The Writing Life – 2016 Edition

Writing is an endless challenge. Sitting down at the desk each morning to face the glare of a blank page, unsure if the idea brewing in the back of your mind is going to be brimming with flavor or dark sludge, is always intimidating. Opening up the text on a story that I know isn’t working, but where I’m not quite sure how or why is frightening, exhausting, frustrating work. You give up knowing why stories work, why they break. You lose perspective. You’re inside a filmy bubble of a story, trying to see what it looks like from the outside, and it’s impossible. Easier to browse Reddit, to skim stories on the New York Times, to like other people’s posts on Facebook.

Facing up to the sometimes impossible task of writing takes courage, at least two cups of coffee, and a willingness to be afraid, a willingness to stand at the edge of an unknown abyss that is likely to wind up in failure. It takes psychic energy that is in competition with a stressful job and a wonderful marriage that requires a lot of attention, and last year, months studying for and passing the PMP.

So I didn’t have much of that last year, and I didn’t get much done, particularly in the latter half of the year. A few rewrites of older stories, nothing new.

This year is going to be different. I wrapped up 2015 with a revision of my story “The Hound, the Witch, and the Farmer’s Daughter.” I still never managed to get it down to my 4000-word target, but I ended up with a story at the end much stronger than I started with.

The big project for the first part of 2016 is a major rewrite of my current novel, “White Bone Spirit.” I’m extremely fortunate to have a group of supportive friends who were kind enough to read the third draft in 2015 and give me some very thoughtful, useful feedback. It’s taking me time to sift through it and figure out what to do with it all, but I’m already beginning to see how the book is going to be better thanks to their input. Thank you John Wiswell, Evan Dicken, Beth Tanner, Kene Ezemenari, Charlotte Malerich, Taylor Rhodes, Peter Sursi, and Carl Duzett. Thanks also to my Mom and Dad, who braved the first draft.

Right now there are about three hundred little slips of paper on my desktop with notes from readers that say things like “Society’s leverage re: the mayor is interesting but never goes anywhere and never exerts pressure on the story” and “Wish Alex had a more decisive role in the book.”

Rewriting a novel is a huge, scary process. How do you avoid breaking what works? How do you ensure you’re not about to spend three to six months making a mess of things, only to have to be fixed in yet another rewrite? There are no obvious answers.

I try to trust my instincts, find the things that ring true to me, try to remember my original vision without being slavish to it, without being afraid to re-imagine it. I get my hands down into the guts of the thing.

I hope to turn out some new short stories in 2016 as well. Last year wasn’t great for idea generation, but this year is going to be all about accessing my creative self, so I am hopeful that I will be able to generate some new stories.

A new novel isn’t completely out of the question, but I want to see how far I can get with this book before starting a new one.

I continue to send out stories to magazines in search of a pro market. Last year’s poetry sale to Abyss & Apex was really exciting, but this year I’d really like to see a short story in print.

I’m looking at applying for a workshop again this year. The experience at Viable Paradise in 2013 was invaluable, and I want to grow in that way again. I’ve got my eye on a couple of options, but I’m not ready to apply just yet.

I’ll also get myself out to a conference at some point. I really look forward to seeing all of my friends and colleagues in the SFF community.

I have a few other ideas for new creative projects in 2016. I don’t want to talk about them just yet, but stay tuned to this blog for more info.


4 thoughts on “The Writing Life – 2016 Edition

  1. I was happy to help, Shannon! It’s a rad book with a lot of potential. I’m returning to my VP submission novel now and have similar concerns of breaking the critical elements of structure while I’m replacing what doesn’t work. Surgery, not demolition, right?

    1. Yeah, that’s a difficult question. I think surgery is the right answer, but demolition is tempting! The most important thing is not being afraid to reimagine other ways the story might go and then find the one that feels right and feels closest to what your original vision was.

      Let me know when you’re ready for beta readers. I’ll be happy to help!

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