Finish That Manuscript Workshop–Free Preview Call May 29!

“Nancy has a way with words, certainly, but she also has a way with people that allows her classes to take on a spirit that exceeds instruction or even guidance. Her consistent support and empathy is tempered with gentle nudges to step out of our comfort zones and approach our work, not with abandon, but with careful attention and encouragement.”

~Mara Eve Robbins

writers-blockFINISH THAT MANUSCRIPT

An Online Workshop on Re-visioning, Taking Risks, Taking Yourself Seriously, and Falling Back in Love with Your Vision.

Are you still sitting on that same manuscript? Are you stuck in the writing phase or in the revision process? Or have you “finished” but not gotten the response you wanted out in the world? Are you not sure what comes next? Most of us are better at starting manuscripts than we are at finishing them. But it’s only when we can conceive, create, and bring our projects to fruition that we begin to master the longer form known as a book. Each book we write brings us closer to understanding how to write a book. What phase of the finishing process are you in? And…what’s it costing you not to finish?

In this workshop we will explore:

• What’s keeping you from finishing?
• Are your blocks telling you something about your manuscript?
• How to fall back in love with your work and your vision
• Allowing your manuscript to transform
• Publication—is your manuscript ready to send into the world?
• The different stages of “finishing” a manuscript
• Self-promotion—are you afraid of rejection? (You’re not alone.)

In this workshop I’ll give you the deadlines you might need, help you structure your writing time into your life, help you transition more easily between creation and revision, and help you become your own best editor. Whether you are planning to submit or self publish, you’ll learn writing tips, editorial and publication advice, how to find and cultivate a readership, how to excerpt and query, and even when to let a manuscript go. And most importantly, you’ll finally rescue your work from the land of obscurity and give yourself the satisfaction of completion.

Are you ready?

Tuition: $249 (discounts and payment plans available)

FREE PREVIEW CALL THURSDAY, MAY 29 at 7 pm MST

Register at nancystohlman@gmail.com

 

The Biggest Mistake Writers Make With Their Manuscripts…

The Biggest Mistake Most Writers Make With Their Manuscripts…

writerNot knowing what stage of the manuscript-writing process you are in!

And consequently, not understanding what stage of the process you are in leads to some crucial mistakes which can slow down or even keep a manuscript from ever being finished.

There are several stages to creating a book-length work, whether it is a novel, a collection of poetry or stories, a memoir—and knowing which stage you are in is crucial.

So what are the stages?

Newborn Infant Phase—this is when your ideas are new and fragile and you are engaged in lots of creative play, trying out new stuff, following hunches, stopping and starting and starting again. And it’s the worst time in the world to get feedback. But unfortunately that’s what lots of authors do: rather than protecting these infant ideas until they have more strength and can withstand critique, we are often just so proud of the fact that we are writing a manuscript at all that we want everyone to know it! And that need for validation can crush baby manuscripts, because a first draft is, well, a first draft, and it has a lot of growing to do before it will be ready for the world. But we still thrust our naked babies into the world, wanting praise or validation, and we rarely get it at this phase. Because, let’s face it—it’s not ready yet. And when we don’t get the praise we were hoping for…we become plagued with self doubt.

Don’t show your manuscript until it is strong enough to withstand the world!! Protect it at this stage like you would a real baby because it’s just as fragile.

Awkward Puberty Phase—this is right about the time when your manuscript has some legs under it, when you have a lump of clay that can withstand some real shaping. And mark my words: this puberty stage is no less transformative than growing hair between your legs—this is when your manuscript really discovers itself, when your manuscript is about to figure out who the hell he or she is.

The biggest mistake writers make in this phase? Skipping it! That’s right—we will finish a draft, and then we will get an editor or someone who is “good in English” to make sure it’s “correct”, and then we will think we’re done! We confuse revision with proofreading, so if someone combs through the manuscript and says all the commas are correct, the author believes the manuscript is ready for publication. They skip—or try to skip—puberty all together, even though puberty is where the manuscript actually reaches maturity and finds its specialness. And this is where I see writers get the most impatient—I have already written the book, I have already had someone proofread it—what else is there?

