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.

Signing a Contract

For years I’d dreamed of this day, or maybe more accurately, not the day, but what the day would lead to.

Four weeks ago, I signed a contract with Wipf & Stock for my first full-length poetry collection, Your Twenty-First Century Prayer Life. The book will be published in their Cascade Books imprint as a part of the Poiema Poetry Series, a series featuring collections by poets of faith.

I knew signing the contract was the only the first of many steps before the book appears in the world as a thing, not just as binder-clipped pages in a manila file folder. Yet once I returned that electronic contract, I knew that my world had shifted.

I’ve been working on the manuscript for over four years, and some of the poems date back as far as ten years. I recall the initial drafting of many of the poems, as well as the processes of reworking individual poems. The manuscript is as much the evidence of my experiences as it is a collection of forty poems.

Now as I’m two weeks away from delivering my final of the manuscript to the publisher, I still don’t quite believe a new poetry collection will be published, one with my name on the cover, my poems inside.

It’s the dream of most writers to publish a book; it’s certainly a dream of mine. You imagine a reader somewhere (perhaps on a bus or train, or in a bookstore, or at home laying on a couch) reading your words and turning pages to read more of your words. Yes, I write for myself because I enjoy playing with language, but I also eventually want to share those creations with others.

Even as a finish up the manuscript, there are other matters, the biggest one being marketing. Using my different platforms (this website, my author Facebook page, my Twitter account) to promote the book. Scheduling readings and signings. Trying to spread the word about my words.

I have no idea how this book will turn out. What will the cover look like? That first page? How will it be received? (How many copies will I sell?) And these are a couple of the numerous questions. Regardless of the answers, my stanzas and lines will make their way into the world, and for that, I am grateful.