The Honest Feedback Challenge

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

  1. Select a piece of writing that a) you’ve submitted at least once and b) has been rejected at least once. For best results, choose something that you like and are puzzled as to why it’s not been accepted.
  2. Find three people who are willing to give you an honest, but harsh, critique. For best results, try to find people who will give you different perspectives, e.g. a friend who reads but doesn’t write, a writer familiar with your genre, a teacher or editor who’ll focus on the technical aspects.
    • Remember: when asking for a critique, you’ll have more luck if you give as well as take. If this is someone’s job (e.g. an editor), pay them. For fellow writers, offer to reciprocate by critiquing a manuscript of theirs. For friends, do something nice (e.g. give them a book you know they’d like) or promise to help them out when they need a favor.
  3. These are the rules: Skip the pleasantries. You don’t want to hear what is working, what they liked. You already know these things, because they’ve been mentioned in the gentle critiques you’ve received, the kind where the critiquer avoids saying anything critical because they don’t want to hurt your feelings or are afraid you’ll go kazoo. You want to know what isn’t working, what they disliked. You’re looking for honest feedback that doesn’t sugarcoat the problems.
  4. Make it clear that you will not be mad at them if their feedback is harsh.
  5. Don’t get mad when the feedback is harsh.
  6. If you absolutely must be mad, get thee to a private place, rant until you’ve got it out of your system, and let it go. Under no circumstances should you vent your anger in the presence of your readers.
  7. If any of your readers find themselves unable to say anything critical, find another reader. UPOP isn’t going to take your writing to the next level. Harsh feedback stings a little at first, but time and acceptances soothe the pain.

So You Want to Write an Article…

Absolute Blank

By Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

There comes a time in most every writer’s life when you want (or need) to write a short nonfiction article. Maybe it’s because you have a (brilliant, of course) idea for an article. Maybe it’s because you’ve been asked to contribute an article to a particular publication (go you, all sought after for your writing skilz). Maybe it’s because your writing resume is looking a bit thin, you want to bulk it up, and writing an article takes considerably less time than writing a book. Whatever the reason, how do you get started?

This is not the time to be all emo about writing. When you’re writing an article, you’re not writing for yourself. Or, I should say, you’re not writing only for yourself. You’re writing for yourself (always!) and others. Hopefully you already know yourself well. It’s the others you need to take the time to learn about.

What are the “writing for yourself” aspects of writing a nonfiction article?

Voice and style. Just because you’re writing an article doesn’t mean you should adopt a snooty tone or take on an uncomfortable style. When I’m teaching, I tell students to write like they talk—to use their own vernacular, not that of an imaginary academic. And you should write the way you normally write. Readers who are familiar with your style should recognize it in the article. Don’t think that you have to put on a suit of fancy words in order to sound authoritative. Your authority comes from being yourself.

Choosing a topic. As I tell students, always choose a topic you’re interested in. Readers can tell if a writer is really interested in their topic or if they just chose it because it’s trendy or because they thought it would be quick and easy. But it’s not enough just to pick a topic you’re interested in—it also has to interest the rest of your audience. And that’s where this article comes in.

This article will take you through six steps to developing an article with your audience in mind. If you already have an idea (potential topic) for your article, great; if you haven’t yet come up with one, that’s ok, too. You can start working through the steps with or without a specific topic in mind.

1. WHERE will you be submitting the article?

My answer: This is an Absolute Blank article for Toasted Cheese.

If you’ve been asked to contribute to a publication, you know specifically where the article is headed. But even if you don’t know for sure where your article is going to end up, you often have a good idea of the first place you plan to submit it: you read the publication and think your work would be a good fit or you’re responding to a call for submissions. In this case, tailor your article to your target publication, but also have one or two alternates in mind in case the first doesn’t work out.

If you don’t have any idea where you’re submitting: do some research and find some publications you like that accept submissions of articles the length/format you have in mind. Start with two or three potential markets. You want to give yourself some options, but at the same time you don’t want your article to become too generic.

If you have a potential topic in mind, consider whether your idea will work for your target publication. If it’s a general or broad topic, start thinking about how you can tailor or focus the article to suit the publication.

If you’re topic-less (or you’ve decided the one you initially chose won’t be a good fit): peruse back issues of your target publication and its website. Start brainstorming potential topics based on what you find there.

2. WHO is your audience?

My answer: TC’s audience consists of writers of all ages, including young writers.

You know what your target publication’s general theme is—maybe it’s writing or science or celebrity gossip—but do you know who actually reads this particular publication? A publication focused on writing might have a general audience of adult writers or it might be aimed at new writers, young writers, writers of particular genres (e.g. science fiction), or those who study or teach writing. Sometimes the publication will explicitly state who their readers are; other times you have to read between the lines. Here again, browsing back issues and the website can help you determine who will be reading your article. In this case, however, social media might be even more effective: head over to the publication’s social media pages and see who’s following them. This will give you a peek into their real audience.

If you have potential topic: revisit your topic and make sure it’s a fit with this audience. If the topic fits with the general theme of the publication, you’re probably good, but you may have to reframe your ideas for the particular audience. For example, an article on writing careers aimed at teens deciding what to major in at college/university would be framed differently than one aimed at middle-aged adults thinking about changing careers. (But keep in mind that once you’ve written your article for one audience, you can adapt it to suit a different audience.)

If you still haven’t pinned down a topic: continue brainstorming. Build on and refine the ideas you came up with in step one.

3. WHEN will the article be published?

My answer: This is going to be the February 2013 AB article.

If you’ve been asked to contribute or you’re answering a call for submissions you may know when your article will be published. In other cases, you may not know. Either way, you need to work with the information you have. Articles come in three basic types: timely, cyclical/seasonal, and timeless. Timely articles have a limited shelf-life. These are the kind of articles written in response to a current event. In today’s news cycle, articles on some topics are dated within twenty-four hours. Cyclical (or seasonal) articles are the ones that are appropriate at specific times of the year or every X years (e.g. leap year or election-themed articles). If you’re writing this type of article, advance planning is a must. Timeless articles are ones that could be published any time. They’re not going to have the zing of an article published twelve hours after the latest social media foofaraw, but they’re less stressful to write and easier to place. You can even stockpile them.

If you have an idea and you know when your article will be published, make sure the idea and its publication date are compatible. You may want to customize your article to look like it was tailor-made for that slot. If you don’t know when your article will be published, you’ll want to do the opposite: make sure that it’s not too focused on a holiday or event that will make it harder to place.

If you’re still mulling over ideas, knowing when your article will be published can help you narrow the ideas you’ve brainstormed. Maybe some will work for that date and others won’t. If you don’t know the publication date, same idea. Eliminate the ideas that are too tied to a particular season and focus in on the timeless ones.

4. WHY are you writing this article?

My answer: This article provides a step-by-step process for developing an article, with the goal of demystifying how to choose and frame a topic.

Here I don’t mean “why are you writing an article?” the answer to which may be “because someone asked me to,” “because it’ll look good on my resume” or “to get paid.” No. I’m not asking about its extrinsic value.

What I’m asking is why this article. What’s its intrinsic value, its significance? What’s your goal in writing it? What do you want to achieve? In other words, if someone came up to you and said “Why’d you write about that?” you should have an answer. The answer will depend on everything you’ve thought about up to now. The rationale for an article about the Oscars written for a pop culture blog that’s updated several times a day might be to gossip about Oscar night faux pas or dish about the dresses (goal: to provide amusing commentary on a current event) whereas one written for the Journal of Popular Culture, an academic journal published six times a year, might be to analyze the content of Oscar winners’ speeches cross-referenced with their career trajectories (goal: to unpack strategies employed by celebrities to maintain/increase/recover their status).

By now you should have a good idea of what you’re going to write about, how you’re going to frame it, and why you’ve made these decisions. If you’re still unsure about your topic choice, it’s time to pick the one that seems most promising, take it back to the beginning and run it through the steps. When you get back here, you should have an answer to “Why are you writing about that?”

5. WHAT is the one thing you want readers to take away from your article?

My answer: audience, audience, audience. Know who you’re writing for.

Of course, you are going to make more than one point in your article. Otherwise, it would be really short. But if a reader remembers just one thing from your article, what do you want it to be? Like the one-sentence synopsis or “elevator pitch” familiar to veterans of querying, your “one thing” encapsulates what your article is about.

Your answer to question four was your general rationale for writing your article. Your answer here is the specific thing you want readers to take away from it. If you’re dishing about Oscar dresses, it might be “sequined dresses are so last year,” which if readers absorb it, will pop into their head every time they see a photo of a celebrity in sequins, leading them to wonder if the celeb or their stylist is to blame for making such a dated choice, what repercussions will befall person-to-blame—and perhaps avoid making the same sartorial faux pas themselves. Your goal is to provide your readers with a succinct piece of information that they’ll remember—and can use and extrapolate on themselves. Like my example, your “one thing” might seem to be silly or superficial at first glance, but if you’ve chosen wisely, it will guide readers to make their own connections and discoveries.

If you don’t know what your one thing is, your idea might not be focused enough yet. Or maybe you’re not seeing the forest for the trees. Run your idea past a friend and ask them what one thing they think it’s about. If you’re protesting, thinking to yourself, “but, but, but I have six things I want readers to take away,” think again. What do your six things have in common? Consolidate. One thing.

6. HOW are you going to structure your article?

My answer: I chose the classic five Ws + one H (who, what, where, when, why, how) information-gathering approach. Because I envisioned these as steps, I decided to present the questions as a numbered list.

