My New Obsession

I’m obsessed with Louboutins. I really hope I can purchase a pair before they’re completely out of vogue. Without having to sell a kidney. Or my first born. Because I like him.

But my new obsession is writing flash fiction. Those are stories that are less than 1000 words.

A few days ago, I told you about a story I wrote back in college that I was going to redo for the Write to Done contest. Well, I decided to leave it alone. No matter how I tried to tweak it, it just wasn’t working. I didn’t want to force that story to ‘act right’ and possibly ruin it in the process.

So I wrote a new one. And I was scared.

Confession: since I wrote the above mentioned story over six years ago, I hadn’t written *any* fiction until this week.

I know. It’s awful. I felt ashamed and I almost gave up.

But I took a deep breath. Shrugged, said ‘Okay’, and just started writing.

Over an hour later, after several painful false starts and simmering frustration, I had an idea that I liked.

I got it down, ignoring the word count for the time being. When I finished, I sighed. I did it.

And now came the hard part. Because let’s keep it real. Writing the story isn’t hard. It’s the editing that will kill you. I spent 20 minutes writing that story. Then I spent nearly an hour afterwards and an hour the following nights editing it.

The word limit for the contest is 500 words, including the title. I had almost 800, excluding title.

The last time I wrote fiction, I hated editing. I thought each word was sacred because they came from me. Kind of like children. It really hurt to get rid of them, even if I knew the story was bloated.

But this time was different. Though I didn’t write fiction during those years, I didn’t stop writing. Blog posts, pieces for businesses, a few essays and the like. It may not have been regular, but the important thing is, I never stopped. And because I wasn’t personally attached to those words, I had little problem cutting them when necessary. As long as the main point was preserved, I was happy.

So when it came to this story, I found myself applying the same critical eye. Because I had little wiggle room, every single word had to serve a purpose. If it wasn’t earning its keep, I tossed it.

I got rid of an entire character. Cut several paragraphs. A touching metaphor didn’t make the cut (these metaphors will be my undoing, I swear).

Yeah, it hurt. Every time I highlighted a group of words and hit delete, I panicked. I had to step away a few times because I thought I was cutting too much meat away (that’s a real danger). Over the next few nights, I added a few words, subtracted more, moved things around, just to make sure I was telling the best story I could in 500 words.

It felt good. I really enjoyed it, truth be told. At one point, I spent 15 minutes trying to decide if ‘the’ could stay where it was in a sentence. I kept it, but changed the structure of that sentence.

There’s something liberating about deciding if you really need 10 words to say something, or if you could say it using 8. Or, even better, if you could make a deeper impact using only 5. It’s pushing yourself to the brink of your story telling abilities. And surpassing your limit.

I’ll let this story rest for the next month, then pick it up again in December and finish it up before submitting it. Maybe when I read it again, I’ll hate it. Yikes. I really hope not.

Have you tried flash fiction? If you have, do you like it? Hate it? If you haven’t tried it, go for it. The deets for the Write to Done contest are here.

NaNoWriMo approaches. I’m super nervous. My stomach is filled with butterflies. I need to relax.

Until next time, loves.

The Ghost of Awful Writing Past

So, Write to Done is running a flash fiction contest until December 15. The full details are here, and the first prize is $500. Just in time for last minute Christmas shopping.

When the notice popped up in my inbox, I was excited. I missed the first one, which ended on October 15, so I was happy to have another chance.

I had a short story in mind, one I wrote in college for a Creative Writing class. From what I remembered, it was pretty good. I got a lot of positive feedback from my classmates. The teacher didn’t really have much critique for it, either. Back then, I was buoyant. Exhilarated, even. I was so nervous about reading it to the class, and what do you know? They loved it! You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t the next Toni Morrison.

So, I decided I would take these last few days before NaNoWriMo to brush it up. It wouldn’t take much work and it would be a welcome trip down memory lane. I could just relax and bask in the glow of my talent.

I opened it last night, feeling pretty good about myself. This story, though written six years ago, was a reminder that I was cut out for this writing thing. I started reading, expectant.

After the first few lines, I could have sworn I heard a record scratch.

It was bad. Like, pretty awful. I’m talking about overwrought metaphors (which I thought was poetic and lyrical back then), similes that didn’t make a lick of sense and adverbs in almost every sentence.  I felt like I just did the Ice Bucket Challenge during one of these autumn nights.

I was discouraged. People told me it was good when, well, it wasn’t. But as I thought back, I realized that my Creative Writing class was just that–a class. We didn’t know much about what separates lazy writing from tight, yet beautiful prose. Yeah, the teacher didn’t have much critique for it, but come to think of it, she didn’t say much good about it either. I think she was trying to spare my feelings. I went to bed feeling bummed. And very humbled.

But a good night’s sleep (well, as good as it gets with a teething baby) brings clarity. I realized that being able to identify the faults in this short story means that I’ve grown as a writer. I looked at it again and saw some good among the bad. The bones, the premise and the progression of the story, were alright. But the execution itself was…painful. There’s no getting around it.

I’m still going to work on it and get it ready for the contest. I’ve cut it down from about 1300 words down to 800. Over the next few days, I’m going to get it down to the 500 word limit. Then those two weeks between the end of NaNoWriMo and the contest deadline, I’m work on it some more. I gotta make sure it’s glowing before I submit it.

So the moral of this story is this: growing as a writer hurts. It’s embarrassing to look at a previous piece of work, work that you thought was sublime, and realize that it’s very amateurish at best. But the real challenge comes in not getting discouraged, moving past that harsh truth and keep working to improve.

Ok, loves, I have mucho editing to take care of. Talk to you soon 🙂