The Secret to Beating Writer’s Block for Good

When I was writing my last novel, I met with a roadblock I hadn’t encountered with any of my previous books. It was a feeling of insufficiency that left me too petrified to write.

This is a serious problem that most writers will understand. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, what we call “writer’s block” is essentially just the fear of failure dressed up until we can’t recognize it away.

Of course, that’s something I’d dealt with before, it wasn’t entirely new–but it had never been as bad as it was then. In this case, the difference was that this novel in particular dealt with a lot of personal emotions, and a lot of story and heart was based on the spiritual experiences of a person I care very much about. I felt like that was a lot to live up to, and I began to be afraid I couldn’t pull it off.

Every writer deals with inspirational blocks like this, usually emotional. Oftentimes they’re a feeling of insufficiency, a fear of failure. Some resolve this problem by allowing themselves to write as badly as they need to. As long as they’re writing, right? And then they can make it all better in revision. Some people say this releases them and lets them write more freely. But I disagree with the whole idea for a lot of reasons.

My main problem with telling yourself you can write poorly is that it’s like saying you can build a house out of cardboard and then paint it to make it look like it’s brick. How much pride do you really have in your work if you’re willing do to a slipshod job and later make it look like you didn’t?

When writer’s block comes around writers have two choices: to write poorly and let themselves fail “for now,” or to write well. So I chose to well and I got through my block. I didn’t weasel my way around it. I forced myself straight through it.

I’m not saying it works 100% of the time, and even when I chose to “write well” I didn’t always. But just the choice to work my hardest, and to accept that it was okay that it was hard, freed me and gave me the strength to keep going. Honestly, some of my best work came out in moments like these. In the worst of times I was willing to do my best, and that meant I was really making the effort for my art.

 

What about you? How do you deal with writer’s block? Are you in favor of the “write badly now, revise later” method, or do you use a method more like mine, or do you have a completely different method of your own? Please share!

“Am I a Writer?”

Am I? . . . Are you?

If you’re like me, you have probably asked yourself the golden question: “Am I a writer?”

If you’re human, you’ve had doubts. You’ve wondered, Are you really a writer? Are you really worthy of the art? Do you really know what you’re doing? Above all, you’ve asked, Are you a good writer?

If you’re like any other artist, you’ve questioned your skill, your ability, your understanding of the art. You’ve doubted yourself and the meaning of what you do.

If you’re a writer, all of the above applies to you. If you’re like me, you’re a writer.

 

What Is a Writer?

A writer is someone who’s never sure of anything. The more he knows about something the less he’s certain, and the more he knows he doesn’t know about it the more he’s certain of it. He’s never confident until he’s certain he’s not certain about anything. If that sort of logic makes sense to you, you’re probably a writer. That or you’re psychotic, but let’s lean toward the former.

See, what I mean is, writers are usually insecure people who are confident about their insecurity (out of necessity).

We think a lot, we think too much, we overthink, until what we’re thinking about is blurred by all the underlying complexities of what seemed simple a moment ago, and then it’s impossible to do the dishes or the laundry because we’re staring out a window (or maybe hiding under a blanket) trying to make sense of it all.

The reality is, thinking can be hard, and most people can’t afford to think, because the more you think the less you do, because thinking complicates things. Don’t you think? To quote my favorite Watterson, “Ultimately, knowledge is paralyzing!” Men of action can’t afford to take that chance.

But then people like us, writers, we think, we confuse ourselves, we complicate things – and sometimes that’s daunting, but often it’s empowering too. We become confident in uncertainty. Assured that the little we understand is all we need to know for the moment, we’re happy to carry on.

Point? Yeah, there’s a point. Getting to that.

 

Real Writers Doubt, and Revel in That Doubt

When we overthink ourselves, as writers like any introverts have a habit of doing, we (inevitably) begin to doubt ourselves. As I’ve explained, it’s a very natural part of  the artistic temperament. It’s the creative mind at work.

But doubt leaves us with two options: stop existing (not really an option anyway), or carry on until we find an answer (and carrying on usually is the answer, which we usually realize in the end).

Doubt can be hard. It can be depressing and distracting. But no writer is ever 100% sure about what they’re doing. That’s the thing about art, you’re never certain, you never understand completely. What it comes down to in the end is the feeling.

