and review your story, you might lose sight of where your story is going. Then you may have to start all over again.
2. Decrease the time you spend on your writing practice.
This approach might make the most sense for most writers. You can still make progress on your current work while still making time for your holiday activities. Here’s how it works. If you currently write for one hour a day, you might decide to write for only half an hour. Or instead of writing six days a week, perhaps you only write three days a week. The scheduling is up to you.
3. Maintain the status quo in your writing practice.
To maintain your current writing schedule will mean reassessing your holiday activities. Are there any that have lost their meaning for you? Do you really need to go to every party you’ve been invited to? Can you skip sending out holiday cards or the holiday bar crawl? The choices are yours.
If you’re struggling to figure out how to maintain your writing practice during the holidays, here are a few suggestions:
1. Set priorities. How much of a priority is your writing? If it’s important to you, you will automatically make more time for it. Other activities will go by the wayside as a result.
2. Make an appointment for your writing. Make an appointment with yourself to write just as you would make a doctor or hair appointment. When you see that you have three one-hour writing sessions in your appointment book, chances are you will be more likely to stick to that schedule.
3. Set realistic goals for your writing. What do you want to accomplish? For example, if you decide you want to write one chapter for your current novel during the month of December, you need to figure out how to make that goal. But make sure that goal is reasonable and achievable. Writing a 1000-word essay or a 3000-word chapter of a novel is probably more achievable than writing 50,000 words.
When you maintain a consistent writing practice throughout the holidays with all its assorted pleasurable distractions, you may actually feel more joyous throughout the season. Why? Because you love to write and you know how you feel when you write. There is no other greater joy than to do what you love during the holidays.
Editor’s note: I am not employed or affiliated with NaNoWriMo not-for-profit organization nor am I being paid for promoting this event.
Could you write 50,000 words in one month? A national non-profit writing organization is challenging you to do just that.
November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, as it is often called. NaNoWriMo is a creative writing event hosted by a not-for-profit organization that began in 1999 to challenge young writers to complete a novel during the 30 days of November. The goal is to write 50,000 words, or roughly 1,667 words a day. That may seem like a lot to some, but not if you plan your time well, say writers who have participated in the past.
If you’ve always wanted to write a novel and wasn’t sure how or where to start, the NaNoWriMo website offers some practical tools and resources to help you get started. I’m especially impressed with the Prep 101 Workshop, a series of exercises that helps you plan your novel. In this section, you’ll find an entire handbook containing exercises, quizzes and worksheets to help you do everything from developing your story idea, creating complex characters, outlining your plot, developing the setting for your story, and organizing your time to get it all done.
I found the quiz about plotting preferences especially useful. I discovered that I don’t like a lot of detailed planning, but just enough to get me started and keep it flexible enough to allow for new characters and plot twists.
If you’re writing a memoir, a play or non-fiction book, don’t feel left out. While this event is geared toward novel writers, you could easily adapt the tools to your own work. The goals are the same – 50,000 words in 30 days.
You don’t need to donate to the organization to participate. You can do the work on your own, like I plan to do. Or meet with fellow writers in your area for ongoing support and encouragement. Check listings in your area for write-ins that might be taking place at bookstores, public libraries or schools. For the uninitiated, a write-in is like an open house for writers where you spend an hour or several just focused on your writing. Write-ins are a marvelous way to immerse yourself in your novel.
Also check if there is a local NaNoWriMo chapter in your area, just like this one in Chicago.
November is an exciting time to be a writer. Take advantage of these resources and challenge yourself. See if you can reach 50,000 words in 30 days.
Besides, imagine how great you’ll feel at the end of the challenge. Even if you don’t reach the goal of 50,000 words, even if you only achieve 30,000 or 20,000 words, that’s more than what you have written up until now. And you’ll be that much closer to completing your book. That’s always a reason to celebrate.
I’ve been reading about collaborations a lot lately. I have never collaborated on a creative fiction project myself; I’m far more comfortable getting my own ideas published. But for many writers and creative professionals, collaborations are a means to expand their business opportunities.
