The Joy of Writing Prompts (or what I’ve learned from 11 years of FlashNano)

If you would have told me 11 years ago that FlashNano would actually become a thing I might not have believed you. That first November, in 2012, while we were worrying about the end of the Mayan calendar (and the upcoming apocalypse), I had been writing A LOT of flash fiction and I didn’t want to stop. So when a friend asked me if I was doing NaNoWriMo, I said, “maybe I’ll write a flash fiction story every day instead. In solidarity.” And she said, “If you send me a prompt every day, I’ll do it too.”

And that, my friends, was it.
Now it’s a November flash fiction tradition, and in 2021 we celebrated our 10th FlashNano with over 2,000 people and a slew of guest prompts!

What have I learned from 11 years of Flashnano?

So much!

1.  First, we all need more fun in our writing. So often we are just slogging through a project, dragging ourselves to the chair or the finish line with no consideration at all for whether we are having any fun!! Fun, as you might have guessed, is my specialty. And sometimes that’s straight up silly fun, but mostly I mean just that sense of playful wonder and joy at the process. We can get so wrapped up in the product that we forget to smile along the way.

2.  Regularity is a real thing. I say that all the time in my workshops, but I know it’s easy to say, harder to do. But the benefits of regularity far outweigh the occasional extended time, i.e. 15 mins a day is different than a marathon session on the weekends. Regularity keeps our ideas warm and simmering so that we never arrive at the page cold.  And writing a story every day for 30 days is habit forming, and if it takes 66 days for a habit to become automatic, well, you could be almost halfway there by December 1.

3. Momentum is the writerly sweet spot. And momentum, thankfully, is the natural by-product of regularity. It can be that feeling of flow when we are sitting down each day, or the in-between time when we still feel “possessed” by our ideas, thinking about them even when we are off duty in the form of signs and synchronicity.

4. Making art involves failing. But usually within the failure is the spark–the accidental smudge on the canvas becomes the happy accident around which the whole idea begins to coalesce. But often we don’t give ourselves enough room to fail–and we certainly don’t often find the gifts in the failure. We have to be okay wading through the bad to find the brilliant.  And let’s be clear: when you attempt to write 30 stories in 30 days, many of them will be bad. But some of them will be good…even magnificent.

5. Not all prompts are created equal. My preference is a prompt that has some room, some white space built in to allow for lots of interpretation. Some prompts are too prescriptive, they take up too much room in my imagination. For me the best kinds of prompts are those that open a door without telling you exactly what you will find on the other side.

6. First drafts are a beautiful thing. First Drafts are full of possibility. It’s like you managed to catch a firefly in a jar and you are marveling at the brilliance of its light. But a firefly in a jar is not the same thing as a polished Broadway light show. So remember: you aren’t done. December and beyond is my favorite part of the process: working and kneading and sculpting those first drafts into something stunning. (And yes, I’ll be offering some live revision sessions in December–stay tuned for that)

7. And finally, 30 stories in 30 days is not easy! Sometimes writers assume Flashnano is an “easier” version of NaNoWriMo. (I’m smiling.)

If that’s you, then I challenge you to JOIN US and find out for yourself!

See you on the other side!



And here I am talking about FlashNano circa 2018: