By Lillian Csernica on December 16, 2014
Many writers believe the secret to success is a strong deadline. I agree. A deadline forces me to get the story written, get the editing done, then cut and polish with ruthless efficiency. I have two stories due on Dec. 31st. Not just two stories, but two stories that have to fit the theme and word limit of the anthology project. Each story has to take place within a one hour time limit. What’s more, the two stories must relate to each other. Does this sound like an impossible task? I didn’t think so until I had to write the second story. The first one was a lot of fun and wrote itself with a fair amount of ease. Hah. Never trust what you’re writing when it seems to be going too well.
Little did I realize I would find myself bound by my own worldbuilding rules.
Of course I know how this works. I wrote The Writer’s Spellbook because magic as an element of worldbuilding is such a huge subject. See, the tricky part here is the convergence between the anthology’s guidelines and the fantasy world in which my stories take place. This is also my first real effort at steampunk, so that added another layer of research and complexity. What’s that, you say? Why on earth do I keep making this harder and harder on myself?
Because I am starting to accumulate a number of works that take place in the same historical period and involve some combination of the same countries and cultures. There may come a time when I want to gather these works into a collection. They might even blend together into one or more novels. That means attention to detail now. Besides, it’s just a matter of professional pride to do the absolute best work I possibly can. I was invited to submit to this anthology. To me that means working twice as hard to show my appreciation for the opportunity I’m being given.
Does it sound like I’m being rather hush-hush about this project? I am. The work is going well. I wrote the second story all in one go last night. Took me a good week to figure out the plot. I created two entire storylines, then had to discard each as pieces did not quite line up with the first story or with the overall thematic elements of the anthology. I have in fact painted myself into a corner more than once. Had to change paint, had to pick a new room, had to get out of that building entirely. It’s painful to toss out what might be a perfectly valid idea, but “good enough” is not what I’m going for here.
The more rules the better, says I. When I have very clear and specific guidelines from an editor and/or publisher, then several of the choices are already made. Now I have to dream up the story elements that not only meet those requirements, they transcend them by avoiding the obvious, the predictable, the familiar. Every other story in the anthology will follow the same guidelines I’ve been given. I have to reach farther for something fresh, for colors and flavors and pain and discord that set my stories apart from the rest.
Time for me to go have a look at what I wrote last night. There’s a whole lot of pressure. I have fifteen days to make these two stories the best they can possibly be. I normally go through five drafts on a short story. I do not have that luxury, not on one story, and certainly not on two. To say nothing of minor little tasks like making sure I get Christmas gifts bought and wrapped for my family, put up our tree, do the grocery shopping, and figure out plans for my sister’s birthday (Jan. 1) and my mother’s birthday (Jan.3). If I’m lucky, I might even get some sleep!