Saturday, September 24, 2011

Short Stuff


Don't tell the instructor, but since I have to sit through a lot of classes about stuff I already know lately, I've taken advantage of the time to do some writing. I have this little notebook that can fit about 150 words on a page. This past week, whenever things got dull in class, I've been seeing if I can fit a whole, complete story on a single page.

It's been really fun--writing these short-short stories, often called "flash fiction" because of how fast you can read them, is a lot different than writing a short story of 2500 words or more. Flash fiction usually wraps up in under 1000 words. The shorter, the tougher to write, and the wittier they have to be.

There are a lot of markets out there for flash fiction. I used to write more of it, like when I was in a creative writing class and the professor would give us a prompt and a few minutes to work on it. I'd always try to finish a story before she began her lesson. I even placed in a short-short fiction contest called the "Mini Max Competition" at UNC, which is a great competition in which a ton of talent reveals itself. The story which placed was later published in Barbaric Yawp Magazine.

So this past week I've taken a break from the longer pieces I have under construction and spent some time writing flash fiction. I've finished three. You can't do that with longer short stories--start with nothing on Monday and have three pieces ready to send to magazines for consideration on Friday.

Mixed feelings about it, though. Breaking from the longer pieces, including a novel I'm writing, means risking that it becomes slightly stagnant and harder to pick up where I left off. Which is why I try to institute a few rules when writing a novel, one of which is: When you stop writing for the day, know where you will go with it when you pick it up tomorrow. That way, I don't sit down because I'm supposed to and just twiddle my thumbs. Instead I think, "Oh yeah, gotta get to work because my character has this thing to do next." Thus, I can take a step away and write three flashes, without risk of writer's block taking over.

It's all about staying one step ahead.

As is so often the case, writing illuminates life lessons.

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