The truth is, writers and other creative professionals have been joining forces to create new innovative products for years. Sometimes these collaborations work; many times they don’t. There are numerous reasons why writers would want to seek collaboration on a project. They may want to experiment with a different genre of writing but don’t have the experience or the confidence to pursue it. A collaborator can bring that perspective.
Another reason for collaboration may be the size of the project. It may be too large for one person to handle on their own. In that case, a collaborator can share the responsibility — and the rewards. Yet another reason is the challenge it brings. Many writers may relish the thought of working with another person because they feel the process makes them a better writer.
If you decide to pursue a collaboration, keep an open mind. It’s important to be open to new ideas and not get locked into your own.
According to Joanna Penn at the Creative Penn blog, it helps to have a clear idea from the start what kind of project you and your collaborator are working on and to set parameters for making progress. Lack of proper planning can derail the project before it even gets off the ground. You both need to be on the same page to move the project plan forward.
Here are a few words of advice from writers who’ve been part of successful collaborations.
1. Work with someone you already know. When you know someone, you are familiar with their strengths as a creative, their personality, their ideas, work habits and more. It’s much easier to get on the same page when you know who you are dealing with. While it’s not a requirement, it can be helpful to work with someone you already know. When you don’t know the other person as a writer or collaborator, you have to start from ground zero in getting to know how they work, and more important, whether you can work with them at all. It might be helpful to start on a small project like a play or novella before embarking on a larger project.
2. Start slow and plan you project ahead of time. Don’t begin writing right away. Plan out what you want to create, though you don’t need every detail outlined. Outline what each of you will be responsible for during the project. A simple sketch with your story ideas and characters might be sufficient. Once you start writing, keep working at a steady pace. Put a schedule in place with incremental deadlines and a final publication deadline. Having a clear plan of action with deadlines can keep you and your collaborator on track to meet your goals.
3. Be clear about the story concept. Define your genre. Is it historical fiction, an international thriller or a fantasy series for young adults? Penn says it can be tempting to do a mash up of different genres to please different audiences, but that can result in a confusing product. Instead, choose one and do it well. When you focus on one specific genre, it will be easier to market it to consumers.
4. Communicate clearly and often. You may be working at opposite ends of the country, so it’s important to have frequent communication to update each other on progress, says writer Jeff Somers in Writer’s Digest magazine. Set aside time each week or every other week to check in with each other to see how the work is progressing and resolve any problem areas before they derail the project.
There are other important tips to consider.
1. Be respectful of each other. You each bring something special to the table – your skill level, writing experience, etc. If you find yourself encroaching on the other person’s space, take a step back and allow them room to work their own magic. Likewise, if you find they are encroaching on yours, politely ask that they give you time to work your own writing magic. There’s no room for egos when you collaborate.
2. Embrace different ways of working even if they make you feel uncomfortable. The new processes may actually help you see past writing problems that have stumped you before. Learning new processes through collaborative efforts may even help you become a better writer.
3. Speak up if the project seems to stall or doesn’t seem to be going well. Don’t let resentment simmer in the background or boil over, Somers says. Address issues as soon as they arise.
4. Take time to celebrate milestones and successes. When you complete that first book in your fantasy series, or get that contract, celebrate that success. Then get back to work. Most important, have fun.
5. Don’t be afraid to walk away. If you find you cannot work with this person or a stalemate has occurred, walking away from it may be your best option. You may have to weigh the pros and cons of doing so. For example, if you received an advance from a publishing company, you may have to find a way to complete the project. Honor your obligations. But if you don’t have any restrictions and this is simply a creative experiment that clearly is not working out, by all means, walk away and chalk it up to experience.
Remember, for all the success stories about collaborations that fill the Internet, there are still many others that have failed. In any partnership or relationship, sometimes you have to set aside your ego to let the relationship flourish. The same is true for collaboration. If you enter it with the right mind set, the end result may be a product you can be proud of.
Have you ever collaborated on a creative project? What was your experience like? I’d love to hear about them.