Progress Report: It’s All the Same Bug

Work on my next book is still going strong. This time last year, I was almost finished with the first full draft of Please Give. I’m maybe 2/3 finished with the next book, and hope to have a finished draft by May. I set myself a deadline of May 10, but that may be a deadline that, like Douglas Adams said, I can enjoy the whooshing sound of as it goes by.

I’m in the odd stage where I’m writing and having to contend with my original ideas changing or being dropped altogether. I already changed the title and reconsidered some of the themes. I’m also finding original scenes, moments, and ideas — ones I had before I even started writing, and ones that became my first passages — dangling on the precipice of the manuscript, waiting for the fateful keystroke that will send them to my Lost Passages folder (because I never delete anything, even drafts I hope never see the light of day).

Some of these are scenes I can’t wait to revise. I actually spent the past couple days revising one scene that was awkward when I wrote it and works much better now that I’ve written more of the story. But there are others I’m afraid to go back to and press CTRL-X, because a part of me feels like I’m letting go of a piece, a moment, or an element that I held with love for a long time — perhaps longer than necessary, but they were pieces I liked; and I grew sad when I first realized they no longer fit in the story that grew from them.

So much of writing a novel is learning to let go — and most often, what we’re letting go of are the moments that formed the novel in the first place. These are the darlings that are especially hard to kill. How can I drop pieces that inspired the story?

I can ultimately drop them, though, because the inspiration they created remains, even if the starting point does not. I’ll often go back and look at a finished piece and think, it’s so different from where it was when I first thought of it. And it is. It always is. But in many ways it isn’t. The fundamentals are still there. The idea is still there. It’s just in the form it’s supposed to be in.

It’s a cliche to use the caterpillar-cocoon-butterfly metaphor. I’m almost embarrassed to use it — I’m making myself type this with all my strength. But it’s an apt cliche because it’s true. A story crawls into existence, wraps itself in words, and emerges as something completely different from the caterpillar it started as — but at the end of the journey, it’s still the same bug. The caterpillar didn’t disappear. It just changed. And knowing that makes it a little easier to cut away the cocoon of a first draft that I’ve wrapped the story in to get it going.

I’ll be sure to post another GIF-filled entry once I’m done with the first draft of this book. I’ll do my best to not post a bunch of caterpillars and butterflies.

You can read a better use of bugs as a book-writing metaphor in my essay, My Jar of Fireflies.

And check out my progress on the book so far under its current working title, Without Condition — the title’s already changed, and probably will again until the cover’s been drawn and I can’t go back.

Thanks for reading!

What I’m Reading: Nocturnally Beautiful Agendas

I’m working on my next novel almost every day. It’s my main focus, as a work-in-progress should be. However, I’m also making sure to keep some time open to read every day. I am typically a voracious reader, but when I was in the thick of writing Please Give, my reading took a notable dip. For instance, I started reading Bruce Springsteen’s memoir last fall, and what would normally take me 2-3 weeks to finish took me almost three months.

Reading, though, is just as important to keeping the writing wheels going as writing every day. It helps me see new ways to phrase things, shows me different ways stories can be told, and makes sure I’m seeing more words than just my own each day. Plus, it’s both fun and relaxing. Writing is fun and relaxing, but it’s also work; and all work requires a break.

Right now, I’m reading Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro. I’m a big fan of his work, and was happy to see he had a collection of short stories available. I’ve read three of the five stories, and all three have shown Ishiguro’s talent for slipping in a line that’s beautifully simple, yet fills you with a slow burn sadness as it settles into your consciousness. Thus far, the story that does this the most is “Come Rain or Come Shine.”

I just finished Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. I wanted to read it before the movie adaptation (titled Love, Simon) was released. Whether I’ll see the movie is TBD, but I adored the book. It follows a closeted high schooler named Simon who finds himself falling for a mystery classmate he knows only as Blue, another student he connects with after seeing his post on the school’s Tumblr (a side note: this is the second YA novel I’ve read where Tumblr played a huge narrative role. Tumblr didn’t exist when I was in high school, but forums were everywhere and I was on quite a few. I can’t imagine wanting to be on a forum connected to my school or even my classmates. But I digress). The book switches between Simon’s narration and the increasingly romantic email correspondence between him and Blue. It was funny, tender, and ripe with a rich cast of characters.

