Updated Daily: Why John Wiswell writes and shares free fiction every day
When Estrella invited me to FFDO, she asked why I wrote new stuff every day. It’s apparently rare for a writer to post fiction that often, though I’ve been doing it for a few years and have seldom found it too hard. I write every day because I have the ideas. Most people have dozens of ideas per day, and shoot most of them down with self-doubt or pessimism. They’re too weird or absurd to write about. That’s what I did until I realized many of the things I enjoyed most were utterly absurd. Some people enjoy a boilerplate romance. I like it when your dead mother starts killing all your boyfriends to protect you from bad choices.
Let’s start with the Greatest Hits of daily writing. Greatest Hits like, “Where do you get your prompts?” I actually don’t use them. I have never needed coaching; historically, when given a prompt, I get anxious to write something else. Most of my stories do actually come from visits to the bathroom, because that’s how regularly I think them up. My mind wanders and makes connections, and it’s my job not to shut it down.
“Why write so much flash fiction?” Because it’s one of the most convenient vessels for ideas. If you’re one of those people who think about fiction a lot, then you know most of the ideas won’t bear out as novels. They don’t need that many words. The more forms you write in, the better you develop that sense of how long an idea you have got.
Brevity is one of the great things about writing so frequently: after dozens and dozens of experiments, you develop a sense for what range an idea is going to fall into. While I’m working on this essay, I have a second text file open for a story about a girl wishing on a shooting star for her father to stop being abusive. The minute it came to me (watching the post-hurricane night sky in Massachusetts), I felt out its wiggly bits and arc, and knew it’d only be a couple hundred words before it delivered its payoff. It was a microfiction idea, which came with a microfiction’s degree of time and emotional investment.
“What if your flash idea goes too long?” Then I’d keep going, or chop it up and expand it to tell it the right way. Saving multiple Word Documents makes experimental drafting easy.
One of the best things about micro- and flash fiction is that they let you explore ideas nimbly. Not just plot ideas, but touchy topics – gender confusion, religious tolerance, political divisions – go by extremely quickly. In a thousand words or less, you know how well you handle that topic in fiction. You know how quickly the urge to preach rises, and how frequently it rises, and if you’re critical, what content is habit and what’s creative. And if your fiction is redundant, or unimaginative, or rushes against strawmen, then your piece isn’t too long to study and edit. It’s improvement in miniature, a testing ground for everything you might do in greater word counts. If you can be heartfelt, fast-paced, clever or insightful in a 400-word story, then you can do it in a chapter of a book.
The two novels I wrote in 2011 and 2012 were highly informed by the daily Bathroom Monologues experiments. It got as fine as figuring out how many lines of dialogue I’d need for it to feel natural while also expositing the information necessary to proceed. Among some Fantasy publishers, the average chapter length is between 500 and 1,500 words. A chapter is very different from flash fiction, but similar in its need to establish, build and pay off. You get better at all three of those things in flash fiction, and in crafting lean novels, you get a lot better at seeing what you have to do to create a complete flash. They’re both valid vessels for expressing yourself, even if “yourself” is that hitman ghost-mom I like so much.
I still fail. I imagine every week at least one person hates at least one of my seven offerings. The “Hated It” button is there for them, though usually they’re too kind (or lurky) to click it. I don’t publish daily to be hated, but it doesn’t seem like a reason to avoid the work. There’s so much more to read and try, all in the effort to learn.
“Why post every day?” I don’t know. Would anybody like me to stop?
~ John Wiswell