Writer’s Craft: My 2021 in Review and Tips For Writing Goal-Setting in 2022

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Writers are supposed to reflect and reflect often. In college, I had to reflect on my writing in every writing-based class. I still do it when looking at older pieces, ones I haven’t yet placed and ones that have been published for a long time. What was my process? Did I even have one? Does it matter if there is one? What about my long and short term goals for my writing?

I take part in the 100 Rejections Challenge, a challenge for writers to be, well, rejected from literary journals, fellowships, scholarships, and anything else in our wheelhouse at least 100 times. There are no extra zeroes, you are reading the correct amount. When I announced my total rejections for the year — 90 as of today, but there’s always a chance within the next two days that I will get 100 — I mostly got encouraging responses about my perseverance, how people couldn’t understand how I could do it. I took a moment to remember how just a few years ago, any rejection would have crumbled my self-esteem. Today, I get “No, thank you” repeatedly…for fun. You could say my process is simply being very annoying, and I would not disagree.

Towards the beginning of December, I read If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. I picked it up one day on a whim at Second & Charles and read it out of impulse. I’m not familiar with any of Ueland’s other work, and I saw plenty of problematic or privileged takes in some sections of the book. Thankfully, most of the advice in the book is universal and could have been written today, such as this:

“The only good teachers for you are those friends who love you, who think you are interesting, or very important, or wonderfully funny….And if you have no such friend,–and you want to write,–well, then you must imagine one. “

Brenda Ueland

Without context, the quote can seem like it’s pointing towards finding those that only fill your ego, the ones that are “yes people” and will say anything to please you. However, when relating to my own writing journey up to this point, the most helpful teachers have been the ones that encouraged me in some way. Simply pointing out things that they liked, miniscule, microscopic moments I wouldn’t have thought mattered at all that they asked me to elaborate on further in my writing, was enough to explore other avenues in the revision process. Those who picked them apart like vultures did the opposite. For writers like me, it makes you want to leave your works in progress out to rot and hope that the scavengers take every part of it away, like it never happened.

A couple of times this year, the rejections did hit harder, because I was so close to getting an acceptance, only to be a semi-finalist, or to be the one they told they didn’t have enough room for them in their collections. Then there has been the journey with not one, but two poetry manuscripts that get so close to being chosen, only to not find a home. So encouraging, yet so crushing at once. Somehow those hurt more, but also spur more motivation and action once the grieving period is over.

But hanging onto the parts of the encouraging rejections that have the energy of the TikTok sound “Go Little Rockstar” keeps everything running, another day, another try.

Setting concrete goals, such as getting 100 rejections or a certain word counts can help you realize how much you can and do achieve, especially if you are someone like me and are especially hard on yourself. Thanks to my rejection goals, including submissions from 2020 that weren’t accepted until 2021, I was able to publish a lot more creative writing than I initially thought I did this year.

2021 Poetry

Plainsongs – “Gonna Tell My Kids”

Flora Fiction – “Pandemica VII”

Heart of Flesh Literary Magazine, Issue 6 – “a·poc·a·lypse”

Headlight Review – “Refuge” (forthcoming in 2022)

Sheila-Na-Gig Online – “Projection”

2021 Prose

Monstering Magazine – “Rating Suggested Cures for My Various Mental and Chronic Conditions”

YourTango – “You Don’t Actually Care About My Health If You Congratulate Me On My Unhealthy Weight Loss”

The Mighty – “Targeting ‘Illness Fakers’ Doesn’t Help Disabled People”

Setting Writing goals for 2022

Want to keep track of your goal(s)? I tend to use phone apps or simple Excel spreadsheets to keep track of where and when I’m submitting. I make a new one every year to keep track of the number of rejections. In a few days, I will reset with another one. If 100 rejections is too intimidating, start with smaller numbers. Raise your goal once you surpass smaller milestones.

If there’s anything you should take away from this, it’s to set yourself up for success in the new year by embracing a lot of failure.