A few books before that, I read a book that’s at the top of my Favorites of 2018 right now: Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee. It tells the story of two sisters, Miranda and Lucia; and how Miranda, Lucia’s husband, Lucia’s boyfriend, and Lucia herself all try to care for her as Lucia’s illness grows worse. It was a wonderful book, with both poetic prose and a great story. I highly recommend it.

Once I finish Nocturnes, I have a couple different books lined up. Over the weekend, I purchased Afterlife with Archie, Vol. 1: Escape from Riverdale. I read the first issue way back when, but I have little time and patience to purchase and read comics one issue at a time. This is why I gravitate towards dailies (like Questionable Content), graphic novels, or collected treasuries/trade paperbacks. So, I was very happy to see this unique Archie series collected in a book; and even happier to see that Volume 2 is set to come out later this month.

I also recently purchased I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara. I became familiar with this book after McNamara’s untimely death (I am a fan of her comedian husband, Patton Oswalt; who is also a gifted writer), and I look forward to reading this one.

What are you reading? If you have any recommendations, please leave them for me in the comments. I am always looking for something new to read! And, if you want to follow me as I both read and write, give me a follow and send me a friend request on Goodreads.

When It’s Hard to Stay Positive

I am, in general, a positive person. In situations where I don’t know what could happen, I try my best to think that the good outcome will happen. This is especially helpful in writing. Writing is a deeply personal endeavor that many of us want to share and put out in the world. I think that writers have to maintain some positivity to do that, because otherwise, it’s an endeavor that feels less personal and more lonely.

But I also think it can be hard to look at thoughts from other writers and see nothing but blinding positivity. Oh, keep going! It’s all for you! Don’t worry what people think. You do you! It’s all a step forward! Granted, that line of thinking is much more helpful than the other end of the spectrum, the slew of negativity that makes you wonder why anyone writes in the first place. This is one of the reasons I try to stay positive online. I want to add a hopeful voice, to encourage others and myself to keep doing what we love.

But to all things there is balance. I know on the days I’m feeling down — not angry, not petulant, but down and discouraged — that reading nothing but positivity can almost make me feel worse. It makes me feel like I’ve done something wrong, that I must be a failure because I’m not harnessing the power of positive thinking. I forget that feeling blue is not only okay, it’s part of the process — and it’s also part of being human. It’s easy to forget that, though, when I’m trying to cheer myself up; and even harder to remember in the face of relentless positivity — especially from myself.

So, for myself and for anyone reading: despite my general positive feelings towards writing, there are days when it is hard. There are days when I click “Submit” and feel like my work is going into a void where once someone reads it, they’ll reject it. There are days I check in on Submittable and see entries I sent several months ago still listed as “Received,” telling me they didn’t even open it; and I wonder why I even bothered. There are days I write and feel like every word is crap, that the stories only make sense to me and maybe should be kept to myself. There are times I look at the rejections in my binder and think they’ll be all I ever see. There are days that the sadness is so deep that it takes every ounce of energy to open my drafts and type one word, two words, one sentence. Sometimes I don’t write anything at all.

It’s normal to feel this way, and it’s okay. It’s okay to want to cry sometimes, or to sometimes worry that writing is a dream that will only be dreamt. Everyone does this, and as a writer, I appreciate seeing a writer at any stage, aspiring or successful, admit to the days that they feel that sadness, when they feel discouraged and limited. Because we also see that they keep going.

I won’t end this entry with a jolt of positivity, as I think a little melancholy is okay and even necessary. But I will say this: keep going, any way you can. Feeling sad is normal, and when I feel that way and still try to do what I love, it helps me along through the fog.