Will it be a question and answer format? Numbered or bullet points? Essay-style with headings? Something else? A combination? Often the subject matter will point you in one direction or another, e.g. if you’re interviewing someone, structuring your article as a Q+A makes sense.

Once you’ve decided on your format, construct the frame or skeleton of your article. Generate your interview questions, create your list, decide on your headings. Sometimes this step will require some research. If you’re doing an interview, for example, this would be a good time to research your subject so you can tailor your questions specifically to them. Other times building the framework of your article is easy (you know the points you want to cover) and any research you need to do can wait until you start to fill it in.

Now you’re nearing the end of this article and you’re thinking: but I haven’t written anything yet! No worries. You know where you’re submitting your article, who your audience is, when your article will be published (or you’ve ensured it will be publishable any time), why you’re writing it, what one thing you want readers to take away from it, and how you’re going to structure it. Filling in the details is the easy part. If you find yourself drifting, circle back to the six questions. And always remember who you’re writing for.

Final Poll Results

Ready, Set, Write an Article!

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

First, answer these questions:

  1. WHERE will you be submitting the article?
  2. WHO is your audience?
  3. WHEN will the article be published?
  4. WHY are you writing this article?
  5. WHAT is the one thing you want readers to take away from your article?
  6. HOW are you going to structure your article?

Now you’re ready to fill in the details. Go!

The Toasted Cheese Wish Book:
Books by TC Authors

Absolute Blank

By Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

‘Tis the season for giving—and giving back. All the authors in our Wish Book have had work published in Toasted Cheese, written an article for Absolute Blank, and/or been interviewed at Absolute Blank. The list includes numerous New York Times bestsellers, a Newbery Award-winning author, and the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award grand prize winner, as well as many other award winners and just plain awesome writers.

At TC, we’re all about community, so if you’re looking for a book, as a gift or for yourself, we encourage you to consider choosing one of these. If you buy via a Toasted Cheese link, you’ll be supporting TC as well.

You can follow many of these authors on Twitter by subscribing to our TC Authors and TC Interviewees lists. Authors: if you’re on Twitter and we’ve missed you, do let us know and we’ll add you.

If you’re an author with a connection to Toasted Cheese and a book coming out in 2013 (or if we missed your 2012 release) and you’d like to be included in next year’s wish book, email reviews[at]toasted-cheese.com with the subject line “Toasted Cheese Wish Book”. And to everyone on this year’s list: congratulations!

P.S. If you’re looking for a writing goal for the new year, any of these would be great candidates for a Candle-Ends review!

Children’s & Young Adult

I'm BoredI’m Bored (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012) written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Ages 3–8.

“This tongue-in-cheek twist on a familiar topic is sure to entertain anyone who’s ever been bored—or had to hear about someone else being bored—and is filled with comedian Michael Ian Black’s trademark dry wit, accompanied by charismatic illustrations from newcomer Debbie Ridpath Ohi.”

A New York Times Notable Children’s Book for 2012.

Erin Bellavia interviewed Debbie Ridpath Ohi in July 2012.

Follow Debbie on Twitter: @inkyelbows.


The Mysterious Benedict Society Complete CollectionThe Mysterious Benedict Society Complete Collection (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012) by Trenton Lee Stewart

Ages 8 and up.

“This hardcover boxed set includes all five books in the New York Times bestselling series. Filled with page-turning action and mind-bending brain teasers, these wildly inventive journeys are sure to delight.”

Also by Trenton Lee Stewart:

Mollie Savage interviewed Trenton Lee Stewart in September 2007.


The Wild BookThe Wild Book (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2012) by Margarita Engle

Ages 10 and up.

“Fefa struggles with words. She has word blindness, or dyslexia, and the doctor says she will never read or write. Every time she tries, the letters jumble and spill off the page, leaping and hopping away like bullfrogs. How will she ever understand them?”

Also by Margarita Engle:

Margarita Engle’s poems “War Zone” and “Las Sirenas” appeared in the December 2005 issue of Toasted Cheese.


ExtraordinaryExtraordinary*: *The True Story of My Fairygodparent, Who Almost Killed Me, and Certainly Never Made Me a Princess (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2011) by Adam Selzer

Ages 12 and up.

“Jennifer Van Der Berg would like you to know that the book ostensibly written about her-Born to Be Extraordinary by Eileen Codlin-is a bunch of bunk. Yes, she had a fairy godparent mess with her life, but no, she was not made into a princess or given the gift of self-confidence, and she sure as hell didn’t get a hot boyfriend out of it.
Here’s the REAL scoop…”

Also by Adam Selzer:

Erin Bellavia interviewed Adam Selzer in August 2010.

Follow Adam on Twitter: @adamselzer


Exit StrategyExit Strategy (Flux, 2010) by Ryan Potter

Ages 14 and up

“Looming above Zach Ramsey’s hometown are the smoke stacks of the truck assembly plant, the greasy lifeblood of this Detroit suburb. Surrounded by drunks, broken marriages, and factory rats living in fear of the pink slip, Zach is getting the hell out of Blaine after graduation. But first, he’s going to enjoy the summer before his senior year.”

Ryan Potter’s story “Dale’s Night” was Boots’s Pick in the June 2004 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Lisa Olson interviewed Ryan Potter in June 2011.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @FreelancerRyan


Mystery

Frozen Heat (Nikki Heat, #4)Frozen Heat (Hyperion, 2012) by Richard Castle
Nikki Heat Book 4

“NYPD Homicide Detective Nikki Heat arrives at her latest crime scene to find an unidentified woman stabbed to death and stuffed inside a suitcase left on a Manhattan street. Nikki is in for a big shock when this new homicide connects to the unsolved murder of her own mother. Paired once again with her romantic and investigative partner, top journalist Jameson Rook, Heat works to solve the mystery of the body in the suitcase while she is forced to confront unexplored areas of her mother’s background.”

Also by Richard Castle:

Amanda Marlowe interviewed Richard Castle in September 2010.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @WriteRCastle


SleepwalkerSleepwalker (Harper, 2012) by Wendy Corsi Staub

“The nightmare of 9/11 is a distant but still painful memory for Allison Taylor MacKenna—now married to Mack and living in a quiet Westchester suburb. She has moved on with her life ten years after barely escaping death at the hands of New York’s Nightwatcher serial killer. The monster is dead, having recently committed suicide in his prison cell, but something is terribly wrong. Mack has started sleepwalking, with no recollection of where his nighttime excursions are taking him. And here, north of the city, more women are being savagely murdered, their bodies bearing the Nightwatcher’s unmistakable signature.”

Also by Wendy Corsi Staub:

Erin Nappe Bellavia interviewed Wendy Corsi Staub in April 2004.

Follow Wendy on Twitter: @WendyCorsiStaub


Defensive WoundsDefensive Wounds (William Morrow, 2011) by Lisa Black

“When Marie Corrigan, a Cleveland defense attorney with a history of falsifying evidence and no shortage of enemies, is found dead in the presidential suite at the Ritz-Carlton, most people would agree that she had it coming. Forensic investigator Theresa MacLean is summoned to the crime scene by her daughter, Rachel, who is working the front desk. But even before Theresa enters the room, she knows that she’s walking into a forensic nightmare—for crime scenes at hotels, even the most luxurious, are teeming with trace evidence that has been left behind by innumerable guests and may or may not be related to the murder. But what Theresa finds is even worse than she imagined.”

Also by Lisa Black:

Lisa Black’s story “In the Bleak December” placed second in the first annual Dead of Winter writing contest. Theryn Fleming reviewed Evidence of Murder in the December 2012 issue of Toasted Cheese.


Paranormal

The Beautiful LandThe Beautiful Land (Ace Trade, 2013) by Alan Averill

2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Grand Prize Winner.

“Tak O’Leary is a Japanese-American television host who vanished off the grid after a failed suicide attempt. Samira Moheb is an Iranian-American military translator suffering from PTSD as a result of her time in the Iraq War. They have been in love from the moment they met, and because they never told each other, they are destined to be apart forever. But thanks to a mysterious invention buried deep in the Australian Outback, they now have one more chance to get it right.”

Alan Averill’s story “Things Difficult to Say” appeared in the December 2008 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Alan on Twitter: @frodomojo


Ashes of HonorAshes of Honor (DAW, 2012) by Seanan McGuire
An October Daye Novel

“It’s been almost a year since October ‘Toby’ Daye averted a war, gave up a county, and suffered personal losses that have left her wishing for a good day’s sleep. She’s tried to focus on her responsibilities—training Quentin, upholding her position as Sylvester’s knight, and paying the bills-but she can’t help feeling like her world is crumbling around her, and her increasingly reckless behavior is beginning to worry even her staunchest supporters.”

Also by Seanan McGuire:

Seanan McGuire’s article “Finding Your Fairy Godmother: A Guide to Acquiring a Literary Agent” appeared at Absolute Blank in September 2009. Erin Bellavia reviewed Ashes of Honor in September 2012.

Follow Seanan on Twitter: @seananmcguire


BlackoutBlackout (Orbit, 2012) by Mira Grant
Newsflesh Trilogy #3

“Now, the year is 2041, and the investigation that began with the election of President Ryman is much bigger than anyone had assumed. With too much left to do and not much time left to do it in, the surviving staff of After the End Times must face mad scientists, zombie bears, rogue government agencies—and if there’s one thing they know is true in post-zombie America, it’s this: Things can always get worse.”

