Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Take a Break, Write a Short Story

Happy Halloween! Photo by Linda Wilson
Taking regular breaks from your WIPs to write short stories and articles can be a great enhancement in many ways. First, it's fun and exhilarating. It takes less time than long-term projects. It's a great way to sharpen your skills. And publication can be a teensy bit faster than book pubbing. The benefits of writing articles, in the words of a nonfiction writer, name unfortunately lost to me now but her words never forgotten: you become an "expert" on a topic then get to move on. And short stories? Research is just as important, of course, but birth to submission can run in the fast-er lane: oh joy, fewer words, quicker results.

Birth of an Idea
This year once October 1st rolled around, I got the itch while grocery shopping to browse the neat, fully-stocked, yet as yet untouched Halloween section at our local super store. With notes in mind that I keep in my back pocket (files) at home, of clever costumes and fun activities from years past, I suddenly hungered for a fresh, new trend.

Here is a short list of what I found:
Tear-away masks: a scary partial mask that can be torn off to reveal an even scarier inner mask
Giant mad baby mask
White skull mask
Maniac's skull mask
Undertaker mask
Ghost face mask
Zombie gas mask
Hockey mask
Creepy clown mask
Spider mask
Skeleton mask
Mullet wig
Raggae wig
Hooded death helmet
Frightful accessories:
Zombie blood
Vampire make-up kit
Snake eyes
Cyborg make-up
Costumes:
Neon zebra
Ninja
Skin suits
Monk
Pirate
Inflatable steer; inflatable shark to wear as a shirt

But wait, Something's Missing
Particularly intriguing were the skin suits. You know the kind: the plastic tuxedo, black, red and blue skin-tight suits that incredibly, cover the entire body, head included, which can turn any ordinary soul into a pseudo-ninja with elusive precision. Haunted by visions of faceless skin-suited trick-or-treaters knocking on my door, I finished my shopping trip and hurried home.

Back in the safety of my office that I pretended even skin-suits couldn't penetrate, I sorely missed one of my all-time All-Hallow-Eve favorites: mummies. I'd been to Egypt, seen real mummies in their native land way before anyone thought to show off their stuff on road trips to museums around the world. So I asked myself, where were the mummy costumes? Hidden underneath the skin-suits?

Story Starts to Form but Wait, there's More
While skin-suits and mummies stalked around in my head, I hadn't yet explored the Internet for more ideas. See if a story-starter doesn't pop up in your mind while you browse this list, found by a Google search in under a minute:

Hooded huntress with bow & arrow                    The Mad Hatter
Robin Hood                                                          Purple Jester
Flirty Flapper                                                       Pirate Captain
Cave Girl                                                             Mime Girls
Egyptian Princess                                                Crystal Ball Gypsy
Jewel of the Nile                                                  Polar Princess
Cleopatra                                                             Blue Peacock
Forest Bandit                                                       Honey Bee

Give yourself a Timetable
Now it's time to narrow down and choose the spark that can turn your research into a full-blown story. For now, I'm content playing around with the possibilities brought by skin-suits and mummies. With so many choices, you could almost close your eyes and point to any one of the costume ideas and see where your imagination takes you. Once an idea jumps out at you, give yourself a month to write, edit and put away your story. November 1st while you look into a holiday story, revisit your Halloween story, take it to your writer's group, polish it and submit it.

Anytime you need a break from your bigger projects try writing a short story or article. Submit ahead nine months or more, if possible, to give your magazine choice the time it needs to publish your story for the next seasonal go-around. You will go back to your other projects refreshed and safe in the knowledge that your story soldiers are out there working to give you shorter-term rewards for all your hard-earned efforts, while keeping your sites set on the big picture.

Coming soon: Great advice and words of wisdom from writer, editor and teacher Joyce Sweeney


Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, recently completed Joyce Sweeney's online fiction and picture book courses. Spooked by a recent move, once settled she will forge ahead with big writing plans and resume work on several projects for children. Follow Linda on Facebook.

4 comments:

  1. Linda, great ideas on Halloween! And, it's a smart move to add short stories and articles to your writing schedule. Like you say, less words, quicker results. :) And, taking breaks from your WIP helps keep your writing fresh.

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  2. Linda, we don't celebrate Halloween in S.Africa but your comments about taking a break to write short stories or articles really resonated with me. I always feel guilty when I take a writing break from my WIP, a non-fiction book. Yet this last week, I spent a couple of days working on a story for Chicken Soup, and it felt so good. Today, I'm returning to my WIP with renewed enthusiasm. Thank you for confirming I need to do this on a regular basis.

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  3. Hi Karen and Shirley, I've been moving and am sorry I missed your comments! I am glad you're taking breaks from your WIP's! I've had to take a huge break due to our move and actually have thought of ways to improve my WIP. So, breaks are good! Just as long as we return to our original purpose! Thanks for writing.

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  4. Hi Linda, glad you're getting back into things. I moved twice in one years and its tough. You are forced to take breaks from writing and marketing though. :)

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