advice


by Jim Harrington

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I began writing fiction in January of 2007. In October of 2008, I created a blog where I posted a quote and then wrote about what the quote meant to me as a writer. Honestly, the daily posts were intended for myself. They were a way to force me to think about each quote and how it might change my writing. If people reading my comments gained from them, so much the better. I’m going to post a few of these as I wrote them—even if feel differently now. Feel free to agree, or disagree, or add your own take on the quote and what I said. Here’s today’s article.

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Fugedaboudit (first published 2/15/10)

Forget symbolism, forget literary theory, put aside your desire to be anthologized. Tell the most authentic story you can, with as much attention and sensitivity to life as you can muster. — Randall Silvis Write to Connect With Readers. [The Writer, January 2010]

It’s all about the story.

Beginning writers, and those somewhat beyond the beginning stage, struggle to find their writing voice. Sometimes the struggle is such that the writer stops writing. In other cases, writers attempt to copy voices from novels and short stories they like. My guess is this doesn’t work out very well. Understanding how a writer writes and being inside the writer’s head when he does are two separate things.

I don’t remember struggling with voice. I probably did. It’s always been about the story with me. If a piece failed, it wasn’t because of the voice. No, it was because I wasn’t invested enough in what happened to the character to be able to write the tale.

I like today’s quote. Why? Because it tells it like it is. Forget about similes and metaphors. Forget about writing “fancy” prose. Forget about getting published and being famous. Just write the story. If the writing is good and true to the characters, the rest will take care of itself.

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Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. His stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Liquid Imagination, Ink Sweat and Tears, Near to the Knuckle, Flashes in the Dark, and others. He serves as the Managing Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” You can read more of his stories at http://jpharrington.blogspot.com.

 

by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

 Sarah AkhtarThere’s a lot of disdain these days for traditional publishing. Unknown writers look at the odds, and then at the alternatives, and are increasingly tempted to self-publish.

There are plenty of springy-looking platforms to leap off of. Anyone willing to invest a little money and a lot of time can start marketing their own work.

Should you bite that apple?

What’s so great about brick and mortar publishers, anyway?

Web-based publishers have cut overhead to the bone and many of them are marvelous. They’ve created a reader’s paradise. Even the cheapest paperbacks are largely unaffordable to people on limited budgets. But an e-book can be less expensive than a cup of coffee from the corner deli.

And web-based writers’ groups help fledgling authors build supportive audiences and markets for their work. You can be in the midst of a thriving artistic community no matter where you live.

But one of the fruits of a healthy community is a sort of self-censorship. It’s not dishonesty, but rather the desire not to wound. If we all said everything we thought, with absolute truth, all the time, life would become unbearable.

And writers’ circles or critique groups tend to form around people of similar levels of achievement. Everyone’s growing together. And everyone hopes for success, for themselves and their colleagues. There’s a powerful fellowship of encouragement.

This Eden needs a serpent.

I have never joyfully welcomed the email saying “there’s a slight problem with your story.” Seriously. Would I have sent it in if I thought it wasn’t ready?

It took me well over a year to skip the mental hyper-ventilating and get straight to revising, whenever a rewrite request arrived. I can still feel my head lowering mutinously as I read any criticism of my work.

But most of the editors I’ve worked with have helped me strengthen my own voice. Sometimes I don’t accede to every single suggestion, but I have never declined to revise a story, when requested.

That was a mistake in only one instance, but I knew at the time I was going for publication rather than the purity of my artistic vision, so to speak. So I take full responsibility for that.

Your mastery of craft is constantly growing. I’m pretty confident in my own gifts, now, but even so, it startles me to see how a beginning story from a couple of months ago, say, will seem awfully lacking today. I’ll need to rework those first few paragraphs before I can go any further.

When you self-publish, you have few brakes on that giddy road towards becoming a fine author. There’s an enticing tidbit that people like to munch on—the lists of successful authors showing how many times clueless agents and publishers turned them down, before they signed their first book contract.

Yes, it is true that genius is not always recognized in a timely way by the minions born to serve it. It’s true that very fine writers are rejected every day, and that self-publishing can be a midwife to works that truly deserve to see the light of day.

