I’ve made it a practice to annually look at my works in progress, and I’m overdue this year!
You might think of unfinished work in a less-than-positive light. What writer doesn’t mourn the dreaded “drawer of manuscripts collecting dust?”
But for me that drawer doesn’t—can’t—exist.
(Quite literally: I don’t print out full incomplete manuscripts of anything anymore, unless it’s to mark them up with line edits. I just save to multiple storage folders on my laptop.)
Or maybe I just won’t let this dreaded drawer have a life of its own.
By keeping an annual inventory of work I hope to finish, I keep myself on track with goals, dreams, submission efforts, marketing, and much more. If you’re a listmaker, you know the value.
For me, it’s essential to have an updated List of Works because it forces me to remain focused and disciplined, to keep my eyes on the prize (completion, final revision, publication, production, and more).
In other words, it reminds me I’m a working writer.
So check it out: here’s what I’ve got in the hopper right now. Titles may be irrelevant to you, but next year, I can look back at this list and chart my progress.
Maybe my lists will help you formulate your own inventory of writing goals and publishing dreams?
How this all started
I could credit my beloved friend in words, Waverly Fitzgerald, who passed away from cancer last December, for being a tidy list keeper. I’d taken her submission tracking workshop at the Hugo House in summer 2018. It truly refined my previous efforts, for which I’m forever grateful.
In truth, my quest to keep track of manuscripts (finished and not, submitted or in progress) started 20 years ago with a little spiral-bound journal.
A few years later, this was graduated to a Yahoo! group which tracked submissions as a way to be held accountable.
Then I discovered (and happily pay for) Duotrope, which has been tracking my work since 2006. Note, this is a submission tracking platform, and not one used to track the work I’ve not yet finished.
This is where Waverly’s workshop really helped me… I’d had a messy group of lists for works in progress in my computer, with more ideas to develop, but it was hard to manage and remain up to date. With her guidance, I was able to put that into an actual document that I could easily update and check “at a glance.”
Thank you, Waverly!
Nonfiction short form
As you may know, I write nonfiction for a living. The nonfiction listed below encompasses essays, creative nonfiction, and other kinds of short-form work outside the realm of my paid contract writing. I’ve added some notes mostly for clarity for myself, but it gives you insights into what’s driving my writing life right now.
Ready to submit
- “The Dawning of the Age of Toxins”—About modern American polypharmacy
- “Front Page News”—A nightmare I had that actually came true
- “Letter to Sara Paretsky”—A flash essay dedicated to my mother-in-law (who is not Sara Paretsky)
- “Math Anxiety”—Short memoir piece
- “Thinkpol”—My first intentional act of First Amendment activism
- “Continental Divide”—In the early 1990s, I wrote about an incident from age 11 in a comment following a friend’s Usenet post (back in the days of newsgroups!) and she said, “you have to write that as an essay!” (I’m still working on it)
- Dreamscape—This is not a single piece but many different pieces connected to an experimental manuscript (focused on my extremely active and vivid dream life) that I started in Wendy Call’s workshop at Centrum in 2015
- “The More Than Corps Mom”—A crappy placeholder title, I know, but this one (of many!) from last year’s Rebecca Brown workshop needs to marinate a little, as it has a lot of powerful emotional energy in it and I need to make sure I write it from the proper vantage for it to work
- Other related pieces from the same workshop: “Things to Know About Her #1,” “Things to Know About Her #4,” “Things to Know About Her #7,” “Codes of Conduct,” “Larger Than Life,” “Swamp,” “Breathless,” “Mississippi Moon,” “An Unresolved Death,” and “Road Time”
- “Shark Mom”—A longer essay that still begs attention; interestingly, I live even closer to the site of the events captured in this manuscript, which makes me want to finish it even more
- “Wish You Were Here”—I started this one, inspired by the Brown’s Chicken Massacre in Palatine, Illinois (I lived there when it happened) while at the Port Townsend Writers Conference some years ago; I think it still has merit
Fiction short form
I usually have a large inventory of short stories… but not right now! This is all I have, but it should keep me busy for a while.
