INSPIRATION


Randallbrown

by Randall Brown

I write flash fiction because, in 2003, Vermont College rejected my application for admission to their MFA program. I hadn’t written “creatively” in fifteen years, and maybe it took that long to miss it. My undergraduate workshops—and this is not an exaggeration—frequently ended with my professor asking me either “Are you okay?” or “What did you do to [fill in name of person(s) in class]?” Yes, I was okay—and nothing, there was nothing I could think of that I did to [name of person(s) in class].

After that rejection, instead of quitting, I took online classes, and during one of them with Terri Brown-Davidson (who gets my vote for the one of the great, great creative writing teachers in the world), I decided to make the weekly 500-word exercise complete pieces. She eventually sent me to Zoetrope Virtual Studio and there it was—flash fiction, this form I’d discovered on my own before knowing it existed. Maybe that’s what drew me to flash, this feeling that it had been mine before it was “theirs.”

I have to say that I do love writing rules; in fact, I kind of collect them. Before I discovered them, I thought writing had no boundaries, only existed in ways I could imagine it. So I don’t want to give the impression that I found flash as this boundless, undefined thing. I loved its simple rule, the simplest rule of all to follow: don’t write beyond this word count. The word-count would often change—25, 69, 100, 250, 500, 750, 999—but that rule never did.

It’s an easy rule to understand, isn’t it? It’s completely arbitrary—unless you think of 250 words as equaling a page and then maybe certain word counts begin to have some logic to them. I found that governing principle fascinating and freeing.  I loved the constriction of time and space, how the anxiety of the blank page turned to the fear of a page too filled-up. I loved how, before the self-doubt could arise to stop me in mid-sentence, all the sentences were already there. I love that flash fiction, of all things, this most diminished of prose forms, re-defined me from the moment I found it, first in my self, then in the world. I love that most people in the world don’t know what it is, and when they do glimpse it, it doesn’t matter at all to them. I like that almost everyone misses it. I like that I didn’t.

I write flash fiction because that rejection from Vermont College, to me, said (once again) that I couldn’t write. I took the classes because I was tired of the world telling me their truths. They were never nice ones, you know. I write flash fiction because I discovered I could write. As long as I didn’t write too much.

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Randall Brown teaches at Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. He is the author of the award-winning collection Mad to Live (Flume Press, 2008), his essay on (very) short fiction appears in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field, and he appears in the Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction (W.W. Norton, 2010). He blogs regularly at FlashFiction.Net and has been published widely, both online and in print, including online at American Short Fiction, Tin House, and Mississippi Review; and in-print in Cream City Review, Lake Effect, and Harpur Palate.

by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Tip #1: Recognize it’s a mythological beast. 

 You might be having trouble writing what you want to write, but you’ve got plenty of words in there. Don’t doubt that!

Tip #2: Don’t scorn those random thoughts! 

My manuscript format template–how I love it. An idea pops into my head–sometimes just a title without a story–I save it into my template, sometimes just name it “New Story/Date,” and don’t worry about it. I haven’t lost that brilliant sentence that just doesn’t happen to be attached to anything at the moment; and when something else isn’t working out, I can browse all those many, many beginnings and see if any of ‘em want to grow.

Tip #3: Don’t try to squeeze out the baby before its time.

I’ve found that my best stories seem to write themselves, and they get mighty cranky if I try to force them.

Tip #4: Throw something on the page.

Banal dialogue, laborious description–anything. A blank page is just–blank–but put a few words on it, and you have something to tinker with.

Tip #5: Don’t treat your creative writing like a production line. 

I’ve read plenty of advice on dealing with that phantom, writer’s block–have a routine, write for a minimum of fifteen minutes every day, etc. etc.–and that may work for some people, but to me, that’s turning joy into misery; art into factory work. I promise you, you haven’t written your last good thing ever; the well isn’t dry. Referring back to Tip #1, you’ve probably got too much in your head rather than too little, and there’s a crush at the door, and they’re all saying, “After you, my dear Alphonse.” Get up, go do something else–preferably not on the computer, if that’s where you write–and, like Scarlett O’Hara, remember that tomorrow’s another day.

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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 and Perihelion SF Magazine.

by Meg Pokrass

Author’s subtitle: Small Yet Mighty 

In my opinion, flash is perhaps the most honest form of expression, in that it does not need to impose artificial structure onto experience.