The answer to the “what else” is as nuanced as writers and books, but remember this: the what else IS the book. If you do not allow your book to evolve through this maturation process, you stunt its potential as an artifact in the world. The book must steep in your imagination, the words you have written must become puzzles, you must be willing to revision—and revision, and re-vision. Re. Vision. To see it again, as if it were new.

This is actually my favorite part, this evolving relationship with the words you have already written. But you have to be willing to embrace this phase—if you are clinging desperately to your first draft, terrified to change anything of significance because you might never be able to write it better—you will never create the book you are truly meant to create.

This is also the best time to bring in others whose voices you trust and who have your best success at heart.

Grown Adult Living In the Basement Phase—this is when the manuscript is truly finished—it has gone through its puberty, and it’s been scrubbed and polished…but you are still sitting on it like a mother hen. Maybe you are picking at it because you’re afraid of the next step. Maybe you are still soliciting feedback every time you change a sentence. It has now over gestated, late in the womb, done. Sometimes we pick at our manuscripts because we are afraid to start a new one, or we don’t feel a new one coming. Perhaps it’s a way to avoid publication or having to face the daunting wall of rejection. Perhaps it’s a perfectionist piece of us that is afraid to let it go. But let it go we must.

Maybe we let it go and it is published and that is fantastic. Maybe we let it go and it is not. But it does reach a point but we have no choice (and we can actually even ruin our work if we stay there too long). But mostly what it does is it robs us of our growth, because we have learned all we can from this manuscript, and we will have an impossible time taking our next steps as writers if we don’t ever leave the comfortable mother’s basement of what is known. So whether we decide to put it in the world or not, we must still choose to move forward and allow a manuscript to be complete.

Know that whatever phase you are in now–the vulnerable infant, the impatient puberty, the grown manuscript—is the perfect place to be with your manuscript. But first you must recognize where you really are, not where you think you are or where you wish you were, and give your manuscript what it truly needs from you now.

To your success!

~Nancy

(If you would like information about my upcoming Finish That Manuscript workshop, email me at nancystohlman@gmail.com or get more info about all Summer Workshops Here.)

FREE workshop preview call on Thursday, May 29t

Join The Facebook event here.

Summer Workshop Program Announced!

books by friendsSUMMER ONLINE WORKSHOP PROGRAM

Mix and Match: Take 1, 2, or all 3 workshops!

Tuition and Registration Information

*All classes use a combination of weekly email lectures and assignments, 24/7 email access as well as a private FB page for participants to interact with each other, and a once a week group conference call that allows us to “meet” in real time. (Conference call time will be adjusted to the schedules of those in class)

 

“Nancy has a way with words, certainly, but she also has a way with people that allows her classes to take on a spirit that exceeds instruction or even guidance. Her consistent support and empathy is tempered with gentle nudges to step out of our comfort zones and approach our work, not with abandon, but with careful attention and encouragement.”

~Mara Eve Robbins, winner of the Real Simple essay contest

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JUNE: FINISH THAT MANUSCRIPT

An Online Workshop on Re-visioning, Taking Risks, Taking Yourself Seriously, and Falling Back in Love with Your Vision.

Are you still sitting on that same manuscript? Are you stuck in the writing phase or in the revision process? Or have you “finished” but not gotten the response you wanted out in the world? Are you not sure what comes next? Most of us are better at starting manuscripts than we are at finishing them. But it’s only when we can conceive, create, and bring our projects to fruition that we begin to master the longer form known as a book. Each book we write brings us closer to understanding how to write a book. What phase of the finishing process are you in? And…are you ready to finish?

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JULY: SELF PROMOTION FOR THE SQUEAMISH

Launching Yourself and Your Work Into the World

You wrote the book…so you’re done, right? Wrong. Whether you are self-publishing, traditional publishing, or still undecided, today’s market requires that writers build and sustain their own readership. But how? Who are your readers? Who needs your book? And how do you find them? This workshop can help you uncover blocks to self-promotion, give you practical skills to approaching the market as a professional, and help you understand and take the necessary steps to not just writing a book but building a long term audience for your work.

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AUGUST: WRITING FLASH FICTION

Flash forms have arrived as a backlash to genre boundaries and flash fiction is leading the pack, redefining how we tell stories. By embracing the compressed form, all writers–from poets to novelists–are cultivating a new set of skills and creating an entirely new kind of story. In this workshop we will generate original flash pieces, examine what makes successful flash fiction, and try to differentiate flash from its cousin, the prose poem. This workshop is open to writers with all levels of experience in the form.

