Progress Report: Northward Bound

August has been a little quieter on the blog. As I’ve worked at my day job, worked on my next writing projects, and worked on preparing The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales for publication, I’ve had a little less time for blog updates. I anticipate a return to my normal twice-weekly schedule in the coming weeks.

I wanted to drop in with a quick hello, and a quicker progress report. My novella is still moving along. It’s moving very slowly, and I think it’s because it’s more serious than most of what I write. I always feel like I’m taking a deep dive when I write it, and hitting Save is like resurfacing and taking a big gulp of air. I can only write like that for so long a stretch.

On the lighter side, I have started working on Suds, which I first mentioned when I attended the Craft Brewers Conference back in March. It took me awhile to get going on it, as I was having trouble connecting to the characters and getting into their story the way I’d connected to the characters in Please Give. I’m still not quite there, but I find myself wanting to write, and subsequently learn, more about Kim and Laurel, and how their brewery road trip will go.

It’s fitting, as I myself am about to go on a trip. I’ll be in Halifax and Price Edward Island for the next few days. I’ve never been, and look forward to spending time on the water, drinking some Canadian craft beer, and spending time with my friends. If you have any recommendations for things to do there, please leave them in the comments!

Have a good week, everyone.

Progress Report: Summer Vacation Projects

I’m visiting my parents for the Fourth of July weekend. They live in NC, and even though Chapel Hill is not a small town by any means, it’s quite the change of pace from the hubbub of DC and Northern VA. It’s a nice change, though, especially when my husband and I drive across highways with little traffic and fall asleep with little noise outside the window.

It’s tough for me to write when I’m on vacation. I try to squeeze out at least a few words, but my daily devotion to my stories requires a little more discipline than usual. Still, there’s something to be said for taking a break sometimes. I make myself write a few words so I won’t get rusty, but where I usually aim for a high daily minimum (one section for a short story, 1000 words for a novel), I instead commit to a paragraph or two.

Right now I am working on something that may become my next novel. I want to see how far it gets before I talk more about it on here, but I’ve worked on it most every day for the past few weeks, and am up to 33,000+ words. Even with all that completed, its plot is still revealing itself to me; and the best I can say now is that each piece is a connected vignette. It’ll be interesting to see if it forms into a complete, concise novel as it goes along. One way to find out!

I started a longer short story, one that may become a novella, a couple months ago. I reached a stopping point, and wrote down where I want it to go. I normally try to finish stories before moving on to the next project, but I also believe in listening to what inspires me and trusting that a story worth finishing will be finished in due time. I may use my vacation to take a break from the potential next book and work on this one. It’s currently called Gods Into Demons, and follows a young girl whose new friend may give her unhealthy fixations.

I’ve also completed two short stories, Wither (which I mentioned earlier) and We Really Shouldn’t. We Really Shouldn’t was an idea I’ve had since last summer, and earlier this spring, it finally blossomed into a story. It follows a woman and man who, months after their break-up, meet by chance in a coffee shop. They wonder as they catch up, though, if they really should reconnect. That was the basic premise I had in the beginning, and I was excited to see where it turned from there – particularly the darker corners.

All these stories will find homes down the road. My publishing sights this year are on The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales (still set for September) and Please Give (tentatively set for mid-November or the beginning of December). Stay tuned for more information on all of these pieces. I hope you all have a good holiday weekend!

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.

Music to Write Stories To

Like many of us, I play music when I write. I play music when I do a lot of things, and you can always count on various rock and pop songs to ring from my desk while I work (sorry, cubicle mates). If I’m not listening to music, I’m usually singing to myself. Songs help me move through the day, and many times, they help me move through a story.

I always enjoy reading what kinds of music different authors play when they write – especially when they share my preference for loud rock or metal. I think rock music is perfect for writing. It gets the adrenaline up, gives you confidence, and has lyrics that are garbled enough to blend into the background as white noise. Typing and head-banging are two motions I often do at once.

I listened to a lot of women-led rock and punk music while writing Please Give. Beth is a fan of that style, so listening to that helped me get in her head while writing in her voice; but I also listened to it because it’s driving and makes me feel motivated (I also like that style myself, though if I share music tastes with anyone in the book, it’s her love interest, who prefers heavy metal).

Other music I listened to while writing the book ranged from ’70s AM Gold to ’10s adult alternative, with a few styles in between. I usually listened to the same songs, though, as it helped the music blend into the background as I wrote. It also created a musical space that I would associate with working on, or even just thinking about, the book. This was especially helpful when I wasn’t able to write, like when I was at work. I could listen to the songs I played while writing, and keep the story fresh in my mind for when I could return to it.

The songs above are but a few of the ones I listened to while writing the book. I still listen to these songs a lot, even though I’m no longer writing it (I am making revisions, but still, not as heavy of a focus as before). I also tend to gravitate towards these styles as I write other pieces, as I associate their sound with writing. Music is a wonderful writing companion, and like stories, I’m glad I can carry it with me through my computer, my phone, or even in my own head.