Also by Mira Grant:

Erin Bellavia interviewed Mira Grant in April 2011.

Follow Mira Grant on Twitter: @miragrant


Bad Apple.jpgBad Apple (Vagabondage Press, 2012) by Kristi Petersen Schoonover

“After an unfortunate incident on a Maine apple orchard, precocious teen Scree is left with a father she’s not sure is hers, a never-ending list of chores and her flaky brother’s baby, who she is expected to raise. In a noble move to save the child from an existence like her own, Scree flees to a glitzy resort teeming with young men just ripe for the picking. But even as life with baby becomes all she’d dreamed, Dali-esque visions begin to leach through the gold paint. Bad Apple is a dark, surreal ride that proves not all things in an orchard are safe to pick.”

Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s story “King of Bull” was the winner of the seventh annual Dead of Winter writing contest.

Her stories “A Bone to Pick” and “Wailing Station” placed second in the eleventh and sixth annual competitions respectively. Her story “Bridging Christmas” placed third in the eighth annual Dead of Winter contest.

Follow Kristi on Twitter: @KPSchoonover


Attic ClownsAttic Clowns (Redrum Horror, 2012) by Jeremy C. Shipp

“Meet a paranoid astronaut whose jealousy drives him to extremes beyond murder.a miniature circus spawned from the mind of woman with too much control.the underling demon Globcow who desires redemption even more than the taste of human feet. Men, women, children, and things beyond imagination all interconnect in ATTIC CLOWNS, where laughter is only the prelude to the bizarre and terrible.”

Also by Jeremy C. Shipp:

  • Fungus of the Heart (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2010)
  • Cursed (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2009). Nominated for the 2009 Bram Stoker Award.

Stephanie Lenz interviewed Jeremy C. Shipp in October 2009. Harlan County Horrors (Apex Publications, 2009), edited by Mari Adkins, includes stories by both Jeremy and Stephanie.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @JeremyCShipp


Shock Totem 5Shock Totem 5: Curious Tales of the Macabre and Twisted (October 2012) edited by K. Allen Wood

“The fifth issue of Shock Totem is yet another eclectic mix of horror fiction and nonfiction. This issue features previously unpublished stories from the likes of Ari Marmell, Darrell Schweitzer, Joe Mirabello, Mekenzie Larsen, and others. There is also a five-part, illustrated microfiction serial, by Kurt Newton, a conversation with horror legend Jack Ketchum, nonfiction by Nick Contor, reviews and more.”

Back Issues:

Stephanie Lenz interviewed K. Allen Wood in May 2011.

Follow Allen on Twitter: @KAllenWood


Last Stand in Zombie TownLast Stand in Zombie Town (Damnation Books, 2012) by C.L. Bledsoe

“Retired cop Earl Bedford is living the good life with his wife, Jalina, getting fat and rich robbing banks. After their last job goes south, they hang up their masks. Unfortunately, a terrorist group calling itself the Right Hand of God contaminated food supplies all over the country with something resembling rabies. Now, Earl and Jalina have to deal with the crazy Federal agent on their tail—T.S.N.—don’t ask him what it stands for. That makes him mad.—and it’s the end of the world, apparently. Earl just wants to go someplace warm, not battle his zombie-fied neighbors.”

Also by C.L. Bledsoe:

C.L. Bledsoe’s poems “Pause” and “4 Short Poems About Sex” appeared in the March 2005 issue of Toasted Cheese. “The Bank” appeared in the December 2009 issue.

Follow C.L. on Twitter: @clbledsoe


Romance

Undead and UnstableUndead and Unstable (Berkley Hardcover, 2012) by MaryJanice Davidson

“Betsy’s heartbroken over her friend Marc’s death, but at least his sacrifice should change the future — her future — for the better. But it’s not as if Betsy’s next few hundred years will be perfect. After all, her half sister, Laura, is the Antichrist. Laura’s mother is Satan, and family gatherings will always be more than a little awkward.”

Also by MaryJanice Davidson:

Erin Nappe Bellavia interviewed MaryJanice Davidson in June 2006.

Follow MaryJanice on Twitter: @MaryJaniceD.


Hidden ParadiseHidden Paradise (Harlequin, 2012) by Janet Mullany

“Louisa Connelly, a recently widowed Jane Austen scholar, needs some relief from her stifling world. When a friend calls to offer her a temporary escape from her Montana ranch, she is whisked into a dizzying world of sumptuous food, flowing wine.and endless temptation.”

Also by Janet Mullany:

Janet Mullany’s story “Snow, The Seven and The Moon” was the winner of the first annual Dead of Winter writing contest. “The Companions Are Chosen” was Best of the Boards in December 2001. “A Perfect Evening” appeared in the September 2001 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Her article “Enter At Your Own Risk: The Strange, Twilight World of Writing Competitions” appeared at Absolute Blank in November 2002.

Follow Janet on Twitter: @Janet_Mullany.


On Deadly GroundOn Deadly Ground (Steeple Hill, 2011) by Lauren Nichols

“The prowler on the construction site of her new camp didn’t frighten Rachel Patterson…at first. Fear comes when her home is torched—and worsens when a body is unearthed on the campgrounds. Someone’s trying to cover up a murder, and if Rachel can identify the intruder, she might be the only witness. Her neighbor, Wildlife Conservation Officer Jake Campbell, is determined to keep the lovely widow safe. But when a misunderstanding separates the pair, their distance risks more than the growing feelings between them. It leaves Rachel alone and unguarded, which could be just the chance the killer needs.”

Also by Lauren Nichols:

Erin Nappe Bellavia interviewed Lauren Nichols (Edie Hanes) in February 2003.


General Fiction

The Freak ChroniclesThe Freak Chronicles (Dzanc Books, 2012) by Jennifer Spiegel

“The short stories in this collection explore, both implicitly and explicitly, the notion of freakiness. They worry over eccentricity, alienation, normalcy, and intimacy. What is it that makes one a freak, makes one want to embrace quirkiness, have the fortitude to cultivate oddity? Is there a fine line between abnormality and the extraordinary? Jennifer Spiegel’s stories delve into these questions and others.”

Also by Jennifer Spiegel:

Jennifer Spiegel’s story “Be Happy” was Boots’s Pick in December 2010.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @JenniferSpiegel


Consonant Sounds for Fish SongsConsonant Sounds for Fish Songs (Aqueous Books, 2012) by Traci Chee

“These stories are about death, God, and love, and they are connected by motifs of fish and music that resonate throughout the collection, transforming what you read as you read it. Because fish are signs of both life and death, and music is for joy and mourning and monsters alike.”

Traci Chee’s story “Derek” appeared in the June 2008 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Traci on Twitter: @tracichee


Hallways and HandgunsHallways and Handguns (MuseItUp Publishing, 2012) by Nathaniel Tower.

“A series of tragic events at Rosehill Academy, a middle-class Midwest high school, tests the limits of human relationships. Beginning with the tragic suicide of a beautiful but little-known girl and the rumors of the inappropriate relationship that caused it, everyone at the school becomes affected in some way by the events that occur in the week that follows. During the course of that week, a resignation, overdose, bout with alcoholism, death threat, and school shooting all impact the lives of everyone. Was the suicide a catalyst for all of these events, or was it merely a coincidence?”

Nathaniel Tower’s story “The J” was the winner of the Spring 2009 Three Cheers and a Tiger writing contest.

The Oaten Hands” was Baker’s Pick in the March 2009 issue of Toasted Cheese and “Montanawich” was Boots’s Pick in June 2011.

Follow Nathaniel on Twitter: @BartlebySnopes


LossesLosses (Vagabondage Press, 2012) by Robert Wexelblatt

“A single father who is a new IRS agent, his cherished and imaginative little girl, a divorced woman having second thoughts about motherhood, a couple who think two ways about becoming parents, a mysterious and crooked financial wizard-these are the people from whose relationships, enterprises, gains and losses this story is woven. Has there been a crime and, if so, can the miscreant be caught? How valid are the claims of a father and a mother? When they clash, what becomes of their child?”

Robert Wexelblatt’s story “Disappearing” was Ana’s Pick in the September 2009 issue of Toasted Cheese.


The Real DealThe Real Deal (BrickHouse Books, 2012) by Miriam N. Kotzin

“Abe Featherman, elected as the first Native American President of the United States, discovers that he is a pawn of his wealthy backers who don’t want him to run for a second term. His campaign manager, Franklin, who knows all his secrets, takes charge of the outrageous kabuki designed to get him out of office. Meanwhile Featherman transforms himself from a phony to the real deal.”

Also by Miriam N. Kotzin:

Miriam N. Kotzin’s flash story “The Patsy” appeared in the June 2004 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Miriam on Twitter: @sextoygirl


The IlluminationThe Illumination: A Novel (Pantheon, 2011) by Kevin Brockmeier

“At 8:17 on a Friday night, the Illumination commences. Every wound begins to shine, every bruise to glow and shimmer. And in the aftermath of a fatal car accident, a private journal of love notes, written by a husband to his wife, passes into the keeping of a hospital patient and from there through the hands of five other suffering people, touching each of them uniquely.”

Also by Kevin Brockmeier:

Mollie Savage interviewed Kevin Brockmeier in July 2006.

Follow Kevin on Twitter: @illumination_bk


Damn Sure RightDamn Sure Right (Press 53, 2011) by Meg Pokrass.

