Writing to Escape

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

Some weeks ago we talked about reading for escapism.

What about writing to escape?

In 2020 we had a slew of blog posts about how hard it was to write in 2020. With political, cultural, and pandemic bedlam hitting us all like an unending Oklahoma dust storm, that was no surprise. I added to that conversation here.

Welp, the dust storm is still blowing, and writers need escape just like everyone else. That’s where the magic of story comes to our aid.

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury famously said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

Yet for those of us who write for a living, and those who hope to make some decent dough from writing (which is 99.76% of all writers) there is the sober part of us that keeps one eye on the market. That’s a necessity. We have to try to figure out what readers out there might spend their discretionary income on. In the traditional world of publishing, that calculus is filtered through agents and editors and the sales department.

Indies fly solo, but still must figure all these things out, too. Writing for money is a business. And business can often be frustrating, heartbreaking, even downright depressing.

But through it all, the writer who is a real writer keeps tapping that keyboard. Sometimes just to escape.

That’s why I love writing short stories and flash fiction. Flash fiction is 1k words or less; short stories are usually tagged at 1k – 7.5k. After that you get into the realm of the novelette (up to 20k words) and the novella (up to 49k words).

The beauty of short stories and flash fiction is that you can write them in a beautiful state called “The Zone.” When they’re finished, maybe they work, maybe they don’t. But that is beside the point. First, you have escaped in those hours. And second, nothing is wasted, for you have flexed your writing muscles, always a good thing.

You are not bound by conventions when you flash (er, maybe I should rephrase that). And you can try out different genres with your shorts (maybe I should rephrase that, too).

I’ll even throw in a bonus escape: poetry. Yes, poetry, which Bradbury also read each day and sometimes wrote himself. My personal preference is the whimsical, as in the poetry of Ogden Nash. He didn’t restrict himself to strict meter or schemes, and even made up words to suit his purposes. Thus I give you my Nash-inspired poem “Love in the Age of the Virus.”

This virus, we are told, is unlike anything that came before it—

Not the flu or a cold or pneumonia or a bad headache, so different it is that you darn well better not ignore it.

The answer, they say, is a mask and social distancing,

And should you shirk those things be sure of this: you’ll get plenty of angry insistancing.

Adjust, they say, for this is the normal that is new,

No matter how badly you wish it to be the abnormal that is through.

The way you socialize and eat and even worship in church, or mosque, or synagogue,

Is overseen and shadowed by a huge, regulatory fog.

Thus, they tell us, the best answer to the gloom

Is Zoom.

Ah, methinks, however, that the greatest challenge of all is in the dance of the sexes,

Be it with dates, or schoolmates, or husbands, wives or exes.

And speaking as I must, as a man, I can only say it adds immeasurably to our romantic task

To have to lean over and whisper, deep-voiced and confident, “Hey baby, how about taking off your mask?”

Now, that took me about half an hour to write, and for that half hour I was fully into the joy of creation.

So I work on my full-length fiction—which butters my bread—writing to a quota each day. But when I need pure escape, which is often these days, I’ll give myself fully to a short story or a flash. And when I write something that works the way I want it to, I’ll publish it for my Patreon community, so they can enjoy some escapism, too.

I always come out of these sessions feeling like a better writer. I’ve gained strength. I do believe it shows up in my full-length fiction.

So try this, writing friend, the next time you’re feeling the burdens of the day crushing your creative spirit. Write something short. Take a prompt from Gabriela Pereira’s Writer Igniter and start a flash story. Maybe it will expand into a short story. It might even sow the seeds of a novel. But write it just for yourself. Tell your inner editor to go sit in the corner with your market analyst, and tell them both “No talking.”

I went to Writer Igniter a couple of days ago, and this came up:

I immediately started a story called “Lucky Penny” and wrote the first 800 words. It was pure joy. For half an hour I had escaped. I now have the ending in mind, and a complete story to finish.

I can’t wait.

Do you ever write just to escape?

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29 thoughts on “Writing to Escape

  1. Maybe it’s because I’m not a plotter, or because I can’t work on more than one project at a time, but I find working on the current novel is my escape. (Having a deadline might be part of that, too.) I did take a break, before my editor asked for another novel, to write a short story for my newsletter subscribers.

    I love reading the short story format, but don’t like writing it at all. I suppose my personal blog posts might count as “escape writing” but overall, when I’m working on a novel, which is most of the time, that’s enough for me.

    • I often do the Asimov. When he got tired on a project he would stand up, stretch, walk across the room to another typewriter and work on something else. He mainly used non-fiction as his escape writing.

