It’s that time of year again when a brand new shiny four digit number is nigh. You know what that means—we’re about to start vowing to do all sorts of crazy sh—um, stuff—like cut out desserts/carbs/food or go to the gym four times a day or not curse the guy who cuts us off at the light, then sits there texting after it turns green.
I have a counter proposal.
New Year’s resolutions we’ll really be motivated to keep. That could do some good—in ourselves, for other people, or even out in the wider world. And, most of all, are targeted at the people right here on this site who go rogue and are rogue. We readers and writers.
Below are a dozen actionable things to do with a brand new 2024. Not only actionable—fun too! Carbs allowed.
Readers, take that brand new New Year’s energy and grab a book from the library or bookstore, or download it onto your Kindle. Here’s the thing though—this can’t be a book by an author you’ve read before, or have even heard of. Maybe this book won’t even be in your customary genre—not a thriller, gasp! Take the opportunity to dip into novel (ha) territory, reading-wise. You may discover something!
Writers, whether you’re deep in a work-in-progress, or under deadline, take an hour or so to open a new document and get some fresh words down on paper. These could be any kind of writing—not specific to a novel or whatever medium is customarily yours. You won’t know where these words are going, and that’s the whole point. Maybe the shadowy shape of a new character or setting for an as-yet unwritten book will appear. Perhaps punchy lines of dialogue—and you don’t even know who’s saying them. Or the vague outline of a one-day plot. Free write and tuck away for later whatever you wind up with.
It’s the dead of winter, and I have some recommendations for Readers. Choose a title from this list, classic to contemporary, horror to mystery, and settle in, knowing you’re not the only one who’s cold.
- In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming
- Girl in Ice by Erica Ferencik
- A Girl in Winter by Philip Larkin
- Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
- Misery by Stephen King
- The Shining by Stephen King (hey, what can I say, the guy’s the master of cold)
- Cover of Snow by none other than me
Writers, when is your current WIP set? Can you incorporate elements of the season into what you are writing? Even if you aren’t writing about a cold climate, think about elements (ha again) that wintry weather suggests—darkness, threat, danger—and see if they will enrich whatever you’re writing now.
There’s a solstice this month and you may be feeling a sense of hope and optimism. Translate the time of year into the kind of good you can do uniquely as a Reader. Find a new writer and become a member of their Patreon or gift a copy of their book to someone. Donate new books to a classroom or volunteer to read at a care facility. Find a way to let your love of reading do something positive for someone else.
If you’re a Writer, could you gift some of your own books to people who will benefit? Or volunteer to give a writing workshop in a school or care facility? What you do every day, putting words and thoughts and scenes down, is enormously powerful. Share and spread the skill and see where it can take you.
Tax time and you’re either anticipating a nice little balloon to the ‘ol budget or the bite of having to fork over income to everyone’s Uncle. Depending on which version of this situation is yours, Readers, either take advantage of your local library and check out a stack of tempting titles that your tax money is paying for, or visit a bookstore-slash-open up the Megalodon/Amazon and treat yourself to some new books you’ve been itching to read.
Writers, how does money figure into your WIP? Given the system we live in, it underlies more than we may think of consciously. Is economic instability a factor in a character’s life or relevant to your plot in some way? If not, could this very real struggle that underlies all of our days in some way—whether we go without or should consider the fact that we don’t have to—enrich the text you’re creating right now?
If it’s spring where you live, take advantage of the season and get outside with whatever you’re reading or writing. Or if it’s fall do the same thing. Make a point of reading (or writing) in an outdoor location. The experience will be affected by sights, sounds, smells, and feels different from what they are in your customary reading nook or work space. Whether the sudden intrusion of a car horn gives you a jolt, or a balmy breeze offers comfort, being outside will add a unique dimension.
Even if you don’t have school-age children—or haven’t been a schoolkid yourself in years—remind yourself of all the changes another school year ending brings about. Moving up, graduation, the freedom of summer vacation. Kick off an inspiring reading experience or stimulate your writerly creativity with the below list of books and films that highlight school.
It’s vacation season, and you know the question about which books you’d want with you on the desert island to which you might soon be traveling (but hopefully where you won’t get marooned)? Readers, construct a list of titles you would want to take—then read or reread at least one of them. Bonus points if you find a friend or a few of them and kick off an informal book club focusing on this title.
Writers, do you have books on craft that are so instrumental to your writing process, you go back to them again and again? Put a list together of especially treasured titles. Bonus points if you find a way to share this list with a writers group or organization whose members might benefit from books in which you’ve found great wisdom.
It’s the heat of summer, at least for us Northern Hemisphere types, and we may feel like doing nothing besides laying around. Readers, indulge with a choice from this list of equally hot titles. Writers, your challenge is tougher. Whether relevant to your current project, or to tuck away for some future one, write a scene that out-sizzles something you find in the below.
Eight months have passed since we took our readerly and writerly predilections out to do some good in the world. Take this opportunity to donate school supplies via one of those office supply chain programs. You will be supporting reading education—and maybe even helping out a student who will become a writer someday.
In the Northeast, there is an explosion of color at this time of year. Readers, find a book whose cover draws your eye—independent of whatever the book may be about. Read visually instead of based on whatever typically impels you to buy a book and see what this may result in. Writers, what happens if you emphasize color and visual details in your WIP? Does the writing change or become richer? Does this add a dimension to your usual work?
Another year will soon draw to a close, which makes me think of endings. Whether the way a book concludes prompts a deep sigh of satisfaction or an urge to throw said book across the room, endings pack a wallop. We turn the last page physically, but also metaphorically.
Readers, construct a list of books you’ve read that have great endings. Maybe this list can provide the basis for selections for a book club you’re part of or just a chat with some fellow reading buddies—or right here with the Rogues in a comment on a blog post! Writers, what’s the ending of the book you’re working on now going to look like? Can you punch it up with a twist or surprise or something different from your usual?
As the holiday season approaches, you can spread your love of reading and support Writers by gifting books to people on your list. Have fun identifying the perfect read for your family member or friend—or the mailman who does such a good delivery job—and maybe even discover an author who’s just starting out. A gift of their debut to people on your list will shine a light on their holidays as well.
Rogue Jenny Milchman is the Mary Higgins Clark award winning and PEN/Faulkner nominated author of five novels of suspense. Her work has been praised by the New York Times, chosen as Indie Next Picks, received starred reviews from PW, Booklist, and Library Journal, selected for numerous Best Of’s including Suspense Magazine, Pure Wow, and Popsugar, and appeared on the USA Today bestsellers list (once, but we authors like to name these things). In 2013, Jenny rented out her house, traded in two cars for an SUV that could handle Denver in February, and pulled her kids out of 1st and 3rd grades to “car-school” them on what Shelf Awareness called the world’s longest book tour. Jenny now speaks nationally on the literal and figurative road to a dream.