A character prompt that turned into a book.
Every so often one of our alumni gets in touch to tell us something exciting: a contest win, an MFA application completed, a writing group found, or a publication announcement. We love love love hearing success stories from our writers!
I especially love hearing about stories and projects launched by my Daily Prompts. I send them out there every day like messages in bottles, wondering where they’ll land.
When they land in a book, it feels pretty special.
Today in the spotlight, I’d like you to meet Katie Lewis. Her first short story collection comes out this month! We’re all high-five-ing her on her book launch, and I’m tickled to see how she’s taken a character prompt all the way to book form.
I asked Katie to share an excerpt from her book here, and to write us a few words about her process.
In her post below, she offers an equation (solve for = being a writer).
Inspired by Katie, I wrote one for myself. Mine (currently) is this: dawn + stretchy pants + Beats to Think To on Spotify + green tea + Post-it Notes + brisk walks at sundown + SOS texts to writing friends + sitting at my desk, writing = being a writer.
What’s your equation?
Enjoy Katie’s spotlight, below, and leave a comment if you dig her writing math!
Does it help to know that we all feel like a fraud at times? Here I am, tasked with composing a letter to fellow writers about making time to practice the craft, coping with rejection and accessing all kinds of empowered feelings, the very topics I blog about, yet I’ve put this off for 34 days.
Can you imagine not responding to an email — not to mention an email from a writer you admire, like Sarah Selecky! — for 34 days in this day and age? It’s had my stomach in knots.
I have had phenomenal writing days. They occur when I sit down to write every day at the same time, working on the same piece I chipped away at the day before, with a word count goal and a vague idea of where I want the plot to go next, all while the Wi-Fi is turned off. How unsexy is that? The big magic, I’ve found, is in setting an unwavering schedule, having a plan and limiting distractions.
Have you taken the time to learn your own process? Knowing what works for me as a writer doesn’t mean I don’t at times gasp at the weight of my own expectations and judge myself by how writing “should” look. No one wants to be a writer more than you do, yet no one keeps you from it more than yourself.
Fraud! that inner critic shouts. I imagine he looks like the Mucinex mascot.
Yet. And yet. We don’t give up. We still try. We do what we can do, carrying what we’ve learned to the next day’s efforts. I’ve learned that sometimes I need outside inspiration, so I use writing prompts. I’ve learned not to overschedule myself; I can’t give 100% each to writing and my family and my friends and my community. Other times I need a break, so I take a walk or read someone else’s work. (Lately, that’s been Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, Tamar Adler, Emily Bitto and Colum McCann.) Even work that doesn’t look like writing is, as it’s the hunting and gathering of material.
I’ve learned — and this is a big one — that I feel much more confident answering those inquiries about being a writer while holding a glass of wine at parties (“Have I read what you’ve written? What are you working on now? Where can I read your work?”) when I’ve prepared answers. No one screams Fraud! when I smoothly respond before deftly asking the party-goer questions of herself.
I write because I have stories to tell, and while there are days I don’t accomplish what I hope to, I offer myself grace for those days and live for the ones where all goes well. Inspiration isn’t blocked forever, and now I’m more concerned that I won’t have enough writing days in this lifetime to tell all the stories I want to tell. That’s a very good feeling, my friends.
So. How to get there? How to take fewer than 34 days to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard? Right now, my equation looks like this:
routine + preparedness + personal insight via therapy + non-related writing activities (being outside, dining with friends, going to museums) + sitting down and doing the damn thing, knowing revisions are part of the process = being a writer
How will you get there?
Katie Lewis's work has appeared in The Tennessean, BookPage, Tennessee Register, Regime Magazine of New Writing, and elsewhere. She was a winner in the Nashville Poetry in Motion contest and a two-time winner of the Albert Montesi Award for poetry. She blogs and tweets about the writing life at www.kathryndlewis.com and @kathryndlewis. Katie lives in Nashville, TN, and Cheers, Somebody is her first book.
About this excerpt from Cheers, Somebody:
I started “San Francisco to save” the day after Christmas in 2013, the year of a stellar trip to San Francisco. My husband and I ate our fill, walked miles and miles each day, and generally let ourselves fall in love with the city. It’s the only trip we’ve been on in 13 years that didn’t have us looking forward to being back at home while en route to the airport.
I hoped to write a little love letter to the city, in thanks, but I found myself also creating a narrator called Red, whom I dearly love. I’m sure he’s going to pop up in a future story, too.
From Cheers, Somebody:
I’d watched Anjelica run her forefinger over the pink Post-It’s header to affix the sticky back to the personal cheque, which she dropped into a white pre-paid business envelope. I hadn’t needed to see the envelope’s top-left to recognize the tag as her labelmaker-loving ex-husband’s work, both their names above the address. She’s using up the last of those labels.
“He’s good when he’s good; I’m good when I’m good.” She’d told the therapist this on the phone while setting the appointment. I hadn’t understood why we needed to travel all the way to San Francisco for analysis, but I booked the tickets nonetheless weeks ago. There are plenty of counselors at home, or maybe we didn’t need to go at all. I didn’t know. Most times, I let her lead.
I hope I’m not being cocky when I say she liked this about me, that it is a good and favourable characteristic. Her ex-husband and her ex-before-that-ex-husband were both more domineering and closer in age—to each other and to her. Our twenty-four-year difference was nothing to us, but waiters and taxi drivers and theatre ushers stared two seconds too long at the white streak in her dark hair juxtaposed with my freckles. Did they think she should instead spend her days breeding hundreds of snails in the garden? Ought she be at home, finger-painting with grandchildren? Will my freckles look distinguished when I’m her forty-seven?
She was preoccupied on the plane ride here, braiding a small section of her hair and then undoing it, typing into her phone. I needled her until she gave it up: her unhappiness rooted in my submitting one of her photos to the magazine contest, a shot she’d taken of us facing the mirror, camera on a tripod between us, our bodies from chins to kneecaps. Her skin’s texture looked like farm terrain viewed from out an aeroplane, the black-and-white exposure dramatizing wrinkles I don’t spot from next to her. We held hands as though in a suicide pact on a building’s edge, imagined police chief and onlookers beneath us shouting into phantom megaphones. I thought it brilliant, but she said she was embarrassed and read me the letter to the editor she was crafting on her phone, rebuffing the prize. I’d been doing my own phone writing, though shaping a budget for our trip. I showed her this, too, and received few edits.
We rented a silver Hyundai upon landing and drove the winding path to Muir Woods—pulling over at a strip mall once for me to air myself out and quell the carsickness—where we took the walking loop among towering redwoods. The path coiled through brown and green steeples for steps upon steps, and she said the burnt belly of a tree looked like a good enough hiding place to her. We held hands while ambling, though different from how we did in the photo: this time, her hand molded into mine like my seventh-grade Homecoming date’s. She said I made her feel young until she looked at me, in my mock turtleneck and light windbreaker, which I wore zipped only to my bellybutton so it remained unflapping in the chilly breeze, like my stepdad had his whole life.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “What’s wrong with my clothes?”
And she laughed, that hefty smoker’s laugh, and I didn’t care. I know I don’t dress well, but I’m only trying to impress her, and I’m already doing that. We stopped to read each sign and trail marker to get the most out of the trip. Families with strollers circling around us and speaking in louder tones than I thought necessary for the reverent park, making candy deals with their children in exchange for five minutes of patience.
“Glaring at them is no use, babe,” she said, at a timbre they couldn’t overhear.