Literary Magazines for Disabled and Neurodivergent Voices

Femme-presenting person with short auburn hair and dark, thick-framed glasses. They are wearing a red blazer with a white blouse underneath. They are using a wheelchair and are in front of a laptop screen in a cafe setting.
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Despite making up about 25 percent of the U.S. population and 15 percent of the world population, disabled and neurodivergent voices are often excluded from mainstream media. Or if they are included, it’s specifically for themed months or timely topics that will bring more attention to the subject…at least until it isn’t trendy anymore.

Having space for marginalized voices is essential. Navigating the world with a disability can be tough, and without a sense of community, it’s a lonely place. That’s why having specific spaces for disability-centered dialogue and art should be a top priority. These are just a few publications for disabled and neurodivergent voices.

Keep checking back for updates and additions. (Last updated on 12/29/2021.)

Wordgathering

With support from Syracuse University, Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature is available as an Open Access and digital publication. Issues are released quarterly and all submissions are free. Their primary approach is a “cross-disabilities” method, acknowledging the wide lens of disability experiences. While they love poetry, they also take prose and nonfiction entries as well. Wordgathering asks that you query before sending book reviews or interviews.

See their submission guidelines here.

The Handy, Uncapped Pen

Both a blog and a great hub for disability-related resources, the Handy, Uncapped Pen accepts submissions of poetry and prose. They require that all submissions be from those who identify as disabled or neurodivergent. The Handy, Uncapped Pen has two reading periods a year: February 1st through April 30th and August 1st through October 31st. They also love list-based articles, but don’t get enough of them.

Maybe this is your chance to write a brilliant round-up of books? No matter what you submit, they pay $3 for accepted submissions.

See their submission guidelines here.

Serotonin

Focused on mostly poetry and short prose on mental illness, neurodivergence, and suicide prevention, Serotonin welcomes work from these perspectives. Their masthead is run by those who also identify with one of the three topics. All of their work is posted online.

Submissions should include up to three poems (up to 20 lines each) or one piece of prose under 500 words. Authors are paid $5 per piece. Donations are welcome to help support their mission with their Tip Jar option.

See their submission guidelines here.

Monstering Mag

What sets apart Monstering Magazine is that they focus on those who are both disabled and experience gender-oppression (women, non-binary, agender, gender-nonconforming, transgender, and gender-expansive people). They take poetry, prose, and art submissions that honor their mission of loving and embracing the idea of the monster or the unknowable, often coded as disabled voices throughout media and history.

See their submission guidelines here.

Blanket Sea

Both a nonprofit magazine and small press, Blanket Sea prioritizes work by those who are chronically or mentally ill, including neurodivergent and disabled voices. Blanket Sea was founded by Alana Saltz and all of the editors have personal experiences with chronic or mental illness. Along with their rolling poetry, art, and prose posts, their microchap series chooses several manuscripts to publish as free ebooks with the option of donations.

The site offers all of its content for free, but is willing to take donations through their Ko-Fi to help offset the cost of running the site.

See their submission guidelines here.

Wishbone Words

A brand new magazine launched in 2021, Wishbone Words was founded by Hollie Warren and was designed to amplify disabled and chronically ill writers. Their goal to achieve more compassion and understanding in the world, and with the affordable price point, you can enjoy poetry, prose, and other arts from writers around the world.

See their submission guidelines here.

Book Review: I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Majorie Agosín

Image Courtesy of Simon and Schuster

If you’re look for your next middle grade read, why not try one that’s perfect for Hispanic Heritage Month?

I Lived on Butterfly Hill is a gorgeous realistic fiction book for middle grade children. Marjorie Agosín’s background as both Chilean and Jewish makes eleven year-old Celeste’s horrific experiences more authentic. Though what is happening in the book is scary, Celeste’s perspective helps to introduce the Pinochet takeover in a way children can understand without downplaying the seriousness of the situation. 