The term “flash fiction” may imply that a flash piece just comes to a writer, like a bolt of lightning, some kind of proverbial inspiration—and a writer burps it out. One of the reasons I am not fond of the term “flash fiction” is because of this perception. Writing flash fiction is the craft of creating miniature worlds.

Perhaps, when I first discovered flash fiction, I loved it so much that it intimidated me. For some reason, I never believed I could write flash, I was a poet. But, in 2008, I took my first plunge at flash fiction— taking my narrative poems and reworking them into stories. I wrote like a fiend. I could not stop.   Something had freed me.

When I write flash, I don’t begin with a plot, or a concept. Just a few images that are stuck in my brain, they don’t have to seem directly “meaningful”. I will figure out what a story means only many drafts later.  The story begins to tell itself. A writer just has to start anywhere.

I think we, as writers, need to learn to get out of the way, and let the stories come out by freeing our unconscious thoughts from critical observation. This is true in many art forms, not just writing.

A final draft should contain not one unessential word. Creating a genuine sense of emotional urgency in a very short space is an acquired skill at the art of omission. Beautiful, dense prose, which fulfills itself and brings a mysterious, sudden satisfaction to the reader—like great songs—are deceptively small in word count, yet strangely mighty.

I see life as many moments, hours, days and years strung together. I do not believe that life has a “narrative arc”—or if it does, it does not become clear until a person dies—and even then, the narrative arc of a person’s life is entirely subjective.

In my opinion, flash is perhaps the most honest form of expression, in that it does not need to impose artificial structure onto experience. The best flash tells an emotional story through sensory detail, with no frippery.  I suspect this is why this unique form has such a direct and demanding emotional tug.

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Meg Pokrass is the author of the forthcoming novella-in-flash “Here, Where We Live” (Rose Metal Press, 2014) and “Damn Sure Right” (Press 53) a collection of flash fiction. Meg’s stories have been widely anthologized, most recently in the forthcoming W.W. Norton Anthology of Flash Fiction International (Shapard, Thomas and Merrill, 2015). Her flash-fiction and micro-fiction stories and humor pieces have appeared in around a hundred and fifty online and print publications, including McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, PANK, Smokelong Quarterly, Mississippi Review, MidAmerican Review, NANO Fiction, 100-Word Story, The Literarian, storySouth, Failbetter, Gigantic. Meg’s humor pieces, co-written with author Bobbie Ann Mason, have recently been showcased in TNB Original Fiction. Her flash fiction has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations, been showcased for Dzanc Books’ Short Story Month and nominated for Best of the Web, Best of the Net, and Wigleaf’s Top 50 [Very] Short Fictions. She currently serves as an associate editor for Frederick Barthelme’s New World Writing.  Learn more about her at  megpokrass.com.

 

 

 

 

 

by Rohini Gupta

Rohini Gupta for ffc

The muse is always late. It’s her nature. She may come or she may not, but I am there, faithful as the tides, sitting at my writing desk as usual every day. I can feel that wondrous rush of words lurking somewhere in the dark behind the mind.

But she’s not there.

 Where is she? Is she flirting with another writer at the other end of town? Did he perform some complex esoteric ritual to gain her favour?

She is certainly not here.

The sun is shining brightly outside. My back is to it. I’m in this lonely world, just me and cold blank screen. Nothing is alive in this land. Nothing moves. Not one stray letter.

Will she come? I don’t know.

When she does blow in, it’s often at the most inconvenient time.

All day I have been at the desk, back hurting, fingers numb. I go for a walk and there she is, pouring in a small raincloud of ideas just when I cannot write.

Or I go for a shower and the tap that opens is not the water. Suddenly she is there, full blown, mid flow and in overdrive. A flood of words and ideas flashes past at lightning speed just when I am wrestling with the soap.

Wait, wait, slow down, hold on.

Then, still dripping, I find paper and pen.

I am ready but where is the lightning? It’s gone, taking the last flash of genius with it.

Worse, I am on the way to an important meeting. It’s not the fate of the world but the fate of my book, which, at the moment, is just as important. Right then I do not need a little thundercloud, tapping me on the shoulder to whisper, so this is what you do with the dead bodies in the basement.

Not now, please, not now. In a couple of hours I will be back at my desk. Can’t it hold till then?

No, it can’t. That is another thing a muse does not do. She just won’t wait.