Registration and Tuition Information

Guest Blogger David Wagner: On Being a Writer

Picture

On Being a Writer
by David Edward Wagner 

The Reality of Being a WriterThe aim of this blog entry is to give a bit of friendly advice and insight into the mindset and processes of the professional (or honestly, even the non-professional or the trying-to be-professional) writer.

The simple question, what is a writer is simply answered, “A writer is one who writes.” The similar question, what does a writer do, is similarly answered, “A writer writes.” But, alas, as we all know, things are seldom if ever so simple.

So, with this in mind, I will answer the question as thoroughly and straightforward as I can.

In reality, the simple question, what is a writer, is properly answered, “A writer is one who plans and creates through the methods of thought and writing.” And the question, what does a writer do, is accurately answered, “A writer plans, writes and edits.” It is this second question that I will focus on (as the first question is embedded within it).

A Writer needs time

While simply writing is surely the foundation and prime aspect of a writer’s life and career, it is not the only thing he or she must do and it is, in the end, only of shared importance with the tasks of planning and editing one’s work.

In my own life, I have struggled, sacrificed and fought to keep ahold of the one thing most important to the writing process: Time. That is your most valuable asset and tool as a writer.

All of the imagination, all of the great ideas, all of the valuable connections or amazing insights you have do not mean a thing if you cannot carve out and maintain the long hours necessary to bring your thoughts from intangible mind to the actuality of words and paper (or sure, digital document).

This is a simple truth: a writer needs time.

Perhaps the most important question then becomes: how do I use this time I have? Maybe even better, you could ask how do I use this time wisely and efficiently? This is the best question because writers in general (and I am a great example) are known to be some of the world’s most triumphant wasters of time, pissing away the hours with flights of fancy or organizing their bookshelves or cleaning their fingernails or… doing anything but writing.

So, do not despair, this is another thing I have at last learned and become comfortable with. A writer, if truly a writer, never truly wastes a second. They are merely fulfilling one of the three aspects of their writerly labor. Perhaps it is best if I just dive into those three aspects and explain each one as fully as I can.

To begin, let’s talk about planning, as it is the most vague and easily misunderstood.

A Writer Plans At All Times

While writing and editing are rather straightforward in their explanations, the various types and levels of planning a writer needs to do in order to be successful are a bit more complicated.

To begin, writers need to plan their time properly. Loose but self-regulated weekly schedules are used to keep projects properly juggled and moving forward, with flexible (unless otherwise noted) long-term deadlines for the completion of individual works spread out over the coming months.

Even more, basic daily schedules are necessary for carving out the space to give each current project its due and proper focus at specific times.

If you want to support yourself with your writing, the odds are great that you will be working on and needing to finish more than one project at any time until it is necessary to focus on completing one, and you need to remind your artistic self that generally, when people want to support themselves or their family, they have to get a job. It’s the modern world still, and you can’t pay the landlord or bank with good intentions.

That means you have to get comfortable with the fact that your art is a job and you have to treat it with the same mindset you have when working for wages at the great time-sucking company of your choice. You are a business, your mind and your personal effort, and you have to show up at your job regularly and do your work efficiently and with inspiration.

My own example that has truly changed my life and my relationship with my own creative process is as follows: I plan my week day by day, working on one project in the morning until lunch, (sometimes at noon, sometimes at 2pm, sometimes at four pm, depending on my outside responsibilities and level of inspiration). I eat and then switch gears, working on another project for a few hours, always less than the earlier project. Then, I will generally be burned out after four to eight hours of writing, writing, writing. I take a break and spend the final hour or so of my workday on non-creative projects I call ‘busy work:’ updating websites, formatting completed manuscripts, researching online, submitting completed work to magazines, contests, publishers and agents. Then I go to my job or cook dinner for my wife and me, depending on the day.

I want to turn my passion into a suitable career and so I treat it like a full time job, giving 30-50 hours a week towards directly working on my ‘product.’ Part time opportunities are also available.

But beyond that, you have to plan the work itself. Trace story arcs, plot points, major events. You have to develop compelling characters and keep timelines straight and make sure everything is coherent and cohesive.