When doubts come, we welcome them like old friends, ask them how they’ve been and then talk with them and listen to what they have to say. Sometimes it’s illogical, sometimes it’s emotional, sometimes there’s sound sense behind it. But it’s hard to tell the difference, and we don’t have all day to listen to the doubts. They can stay for as long as they like, but we still have a household to run here and even though they get in the way sometimes, we carry on with our work. And in spite of the voices in our heads that have suddenly all turned nasty and waged war on our conscious mind, beneath it all there’s the feeling that knows we’re doing the right thing, because we’re writing – that’s what counts.

Writers are people who accept that like any other human being we really can’t understand much. Though we have difficulty pretending certainty in petty doings like most people do very successfully, we see that and we keep going anyway, being certain of what we can and pretending to be certain of what we can’t and always learning and moving forward.

Sunday Editorial: An Easter Musing

A big magic bunny that fills baskets with candy and toys, hiding eggs for the little kiddies to find . . . culture sure evolves in mysterious ways. It might have seemed fun when we were naive children with nothing better to do or think about, but nowadays, we’re pretty disillusioned to the whole charade, right? It’s just another holiday perfected by the American dream, a chance to capitalize on emotions, put a price on the priceless, and celebrate consumerism with a mass orgy glorified by a spiritual family label.

The magic’s gone.

Photo Credit: EJP Photo via Compfight cc

I don’t have any kids, but I do have a family, and there are little ones. So I help hide a few green eggs in the bushes, some red and blue among the flowers, a few yellow ones up the trees where they’ll never be able to reach them, if they ever even look up and see them. Then I find a drink, kick back in a detached languor and watch the kids hunt, race past a few dozen well-hidden eggs to go for the one obvious one, laughing, excited, ignorant to the bleak mediocrity. It’s disgusting, really.

No, not the kids. Me.

Actually, not me, but that picture of soulless, jaded indifference. That supercilious attitude of “maturity.” The magic’s gone because we’ve ousted it. We’ve pushed it away. There’s no room for magic in the harsh realities of an adult’s world.

Well, actually, there is. Every now and then.

Seeing Easter with a Child’s Eyes

In my family we’ve made a tradition. We gathered all the plastic eggs we could get our hands on and after the adults hid them for the kids, I spent two hours following the little ones around on their epic quest of discovery. I’d give hints, or even riddles when I could think of them, and sometimes I’d step in front of a half-concealed egg and play innocent until a kid finally caught me and got behind me. When all the eggs were found, or at any rate nearly all, then the best part came: the kids hid the eggs, and the adults looked.

Photo Credit: partymonstrrrr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: partymonstrrrr via Compfight cc

See, it’s not about finding the eggs. It’s about finding and recovering the thrill of the game, the sparkling imagination of childhood that made mountains out of molehills and golden eggs out of plastic. It’s about rediscovering the fun, the excitement, the joy, the enchantment. It’s about creating memories, capturing a warm-fuzzy feeling that will stick with us all even when the kids have grown up and forgotten what egg hunts were like, just like I nearly did there.

Rediscovering the Wonder

Halloween, Christmas, Easter—they’re all the same. They’ve all been distorted, and we’ve lost sight of the enchantment. We’ve forgotten why holidays meant so much to us when we were kids. We’ve lost our sense of wonder. Comes with age, I suppose.

So we can sit around and gripe about how holidays are being corrupted by consumerism, or we can do something about it

We can teach, nay, show, the next generations that there’s still magic, that there’s still wonder and enchantment in the special moments. We can give them memories that are founded on a lot more than toys and candy. They’re waiting for us to prove to them that holidays aren’t just for children, and I think a lot of us could stand to remember that, too.

Maybe they won’t remember the egg hunt; maybe the memories will fade. They might forget what we did for them, but they’ll never forget how we made them feel.

 

Sunday Editorial: The Artist and the Scientist, and the Secret of Balancing Them

There are many sides to writing. It can’t be confined. Some call it an art; some call it a science. So which is it?

Writing requires creativity and vision. You’ll need open eyes to look at the world, to see what it looks like on the face of it, to see what it looks like underneath, and to see what it looks like inside of yourself. An artist could sit in their yard for a lifetime and never run out of stories to write, because all around them everything they see has a thousand aspects, and a million ideas inside it. You need to be able to look at things from all these different angles. Sometimes, writing requires some degree of omnipotence to keep an eye on all the thoughts coming together—and sometimes you just pull back and let them flow into place.

