Nine New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

new years resolutions writers

ONE: I will write something every day.

TWO: I will set a realistic daily goal. It can be minutes, hours, word count, or pages, so long as it is quantifiable. (One needs to be clear on whether the goal was met.) And keep it realistic. (Why set up for failure?)

THREE: I will create a writing diary/calendar and record my writing achievement every day. I’ll star every day I meet or exceeded my goal.

FOUR: I will reward myself. I will treat myself whenever I accumulate X-number of stars.

FIVE: I will read at least one book about the craft of writing.

new years resolutions writers

SIX: I will read at least one book on self-editing.

SEVEN: I will attend at least one writing conference, book festival, or class.

EIGHT: I will read at least one book in my genre with a conscientiousness of how I would have done it differently.

NINE: I will be supportive of writers. This includes not beating up on them or myself!

nine new years resolutions writers

Look Backward, Reader

bookshelf books 2016

At this time of year, everyone seems to do “Best of…” lists about everything. So I’ll jump on the bandwagon with great reads from 2016.

On December 8th, NPR’s Fresh Air featured “The 10 Best Books of 2016 faced Tough Topics Head On.” You can hear the segment or get the transcript on the NPR website. But to entice you:

colson whitehead

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is THE book of the year. The basic premise is that the Underground Railroad was an actual network of trains running underground in antebellum America.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is a debut novel– not surprisingly, a multi-generational family saga. This book deals with the slave trade among Africans.

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters again deals with slavery, but through alternative history and noir suspense.

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer tells of a marriage/family falling apart.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue is about religious delusion and self-denial, set in Ireland in the 1800s.

The Lonely City: Adventures In The Art Of Being Alone by critic Olivia Laing is nonfiction, on the connection between loneliness and visual art.

Eleanor Roosevelt: The War Years And After, 1939-1962 is the third and final volume of this biography.

Eyes On The Street: The Life Of Jane Jacobs by Robert Kanigel is another excellent biography, this one of a female writer, activist, and “public intellectual.”

born run bruce springsteen

Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen is the tenth book mentioned. It’s a lyrical telling of his roots and his rise to stardom.

I happen to like and trust NPR picks. But these lists are everywhere.

wsj books year

The December 10-11 issue of The Wall Street Journal’s BOOKS OF THE YEAR feature gives you great variety. Your local library probably has it archived, and it’s worth a look. It includes the year’s reading of fifty varied, prominent people.

Meghan Cox Gurdon lists the best children’s books of 2016.

Tom Nolan gives his choices for the best mysteries of the year.

WSJ pictures 20 covers of their books of the year.

wsj books year

And it gives catchy titles to several reviews. The World’s Most Mysterious Book is The Voynich Manuscript, edited by Raymond Clemens. Double Barreled Magic is Morning, Paramus by Derek Walcott and Peter Doug.

Two Ole’s for Spanish Food are Grape, Olive, Pig by Matt Goulding; and Cu’rate by Katie Button.

Of Arms and the Freedom is a review of Thunder at the Gates by Douglas R. Egerton.

The Disease of the Enlightenment is Scurvy by Jonathan Lamb.

The Roads That Led From Rome deals with Ancient Worlds by Michael Scott.

A Death Star Is Born reviews George Lucas by Brian Jay Jones.

The Eagle and the Dragon is the review of The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom by John Pomfret.

baker electrics aristocrats motordom

Last but not least is Everything Old Is New Again, a review of Rethink: The Surprising History of New Ideas by Steven Poole.

There are also lists of books to read when approaching the new Trump presidency, such as Salon’s “Books for the Trump Years” and The New York Times‘ “Books for the Trump Era.”

These are just two of the varied approaches to reading the year gone by. You can get lists from Amazon, Esquire, Barnes & Noble, Bloomberg, Goodreads, and many more.

So, dear readers, look back at 2016 and see what you might have missed.

Writing Family Rituals

santa collection writing family rituals

Intentionally or not, people are creatures of habit. And often these habits are most apparent around holiday rituals.

thanksgiving feast writing family rituals
[Source: Good Housekeeping]
Maybe they involve special food or prayers.

writing family rituals

Sometimes people attend the same event year after year, maybe wearing particular clothes or colors.

birthday cake writing family rituals

Sometimes rituals mark events personal to the people involved.

Your assignment: Write the same ritual from the POVs of at least three participants. E.g., child, parent, grandparent; three siblings; husband, wife, guest; yourself as child, teen, adult.

