Progress Report: Heaps of Sand

I’ve been working steadily on my next book for the past week. It’s up to over 25,000 words, and the story seems to shape itself more with every day’s work (it also tends to shapeshift, but that’s all part of the process).

Despite this progress, it’s been hard to plow through because I’m reconciling with this being a first draft. Having completed a novel and several short stories, I figured I’d be familiar with the feeling of stumbling around an apartment looking for the light switch that comes with trying to write a first draft. I’ve even written about that feeling before.

Yet each day I open my document, start writing, and wonder why I can’t just magically have a complete story, one with all my questions answered and one without any bracket notes or paragraphs that basically summarize everything as opposed to narrating. It has all the things I see when I revisit my old drafts of Please Give. I know the words will eventually shape into the story I want. But my impatient self wonders, why can’t I have this now? I’ve done this before — I should be able to do this immediately.

But the truth is, I haven’t done this before — not with this story, at least. I think that’s what I forget when I get discouraged at my words feeling clunky or incomplete. It’s brand new to me, and I need to familiarize myself with the apartment and memorize its corners before I can just walk through and flick on the light.

I came across a quote on Twitter that helped put things in perspective for me, and helped me feel a little less discouraged at the state of writing my draft:

This is a perfect summary of the feeling I get when I write a first draft, that I’m tossing things haphazardly into Word and nothing’s making sense. But it will — and one can’t build the castle without piling in the sand first.

I want to close with my own interpretation of that feeling, inspired by one of my favorite TV shows, The Golden Girls:

Out Now: “The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales”

I’m happy to announce that The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble!

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

The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales features four stories of connections and their consequences. It includes “The Crow’s Gift,” “I Love Your Work,” “I Never Knew Your Name,” and “All the Pieces Coming Together” (note — you can still read “All the Pieces Coming Together” for free on the blog).

The collection came together with a lot of help. It features gorgeous artwork from Doug Puller, who drew the cover, title page illustration, and page breaks. The stories were also edited by Evelyn Duffy, who did an excellent job to help complete the stories with her edits, notes, and work. I thank them both for their amazing work.

I’m very excited to share this collection with you. You can purchase the collection on Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (Nook). I hope you enjoy it, and I also hope you’ll leave a review once you’ve finished it. Thank you all for reading!

Outlining: A Necessary Evil

I’m an excellent planner. I remember dates, remember information, and love to be prepared for a project ahead of time. I bring that planning to my writing as well, right?

Well …

Writing is better than planning to write. However, I can’t write everything I’m thinking of at once. I usually keep stories in my head until I’m ready to write them, and at most, write a couple quick sentences and a title so I don’t forget the idea as I devote my head space to other projects. Writing down an idea is almost like giving yourself a pensieve — the idea waits for you while your thoughts tend to other things.

Still, even when my thoughts are focused on one story, I often can’t write fast enough to stop my thoughts from swimming in my head. When I have thoughts on chapters I’m not yet writing, I start to write notes. My notes are usually quick asides, but quickly become passages and dialogue, which is why I prefer to just write the story as opposed to notes.

When a story is bigger, though, those thoughts become dedicated to more than just the beginning, middle, and end. Dates get involved. There are sequences. I need to remember what order things occur in, or when it makes the most sense for something to happen.

And that’s when I realize I need to do something I can’t stand to do: outlining.

I don’t like it. It feels like I’m clamping down the story before it even has a chance to breathe. It’s too perfunctory. I think to myself, “How can an outline help me write? Only writing can do that.” And then I write. And then I stop, because I’m caught up in the details of how the story should occur.

When a story reaches a point where my swirling thoughts on what will occur, and when it will occur, preclude the writing, that’s when I know it’s time. This happened with Please Give, and today, it happened with my novel-in-progress (over 50,000 words now, yay!). I found myself juggling timelines and thinking, “Wait, should this happen here? What month is it?” — and thinking that more than thinking about what to write next. So, I forced myself to write an outline. And sure enough, I felt better afterward, like the weight of a thousand swirling thoughts had been lifted off my shoulders and into a Google doc.

Everyone outlines their own way. My personal favorite is also how I like to plan: in dates. I consult a calendar and write a quick list of what will happen, and designate it by the date. An exact day is preferred, but I’ll write Week Of or Month Of if it’s a general course of action.These dates don’t make it into the book unless relevant to bring up, and are also subject to change — one of the ways I make myself outline is writing a note at the top assuring me that these can change as the story evolves. But outlining by date helps me as a writer to envision the action. It’s how I plan my own days, after all, so it makes sense that it would help me plan the fictional days my characters go through.

How do you outline, if at all?

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. 

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.

Progress Report: Various Scribbles

My day-to-day writing is a bit more scattered than it’s been in months — not in terms of getting things written, but in all the different things I’m working on. As I wait to revisit Please Give, I’ve picked up projects that were waiting in the eaves, and started a few new ones.

I’ve worked the most on a new short story. Right now, it’s called Wither. It’s an end-of-days tale with a focus on nature, told from the perspective of a young girl named Katie who forages for food the way her parents taught her. As she looks for food, she remembers her parents bringing her to the woods to live, and everything they taught her about the earth sustaining those who sustain it (or her, as Katie’s parents would adamantly say). Her parents’ extremities reveal themselves in time with the earth’s shifting health, and Katie remains trapped in the middle.

It’s a shift from both Please Give and my usual chillers in terms of tone, but that’s made it all the more interesting to write. In its current form, the past and present are broken up by a poem; so both my fiction and poetry sides are at play. I’m a better fiction writer than poet, but I do enjoy writing verses every now and then.

I’m approaching the final third of Wither, and trying not to get distracted by the next short story I plan to start once Wither is done. Currently titled We Really Shouldn’t, it details a reunion between two lovers with conflicting ideas on whether or not they should do what they do when they meet. It is a romance, but in the way I would write a romance, which in my short stories at least, isn’t always so romantic. I’ve outlined the story to help scratch the itch I have to start writing it, as I have trouble writing two or more pieces in tandem and want to at least complete a first draft of Wither before moving on.

I’m also putting together pieces for The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales. Once Please Give is with my editor, I plan to focus my time on getting the collection … well, collected; and ready for self-publishing as an ebook. I’m excited to get ever-closer to sharing these four tales, especially since I’ve talked about them so much over the past several weeks. I also look forward to hearing what you all think of them.