Today’s exercise is designed to help you see that you CAN write, even when you think you don’t have time. Take 30 minutes today to write a complete story. Here’s how…
Sometimes life gets in the way of writing. We must find ways to work in a time-crunch.
Today’s exercise is designed to help you see that you CAN write, even when you think you don’t have time.
Write A Story In 30 Minutes
Turn your phone off, mute your email, hang a signon the door, put on huge silly headphones. Do whatever you need to do, carve out 30 minutes today to Just Write.
Use only 30 minutes, start to finish, brainstorming to ‘the end’.
Set a stopwatch. Take seven minutes to brainstorm. Think of a character. Give him/her a problem/desire. Pick a reason why solving this problem/achieving this desire causes them extreme heartache/peril (examples: Wesley loves Buttercup but is too poor to woo her. Becoming good for her means risking being murdered by pirates, a prince and a rodent of unusual size. A bookworm’s heart’s desire is simply to read, but his wife thinks its a waste of time so he can’t read at home; and his boss threatens to fire him if he catches him reading at work.)
Pick a good opening line that sums up the character and the problem. (“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” – J.D Salinger: The Catcher In The Rye)
You should be at about 10 minutes into your time now. Spend the next 15 minutes getting to the meat of the problem, throwing complications at your character, and having him start to try to resolve them. Fail at least once. (If it’s an interior kind of story, you can let that failure be ‘temptation to give up’)
Five minutes to go! At some point in the past 15 minutes your character should have started to tell you how the story should end. Tie up the last challenge you gave them and move immediately to the ending. Two sentences. Don’t worry about connecting the middle to the ending just yet. That’s what rewrites are for. Just write “[connecting stuff]” and move on to the end.
There. Didn’t that feel good?
What you have in front of you is likely not a complete short story. It’s a sketchy first draft. But it’s a sketchy first draft that moves. It has an interesting character. It has action. It has a sense that it’s going somewhere, and it has and ending.
Now you have a draft you can rework. Add a few lines to help clarify setting and description for the reader, if it’s that kind of story. Change some of your ‘info dump’ paragraphs to dialogue and move them to earlier/later in the story. Expand or delete details. Figure out your theme and how you can (subtly) strengthen it.
Do this, and I think you’ll have a pretty good story. All from taking 30 minutes to squeeze a little short story writing into your day.
Having trouble getting started with your writing today? Why not host a writing sprint?
WHAT IS A WRITING SPRINT?
A writing sprint is a focussed block of writing time. Ideally you announce it to the world and invite others to join.
It’s usually pretty spontaneous. A writer announces that they’re doing a writing sprint at :15, for example (meaning ’15 minutes past the hour wherever you are’), and says ‘join me?’
I see writing sprints mostly on Twitter, because that’s where I hang out, but there’s no reason you can’t host one on your favourite social media network: Twitter, Facebook, Livejournal, LinkedIn, even the StoryADay activity stream.
WHY HOST A WRITING SPRINT?
You’ll inspire other people to join you in real time, as you write.
You’ll feel like you’re not in this alone.
You’ll be accountable to the other people taking part and less likely to abandon your own efforts.
HOW TO HOST A WRITING SPRINT
All it takes is a simple announcement. You can give people some notice (if you know you’ll be writing at 7 AM EST, say so) or you can just say “Go”.
Here are some sample messages you can send
About to write my storyaday story. Want to write with me? #WritingSpring at 0:15.
I’m #writing RIGHT NOW. Join me?
The hashtags are a Twitter thing: they let people easily find other people who are interested in the same things. the ‘Writing Sprint at 0:15’ part lets people know you’re starting at fifteen minutes after whatever hour it is now, wherever they are. (Obviously you can make it 0:00 or 0:23 or any time you like).
Set A Time Limit (optional)
Some people say they’re going to ‘sprint’ for 30 minutes or an hour or 15 minutes. That lets people know how long you’ll all be writing together (though anyone should feel free to write for more or less time). This is optional, though it increases the sense that you’re all in it together for at least that amount of time.
