So many lessons!

I’ve read 76 of the stories submitted for the anthology workshop – only 159 to go! 🙂

While this is an awful lot to read, it’s been really fun. The quality of the writing is very good, the stories are engaging, and on top of all of that I feel all of this reading is helping me look at my own writing from a different perspective. I’m not quite sure yet how to quantify what I’m learning, but as an example I just re-read one of my own submissions and felt that looking at all of the other stories had made it easier to see not only areas where I could have done a better job, but also areas where I did well.

One of the things I’ve learned is that I need to remember to set aside time to make a few passes through a story after I’ve finished it. I don’t yet have a good term that fits what I do – you could call it cycling, editing, revising, polishing, or any number of things. In this unnamed phase I go over my manuscript and add in setting and sensory details, look for overused/repeated words and phrases, and correct anything that doesn’t flow well. Because my schedule with these stories was so tight (and yes, there was a little procrastination…but the schedule was tight nonetheless), I didn’t have time to make this pass for one or two of the stories, and definitely didn’t have enough time to do it as thoroughly as I would have liked for the others.

I’ve also realized that I like being able to put a story down for at least a day, if not a week, before picking it up again – I can more clearly identify areas to improve with a little space. As an optimist, I think this is great news! 🙂 The next time I have a deadline I’ll do my best to set aside time at the end for this phase.

Another lesson I’ve learned from this class, and was reminded of yesterday when I started a new short story, is that it usually takes at least a page or two for me to feel like I understand the characters, so I tend to write more slowly if I’m starting a new project. This appears to be true no matter how much I’ve thought through the story. This was a good thing to recognize. Instead of fretting about not having the facts/characters/etc. right when I start something new, I just need to remind myself that I shouldn’t think too much about any of that until I have a few pages written.

I started a new short story yesterday and found that even though I had a very clear picture of the setting and characters in my head, I was questioning everything – and therefore also writing slowly – until I’d written about two pages. Because I’d recently had the same experience with the stories for the workshop, I was aware of what was going on and pushed through instead of stopping to ponder.

And yes, I know I’ve got so much going on that starting a new story sounds kind of crazy. 🙂 I’ve been thinking about this story for the past month – it’s actually based on a dream I had 10+ years ago. Last week my critique group gave me feedback on chapters 12 and 13 from the novel, and I decided I wanted to hold off on submitting the next few chapters so that I can clean up some of the rough edges. Since the short story kept coming to mind I decided to throw it together and submit it for the next critique session (we meet every 2 weeks). This means I have more time to think through a few things I want to tweak in the novel.

All of this reading, writing a short story, and editing the novel weren’t enough, so I also started taking James Patterson’s MasterClass. I wanted to keep doing writerly things, but I can only read/write so much in one day – so now I can watch a lesson when I need a break. There are no deadlines with this class, so if I find I’m too busy with everything else I can put it off. This probably sounds nutty, but it was actually quite fun to watch one of the videos today when I needed a break from reading and writing.

And now … back to reading. 🙂

My valentines and their pine cone.
My valentines and their pine cone.

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