Have fun with this. And enjoy your next ritual! I’m enjoying my Santa collection enormously.

santa collection writing family rituals

Christmas Movies Based on Books

charles dickens christmas carol christmas movies based books
[Source: Page Pulp]
Frankly, I’m feeling dragged through a knothole! Besides all the usual holiday hassle, I am still recovering from cataract surgery and focus is sometimes a strain and sometimes just not a happening thing. I’m told this will resolve soon. In the meantime, when I can’t read, I can still watch! So here, for your watching pleasure, is a selection of Christmas movies based on books.


how the grinch stole christmas seuss christmas movies based books
[Source: Wikipedia]
Although not as old as some, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Dr. Seuss) is definitely a  classic.


The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. The movie is a yes or no sort of thing, but it appears that most people like the book.


’Twas the Night Before Christmas (Clement Moore) is a secondary story in the film—but then, most movies vary from the books.


The Gift of Love (based on The Gift of the Magi by O.Henry )


The Nutcracker (based on The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffman) is more than a ballet. It’s been made into a movie at least three times—in 1993, 1986, and 2016.


christmas carol charles dickens christmas movies based books
[Source: Page Pulp]
A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens) may be the most filmed book of all. Movie versions were released in 1938, 1951, 1984, 1999, 2001, and 2009; musical versions in 1970 & 2004; and various take-offs like Mickey’s Christmas Carol in 1983, Scrooged in 1988, The Muppet Christmas Carol in 1992, Ebenezer in 1998, A Christmoose Carol in 2006.


agatha christie hercule poirot's christmas movies based books
[Source: Pinterest]
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (Agatha Christie) for diehard mystery fans.


It’s a Wonderful Life by Jeanine Basinger


Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Robert Lewis May) and Olive, the Other Reindeer (J. Otto Seibold & Vivian Walsh)
The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus (L. Frank Baum)
Technically, Miracle on 34th Street (Valentine Davies) shouldn’t be here, as the book and the movie came out simultaneously. But who wants to be technical?


And if you want still more movie options, go to for 100+ Christmas movies based on books.


Of course, you should feel free to read the books instead—or even in addition!


christmas movies based books

Writing Holidays

writing holidays folklore world holidays
My advice: Put holidays in your writing as often as fits your plot. I say this for several reasons. For one thing, people identify with holiday celebrations, and (speaking for myself) often compare the rituals described with those from childhood.


Perhaps a more important reason is that emotions run high during holidays—for good or ill! And those emotions are a great source of tension both within characters and among them.


Virtually any holiday can evoke virtually any emotion: sadness, mourning, joy, anger, frustration, fatigue, relief, etc.


A second piece of advice: Include something novel or unexpected. When writing about any given holiday, there is a tendency to draw on one’s own experience—not that there’s anything wrong with that! But holiday rituals tend to be just that: ritualistic. So if your writing includes the same holiday more than once, you will need new material.


A third piece of advice: Have this book on your shelf.


writing holidays folklore world holidays
This book is an incredible resource, a combination of calendar, dictionary, and cross-referenced guide.


First, it goes by date, so if you need an out-of-the-way holiday to fit your timeline, you’ll find it here.


Within each date, entries are alphabetized by relevant country. For example, New Year’s goes from Albania to Yugoslavia. This is one good way to include a description of your character’s ethnic background.


Another great way to flesh out your character’s ethnicity is to look up the country in the index, where you can find all the dates when holidays are celebrated in that country—and what they are, of course.


The index is extremely well done. Besides by country, you can search by person or topic. And the topic can be a standard one, such as songs or food, or a less common theme, such as animals from birds to sheep.


writing holidays encyclopedia christmas
If you are really into one particular holiday, there are a plethora of specialized references out there. But The Folklore of World Holidays has 50 pages on Christmas. It’s likely to meet most of your holiday reference needs. Ask Santa to drop one under the tree this year!

Reading Christmas!

reading christmas literature wikipedia
I love Wikipedia! Whatever your Christmas reading wishes, you can probably fill them here. This particular site presents lists of literary works which are set at Christmas time, or contain Christmas as a central theme.



reading christmas cecelia ahern gift
[Source: Goodreads]
reading christmas harry heathcote of gangoil anthony trollope
[Source: Amazon]
It lists fourteen novels alphabetically by author, ranging from Cecelia Ahern (The Gift) to Anthony Trollope (Harry Heathcote of Gangoil).  There are classics by Dickens and a mystery by Agatha Christie, some more like fables and others geared toward children.


Short stories and collections

reading christmas hans christian anderson fir tree
[Source: Amazon]
reading christmas kurt vonnegut while mortals sleep
[Source: Amazon]
Short stories and collections are treated the same way. Fourteen are listed in this category, from Hans Christian Andersen (The Fir-Tree) to Kurt Vonnegut (While Mortals Sleep). Again there are mysteries by Agatha Christie, but also by Arthur Conan Doyle. Moving. Emotional themes range the gamut, and I venture to say that things with Christmas themes are often strong on emotion.