Ready to submit
- “Anne Rice Plants a Seed”—Inspired by her Mayfair witches trilogy
- “Site 16″—Magical realism intersects with camping
NEW FOR 2020:
- “Down the Hill”—Which threatens to be a novel or even a novella, so we’ll see
- “Eminent Domain”—Some magical realism here; another of my dreams turned into a full-fledged story
- “Cotyledon”—An old idea that still burns with possibility; magical realism, inspired by a song by Sting
- “Earth Day Postcards”+ “Bards, Bibles & Civil War” + “Jane the Invisible” + “After the Fall + “Chelsea in the Watchtower” + “Hikes and Earthquakes”—Batched together because these are all poking at the same single dystopic, apocalyptic survivalism locus
- “Nothing to See”—Some serious internal logic problems to fix in this speculative piece
- “Outtakes”—Need to revisit this social sci-fi work, given I wrote this 15 years ago and the subject (surveillance and privacy) is far more relevant now than ever
- “Rabbit Holes to Wonderland”—Another story threatening novella status, with some speculative Orwellian themes that touch a little too close to home these days, plus there are robots and wormholes in time and space!
- “Soccer ball”—A magical realism piece that originated as a dream (I can still smell that fresh-mown grass)
- “Tokkebi”—I’ve been wanting to get back to this magical realist story forever, but I’m intimidated by it because it has its roots in Korean folklore
Listing only the poems I am actively submitting, which is only a third of what I really have in my inventory. Themes in parentheses.
Ready to submit
- “Back to the Land” (addiction)
- “Clover” (home)
- “Coagulate” (health)
- “Consuming Horizons” (climate change)
- “Dig” (friends)
- “Dinner Conversation” (war)
- “Dream Metaphor: Peach Jam” (food)
- “I Only Know Riesenstraube” (war)
- “In the Safeway Parking Lot” (addiction)
- “On that Grade AAA Day” (health)
- “Other People’s Stories” (friends)
- “Queets River Invocation” (friends)
- “Retiring Fifth Grade Teacher” (women)
- “Shake Shy” (family)
- “Tachy” (health)
- “Weed” (home)
- “While in Chicago” (home)
- “While Training for the Autumn 10K” (ghosts)
- “Wine Tasting” (family)
- “Zinnias” (family)
To self-publish or to not self-publish:
I have mixed feelings about self publishing, but I also have grown weary of waiting to be “discovered.” Especially since the cost of waiting to be “discovered” is hundreds of dollars annually in submission fees, low or nonexistent advances for books, and the tiniest royalty packages.
I’ll be turning to self-publishing for at least one fiction book (maybe two) in the coming year. I’m considering this option for poetry as well.
For those books where I have expertise to back my concepts, I’ll give it a traditional attempt but will cap my efforts based on the costs of submission. Once I exceed a certain predetermined amount (last year, I spent almost $900 in submissions fees on one manuscript alone!), I will probably abandon that effort and spend the money on self publishing.
Not that I wouldn’t entertain a contract if a publisher or agent approached me, because I would! But not if it means burning through my life savings when I can do the work myself and, ideally, BEFORE I DIE (sarcasm? I’m 55 and I have a chronic incurable illness… you decide).
- The Big Book of Marvels—I’ve had this service piece in the Margin hopper for at least 10 years
- Dreamscapes—An experimental book charting the cartography of my dream life
- The Portable Sleep Lab—A sleep health tool (actually several in one)
- Untitled—A how-to writing guide linked to my professional writing work
- Untitled—A “sekrit projekt” with a sleep health perspective
On deck (ideas to pursue)
- Garden X—A gardening memoir
- Untitled—A sleep memoir (not the same as Dreamscapes)
Novels, in drafts
- The Chalk Match—Magical realism YA
- Fiddlehead’s Odyssey—YA/children’s? fantasy adventure
- The Flare—Speculative novel
- Leafminers—Magical realism regional novel
- Lost & Found—First in the paranormal mystery series, The Borderlands
- Manifest Destiny—Literary “road trip” novel
- Ophelia to the Third—Magical realism regional novel
Collections in drafts
- Spiral Bound—A flash fiction collection or chapbook, waiting for Trust Fall to be moved from my desk
- Trust Fall—Slowly evolving, with my goal for this short story collection to be ready for self-publication by the end of 2020 (I might use NaNoWriMo this year to achieve this)
Collections in drafts
- Slow Information—Political poems, chapbook
- Water Birth—Intersection between water and women, chapbook
On deck (ideas to pursue)
- Untitled—Kitchen/garden mashup
- Untitled—Pacific Northwest dedication
Idea in pursuit
- Vitamin ZZZ—”Best of” series in print