Writing to a Deadline Part 1: “I got Nothing.”

For the first time since college, I am writing to a deadline.  A publisher’s deadline.  Have I sold my work?  No.  A publisher has opened for submissions in a short window, and I figured, “Why not give it a try?”

The publisher is putting out an anthology.  They have one short story from a published author, and they are looking for more to compliment it.

Here’s the catch.  There’s a writing prompt.  It has to be a story about a particular picture, which I imagine will be the book’s cover… and it has to be a happy ending.

Ugh.  Why couldn’t it be a picture of planets or spaceships with explosions galore?  That I could handle.  This?  My enthusiasm drained as I stared at the interesting piece of artwork.

A vague idea of a story sparked in my head, but it led to death and mayhem—  Definitely not a happy ending.  The picture just didn’t do anything to grip me emotionally.

Wait!—is that a spaceship up there in the top left corner?
Is it? Ugh. No, it’s not. Shoot!

I stared at the picture for a few days in a row.  I read other’s comments.  They were all excited. (At least they said they were)  But I still “got nothing”.  I closed down the Web-site and forgot about it.  I would have to pass on this opportunity.

It made me think about a fourth grade parent-teacher conference I had a year ago.  We were talking about creative writing, and she commented that my son wrote really well when it was something he was interested in.  When he got odd topics from her writing prompts, he didn’t seem to engage himself in the writing.  She thought this was a problem.

As a writer, I wanted to smack her upside the head.  Okay, yeah, as a student you need to write stupid book reports- about stupid people- who you don’t care about- and will never, ever remember again after you hand the paper in.

But creative writing?  If the kid wants to write about Spiderman, or spies, or original super heroes saving the world… and they are THAT good…  Stinking LET HIM DO IT.  (I have to admit, for a ten year old… his stories totally rocked.  Lots of excitement and explosions… the leaves don’t fall far from the trees)

Anyway, he and I had to work on his ability to make his teacher believe he wanted to write about a boring little puppy playing ball with a stupid little girl (I resisted the urge to point out that she could get kidnapped, and a super hero could come and save her life… with lots of action and explosions.)

He wrote the boring story.  It was okay.
He got a decent grade… on to the next one.

It made me think.  I used to be a master at this.  Give my ANYTHING in school.  Give me the prompt… be it creative writing, an essay, or a book report.  I could write my way out of anything.  Could I still do that? Could I find a story in that picture that didn’t spark a single bit of creativity in my heart?

Stay tuned.


33 responses to “Writing to a Deadline Part 1: “I got Nothing.”

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  2. Pingback: Writing to a Deadline Part 10: Rewrite and Beta Blast | Jennifer M Eaton

  3. I feel your pain. I can look at some things for hours and nothing will come to me, or sit and ponder about a blog post with nothing lighting the fire. But occasionally I will surprise myself. I have learned not to think too hard, and my wife says I do a very good job at it.

  4. I totally see both sides (for your son and his teacher), but there’s such a fine line between encouragement and discouraging them to ever love writing. I’m not so good with prompts. You know when people are all excited to get on Twitter to do 30 minute writing prompt sprints? Yeah, I run like crazy in the opposite direction. Finding things to write about has never been hard for me, making me write about something I’m not interested in is worse than root canals without pain meds.

    I love that ‘I got nothing’ banner up there. Makes me smile for some reason. 😉

  5. Good post and I agree that this might be good to push you beyond your comfort zone. Years ago when i first started writing erotica, a friend challenged me to write something NOT based on personal experience…although it was hard at first, it led to a series of stories that won an award on a well-known website. You should give it a try! 🙂

    • Ha! I think I’d be embarrassed to admit my Erotica was based on persnal experience. Tee Hee. So far, all I’ve been able to do is fade to black. I can’t quite go there.

  6. Yikes, I’m glad I’m not your son’s teacher, lol. Soooooo sad that kids can’t write what they want . . . but we have to follow the common core standards:( It’s funny, b/c the writing curriculum is total opposite of what real writers do & the kids will point that out & I say, “I know! And you do that too when you are all grownup!” LOL

  7. Or maybe the picture from the publisher was the ‘happy’ dream of your dying victim from all the explosions. You just end the story on what they’re thinking about before they’re all the way dead. Hmmm? Never mind, I hear you on boring writing prompts. I sometimes think teachers are trying to kill any writing interest my teens have in them.

  8. Thought-provoking, Jennifer.

    Like Jenny and Glenn, my knee-jerk response was, write in a spaceship.

    There is another alternative–rather than fret over having nothing, you could give this opportunity a pass and channel your energy into something that excites you.

    Or, push yourself into a new direction.

    Man, do I sound boring! Regardless, it will be cool to watch your decision process unfold.

  9. You can totally do this! Klingon cloaking devise. Borg bot. Think on those lines if you want to bring the spaceship into reality. I haven’t seen the picture, but just because it’s not there doesn’t mean it can’t somehow be implied, right? Even in the thick of the jungle we found Predator or his ship hidden under the streets of suburbia.

  10. Good writing, Jennifer. I can tell from the tenor of this blog that once you leap into that image, you will find the hook, the best way to describe it and come up with a wonderful piece. Good luck and write on !!

  11. I, too, believe you CAN do it. If you choose to.

    I point back to your son who is a dang good writer when the topic is of interest and pings his buttons. He pushed his way through projects of no interest to him because the teacher said he had to. The upside (and downside, sometimes) of being your own boss in your writing world is the ability to boss yourself around and write about what interests you.

    For me, the question would be: Do you really WANT to do it? With all of the writing projects in play, the competitions out there, is the time and muse rebellion risk worth the potential reward? I’ll stay tuned with the rest of your fans!

  12. Squeeee…good luck!!! You can DO IT GIRL!! Woot woot – shaking hot pink pompoms WILDLY!!!

  13. Great post… I myself love these short story anthology deadlines (last week I wrote five stories in five days at the last minue and submitted them) but the dreaded picture prompt? Ugh. Give me a theme… heck, give me the boring first line of it and I’ll write it… but I have never been able to do it based on the picture…

    But you.,.. you are different, positive, and you can do it! Happy ending, here you come!

    Armand Rosamilia

  14. Good luck! Just maintain your focus and you’ll be fine…. I hope!

  15. Why CAN’T a space ship have dropped off that woman in red? She could be returning to earth to collect her long lost, kidnapped Captain of the starship vessel. She could be a shapeshifter. Why not? Go for it. You could always blow everything up in the end on earth after she collects her love. They live happily ever after, but you can still have your explosion. Go for it, girl. What are you waiting for?

  16. I think you gave up too easily.

    That was a spaceship in the top left corner.

    It was cloaked. Write on. 😉

  17. You go girl! *insert mad waving of pom poms and cartwheels here*

  18. informative, thanks!