“Damn Sure Right, the “wonderful, dark, unforgiving” (Frederick Barthelme) debut by Meg Pokrass, “conveys entire worlds that are touching, haunting, funny, moving, and strange in the most beautiful ways” (Jessica Anya Blau). “The brew master of flash” (Sean Lovelace), Pokrass writes “like a brain looking for a body” (Frederick Barthelme), making her the “new monarch of the delightful and enigmatic tiny kingdom of mirco- and flash fiction” (Brad Watson). This collection of eighty-four tales is sure to “ruin your waking hours the way you’ll want them ruined” (Kyle Minor)”

Meg Pokrass’s story “Waiting Room” was Boots’s Pick in the March 2008 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Meg on Twitter: @megpokrass


Everyone Remain CalmEveryone Remain Calm (ECW Press, 2011) by Megan Stielstra

“In this debut collection of stories, Megan Stielstra will explain the following in revealing detail: how to develop relationships with convicted felons and 1970s TV characters; how not to have a threesome with your roommate; the life and death nature of teaching creative writing; and what happens when discount birth control is advertised on Craigslist. Witty, tough, imaginative, and hot-blooded, Megan Stielstra’s fiction and first person reporting are the missing links between Raymond Carver and David Sedaris.”

Megan Stielstra’s creative non-fiction “This Teacher Talks Too Damn Fast” appeared in the June 2007 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Megan on Twitter: @meganstielstra


Hard to SayHard to Say (PANK Magazine, 2011) by Ethel Rohan.

“Hard to Say is a lovely, difficult, heartbreaking but ultimately beautiful and profound book about mothers, daughters, borders and boundaries, and our constant struggle to not surrender to our frailties. You won’t regret reading it.”

Also by Ethel Rohan:

Ethel Rohan’s flash story “Scraps” appeared in the December 2009 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Ethel on Twitter: @ethelrohan


Please Don't Be Upset and other storiesPlease Don’t Be Upset and other stories (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2011) by Brandi Wells.

“Please Don’t Be Upset is a collection of fifteen perfectly rendered stories—lists, instructions, yearnings, confessions, more—stories about imperfect mothers and daughters, women and men, strange stories about folded bodies and stalking deer, stories about the small, heartbreaking ways we fail each other, yet cling so tightly.”

Brandi Wells’s story “Flower-Eater” appeared in the December 2007 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Brandi Wells on Twitter: @brandimwells


Mad to LiveMad to Live (PS Books Publishing, 2011) by Randall Brown

“Originally published in a limited edition by Flume Press in 2008, Randall Brown’s award-winning (very) short fiction collection, Mad To Live, sold out almost immediately. Fortunately for Brown’s fans (and soon-to-be fans), PS Books has published this deluxe edition of Mad To Live—complete with new cover art and four bonus tracks not included in the Flume edition!”

Randall D. Brown’s flash story “Great Grandmother Gorilla” appeared in the September 2004 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Randall on Twitter: @flashfictionnet


Poetry

Hurt Into BeautyHurt Into Beauty (FutureCycle Press, 2012) by Paul Hostovsky

“In his fourth full-length collection of poetry, Paul Hostovsky offers up the kind of fare that his readers keep coming back for—the humor mixed with poignancy, the heartbreak lined with a kind of palliative existential mischief—in poems that explore the nature of violence, illness, beauty, childhood, Deaf people and sign language, the art of love and the art of poetry.”

Also by Paul Hostovsky:

Paul Hostovsky’s poems “Dear Hallmark” and “Note” appeared in the March 2012 issue of Toasted Cheese. “Survivor,” “The Message,” “Ars PO,” “The Self,” & “Looking at Boobs with Aunt Edie” appeared in the December 2009 issue.


We Bury the LandscapeWe Bury the Landscape (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2012) by Kristine Ong Muslim

“We Bury the Landscape is an exhibition of literary art. Ekphrasis, collected. One hundred flash fictions and prose poems presented to view. From the visual to the textual, transmuting before the gallery-goer’s gaze, the shifting contours of curator Kristine Ong Muslim’s surreal panorama delineate the unconventional, the unexpected, and the unnatural. Traversing this visionary vista’s panoply of “rooms of unfinished lives,” the reader unearths and examines and reanimates-revealing the transcendent uncanniness that subsists underfoot.”

Kristine Ong Muslim’s poems “U is for Ursula” and “Milking Time” appeared in the September 2007 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Kristine on Twitter: @kristinemuslim


ProdigalProdigal (Pinyon Publishing, 2012) by Francine Marie Tolf

“‘We have lost our ability to name,’ Francine Marie Tolf writes: ‘We say antelope, owl, / as if these words had power. / As if the names of animals hadn’t long fled / back into animals.’ Thus, Tolf lays out the major themes of her second collection of poems, Prodigal: nature, animals, and language-plus a fourth: discoveries that occur when one of these intricate living strands intersects with another. Tolf doesn’t shy from the savagery humans inflict on earth and other animals, but instead encourages us to reflect and understand if we can.”

Francine Marie Tolf’s creative non-fiction “The Summer Before Eighth Grade” appeared in the December 2007 issue of Toasted Cheese.


Letters from Under the Banyan TreeLetters from under the Banyan Tree (Aldrich Press, 2012) by Carol Lynn Stevenson Grellas

“Carol Lynn’s Letters from Under the Banyan Tree is a delicate and deft-handed tribute to life’s rituals. This woven tapestry of organic imagery and calm reflection evokes that breathless twilight moment somewhere between grief and hope, where wisdom can grow. ~Fawn Neun”

Also by Carol Lynn Stevenson Grellas:

Carol Lynn Grellas’s poem “When the Trees Were Bare” was Bellman’s Pick in the September 2009 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Carol Lynn on Twitter: @secretpoet


The Best of the Barefoot MuseThe Best of the Barefoot Muse (Barefoot Muse Press, 2011) edited by Anna M. Evans

“An anthology of the best poems that appeared in the online journal, The Barefoot Muse, 2005-2010. Selected and arranged by Anna M. Evans.”

Anna Evans’s story “Desert Creatures” appeared in the June 2006 issue of Toasted Cheese. Her story “Refuge” appeared in the September 2005 issue.

Follow Anna on Twitter: @Barefoot_Muse


Before the Great TroublingBefore the Great Troubling: Poems (Unbound Content, 2011) by Corey Mesler

“Acclaimed writer Corey Mesler returns with his second full-length collection of poetry, this time exploring interior landscapes as they relate to life and love, feelings and family, the perpetual process of growing up.”

Also by Corey Mesler:

Corey Mesler’s poems “Limited Edition,” “The Jay Underneath Yggdrasil” & “Last” appeared in the June 2005 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Corey on Twitter: @CoreyMesler


Dark SaltDark Salt: A Brush With Genius (JB Stillwater Publishing, 2011) by Lynn Strongin

“In this collection of late works by Lynn Strongin, we find that perfect balance of salt and water spiced with symbolism and metaphor that poet Strongin does so well. Jewish Temple offerings included salt and Jewish people still dip their bread in salt on the Sabbath as a remembrance of those sacrifices.”

Lynn Strongin’s poems “Smoke-Jumpers” and “Failed Nerve strikes like a fuse blown in a city, a whole power station:” appeared in the March 2006 issue of Toasted Cheese.

The Failure to Speak miraculous things,” “Hitting my Stride by Third Cabin Morning” & “Birch Candles” appeared in the December 2005 issue.


In the Palms of AngelsIn the Palms of Angels (Press 53, 2011) by Terri Kirby Erickson

“‘There is no store-bought redemption pasted to the ends of these poems, but neither will you find hopelessness, self-pity, a turning away from the world. What you will find at the core of all these poems is the timeless North Carolinian’s beneficent but ungilded witnessing.’ — From the Introduction by Ron Powers, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.”

Also by Terri Kirby Erickson:

Terri Kirby Erickson’s poem “Downpour” appeared in the September 2009 issue of Toasted Cheese.


In TransitIn Transit (David Robert Books, 2011) by Kathryn Jacobs

“The wit of Kathryn Jacobs’ In Transit is wry and observant, leavening humor with tart conclusions.”

Also by Kathryn Jacobs:

Kathryn Jacobs’s poems “Ocean Maps,” “The Tin Woodman” & “The Musical Dead” were Beaver’s Pick in the June 2008 issue of Toasted Cheese.


Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of AdieuSeeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu (Cinnamon Press, 2010) by Arlene Ang

“Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu is concerned with images and perception; the intricacies and strangeness of human relationships and loss. Her language, sometimes surreal, always challenges expectations. Sensual and inventive, this is poetry that surprises; poetry that demands a response. Ang deploys sharp crafting and a unique voice.”

Also by Arlene Ang:

Arlene Ang’s poems “Behind This Cornea of Storms,” “Constrained Indolence” & “Dining in Brisighella” appeared in the March 2003 issue of Toasted Cheese.


Non-Fiction

The Mindful WriterThe Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life (Wisdom Publications, 2012) by Dinty W. Moore

“Going a step beyond typical “how to write” books, Moore illuminates the creative process: where writing and creativity originate, how mindfulness plays into work, how to cultivate good writing habits, how to grow as a writer — and a person! — and what it means to have a life dedicated to the craft of writing. There’s not a writer alive, novice or master, who will not benefit from this book and fall in love with it. Cover to cover, this wise little book is riveting and delightful. Readers will turn to The Mindful Writer again and again as a source inspiration, guidance, and support.”