The focus of the first section of the book is the abrupt transition from a peaceful experience under Presidente Alarcon to the takeover of the Pinochet dictatorship.Though I was personally unfamiliar with the events, Agosín uses older characters to delicately explain the parallels between Nazi Germany and Chile to Celeste and to the reader.

Celeste’s family as well as several families around her neighborhood (Butterfly Hill)  are considered as “subversives”, or those threatening the integrity of the new government’s authority. Celeste loves poetry and her parents are doctors who believe in universal healthcare and other human rights, which threaten the new government’s sense of order. Celeste’s friend Cristóbal carries a pendulum around with him that he claims can predict the future. At the beginning of the book, he uses it in front of his friends, but is forced to hide it from guards as soon as the takeover begins. Just like how Cristobal must hide his interests, Celeste’s parents decide to go into hiding after receiving death threats. Eventually, Celeste is told she must move in with her Tía who lives in Maine and learn and adapt to American culture. 

The book, which is a winner of the Pura Belpre Award, also has beautiful black and white illustrations by Lee White to accompany Celeste’s journey. This book masterfully depicts the hardships and triumphs of those living abroad to escape oppression. 

I Lived on Butterfly Hill 

Written by Marjorie Agosín

Illustrated by Lee White

Ages 10 to 14 | 454 pages

Publisher | Atheneum Books for Young Readers

$9.99 US

Writer’s Craft: Writing Workshops with Merit and Need-Based Scholarships

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If I could take the amount of writing classes I wanted, I would need a lot more time and a lot more money. Thankfully there are writing centers with plenty of classes that can help with at least one of those things. (Did you guess what I meant? It’s money.)

Classes from nonprofit organizations, individual writing professionals, and many more are included on the list along with information on how to apply for merit and need-based scholarships.

This list is updated as of October of 2021. Bookmark this page to keep tabs on updates.

Hugo House

Based in Seattle, Hugo House hosts both in-person, asynchronous, and Zoom courses. They offer scholarships to anyone in need, so long as you fill out the application. It will ask what you’d like to learn from the course, if you’ve ever participated in their writing programs or a similar program, and any factors limiting your ability to pay for the course. They grant up to two scholarships (two classes) per year per person.

Early bird rates are also available if you sign up for a course in advance. Discounts range from $10 to $30 off.

Occasionally, they will offer free courses. They are marked with FREE and the title of the course.

The Writer’s Center

Based out of Washington DC, The Writer’s Center offers both in-person and online courses.

They offer the Ann McLaughlin Scholarship Fund to help writers with financial need enroll in one of their eight-week classes. All you need to do to apply is to fill out the application and send a 500 word written statement about how the scholarship would positively impact you as well as any relevant circumstances.

Want to take it up a notch? Their Compass Fellowship offers $1,000 worth of credit towards their classes within a two-year period and a cash stipend of $300. The trick is that you need to be from either Washington DC, Maryland, or Virginia and be able to travel to Bethesda as needed. You will also be expected to write two pieces for The Writer’s Center Magazine among other duties.

Grub Street

Remote and in-person classes are available from the Massachusetts-based writing center. Divided into beginner, intermediate, and advanced courses, you can take Grub Street courses on prose and poetry. Scholarships for teens and adults, some reserved specifically for genderqueer, transgender, and nonbinary writers.

Life in 10 Minutes and Richmond Young Writers

If you are local to Richmond, Virginia or are able to take Zoom courses, both Life in 10 Minutes and Richmond Young Writers offer partial or full scholarships to cover classes for adults, teens, and children. Should be based on need. More details can be found here.

Classes That Offer Discounts

Many writing centers and other places that offer writing workshops with discounts. Some require memberships and others may offer early bird discounts.

Creative Nonfiction

With early bird discounts, you can enroll in an online course through Creative Nonfiction for $50 less than list price. They also have the Refer-A-Friend discount where if you and a friend enroll in a course for the same term, you’ll both get $25 off of your classes.

