Writing in Short: Constraints and Creativity

A few years ago, I gave this Ignite talk at the NCTE conference, and I was reminded of it again this week as some friends — Anna, and Sheri, and Wendy, among others — are using a 15o word limit as an inspiration to write regularly.

I loved Sheri’s video piece that she added with her writing, as a counterbalance to limits:

And how Wendy played with the word count and also worked against the restraints. She wrote:

Do hand gestures count?


Over in Mastodon, I have written regularly (although, ironically, I am taking a bit of break with the new year) with #smallstories — short narratives that fit within the Mastodon character limit — and #smallpoems –short verse of poetry. Making comics is another way this constraint for creativity comes into play. Flash fiction, six word memoirs and other formats also surface this writing world.

What I have noticed with stories and poems over at Mastodon  is how revision is key. I’ll often write a SmallStory way too long and then have to reconsider every word, every phrase, every nuance of meaning. Revision and editing last longer than the writing, most days. I don’t run into that so much with SmallPoems. However, I am attuned to keeping things focused — of finding the kernel and not surrounding it with too much fluff — and therefore, packing meaning into as little a space as possible.

In some ways, this way of thinking goes against Anna’s original call for writing 150 words each day — she saw 150 words as a safe way to encourage people to write who had stopped writing regularly. She writes:

… if I have friends willing to lock proverbial arms with me for the next few days, knocking out 150 a day just might be enough of a chest compression to get some blood flowing in this site again.

But in either case, finding ways to think deeply about writing is a good thing, whether digital on screens or analog with paper. And writing together is always a good idea.

Peace (thinking small),

PS — this all reminds me of a book review I did some times back about Roy Peter Clark’s How to Write Short (Word Craft for Fast Times)

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