Flash fiction and the FlashNano 2020

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November is (inter)National Novel Writing Month – (i)NaNoWriMo. It’s also the month of FlashNano.

My problems with NaNoWriMo

The idea with NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word draft of a novel in the space of November. All around the world there are people registered to participate. Clubs, on-line pep groups and collective write-ins are set up to help participating writers along. (Though perhaps not so many in-person meetings just this year.) It’s a social event for isolated writers. Or it can be. Or so I hear.

Ever since I learned about it, perhaps 15 years ago, I’ve tried a few times to join in. I’ve always been defeated. Largely that’s down to me. November is my bad month, when the northern dark closes in. For years I’ve been unable to get up enthusiasm for anything much in November, and always risked sliding into a depression over my failures.

But things have been changing lately. I’ve been much brighter and more enthusiastic. I’ve found a writers group to work with, and I thought, maybe this year?

In the teeth of distraction

During 2020, in the teeth of all distractions, I’ve been trying to build up my motivation and self-discipline to write on a daily basis. It’s been a bit patchy. Some weeks I’ve managed to write on four or five days, some I’ve only managed one or two days. A few weeks have been dry seven days of seven. Nevertheless, I’ve so far written many more words on average than I’ve usually achieved by this point.

It seemed to me that NaNoWriMo might be a good excuse to really pull out the stops and get myself to write daily. End the year on a high note. But I was still wary of pitching in with a novel. Fifty thousand words felt like an awfully big commitment. The memory of those earlier failed attempts still lingers.

I heard about the FlashNano fiction challenge from one of my new writers group colleagues. She follows it annually. So I asked for and received the links, and I looked it over.

FlashNano 2020

Nancy Stohlman has been running the FlashNano as a sideshow to NaNoWriMo for nine years now. Each day in November she posts a new prompt on her website. She also sends it out to anyone signed up to her e-mail list. And then, you’re off.

You can share your efforts on Nancy’s dedicated Facebook page, or publish elsewhere. Personally I chose to treat the whole exercise as a private study and not to share.(Well, except for one.)

For the uninitiated (which included me until recently) flash fiction is a category of short story that includes anything written in less than about a thousand words. When I first heard about flash fiction, I had the idea that “flash” must refer to the speed of writing. I was corrected by a young enthusiast at the Stockholm Writers Festival in 2018. He insisted that “flash” meant simply that the stories were very short and easy to read.

I wasn’t so sure about that. The good flash stories I came across that were identified as such, seemed rather dense and not necessarily quick reads.


I felt a certain vindication, reading Nancy’s book on the subject (Going Short), where she advocates writing flash fiction drafts against the clock. This year, as part of my efforts to write more, I’ve been practicing writing sprints. The time on my clock is usually 20 minutes, and I’ve continued with that during November. Ten minutes seems just a bit too short for me.

In fact what I’ve been doing is exactly the same as the writing sprints I described earlier this year. I sit down with a pad of paper, a pen and a prompt, I set the clock for 20 minutes, I write. When the alarm goes off, I take what I’ve written, sit at my computer and dictate my text using voice recognition software, revising as I go. The whole process, from the start of writing to closing the digital document, rarely takes more than about an hour and a half.

In this way I have written short fictions (and one or two memoirs) on almost every day in November, and on all of Nancy’s FlashNano prompts but one. There was one day when the prompt completely failed to give me anything. But only one day. (Day 26, and I’ve tucked that prompt away to come back to it later.) Some days, when I have missed writing the day before, I’ve managed two flashes. Mostly, if I’ve missed a day, I’ve written out of step with the new prompts. Just an hour ago, as I write this on 2nd December, I completed my final flash in response to the 30th November prompt.

Looking back

Excepting the 17th November one (the one I turned into a blog post), I’ve not yet looked back on any of November’s flash fiction pieces.

My plan now is to print out all of my FlashNano stories and review them. Even as I was writing I could feel that some, at least, would benefit from editing and a re-write. Or even a re-conceptualisation. I want to see if they still inspire me, if I can rework them into stories worth sharing. And if so, maybe I’ll submit them somewhere, or publish them here during 2021.

But whether I do that or not, the very fact of having gone through the whole of November writing on (almost) every day, is a great fillip. I can do it. I’ve done it. I can do it again.

Flash Fiction: Thanks for the original photo to Eric Teske (CC BY-NC 3.0)
Flash Fiction: Thanks for the original photo to Eric Teske (CC BY-NC 3.0)

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