I’m excited to be presenting for the second year in a row at the Writer’s Digest Short Story Conference. This year I’ll be talking about one of my favorite ways to write flash fiction: using the power of implication to manipulate found forms. Come for the whole weekend (and some replays are available for conference participants).
This will be one of my few virtual workshops until the fall: I’d love to “see” you! xo N
From the website: Writer’s Digest is pleased to present an exclusive virtual conference for short story writers! On May 20-22, our 2nd Annual Short Story Writing Virtual Conference will provide expert insights from SEVEN award-winning and best-selling authors on the finer points of how to write a short story. Spend the weekend learning techniques for honing your craft skills, marketing your short fiction, editing, and getting the tools you need to advance your career as a writer from seven different published authors*, then (if you choose) submit up to 500 words of a short story to an editor for critique.
I repeat: If you’re an artist committed to your craft, you will experience doubt.
The “what if” doubts: What if my writing isn’t any good? What if no one wants to read it? What if nobody wants to publish it?
The comparison doubts: They’re all better than me! What am I even doing here? I’m an imposter. I’m a hack.
And the deep, dark night of the soul doubts: Maybe I’m not supposed to be a writer after all. Maybe I should quit.
And all these doubts boil down to the big one: I’m not good enough.
Doubt also comes for the musicians, the painters, the filmmakers, the actors, the dancers, the comedians, the photographers:
All of them–ALL of them--experien doubt.
Making art, especially if we are embarking on something big like writing a book, keeps us endlessly humble. Was Margaret Atwood pinching herself as she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale? I doubt it. Was Toni Morrison feeling like TheBomb.com while she was writing Beloved? Was Pollock patting himself on the back as he poured paint? Or were these three, and every artist before and after, seized with doubts and insecurity as they wondered what kind of monster am I creating?
I’m guessing the latter.
So if you are wracked with doubts, especially if you are out in the deep waters and taking real artistic risks–remember: doubt comes with the territory.
Or does it?
A movie I love that puts doubt in brilliant perspective is Florence Foster Jenkins,which is based on the true story of the woman by the same name. Florence (played brilliantly by Meryl Streep) fancies herself an aspiring opera singer. But she is terrible. Awful. But she’s also rich, and a patron of the arts, so she forges ahead—doubt free. A sort of “ignorance is bliss” situation. And, in the course of her “career”, she records albums and even fills Carnegie Hall in New York City—without ever knowing she can’t sing.
Here she is singing the “Queen of the Night” aria: hilarious.
I would argue that while her operatic performance was not good, the standing ovation she receives is genuine–the people of Carnegie Hall were not applauding her beautiful voice (as she mistakenly thinks) but they ARE enthusiastically applauding her brazen courage. Her absolute shining, all-in heart. Despite her lack of talent, we can all find something to love in the pure audacity of her art—the child singing at the top of their lungs before they have ever begun to doubt themselves.
And, if lack of doubt made a woman like Florence bold enough to sell out Carnegie Hall, imagine what too many doubts might do to a person instead?? Most of us don’t have a team of advisors shielding us from bad reviews or paying audiences not to laugh.
Doubt keeps us from being all in. We hang out around the edges, circling the pool but never getting all the way in.
Which begs the question: What would you do if you had no doubts?
What might you write if you could be as bold and fearless in the creative arena as the child who has never learned to judge her work? Who just boldly grabs a marker and claims a piece of blank paper: I am here. I exist.
What might you create if you could had the courage to risk boldly and fail beautifully? What would happen if you went out into the deep waters of your own artistic possibility, far enough out that you could no longer see the shore? What could you create from there? And what if feeling doubt means you’re close; maybe the stronger the doubt…the more important it IS to proceed?
Now I don’t mean to suggest we should be oblivious to the quality of our own work or make no effort to improve. But most of us are not in danger of overindulging our creativity–most of us exist on the other end of that continuum, strangling possibility because we don’t know how it will be received, drowning the seeds of potentiality with doubt because we don’t know what might grow. Most of us are battling the Monkey of Doubt on our backs, not the other way around.
So again I ask: What would you write if you had no doubts?
And…what if you could begin today?
Wishing you radical inspiration and creative audacity in everything you do. xoxo Nancy
The F-Bomb returns to a live venue for the first time in 2022! Join us at The Roxy on Broadway on Friday April 22 from 6-9 PM. Our host will be Meg Tuite, with featured readers Nancy Stohlman, Kona Morris, and Robert Vaughan. 4-minute open mic spots will also be available for others to share their flash fiction with the crowd. Join us in the Speakeasy space, downstairs at The Roxy!
