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Trying (and Failing) to Write A Seasonal Short

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Twice I have had ambitions of writing a short story to publish in time for Halloween. Twice I have failed. The first real attempt was at what became Growing Storm – a story I’m mightily proud of. The second is of a new story I have given the working title of Nightmare Tenant – which I will discuss more in this post.

Firstly, let’s discuss the main reasons why I’ve let the deadline of October 31st come and go without getting the stories out when I wanted to:

With both Growing Storm and now with Nightmare Tenant, I’ve found myself brimming with story ideas, so much so that I’ve not been able to hammer these into a cohesive story in time. With Growing Storm, some personal circumstances precluded me from committing to the writing time needed to get the story finished – let alone edited – in time for this deadline that I had set myself.

My new work, Nightmare Tenant, is even worse in that regard – I’ve been overhauling how I plan out my stories of late and I’d initially come up with enough raw story for Nightmare Tenant to fill a novel; the original plan had been to write a 10-12,000 word short story for the spooky deadline. However, I found out that the story beat sheet that I had been using to plan this story was indeed intended for a novel-length project, and trying to scale that back was difficult after having come up with some great story ideas. Indeed, even during the writing process, the story has taken on a few wandering plotlines that I couldn’t have anticipated – it’s now takes on some soap opera elements with a pretty juicy horror idea – so much so that I’ve decided to expand the wordcount to a 33,000 word novella.

This experience was compounded by my participation in Kent Shawn’s short story contest where my piece – a post-apoc psychological thriller, Left Outside – had far too much story for its limited 5,000 word limit and I think it suffered in a way because of that. With Nightmare Tenant, I have the flexibility of being able to change the word count as I see fit; quickly I realised this project was not going to fit into 12,500 words so I decided to go hell-for-leather and make it a novella. This has already in the writing process made me feel a lot more comfortable – there’s plenty to edit but there’s breathing space to get some cool – and I hope spooky – ideas down!

Both projects, it’s important to note – were great fun to write, regardless of seeing my initial deadline come and go.

If I were to think critically, I would need to identify the need to put the work out for Halloween in about August, to give myself ample time to plan, draft and edit the work. But it’s difficult to visualise the cold October nights in the summer hence I tend to have the light-bulb moment in mid-September which isn’t really long enough.

This year I’ve learned a lot about my process and while I feel reinvigorated, I want to always present high-quality work. So for Nightmare Tenant, as I did with Growing Storm last year, I am going to implement some kind of feedback or beta-reading system; possibly less sophisticated than the one I have just undertaken for The Thaw (which is a 105,000 word novel, so a different proposition entirely). This also takes time – the lesson here, don’t just aim to plan the workpiece, but plan your time around a deadline you have in mind.

But is the “failure” to get these pieces out by a fairly arbitrary deadline really a failure at all? I think not – the pieces in question have turned out to be some of my favourites. I can’t wait to talk all about Nightmare Tenant as it’s been a project that has become some sort of morphing alien in terms of the story but the core idea is one I am very fond of and am thoroughly enjoying developing. These goals are more guidelines, a kick up the behind to get me writing and in that sense they’ve been successful. I just need to be more accountable to my own deadlines, not ones picked off the calendar!

And no, Christmas is not a season I’m planning anything fictional for!

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