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.

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.