I haven’t written a blog in a while, but I promise there is actual writing-related content buried in here. Just let me wax poetic about the seasons first, real quick (…and if you don’t have the time and you know what you’re here for, I’ll throw a little header over the writing bit, so you can skip right to it).
The fact of the matter is, autumn comes all too early to Alberta, and it takes me by surprise every single year. I only have myself to blame. At the first stirrings of True Summer—generally ushered in at the beginning of June with clear blue skies, sunny days in the mid-20s (Celsius) and farmers complaining about a lack of rain (valid)—I lose my head a little. I start acting like I have all the time in the world to spend, like every day will be a perfect one to spend on the patio, like leisurely walks in the parks and accidental sunburns will never end.
For some reason this period of time also corresponds to my reigniting my writing habit. Winter was frigid and saw me huddling against my heater for survival; spring was dreary and the grey days just made me want to hide out under a blanket with a book. But summer! What perfect evenings to throw open a window and just write. The days are so long, it’s like there’s an extra hour stuffed into every one just for me.
And before you ask: no, I don’t know why I’m like this.
August is when summer in Alberta starts to wind down. The nights get colder, people bundle up their trailers, and the short shorts one sees out and about start to lengthen toward the ankles (at least for me; I know some Albertans who will wear shorts in what I can only surmise is an act of wilful defiance against Nature until the thermostat hits -5°C or below). With the shorter days of September and the first snowfall of October (yes, October) looming, I start to take stock of my summertime productivity and often find myself coming up short, like the fabulistic cricket who sang all season while its ant neighbours toiled in the dirt.
Thanks for bearing with me. As promised, here comes…
The Part About The Writing
I didn’t write as much as I might have set out to this summer, but then that’s true of every single summer since the one I was born. What I didn’t achieve in volume, though, I made up for in persistence. I drafted out a couple of short stories and I think they might, for once, actually be good. I have been working on upping my short fiction game, and apart from just writing, which is my #1 long- and short-form advice/solution to improve anyone’s writing, I’ve been reading a lot, too; figuring out what makes a ‘good’ short story (or at least one that stays with me), and trying to apply it to my own material.
I made more notes for my stories than I normally do. Lee Kvern, the author, prolific short fiction writer, and very talented visual artist, gave a workshop that I attended and offered this technique that blew my mind: write with two documents open—the first, to write the proper story draft in; the second, to keep notes on structure, jot down bits of dialogue, observations on characters, etc. It does seem like a lot of extra work, but in the end it was less; that second document became an excellent repository for any stray thoughts or scenes that I wanted to include but couldn’t quite find a way to work in; I used it to dump experimental dialogue into, and notes on theme and narrative.
With great reading and note-taking comes great rewriting, too; I’ve never redrafted my short stories as many times as I’ve redrafted these two, but I think the end results were worth it. I read a post somewhere about a ‘revolutionary tip’ for making your short story drafts better—what it boiled down to was taking your initial draft, printing it out, and then re-typing it all into a new document. First things first: I’m a millenial, so I haven’t owned a printer since I lived with my parents and LaserJet was all the rage. But I did think this concept was interesting enough to try out, so I cheated a bit: I put two Word documents (one being my first draft file) up side-by-side, and I started retyping my stories in a blank one.
The idea is that by retyping, you’re doing something less passive than just rereading what you’ve written; your ‘editor’s eye’, so to speak, will engage and any extraneous phrase or section will stick out more as you’re transcribing it than it would if you were just re-reading it. I do have a tendency to get very precious about my writing once it’s on the page, and I have found my eyes skipping ahead to more interesting sections of my own stories when I review them.
The other piece I found helpful in the reviewing process was asking as many people as I could for feedback. I didn’t want everyone to give me feedback; that would have been a bit overwhelming to sift through. I just wanted to ensure I got as much feedback of value as I could, from both my writerly friends and my readerly friends. Feedback can provide invaluable insight, either directly or indirectly. As Neil Gaiman famously said:
Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
Feedback can be an excellent starting point for determining what isn’t working in your story, but it’s up to you to figure out exactly why that part isn’t working, and how to fix it in a way that works with the story you’re trying to tell. I used to shudder at the thought of people critiquing my work, and now I revel in it: give me your thoughts, and I will use them to take apart the machine of my story and find a better way to put it all back together. To those people who have read my work and told me their honest thoughts about it, I am forever grateful.
All in all, I may have churned out a smaller amount of words this summer, but the amount of work I spent on those has been greater, and I hope to reap more from them. And after a summer spent ciphering, I find my brain is more than ready for a long winter’s hibernation.