She is a butterfly who dances in, trailing stardust in her wake. It’s up to me to try and catch the sparks. Most of the time I find myself leaping at empty air. I am too late. Nothing’s there. She is already past. The idea, the words – long gone.

Complaints don’t work with her either. Time does not exist for her. She will glide in when she pleases.

Yet, writing is just not the same without her.

My fingers on the keys are heavy as lead. I write stillborn sentences. The story refuses to move. Everything will need rewriting.

Writers often say they are bored. ‘I hate writing,’ some say. Others say they will not write if they know the plot, or the end, because then they would be bored to tears. To many writers, writing is a chore they want to finish as rapidly as possible.

They don’t know the muse.

Her signature is surprise.

She can give the most mundane of outlines a pair of golden wings. When she comes it’s noon at midnight and stones become rivers. In mythology, the goddess of poetry and art is a river.

What else could she be?

I use the old fashioned word, muse. Others may prefer the more modern ‘flow’. Call it what you will, it’s the same thing — that slow, smooth flow of the mind, rare as it is.

But there is a key. Yes, there is a key.

Don’t expect her at all. Never wait. You could be waiting for a lifetime.

Begin. Sit down and walk on your own arthritic 26 keyboard feet. Don’t stop walking. On most days your spider words will crawl slow and cranky across the white.

Then it will happen. Someday it will happen – the reason I became a writer in the first place.

She will sweep me off my feet. I will be airborne in an instant, soaring in cloudy heights beyond the range of commercial jets, in a world where there is nothing but words.

For a while it is heaven.

Then, like an off switch, she’ll be gone. I’ll be back to my cramped self, wondering if my feet ever left the ground.

They did. I have pages to prove it. I have words I do not remember writing.

The next day when I read them again they will surprise me. Did I really write that? Was it me spinning that silk of words? Did I really make that music? With a little bit of help, yes, it was me.

***

She will never be on time. I know that now.

But I will. I will be there every day. The music of the keys or the scratching of the pen attracts her and if she does not hear it, she may go to someone else.

I will begin.

Maybe she will join me. Maybe she won’t.

But it will happen again, that also I know. There will be another day when the switch turns on and her sparkle fills my mind, when there are wings beneath my words and nothing but the blue sky above.

For that, I’ll always be waiting, however long it takes.

Remember, muses have no sense of time.

 ____________

Rohini Gupta is a writer living by the sea in Mumbai, with a houseful of dogs and cats while working on short stories, poetry and a book.  This article was first published on her blog.

by Beth Lee-Browning

One of my favorite bands in high school was REO Speedwagon. They are no longer in my music collection, but to this day I crank the radio and  sing “It’s time for me to fly” at the top of my lungs whenever I hear the unexpected hit from the album You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish.  I always feel a bit nostalgic as the lyrics take me back a few hundred years (Okay, only a few more than thirty, give or take).

I remember as a teenager being amazed at how the lyrics of many of my favorite songs from a variety of bands seemed to be written just for me, and I marveled at how the poems set to music expressed what was in my heart but I couldn’t find the words to say.  I would lay awake in bed listening to Dan Folgelberg sing of “Hymns filled with early delight” and “Acceptance of life,” [Netherlands] and I hoped and I prayed that one day I would find myself and my way.

As an adult I still find myself latching on to a particular song and playing it over and over because it speaks to me.  I find that music has a special way of helping me to understand that I’m not alone; it entertains and motivates me, it cheers me up and at times it calms me down, it inspires me.  More often than not I think it provides a medicinal backdrop that we aren’t even aware of as we go about the routine of our day.  No matter what the genre is, there are songs of love and heartbreak, anger and victory, being lost and then found, songs of hope and faith.

“Art is a vocation, a calling, and if no one hears the call as loudly as we do, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there, that doesn’t mean we don’t hear it, and that doesn’t mean we don’t need to answer when it calls.”

I began the twelfth and final chapter of Walking in This World [Julia Cameron] with mixed feelings.  The past few months have been packed with an intensity of personal change and growth that surpasses any other time in my life and I felt ready for a break, ready to get back to being “normal,” although normal now has a whole new meaning. On the other hand the book had become a guide, leading me through each week and I wasn’t sure that I was ready to do it on my own and I wondered what was next.

