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 I won’t mention numbers here, but let’s just say that I have a lot of unpublished pieces in various stages of development/degree of completeness.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 seeĀ 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

 

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.