Writerly resolutions for 2024

Spring crocus cr Judy DarleyI publish a version of this post almost every year, but I find it always fills me with hope and determination. As we edge into the greyest month of the year, this feels like the ideal time to take stock and see what’s working or not working in your creative life.

But this I mean not necessarily whether you’re creating and selling more, but, rather, whether the moments you can find to write, paint or whatever creative forms you choose continue to satisfy you, and whether you feel you’re making progress, whatever that may mean to you.

Before continuing, I must confess, I rarely make new year’s resolutions as such. To me, they seem at best like a form of procrastination (‘oh, I’ll start doing that in Jan’), at worst a way of setting yourself up to fail. But it is a good time to look at how your life is going and see if there’s anything you need to change to stay on or get back on track.

It’s also a fab way to lay the foundations for a new habit that will pay dividends in years to come. Here are five that have served me well in the past.

1. Write whenever you can find the time

In 2012 I set myself the challenge of writing at least one short story every month, which is something I did without fail every month until 2017, by which time the habit was well and truly entrenched. I found it a great way to keep those creative muscles taut and ready for action.

When times are busy and stress is high, adding something to your to-do list can feel counter-intuitive. But whenever I do focus on creating something, whether that’s a sentence, a full flash, or even editing an existing paragraph, I emerge feeling brighter and lighter and a little bit sunnier. My aim now is to maintain, respect and nurture writing as an ingrained part of my everyday life.

This fuel keeps me going even when I don’t have the chance to spend as much time dreaming up new characters and worlds as I like. Writing sustains me in a way I’ve only gradually come to understand.

2. Submit regularly

A few years before that I set about ensuring I submitted at least four works of creative writing somewhere each month, which I also continue. The challenge is flexible enough not to cause undue stress (some months I submit all four pieces in the same week then forget all about them for the rest of the month; other months I’ll find I’ve submitted eight by day 30), and also ensures that whenever I receive a rejection, part of me breathes a quiet sigh of relief – now I can send that piece off elsewhere to fulfil part of the current month’s quota.

It helps me stay positive, because for every rejection, there’s a healthy handful of tales still out there dreaming big. And when I get an acceptance, it’s a lovely surprise, because by continually sending out creative pieces I’m never quite clear what’s out there, and therefore not too focused on any one thing.

Which brings me to the third resolution.

3. Stay organised

Around the same time I started sending out four and more stories each month, I set up a simple spreadsheet to help me keep track of them all.

This helps my writing in two ways, firstly, by ensuring I know what I’ve sent where and whether they’ve responded, and secondly, by distancing me from the process emotionally.

By transforming all these acts of hope into columns and rows, I save myself from heartache. Each time a email or post out a piece of writing, I enter its name into the spreadsheet along with the details of where I’ve sent it and the date. Then, when it comes back, I colour that row according to the response – one colour for ‘no thanks’, one for ‘no, but positive feedback’ and one for ‘yes please!’

It all provides an immense sense of productivity, without too much effort at all, which in turn helps me stay motivated. And I’m happy to say that over the years the colour dedicated to ‘yes please’ is infiltrating the worksheets more and more.

4. and 5. Finally, pledge simply to celebrate even the smallest literary successes, and relish the pleasure of writing for its own sake. Lovely.

What works for you?

Writing prompt – dip

The Sea is Still the Sea_by Judy Darley

The sea is still the sea even if it’s contained. Clevedon’s Marine Lake welcomes waves, brave swimmers and the occasional bobbing jellyfish. There’s even an annual New Year’s dip at 11am to embrace 2024 with a breathtaking adrenalin-boosting splash in aid of Marlens, the charity who manage and maintain the pool. Other charities are also getting involved and asking for donations from folks daring to join in.

On most winter’s days, however, you could be the only swimmer – just you, the saltwater and the sky.

Could you make this the setting for an unexpected meeting? Who might you encounter here? What peril could bond two people here?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

Submit your words to the Moth Poetry Prize

Moth by Judy Darley

The Moth Magazine invites you to enter the Moth Poetry Prize. The deadline for entries s 31st December 2023.

It’s one of the biggest prizes in the world for a single previously unpublished poem on any subject and is open to anyone over 16.
The prize is judged anonymously by a single poet, and this year that poet is Hannah Sullivan. Hannah’s debut collection, Three Poems, won the T. S. Eliot Prize in 2019. She studied Classics at Cambridge, received her PhD in English from Harvard, and taught as an Assistant Professor at Stanford University. She is an Associate Professor of English at New College, Oxford. Her latest collection, Was It For This, was published by Faber earlier in 2023.
The Prize is open to anyone (over 16) from anywhere in the world, as long as the work is original and previously unpublished.
There is no line limit, and the poems can be on any subject.
The shortlist will be announced in March 2024 and the four shortlisted poems will appear in the Irish Times online.
The winner will receive €6,000.

There is a fee of €15 per entry.

The winner of The Moth Poetry Prize 2022 was British poet Laurie Bolger with her poem ‘Parkland Walk’ chosen by Louise Glück.

Visit www.themothmagazine.com for full details.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com.

