I’m Supposed to Be Writing a Flash Essay . . .

Sloth is outpacing me today.

. . . but instead, I’m blogging about having a difficult time writing the flash essay. Probably because it’s about a moment in my life that has a lot of meaning and emotions attached to it. (I’ve already tried writing about this event as a long essay, and I have several versions of it in notebooks and computer files. But none of that was working either.)

Writing about something that is very near to me can be tricky. I want to capture the feeling of the moment without sounding trite or whiney. I want to express its importance in a way that gives it respect, but also in a way that says what I want it to say. And that’s the hard part. I can hear the words and emotions in my head, but when I try to put them on paper, they don’t always come out in a way that is even close to what I want to say.

So, I’ve been experimenting. I’ve started the flash essay at different points in time, and I’ve tried different tenses. There is less wiggle room with point of view. Most essays I write are in first-person. I’ve used second-person a few times when the essay is very brief, but only after I couldn’t make the essay work in first-person. Using the second-person point of view seems to give me permission to put a bit of distance between me and the raw emotion that is hampering my writing. But sometimes second-person doesn’t work either. How do I know these other attempts aren’t working? Because when I try them, they are clumsy, tripping over their own words, then falling flat upon the page.

On rare occasions, I take a third approach. I turn my essay into flash fiction or a short story. A couple of months ago, I worked on an essay but couldn’t make it work. I wrote and rewrote, trying different tenses and points of view, different starting points, more dialogue, less dialogue, more backstory, less backstory, more showing, less showing. I ruled out trying a second-person point of view because I knew that wouldn’t work. I was frustrated, feeling like a failure. Why couldn’t I write my personal essay? I gave up, and put it away. A few days later, I returned to it and wrote it as a short story in third-person point of view.

And ZING, it worked. Writing it as fiction allowed me to step away from the story that I couldn’t tell as nonfiction. I let my characters’ conversations, thoughts, and actions tell the story, and they were able to convey the emotional richness that I couldn’t capture in an essay. I also manipulated the timeline and tossed in some fictional details, none of which changed the emotional truth of the story, but rather made the story flow better as fiction. I wish I could write the flash essay as a flash fiction story, but I remember the submission guidelines as asking for nonfiction flash essays or poems. And I’m no poet.

I’m back. You didn’t know I was gone, but after I wrote the previous paragraph, I decided to take a shower, which is another way I try to solve writing dilemmas. And while in the shower, I kept wishing the publication took flash fiction along with flash essays and poems. The hot water smacking me in the head must have thawed something in my memory because suddenly, I thought I’d remembered reading that the publication took fiction too. But that was a few years ago when I submitted my first flash essay to them. This time I hadn’t actually read the submission details beyond the word count and the topic, because having submitted nonfiction flash to them twice before, that’s what stuck in my mind. As soon as I got out of the shower, I checked and, sure enough, they accept flash fiction too!

So, today, I’m going to try writing my essay as fiction. I can fiddle with timelines and factual details to give it the shape of a story. And I hope by letting the characters have the spotlight, I’m able to capture the emotional truth of the story, telling it in a way that will say what I want it to say.

The shower is such a good place to think.

I’m going to walk the dogs now and ruminate about my flash fiction story before I start writing it.

6 thoughts on “I’m Supposed to Be Writing a Flash Essay . . .

  1. The dilemma of choice. I have found out that turning fact that is raw and close, can and does work better as fiction. It allows the space needed and I felt not so trapped, or anxious as how to write it. This post if perfectly encouraging.

    Liked by 1 person

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