This takes pages of notes, sometimes charts, as well as research in books and on the Internet.

And between the time to work and the work itself, you have to plan the projects in general, keep a running list of the story and time worthy ideas you come up with at random times, crossing them out with each precious ‘The End.’ The more ideas the merrier and as the movie says, “If you build it they will come.” Keep adding to your work, everything you can, different mediums and styles, different genres and formats, just keep writing and stretch your limits and virtuosity.

For you non-writers reading this blog entry, or even to you writers reading it, in your defense, I can honestly say that a writer is always planning, always working mentally on that one part, that one character flaw or upcoming cool moment when you can’t quite get your story from here to there in a logical way and you know you can if you can just think of that one missing piece, that one crucial decision…

The most intangible parts of planning for a writer are those seemingly blank and lazy times when you are sitting doing nothing to the outside observer, when you feel scattered and lost in your own house or neighborhood while your brain works through some idea. To the outside world it looks like you are idle, spacing out and being weird again, but do not fear, you are working. You are wracking your brain and doing real, honest, roll-up-your-sleeves creative work. Simply because it is abstract does not mean that it is intangible; concrete results come only from such mental endeavors.

Planning is an important part of writing and the writer’s life, and it should be remembered and taken seriously.

Writers write as much as they possibly can

As I mentioned, the idea that writers write and edit their work is a pretty straightforward and logical notion. With this in mind, I will keep the rest of this blog entry mercifully short.

Here I will just say that you have to write, write, write. Just get it out, don’t loose your momentum on a project just because that transition from act one into act two doesn’t quite work and doesn’t really make sense. Just power through, keep moving, make a few notes where it feels choppy or poorly paced and just get to the end. Write it all out and type ‘the end.’ Get it completed in any fashion you can. This is the first draft, it’s not supposed to be perfect, just finished.

This first draft is simply carving the rough shape from the blank white marble of page and mind. You’ll never know where you’re going if you don’t arrive there in some shape. Don’t forget, you have time and you have your third necessary responsibility in your life as a writer: editing.

Writers edit like their lives depend on it.

The title of this section pretty well sums up the truth of editing. You edit like you life depends on it because it does. If you want to support yourself by writing, you have to be willing to tear your work apart, killing your favorite line or paragraph for the sake of the whole, change and retool everything and anything that suddenly makes you realize you are reading something and not experiencing something.

You have to condition yourself to step outside of your own creative ego and wear the separate hat of an objective, non-partial editor. And then when that first draft is more presentable, you need to send it to at least one second pair of eyes, get their feedback and typo findings, and decide what insights you will apply to your further drafts.

Do this at each stage until the final draft, but be aware that everybody you are sending drafts to also have lives and time issues, and may not want to or be able to read four drafts of the same novel. So widen your pool of friendly and interested eyes for your own sake.

I generally begin each daily session by re-reading the previous few pages and editing and note-taking as I go, sliding gently into the flow of the days work as I near the end of what I wrote yesterday. Then it is only forward towards the ever-shortening distance between here and the end.

Editing is vital and the true work of successful writers. It is also the most nerve-wracking and difficult part. But do it. Love it. Know that it is the difference between great writing and plain old everyday schlock. Do it with pride and patience.

Conclusion

Get to work. And have a good day.

Ask A Flash Fiction Editor: Erasure

Ask a Flash Fiction Editor: Erasure

So first off, huge thanks to Denis Bell for allowing us to use his story in progress, “Dreams”, for our discussion of flash fiction today! (Full text of “Dreams” below).

One of the beautiful things about flash fiction is that, like poetry, it requires us to drastically trim, shrink, and carve our own thoughts. It leaves no room for bloating, filler, tangents or indulgences—and even forces us to utilize our silences.

Silences can be full of meaning—think back to the last time you sat in an uncomfortable silence with someone. What isn’t said is just as important—and often louder—than what is spoken.

ghost

The first time I ever heard the term “erasure” was in a class at Naropa taught by Laird Hunt. It was the first time that I had ever considered cutting intentional holes in my work, rather than just trimming to remove fat and fluff. Well-placed silences can carry huge implications.

Most of us understand the implication of silences in speaking. When I teach performance, I remind my students to

pause…

…because a pause is a way to emphasize what just happened.

Or

a pause can shift a mood… to prepare for what is coming.

