One the issues with being a human is we have the innate desire to look at the “oh neat, new, and shiny.” This desire draws away from the most important thing a creative person needs to do: finish things. Halfway through the book an idea pops into the brain screaming “Hey! Check me out! I’m amazing!” And they typically are, but the problem is they all are. The short story, novel, painting, script, program code, or whatever you’re working on started as one of these “oh shiny” ideas and it’s possible it caused the abandoning of another idea. It’s an itch that either has to be meditated away, or dealt with. I choose to combat the desire by invoking a temporary truce with the project I’m working on in favor of a quick jaunt into another land.
Enter: meditative flash fiction.
Flash fiction is short, satisfying, and ultimately helps with those cravings to step away from the sea of ideas I’m trying to wade through to get a project done. Now don’t get me wrong, flash fiction as a project for publication is awesome, and many amazing writers use it to get ideas out there and share their stories. I’ve done this too and may do it again in the future, but it’s not part of my goal when I’m doing my morning papers. Flash fiction in this instance is meant to dump out the night’s ideas and get my head into the right space for the novel or other project I’m working on.
Putting together my morning paper takes one of two processes. If I’m attempting to copy an idea from the night before, that’s all the inspiration I need. Jot the ideas down, setup the slice of the setting that story will represent, and go. If I’m just giving myself a quick mind wipe though, I like to get visual inspiration. And the first place I stop would be the daily deviations over on Deviant Art. If you’re planning on using the writing for anything more than just brain dumping, avoid the fan art. Lots of good stuff in there but your short-short fiction based on Batman may have some copyright issues if you try to make money off it. I try to stick to the original pieces, but not rip off the concept the artists created. Just scanning the last few days here are a few pieces that jump out at me.
We’ve got our inspiration piece in hand now, now it’s time to start letting it soak up the excess stories. A quick aside: I find it important to me to save a link to these pieces. If an artist has inspired me once, they’ll likely inspire me again. When I revisit some of my flash fiction I’ll often revisit the artist and see what new wonders they’ve created. It creates a sort of feedback cycle in my head.
Since I’m not looking for publishable pieces, I’m not considering a few things I might otherwise. Length, first of all, goes out the window. The definition of how long flash fiction should be varies, but I try not to go beyond 1000-2000 words. Anything more and I might as well write out the short story it’s become. Full story goes next. Flash fiction has a neat treat of being able to imply a larger story and I use that to full effect in my flash pieces, much to the chagrin of some of my readers. You know who you are. I think of the inspiration image as part of that story and use it to set the ground work for the scene or to represent the action coming in the scene.
Finally, there’s the consideration of what I’m doing with the piece. Do I use it just as a brain dump, or am I using it to get a point across? Is the story world building for a setting or story I’m already working on? Do I care if the thing can be reasonably edited or am I happy to let it sit there after it’s been expelled from my head?
Let’s consider our three samples. In Shaman, I’d likely write a scene about a ritual being performed. This will likely be an exercise in world building as I’d set the flash fiction in Draco Artifactium and let this piece invoke things in that setting I might not have considered. The Oasis, while possible for world building, makes me want to consider a standalone story. It has a mythology feel to it, and I think I’d like to explore that side of it. Finally, Deep Fixing works for a future story I’m toying with, and I’d use it for that world building. Because of the way I’d use these stories, I’d expect the first two stories to be stronger in terms of potential future use. The last one, being for a one shot story, wouldn’t see much expansion content come out for it and thus I’d be less inclined to want to “fix it” for publication, even free publication.
From here, we write. Get the ideas out of our head, and just free up space for the projects to come. It’s not perfect, and sometimes the flash pieces end up bigger than I mean for them to, but that’s okay. Just don’t get too attached that you lose sight of the main project. Recorded in the flash fiction piece, the stories will be waiting for you when they’re ready.
The last bit before we head out. If you’re going to share your flash fiction publicly, edit it. Edit it. Edit it. Edit it. I cannot stress this enough. This is you attempting to share your work and even though it’s less than a few thousand words, it still represents you. Clean it up, run it through a spell check, and read it out loud to make sure it sounds sane. And if your work is inspired by someone else’s hard work, link them, thank them in the post, whatever. Send traffic their way to so they get more eyes on their work and maybe tip their Patreon or store. Look, they helped inspire you to write something that might draw people in. Least you can do it pay it forward.
Finally, if all has gone as planned, here’s the three flash pieces I wrote from today’s examples.