Catalysis

So, I write a lot of flash.

Flash, in my opinion, is the best. It’s SHORT, you can try out crazy stuff, and it gets done fast. Which is great, because I’m currently limiting myself to only work on seventeen stories at a time (WHAT I DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM) so theoretically I should be able to zip through a few flash stories and have a rapid writing turnover that keeps me endlessly entertained.

In reality, it turns out that you do actually have to write in order to finish things.

And apparently I spend that time on Twitter.

I like writing. To be honest, though, I like the end product of writing more than I like the actual process of writing. Sure, occasionally I’ll feel unreasonably proud of myself for throwing in an obscure reference or coming up with a clever line. Or be so amused by dialogue I forget I have a quiz due (>.> not that this has happened …), or actually care about my character enough to want to write their story for hours and hours. But most of the time?

*clings to Shire* I don’t want to go on an adventure! (brilliant site)

Ugh, WRITING. Struggling with words. Forcing sentences to stop curling in on themselves. Prodding characters to be less BORING. Hopelessly trying to describe Elves in a way that hasn’t been beaten to death. Trying to remember if City 1 is to the west or east of City 2 and whether I care enough to fix it. Realizing a character’s tone changes halfway through the story and now they sound psychotic when they’re not supposed to. It’s annoying, painful, and I probably should be doing homework instead. Or cleaning. Or mindlessly clicking Wikipedia (IS TOO A WORD, BROWSER) links. Or playing codegolf. Or reading xkcd. I can write later.

Oh look, Internet …

I need an enzyme a catalyst. Something to lower the activation energy of that first sentence, to make me forget I’m taking a leap into a story that is still quite unknown.

Flash is so SHORT that you have no time to wander casually around your story and take in the scenery. You have to get it right ON THE SPOT. No wasted words. No rambling. It’s all punch-punch-punch action. And when you’re a serial pantser who never ever plans, this task starts to look a little easy to screw up. Easy-to-screw-up all to often turns into why-try. And too-much-effort. You don’t have any ideas! You don’t even know where to start! Wall #1 looms before you, glowering in a quiet, brick-like way that says–there’s nothing to say.

This is where prompts come in.

A prompt.

Motivation! Purpose! The prompt gives you the first sentence, now your page isn’t blank anymore. You can write! It’s probably already screwed up, so throw perfection out the window! Amuse thyself! Wall #1, sorely defeated, crumbles like Sauron’s Tower before you. Onward, Knight of the Pen!

But some of us are hardened procrastinators. We’re used to putting things off. Just a prompt? Not enough. Nothing easier in the world than to file away a prompt for tomorrow, next week, when you really feel like writing. This is Wall #2. It extrudes a miasma of lethargy as you approach it, making you walk slower and slower. You’ve got the prompt in your right hand, but lack the initiative to use it. Do you really have to write now? Why not put it off?

Enter the writing competition.

WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! WRITE–

Okay so you won’t write now, maybe not even tomorrow. But on June 30th your story is due, and what’s more you’ve told everyone about it. Signed up. Promised to deliver. It might be the 29th with the Wall barring your way but you have NO. CHOICE. You MUST write. NOW.

Before you know it, Wall #2 has become a tiny hedge, next to the much, much bigger threat of Not Submitting. You leap over it, perhaps not easily, but you manage. Panic and urgency cancel out procrastination. You’re writing!

I love forum competitions. They’re frequent, free, and have a range of skill levels. Best of all, they usually feature extremely helpful reviews by other writers. The topics are unusual, they’re tolerant of weird stories, and have really cool submissions that I feel are often as good as or better than actual published stuff. TBH this intimidates me sometimes. It feels a little bit like presenting at lab meeting: You, the lowly intern, trying to tell these PhDs and sub-sub-sub field experts something you think you discovered that might be relevant–and waiting for them to start critisizing and teasing apart your work. You know this process is good four you and will make you a better scientist, but some part of you always wants to flee the room in an explosion of chalk dust.

“And for my next trick, I shall completely vanish BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES (and the comment session)!”

In reality, comments by these more experienced writers will help you improve–or at least learn how to politely disagree.It helps you get your work out there, be more involved in the world of forum life, see your own writing from a different perspective, and make decisions about what does and doesn’t work. And how often is it that someone takes the time to deeply review unpublished, minimally edited work from an unknown author, without compensation? Even if you don’t write flash normally, the reviews alone are worth taking the plunge. Maybe you’ll discover a deep-seated issue in your flash which rears its head tenfold in your novel. Maybe you’ll find out that your bizzare stories are actually funny to people other than you! At the very least you will be preparing yourself for taking srs bzns critique. Forums, in my experience, don’t pull punches.

Yay!

Take this from an A+ Internet Lurker: actually participating is way more valuable than passively reading other people’s opinions.

Here are some competitions to keep an eye on:

Forums

SFFworld
(all June)
3 writing contests! Micro-flash (Misdirection), Flash (“It’s not my fault!”), and Short Story (Letters from home).

Fantasy-Faction
(June)
Flash: Multiple POVs

Mythic Scribes
Diversity Challenge to open in June (probably)!
Various other unscheduled challenges.

Blogs

Flash! Friday
(weekly)

Terrible Minds
(weekly, as far as I can see)
Dead Bodies

(There’s lots more out there, but these are the ones I’ve personally participated in / intend to participate in. Let me know about your favorites in the comments!)

These are very legit forums, if you’re a writer (or a reader) definitely head on over and make an account. Serious conversations, book craziness, and genuinely useful writing and publishing tips. Did I mention books? ALL THE BOOKS.

Flash is awesome. Go write some.

SCIENCEY MEMES! Don’t think you could get away without them!

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