My Work In Progress is an Urban Fantasy novel that I’ve been writing for over a year, and I struggle to find enough time every week to work on it. And yet every week I spend two to three hours writing a 1000 word short story, a piece of flash fiction, to post on my site.
Isn’t that somewhat counter-productive?
Wouldn’t I be better off working on my novel for those hours?
Possibly. But here are five reasons I choose to write flash fiction each week.
1) Variety is the Spice of Life
My novel is awesome. If you know me in the meat-world and have ever made the mistake of asking, “So, what’s your novel about?” I’ve probably talked your ear off about how awesome it is. But here’s the thing: it’s a very specific kind of awesome. I love my world and my characters, but sometimes I want to write about someone different. Call me shallow, but I like to play the field. I want to write about vampires or wish fairies or zombies or something else that doesn’t feature in the world of my novel. So when a creepy, arrogant, domineering vampire wanders through my imagination, I don’t ignore him or tell him to go play with someone else. I get down and dirty with him in a thousands words or fewer and then return to my novel.
2) Creativity Begets Creativity
The great thing about creativity is that it’s a bottomless resource. There’s no Great Creativity Shortage of the 21st Century to worry about. In fact, creativity in one thing often leads to creativity in another. If you’re struggling with your writing, go bake a cake. Or draw a picture. Or do some finger-painting. (Seriously, if you haven’t finger-painted since you were a kid, you have no idea what you’re missing out on.) It’s like jump-starting your creativity-mobile. Or setting a match to your creativity-powder. And other exciting metaphors. But you don’t have to wait until you feel your creativity starting to wane to take advantage of this. Writing flash fiction that is unrelated to my novel helps keep my creative mind ticking over and means that when I get the time to work on my novel, I spend much less time staring at the screen wondering what I should write next.
3) Experiments are Fun
Ever wonder what it would be like to write a story from the point of view of the bad guy? Or how it would feel to live inside the head of a psychopath? Ever read a book and think, “I wish I could write like that!” or wonder just how many rhetorical questions you could put in a single paragraph? Flash fiction is a way to explore those things! For example, I have no desire to write a novel-length horror story but I quite enjoy experimenting with the edges of the horror genre in my flash fiction. It’s also a good way to practice storytelling techniques that you aren’t currently using in your longer work. Experiment with first person, close third person, distant third person, or omniscient Point Of View. Get a feel for the difference between past tense and present tense. Feeling adventurous and experimental? Try writing a whole story in future tense. Write a protagonist of the opposite gender than you usually write, or of a different age group, or tell the story as a computer program or a series of Tweets or Facebook updates. Build your craft and broaden your experience without committing yourself to something long-term.
4) Shopping in the Ideas Factory
Once upon a time, I thought I had a brain in my head. Then one day I realised I actually live in an Ideas Factory. Like most writers, the question “Where do you get your ideas?” is best answered with another question: “How do you get the ideas to stop?!” Every news story, overheard snippet of conversation, and everyday item spotted in an unusual place prompts a flurry of ideas and What Ifs to go careening through my head. What if the phone number displayed outside the vacant building is really the number visiting vampires have to call before they’re allowed to hunt in this suburb? What if the tree really did get up and walk in front of the moving car? What if the child is right and one day she turns into a shooting star watching over the Earth and protecting it from monsters? They never stop! If I was going to turn every one of my story ideas into a novel, I’d have to live to at least two hundred. Except, of course, I’d keep having more ideas. So I guess I’d need to live forever… Or I can go shopping in the Ideas Factory once a week and bring one of those ideas to life.
5) Basking in the Afterglow
Working on a novel is a long process. Even those people (who I’m secretly jealous of) who can whip out a first draft in ten days have to go back and revise and rewrite their work. And I’m not one of those people. Still, I get an amazing sense of satisfaction when I complete part of my novel. Writing one thousand words in a sitting makes me cheer and pat myself on the back. Finishing a chapter makes me want to dance around the room. There are milestones that can be celebrated. But…. It’s not like you’re really finished, is it? Especially when you’re still working on your first draft. But a couple of hours spent on a piece of flash fiction and POW. Finished. Smug sense of satisfaction enabled. It feels really, really good to hit that ‘Publish’ button. And every time, the warm feeling of writing afterglow reminds me how I’ll feel when I finally get my novel finished and back I go to the grindstone, motivated and feeling like a writer.