This is important: get offline and write.
No, you won’t actually know if anyone is writing along with you because you’re not checking your messages (right?!). But just imagining a squad of other writers out there writing along with you is kind of fun.
End The Sprint
When your story is finished (or your time is up), send another quick message to let your followers know you are done, and invite them to check in. Sample messages:
#WritingSprint finished! I got a lot done! How about you?
That #WritingSprint was bit of a slog, but I did get 523 words written. How did you do?
Enjoy The Feedback
Sometimes you’ll hear nothing (especially if your network is small and not populated by writers) but sometimes you’ll hear from people you don’t even know, who just saw your hashtag, or message, and jumped in because you gave them the motivation they needed to get going today. And even if you don’t hear from them, there mayl be writers out there who saw your ‘writing sprint’ announcement and buckled down to write a story that would not otherwise have been told.
And trust me, it’s a pretty warm and fuzzy feeling, knowing you’re helping motivate people to write.
There are, of course, as many definitions of Flash Fiction as there are writers.
Length: The closest point of consensus I could find is that Flash Fiction ought to be not more than 1000 words.
(One journal points out that, in China, this fiction is described as a story you can read in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette. Since there’s no smoking in public places where I live, we’ll have to come up with an alternate definition. A story you can read while waiting for the barista to finish making your non-fat, no-foam, chai vanilla iced latte? Tea-break tales? Soda stories?)
Content: Flash fiction must contain a complete story — a beginning, a middle and an end. It can be in any genre. It may — or may not — have a twist in the end.
What Flash Fiction Is Not
Flash Fiction, though short, is not:
Simplistic – Getting a whole short story into so few words requires all the tricks up a writer’s sleeve. After writing a few of these, you’ll start to look fondly at that half-finished novel you just archived.
A Fragment – a description of a scene or a character is not a Flash Fiction story. It’s a fragment.
Easy – A Flash Fiction story requires just as much thought and planning as a longer story (perhaps more).
Quick – Spare, pointed writing often takes much longer to create than longer works. The good news is that much of the ‘writing’ can be done in your head before you even sit down to type.
How To Write Flash Fiction
Good Subjects for Flash Fiction
“Look for the smaller ideas in larger ones. To discuss the complex interrelationship of parents and children you’d need a novel. Go for a smaller piece of that complex issue. How kids feel when they aren’t included in a conversation. What kids do when they are bored in the car.”
This is excellent advice. It’s easy to let a story run away with you, but the beauty of short stories is exactly this ability to focus on the moments that shape the big ideas.
Another way to find subjects for flash fiction is to take advantage of what the reader already knows: base a story on familiar tales (fairy tales, urban myths, traditional myths). These provide many short cuts for the writer: if you talk about a fairy godmother, we know what we should expect (and you’re free to quickly subvert that!). If you write about someone waking up in a bath full of ice, the reader immediately thinks they know something. Run with it (or away from it!).
And don’t forget about mystery and humor. What is a good joke, after all, but a tiny mystery tied up with a punchline?
In the same article, G. W. Thomas advises focusing on one powerful image. E. B. White uses this technique in his short story The Door, where the single image of the lab rat’s trigger (a circle) runs throughout the story, tying it all together. It’s a very efficient and effective technique.
Short-short stories often feature a mystery or a twist in the tale, subverted expectations. you only have so many words, and this is a great way to pack a punch. Be careful, though, not to make your ending feel too much like a traditional punchline, or risk alienating your reader.
Some writers advocate writing long stories and then paring them to the bone. Me? I’m lazy and that seems like a lot of extra work. I’m working on focusing on the essentials as I write (but that comes with the risk of inviting in the dreaded Inner Editor, so beware).
Writing spare, low-word-count fiction doesn’t mean you have to state the bald facts and lose all your style. You get to choose every word: leave out dialogue attributions and lush descriptions if your style tends towards satirical commentary and unexpected metaphors. Or cut the metaphors and go dialogue-heavy. There is plenty of room for style in a Flash Fiction story as long as you focus on one central idea, and pare away everything that isn’t ‘you’.
