5 lessons I’ve learned about writing flash fiction — Author Toolbox

When you try something new, your expectations are set quite high. Some people give up on the new thing when it becomes too difficult or when the high expectations they set for themselves aren’t showing.

Last year I decided to join in on the first #FlashFicHive challenge (hosted by Anjela Curtis). This month-long event challenged writers to create flash fiction stories based on all sorts of topics and prompts.

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I’ll admit, I didn’t do so well at keeping up that month or in the following challenges (every other month, which is set to change to a weekly hashtag event starting February 1, 2018).

However, I did learn a lot about writing flash fiction (other than the 1,000-word limit). These skills, which I’m going to share with you, are continuing to help me as I attempt to hone flash fiction in a new goal this year — #52weeks52stories challenge (hosted by Hollie Hausenfluck and Avrin Kelly).

Lesson 1: Start in medias res.

Do you remember this term from high school English class? For some reason, I do. I’m not sure what it was in regards to, but I do remember hearing it in class.

In medias res is Latin for “in the midst of things” — English for “in the middle.”

A flash fiction story most often starts in the middle of the story — at the beginning of the conflict. There aren’t enough words allotted in flash fiction to start with a bunch of fluffy exposition, so the best thing to do is show your character gearing up for the climax.

Lesson 2: Write first without concern for word limits.

It’s true: flash fiction has a word limit. If we wrote the first draft with a limit in mind, then we’d end up missing key pieces to our story.

Therefore, the first draft should be written without any thought to the 1,000-word limit. You can worry about that later when you revise and edit.

Lesson 3: Sometimes you will need to tell instead of show…

*Picks up writer’s notebook to hide behind before going on…*

Of all the advice we writers hear day in and day out, “show don’t tell” resonates the most. We’re always trying to create the perfect image in our reader’s mind.

One-thousand words doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for pretty little descriptions and extensive characterizations. Sometimes a character is simply an old man with a cane instead of the paragraph or two it would take to describe him.

“I’d rather let the reader supply the faces, the builds, and the clothing as well.”

-Stephen King, On Writing

With flash fiction, sometimes we need to let the reader do a little work… Let the reader imagine what the old man looks like.

Lesson 4: Dialogue can leave clues.

A flash fiction story will likely hold clues for the reader throughout, clues that many readers won’t catch until their second read-through. A great place to stash those clues is in the words spoken by the characters.

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Not only does dialogue help the writer leave clues, but it’s another way for character building. What they say in combination with what they do can help the reader better understand the story and relate better.

*Challenge: I challenge you to read “On Her Birthday” and find the clues!*

Lesson 5: Seriously consider the hook, the title, and the last line.

The hook is an obvious necessity in any kind of writing. You want your reader to keep reading, after all.

The last line should echo out to your readers, becoming like a song they can’t quite shake. It can show the growth of the character, the theme of your story, or leave the reader thinking about what might happen next.

The title is probably the hardest task of all. You’ve probably lost sleep over titles before, but a title in flash fiction is another part of the story. It’s one of those clues we talked about earlier. It’s a part of the bigger picture. The meaning of the title should be evident by the time the reader thinks about it again, but it shouldn’t give anything away.

Your turn, so tell me…

I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Do you write flash fiction? What have you learned about the genre?

If you’d like a prompt to work with, I’m finding this one from Rowan Fortune to be quite fun!

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Resources

During the last year, I’ve come across several resources for writing flash fiction. You can pick and choose what helps you:

Author Toolbox

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop (hosted by Raimey Gallant), which is dedicated to helping writers become stronger and more confident in their craft. Click here for more information, to continue hopping through other posts, or to join in!

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Out with the old… In with the new!

How many of you set goals each year? How many of your goals do you achieve?

I set quite a few goals for 2017, and some of them were successful. I hope to be a lot more successful this year by planning out exactly what I need to do to achieve them. I start by categorizing them, and I continue from there.

Last year, I wrote them all down in my writer’s notebook on January 3rd…

Reading

I didn’t have many reading goals last year, but that didn’t stop me from not achieving them…

2017

  • read 25 books (ummm… I managed 19…)
  • read 1 horror novel (If Shutter Island counts, then I did it!)
  • write 2 book reviews (I wrote one… here.)img_7334

2018

This year, I hope to do a little better.

  • read 25 books (I’ll read 2 books per month, and tack on an extra one during the summer to reach my goal)
    • I’m already one down! I read So B. It by Sarah Weeks.
  • read 3 books from genres outside my comfort zone (science-fiction, high fantasy, and horror)
  • write 2 book reviews (at least one in the first half of the year, and the other in the last half)

Writing

Writing was by far the easiest for me, which means I surpassed all my goals from last year.

