A simple truth about teaching is that my whole year starts in September. Once Labor Day comes and goes, EVERYTHING changes. Days get colder, blankets are unpacked, and demands on my time become ridiculous. As a result, many of my writing projects get shelved in the basement alongside those gross window air conditioners.
But I’m not alone. Even famous and notoriously-prolific authors have admitted how hard it is keeping their productivity up during a semester. Something Stephen King wrote still sticks with me years after I first read it: “Teaching school is like having jumper cables hooked to your brain, draining all the juice out of you.” I’m pretty sure that quote was in his book On Writing, but I’m not 100% on that. Either way, it’s still true.
The trick to staying productive is to figure out what it takes to motivate you to do the little things that make big things happen. That’s really all that productivity is… the little things. Scratch an outline on notebook paper. Read for inspiration. Allow yourself to daydream. Type a couple of words. Repeat. Forever.
What Gets Me Writing
My favorite motivator is an ambitious submission deadline with a hard end date and no room for forgiveness. The funny thing is that this is the antithesis of how I teach children. But I’m no child and I sometimes need a bit of a stiffer push to get things done.
The current project I’ve been obsessing over is a call for submissions for Horror Novellas that was first published in Interstellar Flight Magazine back in May.
The word count of a novella is under 40k, so it is totally doable compared to the idea of writing a full novel in just a couple of months. In Netflix language, think of a novella as an episode of Black Mirror as opposed to a novel which would be the full season of Midnight Mass. Episodes of Love, Death & Robots are all short stories at heart, but we’ll get into all of that another time.
To get started, I’ve been reading fiction in the horror genre from acclaimed authors like Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing But Blackened Teeth and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (Check out my reviews on TikTok for more details – NBBT and TGB). These books have all been great for helping me develop a feel for the pacing and delivery of horror writing and they give me a chance to think of wild “what ifs” that can be seeds for future stories.
When considering which story I wanted to dedicate my time and attention to, I had to consider a few things. How complicated is the plot? Novellas can’t be too difficult to follow or have as many people to keep track of as a full-length novel, but they require more depth than short stories.
How I Publish Short Fiction
The website I use to find an audience for my short fiction is Duotrope. It is essentially a submission aggregator that lists agents, publishers, and contests with clear guidelines and focused search filters so you know that you are sending your work to the people who are looking for what you have to offer.
From Duotrope’s About Page: “Duotrope is a subscription-based service for writers and artists that offers an extensive, searchable database of current fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and visual art publishers and agents, a calendar of upcoming deadlines, a personal submission tracker, and useful statistics compiled from the millions of data points we’ve gathered on the publishers and agents we list.”
An easy way to see what short fiction I have sold through this process is by looking at the Table of Contents for Watching From Behind Glass Eyes. A majority of that anthology is work that was first published through Duotrope submissions.
Put Yourself In Control
The sad fact is that nothing gets done unless you do it yourself. Find your motivator and get working on that draft you’ve been neglecting. Your imaginary friends miss you.
And while you’re looking for motivation, keep an eye open for my NY Comic Con shenanigans on TikTok and Instagram. It should be a wild time.