Writing requires dimension and precision. You have to know what you’re writing about, and how; you need to understand the subject and how to effectively approach it and describe it. You need to know what you’re seeing and how to get it down on paper according to your vision, to use that vision to its fullest potential. You need to know how to produce an effect. A scientist could sit in their yard for a lifetime and never run out of subjects to categorize and monitor, because they could identify every tree and weed and bug and bird and spend the rest of their lives recording their lifecycles and the changes wrought in them by the seasons and the years.

The fact is, writing is both an art and a science. You’ll need balance—more than anything. You’ll need to know when to think and when to feel. You’ll need to understand when to let your tender, sentimental nature take over, and when to be cold and calculating. Give yourself over completely to the artist and you’ll end up with chaos—yield to the scientific side and you’ll end up with sterile, insipid chaff.

Basically, you have to be pretty schizophrenic. But it knew that, didn’t it, precious? Yesss . . . we knews it, precious, we did . . .

The Scientist

This is the part of you that was taught in schoolrooms to bleed literature dry of every nebulous interpretation of meaning that they can fabricate. This is the part that tends to function as a spellcheck while you’re writing, or critiques your plot, and probably it’s the one muttering, “This is crap, this is crap,” while you’re trying to write. If you’re experiencing writers’ block, you can count on it that the soulless, unfeeling scientist in you is to blame.

It can get be a hindrance at times, can’t it? Unfortunately, you still need it. Believe it or not, you do need a little logic and rationality when you’re writing, and the scientific part of you keeps that in check. By the traditional myth of brain lateralization, this would be the left brain; reason and critical thinking, all the technical and scientific aspects of the writing process.

The Artist

You know when you’ve come to that exciting part, and a little voice is going, “Oh boy! oh boy! oh boy!” while you’re writing? Yup, this is that voice. And when you’re killing a character or letting them find true love at last, the artist is inside you, crying. This is the one that’s putting the scientist’s stores of knowledge to good use, hitting on unlikely combinations and putting them together like a jigsaw puzzle. This is the little genius in you, the one that flies into a frenzy and writes like mad when you finally break through that creative block. The artist is the one who appreciates the beauty in things.

Unlike the scientist, the artist isn’t taught. This part of you isn’t developed in the schoolroom, unless your mind is wandering from the lesson. Typically, this part is developed in the woods, or on a busy city street, or other places where you’re “alone,” that is, away from the distractions of your everyday life. The artist is an autodidact; it learns. Nobody can teach you to be an artist. Really, being an artist is something you’re born into. But I do believe that there’s an artist in all of us: it’s just developed sooner in some than others. If you can discover that part of yourself, open yourself to it, free the artist within and let them learn, let yourself dream, then you can learn any art you’re called to. Even if it’s not something traditionally viewed as an art—if you bring creativity into it, anthing can be an art.

How to Balance Them

If you’re up against writers’ block, a good way to get around it—and a good way, in general, to avoid it—is to stop thinking and start feeling; suppress the scientist, and let your artist free. Just write—let the scientist take over in revision.

At least, that’s what people say.

Me, I don’t believe in it. Sure, it works, but that’s not a solution—it’s avoiding the problem. It’s the easy way out, and for a lot of people, that’s great. So yeah, if you want the easy way out of it, there you go. More power to you. Off with you, go write something.

But you want to know the secret? I do have one up my sleeve here. I’ve already said that writing is both an art and a science; well, I can reduce it to just one word. Writing is a discipline.

 That’s right. Being a writer is like being a Jedi. Or, you know, a master of the martial arts. You have to be in touch with the techniques; but also with the spirit of the thing. But above all else, writing is about balance. Letting the two sides take turns at dominance isn’t balance. Balance isn’t fifty-fifty, it’s hundred-hundred. Give free reign to both sides, give them both power and control, and let them work together. This can only be achieved through practice, determination, and discipline.

 You’re just a writer. I am too, and I may not be a master, but I believe this: To become a master of my art, I have to become something higher than human, something that transcends the everyday. I have to become an artist, a free-thinker; I have to dare to look at the world in ways no one else will, ways they’ll tell me aren’t there. Sometimes, I have to look like a lunatic. But inside, I have to be a monk: I have to find a way to work with both my mind and heart.

What do you think? Am I a genius, a philosopher, an artist—or a lunatic?

Sunday Editorial: The Difference Between Showing and Telling

We’ve all heard it a hundred times: “Show, don’t tell.” This is a “rule” that, unlike most, I actually believe in. Though there are exceptions, and as with any rule a good writer can defy it, it generally holds true that in many ways large and small a writer should not be telling a story as much as showing one. You are your reader’s guide in another world, showing them the way. You don’t leave your readers here and tell them about it after you get back.