Also by Dinty W. Moore:

Stephanie Lenz interviewed Dinty W. Moore in May 2006.

Follow Dinty on Twitter: @brevitymag


FiddleFiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel, 2010) by Vivian Wagner

“After a chance encounter with fiddle music, Vivian Wagner discovered something she never knew she had lacked. The fiddle had reawakened not only her passion for music, but for life itself. From the remote workshop of a wizened master fiddle maker in the Blue Ridge Mountains to a klezmer band in Cleveland, from Cajun fiddle music in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans to a fiddle camp in Tennessee, Vivian’s quest to master the instrument becomes a journey populated by teachers and artisans–and ultimately creates a community that fortifies her through an emotionally crushing loss.”

Vivian Wagner’s creative non-fiction, “Potpies, Mudpies, and Macaroni: On Learning to Cook” appeared in the June 2008 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Vivian on Twitter: @VWagner


Off Kilter
Off Kilter: A Woman’s Journey to Peace with Scoliosis, Her Mother, and Her Polish Heritage (Pearlsong Press, 2008) by Linda C. Wisniewski

“Susan Wittig Albert calls Off Kilter a ‘splendid first memoir about the difficult business of finding balance in our lives. Funny, honest, deeply moving, Off Kilter reminds us just how hard it is to adjust to the physical pain, the emotional loss, and even the surprising beauty of being fully who we are.'”

Linda C. Wisniewski’s creative non-fiction “My Grandfather’s Ear” appeared in the March 2007 issue of Toasted Cheese. “A Connecting Thread” appeared in the December 2004 issue.

Follow Linda on Twitter: @Lindawis


Assaulted by JoyAssaulted by Joy: The Redemption of a Cynic (Zondervan, 2008) by Stephen W. Simpson

“Over the years, his beliefs about God were challenged by painful and confusing experiences in church as a teenager, the death of a beloved friend in college, and bouts of doubt and despair in graduate school. He married the girl of his dreams, yet he was still not happy. Then came the quadruplets.”

Stephen W. Simpson’s story “First Steps” won the Fall 2003 Three Cheers and a Tiger writing contest.

Steve’s article “The First Novel Marathon” appeared at Absolute Blank in November 2003. Theryn Fleming interviewed Stephen W. Simpson in August 2007.


Final Poll Results

Win, Win, Win

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

‘Tis the season of giving, but everyone knows it’s hard to make it through December without buying a little something for yourself. Here’s your chance to give and do something for yourself at the same time. It’s a win for Toasted Cheese, a win for our authors, and a win for you.

  1. Buy one of the books in “The Toasted Cheese Wish Book” via a TC link.
  2. Read the book!
  3. Write a review of the book and send it to reviews[at]toasted-cheese.com. Yes, do it. Make it your New Year’s Resolution!
  4. Your name in lights, er, pixels.
  5. Repeat steps 1–4 as many times as you like.

Keeping a Commonplace Book

Absolute Blank

By Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

I love commonplace books; the most recent entry in my own is from the photographer Alfred Stieglitz: “Nearly right is child’s play.” —Michael Dirda

When I was eleven, my godmother gave me a hardcover notebook. Inside the front cover, she wrote: “It can be a diary, whatever you like!” It turned into whatever I liked.

The first surviving page—there are several torn out at the beginning, evidence of false starts made before I figured out what use to put the book to—is a list of potential character names: first names on one side, last names on the other. There are also lists of Likes (cities, peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, reading uncensored books), Dislikes (being serious, snow, people who borrow stuff permanently), Quotes (‘three can keep a secret as long as two of them are dead’), Vocab (made-up or repurposed words a la Urban Dictionary), amongst others. These lists weren’t created all at once, but compiled over years, added to one or two items at a time. My favorite of these is the one titled Words, a list of words I liked, often more for their sound than their meaning: eclectic, elfin, exquisite, eloquent; crinkly, quirk, corrupt, cajole; shimmery, psyche, sepulchral, sinuous. Others seem more prophetic or insightful: scribe, judicial, introspective, and provocative (twice).

In my book, I also copied out song lyrics (painstakingly transcribed while pressing play-rewind repeatedly), poems I read at school, bits of creative writing from English classes. Some fragments are typed (how 2012!) and pasted in. There are clippings from magazines and newspapers—and, naturally, no shortage of Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Teenage Angst Poetry. I did fancy myself a writer, after all.

Though I did include some of my own writing in the book, these were pieces I either considered finished (that I’d revised and polished) or that were like the word version of those snapshots that seemed like a good idea at the time (you know the ones I mean), but now not so much. It wasn’t my journal—I had a separate notebook for that, and it wasn’t a writer’s notebook—I kept my writing projects, such as they were, in a binder. Though I didn’t know it at the time, what I had created was commonplace book.

Keeping a Commonplace Book

Commonplace Books: The Basics

While the lyrics to eighties pop songs probably won’t be consulted for their wisdom in a hundred years, teenage me did have the basics of commonplacing down: find things that are meaningful to you and collect them, over time, in a book—eventually creating a sort of a textual collage.

Commonplace books have elements in common with journals/diaries, writer’s notebooks, and scrapbooks, but are their own distinctive genre. A commonplace book might include some of the commonplacer’s own thoughts and observations, but unlike a journal/diary, which typically consists of narrative entries written in chronological order, a commonplace book is non-narrative and non-chronological. Ideas are typically organized under headings rather than by date.

A commonplace book tends to be both less impulsive and less practical than a writer’s notebook. Entries into a commonplace book are usually made with some forethought—a particular pen, an attention to neatness—unlike a writer’s notebook in which fleeting thoughts are scribbled, often illegibly. A writer’s notebook is often kept with specific projects in mind, whereas commonplaced ideas are collected more for their intrinsic value—knowledge for knowledge’s sake—than any immediate practical purpose.

Clippings and photographs might be pasted into a commonplace book, but unlike a scrapbook, which is outward-facing—the curated version of the scrapbooker’s life they want to present to others—a commonplace book is inward-facing. It is either completely private, or at least designed with one reader in mind: the author/curator him or herself. As such, a commonplace book tends to be more honest and personal than a scrapbook.

Traditional Commonplace Books

Historically, a commonplace book was a handwritten notebook, a place to store quotations, ideas, reading notes, scraps of conversation, etc. for future reference.

[Commonplace] books were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator’s particular interests. —Wikipedia

[Commonplace Book], [late 17th Century]Photo Credit: Beinecke Flickr Laboratory

Commonplace bookScholars, amateur scientists, aspiring men of letters—just about anyone with intellectual ambition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was likely to keep a commonplace book. In its most customary form, “commonplacing,” as it was called, involved transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from one’s reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations. It was a kind of solitary version of the original web logs: an archive of interesting tidbits that one encountered during one’s textual browsing. The great minds of the period—Milton, Bacon, Locke—were zealous believers in the memory-enhancing powers of the commonplace book. —Steven Johnson
Photo Credit: vlasta2

 

MS Eng 584 (1)A common-place book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories;” and whereas, on the other hand, poets being liars by profession, ought to have good memories. To reconcile these, a book of this sort is in the nature of a supplemental memory; or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation. There you enter not only your own original thoughts, (which, a hundred to one, are few and insignificant) but such of other men as you think fit to make your own by entering them there. For take this for a rule, when an author is in your books, you have the same demand upon him for his wit, as a merchant has for your money, when you are in his. —Jonathan Swift
Photo Credit: John Overholt

 

Time was when readers kept commonplace books. Whenever they came across a pithy passage, they copied it into a notebook under an appropriate heading, adding observations made in the course of daily life. … early modern Englishmen read in fits and starts and jumped from book to book. They broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks. Then they reread the copies and rearranged the patterns while adding more excerpts. Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality. —Robert Darnton, The Case for Books (149-150)

Here, Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, discusses how Charles Darwin’s commonplace book was influential in his formulation of the theory of evolution:


(clip length: 3:00m)

This Harvard exhibit on note-taking includes scans of several handwritten (manuscript) commonplace books that you can flip through to see what they were like, and here’s an example of a nineteenth-century commonplace book that was published in print form:

Writers’ Commonplace Books

Many well-known writers kept commonplace books. Here’s a list of a few of them. Since most of these are out of print, the links are to WorldCat, which will show you what libraries near you have copies of the books.

Modern Commonplace Books

It might seem like commonplace books are a thing of the past; after all, who picks up a pen to write anymore? Why bother to transcribe text when it’s so easy to copy/paste? But a quick websearch shows they are alive and well.

Commonplace Book (Moleskine Foldout)Photo Credit: Chris Lott

76th of 2nd 365: A turned down corner in my previous commonplace bookI keep what I now realise is a commonplace book. A constant stream of notebooks—except most of my own notes go straight onto a keyboard these days … so the books are where everyone else’s notes go: notes on talks, and pages copied out of books. A lot of these. This is how I think. —James Bridle
Photo Credit: Tim Regan

 

The large version of my notebookRilke in my Commonplace Book[A commonplace book is] a means of collecting and storing all those bits of information that make our lives interesting. It could be a photo, an essay, or a quote. Regardless, it’s important information that you want to mark and save for later. Sharing things in my corner of the web makes them also form a part of my identity. What I share, to a large extent, is who I am. It’s how I communicate with you even if I’m not able to talk to you everyday. The destruction of a sharing service means I would also lose the ability to flip back through a history of my thought. Those long-forgotten hunches would stay forgotten and lost to history. Without a commonplace book that you control you’re gambling your ability to learn and grow from your current actions. —Andrew Spittle
Photo Credits: (top) George Redgrave
(bottom) Winston Hearn

 

Pages from my Commonplace BookKeep a commonplace book, inspiration board, scrapbook, or catch-all box to keep track of ideas and images. Not only do such collections help you remember thoughts, they create juxtapositions that stimulate creativity. My catch-all happiness document for happiness is 500 pages long, single-spaced. When I need a mental jolt, I just skip around and read random sections. It always helps. —Gretchen Rubin
Photo Credit: Jason Helzer

David Shields’s recent book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, takes the form a commonplace book: a series of quotes from various sources compiled together and interspersed with his own thoughts. The controversial twist was that he removed all attribution from the quotes so there was no way to tell who wrote what, unless you were previously familiar with a quote or style of writing—or you flipped to the appendix his publisher made him include (and that he urged readers to tear out).

