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.

Flash-Nano 2013

By Popular demand:

2013 FLASH-NANO!

Writing a book in a month is a worthy and noble quest.

But how about writing 30 flash fiction stories in 30 days???

I’ll post a flash fiction prompt on the FLASH-NANO page every day from November 1-November 30.

Join us!

Launching Your Book Into the World

LAUNCHING YOUR BOOK INTO THE WORLD

Individualized Coaching To Help Your Work Succeed!

spotlight (1)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? Personalized coaching 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. Individualized coaching will explore:

• The difference between an amateur and a professional
• Who are your readers and how do you find them?
• Self-promotion: Are you avoiding it? (You’re not alone)
• Publication—is your manuscript ready to send into the world?
• Building a long-term fan base
• Creatively marketing your work
• What’s keeping you from taking the next steps?

Your work is worth it. Give your book the greatest chance of succeeding!

4 and 8-week individualized coaching packages tailored to you and your work.

Contact nancystohlman@gmail.com to discuss your needs.

To your success!

Nancy

“The Reluctant Hero”

Flash fiction by Nancy Stohlman

I wanted to just keep walking and pretend I hadn’t seen it. I knew plenty about bags floating in rivers. It wiggled, and I knew I should stop but I kept walking, and I was reminded of my mother sneaking me down to the edge of the river, showing me all the empty bags left in the mud like used condoms – look at those stories, she would say, people just threw them away like trash! They could have lived. And then she would fall to her knees and pray to her god.

So when I saw the woman leaving the edge of the river, I knew what was going on. I avoided eye contact with all the gypsies, beating deflated pillowcases against rocks as I crawled up the muddy banks and caught the tail of the story. I dragged out the waterlogged thing and took it home, where I set its cold, blue body gently on the page and let it live.

Originally published in Flash Frontier. Read original here

“The Fox”


foxFlash Fiction By Nancy Stohlman

I first saw him on the dirt bike path behind the Lightrail. He was 50 yards away, scratching in the sun, reddish brown coat, black paws, white belly. I stayed very still, and when he didn’t run I took a soft step, wondering how close I could get. He preened until I was quite close; his nose was long and sweet. And then, when I was just 10 feet away, he excused himself into the bushes with calculated nonchalance, a final flick of his white-tipped tail.

I walked the rest of the way home feeling exquisite.

Later on my porch, in the temptations of dusk, I sensed him before I saw him, emerging from the overgrowth and into the din of the streetlights. He had the curious look of a boy, new and fresh and wild and sensuous, with vulnerable brown eyes.

I thought about leaving food but I was afraid the squirrels would get it. So instead I left my pillow—covered in the smells of me at my most peaceful and innocent. An invitation. That night he entered my dreams and I embraced a coarse lean body, strong, wiry legs wrapped around my waist in an almost human way.

In the morning the pillow had been nested in, a few scattered white hairs left in the circular impression of his body. I held it to my nose and inhaled the musky, wild smell.

Each night I left the pillow on my porch and each night he returned, inching it closer to the front door until the night I left the door open. The moon cast a square beam onto the living room floor, and there I lay, almost sick with nervousness, when I felt bristles of fur tickle the edge of the sheet. His nose brushed my toe, touched my hair. I held my breath. He circled a few times, gently trampling down the bedding, then settled behind me, his face tucked into the crook of my neck.

The wind blew through the open door and smoothed our entwined faces. I surrendered to sleep in the hazy, bird-chirpy morning, and when I woke he was gone.

But I found his gift left lovingly for me on the pillow: my black cat, lifeless. I felt strangely unmoved as I sniffed it, nudged it with my nose.

Originally published in Santa Fe Literary Review. Read original

Self Promotion or Self Prostitution? Why We Resist Putting Ourselves Out There

Do you hate the idea of self-promotion? Do you tell yourself that you’re not good at it? That you shouldn’t have to do it? If you hate self-promotion, or even the prospect of self-promotion, you are not alone. No matter the genre, all artists seem to share a similar aversion. Most of us are still waiting for an agent/manager/publicist to come and rescue us from the prospect of having to promote…ourselves?

But why?

As artists, we have internalized certain agreed-upon stories, certain cultural mythologies that may be blocking our ability to put ourselves and our work out into the world. And since most of us agree that self-promotion is necessary, it’s worth taking a look at these stories and deciding whether perpetuating them is serving our art and our careers—or not.

1. The Starving Artist Story: “I’m not going to make any money at this, anyway.”

The-Lemonade-Stand1If we were running a company, a large portion of our budget would go to marketing, right? If we were selling shoes, our livelihood would depend on us getting out there and selling some shoes. Even if we were running a lemonade stand, we would understand that, in order to sell lemonade, we would need to make signs or hire neighborhood kids with megaphones to let people know that lemonade is available. If no one knows about our lemonade, then no one will buy it no matter how fantastic it might be.