But let’s look a little deeper at one of the meanings behind this “rule.” It goes deeper to the very heart of the art. The principle is the same, its importance is the same if not greater, but have you thought of it, and how many times have you forgotten it? I know I, personally, don’t always remember it. And yet it’s so simple; how do we forget it?

It’s really not complicated, mysterious, or surprising. The simple fact is that we, as writers, are observers, explorers, students of beauty and wonder; we take pictures of our findings, pictures made up of words, pictures of things nobody else has ever seen. But sometimes we forget that we’re students, not teachers–don’t we?

What I mean, in plain language, is this: It’s our job to show our readers what we see and what we think, but not to tell them what to think.

We’re fiction writers. We write about feelings, not facts: not tangible things that you can see and touch, but higher things, things that can’t necessarily be proven to exist but we know exist nonetheless. Sometimes these things are clearly visible in the everyday, if you look. But sometimes, we become so enthusiastic about what we’re seeing and what we’re showing our readers and what our story means to us, that we forget ourselves and start to tell our readers what to expect and what to think as we’re writing.

Art is in the eye of the beholder. What our readers see might not always be what we meant them to see; and that’s okay. That’s what art is all about. That’s the beautiful thing about it. If anything we should be trying to make the pictures we present clearer, if we want to guide interpretation by the strength of an artist’s sutlety; but we should not be telling people what to see in our art.

Sunday Editorial: The Only Ten Rules You’ll Ever Need to Write

Do you want to the secrets of a writer? Do you want one quick, simple resource to tell you all you’ll ever need to know about writing? Do you want all your questions about writing answered in one place? Then this article here is everything you want, and more. Read on.

The Only Rules You’ll Ever Need to Write

  1. Make your own rules.

You Think Writing is Easy?

So you think writing is easy?

Do you?

You think writing is rewarding?

Do you?

You think writing is fun?

Do you?

Writing Is an Addiction

Nobody writes because they enjoy it. They write because they can’t stop. They write because, for some reason, they need it. They write until they can’t stand it. They write till they hate themselves for writing. They write until they hate everything they write. They write until their mind scream at them to stop and calls them an idiot and tries to find a way out of writing.

But they don’t stop. They never stop. No writer stops writing—because they’re already addicted. They can’t turn back now that they’ve tasted words. They hate words and they hate writing—but they can’t stop.

Writing Is a Disappointment

The fact is, they write, and maybe they overcome every obstacle life tries to throw at them and manage to write something worth publishing; then maybe, just maybe, they beat all the odds and get their book published; and then they find themselves adrift in a sea of books that will never sell, idiots who have nothing to say but write and publish it anyway, ideal readers who are reading someone else’s books, and blind bigoted readers gorged on Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.

There’s a reader out there who will love their book—but the odds are slim that reader will ever find it. There are a lot more readers who won’t love it, and a lot more still who won’t ever know it exists.

Writers Have it Tough

No writer ever wrote because they had a write worth writing about. Who would be crazy enough to create their own worlds to live in, if they already had one worth living in?

Writers write because they have nowhere else to go. Writers write because they need to distance themselves from reality and find meaning in another existence, even if it’s a pseudo-reality based on their own lives with a few idealistic enhancements.

Writers . . . Have the Best Job in the World

Did I scare you away yet? Did I?

No? Why not? Probably because you’re a passionate writer who already knows the big secret about writing.

That secret is: writing is the best thing in the world.

Writing is a journey. Writing is a discovery. Writing is living. Writing may be pain, sorrow, defeat, fear; but more than that, writing is pleasure, writing is joy, writing is hope, writing is courage, and writing is wisdom. It can be tough, it can hurt, but that’s life; the bad has to be taken with the good for the good to be appreciated. And writing has a darn lot of good.

Writing is beauty. Writing is love. Writing is parenthood. Writing is brotherhood. Writing is perfection. Writing is understanding.

I write because I couldn’t do anything else. I write because it’s the only choice I have; I’m a writer, so I have to write. I’m a writer—and I’m glad. I love to write.

Do you?

You Know What? Don’t Write What You Know

You’ve probably heard it a thousand times; we’ve had it fed to us for years. It’s what any creative writer who’s never written a story in his life says. Anyone who has never had an original or otherwise worthwhile thought on the art of writing has probably said it.

“Write what you know”—what idiot came up with that?