The American Scholar has a digital commonplace book with quotes collected around themes such as blame, grief, and gratitude.

Why Keep a Paper Commonplace Book in the 21st Century?

Several years ago, in “Poetry 101: Getting Started,” I wrote, “[W]rite poems you like out longhand. When you do this, you’ll find your hand moving as the poet’s did, your breath as the poet’s did. You slide inside the poem and it becomes yours if only for a moment. Keep a notebook, and copy into it poems that inspire you, that make you want to write. When the book’s full, you’ll have your very own personalized anthology—one that isn’t just good reading, but is a document of your growth as a poet.”

This advice was based on my own experience keeping such a notebook—in reality, a very traditional commonplace book in which I only copied poems and quotes from things I was reading. But at some point, I stopped adding to my book. For a while, I kept quotations in a Word document, and then on my Geocities website (RIP). These days, quotes I like end up on my blog, which is fine—it’s efficient and allows me share them with others—but I can’t help feel doesn’t have the same weight that the book did. Writing quotes out by hand, instead of copy/pasting, forces you to slow down and really pay attention to the words rather than skimming.

“[T]here are still good reasons for writers to keep commonplace books the old-fashioned way. In copying by hand a masterful construction from another writer, we can inhabit the words, grasp their rhythms and, with some luck, learn a little something about how good writing is made. —Danny Heitman

[T]he key thing was to write the words in your own hand — by this means, by laboriously and carefully copying out the insights of people smarter than you, you could absorb and internalize their wisdom. Call it osmosis-by-handwriting. …When I post quotations and images to my tumblelog I suppose I’m succumbing to the temptation to cheat: I’m not writing anything out by hand; I’m not even typing the words … I’m just copying and pasting, which is nearly frictionless. I don’t have to think about whether I really want to record a passage or image: if it’s even vaguely or potentially interesting, in it goes. I might not even read it with care, much less give it the kind of attention that would be required if I were to write it out by hand.
Alan Jacobs

Commonplacing was a means of more deeply internalizing an author’s words, as its early practitioners often pointed out. It was a sign of attentiveness, of profound engagement with text. The cutting and pasting, or mashing up, that we do online today tends to be much more cursory and superficial—it’s done with a couple of mouse clicks rather than with the painstaking retracing of a passage in longhand. And what’s cut-and-pasted is rarely kept in the way that the passages in commonplace books were kept. (Rewriting a passage was often the first step in a process of memorization.) With cutting-and-pasting, the words remain external; we borrow them, briefly, rather than making them our own. —Nick Carr

There’s something important about exploring ideas privately as well as collectively. Indeed, there’s something about promiscuous online bookmarking and highlighting that seems antithetical to commonplacing. Because the real challenge of handling stray nuggets of information isn’t how to collect and organise them … Commonplacing is about internalising that information: engaging deeply, processing it so that it becomes part of you. Writing by hand seems to help; so does not instantly sharing everything. If the web is a wild, furiously creative ecosystem—a rainforest, say—the commonplace book is a private vegetable patch. Different things grow best in each. —Oliver Burkeman

Ideas for Keeping a Commonplace Book

Traditional Options

If you decide to start a traditional notebook as your commonplace book, consider how you write (e.g. do you have tiny, neat printing or sprawling, loopy cursive?). A small notebook can fit in a pocket, making it easy to take with you, but if you don’t have tiny handwriting, you might find it frustrating to use. Also think about your personal preferences and how you plan to use the book. If you hate it when your handwriting slopes up the page at angle, you’ll probably want to choose a lined notebook rather than an unlined one. If you’d like to illustrate your quotes, think about choosing a sketchbook rather than traditional notebook.

  • The I’m-not-ready-for-commitment option: index cards in a box. Easy to shuffle around if you change your mind about what heading to put a quote under and if you make a mistake, no worries. Toss the card and try again.
  • The environmentally-friendly DIY option: make your own commonplace book with scrap paper. Here’s a tutorial.
  • The old standby option: Moleskine journals.
  • The splurge option: invest in a leather journal. Here’s one example from Chapters (bookstores are a good place to look for journals/notebooks), and an indie version from Etsy.

Digital Options

If you know a notebook is just not going to work for you—maybe you really hate your handwriting or it’s completely illegible—but you think there might be some merit to keeping a private commonplace book, here are some offline and/or private digital alternatives that are superior to a neverending Word document.

Online Options

Finally, here are some public options for those of you who crave the social in social media. I’ve included some very non-traditional alternatives here, to illustrate that you can create a commonplace book almost anywhere.

  • A blog, such as WordPress or Tumblr, is the most versatile online option. Both give you the option of quoting, linking, sharing photos and video—as well as liking and reblogging others’ posts.
  • Delicious. Use the “description” box to copy a quote from the page you’re bookmarking.
  • Goodreads. Add quotes to “Quotes You Like” or like ones already added by other users. You can arrange your quotes in any order.
  • Twitter. Make use of retweets and favorites, as well as tweeting your own thoughts.
  • Pinterest. Here’s the board Baker started for Toasted Cheese, which includes illustrated quotations and writing humor. The limitation of Pinterest is that pins must include an image, but if you find inspiration in the visual as well as the textual, this might be an option for you.
  • Flickr. Another visually-oriented option. Favorites can reveal themes over time, as I realized when I looked at my page. Once you’ve identified a theme, you can use a gallery to collect images based on it. In galleries, there’s a space for adding text to each photo you select. Here are galleries of old books, people sleeping in libraries, empty spaces (shows how text can be added to the left of the images), and illustrated quotes.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to limit yourself to a single option. You can keep both a private book and a public blog or a text-focused commonplace and a more visual one. The beauty of the commonplace book is that it’s your book—you can make it whatever you like.

Final Poll Results

Start a Commonplace Book

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

If you’re like most writers these days, you spend most of your writing time at a keyboard and rarely pick up a pen or pencil except, perhaps, to jot yourself a note. It’s just so much easier and faster to type and copy/paste than to handwrite and transcribe. But what if you’re missing out on creative leaps you might have taken if you picked up a pen every now and then?

Your mission this month is to start an old-school commonplace book, even if—especially if—you’re resistant to the idea. “But I prefer to blog,” you say. No worries. There’s no law saying you can’t have two commonplaces. Use your blog for quotes and ideas you want to share with others and your old-fashioned book for things you want to keep to yourself for now. Come on, there’s something a little exciting about having a Secret Book, right?

Your commonplace book will likely be with you for years, so think about choosing a sturdier book than you might normally choose for a regular journal or writer’s notebook. A commonplace book is the perfect opportunity to indulge your desire for that leather-bound journal you’ve long admired but never been able to justify spending that much money on. (With the gift-giving season upon us, maybe it’s time to update your wishlist.)

Once you’ve selected your commonplace book, make sure you have a pen or pencil you like writing with. A writing instrument doesn’t need to be expensive; it does need to write easily (I like these). Avoid scratchy ballpoints that are just going to irritate you even if they do happen to be free and in arm’s reach.

Now. Do something to make your commonplace book yours: write your name inside the cover, maybe add the date or place. Finally, find a quotation you love and write it in your book. Congratulations, you’ve started commonplacing!

Facing Your Writing Fears

Absolute Blank

By Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

There are many things I am not afraid of. I’m not afraid of heights or spiders or snakes or flying or roller coasters or open water. I’m not afraid of taking tests or dogs or the dark or needles or thunderstorms. But that doesn’t mean I’m not afraid of anything.

This is me, age 11, at Silver Springs in Florida, holding a boa constrictor. I volunteered to do this. When they asked who wanted to hold the snake, I stuck up my hand and waved it, and I may even have stood up, because I was small and used to going unnoticed. I didn’t expect to be picked, but I was, likely because I was the only girl expressing an interest. That’s ok. As I say whenever someone wins a contest because they were the only one who entered: you beat everyone who didn’t even try.

For me, holding the snake was not scary. The scary thing was asking to hold the snake, sticking up my hand, drawing the audience’s attention to me, taking the risk that I’d try and fail. That I wouldn’t get picked. That I’d not only be disappointed that I didn’t get to hold the snake but embarrassed that everyone (read: a bunch of random people on spring break) knew I’d waved my hand like a lunatic because I wanted so badly to be chosen. If it had been something else, something I wanted less, I would’ve left my hands by my side, let the opportunity slide by. There have been plenty of these moments in my life, most of which I don’t even remember clearly now. But I remember that time I held the snake.

At that moment, my desire overwhelmed my fear and I acted.