It can also make a name for you that you might wish you could escape, later. Maybe you’ve got great potential now but you’re not quite there yet. Maybe in a year or two or five, undaunted by rejection, you’ll have found that remarkable voice you always knew was inside.

Or maybe you published before you should have, and you had a brief exciting moment of seeing your stuff offered on Amazon, with wonderful reviews by everyone you know, and you never got any better than you were at that moment.

Don’t just believe the people who like you, and care about you, and want you to succeed. Think about why some of those people who’d love to have discovered the next new great talent are saying you’re not ready yet.

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Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable–the best of all possible worlds. Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, 365tomorrows and Perihelion SF Magazine.

 by Cameron Filas

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If you’re like many writers, revision can be an enjoyable yet tedious process. The worst part is that sometimes even after countless revisions, nail biting, and hair pulling, your finished product gets rejected.

This often isn’t something you can control. Maybe it wasn’t a good fit for that publication. Perhaps the editor was just in a bad mood after spilling their coffee in their lap. Or, maybe you overlooked some things in the revision process that cost you the acceptance.

Many editors are usually forgiving if your work has a few grammar or spelling mistakes. We’re human after all. There are more damning things however, which are in your control to correct before submitting your writing.

So what is the solution? It’s simple, and probably something you’ve got on your desk right now: sticky notes!

How can a thin, probably colorful piece of paper with some adhesive on one end help you? Use it to become your own critic and workshop buddy.

Here’s what you do: take a pad of sticky notes and grab a pen; then, taking care to write legibly, jot down some bullet point questions for yourself. These should be things that perhaps you’ve received feedback about in rejection letters, or know are vital to any good piece. Here are some examples:

  • All five senses?
  • Good dialogue?
  • Main character growth/development?
  • Clear beginning, middle, end?
  • Holes in story?
  • Is there a twist?
  • Does it flow?
  • Did I read it aloud?

These questions should be geared specifically towards you. Be honest about your weaknesses and flaws as a writer, we all have some. Some other great reminders include: “Wait a day!”—if you’re one of those people that doesn’t give yourself a breather before revising a new piece—and, of course, the pivotal “So what? Who cares?”—which most editors will ask themselves after having read your work.

Does your story matter? Is it a linear plot with cut-and-paste characters that don’t serve a purpose? By writing the tough questions down for yourself now, you have a much better chance at making sure your work is as complete and satisfactory for potential readers as possible.

Once you have made your personalized sticky note (or several if you have big handwriting or lots of questions), slap that sucker somewhere you will see it every time you write and revise. You can tape it flat against your desk, so you’re forced to look at it as you type, or you can stick it to your desk lamp and use it as needed.

You don’t even have to use sticky notes if you don’t want to! Feel free to type yourself a note on the computer, tattoo it onto your arm, or frame and hang it over your printer. The important thing here is that you are honest about which reminders you need to improve your writing. Revision isn’t always fun, but you can make the process much more rewarding by challenging yourself with the hard questions that editors will ask of your work.

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Cameron Filas is an avid reader and novice author of short fiction and other various work. Though he has enjoyed writing from a very young age, he has only recently begun a serious pursuit of the craft. Cameron lives in Mesa, AZ, with his girlfriend, a dog, and a demon cat who he is pretty sure is plotting to kill him. You can visit his corner of the web at cameronfilas.wordpress.com.

 

by Elizabeth Maria Naranjo

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First, breathe.

It’s not easy being edited. When you first view your work with an editor’s changes/comments/criticisms, there will be a moment when your heart freezes, and then it will start to burn. This is normal. Do not respond.

Throughout the day, you will compose imaginary emails and engage in silent conversations where you defend your art against the insult of Track Changes. Because obviously this editor just doesn’t get you. You meant to be evasive in paragraph two; you wanted to sound ironic in your closing phrase.

Go ahead and rant silently. Your children may stare in confusion as you mutter and burst into occasional mirthless laughter, your spouse may disappear into the bathroom. They know you’re a writer, that you’re a little strange sometimes. They’ll forgive you.