Greetings from Revision Land

I’m still in the depths of revising Please Give. For the past couple weeks, that’s all I’ve worked on. The other projects I’ve begun are all waiting for me — a good thing, because otherwise I won’t finish the current one.

Waiting to work on other things has been an exercise in patience, but the process of revising makes that exercise easier. I’ve enjoyed seeing how the book has changed from when I sent it to my editor to what it looks like now (though I am trying to not read my revisions until I’m done with all of them and can read anew from beginning to end — another exercise in patience). It makes the story feel fresh, new, and most importantly, better.

I hesitate to say it feels complete, because it doesn’t. It doesn’t due to the simple fact that I still have a few chapters left. But more so, it doesn’t feel that way because I don’t know if it will ever feel 100% complete.

Many authors say that a book is done when one accepts that what’s there is enough. I understand that feeling, more so with the book than my short stories. With the short stories, their brevity helped me know when each was done. I have flashes of that with the book. For instance, in the first draft, I intended to write another section after what became the closing line. However, I felt an urge to just stop there once I wrote it. And sure enough, my editor said it was a great closing line.

But there are moments in between the beginning and end where I still wonder if there’s another way to word a scene, or a way to expand a scene further, or even change it a little to set some other pieces in place. Revising the book has been an exercise in knowing when those changes are warranted, and when those changes are just me keeping myself enmeshed in a story I absolutely love writing. It’s crucial to know the difference, because as much fun as it is to write a story, it will feel even better when it’s done.

One of my favorite movies is Wonder Boys. There’s a scene towards the end where Grady’s book-in-progress, a typed 1000+ page tome that he’s spent years working on, goes flying into the wind and the water, lost forever because it was his only copy (a testament to the importance of backing up your files). He’s asked what the story was about, and he says he doesn’t know. He’s asked why he spent so many years writing the story when he didn’t even know the plot. He says, “I couldn’t stop.”

While I have not typed 1000+ pages, nor spent years doing it, nor did so without a plot in mind, I know how that feels — and how that feeling can ultimately be a trap. Don’t let your stories fly into the figurative wind and water under the guise of fine-tuning and making it perfect. Write your story, revise your story, and then complete it — by stopping. There are people out there waiting to read your book who’ll be glad that you did.

Writing in Seasons

Fall is my second-favorite season (spring wins because it’s warmer). One of the things I like about it is the sense of calm that comes after summer. Summer is typically busy — a good kind of busy, as it’s filled with trips and barbecues and movies and hours of light — but as evidenced by all those and’s, it’s still busy. As the weather cools, it’s easier to pause for a moment and sit in a chair with a cup of tea.

It’s also easier to pause and write. I write all year, but during the summer and spring, I find it more difficult to write anything long. I finished the first draft of Please Give in April, and sent it for edits in June. I thought I’d spend the time it was with my editor working on my next novel.

I thought wrong. It was a prolific stage, as I finished five short stories and started another, longer one between April and September. But it was prolific in a somewhat manic way, as I wrote in short story bursts as opposed to one long, lingering novel (though there were times when pounding out pages of Please Give felt like anything but calm and lingering).

Fall is back, and so is the book. I’ve been revising it for the past few weeks, and of course, I got ideas for my next novel once my current one was back in my inbox. And, I not only got an idea for the next one, but an idea that would turn the unfinished, longer short story into a proper novella — or maybe even a novel, once it’s done. Two novels to work on, and I’m still revising the first one. Thanks, brain, for having such a great schedule.

In all seriousness, I am starting to wonder if fall and winter have become my novel-writing seasons, while spring and summer are the seasons for short stories. Fall and winter do lend themselves beautifully to a book. It gets darker earlier, which puts me inside with my laptop. There are a flurry of activities with the holidays, but it still feels slower than the onslaught of Things To Do that comes with the excitement of the weather warming up and my winter hibernation coming to a close.

All year, there is a lot — and all year, there is a lot to write. It seems for me at least, the time of year dictates how much I’ll write until the story feels complete.

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!