A century ago, Katherine Mansfield wrote, “Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself.” This is one of my favorite quotations, one I keep returning to, because for me, this—silencing the voices, acting for myself—is the hardest thing on earth, and I need to keep reminding myself to take the risk.

Any endeavor has attendant risks, but because they are so often seen as frivolous, creative endeavors often carry a greater risk to one’s face. If you’re a mediocre doctor, you’re still a doctor. If you’re a mediocre artist, you’re wasting your life. There’s a lot of pressure to be good right away so you can silence the doubters, when we all know “that before you can be good at something, you’ll almost certainly be bad to mediocre at it.” Looking like something is effortless takes practice. And while becoming good at something mostly takes hard work, becoming great takes more than just doing the same thing over and over. You have to be willing to take risks, fail, and try again. We’re all familiar with the writer who writes an amazing first book—and then follows it up with 27 competent clones. That writer is good, but they’re not great. The great writer writes a second book that’s so different from the first that the publisher doesn’t know what to do with it and they end up parting ways. The risk, of course, is that book two might be a disaster. But, then again, it just might be brilliant.

Of all the creative arts, writing is perhaps the riskiest, because it’s so transparent. You can expose your deepest secrets in music, painting, dance and still leave the audience and critics divided as to what that was really about—even as they are moved to tears. With writing, it’s harder to obscure your source material. To be sure, you can cloak your story in metaphor or fictionalize it, but if you’re writing an essay about your mother, you’re writing an essay about your mother. Sometimes transparency is the point.

Things I do fear: small talk, schmoozing, job interviews, cold calls, having to answer questions on the spot, asking for favors, and failure, especially at writing.

Writing is a minefield of fears. Fear that we have nothing worthwhile to say. Fear that what we have to say is a cliché. Fear of taking our writing seriously. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of embarrassing ourselves. Fear of how much work it’s going to take. Fear of not-writing. Fear that we will offend the people we care about. Fear that we will offend, period. Fear of rejection. Fear of repercussions. Fear that the wrath of the internet will rain down upon us. Fear that books are dead.

For some of us, the fear started the moment we picked up a pencil. In elementary school, my handwriting always earned a “Needs Improvement” on my report cards. At one point, I was slotted into the remedial handwriting group, a bunch of oafish boys and me, bookish nerdgirl. I became so self-conscious about my handwriting that I allowed it to hamper my writing. Someone would give me a beautiful blank notebook or a cute little diary and I’d be unwilling to write in it because I was only going to ruin it. When I finally gave it a try—because I felt guilty for not using the gift—it would be just as ugly as I’d anticipated and I’d quit because the book was ruined. Or I’d tear out the pages so that I could start fresh. I spent more time rewriting things to try to make them look better than writing anything new.

I finally ended this cycle by starting to write in a regular school notebook with a pencil. My handwriting didn’t matter so much because the notebook wasn’t pretty or precious; it was ugly and utilitarian. The pencil allowed me to erase my mistakes. Somewhere along the way I started writing in pen. Eventually I reached the end of the notebook and I started a new one. At the same time, I started filling a hardback notebook (that, yes, the initial pages had been torn from) with lists, quotes, magazine clippings, poems I wrote. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this was my first commonplace book. I still fretted too much about perfection, but I’d found a way to move forward: one scary thing at a time.

If you’re thinking my handwriting story sounds silly, that’s exactly my point. If you want to write, write. If you want to write about your childhood, write about your childhood. If you want to write a book, write a book. Most of the obstacles in our writing paths are trivial, or at least, surmountable. We envision them as Mt. Everests, when they’re more like that hill in your neighborhood that you walk up every day.

I frequently hear people say, “I can’t,” when what they really mean is “I don’t want to” or “something else is more important to me” or “I don’t want my image to be that of a person who does that” or “I’m afraid to try because I might fail.” “Can’t” absolves us of responsibility. It’s not that we’re unwilling to take a risk or put the effort in, it’s that we can’t. Fate has decided this for us. It’s not our fault. It’s not a choice.

Except it is. “Can’t” is almost always a choice, the safe choice. If you don’t try, then you can’t fail.

We live in a culture obsessed with safety. We like to think it is possible to eliminate risk. When something bad happens, the first thing we do look around to see to whom we can assign blame. When we find a scapegoat, we exhale with relief. It would never have happened to us because we would never have taken that sort of risk! This kind of thinking permeates all aspects of our lives. You’ve surely read many cautionary tales about the awful consequences that may befall you if you write about your job, your children, your personal life, you name it. But while safety-first thinking is prudent when you’re talking about an activity with real physical risk—skydiving, say—it’s less useful when you’re deciding how you want to spend your life. Always choosing the safest choice may make for a comfortable life, but it probably won’t be a very interesting or satisfying one. For that, you have to be willing to take a risk.

There’s a reason why so many success stories start with the protagonist at rock bottom: they’ve been rejected from something they’ve been working toward all their lives, they’ve lost their job, their spouse has left them, a loved one has died, they’ve been badly injured or found out they have a chronic or life-threatening illness. It’s not a coincidence and it’s not just because redemption makes a good story. We all know people with handicaps who take risks and live interesting lives. We marvel at their positivity. We talk about how we can’t imagine said terrible thing happening to us and how amazing it is that they’ve managed to succeed despite it. But that’s where our thinking goes wrong. It’s not despite. It’s because. It’s the terrible thing that makes the risk acceptable, that pushes it from “I could lose everything” to “What I have I got to lose?” As Maya Donenfeld recently wrote, “there is always a gift waiting even in the darkest times, because in every great challenge there is an opportunity for transformation and growth.”

One of the things I most looked forward to as a biology undergrad was taking herpetology. To my great disappointment, the class was always “not offered” or canceled. I guess there weren’t enough students interested in snakes. At the time, I just swallowed my disappointment and grumped about the poor course selection. Now I know this wasn’t my only choice. The brave, scary, potentially rewarding choice would have been to go directly to the herpetologist and ask to do a directed study. This would’ve meant taking the risk that he’d say no. But maybe he’d have said yes, and now I’d be traveling the world, writing about reptiles and amphibians for National Geographic.

I can’t exactly berate myself for not doing this, because I don’t think it even occurred to me. For a long, long time, I held the belief that “no” meant “no” and the polite, grown-up, civilized thing to do was to accept a “no” without protestation and move on. One of the important lessons I’ve learned in the past few years is not to just walk away when you hear “no.” No one is going to think less of you for trying again (and again and again). And if you really want something, it’s worth it to ask: “How can I change this ‘no’ to a ‘yes’?” “No” can be a kind of filter. It’s used to weed people out.

My eyes were opened when I heard a guy tell the story of how he got accepted to law school. Turns out, he wasn’t, but instead of saying, “oh well,” he basically marched into the admissions office, told them he’d already quit his job and yadayadayada his life was riding on this and they pulled his file and reclassified it as a mature student application and the rest was history.

The hell? I thought. It made me kind of angry. I knew that if I had been in his position, I wouldn’t have done that. I thought about all the times in my past when I’d accepted “no” for an answer. And I thought about how probably lots of those times there had been people who hadn’t accepted “no.” It felt like there was this back door that I didn’t know about. Well, now that I did, I was determined to use it. The next time I heard a “no” that I really wanted to be a “yes” I got up my courage and asked, “What can I do to change your mind?”

It was scary, but you know what? I succeeded.

Ray Bradbury once said, “I worry about rejection, but not too much. The real fear isn’t rejection, but that there won’t be enough time in your life to write all the stories you have in you. So every time I put a new one in the mail, I know I’ve beaten death again.” In the wake of her father-in-law’s death, Maud Newton wrote, “And it’s impossible to imagine ever returning to a life in which I treat my writing like a frivolous hobby or prioritize writing about other people’s novels over working on my own.” He had been working on a book. It was left unfinished.

Final Poll Results

One Scary Thing

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

What are you afraid of? What’s holding you back? Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to do one scary thing. Just one. It doesn’t need to be a big thing. In fact, it’s better if it isn’t because one of the ways we self-sabotage is by biting off more than we can chew. Take a small bite:

Write about that topic you’ve been avoiding. Enter a contest. Start a blog. Ask a favorite writer a question on Twitter. Tell your family they need to respect your writing time. Find another place to submit that story that’s been rejected nine times (but you secretly still think is good). Sign up for a class. Invest in that writing software you’ve been thinking about getting “one day.”

Reward yourself for accomplishing your goal—and then pick a new scary thing to do. Keep moving toward your writing goals, one scary thing at a time.

Beyond NaNoWriMo: Writing Challenges for Everyone

Absolute Blank

By Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

Every October, the internet buzzes as thousands of writers start thinking about characters and plots in anticipation of National Novel Writing Month. Meanwhile, others start grumbling about why they won’t be participating in NaNoWriMo. We’ve all heard these complaints (or uttered them ourselves):

  • “I’m too busy in November.”
  • “I write, but not fiction (or novels).”
  • “Real writers write every day, not just in November.”
  • “I don’t like the shitty first draft approach to writing; I prefer to take my time.”
  • “I’ve already finished a novel. Now I need to edit (or sell) it.”
  • “50,000 words isn’t a novel.”
  • “50,000 words? I could never write that much.”
  • “I should finish what I’ve started before I start something new.”