But when it comes to our art, we’ve swallowed a toxic “starving artist” story, which tells us that we’re probably not going to make any money at this, anyway, so we don’t take the task of promotion seriously. In fact, most of us would probably do a better job promoting the lemonade than we would the art that we have poured our blood and souls into.

It’s crucial to realize that if you want to make a career out of your art, then you have gone into businesswith yourself. I am now the CEO of Nancy Stohlman, Inc., and my product is my work. If no one knows about my product, they can’t buy it. And then I am out of business.

But as long as we are stoking the starving artist story, then we’re going into the game already defeated. If we believe we cannot make a living out of our art…then we probably won’t.

2. The Overnight Success Story: “Once I’m famous someone else will do this.”

This is the story of the mythical artist who is catapulted into fame from obscurity with no promotional effort of their own. While this mythology is exciting, and the media loves to dangle it as some warped version of the American Dream, it’s also a bit like expecting to win the Powerball.

This overnight success story is a darling of artists and runs deep in our culture. But if you look carefully behind most successes, you will usually find a different story. Madonna made hundreds of demos with her own money and personally brought them to every DJ in New York City; Truman Capote sat for 8 hours a day in the lobby of the publisher who refused to see him. Even Rosa Parks, our favorite little old lady who wouldn’t give up her seat on the bus and thus triggered the Civil Rights Movement, was actually a veteran activist for 15 years when she was finally delivered to the right place at the right time.

Because that’s what it comes down to: “It’s not enough to be at the right place at the right time—you have to be the right person at the right place at the right time,” says musical agent Justin Sudds in his interview for “Take Your Talent to the Bank”. The truth of the overnight success story is that it is usually not overnight at all.

But what’s most problematic about the Overnight Success Story is that it is ultimately disempowering because it takes the responsibility for our careers out of our hands. Our careers become like playing roulette, and we feel powerless to affect real change. And I like playing roulette, but only with what I am prepared to lose.

3. “It’s Not Polite To Brag.” This country is still influenced by our Puritan roots, and so this story is the one that often paralyzes us into non-action.

Here’s the truth: Will some people be annoyed by your promotional efforts? Yes. But usually the ones who are annoyed, offended, or otherwise triggered by your efforts are the ones who have not yet embraced their own self-promotion. So it’s important to remember that their support or non-support for you and your work really has little to do with you and much more to do with where they are on their own path. It’s pretty hard to jump on someone else’s bandwagon when your own bandwagon is rusting in the garage. It’s pretty hard to muster up zest and enthusiasm for someone else when you haven’t put your own work out there in a big way, yet. So when you encounter this kind of resistance—and it can come from the most surprising places—be kind, and remember this quote: “Those who have abandoned their dreams will always discourage yours.”

But the rest of the people won’t care, and in fact they will be happy that you’ve made it so easy for them to support you and your work. It is said that a person needs to hear about something five times (yes, five!) before it sticks, and most people are happy for the reminders.

Self-promotion is not bragging. It’s asking for the support we need to make the careers we want.

In this Puritan society we are told that “it’s better to give than receive,” so we give, we give, we give…but most of us have a hard time receiving. And most of us have an even harder time asking for the support we need with clarity and confidence. If I want people to read my latest story—I have to ask. If I want people to come to my my website, my lecture, or buy my latest book—I have to ask. “Hey, I’d love it if you checked out my work and passed it along.”

In our everyone-for-himself society we have attached a stigma to asking for help. In order to get over this stigma, we have to remember that artists must exist in community, and in order to create and sustain a community, you have to put yourself out there with honesty and authenticity. Self-promotion is truly about asking for the support we need, and building relationships with those who are excited about us and our work. It’s the greatest thing you can do for the promotion of art outside of creating the art itself.

So when self-promotion starts to feel like self-prostitution, remember: We promote our work because we aren’t okay with the mythology of the starving artist; we respect our work enough to take control of its dissemination, not leaving it to the agent fairies to rescue us; we have both the confidence and humility required to put it out there in the world and ask for support.

Many of us don’t promote because we would rather fail privately than publicly  We fear rejection and ridicule; we retreat into craft instead. And yes, it’s true that Emily Dickinson did no promotion. But then again, she never got to enjoy the rewards, respect, and recognition of her work while she was alive.

I want more for myself and my art.

And I want more for you, too.

Finish That Manuscript (And Get it Out Into The World): A Virtual Workshop

Do you have a manuscript you’ve been sitting on forever? 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?

In this workshop on finishing 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.)
• Finding the support you need to take the next steps

writers-blockIn this 4-week virtual 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 excerpt and query, and even when to let a manuscript go. And most importantly, you’ll finally rescue your work from the desk drawer and give yourself the satisfaction of completion.

The workshop format will include weekly online instruction, telephone check-ins, and professional line edits (limited). Both fiction and nonfiction manuscripts are welcome.

Begins July 1. For late registration or a free info call contact me ASAP at nancystohlman@gmail.com.

Let’s do it.