My first published story was a work of flash fiction. I didn’t realise it at the time; I don’t think I had even heard of the term flash fiction when I wrote ‘Perseveration’. An idea came to me—a moment that begged to be put into words—and for once the story flowed. It was fuelled by intense emotion, and written on instinct, with rudimentary editing. I entered the Hunter Writers’ Centre Grieve competition, which has a 600-word limit for prose, and was selected as a finalist and published in their print anthology. What a boost for a new writer!
Even after that initial success, I didn’t pursue flash fiction. It wasn’t on my radar. It wasn’t until the Australian Writers’ Centre began their Furious Fiction competition earlier this year that I sought opportunities to write and submit flash fiction. For those not yet in the know, Furious Fiction is a 55-hour challenge to produce and submit a 500-word story that fits several prompts. It is run every month by the Australian Writers’ Centre and the winner receives $500. I am yet to crack a win or make the shortlist—my stories usually need marinating time and a firm edit—but the challenge has given me plenty of pieces ripe for reshaping. I think of it as a writing exercise, and look forward to each one.
Once I realised how much I enjoyed writing flash, and how good it was for my development as a writer, I went to workshops and read lots of flash online to figure out how to write quality work. Along the way, I’ve discovered many reasons why an emerging writer should have a splash at flash.
- Instant gratification: Okay, so writing, editing, and submitting a flash story isn’t quite instant—especially the editing part. Some pieces have taken me months to get right, but compared to a novel or traditional-length short story, flash fiction is quick to write, easy to submit, and you often get a response, sometimes including feedback, in a relatively short space of time. It’s so satisfying to actually finish a story and send it off when you’re bogged down in writing a novel which will take years to write and may never find a publisher.
- Develop your skills: Writing a piece of flash isn’t a big commitment. I see it as an opportunity to experiment with technique and edgy subject matter, with point of view and tense, and even to break a few rules along the way. It is freeing in that way, but at the same time teaches discipline: when you have a tight word limit, every word counts. It forces you to develop your voice, to focus on the rhythm and beauty of language, and to hone editing skills.
- Build a writing habit: I certainly can’t find the time to write every day, but challenging myself to write flash in snatched moments is time well spent. I’m developing my skills when I don’t have the time or inclination to wade into my novel in progress. Think of flash fiction as interval training for a writer. An opportunity to stretch yourself and build skills when you’re short on time. Reading flash is also a great option to assuage the guilt of knowing you should be reading, but being too time-poor to tackle an enormous to-be-read pile.
- Publications: The opportunities to publish flash fiction in Australia are still somewhat limited. Some journals which consider flash are Lifted Brow, Overland, Southerly, Meanjin, Mascara and Seizure. Overseas, however, there are countless journals and zines which focus solely on publishing flash fiction. Most allow simultaneous submissions, and sooner or later you will find a home for your best pieces. A few of the better-regarded ones are SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Forge Literary Magazine, Jellyfish Review and Fictive Dream. A google search will unearth hundreds of options. In the last month I’ve had two different stories accepted for January publication—I’ll add the links to the website when they’re released. Chalking up a win or two is great for an emerging writer’s self esteem, as well as providing content for websites and accessible samples of your work for interested readers. Which brings me to the final reason for writing flash.
- Connect with fellow writers: If you’ve had anything to do with the writing community on social media, you’ll know how supportive it can be. The flash fiction community is even more so. People routinely share and comment on each other’s work, experienced writers are generous with advice, and will often offer feedback to writers new to flash. Follow a few notable writers on Twitter, read the stories and comment on your favourites, and you’ll be part of the community in no time. Some writers to follow include Kathy Fish, Stephanie Hutton, and Melissa Goode.
What do you think? Have I convinced you to try your hand at flash?