Merry everything

Star lights cr Judy Darley

I hope you are lucky enough to have those you love close by, and all the frivolity or serenity you crave throughout this joyful season, however you choose to spend it.

May your festive tangles bring you light, sparkle and laughter.

I wish you a creative, fulfilling and hopeful 2024.

Writing prompt – sparkle

Sparkle street. Photo by Judy DarleyJPGWe recently moved to a new home in a different town and have been heartened by the volume of festive lights. It all feels very welcoming!

But imagine if January comes and goes, then February and March, and the Christmas lights remain?

What if it turns out we’ve accidentally moved to a town where it’s always Christmas? How will we fit in? And how will we retain our sanity in the face of festive year-round cheer?

The same premise works just as well for Halloween, Valentines’ Day or any number of seasonal celebrations. Can you turn this idea into an unnerving or comic tale?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

Writing prompt – adrift

Floating island in Avon River by Judy Darley

This floating island drifted past on the River Avon. It made me think of how species can travel from landmass to landmass thanks to flood, tide and chance.

I wonder what could have got caught up in this tangle. Might they have been peacefully dozing, only to wake up on their move to a new home?

I love how this castaway seems to float on a sea of clouds, suggesting a voyage not only between landmasses but between worlds.

Can you turn this into a story, or other creative work?

Could this be an opportunity to explore the growing plight of refugees and immigrants?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

Join a different kind of book club

NSCRC children with Book Aid boxI love giving books as Christmas gifts – there’s always that sense of offering up a whole world for your recipient to discover.

This year, why not go a little further and offer that gift to a young stranger who needs the light of fiction in their life?

BookTrust aims to send 17,000 festive book gifts to children who need them most. Your gift will help send book parcels to food banks to make sure that as well as food on the table, children have presents under the tree. Or it could go to a child in care, spending their first Christmas in an unfamiliar home.

As well as a book — or two! — BookTrust festive book parcels include a beautifully illustrated bookmark and poster plus a heartfelt letter from an author.

BookTrust say: “It’s so much more than a book parcel. It’s joy. It’s wonder. It’s discovering worlds unknown. It’s making sure children feel special this Christmas. It’s magic, when it’s needed most.”

£10 could send a book parcel to a child who is spending their first Christmas in care.

£50 could light up Christmas for five children who are vulnerable or in care.

£100 could send ten book gifts to a community foodbank for children facing a difficult time this Christmas.

If you’re donating on behalf of someone, you will be sent a special Christmas gift certificate you can personalise to let them know.

Find out how to donate here.

Book Aid does amazing work to get books to people who need them, and you can help, Your donation will cover the cost of sending books to classrooms and libraries in the developing world to reach the minds hungry for all those page-bound possibilities, adventures and experiences.

How does it work?

You have the option of signing up for a monthly subscription of £6, £12 or £25, or donating the amount of your choice. You could also give in memory of a loved one or leave a gift in your will, or give in celebration. If you’re a publisher or other member of the book trade, you could even donate books.

Find out how your gift could help by reading the readers’ stories.

Find out how you can help Book Aid change lives for the better.

Writing prompt – pat a cat

Cat graffiti at Bristol Harbour. Photo byy Judy Darley

Bristol is renowned for exceptional graffiti and for its particularly eccentric turns of phrase, which can also be heard across Somerset, Devon, Dorset and Cornwall, including ‘Pat a cat’, an urging to nuzzle a moggy… Ahem, why does that sound rude?

Quite simply, anywhere you stroll in Bristol away from the hectic centre, there’s a high chance you’ll meet a cat seemingly keen for a stroke

This gorgeous artwork appeared at Bristol harbour a while back, and is one of many giant feline portraits to pop up across the city in this style. The attitude of the cat makes me wonder if they’d welcome a pat, though.

The artist who created this work must have had to balance precariously over the murky water, or paint from a boat. What might their motivation have been? Part of me feels it could have been one of the many local cats with inky paws, tempting gullible humans to come in for a stroke and get a scratch!

Can you turn this into a tale?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

Enter The Masters Review chapbook contest

Arnos Vale in the morning frost_by Judy Darley
The Masters Review is inviting submissions to their chapbook contest for emerging writers.

The deadline for entries is 17th December 2023 at midnight PT.

The winning writer will receive $3,000, digital and print manuscript publication, and 75 contributor copies.

Michael Martone, author of almost 30 books and chapbooks, will choose this year’s winner.

Michael  says: “I have always loved chapbooks. The first two books I published were chapbooks. What excites me is when a chapbook takes itself seriously as a literary form –up to something unique and different from other ‘packaging,’ other narrative or lyrical delivery devices — the novel, the short story collection, the novella, etc. (…) I love when a chapbook presents itself on an equal footing as those other forms. Not lesser or better but different, special. Its content is unable to be expressed in any other manner but this compact, shaped-charge of a book.”

Last year’s winner, Coats by Naomi Telushkin, selected by Kim Fu, will be published next spring.

The Masters Review say: “We’re interested in collections of flash fiction, creative nonfiction essays, short stories, and anything in-between. We encourage you to be bold, to experiment with style and form, as long as you stay under 45 pages.”

Find full details heremastersreview.com/chapbook-contest/ 

Got an event, challenge, competition, new venture or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com.