How I Was Prompted to Completion

My first professionally published book, “A Welded Wave,” was the result of seeing a writing prompt on Less Than Three Press’s site (LT3). It was a prompt for the “My Dearest Friend” collection that asked for stories about friends making the transition to lovers.

A collection is a bunch of stories with the same theme at their core. The theme of friends to lovers wasn’t all that specific, but a whole story popped into my head that I could write before the deadline, which was one month away! I used note cards in Scrivener to plot out each scene in my 100 page novella.

What’s surprising about this is that I had never succeeded in writing an outline for a story before. I had always gotten stuck trying to make one of those itemized outlines that calls out all the little details and has numbers then letters then i, ii, iii, etc. I am terrible at those! Using notecards (writing a paragraph or two about what would be in each scene) had never occurred to me before and it worked so well that I am still astonished I had never tried it before.

Having notecards did three things:

  1. It caused me to think about plot and characterization problems early on.
  2. It gave me a clear direction throughout my writing of the story.
  3. It helped to constrain my tendency to go on tangents.

This notecard outline wasn’t set in stone and I did diverge from it a bit in writing the story. It actually made it easier to change the plot because I could see how the new plot differed from my original idea and edit successive plot elements accordingly.

For me, these notecards were a map. When I made a change in my route, I didn’t get lost and still knew how to get to my destination. In some of my earlier projects, I would change something and the story would sometimes get lost in the weeds.

The most typical source of this was one of my characters blowing up my plot by deciding to do something I hadn’t even considered when I started the story. The way I write is so character driven that my characters can sometimes take the reigns of a story and go to nowhere chaos tangent land.

As much as I adore nowhere chaos tangent land, it isn’t the place where I want most of my stories to go because it’s like playing slots with the reader’s investment in the story. A character could end up describing how news network consolidation has affected human society or start playing a D&D campaign with the other characters where all of them are taking on the roles of sentient famous kitchen appliances. It’s like cosmic rays. They can give you cancer or superpowers, mostly cancer.

In addition to creating a notecard-based outline having a prompt for my first novella helped immensely.

My muse is very active and gives me too many ideas most of the time. Filtering them can be tough and writing for a prompt was a great way of focusing myself. I had spent years trying to decide which of my many ideas I wanted to write all the way to the end. A new story that was more contained and focused was what I needed to finally get something finished and out to a publisher.

I believe prompts from publishers are a great way to get that first book done if you’re someone who, like me, is trying to decide what book should be finished first. There is a base idea and a deadline. Two things that help constrain the writing process and make sure the project doesn’t grow too big for its container.

With all this going for me, the book started out well and I had 10,000 words by the end of the first week. Then, I slowed down because I couldn’t figure out how to get the story arc of the relationship to work the way I had originally planned and I had some traveling I had to do. I only got 5,000 words done in that time. It wasn’t till just before the third week that I got going again and a week and a day later I had over 20,000 more words that finished the story.

I was so worried that I would miss the deadline that last week that I asked Less Than Three Press for an extension. I still had to hear back from sensitivity readers, my boyfriend (a continuity guru) and my wife (a very talented editor). They happily agreed to give me a bit of extra time, but I heard back from everyone quickly enough to get it in the day before the due date.

About three weeks later, I found out my book, “A Welded Wave,” had been accepted and I was bouncing off the walls with excitement. My first publishing contract, my first published book, my debut novella! I couldn’t stop thinking about how awesome it was that people were going to be able to buy something I wrote and I was going to get royalties!

If I hadn’t seen that prompt on Less Than Three Press’s site, I might have remained unpublished for a long time. I am so thankful that I saw it and had the motivation and confidence to try to make the deadline.

Before I saw that prompt, I wrote tons of stuff that I put up online and paid attention to the critiques I got from all the wonderful energetic people that read it. I had a multitude of different projects, many of which I never finished. Sometimes something didn’t get finished because I found another story I was working on to be more interesting and sometimes it was because I had too many ideas about how the story should go or how it should be told.

Now that I have a book coming out, I am less anxious and more confident in choosing which story to work on next. I also have tried so many things that I have a clearer sense of how I want to tell a story and where I want things to go.

If you’re curious how the book turned out, you can preorder it!

Have you ever written for a prompt? Have thoughts about writing prompts? Leave a comment!

Z.A. Tanis is a writer, linguist, programmer, artist and public speaker who’s lived on a tropical island and in the frozen tundra of the upper midwest. The loves of Z.’s life are a wise and beautifully honest boyfriend, an understanding and brilliantly intelligent wife, and writing imaginative fiction.

After many years not fitting into the simple categories of “male” and “female,” Z. has rejected them and happily inhabits the space between. Only since joining and writing for the LGBT+ community has Z. found true expression.

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