More Motivation: Reveal by Doing

My desk calendar is on a roll this month with writing affirmations. You’ll recall its words of wisdom on perfection two weeks ago. It’s at it again today, this time with an adage I’ve found to be true of forming stories:


I think about my stories a lot. I think about them so much that I sometimes forget to write them. Other times, I choose to think instead of write because I don’t have all the answers ready to write down. I’ll procrastinate, write other things, anything to avoid the grave sin of writing something that isn’t 100% ready before placing finger to keyboard.

Still, I make myself write every day, even when I groan and sigh because pages of bracket notes await me. Can you guess how many times I’ve done this and written clunky sentences and stuff to fill in later? Every time.

Can you also guess how many times the story has answered my questions for me because I wrote it down — and answered it with clarity I never thought I’d have when the words were just in my thoughts?

Once again, every time.

Write it down, even if it’s not where you think it should be. It isn’t where it should be, but that’s because it’s in your head, and not on paper where it belongs. Put it there.

Summer Rain

Photo (c) Sonora Taylor

It’s almost the solstice. One of my favorite parts of summer is its rain, and how fast and strong it passes through. I wrote a quick poem during a quick downpour yesterday afternoon, and wanted to share it with all of you. Happy Summer, everyone.

**

Summer Rain

Rain upon the pavement
Sends steam into the air.
Clouds rush past,
The sun shines through,
The storm was never there.

6.19.17

Photo (c) Sonora Taylor

Talk it Out: Thoughts on Dialogue

I’ve been writing since I was little. A lot of my drive to write came from encouragement from my teachers. One thing I heard from grade to grade, and class to class, was the following observation: “You write a lot of dialogue.”

While never framed as a critique outright, I took it as an observation of something I should scale back. There are books, and there are scripts. I prefer to write books (or short stories). While I adore a good screenplay, it’s ultimately a writing medium that I don’t feel is my forte – beyond my knack for a good back-and-forth.

Unlearning my interpretation of my teachers’ observations has been one of the trickier parts of getting back into writing over the past two years. As I write first drafts — always a tough experience — I find myself stopping when I fill a page with a back-and-forth between characters. “It’s a book, not a script,” I tell myself. Then I keep writing – and keep writing dialogue. Cursed habits!

Or maybe they’re not so cursed. Over the past two years, I’ve heard more and more from people who encourage my dialogue habit. The most common refrain is one I’ve discovered firsthand: it’s one of the best ways to show and not tell. This seems odd, since characters speaking a truth is somewhat like telling. But in my own writing, I find that telling sounds more natural when it’s shared in conversation, as opposed to spelled out in narration.

This was my most common revision in Please Give, a trickier story to navigate the “show not tell” fields because it’s written in first person. My first drafts often had the narrator, Beth, possess amazing psychic powers about what the other characters were thinking. If she wasn’t psychic, then she was a lengthy narrator, going on and on about people’s histories and what was what. Sometimes that worked in narration (well, TBD — I’m waiting to hear back from my editor), but most of the time, it was long-winded, clunky, and unnatural. All those adjectives were erased when I converted explanatory narration into dialogue. Why should Beth speak for these people? She – and I, and the reader – can talk to them.

Further, having the characters talk revealed more things to me while writing than I thought possible when trying to speak for them as a narrator. This is true of both my first-person and third-person stories. Conversation can reveal many layers of depth, in ways that narration sometimes can’t.

My editor gave me some sound advice that I’d like to close with. When reading one of my stories, she found it didn’t flow as well as the others. It was also a story with less dialogue than I usually include. She said she realized while reading it that my characters need someone to talk to. I’ve often repeated that to myself when I get stuck on a dialogue-heavy story, because when I move past my doubts and make my characters to speak, I find that she’s right.

I would encourage any of you struggling with dialogue to consider if your characters need the same. Write a bunch of one-liners. Get them to talk to each other. Get them to talk to you. Even if you go back and take out superfluous lines, or add some narration to make it less script-like, or even feel odd writing so many lines, it may end up being the practice that helps your story come further to life.

Let’s Get Social

It’s a busy week at my day job, and most of my writing over the past week has been pieces that will eventually become a story. That’s always the goal, but I prefer writing more about them on the blog when they’ve settled into a proper groove. Right now they’re in the Sporadic Paragraph Stage, hanging out in random Word docs or the notebook I keep in my purse.

I may not be writing enough to post story updates on the blog today, but I am writing in a few other places. I wanted to take some time to invite you to join me there.

My Twitter page (also linked to in this site’s banner) is quite active. While I do talk about writing, it’s also a space where I talk hockey (Go Caps), television+movies (expect short versions of this post when I’m watching something), beer (drinking and writing about it), politics (no rants but plenty of thoughts), and work grievances. Work grievances are especially fun and loaded with GIFs – and some of my thoughts on boring meetings provided the blueprint for passages in the book. If any or all of these sound up your alley, or even if you just want to connect on Twitter, give me a follow – I’d love to hear from you.

