Flash Fiction: Saying A Lot in a Small Space

There’s an old adage, attributed to many, about the speaker writing a long letter because he lacked the time to make it shorter. This can be said about a number of formats, including fiction. Short work can take more time to craft than something twice as long because each word must be made to work harder, and there’s no room for fluff or filler. Flash fiction, which typically runs under 1,000 words in length, certainly falls into this category to some extent, but if you normally tackle novels, flash fiction might end up feeling like a nice little vacation.

Those of you participating in the December Writing Challenge have reached day 17 (hurray!), and may be looking for a little break. Or perhaps you’ve been switching up your projects all along. But have you given flash fiction a try? Whether you’re part of the challenge or just looking for something to spark your creativity, flash fiction might be worth your time.

If you’re new to flash fiction, consider checking out a few helpful sites to read some examples of these micro works. Keep in mind that different venues impose slightly different word counts to the format, so if you want to write your own, you should investigate before submitting your stories to make sure your particular flash fiction meets a publication’s parameters.

Literary Hub has recently posted A Crash Course in Flash Fiction, providing a list of great short stories to introduce you to what’s out there.

Author kc dyer has been hosting a Flash Fiction Festival on her blog for the month of December, with a new story going up each day, featuring both her own work and guest writers.

Flash Fiction Online features flash fiction between 500 and 1,000 words long, in any genre.

Brevity features very short nonfiction.

Many other publications include flash fiction along with a range of longer stories, so if you discover you enjoy reading them and/or have a knack for writing them, you’ll find plenty of places to indulge your interest. Good luck, and happy writing!

Play for the Day: Day 13 of the Writing Challenge

Sundays can be hard days on which to motivate, especially during the holidays. Whether or not you prescribe to a religion that considers Sunday a day of rest, it seems to be the one day of the week when things slow down a bit. Depending on where you live, stores might be closed (though less so during the holiday season), banks and municipalities certainly are, and it feels like a perfect time to sleep in, linger over brunch, and ignore your to-do list.

Writing does not need to feel like a work task you have to cross off. Just because you’re attempting to write daily, does not mean you can’t approach writing from a Sunday angle if you’re feeling a bit resentful of the goal of putting down new words. If you read yesterday’s post, you know that this challenge invites you to mix things up, to write on different projects if the spirit moves you. But not everything has to be a project with purpose. Even if you owe something to an editor, it can be refreshing to take a day now and then to write for play instead, just to keep your imagination sparking and to prevent burnout from setting in and throwing you off track.

If you’re feeling tired, if writing seems like the last thing you want to do, give yourself a break today and find a way to write that refreshes you instead of taxing your creativity. Put on a piece of instrumental music you love and jot down a paragraph or two about how it makes you feel. Take your journal to a café and people watch, and write down bits of their conversations. Doodle a list of rhyming words in a notebook and write a stanza or two of funny poetry using some of the rhymes. Don’t worry if it makes complete sense — just be playful. Write about a holiday feast — realistic or fantastical — and all the wonderful dishes being served. Think Dickens’s Christmas Carol or Harry Potter or Dr. Seuss. Don’t worry about where any of these things fit into the big picture of your writing. Consider them exercises, mental gymnastics, or creative stretching.

Give it a go and see what you come up with. Remember, all the words count. Just spend a few minutes writing and let your imagination roam. And tomorrow, you’ll be ready to tackle the scene that’s giving you trouble or figure out where your plot’s gone off course. Enjoy, and happy writing!

On Writing Multiple Projects: Day 12 of the Challenge

Welcome to day 12 of the December Writing Challenge! Are you looking for a little inspiration? Maybe something new to write about, or just a break from your current work in progress? Remember that ideas are everywhere, all you need to do is ask “What if?”