As the evening goes on, you’ll whittle down your editor’s suggestions to the ones that bothered you most; they’ll play over and over again and the thought of implementing them will make you feel like crying. Pay attention. These are the changes you have to make.

The others—the ones that don’t hurt or merely sting—will categorize themselves:

  • Confirmed—I knew that sentence didn’t feel right.
  • Enlightened—I didn’t realize this wasn’t clear, but I see the problem.
  • Embarrassed—Did I actually write that?
  • Opposed—I see what she’s saying, but this phrase is important.

It may take a few days to get to this point. Wait until you’re there. If you have to, send your editor a polite email explaining that you’re reviewing her comments and working through them. She’ll understand.

When you can think of her with gratitude (she did save you from using the word “just” three times in one page) and remember that she wants your work to be its absolute best (it is also a reflection of her, after all), then you’re ready to respond.

While you’re drafting your reply, don’t be surprised to realize that out of the dozen changes you thought you couldn’t live with there are now only two.

And when she answers you, don’t be surprised if she says, “I can live with that.”

What’s your experience working with editors? How long do you wait to respond?

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Elizabeth’s short fiction has been published in The Portland Review, Hospital Drive, Literary Mama, and SLAB Literary Magazine. Her debut novel, The Fourth Wall, was released in June. She loves hearing from readers and other writers; visit her at  www.elizabethmarianaranjo.com.

 

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

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It’s time for us to take a look back over the month of costumes and candy corn now that we have stepped over the threshold into the domain of Arctic chills and turkeys. The month of October was certainly full of sweet treats and if you missed any of these tasty morsels you will want to pop over to Flash Fiction Chronicles and savor each one in full.

Susan Tepper got us off to a delicious start with her Bonnie ZoBell UNCOV/rd interview. We aren’t sure how Bonnie is able to cram all her awards and books, including her newest—What Happened Here: a novella and stories—into her home, but Susan managed to give us a nice tour of both the neighborhood and Bonnie’s writing inspirations.

Part of the fun of October is all the yummy sweets and Sarah Crysl Akhtar went back into the EDF Archive to bring us a wonderfully palatable tale called She’s a Biter. From the perspective of a child, we learn about family ties. And zombies. The story was close to receiving triple-digit votes and is certainly a perfect piece for the month of monsters.

Cameron Filas brought us back to (one of) the reasons we’re here with his piece on what to do when your accepted submission appears to have dropped off the cliff. He reminds us that we should put on our most endearing smile and send off a short note of inquiry. You might have snuggled down and expected a fright from T. Gene Davis since his article was called Hook the Skimmers, but his piece is not a Halloween tale. Rather, he treats us to his three-step method for taking those casual lookers and turning them into dedicated fans of our work.

Meg Tuite shared how she has attempted to “escape the  flesh canvas” and delights us in her honest (and not-horror-related) Why I Write Flash Fiction article. Thomas Kearnes does manage to give us a bit of a scare though: his title is Leaving Flash Fiction Behind and fortunately he added For Now to keep us from a panic. He talks of the seduction of flash and the challenge of stepping into the experience of writing longer works. And for those of us who need to strengthen our relationship with flash, Angela Rydell gave us a list of five online courses that will help us flex those mental muscles.

If your mental goodie bags are nearly full, be sure to leave room for the last few treats of the month. Sarah Crysl Akhtar circles back around to the things that go bump in the night and gives us links to five stories designed to properly inspire the chills. Jim Harrington provides a list chock full of markets ready for those polished stories, while Dr. Suzanne Conboy-Hill reminds us of what a mouthful (eyeful?) flash should be and how to properly use it to bait your hook for readers. Aliza Greenblatt closes the month with the EDF’s Top Author for September, Joanna Bressler, who shares about her multifaceted writing influences.

As you book your dental appointments and get ready for holiday shopping, be sure to stop through Flash Fiction Chronicles during the month of November. There are plenty of articles, reviews, and markets waiting for you to carve up and dig into.

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Andreé Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug back in the late 1970s while watching Rod Serling and reading Ray Bradbury–both of whom are everyday inspirations; although she has worked in education for more than a quarter-century, she has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. Find some of her flash fiction at starvingartist.com. She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.

 

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