As a listening audience, we understand the signals that silences create. We understand how the absence of sounds adds drama and importance to the remaining ones.

The same is true on the page. As a flash fiction writer, we can trim our stories to create gaps of information and to leave purposeful ghosts.

So Denis, let’s look at your story in progress, “Dreams”, with this in mind:

First off, I love the universality you establish as you begin to take us into the dream sequences—the images are both familiar and unique. I love the staircase he’d never noticed and I particularly like the way the family members come in and out. As the interactions with mother and sister grow even weirder, the story takes on a dimension of foreboding, the ghosts in the texts become real, and the reader is disorientated in a good way.

There are a lot of stories out there where a character “wakes up” at the end, (think Bobby Ewing in the shower of Dallas). But I like how you take that cliché and make it fresh by allowing the waking to be a vital portal into the final pieces of information (more on that later).

I think there are two (or three) important places in this story where some strategic cutting will activate the power of silences.

In flash particularly, you need to arrive into your story at the latest possible moment. And while your opening right now is fairly concise, I wonder whether you can begin with the second paragraph, jumping right into the staircase and the dream sequence? We will recognize the dream landscape in the title and your descriptions, so we probably don’t need that extra setup.

I have the same thought about the middle section where he wakes up and then falls back asleep. It seems to me that it serves as a literary device to remind the reader that we are dreaming, but again I wonder if a succession of dreams with no interruption would be more interesting? Without all the awakened asides, we will be fully embodied in the dreamscape, and we will accept the oddity of things (such as the mother talking to him even though she has been dead for 15 years) with the same certainty that Joe accepts them. (Brilliant, by the way, how you state that so matter-of-factly.)

Which brings us to the end. I really love the idea that the waking life Joe is contemplating suicide, and his dream world and dream sister stop him—it’s a great crossover. If you make the other cuts I’m suggesting, then the question becomes how do you successfully give us the suicidal info only at the end. I think the place to look is your last paragraph, where he wakes up with “steely intent” and thinks of the knife. The way it’s written now makes it almost seem as if he has never considered suicide until this moment. So we’re left wondering: what just happened? Is he so mad at his nightmare that now he’s going to kill himself?

We might need a longer beat between the dream world and the real world. Maybe when he awakens he’s reminded of his pain, which he had forgotten in the dream world. Perhaps we, like Joe, need to see a few choice items that remind us, “Oh yeah, we hate our life”. Perhaps he sees the knife sitting next to the bed where he left it before he passed out? The empty bottles? The phone off the hook?

Ultimately the ending will be most effective if we are gaining a final level of insight into Joe. This is not the “surprise! we were dreaming all along” ending that can come off as too easy but it instead adds a layer of organic surprise. Joe wakes up and remembers that he is in a hospital, missing both his legs. Joe wakes up and remembers that his wife left him. Joe wakes us and remembers…that he has nothing to live for. Whatever it might be. But do it through showing us what he wakes up into.

With a bit of focused trimming your story is going to ring both haunted and wise, lovely and liquid. You are almost there. Thanks for letting me play with it—keep going!

~Nancy

 (I welcome all comments and conversations, so join in! And feel free to find me on Facebook or contact me at nancystohlman@gmail.com)

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Dreams

By Denis Bell

On the day after his thirty-second birthday, Joe took a swing at the foreman and was fired. Now he spends most of his days in the bedroom, ensconced there with a bottle of Jim Beam and a bag of weed. He sleeps fitfully and has a series  of vivid and affecting dreams.

Joe’s apartment contains a staircase he’d never noticed before leading to a large suite of lavishly furnished rooms. The apartment is much grander than he had imagined. Children are playing in some of the rooms. A cousin packs up the mood in a plastic box to be buried in the back yard at the end of the day.

Joe is presenting a report in science class. A new teacher is standing at the back of the classroom wearing a hood that hides his face. Joe’s classmates are cheering but behind the hood the teacher is angry. The teacher reaches into his pants and pulls out a –

The clock on the bedside table reads a groan worthy 11:35. Beside the clock are a stack of porno mags and a wadded up rag.  The room is too bright.  He stumbles to the window. Outside there is snow on the ground. A child’s broken tricycle is rusting in a neighbor’s yard. He pulls down the blind and steps into the bathroom.

