Summer-Writing Recap

As the fall semester begins this week at my university, I’m pondering my writing over the past 3 1/2 months. In my last post, I noted how difficult July was (in terms of doing any sustained writing). I’ve learned that teaching 2 summer classes will complicate a writing life. (Big surprise!)

In those 7 weeks between end of spring semester and the start of my summer classes, I did make some substantial progress on two projects.

“The Essay”

I signed a freelance contract to write a 1,500-word essay on a passage from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost For His Highest. The essay will be included in an anthology that commemorates the 100th anniversary of Chambers’ death.

This essay was arguably one of the most difficult pieces I’ve ever worked on. Over May and June, I completed at least 5 drafts, most of them at my local Panera. I consumed many cups of coffee during the process.

Part of the reason that it was so difficult was that I’ve never written anything quite like this: part theological reflection, part personal narrative, and all aimed towards a broad audience.

Don’t misunderstand me: I like to be challenged as a writer. I enjoy taking on a writing project that stretches me. It was refreshing to revisit Chambers’ book and its impact upon me. However, it was also a relief to send the essay off to an editor.

I do count it as a type of “warm-up” piece towards a future project. (See below.)

“The Poems”

I received a summer research grant from  my university to work on a poetry manuscript, Your 21st-Century Prayer Life. Most days from early May through the end of June I wrestled with a different poem each day.

I would ponder a single word in a single line of a poem, change the word, ponder more, and then change the word back. Other mornings or afternoons, I would ponder a line break, play with different possibilities, and then change the line break back. Sometimes, my approach would involve the radical actions of cutting one line (or more), cutting one stanza (or more).

By mid-June, I had revised over 2/3 of the poems. I dug through the remaining poems, and weeded out another half dozen to arrive at 40, a good biblical number. By the end of June, the time had come for the organizing portion.

I spent a couple of hours one afternoon, a big glass of iced coffee within reach, and sorted through the poems, looking for connections among them. Single sheets of paper were scattered around my home office. I began gathering them in small bunches. I was trying to create a meaningful sequence, and I organized the manuscript around the church calendar and certain repeating subjects.

Once I had created that order and copied the drafts into one document, I sent it to an editor. Back in April I’d had a conversation with this editor while attending a faith-based writing conference. I had told him about my manuscript, what my plans were, and asked him if he’d be interested in seeing the project at some later date. He had said, yes.

He and I are now working on the manuscript. He has suggested I attempt certain types of revisions to the poems, and I understand where he’s coming from with those suggestions. I’m excited about the future of this project, seeing that some of these poems go back 9 years.


“What’s next?”

I’ll be working on these poems for several months.

I’ll draft and/or revise a short story (or two).

I’ll be writing more material for a book-length memoir.

That’s enough to keep me occupied, I think.

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