A Brief History of the Phrase

Like most aphorisms, it’s difficult to trace it to its source. Some credit it to Twain, some to Hemingway; certainly it has an established history at least that far back. One of the oldest, and best, quotes I came across was written by Howard Nemerov (1920-1991):

“Write what you know. That should leave you with a lot of free time.”

On Answerbag I came across a helpful person who posted a handy reference here citing several articles and authors on the adage.

You’ll notice that all the authors quoted there, and most if not all of the authors you’ll be able to find who have said anything about the adage, were active past the second half of the 19th century. Probably because up until that point in history, writers were generally smart enough to avoid trying to tell anyone how to write. Twain was a notable exception, which lends another shade of plausibility to the theory that he coined the phrase.

The Misunderstanding

Wherever it started, this platitude has been so long seized upon misconstrued by the laity, so long twisted and abused, that’s it’s true meaning is unrecognizable, buried deep in a confusion of idle misrepresentation and ignorant reinterpretation. It’s nothing now but a sad mockery of the truth.

I speak harshly; it’s not that I deny anyone their right to their opinion if they believe in this phrase in its modern meaning, but call it a pet peeve, I don’t like seeing a misunderstood “truism” forced down artists’ throats.

 

The Truth

Want the truth? The point the phrase is really trying to get across is, “Write what you feel.” It’s not a reprimand for writing what you’ve never seen, not a command to write about the places you’ve been or the things you’ve done, not a criticism or a rule, but a simple truth. That’s what writing is all about. Writing is a channeling of what you feel. It’s about the emotions. Anything you don’t know you can learn–but emotion can’t be taught. You have to feel it to write it. That’s the point.

In the common sense, that you must literally have knowledge of whatever you write about, I prefer to phrase it “Know what you write.” If you want to write about something you don’t know, because it’s a fitting representation of what you feel–then you research and you learn.

But the best advice I can offer you is this: ignore adages on the art of writing. As you can see, they hardly ever give you the whole story. It goes against the very art. Find your own understanding of the art, form your own opinions, and write your own rules.

Writing isn’t something you should let anyone teach you but yourself. Accept suggestions—advice—anything but rules. That’s the beauty of writing. There are no rules.

Sunday Editorial: The Problem with Procrasstination and Tips to Pervent It

You’re human. You put things off. You get distracted. You make mistakes.

And the biggest mistake you make , is procrastinating. Maybe it’s something you have to do for yourself, for school, for work, for a friend–usually it’s all of thes things, and all at once, and your plate is now so filled that things spill over and you make a mess. And so, seomtimes, Instead of taking the time to do things properly, you try to rush things out of the way, or worse–you procrastinate.

I hate it when people doo this. I can’t stand it when people comit themselves to something and then put it off, and it falls by the wayside until the last minute, and then they rush it and the result is always a sloppy, slipshod

What we tend to forget is that there are consequences when we procrastinate. It leads to accidents. It lead to mistakes. It We And in the end, we’re not taking the time to do our work properly and so quality suffers.Some things don’t get well, and even more things don’t get done well. Procrastination breds failure.

I’m as gilty as you. So what are we doing wrong?

What’s the Problem?

The quick answer: We’re rushing to do too much.

We’re bitting off more than we can chew, every day committing ourselves to more than we have the time to accomplish and making more promises than we can keep. And then, to make time for it all, we put other things on hold, we put other things off, we stretch each deadline to its limits; We’re constantly trying to do more than we have the time for!

No wonder we’re stressed. We’re constantly convincing ourselves that we need to do this and we need to do that, that such really needs to get done, that whatever needs to get taken care of, and we overwhlem ourselves with all the things we “need” to get done, but will never have the time for. And a media that’s drumming reminders and new ideas into our heads 24/7, urging us to act fast and take action and it doesn’t help but that it’s constantly distracting us and getting making life becomes chaos. And we end up trying to do too mucch at once.

The problem is that we’ve made our lives about rush, rush, rush. Thep roblem is we don’t take pride in our work anymore.

What’s the Solution?

Magical watches that stop time? God Heavens, I wish.

But it’s not that simple.

Because it’s not just one problem with one solution. It’s the problem that you agreed to last week and need to get done tonight, it’s the problem you promised you’d fix tomorrow, it’s the problem you should have done already, it’s the problem you need to run and take care of now, it’s the problem you forgot and spent twenty minutes trying to remember while trying to fix all the other problems and–oh, telephone!

