Thursday, September 30, 2010

Flash fiction

I just mailed my entry to the Missouri Writer's Guild Flash Fiction contest. I have become a fan of flash fiction for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I like short stories, which means that I also like really short, short stories. The second reason is that writing a really short, short story is a good exercise for any writer who struggles with words (which is every writer I know).

For this contest, I wasn’t sure what to send, and had been going through my archives/computer files for the past couple of weeks looking for something. At first I tried working with a dark short story but didn’t think it would work as flash fiction. I would have to cut too much to maintain the level of “darkness” I desired.

Later, I found a short romantic story that had been rejected by a magazine editor who took the time to tell me what worked. I knew I had something, but the piece was 900 words. I had to cut almost half to submit it.

I got to work right away. While I cut, I kept asking myself the same question. “What can I take out while keeping the story intact?” The answer was “A lot.” I was able to cut dialogue, description and (a little) action.

I only needed one line of dialogue instead of two or three to show someone was a jerk. Easy cut, the reader still knows this character’s a jerk. Description was easy. The right descriptive word can take the place of a couple of sentences. I also picked one item in a scene to focus on and describe instead of two or more. And finally, I was able to cut some of the action. That was a little more difficult, but I think I made the story tighter and simpler, which is good.

So I challenge you to write a flash fiction story, or take one of your existing stories and turn it into flash fiction. Make every word count, and watch your writing improve.

Talk to you soon,


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Does spelling matter?

If u cn rad thws thpn I gess spillebg dusn't mzter.

I read an article last week about some schools in the area eliminating spelling tests. With computer programs that spell for you, does it matter if students can spell?

It matters to me, but I love words and always did well on spelling tests when I was a kid. I think those "100s" on spelling tests helped balance the "70s" I earned on math tests, which may have kept my self esteem on a somewhat even keel.

I really want to think that it matters, but I'm not sure if it makes a difference. If we can communicate, then what role does the technique have? I'm a stickler for spelling, but even when there's a mistake, I still (usually) understand the meaning. I've had a couple of papers lately that featured "texting" language in a sentence or two. I understood, and corrected them. But isn't the fact that I understood the most important aspect?

Right now, I'm having trouble justifying both sides of the argument. One side of me (the writer, teacher, English major side) is screaming out ARE YOU INSANE? DO YOU HEAR YOURSELF? OF COURSE IT MATTERS!

But the other side says laws change, language changes, spelling can change, too. Dictionaries are written/printed with ink, not stone. What do you think?

My friend, Donna Volkenannt, recently posted something on about the death of the English language. Why isn't the issue ever the death of math?

Talk to you soon,


Saturday, September 18, 2010


Some writers love them, some writers hate them, but most have an opinion about outlines. My opinion is that although I may not love them, I find them very helpful. I use them, in varying formats, for many reasons.

My students will present their first speeches in about a week, so I’m trying to help them find topics and organize their thoughts. Most students aren’t as passionate about writing as I am, and that’s OK. But if I can help them get through their speeches more easily, I’m pleased. I spend a couple hours every semester going over what outlines are, how to use them and why any writer can benefit from them. I have three main reasons why I believe outlines are useful.

Outlines are useful tools to help writers figure out what they think about a topic, organize those thoughts into an understandable format, and help remember what they wanted to say without going off on unrelated tangents. That’s really all there is. Sounds simple, and it is.

Last semester, in one of the best classes I’ve ever taught, (confirmed by my husband who said “I didn’t hear you complain about anyone all semester!”) one of my students told me that he used to hate outlines, but came to realize that they are useful tools to help him organize his thoughts. YES! I felt like I made a little difference, and I was happy.

Talk to you soon,


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Have faith, and a plan

Writers need to have faith: faith in themselves, faith in their work and faith that someone will appreciate their work. It’s not easy to send a story or article or book into the abyss and wait for a response that may or may not come. Some writers hear from an editor or publisher months or years after a piece was sent. That’s a wonderful surprise down the road, but many writers give up while they wait..

Don’t view writing as a linear process. The odds are not in your favor when you put one piece in the (e)mail, then wait for it to come back before you send it out again.

If you’re like me, you probably have something “almost” ready to go out. This holiday weekend, spend a couple hours polishing your work. When you’re sure it’s as good as it can be, go to the bookstore or library to find magazines, newspapers, publishers, editors or agents who might be interested, and send it out. (You can also go to your Writer’s Market and look it up, but it’s not as fun!) Send it to more than one editor that accepts multiple submissions.

If you send one piece to two editors, you’ve doubled your odds of success. If you send two pieces to three editors, you’ve increased your likelihood of success by a factor of six. You need faith when you send out your writing, but you also need to increase your odds of success by increasing the number of submissions. Have faith in yourself, and a plan.

Talk to you soon,