Following Up: How a Writing Challenge Pulled me from my Writing Doldrums

On March 12, I was free of my rigorous German coursework (mandatory to stay in the country) and was done with my annual curriculum writing, so I expected it to be smooth sailing when sitting down to start my next novel. I had it thoroughly plotted and got the first chapter under my belt.

A few days later, the state where I live went into lock down.

I’ve been having a lot of trouble getting words on the page during the pandemic. There’s been a goodly dose of general existential angst of the world being turned upside down, which spilled over into doubting both my ability and my commitment to writing. The first anniversary of my first two novels came and went in a daze, and though I believe both Riftmaker and No Rest for the Wicked are good books, they definitely aren’t flying off the shelf. The next installment in the Mistress of None series is coming out in August, but with everything else going on, I couldn’t help but wonder “who cares?”

After almost exactly 2 months after my dry spell began, I ran across a unique call for submissions. Zombie Pirate Publishing was offering a challenge: 1 week, 1 novelette. They provided the prompt on May 19, and the finished story of between 12500-15000 words was due May 27. I decided it was exactly the type of thing that could help shake me out of my stupor. Relying on my own internal motivations and barometer weren’t doing me any good. What I needed was a deadline.

The result? The most productive 5 days of writing I think I’ve ever had. I spent one day brainstorming, which included a long walk down by the river. I spent one day outlining, which for me meant figuring out how many vignettes I needed to tell my story that would span 25 years of my character’s life. Over the next 5 days, I averaged around 2850 words per day and came in at around 14300. After one day of revisions and feedback (thanks Mom!), I submitted my finished product of 14800 words many hours ahead of the final deadline yesterday.


Where Do I Go From Here?

I have been riding this validation high now for more than 24 hours, and it has made me revive an old practice. I am going through my favorite short story submission sites looking for other anthology calls and marking them on my calendar for the next two months.

I am very fortunate that I while I don’t actually write that many shorts, they have all been published (though not always under the name Phoebe Darqueling). Reminding myself of both this track record and the pleasure of completing a project that isn’t a full novel has really relit my fire for short fiction. I’ve got three potential submission deadlines at the end of June, and I plan to attempt at least one of them.

By no means do I plan to abandon Mistress of None #3. It is all plotted, in some sections right down to the scene. The next and final installment is also roughed out in my notes. I’ve got three other standalones kicking around in my brain, too. And thanks to returning to short stories, I feel much more confident in my ability to bring them to life. I am sure many more words are sure to come.

So if you are a writer (or blogger or any other type of creative person) who has been having trouble writing lately, don’t fret. This too shall pass. And maybe it’s worth it to check out open calls. It was certainly worth it for me.

How are you doing, my friends? Are you having a hard time creating? Or maybe it’s the opposite? Share your experiences in the comments. 

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