I also blog semi-regularly for Stouts and Stilettos, a women’s beer blog. Most of my posts are beer reviews, conference/event reviews, and beercation guides (beercations are totally a thing). You can find my articles here, but I encourage you to visit the whole blog – there are some excellent pieces there from many talented women.

Those are my main non-writing blog residencies. Related to the blog, I wanted to remind you all that The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales has a page on Facebook. If you’re interested in getting more updates down the road – especially as it gets closer to publication – then please like and follow the collection’s page.

See you all across the Internet!

Friday Motivation: Done is Better than Perfect

The following was the entry on my desk calendar the other day. It came at a great time, as I was hesitating to continue some projects because I didn’t think they were perfect or ready enough to continue or finish. In a quick post to get the weekend started, I wanted to share it with all of you. I hope you spend your weekend – or any day, really – completing your pieces! Writing something is always better than nothing. 

Done is better than perfect
Have a good weekend, everyone. 

Cover: The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales

I’ve been putting together The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales. All four stories have been edited, and I’ve sent them and other pieces — acknowledgments, etc. — to be formatted and prepped for publishing on Kindle. I plan to publish the collection on September 5, 2017, just ahead of the Fall/Halloween season.

One of the pieces that’s done, though, is the cover. Check it out:

the crow's gift and other tales by sonora taylor
Art by Doug Puller

The cover was illustrated by Doug Puller, who is an excellent graphic designer and artist. I love the cover, particularly the look of the crow, and the colors of dusk behind the trees. He completed this work as I was finishing up my revisions, and seeing the cover made the collection feel real to me in a way that writing and reading the text alone did not.

I’ve also created a page on Facebook for the collection. Feel free to like, follow, and share the page if you wish. While I will continue to post updates here, the Facebook page will strictly focus on the collection, including when it’s published, and when a story from the collection will be available for download ahead of publication.

Thank you for reading. I look forward to sharing the full collection soon!

When She Was Sloppy

All pieces start with a first draft, and with rare exception, all first drafts are bad. Aspiring writers — myself included — often forget that all great pieces came from bad first drafts, because we only get to see these pieces after they’ve gone through revisions, professional edits, and other polishes to make them less sloppy. I always appreciate it when my favorite authors share their early drafts to prove this point (though I say early, and not first, because I’m convinced that most first drafts will never see the light of day if their authors have anything to say about it).

I’ve discovered that the forgotten first draft experience can happen with my own writing. Over the past few months, I’ve engaged the most with second and third (and ninth and tenth) drafts of my pieces. The earliest drafts of Please Give ceased around New Year’s, with the first pages written getting heavily revised or completely rewritten; and any following pages being buoyed by those revisions. The new pages weren’t perfect by any means, but they were better than first drafts because I was more familiar with the story and where it was going.

Between chapters of Please Give, I worked on revising the short stories set to appear in The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales — reading them, getting feedback from readers, incorporating edits from Evelyn, and reading through them again. The first drafts of these stories were even more buried than the first words of Please Give, going back to the spring and summer of 2016.

Despite writing every day in 2017, new writing — brand new stories, with no drafts whatsoever to guide them and no revisions to shape them — didn’t happen at all until May, when the full draft of Please Give was done. At last, I had the time and mental space to start the new projects that were simply ideas. I cracked my knuckles, opened a brand new Word document, and let the words flow from my fingers.

Words that, as they I typed them, landed rather sloppily on the page.

I found myself looking curiously at these drafts. Why are these sentences so clunky? Why can’t I come up with a good transition from this scene to the next? Why did I use three adverbs in one sentence? Why am I using so many parentheses, and writing asides and exclamations instead of narration?

It’s because I’m writing a first draft — and even after writing several pieces to satisfactory completion, I still felt daunted by that, stuck on the fact that the ideal sentence wasn’t what was currently on paper. No matter how much I write, and no matter how pleased I am with the final versions of my stories, I still have to contend with sloppy first drafts. There’s simply no avoiding them.

They also shouldn’t be avoided. First drafts are where all stories begin, after all. And even with some clunky stumbles on the way, practice does make better. I find myself able to write more in one sitting, and making less of the mistakes (both style and technical) that I made almost by default not one year ago. A first draft is a first draft, though; and even with all the practice in the world, first drafts will always be rough.

Still, I appreciate reminders of when I was sloppy, and I’d rather get those reminders through writing sloppy first drafts than simply remembering them (or rereading them, though that can be fun when looking for a reminder of how far a piece has come). Remembering them means I’m not writing them. And like many writers say, writing a bad first draft — which everyone does — is better than writing nothing at all.