Poetry and Nonfiction

reading christmas twas night before christmas clement clark moore
Poetry and Nonfiction have fewer offerings, only four, so I’ll mention them all.
  • Clement Clarke Moore (‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, originally published as A Visit from St. Nick).
  • Dr. Seuss (How the Grinch Stole Christmas).
  • Anne Sexton (“Christmas Eve”)
  • Francis Pharcellus Church (“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”—a newspaper editorial)

This is just one handy list. You can also search for Christmas Traditions, History of Christmas, Mysteries set at Christmas, etc.
If you love Wikipedia, too, you might consider logging on and making a donation of $3, $10, or whatever. They are currently fundraising to keep the site free to the public, and it is the season of giving.

What Writers Can Do With Catalogues

ll bean catalogue
I get a lot of junk mail. In November and December, I sometimes think I must be on every catalogue mailing list in the country! I’m a recycler big time. But the mantra is reuse, repurpose, and recycle. I don’t know how a catalogue can be reused, but I turned my thoughts to repurposeHow might writers use catalogues? Primarily as a character note.


What mailing lists a person is on can say a lot about character. Besides catalogues, solicitations for donations and ads are very telling. What sort of character gets solicited for CARE, American Cancer Society, the Audubon Society? What about the American Indian College Fund, St. Joseph’s Indian School, etc.?


pendleton catalogue
Catalogue purchases can reveal socio-economic status. Hammacher Schlemmer, world tour offerings, and Breakstone are not geared to people intending to meet basic needs—
—unless we’re talking about obsessions as a need.  People who get catalogues for computer gear, athletic wear, or books—and order from them—offer lots of possibilities. What about the person who orders yoga gear repeatedly but never does yoga?


And sometimes catalogues can cough up a plot device.


hammacher schlemmer catalogue
Consider the robot on the Hammacher Schlemmer cover. What might a sci-fi writer go with that? Or, considering magical realism: what if this toy gives the child recipient superpowers? What might a writer of erotica make of “the any surface full body massage pad”? What might a mystery writer make of “the best compact zoom binoculars”?


Advice to writers: View your catalogues, ads, solicitations, and other junk mail with a view to inspiration! And then recycle.
national geographic catalogue

Christmas: It’s Everywhere!

Fairly early on, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce has a wonderful scene involving Christmas dinner. It runs more than ten pages, and reveals the characters and their Catholicism beautifully. It’s often humorous (as people share anecdotes) and sometimes disrespectful (as when Mr. Dedalus refers to the bird’s tail as “the Pope’s nose.”) It ranges from humor to anger. A thoroughly enjoyable passage.


portrait of the artist as a young man james joyce

On Christmas Eve, 2014, the Huffington Post published a delightful piece titled “The Most Festive (And Not-So-Festive) Christmas Scenes from Classic Books.” Here you will find bits from 13 classic novels.

Christmas Scenes from Classic Books

Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy)
Emma (Jane Austen)
emma jane austen
A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
Far From the Madding Crowd (Thomas Hardy)
Brideshead Revisited (Evelyn Waugh)
Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)

great expectations charles dickens

Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
Vanity Fair (William Thackerary)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling)


harry potter sorcerer's stone jk rowling
The Mill on the Floss (George Eliot)

mill on the floss george eliot

Pluck any of these great reads from your shelves (or from the shelves of your local library) and get in the Christmas spirit!

The Eyes Have It

eye surgery
I recently (as in 11/22 and 12/1) had cataract surgery. The procedures and their aftereffects have been much on my mind. One thought led to another. Given that illness, accidents, disease, and all that go with physical conditions and medical procedures are part of everyone’s life to some extent, they must be part of our writing, too.
Consider the possibilities; they are legion. Here is a representative and far-from-exhaustive list of possibilities: heart disease, pulmonary insufficiency, cancer; knee, hip or shoulder replacement; measles, mumps, hepatitis, or malaria; ulcers, colitis, diverticulitis, or gastritis; broken leg, back, or dominant arm; migraines, depression, or addiction; paralysis, deafness, or blindness; diabetes, severe burns, frostbite; psoriasis, skin pigmentation problems; cleft palate, microcephaly, or other birth defects; and so many more!
Each possibility carries the potential for wide-ranging effects. Some of these are chronic, others are more temporary.


—self concept and self-esteem
—the reactions of family, friends, strangers
—behavioral limits—ongoing or temporary
—pain and discomfort
—treatment (or not)
—communicability, and reactions to possibly “giving” it to others
—demands on the time, energy, emotions, and money of the person and/or family and friends
—career/job limitations or difficulties
—what hobbies or leisure activities are available with this condition
—and so many more!
Assignment for writers: Choose a health problem or disability, and write one or more scenes about how that would affect/limit holiday celebrations and enjoyment. Enjoy!


eye surgery