Tag: flash fictionary

What I’ve Learned Writing Flash Fiction Every Day

Over the years I’ve had an on-and-off writing project called Flash Fictionary. The project calls for a daily short story inspired by Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day. The stories are roughly 200 words long. At the moment I type each one on a 4×6 index card, so the story ends when the card does.

Flash Fictionary had its longest run of 26 stories in 2015, then became dormant. In November, I made one ill-fated attempt to bring it back, then stripped it down to the essentials and made a new home for it. In resuming the project, I’ve confronted familiar fears about writing–but also realized that, over this rather long hiatus, other fears have receded in significance.

The bad news is, there will always be a strong inner editor telling me that my writing is crap. The good news is, writing crap matters less than the act of writing itself. A week and a half ago I had 0 new stories; now I have 11. This time, quantity trumps quality. What more can a struggling perfectionist ask for?

Here are other small lessons I’ve picked up so far from writing flash fiction every day:

The stories will be rough.

They aren’t just first drafts: they’re baby drafts, shaking and ugly and out of control. Like babies, they don’t communicate their needs and wants all that well. But they exist.

“You can’t edit a blank page,” is a quote attributed to everyone from Nora Roberts to Meg Cabot to Shakespeare. Regardless of who said it, it’s true. Flash Fictionary forces me to confront the rawness of my own writing, even on days when it feels like sewage is leaking out of my fingers. Because a small percentage of the time, the words don’t feel like sewage: they feel like rainbows and Nutella and freshly-baked bread slathered in salted butter.

To write more, reduce the barriers to entry (AKA don’t make it so hard for yourself to write!)

Barriers to entry is an economic term describing the different obstacles a business encounters before it can enter the market. For example, starting a telecommunications company has high barriers to entry, while selling candy has low barriers to entry.

The more steps it takes for me to write and upload a story, the more likely I am to quit. The very first time I attempted Flash Fictionary (2004? 2005?), I set no limits on story length. This also happened during NaNoWriMo 2015. As a result, I found it hard to finish the stories in a day, and lost steam early on.

When I did Flash Fictionary in 2015, I limited the stories to 1 or 2 handwritten cards, because that removed the temptation to delete and edit as I went. However, because the stories were going on Instagram I tried to make them look visually appealing. Cue spending hours on: sourcing colorful background patterns, waiting to photograph in natural light, and illustrating all the title cards.

For this iteration, I use 1) a typewriter 2) a single 4×6 card and 3) a scanner. Everything is typed: no hand-lettering, no watercolor illustrations, no endless searching for the right VSCO filter. I can post each story any time of the day. I do miss the bright colors of the Instagram versions, but not as much as I love faff-free writing.

You have a daily opportunity to work on different writing techniques.

I know what my biggest writing weaknesses are. My writing style is rather languid. I get lost in long sentences. In drafts, I chase tangents with abandon, often abandoning my original idea entirely. I struggle with clarity.

Flash Fictionary allows me write through my weaknesses. For example, ‘Fossick‘ was an attempt to incorporate more suspense, urgency, and dialogue. ‘Exodus‘ resulted out of a personal challenge to write within a specific, real setting. For future stories, I can mimic the styles of authors I admire, or attempt specific challenges like “Use more sensory detail.”

It’s fun and experimental, but more importantly, it’s good practice.

Finally, endings are really hard.

I often forget about ending the story. (It happens when you start hundreds more stories than you finish.) By the time I realize it’s time to wrap it up, I’ve run out of card. Endings are my biggest weakness, and it will take more than two weeks of writing short stories to be comfortable enough (and ready) to write them! But at least I’m beholden to finishing at least one story a day.

It’s a start.

For the rest of the stories, please check out FlashFictionary.com. Feel free to write some flash fictionaries of your own!



My Approach to NaNoWriMo 2015 (TLDR: I’m a Rebel)

Ah, NaNoWriMo. You have bested me every year since my first attempt–what, 11 years ago? (On a side note: 11 years?! Christ).

I’ve tried to circumvent the rules of NaNoWriMo for awhile now, in a desperate attempt to recover from the spectacular failures of yore. One year I partnered with a good friend to write some wonderfully twisted short stories. Another year I resolved to write a blog post every day and founded “NaBloPoMo.” Total number of participants: 1. At least for the first 8 days, then that number became 0. Those efforts quickly tumbled into the same deep pit where other NaNoWriMo projects have gone to die.

This year will be exactly the same different. I considered attempting one of the many ideas that were clogging my brain and causing much angst, but decided against it. I don’t think I’ll get very far just winging an entire novel. Besides, I can’t afford to start an entirely new big project at this time–I already have a short story collection and a nonfiction book to worry about!

Call it Progress, Not Failure

My NaNoWriMo approach this year is to continue where another creative project stalled. Over the summer I attempted Great Discontent’s #100DayProject with #100DaysofFlashFictionary: bite-sized fiction inspired by Merriam Webster’s Word of the Day. I posted each story on Instagram, and ended up with 25 entries all in all.

Though I only made it a quarter of the way through the 100 Day Project and technically failed the challenge, without the challenge those stories would have never been written at all. A few of those stories had enough material in them to become bigger stories, and one eventually went into my dissertation for my first MA.

Some might choose to see it as failure. I see it as progress.

So for 2015, I’ll attempt an additional 50k worth of short stories inspired by MW’s Word of the Day. I’m aiming for a fairy-tale theme to link them together, in the hopes of adding to my current short story collection, but I won’t stress if they aren’t fairy-tale related. I guess this makes me a NaNo Rebel, though the “rules” say if the short stories are related thematically then the work counts as regular NaNo.

Anyway, the NaNo admin don’t care about splitting hairs so neither will I. They’ve even created a board for NaNo Rebels, a motley crew featuring script writers, short story writers, academic writers, bloggers and memoirists. My kind of people.


I’m wrapping up this post just 30 minutes shy of midnight, November 01. If failure is inevitable, then at least I resolve to fail as far away from Day One as I can.

(As a pep talk that could have gone better, but based on previous attempts, it works to be cautious. Maybe I’ll end up surprising myself!)

If you’re doing NaNo as well, you can find me on the boards as embeepee. Feel free to add me as a buddy–the more the merrier!