How I Got My Writing Groove Back with Flash Fiction Short Stories

Since I have dedicated most of my writing to nonfiction over the last several years, going back to fiction has been a bit of a challenge for me. I love fiction! After all, I’ve been writing it since I was a young child. I even won a school contest in sixth grade, and I’ve been reading fiction forever. So why did I stop writing and reading it for the past five or six years? I really can’t answer that except maybe I wasn’t challenged.

I am glad to say that my interest in fiction is back, thanks to NPR. NPR ran an article about two years ago on Robert Smartwood’s Hint Fiction – fiction which is written in 25 words or less. Now I am transfixed on very short, short fiction and entering contests.

I entered my very first flash fiction contest from Smokelong Quarterly in which each submission had to be exactly 30 words – no more, no less. I was rejected, but it was another step in my groove. Almost two years later I realize that these could be the beginning of some of my screenwriting ideas.

These were my submissions:

A Haunting Moment
Your cornflower blue eyes told me that the prospect was irreversible. And as you left the area under the exit sign, the doctor emerged from the operating room, looking down.

Four Walls
Been dreamin’ alot lately. Doesn’t make sense – cowbells, clocks, neon lights, numbers. Reach for the pills, swallow down with whiskey. These walls are getting lonely. My pistol stares at me.

Whose hair is that all over his bathroom floor, I wondered. It is dark, not red like mine. This will give me the perfect excuse to take that trip after all.

Entering Contests is Like Ordering Pizza

I’ve been entering contests throughout my life. I’ve entered many different types of contests and won cash prizes, trips, and “woohoo” recognition. The earliest I won was a Halloween costume contest. I was five years old, dressed as a clown – competing mostly among adults – in a burger joint. I won twenty silver dollars for that gig.

The next contests I recall entering were spelling bees. I won top one and two for my fifth and sixth grade classes, but I never won past that. I don’t think it bothered me that I lost, because I always knew I had tough competition against those that were better than me. My prize? A “woohoo” and a pat on the back. Not too bad.

I remember winning first place in my elementary school’s story writing competition, but I can’t tell you what year it was or what the story entailed. Another “woohoo”. (I did, however, contact the school a few years ago to find out if they’d kept copies. Unfortunately, they did not.)

As I became older, I don’t know if I was more competitive or more insecure about entering contests. All I know is that I just wanted to be “picked” – and once I got picked, I wanted to be number one. But that changed once I got on the other side of judging – and this is where I learned that contests are not always what they’re cracked up to be.

If you enter a contest that requires a part of you – a literary work, a piece of music, a piece of art, etc. – in order to survive the rejections and critiques, you must go in with this in mind:

Your work is an item on a menu – one is better than the other – only to select people. The restaurant is the audience – or the venue – in which you’ve entered the contest. You want pizza with everything on it, our friends don’t want sausage, our kids only want pepperoni, their kids only want cheese, and I don’t want pizza at all because I’m craving shrimp francese.

It’s what the people want, what the people crave or understand. Since preferences are a matter of choice among the hungry people at that particular moment at that particular restaurant, so I have learned to take criticism with humility. After all, it’s only someone else’s opinion.