Wednesday, May 18: Fbomb Prom II: Even Bigger Hair
It’s the second ever Fbomb Prom! Come dressed in your bad formal attire! Be in the running for Prom King or Queen (all genders in the running for both slots!) Use “prom” as a theme for writing a new piece OR just come to be entertained by host Nancy Stohlman and featured readers SETH and our reigning Prom King: Selah Saterstrom! Live at The Roxy on Broadway More info TBA!
Saturday, May 21, VIRTUAL: Writers Digest Short Story Conference
Writer’s Digest is pleased to present an exclusive virtual conference for short story writers! On May 20-22, our 2nd Annual Short Story Writing Virtual Conference will provide expert insights from SEVEN award-winning and best-selling authors on the finer points of how to write a short story. Spend the weekend learning techniques for honing your craft skills, marketing your short fiction, editing, and getting the tools you need to advance your career as a writer from seven different published authors*, then (if you choose) submit up to 500 words of a short story to an editor for critique.
Nancy Stohlman: Literary Squatters: Using Found Forms to Write Fresh Flash Fiction
Time: 3:00 p.m. ET Saturday, May 21
June 6-13: Open Your Art Flash Fiction Retreat, Orgiva Spain
If you’re a flash fiction writer who’s longing for a new creative spark, an adventure to energize your spirit, and camaraderie with your creative community, then join us this summer for a writing retreat in the sunny hills of Andalucia, Spain!
July 8-10 Flash Fiction Festival, Bristol UK
The July 8th -10th weekend Flash Fiction Festival is for beginning and experienced writers who want to learn more about flash fiction – an exciting and continually emerging short-short form of prose, growing in popularity around the world. Come to have fun, meet old friends, make new ones, be inspired by leading flash fiction practitioners from the UK, USA, Ireland and Germany and immerse yourself in writing, reading and listening to flash fiction throughout the weekend. All sections of the community, from all corners of the globe, are welcome.
The Deep Zoo: Excavating and Animating Our Impossible Stories
Going Shorter: Writing Beautiful Flash Fiction
August 9-14 & 16-21: Open Your Art Flash Fiction Retreat, Grand Lake, Colorado
If you’re a flash fiction writer who’s longing for a new creative spark, an adventure to energize your spirit, and camaraderie with your creative community, then join Nancy Stohlman and Kathy Fish this summer for a writing retreat in the glorious Rocky Mountains!
I was kidnapped by the coyotes when I was 15, when my breasts and hips were soft enough to distinguish me as a woman. Not that they hadn’t been watching me before—they had. I remember the friendly neighborly warning—you should be careful letting her out, he said to my mother.A coyote has been watching her. In the daytime? Oh yeah, they don’t care if it’sday or night the neighbor said, tipping his hat. My mother didn’t pay attention, saying it was ridiculous. Coyotes don’t even like little girls she said.
The night I was kidnapped she tried to call me back inside but I was already wild, I’d already jumped through the tear in the screen door and out into the gorgeous summer night, the air thick like black cake. The last thing I heard was—fine then, stay out there. I was smoking a stolen cigarette on a stoop still warm from August, my long body stretched out and barefoot, when I heard the first scuffle, the hiss of a cat. Then the shadow moving up the sidewalk, eyes locked with mine.
I wonder what my mother heard. They called it a nervous breakdown in those days. Could she hear the scream, the quick silencing pounce, the way we folded into the sewer drain? Did she cry for me, my mother, or was she still grieving her own life when the coyotes came for me, when the full smell of coyote hit my face, tufts of black fur still stuck to the sides of his mouth when he reached for me, followed by a nauseating tingle through the tip of my right breast that I would never, ever be able to scrub off?
Strange, but what I remember most from that evening was how beautiful it was to be alive. The sweetness of lightning bugs. The silent, witnessing stars. The crickets, pausing when we passed. My last breath of free air and my final glimpse of the world, framed through the circular sewer pipe and bluish with the moon. Watching. Complicit.
Did she finally put it together from her bed, the doctors asking who did you leave watching her? the doctors telling her to get home quickly, the doctors telling her it might be too late. What did she do when she found me already gone, my skin left suspended in the air like dust particles stirred up in a sunbeam?