Home > cultural commentary, fiction, Process and technique > Sweating the small stuff

Sweating the small stuff

Sometimes it’s the small stuff that causes the most problems.

I’m doing 1000-1500 words/day on a big project and other stuff as well. What I’m hung up on, though, is an invitation to write a piece of flash fiction, 300-500 words. It’s taking me longer to get that together than I’d normally take to write a short story – in fact I’ve written one short story and part of another on the fly, 3000-plus words, in addition to other stuff, since I started to think about the flash piece.

Why am I having this difficulty? Well, part of it is that I’m writing on a theme suggested by someone else. Sometimes I can do it, sometimes not. This particular theme is a politically hot one at the moment which seems to be pushing my imagination in a direction I think isn’t all that helpful. And part of it is that I’m starting from a point at which I have half a dozen ideas, but incomplete ones – words, phrases, ideas or images that have come to me from various sources (TV, conversations, things I came across while looking up references, dreams). Often when that happens, such things suddenly link together because my unconscious works on them and integrates them. On this occasion, not.

So I’ve been falling back on Plan B, which is the one Douglas Adams once described as ‘looking at a blank screen until your eyes bleed’.

I have one trait that is sometimes a disadvantage, but in this case may be helpful – what my parents, when I was a kid, described as a ‘grasshopper mind’. I’m usually writing three or four things at once, often skipping between them as an idea in one context suddenly seems more applicable in another. So for the moment I’ll just let the ideas sit and sweat. If I keep pushing on the other projects something useful will spark off in the back of my brain, I suspect.

It may come too late for the thing I’ve been invited to submit for, which would be a shame – but what the hell, once it’s done, it’s done, and I can use it elsewhere.

  1. March 4, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    Theme writing–yuck!

  2. March 5, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The ideal situation of course is having stuff in a file somewhere, seeing a theme announced and being able to think ‘I wrote something last week/month/year that would fit that theme’.

    I had a brainy idea late last night, as I was falling asleep, for how the piece should develop. That kind of half-asleep state is often productive, unfortunately, since I have to wake myself up again in order to capture it. Wrote myself a post-it note and left it on the keyboard. I’ll see what I can do with it today…

  3. March 5, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    OMG! I have hundreds of stories in my stash, but I can never quite match them to any online magazine. Go figure.

    I use to be ‘into’ flash fiction. The secret to flash is ACTION; there isn’t time to smell the roses. Now, I find flash fiction as bland and dry as stale toast.

    I, too, use to fret about those late night ideas that popped up in a semi-dream state. I’d be half asleep, saying remember, remember. Of the few ideas that I could remember, after coming fully awake, I’d say: What ridiculous dribble. That doesn’t make any sense, at all.

  4. March 5, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    If you have stories that don’t quite match magazines – which has happened to me – duotrope may be one answer if you haven’t tried it.

    I know the stuff that comes from dreams can be ridiculous. What, for example, am I supposed to make of a real estate agent’s office in a seaside town, where I’m standing in front of it and explaining to a local politician that it’s important to remember it used to be a seminary or a mission, and there’s still a confessional booth actually built into the outside wall? But like everything else I’ve filed it, and sooner or later it might come in handy – if not directly, then perhaps in terms of a description of a building that has some features from a previous use. Maybe 10% of stuff seems to come in useful at a later date which feels to me like quite a high figure.

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