Tag Archives: writing fiction

How I Edit As I Draft

I write fiction one of two ways:

1. I write without editing and go, go, go until I stop or feel stupid (I’m working on that last part).

2. I write a few pages and then when I get stuck/confused/forget my train of thought I re-read and edit what I just wrote.

Sometimes I’ll set something aside and look at it again the next day. Sometimes I’ll delete and re-write a sentence 10 times before I feel comfortable enough to move on.

My ideal way to write is to just sit down and have the ideas flow out of my brain like a magical river.

This rarely happens. And it never comes out perfect.

Pulling ideas out of the air is more fun for poetry. But my fiction likes fermentation more than spontaneity.

What on earth does that mean?

I use the word fermentation because (like my academic writing) I need to think for a long time and brainstorm (aka daydream) about my story before I actually write it. Because that’s how my brain likes to structure stories.*

Now, when I write poetry I’m a complete “pantser” or discovery writer. I love the unknown of the blank page. Not so much when I write fiction. I’m not a complete “plotter” and if I write an outline I end up spending more time on that than actually writing. But I need some sort of structure to jump off of.

I am a huge fan of free writing. I love hearing other writers talk about it, I love witnessing it. I even love doing it but for the last 2 years I’ve been hopping between 3-4 established drafts of different projects so the opportunities to actually create prose have been few and far between.

I have added new paragraphs or expanded chapters here and there, I call this filling the p(L)ot holes. But not actually writing what I would consider “new” material. Now, here’s the thing. There is one big place in Work In Progress 1 where I need to write at least 2 brand new chapters. There are three places in Work In Progress 2 that need at least 20,000 words of new material. And I need to write a new ending for Work in Progress 3.

But even though I have set up deadlines for myself (again) this year and am DETERMINED to finish these particular projects THIS FUCKING YEAR I am having serious trouble getting into a creative groove and writing this new material because, I feel like, I’ve been editing and considering (too much) where my decisions have taken me and the parts of the storyline that I’ve already locked in place. I’ve closed myself off to just pulling random shit out of the air and running with it.

Editing while I write isn’t bad, sometimes I need it to remind myself where I left off or revisit the tone I was going for, or I found a better tone and I need to change it. But then I either

1. Get distracted and forget the image or feeling I was trying to insert into that section.

2. I get bogged down by all the grammar fixes and structure changes I needed to make along the way and by the time I get to the end of the edit I’ve lost the momentum/motivation to write the new things.

Does this happen to you too?

And then I get upset at myself because how can I ever not want to write?

The problem I have with brainstorming is I sometimes (okay, I a lot of the time, I’m working on it) I feel like I have to get everything perfect in my head before I can write it down. And then I get frustrated or overwhelmed.

I don’t really have a solution to this problem other than I have to REMEMBER to remind myself, whenever I feel that way, that writing is fun and I want to tell my story. Be as stubborn and persistent as you need to be to get the words out.

One thing that has been helping me is a kind of trick or game I’ve started playing with myself. When I’m stuck I challenge myself to write as SHITTILY as I can. To write the worst draft ever. On purpose. Because I can go back and change it later. (Now this might be the start of a vicious cycle because the worse it is the more I have to edit later while I’m trying to write new material and then I tell myself to write that badly and I do and on, and on, and on).

Another thing that I do is if I find I need to cut a big chunk of text or an entire paragraph out but I’m not sure if that’s the right thing to do, I copy it over into another document and save it for later. If I never use it again I can always delete it or turn it into a “deleted scene” that I might post on my blog later. I hate having a digital folder filled with loads and loads of files but if that’s what I need to do to keep writing, that’s what I need to do.

I hope this little ramble has been helpful. Camp NaNoWrimo starts tomorrow and I wanted to send something out that, maybe if you write like this too, will make you feel less alone.

My Camp project this year will be Book 2 of my paranormal horror series, The Slaughter Chronicles. I’m hoping to finish all the things with Book 1 over the summer and publish it this winter. If you’re interested, you can check out the series’s prequel novella right here 🙂

*

*I keep saying my brain like I’m compartmentalizing. Is that part of the problem?

Photo by Tamara Gore on Unsplash

The Librarian: Short Story

(for Suzie, my best librarian friend)

THE big table makes you look smaller than you are. Like a little morsel, a macaroon, a petit four alone on a dinner plate. You twitch, fidget. You curl your spine protectively over your phone screen despite the towers of books that surround you. Ponderous tombs of science, philosophy, and madness.

The World Atlas Extraordinaire sits on a stand older than this building next to you, propped open to the Pacific Islands, resplendently corralled by the cartography of the currents, dancing whorls of sacred scarification.

Each time the door slides open your eyes dart around in your skill like scared rabbits. You’re looking toward the door now; the shining glass, the herald of the morning sun. You are waiting for someone.