2017

  • write 10 poems (I’m not sure why I limited myself in this category since I love poetry, but I managed to write 25 poems and over 80 micropoems on Twitter.)
  • create plans for 5 new story ideas (I do this either by brainstorming, free-writing, or plot mapping — I managed 20!)
  • finish revising first novel (I did this and started on the third draft.)
  • regular writing goals (I keep writing goals with my students, so I create new ones every grading period — most of the time I achieve all my goals.)
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Check out The Wonderful World of Writer’s Notebooks

2018

This year will hopefully be a big year for me when it comes to writing. I hope to have my first novel ready to query by December, and I want to write a new story every week for #52weeks52stories!

  • write 52 stories (I will write a new one each week — most will be flash fiction.)
  • finish first novel (I have quite a few more steps before this task is complete, but I’m working on it!)
  • plot out my MG novel idea (I would like to draft it, too, but I’m not sure if I’ll be ready for that this year.)
  • continue writing goals (I still keep writing goals with my students, but I keep track of them in a Johanna Basford coloring planner!)

Lifestyle

The majority of us have lifestyle goals each new year: “lose weight,” “eat healthier,” and so many more. Our problem is after a week or even a month or two, we lose interest… because it’s not a lifestyle change.

2017

My lifestyle goals last year were simple:

  • meal plan every month (that lasted until June)
  • plan healthier meals (also lasted until June)
  • exercise at least three times a week (I’m not sure when that faded out)
  • keep a positivity journal (ooh… I don’t even know where that journal is…)
  • fix our budget (did, but stopped working on it in June)

At the end of May, some of my family came in to visit… June was only one month of not sticking to the plan, right? One month soon turned into the rest of the year…

So, how what will I change?

2018

Well, there’s nothing wrong with the goals I had last year. The only problem is not planning better.

  • meal plan every month (at the beginning of the last week of each month, we will sit down and plan out the meals for the month on the calendar hanging on our refrigerator — we will make sure to plan for healthier meals)
  • exercise… (I dislike exercising, but I bought a bike this past summer. When it warms up outside, I’ll definitely bike at least three times a week, which will require some warm-ups.)
  • positivity journal (I can do this. It doesn’t take a lot of time to write down the good things that happen daily.)
  • budget (we have already started to re-vamp this… it’s a bit of a process.)
  • family outings (we want to take our kiddos on more outings this year, so we’ll need to work on planning for these)

Crafting

My main crafting hobby is crochet, but I’ve branched out due to my goals from last year!

2017

  • crochet a temperature blanket (a major undertaking, but so fun!)
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  • crochet a virus poncho (no, it’s not a disease — that’s just the name of the pattern)
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  • attempt planned pooling (this is where you get variegated yarn to make a pretty design)
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  • learn a new craft (at the beginning of the year, I had no idea what to choose, but I decided on quilting!)

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    This is only the quilt top (for an I Spy quilt), but I practiced the process with little quilts first.

2018

Since I have big plans when it comes to writing, crafting will take a little bit of a backseat.

  • finish the I Spy quilt (I need the batting, backing, and binding)
  • finish the quilt I’m making my husband (it’s a living room quilt — Star Wars themed)
  • learn how to crochet a graphghan (this has always looked fun to me, so I want to try!)

Next Steps…

My next step will be to prioritize my goals and add them to my weekly planner. I feel that I can accomplish all that I’ve set out to do this year if I plan properly and persist.

What are your goals this year? What did you accomplish last year? How have your goals changed from year to year? Share with me in the comments!

Scrambling before NaNoWriMo… Author Toolbox

NaNoWriMo…

Gibberish, right? That’s not even a word. How do you say it? To writer’s, it is the month when the entire world ceases to exist… when life on Earth becomes a distant figment of our imagination… when we forget all the other hobbies we had if they don’t include a notebook, a pen, or a computer keyboard…

You may have already started to notice the writers in your life, or yourself, tuning down the radio of the world in order to plan for their WIP (work in progress). We’re scrambling to decide if NaNoWriMo is our mission this year, too.

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Image from NaNoWriMo web site

Why are we scrambling?

National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, will start November 1 and continue until November 30. NaNo is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people write that book they’ve always wanted to write.

The goal is to write 50,000 words by the end of the month, which estimates to writing about 1,667 words per day. Unless we rebel, which allows us to work on revising or editing projects instead. Or we can rebel and work on several different ideas.