If their instructor-guided classes are still out of price range, their self-guided courses are very affordable at just $29.99.

I’ve personally taken both kinds of courses through Creative Nonfiction and greatly benefitted from both. The instructor-led courses are often asynchronous, meaning that you can join in at anytime and not have any scheduled meetings. Some classes have optional meetings for those who wish to interact in real time. The instructors are knowledgeable and have real-life experience publishing their work in their niche. My favorite course so far has been the Spirituality Writing class!

Their self-guided courses have correlated readings, prompts, and discussion boards to complete. However, instead of instructor feedback, you just get feedback from your classmates. Thankfully, many of the participants have a background in writing or are enthusiastic about the course, giving you plenty of valuable information for the money.

Gotham Writers

If you enroll in one course through Gotham Writers, you are eligible for a $30 Returning Student discount on future 10-week classes. In person and Zoom courses available. If you’re based in NYC, Monday Matinee classes are offered at a reduced rate.

Books: Poetry Collections I Read for the 2021 Sealey Challenge

I’m not exaggerating when I say I only found out about the Sealey Challenge a day into August this year. With the amount of poetry books I’ve collected over the years from my alma mater’s book sales and various PDFs in my Google Drive, this was the perfect excuse to catch up on reading poetry.

While I couldn’t read a collection a day—actually, only three in total— I did want to show which books and chapbooks I was able to finally enjoy.

Xenos by Joanna C. Valente

Valente’s other collections have always been hauntingly beautiful, and this chapbook of the immigrant experience is no exception. I read Valente’s collection Marys of the Sea a few years ago, and I’ll always be stunned by their work.

(Agape Editions/Sundress Publications, 2016)

Jeanette Killed Her Husband (And Buried Him Off Of Shades of Death Road) by Robin Sinclair

If you’re like me and have an obsession with murder ballads and true crime, Sinclair’s collection from Ghost City Press is like reading a song by The Chicks. Yes, that’s a high tier compliment.

Similar songs that give the same vibes are “no body, no crime” by Taylor Swift and “Martha Divine” by Ashley McBryde. Basically any song about killing a cheating husband could easily make it on a playlist for this chap. Jeanette Killed Her Husband also loops in folklore and hometown legends, another common guilty pleasure of mine.

(Ghost City Press, 2020. )

A Song for PTSD by Sarah Lilius

This microchap was able to capture the pain and horrors of PTSD and lost girlhood in just a few poems. A Song for PTSD is one of many debut chaps from the press, which also has a magazine dedicated to centering disabled voices of all kinds. With lines like “Paranoia built in me like a bone” and “I can’t imagine that you bleed like a human”, it’s hard to not want more of Lilius’ sharp verses. Thankfully, this is just one of her five chaps, so I’ll have more material to dive into when the time comes.

(Blanket Sea Press, 2021)

Hopefully next year I’ll be able to be more faithful to my goal.

Books About 9/11 for Middle and High Schoolers to Talk About the 20th Anniversary

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It’s tough to believe that 20 years have passed since 9/11. Even as a young child I can remember the fear and chaos from that day, even if I didn’t fully understand it myself. It was one of the first instances I can remember of the adults in my life being uncertain about what was happening and what would happen next. What’s even tougher to believe is that I now teach students who weren’t even born when 9/11 happened.

It can be hard for me personally to know what to say or how to describe what it was like that day. I was nearly six years old and only knew that things were terrifying and I couldn’t go to cheerleading practice. So I tell students if they ask or if it relevant to class discussions what it was like to remember the switch from feeling safe to feeling incredibly unsafe in a day. The entire world shifted. Now, I’m old enough to see major historical events I witnessed as a child in updated textbooks and as something considered as “historical fiction”, even though I still think 2001 was “just a decade ago”.

Plenty of media has been made in the last 20 years, but it has gotten easier to find more children’s and YA literature on 9/11. If you’re a teacher, a parent, or even a kid or teen looking for accurate, well-written books that explain what happened during 9/11, I’ve found several that could work in your favor.

