My latest kick, or kick in the head, is writing stories for anthology calls when I have no story idea. Counter-intuitive? Sure. Here’s how it started and how it’s working out:
An editor invited me to write a story for a new publication. The theme wasn’t something I knew about or gave much thought to before getting the invitation. I decided to try because I’d been asked, and if I’d been psychic enough to study writing instead of art and psychology, I’d have done this for assignments in school.
It was so much fun to go totally outside my field of interest and push in a new direction that I began looking for other calls for entries that didn’t fit my existing work. Instead of looking for places to submit stories I’d already written, I wrote for the calls, treating them as prompts. I started this in the middle of winter, and worked on 3 stories with various deadlines over 6 months, with no deadline less than 3 months away. I made all the deadlines on time. Whew.
The first story, the one I was invited to write, still sits on hold with the editor. I went a little nuts because I started it right after I had a story accepted for an experimental collection and I was too high on surrealism to calm the hell down. It needs work.
The second story I wrote got accepted. Boom! It’s coming out in a Halloween anthology this fall. I started it with zero ideas. Halloween isn’t scary. It’s fun. Except for how awkward it can be to have strangers coming up to your door all night long. Or worse, people you want to avoid. So I jumped head first into middle class America and uncovered some demons. And then something weird happened: I kind of started to like them.
The third story, like the second, did not go out until it was rubbed and polished to a fine sheen, or at least the finest I can do at this point in my life as a writer. I took quite a few risks in the narrative with triggers and tropes, and then got a little bit romantic and corny. The primary goal I kept in mind was to take a ridiculous topic and treat it with absolute seriousness. I don’t expect to hear back on this one for several months.
My raw submission project so far gets one and a half stars: one accepted, one on hold, and one still waiting for a response. I think those are pretty good stats. What is that, fifty percent success? I’m calling it a half-full glass.
Better than the small amount of success is how much I learned by pushing myself to follow a prompt that didn’t “inspire” me (whatever that means) and to make it work within a restricted time frame. I wrote stories I didn’t know I wanted to write, and now my life would be sad and empty without them. I found this project so stimulating that I decided to leap into one more impossible challenge before I collapsed.
The story I’m working on right now is for a call I learned of at the beginning of this month. It’s due in two days. I’m not a quick writer. I take a lot of time rethinking, rewriting and re-plotting. I spent ten hours working today and it’s getting close. I can make it better, I can almost see it now, but I have this super-annoying thing called a job to go back to tomorrow.
The mad rush to a deadline may be counterproductive. Good things happen when stories age a bit. They lose their rough edges, their brassiness. They grow up and start thinking for themselves, answering their own questions. I’ll try to meet this deadline with the caveat in the back of my mind that it may be wiser to hold the story back until it has time to mature. I have no regrets though, because it’s taken me to a wild, morbid, unexpected place. I hope it gets published so I can take you there, too.