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?