Friday, 5 October 2012

Putting an anthology together: Part 1. Jumping ahead?

So, my writing focus at the moment (and for the rest of October) is getting an anthology of short stories totalling at least 30,000 words ready to send to Salt Publishing's Scott Prize.

I've been gearing up to do this for a few months, I've had it in my mind, been feeling my way with it. But it's only been the last 2 weeks where I've narrowed my writing tasks to just doing this. I've had a list of 'possible stories to include' on the go for a while, and I've been getting a sense of how many pieces are 'ready', and how many others need more work until I have an anthology of stories which add together to make the required minimum of 30,000 words.

I thought I'd write some thoughts as I go through this process of collecting and looking at and ordering what is about 5 or 6 years of short story writing, while also writing and editing new work to go alongside it. I'll post an update each week until the 31st Oct deadline, maybe more often if I have something to say.

Oh, and - just to give you some context, this is probably the busiest month I've had for a while. I have one day a week I can give to writing completely, and the rest has to fit around my 2 part time jobs. I take my netbook with me wherever I go, and try to add sessions in before and after work where I can. I'm also giving myself one day a week off completely too, because, well - s'important, innit.

So here's where I am at the moment.

This week I...
Read an interview with one of the 2012 Scott Prize winners, Carys Bray. In it, Carys talks about the process of ordering her stories, and there's a photo of the post-its she used to physically (as physically as you can) see them alongside each other.

(I have no idea why the font size is smaller here. I've tried to sort it but it just won't change. Tut.) 
I'd had an idea about writing a little card out for each story so I could get a sense of the whole collection, but I didn't think I was at the point where I could do that yet. But within a few days I'd done it anyway, even though I only have two thirds of the stories ready. I felt like I needed to do something tangible. It was actually a useful process, a new way of seeing the stories. Each card stated story title, word count, and a few words about its mood or subject. That felt a bit weird - writing words like 'Fun' 'Surreal' 'Infidelity', but I wanted to roughly get an idea of what they might be saying so I could see how they might fit together, and if any patterns I didn't know about cropped up. They looked like this:

They'll move about and be added to and more details might be added to the cards as the weeks go on. But having a physical representation really helped.

The other thing I did this week was something else I wasn't supposed to do until I had more of the collection ready. I put all the stories into one document, and I called this document 'Manuscript' which was a bit thrilling. They are in the order I devised with the cards up there, and I guess this was another 'physical' thing to do. Even though I thought I'd have more stories ready before I created this document, I also had a niggling feeling that if I left it too late it'd take too long or there'd be some formatting issue. So it's done now, well - it's begun now - and I don't need to estimate the word count. I know the word count. Here it is:

So even though these 20,926 words represent work written over the past 5 or 6 years, it is totally possible to have the remaining 10,000 ready in 3 and a half weeks. Totally. Really. Is.

Where I am is - I have a lot of stories started, on the go, that just just need time dedicated to them. And that's what this month is about. And in way, in doing some of the admin-y stuff by getting the existing finished stories ready and arranged, I feel free to finish my collection exactly how I want.

Because I also read this excellent discussion (which I found via the interview with Carys) with some short story editors and it fuelled my passion for what I write and why I write short stories. Writers, you should check it out.

This really resonated with me, on 'fragment stories' as apposed to beginning, middle, end stories:

But there's still story there. It's just hanging slightly outside, and that has to work. It's more difficult to do. It's either outside the text or internal, inside the character, but it's still there, and those elements still have to be there, suspended over the thing.
(Ra Page,  Comma Press)

I'm thinking about what I like to write, how I like to write,what I like to read, what excites me, and - as much as I possibly can - turning off the inner critic (more on her in another post) and also - when I need to - turning off the internet.


Rachel Fenton said...

Brilliant post, Teresa!

I love knowing how other writers organise collections, both for fiction and poetry, and I'm always tinkering with my own work in themed groups - I find it really helpful for highlighting some of my own interests that I wasn't really aware I had.

I've also trawled through past winners' blogs and interviews - but I got so nervous, in the end, I had to stop doing it and just trust my gut. I think I could talk myself out of entering anything, otherwise (actually, I know I could because I frequently do!).

I'm looking forward to all your posts about this process.

Teresa Stenson said...

Thanks, Rachel.

I love hearing how other writers do it too. I was talking to a non-writer friend about this and they said 'Oh, it's like making a music album' and I thought that was a good likening. Not that I've ever made an album, but the way you have to see the thing as a whole that's still made up of parts.

Glad you're looking forward to the posts. I realised as I wrote this one there's so much to say. So I'm sure I'll be saying stuff again soon.

Tania Hershman said...

Teresa, I'm so excited for you, fingers crossed! God, putting stories in order is something I found so hard, in the end I got my partner to do it for The White Road and my editor for MMWAUP - I couldn't see the stories anymore, even all printed out. But you do see things when your stories are put together, don't you? And of course you needed to create a folder titled "Manuscript", that's a major part of it all! Good luck! I want to read your collection!

Teresa Stenson said...

Hi Tania - thanks so much. It's really tricky to get the right amount of distance to know what order works best - I don't think I will know for sure, but there are some stories that shouldn't be too close together and there are a few that feel like they should be at the start and some that should be at the end. Though now I'm thinking about it I want to swap the first story for the last... Hm, I'll have it all figured out by the deadline I'm sure!

Anonymous said...

How'd this turn out? :)