Flash

Writing flash fiction was one of the ways I trained myself to write a book. I made a few attempts at writing a full-length novel just over ten years ago and failed on multiple occasions.

The problem was I hadn’t fully prepared myself to write a book. First off, I hadn’t created an outline. Secondly, I didn’t know my characters. I just knew that I wanted to write a book, so I dove right in.

I don’t necessarily think this was a mistake. The alternative may have been to continually talk about wanting to write a novel without actually sitting down and doing it. Instead, I envisioned the first scene, had a general idea of where I was going and proceeded to fail miserably.

A couple of years after my first attempts, I encountered flash fiction and sat down to write a novel-length work of microfiction. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the perfect training for writing novels.

I got to the point where I could write about 1,000 words (or one piece of flash) in about an hour. It was an exercise or preparation for what I started to see could be scenes or a portion of a chapter.

The next time I tried to write a novel, the word count came to 90,000 words. The trick was that I wrote it 1,000 words at a time. In this way, I was able to complete a much longer work. That novel wasn’t very good and was full of fatal flaws, but it was a step in the right direction.

In short, writing flash helped me get over a hump. Even if it was only the discipline of sitting down every day to write a flash fiction piece, I learned how to break a larger work into much smaller chunks. My hope is that this gives each chapter an arc that feeds into the larger narrative.

photo: Kristopher Roller

Quitting

I’ve been thinking about quitting lately. I’m not sure if all writers feel this way from time to time or not, but I do know that it’s started to cross my mind with some frequency. The problem is that it may be a pointless thought. Writing is a constant for me.

And, at present, I’m working on a new novel. That’s not exactly “quitting.” At the very least, I want to finish the project I’m working on right now. So, it would probably be a good idea if I rid myself of that thought and approach the notion of giving up with a bit of Zen.

Admittedly, that’s going to be difficult. I’ve not reached the level of success I would like. And I have to wonder if the continued effort is worth it. Does anyone want to read what I write? Are there other things I could pursue that would bring me the success I desire? Or should I just use my spare time to enjoy other hobbies?

This debate has resulted in a bit of a slow down, which may be healthy. I’m writing less. I’m not sure if this is the best solution, but it’s allowing me to approach my work differently.

So, will I quit? Or can I? I can’t say for sure, but I’ve been convinced that I had a book that was worth publishing a couple of times before. I couldn’t find an agent then, and I wrote another one. Either way, I’m committed to finishing this one, even if it’s just for me. I can worry about what to do after that when the time comes.

That’s kind of Zen, isn’t it?

photo: Emily KenCairn

Books

I sometimes prefer to read a physical book over the digital version on an e-reader. But sometimes I don’t and I’m just fine with an ebook. So, the question I’ve had recently is whether or not a collection of physical books is necessary.

At present, I have a collection of works by Michael Crichton, Anthony Bourdain, Haruki Murakami, and a few by Aldous Huxley. I also have a smattering of books by other authors. But I tend to return those others to my local bookstore for store credit.

Earlier this year, I had my heart set on an Everyman’s Library set for display on my bookcase. For the most part, this collection would have included books I’ve read and want to read again. But there were also several others I was planning to read.

At this point, it’s hard for me to foresee what I’m going to want. It might be made more apparent when I land in a home… with a library. Either way, I know I’ll continue to want some books in my office in the future. But how many?

Some people say that there can never be too many books. But I want a curated collection.

Most recently, I’ve tended to read nonfiction on e-readers and fiction in print, but that appears to be shifting (especially since you can get library books on an e-reader). I prefer the hardcover version of a work if I’m going that way, but my concern is that in the next twenty years, this could become even too old-fashioned for me.

For the time being, the library is on hold. But that doesn’t mean books aren’t essential. I will continue reading the classics while sitting in the leather chair in my office–sipping whiskey or coffee or not sipping anything at all–no matter the format of the book.

photo: Iñaki del Olmo

Rejection

Between novels, short stories, and, now, a mini-documentary, I find myself submitting to agents, journals, and festivals almost continuously. This means that rejection is my constant companion. And it can be pretty hard to handle.

When I’m faced with a barrage of emails that say, “Not for us,” or “No thanks,” it’s vital that I keep a level head. Especially because rejection has several meanings, which I think tend to fall into one of the following categories:

  • Insufficient Quality
  • Excessive Quantity
  • Lack of Compatibility
  • Extreme Exclusivity

Admittedly, insufficient quality is a depressing reason to be rejected, but it’s not the most frustrating. If the work isn’t of a high enough quality, it can be improved, so there’s hope. All that’s necessary is more work. Sometimes years of work.

When it comes to issues of quantity, we can find that our work has been edged out by similar writing or a piece that has been written by someone of higher stature. In other words, the market is flooded.

If work is sent to an agent or journal (or any other entity calling for entries) and it’s rejected, it could be because of contradicting visions. There’s no compatibility in this situation. Sometimes it can be fixed, but often first impressions take precedence.

Exclusivity may be the worse reason for a rejection, especially if our work is of sufficient quality. This kind of pass could be the result of who we don’t know. An example of exclusivity could be an agency that doesn’t take on new writers.

Anytime rejection is encountered, we have to keep pushing ourselves and our work forward. Rejection is not an invitation to give up. However, it is an invitation to be honest with ourselves. Remember the first category. Is it a lack of quality? If it is, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board and try again.

If it’s not, we should seek acceptance elsewhere or… try again. However, we should also exercise caution. It’s possible to start believing that the quality of our work is inadequate when it isn’t. Find someone to evaluate the work objectively. If it holds up, look to some of the other reasons for a no.

If you can’t place the piece elsewhere, then move on. This might sound radical, but try not to get too attached to a particular work, especially if it’s going to hinder what comes along next. Another project or opportunity may offer greater possibilities for success.

photo: Steve Johnson