The final chapter is entitled Discovering a Sense of Dignity, and Julia introduces it with a philosophy:  “The key to a successful creative life is the commitment to make things and in so doing make something better of ourselves and our world.  Creativity is an act of faith…Our graceful ability to encompass difficulty rests in our ability to be faithful.”

I’ve always thought about the creative process as the logistics of coming up with an idea and using the tools of the trade whether it be a notebook, a canvas, a flowerbed, or an orchestra to bring a piece of art to life.  I also thought that if you had a day job you couldn’t be an artist first, that you weren’t a “true artist” until you reached a certain level of notoriety or fame and that the fame must be accompanied by money or it wasn’t real.  Julia has set me straight on this notion more than once, “Art is a vocation, a calling, and if no one hears the call as loudly as we do, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there, that doesn’t mean we don’t hear it, and that doesn’t mean we don’t need to answer when it calls.”

I think she’s right when she says we sometimes shy away from letting our true colors show and we tuck away our creative desires into corners and steal a few minutes here and there because we want people to think we are “normal.”  In reality, we need to express ourselves to our families and friends and help them understand that our creative calling is real and it’s not “just a hobby,” it’s who we are.  That’s not to say we can or should cast aside the responsibilities of being a parent, a partner, or provider, it is saying that if we don’t communicate our needs, if we don’t set aside time to write, paint, sing, dance, cook- to create, we may find ourselves ultimately frustrated and resenting the very necessary and important roles we play outside of our artists world.

I think the author is saying that first we need to become aware of ourselves and learn what it is we need.  Do we need an hour each morning or one after work?  Is it an occasional Saturday escape from the “real” world that we need to be an artist?  We must learn to understand and recognize that emotions like anxiety and doubt, fear and anger, love and happiness fuel our art and we have the power to choose resiliency over defeat and depression.  We owe it to ourselves and our most trusted friends and family to share what we’ve discovered.

…we need to express ourselves to our families and friends and help them understand that our creative calling is real and it’s not “just a hobby,” it’s who we are… if we don’t communicate our needs, if we don’t set aside time to write, paint, sing, dance, cook- to create, we may find ourselves ultimately frustrated and resenting the very necessary and important roles we play outside of our artists world.

I have a notepad on my refrigerator which says “Masquerading as a Normal Person Day After Day is Exhausting,” and I smile at its truth every time I read it.  But it occurs to me that maybe if we let those closest to us in on our “secret” maybe it doesn’t have to be quite so exhausting.

When I took my first writing class two years ago it was a distraction from some upheaval and turmoil in my everyday life.  As my interest grew it became a passion and a dream.  I dreamed of being a writer, of being published, which I equated with money and it being a full time endeavor with no need for a “day job.”  Time and time again, Julia has turned my thoughts upside down and inside out, and the final section called Service was no different.

We tend to equate art and culture, using Merriam Webster to define it first as “acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science” and forget that maybe more importantly it is also defined by Merriam as “the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.”

Julia struck a chord when she said, “We have very strange notions about art in our culture.  We have made it the cult of the individual rather than what it always has been, a human aspiration aimed at communicating and community.  We “commune” through art…”  I felt like it was one of the chance happenings she often refers to when I experienced a Moment of Magic and community through music on the day I finished the book.

My reasons for writing have changed; I’ve come to realize that it’s not about me.  Art, whatever form it takes, is not intended to serve the artist, it’s meant to serve the community. Its purpose is to entertain and motivate, provide optimism and solace, its purpose is to inspire.  I struggle with the notion that I have a “gift,” it seems conceited to say so.  Do I still hope to make money as a result of my writing? Absolutely.   Will I quit writing if I don’t?  Absolutely not.

Gifts are for giving and I think that translates to our personal talents as well.  By reaching out to others, sharing what we’ve learned through our experiences, putting  our egos aside, and making our contributions not about us but about our community I believe we can and will experience greater personal  joy and the world will be a better place.

I’m sad that the book is over and I’m more than a little scared to be without my “guide,” but I know it’s time…

“It’s time for me to fly.”

 ____________________

Beth Lee-Browning lives outside of Philadelphia, is a transplanted Midwesterner, and a mid-life woman who is discovering the joy of living life to its fullest and under her own rules. She chronicles her adventures from the ordinary to the unusual with keen and thought provoking observations, a unique wit, sensitivity and an underlying theme that “everything is going to be all right.”

Read Beth’s blog at it’s a whole new world.

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