Keep in mind that due to recent events in Afghanistan, there may be even tougher conversations about 9/11 and the U.S.’s involvement in the War on Afghanistan. Some of these books also have Afghani perspectives on having Americans in their country, but the majority of them focus on a more U.S. perspective. Other teachers have paired works by Malala Yousafzai or Khaled Hosseini to give a sense of how the war impacted civilians.

No matter how you use these books, they are certain to generate a valuable discussion.

How Kid’s Books About 9/11 Helps Their Understanding of the Event

Stories from their relatives or teachers give them a glimpse of what occurred as well as what they learn in their history classes. However, English Language Arts teachers know that books can open new pathways to productive dialogue and learning. Having characters their own age speak about their perspectives is a lot easier to understand than a documentary. When I assigned Refugee by Alan Gratz as a choice for a coming-of-age unit, a lot of students said how reading the stories of the three kids from each time period helped them better understand what was happening and why they had to flee their respective countries. Making history relevant to kids means giving them relevant experiences. And though most of us know why 9/11 is relevant and still impacts us today, those who were too young to remember it or weren’t even born yet need something to connect with that they can understand for the best impact.

Some of my favorite choices I’ve read or taught in some capacity are listed down below along with their advantages and limitations.

Ground Zero by Alan Gratz

I find Gratz’s books to be some of the most accessible historical fiction books for kids of many ages. Though the target audience tends to be around late elementary and early middle school, many of my high school students enjoy them as well. I will admit that sometimes they can have cheesy moments or oddly-phrased sentences that are meant to clue kids in on what is going on, but it’s nothing that takes away from the main focus of what happened and what the characters have to do to survive.

Ground Zero is one of Gratz’s newer books and takes place both during 9/11 as well as years ahead into the War in Afghanistan. The main characters include Brandon, a nine year-old boy who goes to work with his father in the trade center, and Reshmina, an Afghani girl whose family harbors an American solider named Taz. While Brandon fights for his life in the World Trade Center, Reshmina fights against her brother’s wishes to join the Taliban while hoping for a better world.

I won’t go into spoiler territory, though I will say that Gratz presents both characters fairly in their actions and why they choose to do what they do throughout the book.

Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Unlike the other books I’ve mentioned, this middle grade level story tells the perspective of four different kids in different parts of the U.S. on the days leading up to 9/11. Each character has a unique story and why they are at different airports, but their stories are meant to weave together.

The ending was definitely appropriate for late elementary to early middle schoolers, enphasizing kindness towards everyone. This was put in contrast with the Islamaphobia towards one of the characters and their family in the book. But you’ll have to read it for yourself to know.

In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers: The Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, and Years after the 9/11 Attacks by Don Brown

Don Brown has a talent for breaking down historical events for readers to understand while also including a ton of relevant, reliable sources to bring the story together. He is probably best known for his graphic novel Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, which captures the tragic events of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in Louisiana. In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers accomplishes an empathetic, truthful narrative of what happened that day in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. It is short, but concisely reports the information with brilliant illustrations.

The only major downside is that the title is slightly misleading, as it spans just one year after the attacks and acknowledges events — such as the assassination of Osama bin Laden — in the notes at the end of the book.

Brown also wrote a graphic novel for the Actual Times series called America is Under Attack: September 11th, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell that is similar, but there is a much more personal feel to his latest book. For one thing, it begins from the perspective of a man who is there to film a documentary on FDNY and like Brown’s other books, follows a path of survivor’s statements. It does a wonderful job of showing just why America was angry while also acknowledging and condemning the rampant Islamaphobia in the aftermath. It also ends on a note of hope, which we can all use a little bit more of, right?

