Writing Remix Podcast: Nancy Stohlman, Flash Fiction, and Going Short

In Episode 54, we talk to writer Nancy Stohlman about her award-winning book Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction, the power of flash fiction as a fully realized genre, and how to write and teach flash fiction.  

Find Going Short here!

This episode was recorded on March 15, 2021. Because we recorded via Zoom, there may be occasional audio hiccups. Our theme song is “4 am” by Makaih Beats. You can subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher and follow us on Twitter @WritingRemixPod

LISTEN HERE

Quotes from the Episode:

“What I really discovered, and was such a relief for me, was not every story is 60,000 words, and if you push it to try to make it cross that finish line so that you can call it a novel, then have you sold out your own idea, perhaps?” @nancystohlmanTweet

“It was so liberating for me to have permission to let my story decide how long it needed to be and not [let] conventions decide.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“Flash fiction is like when you’re at the airport and you are sitting next to somebody and they’re gonna get on a flight in 20 minutes and you’re gonna get on a flight in 20 minutes and you end up having this amazing conversation for 20 minutes. And then they go their way, and you go your way, and you never see them again. Is there anything less profound and wonderful about that 20 minute conversation versus if I was that person’s friend since childhood and knew every little thing about them?” @nancystohlmanTweet

 “This is the kernel. This is the heartbeat here. And I can give it to you in this little flash fiction piece.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“Sometimes you want to go on the whole journey. But sometimes you just want to see the heart beating and just look at it and just realize how powerful that is.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“Poetry and flash fiction, they share brevity, but they also share complexity, and they share a lot of depth. A lot goes on in these tiny little spaces.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“Flash fiction is not just a little knock-knock joke on your way to work. It’s like a whole thing that’s going to be ringing in your head for the rest of the day.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“That’s one of the things I really love about the constraint of flash fiction […] You’re playing with the form. You’re pushing against it. It’s like air inside of a balloon.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“Knowing what the edges are in any form allows me to kind of create a shape that I may not have created if I just had all the room in the world.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“Are you writing what you think other people want, or are you writing what’s really in your heart screaming to get out?” @nancystohlmanTweet

“When you start listening to your own work and seeing yourself as being in service of the story–the midwife of the story–you’re not the creator. You’re the midwife, and it’s coming through you. So get out of the way, and it will tell you when it’s done. I think if that’s where we can position ourselves as writers, I think the best work will come through that way.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“So many of the lessons that I have in the book Going Short come from years and years and years of creating context for [my] workshops.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“I think that most writers or artists in general, just kind of feed off that novelty where everything is unfamiliar and I’m suddenly actually present in my body paying attention to the world in a way that I’m not when everything is familiar…I think that’s really what I love about being a writer who travels–is just forcing myself to slow down and actually not be sure of anything and notice everything.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“I think it’s important to remember too that our creativity [is] seasonal.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“Around 2010 or so, I was like all right, well, there isn’t this book [about how to write flash fiction], and there needs to be this book, so I guess I should write this book.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“Women have helped create [flash fiction] just as much as the men.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“Learning how to finish a book is just as important as learning how to begin a book, but we don’t practice that enough.” @nancystohlmanTweet

Ten Flash Fiction Tips for the Flash Curious on Creative Indie

Are you flash curious?

by Nancy Stohlman

Read the full article on Creative Indie

An excerpt:

There’s a revolution happening in literature: writers are going short.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve already heard of flash fiction, those tiny, compressed stories flourishing in the literary underground. Writers and readers are falling in love with the form and discovering something delightful and poignant in these small spaces.

Originally called sudden fiction, microfiction, nanofiction, or short shorts, flash fictions are ultra-compressed stories following only two rules: they must be under 1,000 words and they must tell a story. The result is a miniature narrative that creates an entire story experience in just a few well-placed brushstrokes. And the stories, far from trivial or lazy, have their finger on a new kind of urgency.Carving away the excess, flash fiction puts the short story through a literary dehydrator, leaving the meat without the fat.

This is an exciting time to be a flash fiction writer.In my book, Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction, I explore how flash fiction has successfully broken the old story out of its skin and transformed it, cultivating not only a new kind of story but also a new kind of writer.  

