Writers on Writing #15: Lizz Kepsel
Of Sporks and Internal Bombs (in less than 500 words)
I have two writing modes: flash and novel. I sometimes venture to visit that in-between area – short stories, novellas, even poetry sometimes – but when I do, I often find my writing to be gray and stale. I always return to what I know best.
With flash fiction – little blazes of a story – I limit myself to one moment, one event – one character, if I can. I’ll say, “Okay, write this story – but it can’t be more than a thousand words.” That’s a good limit – 1000. You can get a lot out in 1000 words, and you’ll avoid unnecessary junk.
Five hundred isn’t bad, either – the more economical, the better. With 500 words, you have to maintain your original idea – you won’t be allowed to entertain any stray tangents. Getting lost in your words can be striking, electrifying, downright strange – but it is also fraught with danger. You’ll be writing down an idea – a bittersweet moment between lovers, a lost explorer finding God – and then you’ll discover an undercover war or the character’s long-lost half-brother. With flash, though, you can’t even glance at those stray ideas. You have to shove them aside, at least for the moment, and cut, cut, cut until you reach that word count.
Once a year, though, I write – and I mean write – like I’ve got a deadline that, if ignored, will set off a bomb surgically inserted into my abdomen. It is during the thirty days of November that I write 50,000 words, participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. In November, I write until my eyes burn and lose all focus for hours, until I’m positive I’ve permanently wrecked my vision. I type until my fingers stiffen and the skin forms bloody cracks. I write at breakfast, forcing out a paragraph before I teach; I write at lunch, during my office hours and after I’ve managed to stay away from pictures of captioned cats long enough to grade my allotted seven essays; I write at dinner, ignoring my roommates and the latest episode of Criminal Minds.
Are these novels good? Not really – sometimes even the overall idea is crap. Are they publishable? No way, not without a few years of revision. Will I let others look at them? Hell no. Please, don’t even ask.
Though they remain rough drafts, writing novels helps me create polished flash. NaNoWriMo gives me the opportunity to free-write like a wild woman. If I couldn’t let a mystical golden spork belonging to an evil organization be chased by no less than ten main characters, or allow a young girl going through a rough relationship examine her emotions in at least eight pages, or examine what the undead would feel before, following, and after the zombie apocalypse – if I couldn’t write and write and not care about cutting, I’d…
Well, I don’t know what I’d do. Maybe that bomb in my abdomen really would go off – but that’s another story altogether.