Maybe you’re on deadline, in which case it’s likely you’re committed to working on the project that’s due. But if not, there’s no reason not to mix it up occasionally. Many of my clients have “secret projects” they’re working on bit by bit, something other than their primary novel. Or maybe you want to try your hand at a different format — essays, articles for publication, poetry. If it keeps you motivated and stretching your creative brain, it will help you turn up to write every day.

The video below includes the oldest known footage taken of New York City. Even if you don’t write anything with an historical setting, you might find something that sparks a fresh idea. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Friday Links: Holiday Gifts for Readers and Writers


Happy Friday! We’re two weeks from Christmas, smack in the middle of Hanukkah, and on day 11 of the December Writing Challenge. All of which says to me that most people are probably extremely busy.

In terms of the challenge, I’m simply going to remind you to make some writing dates for yourself over the weekend. Call up your writing friends and arrange to meet for hot chocolate and a couple of writing sprints, or schedule some solo writing time. Put your writing dates in your phone and/or planner, set alerts to remind yourself, and treat them the way you would any other important appointment. Good luck!

As for this week’s Friday Links, I have all sorts to share. Unsurprisingly, we’re slipping into the “best of” time of year, when all the lists of books start popping up. Even though they can get a bit out of hand, I still always love checking them out to see if I might discover a great title that flew under my radar earlier in the year. So yes, I’ve got a few lists in the links. But there’s also ideas for holiday shopping, as well as the typical writerly/bookish stuff. I hope they make for an enjoyable break or tangent today or at some point over the weekend. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Best Books of 2015: The NPR App – One of my favorites when in comes to these annual lists. This covers all sorts of genres and interests, and allows you to winnow the list if you’re looking for the best of a particular type of read.

26 Brilliant Gifts Only English Nerds Will Appreciate – Some great ideas for the writers and/or readers in your life.

American Publishers Put Out Significantly Fewer Works in Translation in 2015 – A look at the major dip in this segment of the publishing industry.

The Best of the Bests: Ranking the 2015 Best Books Lists – Brooklyn Magazine sorts through some of the many lists out there.

30 Gifts Under $30 for Writers and Book Lovers – More fun ideas.

Notes from a Bookseller Under Pressure – On selling books through the holidays.

The Best Diverse YA Books of 2015 – An excellent round-up.

One Goal to Rule them All: Five Things to Consider before You Write an Epic Fantasy – Some wonderful advice regarding all the balls you need to juggle writing in this sub-genre.

Working Your Way through It: Day 9 of the Challenge

I’ve shared the following video before, but it’s one that stands up to multiple viewings. Keep this in mind when you contemplate not writing on any given day.

Ira Glass on Being Creative

Putting in your time each day helps you advance your skills that much faster. It trains your brain to do the work, and let’s you develop new techniques and a better understanding of your craft. So what are you waiting for? Go write.

Lighten Up and Write: Day 7 of the Writing Challenge

Monday got you down? Daily writing starting to wear on your creativity? Fear not! The video below, from this year’s NerdCon, will both entertain and revive you, plus hopefully inspire you to let your imagination roam free. So settle in to watch. (I recommend you avoid drinking for the duration, for fear of spraying your keyboard.)

Now go write.

Friday Links: Literary Leveling Up

Happy Friday! I hope you’ve all had a wonderful week, and that you’re getting lots of writing done through the December Writing Challenge. I’ve kept an eye out for some particularly inspiring links in order to give you an extra push to keep those words flowing. Reach a little higher, strive a little harder. But I’ll be back a bit later with the day’s official pep talk, so for now I’ll just wish you a productive day and a wonderful weekend. Happy writing!

23 Short Story Competitions in 2016 – Mark your calendars and plan your strategies now.

Five Ray Bradbury Stories that Tell Us Everything We Need to Know about Writing – Bradbury always makes for a good read, and if you can learn something, even better.

Important Infrequently Used Words to Know – Frequency of use probably varies, but this is a fun list for vocabulary building (or learning how to spell that word you’ve only ever heard aloud).