I Survived: The Attacks of September 11th, 2001 by Lauren Tarshis

One of many in the best-selling I Survived series, this book is perfect for elementary-aged kids or for older kids that like fast-paced and action-packed books. Recently, it has been adapted into graphic novel form. Both tell the story of Lucas, a boy who loves football and looks up to his father and Uncle Benny. Both his father and uncle are firefighters for the FDNY.

The book is honest about the events of 9/11 without, as one Amazon review put it, “sugarcoating” anything.

Other Teaching Materials to Pair with the Books

One or two books alone can do wonders, but giving kids the chance to see other sources to match the stories they are reading helps reenforce the knowledge they’ve learned.

9/11 Memorial & Museum Educational Materials

Pentagon Memorial Educational Materials

U.S. Department of Education

University of Pennsylvania: Teaching an inclusive history of 9/11

YA Book Review: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Image Courtesy of HarperCollins

Clap When You Land is a stunning novel-in-verse following two half sisters…who are completely unaware of each other. Well, unaware until their father dies in a plane crash. Then things get complicated.

Those complications make the grieving process significantly harder, though it does take a while for both of the sisters to realize that the other exists. Set in both the Dominican Republic and NYC, Camino and Yahaira Rios are both struck by the tragic loss of their Papi and the secrets he kept from both of his families.

The book explores many topics: grief, secrets, LGBTQ+ relationships, misogyny, colorism, poverty, and so much more. The contrast and parallels of both Camino and Yahaira’s lives make for a fascinating and exciting coming-of-age book.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by the author herself, which brought her novel even more to life and read as intended. Acevedo also does distinct voices for both sisters and includes vibrant imagery in each verse, particularly when it comes to describing the sisters’ relationships or fond memories of their father. I particularly liked the way Camino describes the spiritual healing work her Tía Solana does throughout the book and how she uses her own gifts to help her community.

As for Yahaira, her perspective is similar to the avergage American teen, but what I love about her perspective is that her story often refers to her girlfriend, who is a source of comfort for Yahaira. As she grapples with Papi’s secrets, her girlfriend is there as a steady support system. It’s nice to see a relationship in a YA book well-established and not as a “solution” to grief, but still supportive and key nonetheless. Yahaira also feels guilt throughout the book for her the recent strains on her relationship with Papi, particularly over her quitting chess. I think a lot of kids can relate to feeling pressured to continue doing something for their parents, even if they don’t like it or feeling guilt for not continuing it. This is especially true for Yahaira as she struggles with her identity, like in this quote:

“Can you be from a place
you have never been?

You can find the island stamped all over me,
but what would the island find if I was there?

Can you claim a home that does not know you,
much less claim you as its own?”

From Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

I keep revisiting many quotes from Clap When You Land because of their eloquent power, especially when it comes to Yahaira’s perspectives on how the world monetizes death or how Camino references saints and their ancient wisdom. There’s so much more I could gush about, but I’m too afraid to get into spoiler terroritory for the time being. If it wasn’t obvious, go read (or listen) to this book.

Fellow teachers, if you teach a coming-of-age unit, this is an excellent option for that as well.

Writer’s Craft: 4 Reading Challenges for Writers to Spark New Ideas and Fall in Love with Reading Again

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There are plenty of good reasons why someone would do a reading challenge. I personally love Goodreads holding me accountable for reading new and exciting books when it’s tempting to slack off. Some challenges force you to read outside of your comfort zone and experience new genres and forms you wouldn’t think of reading. Besides, how long has it been since you were told to read something? Your undergraduate degree? Or if you didn’t major in English in college, it may have been since your high school literature classes since you were assigned a book. Regardless, reading challenges are an asset to a writer’s craft.

For writers, reading is one of our most valuable tools besides plain practice that can help boost your writing abilities. Maybe you’re in a submission slump or just need an excuse to read more books. Reading challenges have helped me read outside of my normal go-to genres and forms, and I can assure you that in the long run it will inspire you, too.

