Beauty in the Aftermath: A Creative Call to Action

Friends,

Are you feeling the shift? Something in the water these last few weeks… unfamiliar frequencies, extra static that you can’t quite put your finger on? A cautious shift into…joy? Hesitancy? Both?

In the U.S., there has been an impulse to move forward, and quickly! Take off your masks, everyone! Hug your friends! Go to Disneyworld! And yet it’s unsettling. For 18 months we’ve been dreaming of this kind of permission, but now we may feel stunned. Pausing in a fog of new feelings.

I’ve been trying to put a name to this feeling for weeks. It’s like slipping between worlds, inhabiting a strange, transitional, duty-free zone between here and there. A kind of reverse culture shock tinged with trauma.

Go with me for a minute…

You probably know about culture shock—if you’ve experienced it, you may remember feeling unmoored in the new spaces—not quite sure how to navigate in the face of so much difference. But…you eventually embraced the unfamiliar and opened your heart to the difference, and in that opening you found new ways, new foods, and new rituals.

I mean, that’s why we travel, right?

Fewer people talk about reverse culture shock. I first experienced it after spending 3 weeks on an anthropology trip in Nepal in college. We had been well prepared for the culture shock of Nepal—but, after 3 weeks of adjusting to a new everything: new climate, altitude, food, customs, time zone— we were completely unprepared for the re-entry. We had changed, and the old ways now seemed foreign and awkward. 

Returning created just as much disturbance as leaving—maybe more because we were unprepared for it.

But reverse culture shock is only part of the current equation. There is also the very real trauma of surviving a life-threatening situation. I don’t use the term PTSD lightly. But we carry the aftermath of life-threatening trauma—wars, accidents, abuse, starvation, or a deadly pandemic—in our bodies, sometimes for years, maybe even a lifetime. My grandparents lived in the shadow of the Depression for the rest of their lives.  

It was once explained to me that US soldiers in Vietnam began to experience more frequent instances of PTSD in part because of airplanes. In earlier wars, soldiers traveled home by ship, a process that took several weeks, and they traveled together. There was a natural buffer—a liminal time between the site of the trauma and the re-emerging into society. There were weeks of distance, processing, grieving, and connection among the soldiers that helped the re-entry process. But in Vietnam (and subsequent wars), most soldiers were debriefed and flown home on airplanes—leaving them only 18 hours to transition worlds. Which means they were in a war zone on Tuesday; thrown into their old lives and their old relationships on Wednesday. No wonder they struggled (and continue to struggle).
 
So combine the two—reverse culture shock with a bit of collective PTSD, and we get closer to defining this strange, in-between space we’re inhabiting these days. We are facing the aftermath and not sure how to reacclimate.

So now what?

What does a community of sensitive, emotionally attuned people do now, at this threshold? When there is a feeling of cosmic trepidation, hesitation, when making simple decisions seems overwhelming? When your creative work—wherever on the continuum you’ve been over the last 18 months—is again shifting. Perhaps the ripples we’ve been feeling is humanity herself shaking to be alive.

Now, as always, we turn to the artists—you and me—to hold a new vision of the world. More than ever we need the beauty makers and visionaries, the poets and painters and preachers. The storytellers. Our time has come, fellow art makers. Now, in the Reconstruction of our world—let’s help to leave it better and more beautiful than we found it.

Proud to be on your team,
Nancy
xoxo

Writer’s Digest Short Story Virtual Conference May 22-23

Thanks to everyone who registered for summer workshops–all workshops are now FULL, and I am looking forward to working with you all!

If you were not able to register for a workshop intensive: I will be participating in several live (Zoom) opportunities in May and June! The first one is this weekend, at the Writer’s Digest Short Story Virtual Conference:

Writer’s Digest Short Story Virtual Conference, May 21-23

Writer’s Digest is pleased to present an exclusive virtual conference for short story writers! On May 21-23, our 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.

Experience the education, camaraderie, and opportunities provided by a live writing conference without ever having to leave your home!

  • Marketing Short Fiction: The Science of Publishing by Jacob M. Appel
    The purpose of this session is to demystify the submission and selection process, ultimately leading to a more impressive acceptance to submission ratio.
  • Editing the Short Stuff by Windy Lynn Harris
    This session will walk you through a four-step plan to go from first draft to last with confidence.
  • Whose Story Is It Anyway?: Point of View in Short Stories by Ran Walker
    Award-winning author Ran Walker discusses the ins and outs, pros and cons, of using the various forms of point-of-view so that you can approach your next story with greater confidence.
  • How to Use Eight (vs Five) Senses in the Short Story by Jenny Bhatt
    During this session, we’ll look at practical examples from well-known short stories for how to leverage all eight senses in our own writing.
  • Going Short: Flash Fiction for the Flash-Curious by Nancy Stohlman
    In this session, veteran writer, publisher, and professor Nancy Stohlman will take you on a flash fiction journey to examine and discuss the fundamentals of flash, examine different approaches to the compressed narrative, debunk flash myths and distinguish flash fiction from its close cousins, the short story and the prose poem.
  • How to Develop an Enticing Story Premise by Rachel Swearingen
    In this session, you will learn how to use the elements of craft to discover the unique premise hiding in your material.
  • Worldbuilding and the Bi-valve Heart of the Story by Brenda Peynado
    This craft lesson will show you how to forecast the heart of the story within the first sentence or paragraph at the same time as it builds your fictional world, small or large—a family, a suburb, a spaceship, or a planet.

Info, full schedule, and registration for the conference:

***Going Short: Flash Fiction for the Flash-Curious will be held Saturday, May 22 at 3 pm EST/12 pm PST

Would love to “see” you there!

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

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!