Molly Crabapple: My Life in a Parisian Bookstore – The artist and author shares her experiences in Shakespeare and Company.

How the Ballpoint Pen Changed Handwriting – An intriguing peek into the mechanics of writing.

The Millions: A Year in Reading 2015 – Every year The Millions gathers reading wrap-ups from authors and contributors, racking up a terrific collection of diverse book recommendations. Keep checking back, as they will continue to add posts until the end of the year.

Eli Horowitz Wants to Teach You How to Read – The former managing editor of McSweeney’s wants to change the world of books (again).

Commit to a Writing Date: Day 3 of the Challenge


Welcome to day 3 of the December Writing Challenge! Whether you’ve written the previous two days or you’re just joining us, it’s an important day of the writing week because it’s Thursday. What makes Thursday so special? Well, it tends to be the last day of the week before weekend brain starts to set in and lure you away from your good intentions. So not only are you going to write today, but you’re going to plan ahead so the weekend doesn’t interfere with all your good work.

As crazy as a work day can be during this time of the year, weekends blow them out of the water. Between shopping for gifts, holiday parties, your kids’ recitals and concerts and Nutcracker performances, and decking the halls, it can seem like you don’t have a minute to spare. That makes it even more important to schedule some time for yourself, specifically time to write.

At some point today, take a look at your calendar, whichever one you use to schedule important things, like dentist appointments and business meetings and anniversaries. You’re going to schedule your writing time in for the weekend, and set an alert or reminder on your phone or computer. This is a commitment. It’s a date with yourself to get in your writing time, even if it’s just a half an hour as part of a mid-afternoon coffee break each day.

If you really want to hold yourself to it, team up with a friend (or several) who writes and agree to meet them for a writing sprint. Go to your favorite coffee house or bar and promise to work through a couple of 15-minute writing jags between beverages, or grab lunch and write between your entree and dessert. To change it up a bit, have each writer participating bring a short prompt, and take turns setting the writing topic for the sprint.

December weekends fill up quickly, and no doubt you already have a few commitments on your calendar. Just make sure your writing doesn’t get pushed to the side. Take the time for yourself, and get those words out. Happy writing!

December Writing Challenge


As November — and NaNoWriMo — come to a close, it’s time for me to issue my annual December Writing Challenge. There are a number of thoughts behind this challenge, and its timing. The first, perhaps most obvious, is that if you spent November writing like crazy in order to finish your NaNo novel, the last thing you should do come December first is collapse in an exhausted heap and cease to write. It’s tempting to take a few days off, to reward yourself for all your efforts with a mini vacation, but if you do that, you lose that excellent momentum you’ve built up by writing regularly for the entire month. Don’t stop; keep writing.

The other main reason behind a writing challenge in December stems from the month itself. December can be insanely busy, jam packed thanks to the holidays and the fast approach of the year’s end. It’s easy to get caught up in shopping and cooking, family visits, parties, and travel. Many businesses also face the end of a fiscal year, which means tying up lose ends. If you work any sort of retail, December means extra hours or wrangling seasonal staff. December appears to be a natural month to write less, or stop writing entirely, which is precisely why it’s an excellent month to challenge yourself to write. If you can maintain a writing practice in December, you can probably write all year round.

Finally, the end of the year is coming up quickly, and with it that annual practice known as making new year’s resolutions. I’m not a big fan of random resolutions, myself, but I do think it’s important to look back at the year and see what you’ve achieved, and use that as a basis for setting goals for the year to come. It’s far easier to do this if you’ve at least been writing regularly. The December Writing Challenge will set you up with a running start for your writing goals for 2016.

The rules of the writing challenge are very simple: Write every day. There’s no word count requirement, no set time of day you need to put pen to paper or attack that keyboard. You just need to spend some time writing every single day.

