Nothing never started gets better.

Or, what flash fiction can do for your writing life.

Nothing never started gets better.

Look, you should see some of the crap I’ve written, including the above.

As a writer who has all too often marks progress with decreasing word counts, as one who has a black belt in self-sabotage, and as one who will snag on a single word choice and spin myself silly, I have managed to learn something, in spite of myself.

Nothing never started gets better.

(You would think by now I would have found a better way to say that.)

What I’m trying to say is here’s what writing’s like:

Most of the time, finished work is a hard-won collage of brief inspirations, grueling transitions, struggling metaphors and delicate passages that shine upon the polishing. At least once every eon, I’ll write something that I love. I grab a pen, scribble something down, then sit back and read it and think: Yeah. Then, I’ll read it again and probably twelve-dozen times, and then aloud at whisper-level, and then to a chair, and then to the cat, and then to my spouse, and still manage to think: Yeah. And if I’m really, really lucky, I can even read it myself again a couple years later and think: You know, that was all right.

This almost never happens.

Okay, it maybe happened once.

Most of the time, finished work is a hard-won collage of brief inspirations, grueling transitions, struggling metaphors and delicate passages that shine upon the polishing. And the things is, if you are writing novel-length works, this takes a vast amount of time (or, if it doesn’t, I hate you). This is time spent alone, in a far land, with no destination in sight. Which is why I’ve learned to love flash fiction.

Flash fiction is creative crack

Flash fiction is creative crack, a palette cleanser, a weekend getaway crammed in a morning. Instant gratification. A quickie in the shower. And in spite of all the fun of that, it’s also a refresher course on writing you can fit into any given morning.

I write scads of them. In spite of the radio silence on the blog these days, I’ve been filling up my personal cloud with the stuff. Generally I’ll write at least one a day. Just because. Because I am a slow and recalcitrant learner in need of constant reminder how this works—how to feed and nurture this writing beast.

Here’s a secret: Ninety percent of the time when I look at the photo prompts on Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers or Al Forbes Sunday Photo Fiction, I blank. I can’t think of anything.

The sacred act of taking an intangible thought from the space between your ears and committing it to a page does something. It’s a promise, it’s a vow, and once it’s out there, stuff happens.But still, I push myself and think no one’s watchingjust do a sentence, and so I do. And it’s almost never any good and doesn’t wind up in the final piece. But still, that act is magic. The sacred act of taking an intangible thought from the space between your ears and committing it to a page does something. It’s a promise, it’s a vow, and once it’s out there, stuff happens.

Because once it’s out there, it makes me think of something else, and maybe it’s completely unrelated but it’s enough to make me scrawl down a few more sentences.

This is the point where I usually decide it’s hopeless. I go take a shower or walk the dog. And that’s when it gets amazing. Because while I’m doing the other shit, the real story happens. All of a sudden the whole thing pops into my head: how to fix what I’ve already written or an even better concept that never even thought of. And while I’m standing there dripping, I scribble down notes on that notebook that I keep just outside the shower for such emergencies. And by the time I’ve done four or five rounds of revisions I actually like it: find some merit or something to be proud of and presto—another edition of Friday Fictioneers.

Most of the stuff I write is pure crap. Clumsy, trite, awkward, stupid, half-formed, grammatically incorrect and painful to read. You probably noticed. But the thing is, I have managed to learn something, even in spite of my attempts to do otherwise:

Nothing Anything you never started gets any better.

Like thinking you’ll win the lottery without ever buying a ticketI used to think ‘I’ll write’ when it’s all fully formed in my head and good enough to commit to the page. Because god forbid I write crap, that it’s wrong, that I have to change it, because well, I thought that’s how it worked. Like thinking I’d win the lottery without ever buying a ticket.

So my writing friends, lost in the wilds of your novels (and you know who you are), if you’re not on flash fiction yet, give it a try.

Whatever it is you need to learn, it’s in there. Flash fiction is the crash course on the thing that’s missing in your work, that thing you need to learn. And if it’s not, it’s at least entertaining. Sprint-training for the creative heart. So come on, you—yes you. Give me twenty words, or a hundred or two or three and see where you wind up.

You can’t improve what you don’t write.

Happy writing.

9 Comments

  1. peterkirsch

    Thanks for this. In case no one told you today, you’re pretty great. This helps to clarify what flash has done for you, and why you’ve dedicated so much time to it.

    My riposte is this: with limited hours in a day/week to write (yes, even without a JOB-job), limited capacity for plotting/shaping/thinking about a story, and a novel now almost 4 years in the making sitting at the 3/4 mark with a fairly clear roadmap to the end, I feel compelled to stay focused and dedicate my time to completing a work that I feel is now woefully overdue.

    Flash, I fear, is a gateway, especially noting the crack-like powers you champion above. I dread getting lost in other distractions, the lure of new work and ideas (because fresh ideas are always so GD seductive), and I’ve withstood the temptation countless times in these three years, sidestepping chasms of new screenplays, stories, and even novels, all in hope of completing this one. If only to prove that I can do it.

    That said, “Hear ye when the sage speaks.” I’ll follow your advice, take a stab, and see how it feels.

    PS – It is sometimes painful to hear you denigrate your words and musings. I know that demon; he visits me too. Everything I’ve ever read of yours is captivating and sublime. I love what you have to say; I admire, and often envy, how you do it. So stop it. You’re an honest-to-God writer. And a damn good one at that.

    1. 🙂 Okay, you make some really great points, and I greatly admire your resolve. But I think with your extraordinary focus, you are unlikely to get sidetracked. As a compromise, you could try short-story backstory for your novel. Crazy anecdotes about your characters’ pasts to underpin who they are in the scope of your novel. Can’t wait to see what you come up with.

      PS You are very kind.

  2. I’m with you on flash fiction – sometimes when I feel the well is dry, a micro burst of a scene will get things going.

  3. I have an attention problem. I am not chaotic, I am chaos. I have so many have written short stories and two half planned novels and I sometimes get overwhelmed with the size of the task in front of me. Yes, flash distracts me with its seductive lure and Friday Fictioneers has a wonderful community or reader/writers. I am also plagued by self doubt as it seems so many real writers are and I would definitely say that a few words of kindness here and there are a great boost to my sometimes flagging self esteem. I really enjoyed this piece and very much liked your writing style. Keep it up! 😀

    1. Thanks so much jwd! I agree it’s easy to get overwhelmed. And I hear you, the encouragement and support from the Fictioneers helps to ease the self doubt and is a great break. You keep it up too 🙂

  4. Very well said Karen. For myself I find, I write and see what comes out, than I begin chopping. But it’s amazing how one little picture or word, can inspire so much. Maybe only a flash fiction piece some weeks, and every once in a while, something to build upon.

    1. Definitely. Sometimes the further you get, the more there is to find. Thanks for reading!

  5. […] answer to Karen Rawson’s recent gauntlet throw-down, I managed to sneeze out this, my first attempt at flash fiction. So here’s the 98-word […]

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