How I Wrote My First Short Story Collection in 10 Steps
My new book, Mundane Magic, is a collection of short stories about my observations and adventures outside my front door.
It all started when I challenged myself to write creatively for at least twenty minutes a day for my new year's resolution. I've been journaling since I was 9 years old, but what I write in my journal is more stream of consciousness than active, creative writing.
My resolution lasted until March when I realized I had enough content to make a collection. Because why stick to a simple resolution when I can turn it into a full-blown project? Call it a quarter-life crisis. I needed to complete something creative of my own to prove to myself that I could do it.
The goal of the project was simple. Finish something and share it with the world. Here's how I did it.
Step 1: Free Writing
From January to March, I wrote in a separate notebook (not my journal) for at least twenty minutes every day. Well, almost every day.
I've never been a big fan of following writing prompts. I follow where my heart or head is that day and see where it goes. When I set out on this resolution, I tried to write as I did with Mice in 2018.
Mice was my best short story because it was about something real that had happened to me, not some vague philosophical idea I was trying to convey while hiding behind the words.
When the blank page was staring back at me during my twenty minutes of creative writing time, I found inspiration by thinking of my surroundings. I've lived in the same area for the past five years and have gotten to know the network of parks, trails, and ponds around me very well. Writing about them felt authentic and meaningful. It was easy to be myself.
Step 2: Recording
By March, I knew I'd compiled enough material to turn it into something bigger, and the urge to do so became unbearable. One night, very late, when everyone else was sleeping, I went to my desk with a glass of red wine and turned on Descript to record a transcription. Very quietly and nervously, I read aloud from my notebook.
Reading it aloud was way easier than typing it by hand, and it also let me hear my voice. Reading aloud my own work is something I've always needed to do more of. The idea of hearing it aloud filled me with worry that it would sound… bad. So I guess I'd rather not know or never show it to another soul. But that night, I made myself tear up. Clearly, I'd underestimated myself.
Step 3: Organizing
Now it was time to figure out how to tell my story. This stage was tricky. I spent several late nights pouring over my transcript and organizing the entries into different categories to get a feel for them. One document was for stories of things that had actually happened. Another was for observations of plants and animals, and another was for emotional musings.
Eventually, I realized my idea reminded me of A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. The way the author tied stories and observations together while connecting them to larger themes was exactly what I wanted to portray. I took a break from my work to re-read A Sand County Almanac and found the inspiration for how to thread together a collection of unrelated stories.
Step 4: Editing
Oh, editing. The dreaded stage, where everything could go horribly wrong. I could overthink and strip the magic from my words, losing earlier (and better) versions in the process. It's happened before.
Fortunately, I reached this step at the same time I wrote Why 'Perfect' Will Never Be Enough and addressed some of the blockages I have around perfectionism. By reminding myself of my goal (finish something and share it), I was able to let my perfectionist do her thing while I held the reins. I had to step away for multiple days, even weeks, to avoid the rabbit hole of revisions and critiques.
Step 5: Proof-Reading with AI
By the time I had completed my rough draft of Mundane Magic, I'd been using Chat GPT in my copywriting work for several months. I was weary of using it for creative writing because I wanted to write my story and think the deep, sticky process of outlining and figuring it all out is important and should not be bypassed. Chat GPT is also a very flowery writer, if you haven't noticed.
However, it was able to offer me another perspective. I like to leave some things up to the reader to interpret, but I don't want to mislead anyone or leave them hanging. And it’s easy to go blind after so many edits and revisions. Here is my prompt for Chat GPT:
"I'm writing a collection of short stories to self-publish on Amazon. this is just a personal project of mine, but I still want it to be cute, clever, and clear. Are you able to act as a beta reader? I need to know what parts of my stories are unclear. Like if a certain sentence or word doesn't make sense. My challenge in writing is being too ambiguous. While I like portraying a sense of mystery to get my reader's imagination going, I don't want them to be confused."
I then gave Chat GPT my stories one by one. It told me what it liked and pointed out areas that were unclear. Here is an example from "Patience:”
"Your description of the small clearing and creek evokes a sense of tranquility and patience. Here are a few suggestions to enhance clarity and flow."
I wasn't a huge fan of the suggestions, but I was able to rethink my message and make revisions.
Once that was complete, I ran everything through Grammarly. The finish line was so close in my mind that I woke up at 6 am one weekend and stayed up until midnight reading and re-reading everything. I got a little caught up with the readability scores, an arbitrary measurement for creative writing, but am pleased to report that Mundane Magic ranges from 71 to 96/100 in readability. So if you finished middle school, you'll be fine.
Once Mundane Magic had made it past Grammarly, then came the nerve-racking experience of reviewing it one final time before uploading it to Amazon.
'Make sure your manuscript is free of errors,' the Amazon Bookshelf instructions said.
Okay. But first, let me take a few weeks to calm down and do some art instead.
Step 6: Making the Art
Including drawings in Mundane Magic was not my original idea, but it was a nice way to fall in love with the project again after the brunt of the editing and proofreading. I can't believe I forgot to say "written and illustrated" on the cover of the ebook. Cringe and sigh. Yes, all the drawings in Mundane Magic are mine.
The only one I did not draw was the cover. I made that in Midjourney AI. Here is the prompt from the image I ended up going with after many failed attempts:
"A small weeping willow tree with slender branches, one branch growing left out the trunk and another growing right with three curving branches growing out of it, with long, leafy, graceful arches and delicate lines in psychedelic sketchbook style in dark, vibrant greens, blues, and purples with lights from fireflies."
I think it turned out beautifully.
Step 7: Writing the Description and Bio
Honestly, I hated this stage. It was like all my copywriting experience went out the window. Just because I'm a writer does not mean writing about myself is easier than it is for anyone else. It still sucks.
I also got caught up in making edits to my website, another painstaking process that prolonged the project.
Step 8: Uploading the Manuscript
In my mind, the book was done, but my goal was to finish and share something with the world, not to complete something and store it on my computer.
I thought uploading a document into Amazon-Kindle Bookshelf would be easy, but it was way more of a learning curve than I thought. For whatever reason, I decided to make a paperback instead of a hardback. After weeks of formatting frustrations, I realized that because Mundane Magic is only 30 pages, it wouldn't have a spine and would look like a pamphlet. Lame.
At this point, I decided to make an ebook to have it complete and format the hardback later. Producing an ebook is way easier - just download the Kindle Create app and follow the steps. It took me an hour (not weeks).
Step 9: Making NFTs
I made an NFT of the book itself and all the images for copyright protection. And to maybe get some passive cryptocurrency revenue.
Step 10: Sharing
Mundane Magic is now a complete collection of short stories you can buy on Amazon. There, I've completed my final step.
Just kidding, this step will continue until Mundane Magic is on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. In the meantime, you can order your copy of the ebook here or follow me on LinkedIn for updates on when the hardback is ready.
Thanks for reading!