How long do you need to spend writing? Well, that’s up to you. Ideally, if you can squeeze in an hour a day, that would be fantastic, but I know that’s not always possible. So I encourage you to try for at least half an hour. If all you can manage is fifteen minutes, so be it; maybe you can sneak in a second short session as well, if that’s the case. But the important thing is to make a date with your writing every day.

What should you write? Whatever you want. If you’ve got a current work in progress, great. Deadline looming? Even better. But if not, don’t feel you need to write the same thing every day. Tackle a stack of writing prompts or see if you can write a new piece of flash fiction or an essay designated for a particular magazine. Experiment. Play. If you feel blocked on one project, alternate it with something else. Just keep writing.

A daily writing practice is about commitment, priorities. It’s about saying that your desire to write, to be a writer, is important enough that it deserves a slot in your day, just like brushing your teeth or taking the dog out. It’s about developing the habit, training your brain to deliver on command as much as possible. Plenty of people argue that you don’t need to write every day to be a successful writer, and there are certainly examples of that, but for the purpose of this challenge, the goal is to write every day and see what you come up with.

Life does happen. I understand that, and of course there can be tons of life packed into the month of December. So, for the sake of your sanity and in honor of holiday madness everywhere, I give you two free days if you need them. That means over the course of December you can take up to two days of your choosing off from writing. Family descending for holiday celebrations and you have a day of airport runs? Fine. Hung over from your father’s infamous egg nog? I get it.  If you need the days, take them. But try not to. Who knows what kind of interesting writing you’ll produce in your egg nog-induced stupor?

So that’s the December Writing Challenge for 2015. Starting tomorrow, commit to your writing, or if you already have a daily writing habit, recommit. Remind yourself what you love about writing, and why it’s a part of your life. Then sit down and do it.


Friday Links: Late-and-Lazy Thanksgiving Weekend Edition

Yesterday, instead of posting my usual Friday links, I spent the day napping, reading, and eating leftovers. However, it was not my intention to take the entire weekend off from this blog, so here I am with some belated linkage and a two-part announcement/reminder.

Those of you who have frequented this blog for some time know that as NaNoWriMo comes to a close, I like to let participants know that, while I applaud and encourage your November writing efforts, I don’t want to see queries for them come the start of December. With very few exceptions, what you’re writing for your NaNo novel is a draft only — a first draft — and likely also too short to be considered a novel unless you’ve exceeded your 50,000-word goal. What you have is a starting point; please take that and finish it. Lengthen, reread, revise, send to critique partners, and revise some more. I’m happy to hear about your fabulous book, but only once you’re done making it fabulous.

The second part of my announcement is that for the past several years I’ve issued my own little writing challenge for the month of December. I like to encourage writers to take that NaNoWriMo momentum and run with it. Or, if you didn’t participate, to dig in during this busy month and find a way to develop new writing habits so that, when the new year kicks off with all its resolutions and goals, you’ll be well on your way to making them a reality. So look out for the official challenge post on Monday.

But now for the links. A little late, but hopefully no less enjoyable for it. Wishing you a lovely rest of the weekend. Happy writing!

Make It Now: The Rise of the Present Tense in Fiction – Interesting look at this growing trend.

Want to Be an Artist? First Go a Little Nuts – Korean novelist Young-ha Kim on letting creativity stem from play.

Podcast: Master Class with Winnie Holzman – A chat between screenwriters Winnie Holzman (MY SO-CALLED LIFE) and Jason Katims (ROSWELL, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS).

Ever Wonder Why Americans of the 1930s and 40s Spoke with an Accent? – An intriguing peek at what is sometimes thought of as movie-speak.

Neil Gaiman on Storytelling in the Age of the Internet and Other Oddities – Gaiman talks about how storytelling has changed as a result of social media and other modern conveniences.

12 Authors You’ll Love No Matter Your Favorite Genre – Great list.

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Published in a Literary Magazine – A look inside the process, plus tips on navigating the system.

25 Outstanding Podcasts for Readers – Great places to hear about new books, new authors, and other reader-ish pleasures.