  2. Like Harvey, every single day.

    When we escape into writing, for a little while, we become the gods of that fictional world. We control the actions and outcomes, unlike the real world where we’re at the mercy of capricious, incomprehensible forces.

    Jim, I enjoy your Patreon shorts (are those boxers or briefs?). Although they sometimes concern the pandemic, you always have an ironic O. Henry surprise end that makes me smile.

    • Thanks for the good word, Debbie. I’ve always liked the sport of boxing. Perhaps I should write some boxer shorts… actually, I have. Stories set in 1950s Los Angeles and a boxer named Irish Jimmy Gallagher. Maybe I’ll do another one of those. They’re pure fun.

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful post this morning, Jim, and particularly the reminder about Writer Igniter. I had somehow forgotten about that.

    To answer your question…no. I write to create, not to escape. I’m very fortunate in that I rarely need an escape from what situation I am in. The current climate hasn’t really affected me because I am not a social animal so not much has changed, other than fulfilling my lifelong dream of walking into a bank wearing a mask.

    Hope you are having a great weekend. BTW, if you’re looking for a house in Redondo Beach, have I got a deal for you!

  4. Jim, you must be a mind-reader. I used to write a ton of flash fiction. It’s the perfect medium to test out a character or play with POV or an evil voice (I wrote a few in 2nd POV, and loved it). I haven’t written a short piece in a while, but just the other day I read another blog post about the joys of writing flash fiction and promised to carve out time today to dabble again.

  5. That last line of your poem made me laugh out loud. Thanks for starting my day with a good dose of humor. 😎

    I have been using prayer poetry as my escape of late. And I use the term poetry loosely because it is definitely not good poetry by writerly standards–something that will be for my eyes only. But it has really helped.

  6. Jim, thanks for this post. You made me laugh – and escape. As I read through your post, I had images of some poor soul running wildly after the object of his love, who was escaping to the convention center ahead. The poor soul was clad only in a mask and his shorts. He called to his love, as he tugged at his mask, “Hey, baby, you want to take off your shorts?”

    Thanks for the writing prompt. There’s my short short(s) for the day. And the escape was as refreshing as skinny dipping as a child in a country pond. Nuff said.

    • Ah, Steve, the refreshing skinny dip. I like the analogy. I won’t go into further analysis, except to say it is usually of short duration and that’s what writing to escape is like.

  7. Jim, thanks for the reminder about writing for escape andwriting flash. I haven’t written for escape nearly enough in my career. I did write a flash story recently, a prequel to my first series, but I haven’t written flash just for the pure, creative, experimental fun of it in a very long while. One of my favorite of my own stories is a flash piece called “Coffee Shop Crisis,” which came about because I was playing with voice for my then-superhero serial (which eventually became The Empoweredseries. I had an “almost-ex-supervillian” who just wanted to have a date incognito with her boyfriend at their favorite coffee shop, then a royal jerk of a superhero strolled in and started dissing the barista for the allegedly bad coffee he served.

    It’s high time I wrote some more flash for the pure escapist, experimental fun of it 🙂 Have a great Sunday!

    • Dale, many a flash story has come about by listening to odd conversations in a coffee house…back when you could actually go to one. I never really “eavesdropped” but if a table was speaking loudly enough for me to hear, I didn’t dissuade them. I vividly remember two guys arguing, and one says, “But is it logical?” And the other guys says, with complete earnestness, “It’s so logical it’s ridiculous!” I never picked up what they were talking about, but it made for a good flash starter.

      • “It’s so logical it’s ridiculous!” is a fantastic line and prompt.

        The Coffivity app needs an option to make the background conversation just a bit clearer and more audible 🙂

      • This reminds me of a Harry Kemelman short story where two people are walking and overhear a comment, “Nine miles is a long way to walk, especially in the rain,” and they start discussing it and solve a crime–or so I remember it.

  8. Okay, I accept the challenge:

    There once was a writer named Nash
    Whose output was just balderdash
    Til he started to write
    Short works that were bright
    Then Nash transformed flash into cash.

    Btw, I love the Patreon stories.

  9. Great post! I keep a daily journal that helps me put things in perspective, adding a few personal “prayer poems.”

    This is the only part of writing that I feel is too personal to share, (only a few family members have ever read one).

    Creating “shorts” to flesh out characters, is a palm to the forehead. A lightbulb literally went off over my brain.

    Thanks again for some daily inspiration.

  10. I started a travel blog for that very reason. May as well mine my 27 years with the Foreign Service. It challenges my setting and editing skills. With a limit of 500 words, no word is wasted.

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