Writers’ Block? Anthologies, Short Stories, Flash Fiction and other Shaggy Dog Tales – Guest Post by Dani J. Caile…

I like writing novels. In my writing, it’s the be-all and end-all. To have a new novel out there in the immense sea of literature, that’s my goal. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just ‘happen’, I have to make it happen. And as any of you know, that isn’t easy. In this article, I would like to show how the little guy in the literary forms, the short stories and Flash Fiction, can help to not only develop you as a writer but also keep you ‘in the game’ when inspiration dries up, when that boogieman the ‘writers’ block’ rears its ugly head.

Let’s start at the beginning. My first novel was difficult, Ihadn’t ever put so many words together, other than for my university theses. The second and third were a little easier, because I knew I’d done it before, it was impossible. But then… you know, some people can write and write and write, while others hit an ‘empty’ zone, a writer’s block, a place where nothing goes right in their writing. After my fourth, ‘Manna-X’, which was both hard work to write though quite a success at the time, I was stuck. I’d written out everything I could for that idea of a series of book, four in all, and I had nothing left. There was no place to go, nothing more to say.

Was it ‘writer’s block’? If feeling empty, sitting at my computer trying to think of what to write, is ‘writer’s block’, then yes. So did I give up? Really, I had no idea what to do. A few ideas came and went but nothing stuck, I couldn’t get a manuscript going.

One night I did a quick internet search of places to send novel submissions, and somehow I found this writers’ group on Facebook. It was brand new, it wasn’t one of those ‘advertise your book’ and no-one sees it. It was a writers’ group for writers who needed help in writing on a regular basis. This was the Iron Writer. The group had a weekly challenge where a maximum of four writers had to write a 500-word story which included four weekly prompts given (object, emotion, etc.) and through a series of different voting systems and tournaments, an annual winner was found. Not only was the challenge of writing these stories to include the prompts an excellent exercise for scene-writing and playing around with characters and their development in a short form, there was also a ton of camaraderie in the private Facebook group. There were even ‘duels’ where one writer could have a ‘grudge match’ with another, where other writers would set the prompts and the writers ‘faced-off’. The Iron Writer group went on for four years, and also included annually published anthologies of the weekly winnersIronology (2014-2017), and I myself wrote up every challenge given and self-published my collections for free on Smashwords. I still do as the Iron Writer has recently been reborn, though in a more relaxed fashion. None of this was for money, only practise. I didn’t know it at the time, but these challenges helped me to develop my writing ability and an understanding of where I wanted to go as a writer.

While in the Iron Writer Group, a few of the members had their own small ‘publishing presses’, ie. they published through Amazon’s author platform, and these members regularly asked for submissions of short stories to create thematic anthologies. Some paid, others didn’t, but what was important was that we were all part of a new anthology, out there for someone to read and perhaps find an author they liked. These also led onto finding other anthologies asking for submissions, including some from other Facebook groups, a website search for submissions, a Guinness Book Record attempt, and even writing competitions where you were published if you were in the Top 3 in the week, ie. 72 Hours of Insanity. This particular competition published one of my stories, though I still had seven others, so I published my own anthology. With all their prompts, themes and word limits, I was never ‘not writing’, always submitting something.

One particular Iron Writer member had a small publishing press and also travelled from book fair to book fair in their area of the USA. I was lucky to get a few short stories in some of their anthologies and somehow… I really don’t remember how… I put together… a novel. The first one for years. It wasn’t difficult to write, it took very little time, and in the end it was one hell of a piece of writing. And then I wrote a sequel — it was easier.

Unfortunately, due to time restrictions, I needed to busy myself with university work, and writing took a back-burner. Thankfully, through the years, I had somehow hooked up with a certain individual called Jason Brick and was proofreading for many people, including Jasper T. Scott, a best-selling sci-fi author. Every year Brick kept me busy editing stories for the Flash anthologies (the fourth will soon be out), collections of 100+ short stories, and Scott supplied me with his sci-fi novels to proofread. This all kept me ‘in the game’.

At the end of this summer, university for me ended (for now,maybe I’ll return in a few years) and I relaxed. What I found was a ton of ideas waiting in my head to be created into a new series, Humanity H2O, and not only is it great to write, it is also great to see the effect on readers, both good and bad, because what are books for if not to be read and felt.

What am I trying to say with this shaggy dog tale? That there is no writers’ block. There is no need to worry when you feel the well has run dry. There are always places out there in ‘writers’ land’ which urge you to write, either for prompts, a theme or a competition and the end result is a published anthology, out there on Amazon where people can see your work alongside others and for you to get ‘exposure’ while your mind rejuvenates. There is no excuse not to write if you really wish to.

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