Where To Read Good Flash Fiction
There really is no excuse for not reading flash fiction: it doesn’t take long! You can study the form a lot more quickly than if your preference were the Russian masters.
Finding Flash Fiction is not hard to do. The Internet is the perfect vehicle, especially now that we’re all walking around peering at our mobile devices.
Flash Fiction Online – a paying market, so you know it is curated and someone has decided it’s worth a look.
10Flash Quarterly – self-described fans of “science fiction, fantasy, horror, suspense, crime capers and slipstream”.
Vestal Review – describes itself as ‘the longest-running flash fiction magazine in the world”.
Microcosms – Twitter-length fiction with a speculative tinge.
Nanoism – Another long-running Twitter fiction site.
FlashFiction Chronicles – which is part of Every Day Fiction. It has a fabulous resource page that led me to many of the sites listed here. It also has an annual Flash Fiction contest with a cash prize. Check them out.
As writers we’re curious. About everything. About people, technology, history, our neighbours, everything.
I’m particularly curious about other writers and how they work, what keeps them going, why they do it.
So here’s the first in a series of interviews with writers, starting with writers who took part in the StoryADay challenge last May.
AdorablyAlice was one of our most active writers during the first challenge. In this interview she gives a lot of credit for her writing success to her secret weapon: her friend and mentor: Cid (also a StoryADay veteran). I’d love it if you’d leave a comment below, picking out one thing from this interview that stood out for you: something that sounded sooooo familiar it made you smile, or something you’d like to try in your own writing life.
Before you started StoryADay how would you have described your writing life?
I used to write a lot when I was younger. Sometime after high school, I stopped. It wasn’t until NaNoWriMo 2009 that I began writing again. So between NaNo and StADa, I was still trying to find a balance between work, school, life and writing.
What made you decide to do StoryADay?
Cid. I found out about StADa through her, and because short story is my weakest point, I thought it would be a good challenge. Plus, I thought it would help me get into the habit of writing daily.
What did you expect to achieve? What did you actually achieve? What did you learn during the challenge?
I wanted to write something every day, and I wanted to get stronger at writing short stories. I did write everyday, but I think I’m still weak in writing short stories. I learned about Twitter fiction, which intrigued me, and I actually wrote a few TwitFic pieces.
How do you make time for writing?
This is a good question. And when I have an answer that doesn’t involve neglecting chores/cooking, I’ll let you know.
Why do you write? What keeps you motivated?
I am most productive on #writersdatenight (yes, I have to include the Twitter hashtag). Once a week a group of five writers (including myself) meet at McAllister’s to eat, socialize a little and write. Because the other four ladies have been writing longer than I have, I feel motivated to write a lot when I’m around them. The sound every one typing is motivating. I’ve tried other writing groups, but they’ve been more socializing than writing, so I don’t enjoy them as much. Lately, Cid has been setting goals for me. Write 5K and get a book. Write 5K and have a Glee marathon. It works. She’s awesome.
What are your aspirations?
Well, I’d love to be published and that’ s definitely a long term goal, but more short term…I’d like to finish a story. Well, I’ve finished a few, but I don’t revise. So a good aspiration would be to go back and revise…lol
Do you have a project or website you’d like to tell people about?
Well, there’s Book-Addicts. There are four of us (Cid’s one of them) and we basically review books across all genres, interview authors, have guest blog spots and book giveaways. It’s a pretty awesome place for people who are as addicted to reading as we are. www.book-addicts.com – get your fix!
I also have my personal website, www.adorablyalice.com, I keep up with how I’m doing as a writer, offering the lessons I learn as I delve into the mysterious ways of The Writer.
Thanks, Alice! (And you can read more about Alice’s experiences with her writers’ groups and productivity in this blog post – which features a fun cartoon from my own writing friend and secret mentor, Debbie Ohi.)
[And one more thing: I’d love to interview you about your writing, no matter what stage you’re at or whether or not you’ve done one of these creative challenges, so leave me a comment below if you’d be willing to chat.]