And so on. I hear you. NaNoWriMo may be the oldest and best known online writing challenge, but it’s not for everyone. Maybe you’re new to writing and the challenge is just too intimidating. Maybe you’re a seasoned professional and you don’t need an intense month-long challenge to spur you to write. Whatever your rationale (or excuse), it’s okay. But just because NaNoWriMo isn’t right for you doesn’t mean you should disregard writing challenges altogether. In recent years, a variety of writing challenges have sprung up, making it possible for just about any writer to find a challenge to suit.

So what’s a writing challenge? Like a contest, a challenge sets out parameters for participation, but unlike a contest, anyone who completes the task “wins” and the only prizes are personal satisfaction (and perhaps a badge to display on your website). A challenge is also similar to a resolution, but its goals are more specific and concrete. Its main allure is that it’s a communal endeavor as well as an individual one. Each participant is in charge of her own fate as she works toward the goal, but at the same time, all participants, who are each working toward the same goal, agree to support and encourage each other in their efforts. Challenges build community.

While just having a concrete goal to work toward can be motivating in itself, working toward it with a group of people doing the same can more so, because all those doubts you have about your ability to succeed are mitigated. Not enough time? Wait, here’s someone with even less free time than you. If he can do it, why can’t you? Hit a wall? Well, that happened to a friend last week and she wrote about how she got through it. And the same is true in reverse. A challenge gets you out of your own head—fretting about yourself and what you can’t do—and into the space of encouraging and supporting fellow writers. And that helps you focus on what you can do.

Finally, writing challenges put writing into terms that non-writers can understand. And this is where a challenge can be of value to even the most self-motivated writer. You may well be disciplined enough to write without needing a challenge. But how accommodating are your friends and family? If finding time to write is a constant battle, if your family and friends just don’t get why you’re always staring at that screen, if they’re always nagging you to do something else when you’re trying to write, a challenge can be the perfect opportunity to get them on board.

Participating in a writing challenge for a writer is much like participating in a running event for a runner. Suddenly you’re not out there on your own “just writing.” You’re working toward [specific goal] with all these other people who are doing the same thing. It makes what you’re doing real for the non-writer and it allows you to say to those who would sabotage you (intentionally or not), “I must write today in order to reach [specific goal] by [deadline]. When I reach [specific goal], we’ll celebrate. Until then, bear with me and don’t forget to cheer me on!”

Beyond NaNoWriMo: Writing Challenges for Everyone

JANUARY – JULY

Picture Book Dummy Challenge
Founded by the #kidlitchat administrators (@kidlitchat) in 2011.
Challenge: create and submit a picture book dummy over 25 weeks.
Aimed at: author/illustrators, but “writers who are not artists can benefit from portions of the dummy exercise, and illustrators without an original manuscript can use the process to create a dummy portfolio piece.”
Hashtag: #PBDummy

MARCH

National Novel Editing Month (@NaNoEdMo)
Founded at nanoedmo.org in 2003; moved to nanoedmo.net in 2007. Meet the NaNoEdMo staff.
Challenge: spend 50 hours editing a novel during the month.
Aimed at: people who completed NaNoWriMo and now want to edit their novels.
Hashtag: #NaNoEdMo

APRIL
is National Poetry Month.
Created by the Academy of American Poets (@poetsorg) in 1996:

National Poetry Month is a month-long, national celebration of poetry established by the Academy of American Poets. The concept is to widen the attention of individuals and the media—to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern.

National Poetry Writing Month
Founded by poet Maureen Thorson (@maureenthorson) in 2003.
Challenge: write 30 poems in 30 days.
Aimed at: poets and anyone else who wants to write poetry.
Hashtag: #NaPoWriMo

Script Frenzy (@scriptfrenzy)
Founded by the Office of Letters and Light (the people behind NaNoWriMo) in 2007.
Challenge: write 100 pages of original scripted material in 30 days.
Aimed at: individuals or writing teams of two people who want to write a script.
Hashtag: #scriptfrenzy

MAY
is National Short Story Month.
Created by Dan Wickett (@DanWickett) in 2007:

While the poets of the world have shrewdly united to have April be National Poetry Month every year, creating a fair amount of attention for their craft, we (proverbial) here at the EWN have decided that we sort of like concentrating on one form for a lengthy period of time, so we’re declaring that around here, May will be Short Story Month.

Hashtag: #ssm[year] (e.g. #ssm2012) or #nashostomo

National Picture Book Writing Week
Founded by Paula Yoo (@PaulaYoo) in 2009.
Challenge: write 7 first drafts of picture books in 7 days (May 1-7).
Aimed at: anyone who wants to write a children’s picture book.
Hashtag: #napibowriwee

Story a Day
Founded by Julie Duffy (@StoryaDayMay) in 2010.
Challenge: write a short story every day in May.
Aimed at: anyone who wants to write short fiction.
Hashtag: #storyaday or #storyadaymay

JULY
Note: these are two separate July novel-writing challenges.

July National Writing Month (@julnawrimo)
Founded by Reannon in 2004.
Challenge: write a 50,000-word novel in 31 days.
Aimed at: anyone who wants to try a NaNoWriMo-style challenge in July.
Hashtag: #JulNaWriMo

July Novel Writing Month (@julnowrimo)
Founded by Robert Watson in 2005.
Challenge: write a 50,000-word novel in 31 days.
Aimed at: anyone who wants to try a NaNoWriMo-style challenge in July.
Hashtag: #JulNoWriMo

AUGUST

Write Fifteen Minutes a Day Challenge
Founded by Laurie Halse Anderson (@HalseAnderson) in 2008
Challenge: Commit to write for 15 minutes a day for the entire month of August.
Aimed at: anyone who wants to write: “You can write fiction, non-fiction, memoir, or poetry.”
Hashtag: #wfmad

SEPTEMBER

Toasted Cheese’s Mini-Nano Challenge
Founded by Theryn Fleming (@theryn) in 2011.
Challenge: Write 5,000-words of fiction in September.
Aimed at: people who want a NaNoWriMo warm-up and those looking for a less-intimidating alternative
Hashtag: #TCmininano

NOVEMBER
is Picture Book Month.
Created by Dianne de Las Casas (@storyconnection) in 2011:

In October 2010, the New York Times published an article that declared “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children.” It set the children’s book world on fire and it set me on fire. In September 2011, I had the idea to create a campaign, an international initiative designating November as Picture Book Month.

Hashtag: #PictureBookMonth

National Novel Writing Month (@NaNoWriMo + @NaNoWordSprints)
Founded by Chris Baty (@chrisbaty) in 1999.
Challenge: write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.
Aimed at: anyone who wants to write a novel.
Note: NaNoWriMo has a Young Writers Program (@NaNoWriMoYWP) for people aged 17-and-under and school groups, which allows them to set their own word count goals. Teens 13-and-older who want to participate in the 50k challenge can register at the main site.
Hashtag: #NaNoWriMo

National Playwriting Month
Founded by Dorothy Lemoult in 2006.
Challenge: write a 75-page script for a stage play in 30 days. Note: no screenplays.
Aimed at: individual playwrights, as an alternative to NaNoWriMo
Hashtag: #NaPlWriMo

Picture Book Idea Month
Founded by Tara Lazar (@taralazar) in 2010.
Challenge: create 30 new picture book ideas in 30 days.
Aimed at: picture book writers, as an alternative to NaNoWriMo
Hashtag: #PiBoIdMo

National Novel Querying Month
Founded by Tracy Buscemi (@TracyDawn2802) in 2011.
Challenge: send 1 query to 1 agent every day for 30 days.
Aimed at: writers with complete, polished manuscripts they are ready to send out.
Hashtag: #NaNoQuerMo

Academic Book Writing Month (@PhD2Published)
Founded by Charlotte Frost (@charlottefrost) in 2011.
Challenge: write a 50,000-word academic book in 30 days.
Aimed at: academics, as an alternative to NaNoWriMo
Hashtag: #AcBoWriMo


ONGOING/MONTHLY

100 Words (@100words)
Founded by Jeff Koyen in 2001.
Challenge: write exactly 100 words a day, every day, for one month
Aimed at: anyone who wants to participate in “an exercise in disciplined creativity.”
Hashtag: #100words

Toasted Cheese Daily Writing Prompts
Founded by Toasted Cheese (@toasted_cheese) in 2002.
Challenge: use the daily prompt to jumpstart your writing.
Aimed at: anyone who enjoys the challenge of writing in response to a prompt.
Hashtag: #TCPrompts

National Blog Posting Month (@NaBloPoMo)
Founded by Eden Kennedy (@MrsKennedy) in 2006. Now run by BlogHer (@BlogHer).
Challenge: write a blog post every day for a month.
Aimed at: anyone who wants to blog daily.
Hashtag: #NaBloPoMo

One-Sentence Journal
Founded by Gretchen Rubin (@gretchenrubin) in 2006.
Challenge: write one sentence each day about what happened that day.
Aimed at: people who want to keep a journal/diary, but find the idea too daunting.
Hashtag: #thehappinessproject

Inkygirl Wordcount Challenge
Founded by Debbie Ridpath Ohi (@inkyelbows) in 2009.
Challenge: write 250, 500 or 1,000 words a day, six days a week.
Aimed at: writers who want to commit to an achievable writing goal on an ongoing basis.
Hashtag: see Debbie’s list of Twitter “slow chats” for hashtags you can use.

750 Words (@750words)
Founded by Buster Benson in 2010.
Challenge: write 750 words (the equivalent of 3 pages) each morning.
Aimed at: writers who want to journal in the spirit of The Artist’s Way‘s morning pages, but online. Note: All entries made on the site are private.
Hashtag: #750words

Final Poll Results