When he gets out his mother is standing there, pretending not to notice the magazines. Why did you leave us like that, she asks. Joe looks away.

She tells him about a house in the country she bought for herself and his sister. Sturdy wooden frame, brass fittings, hardwood floors. Nice gated community. She wants Joe to move in with them. Now that you’ve lost your job there’s no reason to stay in this dump. Soon, he tells her. The conversation seems strange because both mother and sister have been dead fifteen years, but it would be rude to point this out.

Fragments of Joe’s past float through his dreams. The ramshackle house where he grew up. The dank cellar with the rusty furnace. His sister with her coloring books. Days spent fishing alone in the creek. His father fish-eyed and silent.  His mother grimacing as she reaches to button his coat, his father absently nursing a damaged hand.

The swish of a belt.

His mother’s cries.

Bloodless lips, twisted in silence.

White napkins dark and crusty with dried blood.

Memories from the night they died.

Don’t hide in the cellar, lend us a hand, his sister says (bossy as ever).

Joe awakes with a start, head full of steely intent. Thoughts of kitchen utensils. He starts to climb out of bed but a hand restrains him. Not yet, a voice whispers.

Nancy Stohlman and two Flash Fiction Events coming to Portland Nov 19-20!

Nancy Stohlman is coming to Portland for 2 Flash Fiction events next week!

Tuesday, Nov 19, 7 pm: Figures of Speech Reading Series with Nancy Stohlman and Kirsten Rian
In Other Words Feminist Community Center
Corner of N Killingsworth and Williams
web site: http://inotherwords.org/
www.figuresofspeechpdx.wordpress.com

FREE!

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Wednesday, Nov 20, 6-8 pm: Flash Fiction For Poets Workshop

Flash forms have arrived as backlash to genre boundaries and flash fiction is leading the pack, redefining how we tell stories. By embracing the compressed form, writers are cultivating a new set of skills and creating an entirely new kind of story. In this workshop we will generate original flash pieces, examine what makes successful flash fiction, and try to differentiate flash from its cousin, the prose poem. This workshop is open to writers with all levels of experience in the form.

World Cup Coffee Meeting Room.
World Cup is located on the corner of NW Glisan and 18th ave.
Web site is: http://worldcupcoffee.com/taxonomy/term/1

Limited workshop spaces. To register email: slw1057@hotmail.com

portland

 

 

Flashnano Pep Talk/Writing Flash Fiction: What You Don’t Say Is The Story

In the month of November, in solidarity with our Nanowrimo friends, we’ll attempt to write 30 flash fiction stories in 30 days.

So you’re going to try your hand at this flash fiction thing, huh?

In the beginning you will still very often land closer to the 1,000-word cut-off mark, trimming and pruning to make sure your story makes it into the official flash fiction guidelines. As you become more comfortable with the form you will find that your stories naturally shrink and start to land well beneath the 1,000-word mark.

What happens in between is a process of letting go.

Boy-Jumping-From-a-Plane-with-an-Umbrella-76482First of all, let go of being good at it. Whether you come from poetry, longer fiction or nonfiction, it takes a while to get used to the new form. So let go of the need to be an instant expert. So many of us find it frustrating to “start over” and embrace being a beginner in a new genre. I invite you to instead see it as an opportunity.

Let go of exposition. We have become fond of our exposition techniques, our lush, sardonic, witty, poignant, clever, or otherwise expository voices. This is often the first thing to let go of in flash. It doesn’t mean you must let go of it altogether, but your urgent storytelling voice must trump your love of exposition for the magic to happen.

Let go of description. Not all together, but let your description come only in service of your storytelling. Let go of the urge to linger. In flash fiction, one well-placed detail brings an entire story into focus. Opt for one or two telling details over a wash of description—you just don’t have that kind of time.

Let your silences become informative. Don’t rush to fill them. As we learn to let go of exposition and description, we learn to embrace silence as a tool, and the juxtaposition of silences to infer information.

Let go of extra words. Try removing words and see if you can create potent gaps of intuition. See how much you can not say. Often what you don’t say is the story.

So what’s left you ask?

What’s left is tightly crafted little nugget of concentrated gold.

What’s left is flash fiction.

~Nancy Stohlman

Check here for daily Flashnano Prompts during November.

Join our Facebook Event page here.