Progress Report: Reading Right Along

Footloose and fancy-free …

moving

Well, maybe not entirely fancy-free. I am making edits (but only a few – I’m doing my best to leave most of the editing to Evelyn Duffy, my editor).

I’ve begun reading Please Give from beginning to end. This is the first time I’ve done this since starting the book. It’s been an interesting experience, as during the writing process, I wrote out-of-order. I read through sections when I was pressed for new content, but I still wouldn’t read in order. I’d skip around the book, usually focusing on sections devoted to characters I still needed to write about.

I wrote the book in a similar manner. Please Give is an ensemble centered around Beth, and I tended to write all the pieces where she interacted with specific characters all at once. A week spent writing chapters with her work friend. Another week on chapters with her roommate and her roommate’s girlfriend. Many more weeks spent on the pieces with her love interest. There was some overlap, but one theme in the book is Beth’s tendency to compartmentalize the people in her life – one of many inadvertently isolating behaviors on her part. I’m aware of the bit of meta irony in my own tendency to compartmentalize their sections of the story.

Still, I was careful to bring them all together as I made small revisions during the writing process and dropped each chapter into the master document. One of the more satisfying parts of the writing process was seeing that master document grow, and also getting to a place where I stopped writing the chapters separately and just started filling in that document. It was becoming a book, and now it is one – one that I’m reading. One that I wrote. It’s still a little weird thinking about it that way.

It’s weird, but it’s pleasant. I’m a little more than halfway through, and I’ve enjoyed reading it. Nothing’s made me cringe, things have flowed well, and most of my edits have been word choices or tightening up dialogue. It’s also been compulsively readable. While there’s always a bias in being able to read one’s own stuff, I don’t approach all my pieces with a desire to keep on reading and get to what happens next. I do with this one. I hope that’s an approach that’s shared.

One key difference, though, is finding out what happens next. I know what happens next, and want to keep reading to see the story get there. My editor and readers won’t know that, and I can only hope they’ll want to once they read it.

But first, I must read it – and now it’s time to get back to it.

Hello Old Friend: Visiting Old Drafts

In the process of writing Please Give, I did a lot of revising. I once went on a revision bender where more than 50 pages were removed from my master document. All these changes were for the better, even with the pain of removing weeks of work with the simple stroke of CTRL+X.

You’ll notice, though, that the removal came via CTRL+X, and not DELETE. I have a folder of lost chapters, and 90% of my removed pieces live there. At first, it was home to original versions of chapters that went through such a significant revision, the old version barely existed. As I progressed towards a finished first draft, I began putting more items in that folder, namely snippets and passages that I wanted to remove but didn’t want to delete. I subscribe to the “Kill your darlings” mentality, but rather than kill them, I prefer to put them in cold storage, where they’ll either find a new life in another book or stay preserved in my memories to remind me of where my pieces came from.

The value of the latter is quite great, especially when one is having doubts about their pieces. On a lark, I decided to revisit the first piece of writing I did for Please Give. It wasn’t in its original form, but it was close — it was the second-oldest document to be modified in the folder, and hadn’t been touched since November. If you recall, the first scene I wrote for the novel was the first date between Beth and her love interest, as well as a moment they shared where he revealed something about his past. As originally written, this was nine pages/4500 words, and very conversational in tone. As the piece stands now, it’s been divided into two chapters, and features more dialogue and a greater expansion on characters aside from Beth — namely in the lines they get.

I read it to remind myself how far the piece had come, and also with a bit of masochistic desire. First drafts are never good, and this one was no different. There are a lot of sentences and asides that, even in first person narration, don’t belong in a book. It also shows that while I knew Beth pretty well, I didn’t know anyone else much better; as she does all the talking and the other characters only get a few lines or, in Writing Don’t 101, get their thoughts explained or assumed by Beth. How would Beth know what they’re thinking? She’s not God, nor a psychic (though writing a story about a psychic may be fun someday).

While a few pieces made me cringe, I was pretty surprised by the lack of pain upon reading it. It was actually kind of fun, and while not good, it certainly wasn’t the worst writing I’ve ever done. As desired, I also saw how far the piece had come, and gained a new sense of confidence for when I revisit the book next week and read it from beginning to end. If reading that original draft wasn’t (completely) painful, then reading the result of months of work and revisions will probably be pretty good. I hope so, anyway.

My favorite part, though, was being struck by the lines that stayed. What started as nine pages, one chapter, and mostly Beth explaining things conversationally has grown into two chapters, Beth narrating as opposed to explaining, more words from the other characters, and a better connection between the ideas in that chapter and the rest of the book (something a lot easier to do when you actually have the rest of the book written down — who knew?). The text is very different now, and little has remained of what I first wrote down in September. That makes the little that has remained all the more rewarding. I found myself smiling as I read lines that were familiar to me, especially since I knew where they ended up: in a better home, surrounded by better neighboring words.

Store your darlings. You never know when you may want to visit them again.