The Sealey Challenge

Named after poet Nicole Sealey, the goal of the Sealey Challenge is to have you read a full-length or chapbook poetry collection every day in August. Luckily poetry is more accessible than ever with books and short collections in a lot of places, from big chain bookstores to independently-owned stores. Try browsing different indie presses for their own poetry collections and purchase a few to support their mission. Low on funds? There are so many great indie poets and presses to support for little to no cost. See below for a list of publishers both active and archived with open access poetry collections.

This is the first year I’m doing the Sealey Challenge and I wanted to recommend some collections I’ve really loved in the past in case you’re still looking for quality picks:

  • Theia Mania by Dallas Athent
  • Wolf Girls vs. Horse Girls by Catherine Weiss
  • Marys of the Sea by Joanna Valente
  • American Sentencing by Jen Karetnick
  • all girls will not feel pretty at some point by Elizabeth Ribar
  • Evergreen by Sarah Frances Moran
  • Dream-Like Houses by Joyce Chong
  • The Politics of Being Ugly by Kayla Altman
  • La Belle Ajar by Adrian Ernesto Cepeda
  • The Red Files by Lisa-Bird Wilson

The New Release Challenge

While this challenge is marketed towards any reader, especially with those who have access to ARCs, I think reading new books that hit the shelves is essential for writers to know what is on the market. What’s already been done and what is being reinvented? While the 2021 challenge is already underway, why not start planning for next year? Or if you want to at least get a taste for it, try some of these new releases:

  • Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness by M. Leona Godin
  • The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

How do you get new releases? Besides buying them off of the shelves, there are many opportunities to review new releases from authors. Some may even send you review copies as PDF files or print books sent to you in the mail. Heck, I’ve seen publishers already preparing their roster for 2023 and are often looking for beta readers and reviewers to help with promotion. Follow some small presses and see the upcoming releases you may want to read and write about. Goodreads also has giveaways in exchange for an honest review!

Out of Your Comfort Zone Challenge

This challenge is exactly what it sounds like: read books that are out of your comfort zone. Do you normally read and write science fiction and fantasy? Why not try a memoir? Reading different forms can inspire you to write something different…or to know what you don’t want to write. Either way, you can say you’ve tried a new kind of book the same way you try a new food dish or hobby.

Genre or topic-based challenges

Maybe you’re trying to come up with the next bestselling memoir or want to reinvent what it means. Maybe you need to do some research on character development or what has already been overdone in your genre. You can create these on your own based off of your interests and needs. For example, you could read exclusively LGBTQ+ literature during the month of June or pledge to only read underrepresented authors for the entire year. Your only limit is your imagination.

Disability Pride Month: Common Things I Hear When I Tell People I Have Tourette’s

Photo by Gretchen Dyson on Pexels.com. Also, teal is the official color of Tourette Syndrome Awareness and I thought this was really pretty.

Disability advocacy has become a passion of mine within the past few years, especially after I finally got diagnosed with Tourette’s.  

July is Disability Pride Month, so I’m going to be a little bold today and list common things I hear/experience when I tell people I have TS. 


Before I get further into this, the most important thing to understand is that every case of Tourette’s is different, as are the opinions of each person who has it. I’m not the Ambassador of Tourette’s (yet). Here we go: 


I didn’t know you had Tourette’s! 
Now you do! 


I’ve never met someone with Tourette’s.
You probably have and just didn’t realize it. We’re everywhere, you know. Always watching.

I didn’t even notice your tics!

I pretended they didn’t exist for over a decade, so there might be a reason for that.


I knew you had Tourette’s because I noticed [insert tic or quirk here].
Congrats, you did better than my childhood neurologist. No, really. 


That’s what makes you special!
If you’ve known me for a while, I’ll take the ego boost. I will also take a tiara. However, if you’ve known someone for five minutes, a lot of people feel awkward or infantilized, especially if you don’t have a tiara to give us. 
Here are some neutral responses that should be dandy for anyone: 


Gotcha, thanks for letting me know!

I’ve never met someone with Tourette’s. Is there anything I need to know that could be helpful? 