So, whether you are flash curious or a flash veteran, here are 10 of my best tips as you embark on (or continue) your flash fiction journey.

1. Become a beginner. This goes for any new artistic endeavor, but if you’re a poet, or a novelist, or even new to writing, embrace the glory of being a beginner. There will be an adjustment period, and that’s good! It’s so much easier to take risks and lower expectations. And when expectations are lowered, the real beginner’s magic can slip through the back door. Allow yourself the possibility of creative play—and creative discoveries.

2. Respect flash fiction as its own form. Flash fiction is not the bunny slope to something harder. It is not easier or less powerful or less profound just because it’s small. Bigger doesn’t always mean better. The bonsai tree is a marvel in miniature, requiring an entirely different set of skills. And just as learning from other genres can strengthen your existing work, learning from flash fiction will make you a better writer, regardless of your preferred genre.

3. Just because it’s short doesn’t mean it’s flash fiction. A lot of things are short—vignettes, character sketches, prose poetry. These may overlap with flash fiction, but they aren’t interchangeable. Prose poetry is a poem using sentences. Flash fiction is a compressed story with a narrative arc and movement. When in doubt, see rule #2

4. Don’t try to butcher a longer piece and pass it off as flash fiction. You might be able to pull this off one or twice (I did), but it’s a little bit like adding line breaks to a story and calling it poetry. Ultimately you want to start seeing the world through a flash fiction lens, noticing the potential for stories everywhere and honing your radar for great flash material.

5. The word limit matters. At first you might feel like you are battling the word limit. Eventually you will realize the word limit is the necessary container that allows the magic to happen. Without constraints, the story can expands in all directions like an amoeba. Strategically pushing against the constraints, the story realizes itself as flash fiction. Once you embrace the constraint as a vital part of the process, it won’t be an issue.

KEEP READING HERE

The Seasons of the Creative Process

I’ve said for years there are few things I trust more than the creative process. The sun rises, the sun sets, the tides go in and out, and the creative process ebbs and flows…and ebbs and flows again.

I share this now, at the dawn of spring, because it can be tempting to take a snapshot of the creative process rather than seeing it as a continuum. When we are deep in winter here in Colorado, I take solace knowing that the Earth inevitably turns, and winter will soon be followed by spring. And conversely, when I am deep in the luxury of summer, I try to remember that it, too, will not last. 

It can be helpful, if you plan to have a long, creative life, to view your process like this. To roll with the changing seasons of our art. Periods of furious creation are followed by a slowing down as we recuperate. And those fallow periods are followed by new sparks and new creative discoveries…if we remain patient and trust the process. The key in any season is to embrace that cycles come and go. When we are in the creative mania stages, it can be hard to remember winter is coming. And when we are fallow, we may not recognize the new seeds germinating.

The more times you go through this process, the more you will start to trust that every season will retreat…and eventually return.

This cyclical nature is especially important when you are feeling creative FOMO (fear of missing out) or artistic jealousy. Your creativity is turning, always, but so is everyone else’s…on different cycles. Someone might be doing a lot of publishing outwardly, but behind the scenes they’re fallow. Someone else may feel insecure that they haven’t published lately, but they’re writing a masterpiece behind the scenes. 

Bottom line: It’s counterproductive to compare July to January. Instead, wherever you are in your creative process, remember you are turning and spinning, facing and retreating from the sun over and over. 

If you wait long enough, it will always be summer. 

To your beautiful, flowering creativity,

xoxoxo

Nancy

P.S. Speaking of seasons…are you ready for a flash fiction retreat in Iceland’s darkness? Early access to registration opens tomorrow!

Going Short wins a Reader Views Award!

While I am obviously THRILLED–I truly believe this award also belongs to all of you. THANK YOU for supporting this quirky little book.

And most importantly, this is a WIN for flash fiction!

Thank you Jude Higgins and Ad Hoc Fiction! Thank you Becky LeJeune and Sandra Bond! Thank you Janice Leagra and Maiya Winter! Thank you Samantha Lien!

It takes a village. I love you all. xoxo