I like to pretend you’re waiting for me—but the girl walks in. (Besides, I’m already here.) The girl with the navy blue sweatshirt and hair the color of milky oil sliding off a dead whale. Her face is younger than mine. Of course, she is younger. All of you are. Her uniform skirt bisects her thighs perfectly, exposing her beautifully formed knee caps and the lacy pattern of veins and arteries flowing under her skin. Her sock-less feet are so dainty that her sneakers could easily be mistaken for ballet slippers.

She should be a ballerina with long, tangled hair. But she is a student and so are you. But you are not wearing a uniform. What day is it? Sunday? Monday? Where is the nearest school?

More importantly, what time is it? It must be near Lunchtime. I’m beyond famished. Even when I eat Breakfast and Second Breakfast I’m still a bottomless pit.

She sits as you stand. You do not hug like I expected you to but you do touch her shoulder as you lean over her chair. You ask her if she needs anything. She doesn’t. She pulls out a notebook and her headphones from her pink polka-dotted tote bag. (I have a bag too but it is not made out of polka-dots.) You walk away and she begins to scribble viciously across her blank page, her ears full of music I cannot hear.

Maybe she is a poet. Poets are delicious. They taste like burnt sugar and apricot pipe tobacco. (As opposed to artists, who usually taste like soggy, fermented herbs.)

When you return her head is bowed as if in prayer and your arms are bursting with books. Paris, Venice. Belgium, Madrid.

Travel or History?

What war, if any?

What’s your poison?

And why ignore the atlas? It’s been sitting right next to you the whole time. Just like I have. Surely maps are not obsolete. I know GPS exists now-a-days but you need more than travel diaries to travel. You have to know how to get where you want to go before you even think about going there. (I speak from personal experience, of course, but rarely does anyone listen to me…listen and survive, anyway…moving on.)

She plucks her headphones out of her ears and gives you one of the most dazzling smiles I have ever seen one human give to another. Her pink-frosted lips form the shape of the softest thankyou I have read anywhere, on paper or on flesh.

Maybe you’re planning to run away together. She’s already ready. Her tote has extra clothes and a very sharp knife hidden at the bottom (a gift from an overprotective mother, no doubt. Mothers should be overprotective). And you look like you have the money to buy anything else you two might need for a—what is it called? Funny, after all this time I still don’t know your words for it.

Getaway? Suicide?

When you only live from one meal to the next? No worrying about where to sleep, what to see next? Vacation?

No, you will have nothing to go back to. When you leave it will be for forever. Your family will disown you, will harry you through the halls and hedgerows, mazes and ballrooms and strip the skin from your sorry carcass if you ever return—no wait, that’s me. Not you. Sorry.

I’ve been living from one meal to the next without worrying about where I will sleep or what I will see next, unless it’s food. I eat food, dream food. I always look for food. But my version of you abandoned me long ago.

How long will you wait before you change your mind and leave her?

Good thing you’ll never find out. You’ll never get the chance to betray her. As you sit and study the geography of possibility I creep closer.

The shadows ebb and flow around your feet.

She doesn’t have time to dig out her knife.

(Copyright 2019 by Jessica Halsey)

The Librarian isn’t interested in working today. Don’t bother her.

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The Librarian (short story) copyright 2019 Jessica Halsey

Photos by Oladimeji Odunsi on Unsplash

Little Girls

They carried the baby bird wrapped in a yellow, flowered handkerchief up the ladder and into the attic. Its eyes bulged behind their closed, membranous lids and its prickly down barely covered the stubs of its wings. The wrinkly, peach flesh was damp with perspiration and plant juice. It choked and twitched feebly, beak broken open. “We’re going to operate now,” said the little girl in the red corduroy dress. Her glossy black shoes were scuffed and muddy and her little white tights were ripped by the holly bush. There were no lights in the attic but Mother gave them three candles with the stipulation that Make Believe was not allowed to knock the candles over and burn the house down. The two girls scooted past boxes and trash bags filled with grown up things and tiny baby things from times neither of them could remember. They were like bright, neon fishes, easily distracted by strange movements, strange colors, strange noises. They crawled as one creature with four knees and four paws, dirt smeared and tipped with chewed claws, two of which were clasped together around the quivering baby bird. “On the operating table!” the little girl in the red corduroy dress whispered urgently, snatching the handkerchief from the other little girl and slamming it down on the top of one of the boxes. “Scalpel!” she cried. The other little girl pulled the handkerchief away from the baby bird and lifted it to her nose. There was something there that reminded her of earthworms and pill-bugs. Like the juice that dripped from the knife to the kitchen floor. Like the scolding she received when she stayed out in the sandbox past lunchtime. She reached into the pocket of her blue overalls and held out a sprig of holly.