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Before we can start writing, however, we have to know which WIP we’re going to work on…

  • the first draft of a shiny new idea (what you’re supposed to do)
  • the rest of the WIP from last November (oops)
  • the rest of the WIP from the November before that (double oops)
  • rebel and finish revisions on current WIP (they need to be finished)
  • rebel and draft two projects at once (they are both calling out)
  • rebel and work on revisions for one project while drafting another (what?!)

The scramble is happening now!

Preparation…

 What does preparation look like, then?

Getting ready for NaNo can take on many forms, but it all depends on the writer and the project… If a writer is starting a new project, then brainstorming of some kind is probably happening – at least for the planners.

However, how do you plan for NaNo when you are a rebel?

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For the rebels…

Your first step as a rebel is the same as everyone else’s: choose your project (or projects). What kind of rebel are you going to be? Set your goal.

My goal:

  • I will finish this round of revisions on my current WIP.
  • I will start the third draft, too.

Your second step is to determine how you will count your goal. Different writers have different ideas. Here are a few from a NaNoWriMo Rebel Thread:

  1. Count the same way: word=word — each word you revise goes toward your daily word count.
  2. Average: take the average words that you revise per hour and count that as your daily word count.
    • If you average 500 revised words per hour, and you revise for 4 hours in a day, then your word count that day would be 2000.
  3. A ratio: for every two words revised, count one toward your NaNo goal.
  4. A set count per hour: for every hour you write, it counts as ____ words.
  5. Chapters: each chapter’s word count that you revised goes toward your daily word count goal.

The tricky part here is choosing what works best for you. Rebels are already breaking the rules, so we may as well figure out how to break them in a way that works for us.

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Everyone…

Feel free to join us! Writing for NaNo is an adventure no matter if you follow the rules or rebel a bit. If you have a story on your heart, then you have a chance to jump in with other writers as we all paddle our way through the scary rapids that are NaNo.

Which path will you choose? Are you joining NaNo this November? Are you planning, pantsing, or rebelling? Share with me in the comments!

Author Toolbox

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, which is dedicated to helping writers become stronger and more confident in their craft. Click here for more information, to continue hopping through other posts, or to join in!

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Resources

Why I Write…

People write for all sorts of reasons every single day: send a text or email, leave or make a note, finish something for work or school, jot down a recipe, send a letter, balance a checkbook, make a grocery list, etc.

I, too, write America. As a writer and teacher of writing, I’m also excited about the National Day of Writing, which was created by the National Council of Teachers of English and adopted by the Senate every year on October 20th since 2009.

While following #TeachWrite on Twitter for their first Monday of the month chat this week, I saw Margaret Simon’s challenge to share #WhyIWrite.

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1. I write because I enjoy it.

I have so many reasons to write, but this is my number one reason: I enjoy writing. Yes, I’m a writing teacher. Yes, I’m in the middle of writing my first book (revising, actually). Yes, I sometimes have to write.

However, I wouldn’t be where I am now if I didn’t truly enjoy writing.

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I keep a writer’s notebook, and I fill it with my ideas. I love to write in it, and I love the feeling of needing a new one when I’ve filled the current one up!

I enjoy the feel of a colorful pen in my hand, and the gentle sound it makes when it touches the page.

2. I write because I have ideas.

“Where did that idea come from?”

“What are your sources of inspiration?”

There are countless others that writers are asked, but those are probably the top two. The great thing about writing is that ideas can come from anywhere. You can look at a blank page sometimes and start writing.

Some places I search for ideas:

  • past brainstorms
  • songs
  • poems
  • gifs
  • photos
  • life events
  • writing prompts
  • first line prompts
  • quotes

The photo below is from a prompt that said to use a song as inspiration. #FlashFicHive is a month-long flash fiction writing workshop hosted by Anjela Curtis on Twitter. I’ve used her prompts to inspire several pieces of flash fiction, and she has an event all this month!

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3. I write because I read.

It’s true. Reading and writing go hand-in-hand (ask any writer).

Writing about the books you read often help inspire others to read those books, too. I don’t write book reviews often, but I should! I outline them first in my notebook, which helps me show my process when I’m helping my students.

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For the final copy of this outlined review, click the following link: Book Review: Chasing Eveline. Maybe my writing will inspire you to read Leslie’s novel and write a review, too!

4. I write to help and inspire my students.

Speaking of helping my students, I also write with them. We recently worked on a personal narrative, so I wrote one in order to show them how to incorporate the skills we talked about.