It’s not as bad as other people’s TS or as bad as having [insert other disability/condition here]. 
That may be true, but I didn’t tell you I have TS to get an assessment of how severe is severe enough to count as TS or a disability in the first place. I’m telling you to give you a heads up that if I make a face at you or twitch while I’m listening to you, it’s nothing personal. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve come across that also have TS that you wouldn’t guess (including myself) would have it because they’re able to keep their tics under control, but still need support in same way or another. This also perpetuates the idea that a Tourette’s diagnosis only applies to those with more frequent or severe tics. It is much more common than you would think, and playing gatekeeper with what a disability is “supposed” to look like harms everyone and makes them reluctant to get the help they need. 


Can I see your tics?
Sure, whenever they decide to make an appearance. You can preorder tickets for $5 each. 


In all seriousness, some people don’t want to tic in front of others, and we’re not zoo animals, so don’t try to force anyone to tic in front of you. 


*Intense staring, waiting for me to tic*
I feel like every animal featured on Tiger King when you do this. They didn’t have a good time, and I’m not either. 


Do people/students make fun of you?
I mean, maybe. But that’s not really my problem. For the most part, people are just interested in knowing more about it and I’m always happy to answer questions. I will also say being upfront with it has been very beneficial when it comes to students’ trust, especially if they have disabilities, because they know that I understand what it’s like to experience similar challenges. 


As for the more negative things, I tend to hear lazy jokes or stereotypes from people in casual conversation, both from younger kids to adults. They may flail around, shake, or do something else ridiculous and go “HaHa i HaVe ToUrEtTe’s teeHEE!!!!” as I stand perfectly still and quiet right next to them, not suspecting that someone with Tourette’s could look like me. I like to pretend I’m on The Office and smirk or raise an eyebrow at the camera. 


Wow I wish I had Tourette’s so I could cuss and scream all of the time with no consequences!
If you look up any story of someone with coprophilia or copropraxia, they’re often misunderstood and berated in public, so the idea that there aren’t any consequences is incredibly ignorant. If South Park can explain this accurately, you really don’t have much of an excuse.


Why can’t you just get it cured?
There is currently no cure for Tourette’s. Plenty of treatments like regular exercise and a diet that is mindful of tic triggers make things perfectly manageable for the rest of your life, but no, the sketchy smoothie recipe you found online isn’t a cure. 


Sometimes my eye twitches, do I have Tourette’s?
I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. 


You shouldn’t be telling people that you have Tourette’s because it’s none of their business. 
It’s not really your business to tell me how I should experience or talk about Tourette’s. People are allowed to be as quiet or as open about their experiences with disability as they want to be. I do this because I find more benefit in being open about it than not. This is not true for everyone, so be respectful of people’s boundaries. 


I had a question about my family member’s/friend’s disability and they seemed offended/angry that I asked them a question. But it’s just a question! Why can’t they be like you? 
Refer to the answer above. Boundary pushing isn’t okay. If they want to share it with you, let them. Otherwise if they decline to answer those kinds of questions, let it be. This applies to a lot of situations, by the way. 


You don’t actually have Tourette’s, you’re just lazy and want to be able to use it as an excuse to not do anything!
Some of the hardest working and successful people I know have documented disabilities, and make ZERO excuses, so I hardly see how reasonable accommodations are an attack on your own perceived superior personal work ethic. 


Just because you think asking for help makes someone freeloader or that it’s a “Get Out of Jail Free” card doesn’t mean it actually is. Sometimes my tics or comorbid conditions make things difficult, and I’ve had to learn the hard way that I sometimes need help. So don’t make it harder for others like me to ask for help or to try and face a challenging condition alone.

Also, I got a graduate degree at 22. I had to do a lot for that, including relearning 6th grade math for a test to even get into graduate school.

Wanna learn more about Tourette Syndrome or want to donate to further research the condition? Check out the Tourette Association of America website.