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Photo by brabus biturbo on Unsplash

Direction

Take the splintered memory of your father beating you from between your mother’s clenched teeth. If you can still hear his screams, go west. You will come to a ditch cradling a dead cat. If his neck is twisted, proceed north. If his belly burst open like a rotten orange under a motorcycle wheel, go south. You will find the rider’s bloody boot prints scuffing the Black-Eyed Susans. If you mix the pollen with loose-leaf tobacco and roll a cigarette your doppelgänger in another universe will be gifted a front row seat to the next public execution. But that is not the direction you want to go. If you ignore me and walk toward the old Civil War battlefield marked with the city’s slapdash attempts at historical editing. Your old lovers, wherever they are, will turn pale as if a nurse has taken too much life force from the abrasive latticework of a failed experiment. You will taste blood in your mouth. They will fall to the floor and you will not be there to catch them or kiss the languor from their eyes. You won’t want to. If you don’t see a dead cat, continue west as if nothing is wrong. You will eventually come to a fork in the road. Or a river. And you must either cut off all your hair or throw your clothes into the Salvation Army donation bin that washed up on the riverbank after the storm. You have to go bare in some way, your own body acting as a trembling neophyte’s compass, pointing towards the sharpest point away. If fear bites down on you so hard your ribs crack and snap against your heart, you can choose a different direction. You can run, screaming, back home or you can try to walk on water.

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Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

Thoughts about #authortube

Back in 2017, when I “officially” decided I wanted to take self-publishing seriously, I thought about creating a YouTube channel. I am an avid YouTube viewer/lurker whatever. I love watching videos other authors and writers put out where they talk about their process, give advice based on their experiences, and participate in fun tags or challenges.

I love talking about writing and books to anyone who will listen so you’d think this would be something I would love to do.

But YouTube also triggers my social anxiety, big time. I barely participate in the comments section and if I’m lucky enough to catch a live stream live–not three days after the fact–I don’t participate in the chat because I am extremely shy and introverted. It’s the same reason I don’t do the instagram story thing or have a facebook account.

At the end of the day, I just want to sit in my bubble and write.

But last year I participated in a writing group and we used a video chat app to talk about our projects and I loved making videos for them. It was nothing fancy, I just turned my camera on and talked into it, usually while driving to and from work. And it was super fun. So if I could do something like that where I just talked for a few minutes and then uploaded…

But what about editing and all those cool techno things people do? And music, don’t I have to have music to drown out the static hum of background noise or whatever? And I’d need an intro and a catch phrase because everyone has a catch phrase and already I hear Mr, J’s voice in my head saying, “Don’t do that, that’s fucking stupid.”

And he’s right on two fronts. The first is: I don’t want to do something that I don’t know how to do or that I don’t like because it will be a shitty product and anyone who watches it will see that I am not having fun and they won’t have fun. So if I do the YouTube thing I will not be making fancy, heavily edited videos with music or images inserted or fun backdrops because I don’t have time for that. I have like, 10 books to write.

But the second is: Do I really want to put myself out there? After thinking about it on and off for two-ish years I still don’t know. I like the idea of making YouTube videos; I want to do the author tags and actually tell you about myself and my projects, not just write it down here in my blog. But is it really something for me?

I hope to figure out the answer to that soon because there are a few very good reasons to participate in social media platforms like YouTube. The most important one is it will help promote my books.

I am a firm believer that social media is essential to an independent author. Newsletters not so much (just my opinion) but social media is a must. Traditional publishers love authors with established platforms and readers love all the behind-the-scenes stuff. I do anyway.

And, for the most part (yes, I know about the drama), AuthorTube is full of really cool, awesome people who I would love to be friends with. But I’m so. Damn. Shy. and worried I’d say the wrong thing and offend someone. I’m also terrified of making a complete ass of myself. Etc, etc, etc. And it’s not about what you think about me. Or what strangers think about me, I could care less about other peoples’ opinions. It’s how I would think about myself. If I fucked this up I would never let myself live it down. Mortification and shame forever.

Again, I think I’m putting too much thought into it.

I guess the main thing I’m worried about, more than being embarrassed by my own content, is that it will take time away from my writing.

I’ve thought about doing a podcast too but I haven’t yet because I’ve gotten bogged down by all of the technical stuff. I have made a few recordings of my poems and created an extremely bootleg audiobook that is up on Bandcamp (free, of course). But beyond that I haven’t done anything else.

And that kind of bothers me because if I want to do something, why not do it? It’s not like I want to climb Everest. Making an AuthorTube video is a very achievable goal. So why not try it? If I don’t like it I can always delete it.

But the writing time is precious and anything that cuts into that is bad. But I’d really, really like to try.

Now that you’ve read me flopping back and forth like this, I’m going to end this post.

Are you on YouTube/AuthorTube? Do you like it? Do you hate it?

Little Fears

I’m super excited to announce my collaboration with Little Fears went live today 🙂

Conquest is the story of a tiny monster (Vermin!) with big dreams.

It was so much fun watching the art and my story come to life, I am beyond grateful for the opportunity 🙂

For all the Little Fears spooky goodness click HERE 🙂