FBCW blog editor Cynthia Sharp recently spoke with our flash prose contest judge Jane Munro about her take on the craft of writing. These are some of her generous insights:
Cynthia: You’ve studied a variety of literary genres with your MFA in Creative Writing, MA in English and doctorate in Adult Education and gone on to publish many books and become a Griffin Prize winner. Could you tell us about your writing and editing process?
Jane: It’s slow, and – at best – surprising. I listen. Write down words as they come. Feel my way step by step: follow that thread through a labyrinth. Later – when I’ve forgotten what I wrote – I‘ll read it over. Tag what I like. Add bits, go further, explore, meet what’s hidden, recognize its structure, play. Eventually, when I’ve got something to print out, I’ll walk around the room and read it aloud. Finger hot spots: think. Finish it.
Ideally, I’ll then set it aside and work on something else. Often, when I come back to it, I’ll see what I hadn’t seen earlier.
I do keep drafts. Once in a while, the piece will be best as it came first. Typically, I’ll find I’ve gone too far. Reading it aloud tells me a lot.
And then, there may be someone else’s response. It’s great to have a trustworthy reader who will raise questions and concerns. Are they valid? When I understand them, do I share them? Can I resolve them? Do the changes strengthen the work?
Yes, sometimes it happens quickly. But when that gift arrives, I may later notice how it drew on years – decades even – of reading, reflection, and writing. Learning. It might have started with a dream. I like to note dreams. Doing this connects me with parts of my mind that are less conscious. And, maybe, with imagery we share.
Cynthia: You write in both long and short forms. Is the process different when there is a tight word limit? How do you polish a short piece?
Jane: Even with long forms, each word needs to be essential. A tight word limit helps me focus. It’s a figuring out process. I’ll start long and pare down as I clarify the telling gesture. Or, gestures. What’s enough? What fits and works?
Cynthia: What advice has inspired you as a writer?
Jane: My grandfather – who was a painter, not a writer – used to say, “Art is suggestion; art is not representation.” I think this is true for writing, too. I’ve found it useful advice, especially for flash prose.
Cynthia: What do you look for when reading literature and what specifically grabs your attention in flash prose and other short genres?
Jane: It’s not always the same thing: insight – freshness – revelation of character – wit – swift depiction of a conflict – resonant language – a story’s power as a change agent. However it does it, I’m looking for flash prose that will stay with me, that I’ll enjoy. Want to read aloud. Share with someone.
Cynthia: What role does structure play in flash prose, in your view?
Jane: I think of literature as architecture for imagination. So, structure is crucial. Flash prose creates a space for someone else to furnish. Dwell in.
What’s more, structure gives the writer’s imagination something to push against.
I knew an artist who made amazing weavings – huge, sculptural, striking. His rule was that he could not sew anything together. The entire piece had to be woven on a loom. Without that rule, he said, there were too many possibilities. Within its boundaries, his imagination could go wild.
Cynthia: Do you have any helpful tips for our members and readers entering the flash prose contest?
Jane: Trust yourself. Dance as if nobody’s looking. Then, make sure everything – each word, punctuation mark, decision you’ve made – fits and works.
Remember to get your flash prose story in by October 1st, 650 words or under, $15 per entry, $10 for FBCW members. First prize is $350 and publication in Wordworks. https://fbcw.submittable.com/submit/120610/2018-flash-prose-contest