As you can see, I purposefully added a lot of “to be” verbs (which is a lot harder than you think) as part of our lesson on incorporating better verbs. Unfortunately, not all of the changes were to stronger verbs, but we’re taking it one step at a time.

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Before we wrote our personal narratives, we created a “Treasure Map” of ideas. This map inspired students to try another narrative in their own writer’s notebook using a different “X” event.

Students are more likely to try something new when they have a model to use. They’re especially eager to try it when they see the teacher trying it, too!

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5. I write because I can.

What better reason to end this blog post? I write because I can. I am capable of writing, and sometimes it’s pretty good.

I can write stories for fun, narratives with my students, or poems because they help me cope with whatever it is I’m feeling.

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We gain freedom when we write, so why wouldn’t we want that?

Why do you write? What is your favorite form of writing? Share with me in the comments!

Resources

National Day of Writing — NCTE link

Join the #WhyIWrite Blog Hop — Margaret’s link

When Writing Takes a Backseat – Author Toolbox

If your September has been anything like my September, then you have been a busy bee. School started, so my days are filled with teaching, lesson planning, and after-school activities. (Thank you #51Writers for today’s topic of Oxford commas. As you can see, I am definitely on #teamoxfordcomma!)

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Image from here.

The problem…

Okay, so we’re busy. What is the problem exactly?

My novel is suffering! That’s the problem. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t had any quality writing time since July’s Camp NaNo event. I was working on the second round of revisions for my paranormal mystery novel, and I’m still not finished.

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Camp NaNoWriMo

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still writing in order to use mentor pieces in my classroom, but that’s not helping my novel. Which leads me to the big problem… What do we do when our writing takes a back seat?

1. Figure out why you’re not writing.

When faced with several non-writing days in a row, take a few minutes to analyze the reason or reasons. Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do I have writer’s block(No, I know what I want to write next.)
  • Do I know which step of the writing process I’m on, or what I need to do with this step? (Yes, I’m working on revisions at the moment.)
  • Am I struggling to complete my first draft(No, my first draft is finished… This particular one is, anyway.)
  • Am I unsure where my brainstorming is leading? (No, I’m not working on brainstorming.)
  • Do I have all my writing tools available? (Yes, I have everything I need. I could probably use a bit more time, though.)
  • Am I simply busy with everyday life? (Yes! That’s it!)

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2. Stop feeling guilty for not writing.

That’s it. I give you permission to not feel guilty when you don’t get to write. Many people will tell you to write every day. Well, yes… That is ideal, but it’s not always achievable.

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Think about the goals you’ve set for yourself. Writing every day is beneficial. We all know that. However, if your past few months have been as busy as mine, then writing each day hasn’t happened.

It’s okay. Don’t feel guilty. Instead, feel excited when you do get the chance to write. Build up that momentum to hopefully continue to write the next day or even a few times that week.

If you keep attaching negative feelings to your writing (guilt), then writing will lose the thrill when you do get the chance to sit down again. Attach the positive feelings that made you fall in love with writing to begin with!

3. Write when you can.

My best writing time is in the evening when my kiddos are in bed for the night. As I determined above, my life is simply filled with all sorts of other tasks right now, so writing isn’t a top priority. (I can already see some of your faces…)

What do you mean writing isn’t a top priority?

It’s true. I don’t know about you, but I have a family. I have a day job. I have other tasks taking over my writing time. That doesn’t mean that I don’t write, though. Sometimes, in order to curb the feelings of guilt completely, you simply have to write when you can:

  • Wake up a little early.
  • Write during your break at work.
  • Write during your lunch break at work. (Don’t forget to eat, too.)
  • Write in the evening.
  • Write when the house is silent.
  • Write while you’re sitting in your car before you go into work (leave a little early).
  • Set a timer, and write for only that amount of time.
  • Set aside specific days, and write a few times a week.

The most important thing here is figuring out what works best for you. We all know that in order to become better writers, we have to write. Try a couple different things until something works for you. My big one lately has been the timer. Every ten minutes helps me get a little closer to the end of my novel.

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What is your point, exactly?

It’s okay to have some off days… Even when they all stick together and form off months. The trick is making sure that you are still writing when you can and feeling positive about the progress you do make.

Just be you.

Share with me in the comments: how do you handle writing when it takes a backseat to life? What do you do? How often do you still write?

Author Toolbox

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, which is dedicated to helping writers become stronger and more confident in their craft. Click here for more information, to continue hopping through other posts, or to join in!

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Resources

Online Timer

Camp NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo