Progress Report: Decisions and Revisions

Fall is upon us. Last fall, I got the first idea for what became my first novel. It’s fitting, then, that one year later I’m in the midst of revising it.

I’ve never revised a novel after receiving copy-edits. I of course revised chapters as I wrote the book, and made revisions as I went back and read it from beginning to end. But my revision experience based on edits from my editor has only been with short stories. I can usually go through these in a few hours, and read from beginning to end with ease (and multiple times at that).

Understandably, it’s a different process altogether to try and do this with a novel — and a somewhat long one at that.

It’s an experience, though, that I’m glad to take on. I’m finding a balance between making edits as I think of them, no matter the order they fall in the narrative; and working from beginning to end. I’m in the latter stage now, as I’ve found it’s easier and better for the edits to read from one chapter to the next at this point (though I’ve made notes to myself for later changes to make when I reach where they’ll go in the story).

It’s a longer process than I had with the short stories, but I’m grateful for the length. I’m usually anxious to write it all and write it now. As such, I can sometimes write rather haphazardly. It comes together in final drafts — it calms down, if you will — but for a novel, I need to exercise that patience sooner. I need to write the revisions as a note, and let them settle before putting them into the manuscript. It makes for a calmer process — and one, I hope, that leads to a more rewarding finish.

I still anticipate publishing Please Give by November 28. I’m still writing notes and passages for other projects, but the novel revisions are my focus. There’s time for everything. “In a minute there is time/For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” (Side note: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is my favorite poem)

I look forward to sharing the book in its finished form with all of you. Thank you for reading!

And as a quick reminder, The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Progress Report: Circling Back

First, I want to do two things up top …

  1. Say thanks to all who’ve purchased, read, and left nice comments for The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales. Seeing the initial feedback helped make my first publishing endeavor a little less scary. So, thank you!
  2. Remind you all that The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble! I hope you enjoy it.

The past couple months have mostly been focused on preparing The Crow’s Gift for release, as well as various writing projects. Most of them have either been new stories or continuing ones I started and didn’t finish. Some of them still remain unfinished, but I believe that stories worth finishing find a way to get done, in due time. Sometimes they just need to percolate.

I did start and finish one long story. I started it in Canada (and on my phone, since my laptop was on its own Canadian adventure), and started it on a random story thought: what if someone was friends with a married couple — friends with both the husband and wife independently — and when he met the wife for lunch one day, he did so with the knowledge that the husband was cheating on her? It morphed into a rather long short story that’s currently called Do Something. It’s a simple premise on the surface, but the choices Peter makes about what to say and not say to his friends take some interesting turns, ones I didn’t fully expect as I wrote. I started with a set idea of what would happen, but the story went pretty far from that idea by the time it reached the end. I like when that happens, though; and it’s one of the reasons I prefer to avoid outlining when I can. The characters tell me what happens as I write their story, and I become surprised by the results — it’s more fun that way. (I admit that works better for short stories than novels)

With the exception of Do Something, though, my writing has been a bit scattered — a revision here, an added page or two to an unfinished project there. I am used to working on one thing at a time, but I suppose as I write more, it’s to be expected that I’d be juggling a few projects at a time. I am still used to what it was like when writing became ingrained in my day-to-day — which was when I honed in on Please Give and almost nothing else for several months.

Please Give will be back for revisions soon. I’d shelved it while working on other pieces, though not entirely — I’d still think about some lines, or the characters, or a possible revision (though I’m not making any until I get it back from my editor and see what she says). It was around this time last year, though, that the story first came alive in my mind. What started as a title and a basic premise based on a shared joke with my colleague (now, sadly, my former colleague; though I’m happy he’s found a new job) morphed into a story I had no idea I’d get so involved with — and one I loved engaging with. I find it fitting, then, that it’s coming back for Phase 2 of its novel life around the time it became a story to begin with.

I look forward to sharing Please Give in its finished form later this fall, and the next batch of completed short stories in 2018. Thank you for reading!

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.