We’re filling our lives with problems! There’s no one way to solve them all at once–except killing yourself, but please don’t do that, you matter to much. That’s running away from the problem, not solving it. The only way to solve the problem is by solving each little problem as it comes. But how do we do that? We’re in over our heads. Our lives are in self-induced chaos. We’re trying to juggle but we never learned how and now we’re dropping things..

So what do we do?

You need to find your own solution.

But who has the time to do that?

You need to organize and prioritize.

But who has the time to do that?

Then what do I do?

Learn to say No.

It’s not selfish to say No. What’s selfish is taking on something you don’t have the time to do, or at least not the time to do well. Not only will your new promise suffer bcause you don’t have the time to do it, but eveyrthing else will suffer because you have less time to take care of the thousands of other things you promised to do.

Whether it’s to yourself or to someone else, you need to learn to say No.

The other The other biggest peice of advice I can give you is:

Start taking pride in your work.

The isn’t the selfish kind of pride that goes before the fall. This is the kind of pried that inspires you to do your best. This is the kind of pride that won’t accept anything less than perfection from itself. THis is the kind of pride that wants better, always better, and is willing to work for it.

Go out there, and whatever you do, do it with full attention and give it your best effort. Take pride in it. It’s important. If it’s not–then why are you doing it?

That’s the key. We need to pick and choose and concentrate on the important things that really matter to us.

Because when you overfill your plate, you get stressed. When you’re stressed, you procrstinate. And when you procrastinate–
You make a darn lot off

Sunday Editorial: Writing Flash Fiction

I’m a big fan of flash fiction (or “speed writing” or “vignettes”). For a variety of reasons, because flash fiction can be used in so many different ways. As a writer, there’s many possibilities for using flash fiction, and each one never has to interfere with any large project. Plus, you’re able to get the satisfactory feeling of finishing a story, yet with less ripping-your-hair-out during the editing phase, as there’s less to edit. As a reader, too, they’re really fun to read, as it only takes a few minutes (or less) to read a piece of flash fiction.

As the name suggests, they’re quick pieces. And more importantly than time-wise, they’re short in word count. Which means that each word counts for a lot more than they might in a longer piece. In a way, flash fiction is related to poetry as there, too, each and every word counts. This forces the writer to condense the story and use only what’s absolutely necessary in order to tell it, which is easily transferable to the writing of longer pieces as well. Not that novels and short stories need to be completely fast paced or anything–not at all (and flash fiction doesn’t even denote quickly-paced; it could be a thousand words describing one building)–but it does allow you to see what may or may not be necessary. Even if you have long, drawn-out descriptions, flash fiction can help hone those descriptions into more beautiful passages, so that they don’t sound ramble-y and rant-y.

Tolkien is a really great example of this. I have no idea what he feels about flash fiction, or if he ever wrote it, but he’s often considered to have very “dense” writing. At the same time, though, his descriptions are beautifully written, and don’t sound as if he’s just trying to fluff his word count, but rather, that every word actually matters.

In a way, flash fiction can force you to write “better” (not the best word; just go with me here) as you have much less time to tell a story, and again, every word must count. It’s why people sometimes suggest writing poetry as a way to help with fiction writing–because it really can. And in that vein, flash fiction is very similar, as I was talking about that before. Not only can it help with your longer writing, but they’re just great exercises that can be done quickly. There was a time when for at least a few weeks I was writing a piece of flash fiction nearly every day, and doing so greatly increased my productivity with other writing projects–simply being able to “get going” with a warm-up piece of flash fiction (that usually took about 15 minutes) helped motivate me to write more.

But more than just ways to increase productivity, improve writing, or do random exercises…flash fiction can also be incredibly helpful when done along with longer projects. Spending a half hour or less to write a short scene about one of your characters, for example, whether s/he be a main or secondary character. It doesn’t take long, and it allows you to get even more inside that character’s head for a few minutes.

Flash fiction can flesh out an “off-screen” scene, or perhaps the way something works, or a further description of a scene–anything that doesn’t necessarily need to be in the longer work itself, but might be good to write down for the writer’s sake. Your reader might not need to know what happened at the moment your character proposed to his wife, or the moment s/he graduated college, or what it was like the first time s/he fired a gun, but those short scenes can help you as the writer better understand and know your character.

Finally, in regards to longer works, flash fiction can also be used effectively as a short break. Sometimes you may want to just put aside your novel/short story/etc. for a while, but not necessarily start another whole project or anything. This is a great way to take a break from the longer stuff.

In closing, flash fiction is a great exercise for spur-of-the-moment writing, and can be incredibly helpful (and even invaluable) to writing longer pieces. Give it a try!