Monday, September 16, 2019

How to Write a Story in One Day

A post by Mary Fan
Step One: Commit to something you totally don't have time for.

When YA author Gabriela Martins approached me mid-July to contribute to a charity anthology about queerness and faith, I couldn't say no. Not only was it a wonderful and profound theme, but the proceeds would be going directly into the hands of someone in need. Every instinct was like "YES I WILL CONTRIBUTE." Thing was, it's no secret that I've been tragically behind on all my writing projects for almost a year now. My brain's been floating around in outer space since before the last Christmas season, and I've been spent the better part of 2019 slogging through edits that were supposed to take a few weeks. And because the anthology needed to be out as soon as possible to start helping out the person we were supporting, we had about three weeks to write and submit. The deadline fell the weekend right after Gen Con.

I said yes anyway after finagling a one week extension. I was finally hitting a groove with my WIP edits and didn't want to pause just yet, and also Gen Con preparations plus the con itself took up a whole week by itself. Also, Gen Con always sucks the living Force out of me, and I knew I'd be useless for several days after. But that would still give me a whole week to work on it, I thought.

Cover by Kess Costales
Find it on Gumroad
Step Two: Clear your schedule for one day.

My summer schedule was completely whackadoo. There was a whole monthlong period when I didn't spent a single weekend in my own apartment because I was so busy with trips (all good stuff, but exhausting by the end). Gen Con was the cherry on top of all that. So I blocked out a weekend after (not the one immediately after, but the one after that). No matter what, I told myself, I would make zero plans for that weekend. It was to be my sanity recovery weekend.

Or, as it turned out, my panic-writing weekend.

Step Three: Brainstorm any chance you get.

Even though I knew I wouldn't be sitting down to write my story for a few weeks, I started jotting down ideas whenever they came to me. I was briefly worried I wouldn't be able to come up with something, so I started scribbling EVERYTHING that popped into my head. And it wasn't in a nice brainstorming notebook or anything either. No, it was in emails to myself, random notes on my phone, and haphazardly typed word docs. Often just a fragment here and there.

It would all come together eventually, I told myself. Somehow, it would...

Step Four: Mull.

As the days went by, the guilt started building up. I'd committed to a deadline -- and even received an extension -- but still hadn't written a single word. Gen Con came and went, and I told myself now was the time to hunker down. But I was even more brain-drained than expected and couldn't bring myself to write a single sentence.
A quote from my story.
Graphic by Kess Costales.

Maybe it was because of that guilt that I found myself thinking about my story all the time when I
wasn't actually at a computer. When I was walking down the street, on the subway, in the shower -- even waiting for my turn on the flying trapeze -- I had mental discussions with myself about what I wanted the story to be. I'd settled on a premise at least: A woman uploads her mind into a probe to explore the multiverse, encounters a pre-industrial alternate Earth, is mistaken for a miracle, and faces a moral quandary when she falls in love with a local girl.

While grocery shopping, going to the gym, and commuting, I worked out the overall arc of the story and, perhaps more importantly, the tone I wanted to take. It would be different from my usual explosive action/adventure tales. It would be quiet as a whisper, pensive and blurred around the edges. Somehow, just thinking about it that way helped me develop the voice even though I had no idea what that voice would say

Step Five: Run out of time and write until your fingers fall off.

The deadline was a Saturday. Almost all the other invited authors had already sent in their stories, and following along in the group chat made my guilt grow and grow and grow. Yet somehow I still didn't manage to sit my butt down and write. I blame Gen Con brain (hey, it's a long and taxing con!).

Saturday morning came. This was it -- I was going to open my laptop and not close it again until I had a friggin' story. But even though I'd promised myself no plans, I'd still agreed to go to the farmer's market with a friend. Then even after I got back from that, I just faffed around for no reason.

Procrastination on top of procrastination. By mid afternoon, all I had was a vague outline and the characters' names.

Finally, it hit. When I finally started typing, the story seemed to write itself. I credit all that mulling. 5,000 words made it into the Scrivener document before midnight -- I made my promised deadline. I'll admit, I didn't do as much editing as I would have under ordinary circumstances (I did one quick pass but only tweaked a few grammar things). But I think I'd spent so much time shaping it in my head that by the time it made it onto the page, it felt complete.

The KEEP FAITH e-book was released on September 1, and it's been pretty well received so far! Here's the link, in case anyone's interested: You can also see what readers are saying about it on Goodreads.

We're currently working on the paperback version, and I volunteered to do the formatting because I'm a book interior nerd ;-). Here's a sneak peak...

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