What’s Next?

For a writer, this is a regular question: you finish a draft of a piece, or perhaps even a piece finds a home somewhere, and then where do you go next?

Three weeks ago my new poetry collection, Your Twenty-First Century Prayer Lifewas published. It’s making its way into the world, and I’ve been signing and selling copies. More promotion lay ahead. Yet in the few months leading up to its publication (while reviewing the proof, approving the cover design, filling out paperwork, etc.), I started pondering a question: What’s Next?

In this particular case, the question has some important clarifying language. What’s the next poetry book? I am now at stage in my writing life wherein I’m thinking more about which individual pieces of writing would mesh to make something larger. This is an unexpected but necessary shift in my focus.

I began looking through my folders (both electronic and paper), taking down titles of poems that might be possibilities. Not even looking at whether they necessarily fit together, but were they possibilities as individual poems, even in their nascent stages. As of this point, the document has around forty poems, and the list is not yet complete. In that process I noted several recurring ideas that could help shape a book.

On a related note, I have been drafting a poem a week this new year, something I hadn’t planned on doing but has just sort of happened. My writing momentum is helped because I’m teaching my junior-level poetry-writing course this semester, immersed in the world of contemporary poets and young poets-in-the-making.

So as I continue into 2018, I’ll be promoting the new book, while at the same time, looking ahead. A writer’s work is never done. And that’s one big reason why I enjoy writing so much.

 

Cover Image(s)

I wrote the title poem of my forthcoming book in 2013, and that poem was published in 2014. Now I’m on the cusp of the book being released very soon. Part of my semester break involved reading and rereading the proof (as I noted in an earlier post). Last week, I received the front and back cover images. I couldn’t wait to open the attachments.

Since the publishing process began back in July when I set my manuscript and its accompanying materials to the publisher, I’ve wondered what the book cover would look like. In some ways, waiting for the cover was like waiting for a gift at Christmas. Several friends and acquaintances have published books with Wipf & Stock, and their books have had great covers.

Even though I released the cover images via my Twitter and Instagram feeds (both handles are “plainswriter”) and my Facebook author page, I wanted to post them here (in a larger size). First of all, I like the color scheme of the covers, as well as the way the book title is the focal point. It still seems bizarre and unreal to me that this book is at last making its way into the world.

I was struck as I read the words of writers whom I admire. I was humbled that they had taken time to read my book and to offer their words of affirmation. After all, by the time I had signed off on the final proof, I had little objectivity about my own work. During the process of working on this project (especially from its initial versions), I was uncertain about its future. Would it materialize into a book? And if so, when? And what would it look like? Now I know the answers to those questions.

Front Cover

Back Cover

Adjusting My Writing Process

I enjoy writing in multiple genres: poetry, essay, short fiction, blog posts, memoir. When I don’t feel the strong desire to write in one genre, I can switch to another. Beyond the genre shifting, I have multiple drafts of numerous pieces in each genre. I won’t mention numbers here, but let’s just say that I have a lot of unpublished pieces in various stages of development/degree of completeness.

As I moved into my semester break in early December, I jotted down a list of writing projects: the third draft of an essay, the second draft of a short story, a blog post for my university. In the past, I would work on one project one day, and then the next day work on something else. This break, however, I thought it was time to try something new: to work only on a draft of one piece until the draft was finished. Then, once I finished that draft, I could continue to the next piece.

How did my experiment pan out? The first week or so of my Christmas break I worked on that essay third draft, a draft that I promised to send to a friend by Dec. 22. I was able to send it to him a few days earlier than promised, and as a result, he sent his feedback earlier than I expected.

I also wanted to complete a second draft of a short story, a second draft that I had begun in July(!) and picked up at a few points in time. Instead, I devoted about 10 days working only on that story. I finished that draft early Saturday morning at a local coffee shop, arriving home to my wife and kids having just awoken.

In both instances, I found that during my non-writing times (while washing dishes, while driving, while doing other tasks), I was thinking only about that piece of writing. For the essay, I was thinking about what to cut, what to develop further. For the short story, I was thinking about ways the plot might develop further, how the two characters might interact in other scenes I’d added.

My greatest accomplishment was that my writing attention wasn’t divided among two, three, four, five (or more) “active drafts.” I can also proclaim that my time spent working on each of these longer pieces (a 10-page essay, an 18-page story) was more enjoyable as well. I was immersed in the world of each of the pieces, my attention (again) not divided.

So as I begin 2018, my writing resolution is to complete an initial draft or a subsequent draft before shifting to the next piece.

Proofing the Typeset Proof

Things are now moving along quickly with my forthcoming book, Your Twenty-First Century Prayer Life. Two weeks ago I received the “typeset proof.” It was simultaneously exciting and bizarre to see my name on the title page, on the copyright page. I shared those pages with some of classes, and as I told my Creative Writing students, “this could be you some day.” They brightened at the possibility.

The book is a time capsule, a record of my years spent working on the poems. All of my pieces of writing (published or unpublished) are time capsules. When I reread those capsules, I see myself at a different point in time, even if the work is fiction. The oldest poem in the book, “Calcutta to Canon Beach,” is an artifact from my first PhD workshop in October 2007.

These forty poems are a record of my attempts to bring together the spiritual with the pastoral, place-based elements typical of my poetry. I strove to mesh my two poetic impulses. These forty poems are also a record of my spiritual discipline from Lent 2014 when I drafted a poem a day. In fact, over half of the poems in the book were drafted in that time.

This week I’ll be reviewing the proof–checking for formatting, rereading the poems for pleasure’s sake. I’ll send back my finalized version well before the deadline of December 19, excited to see the next stages of the book development (especially the cover). And in the coming weeks and months leading up to the release, I’ll be sharing more about the book.

 

Title Page