Gimbling in the Wabe – The Short and the Shorter of It

by Sharon Browning

I’ve come to know of an organization called Revolver.  On its Facebook “About” page, it says crystals“Revolver is an arts and cultural magazine based in Minneapolis. We aim to publish writing that is concrete and resonant.”  I like that.

It’s more than just an online magazine, though.  It sponsors live events, as well.  I first came to know of it when an author I admire (Sarah Stonich, author of Vacationland) participated in “Revolver at the Ritz:  12 Experiments”.  The event promised some rather enticing things:

We’ve got poets wrestling. Science-y people talking about the science-y aspects of decidedly non-science-y things. Impromptu essays + the Nature of the Internet. Confetti guns.”

Confetti guns?  Who doesn’t like confetti guns, fer cryin’ out loud!

The experiments would only last 10 minutes each.  They had names such as “The Disrupted Reading” and “I’m Tired.  You Write the Lyrics.”  I knew of a few of the authors who were going to be involved; not only Ms. Stonich, but Sarah Fox and Heid Erdrich, as well.  My interest was piqued.

I didn’t go.  I rarely go to events, just because, well… just because of a bunch of irrelevant and somewhat embarrassing reasons.  But I heard snippets about it afterwards, and it seemed like it had been great fun.  Ms. Stonich was part of Experiment 8, which was written up as such:

EXP 8. Marty Kihn pitches “Dracula” to Chris Fischbach (Coffee House Press), Katie Dublinski (Graywolf), and Anitra Budd (Coffee House Press)—without using any of the words on the screen (which included beast, monster, supernatural, Transylvania, vampire, among others – SB). His competitor, Sarah Stonich, took the competition with her amazing pitch for “Cat in The Hat,” which L’etoile summed up as “a disturbing tale of child neglect and animal abuse with the protagonist as a ruthless door-to-door salesman/possible kidnapper.” We gave her a bottle of Hendrik’s.

Now, doesn’t that sound like great fun?

Currently, Revolver is running an online competition they are calling Write Fight, with daily “bouts” from two head-to-head competitors.  Each bout comes with a different prompt (“My hope chest was filling with beer cans.”, “Don’t worry.  I castrated pigs all last summer.”, I was born in the backstage of a theater during a country gospel show.”, etc.) and each author is given one hour to craft a story based on that prompt (which must appear somewhere in the entry).  The stories are then posted online, as is, grammar and usage mistakes and all.  They are fairly short (I mean, c’mon – an hour to write them beginning to end?) and readers vote (just once!) for their favorites.  There is only one day to read and vote, and then a winner is announced the next day.  I’m not sure exactly what happens after the first round winners are all determined, but whatever it will be is attached to a live event to be held on June 14 at a local all-night arts festival (Northern Spark, for those of you in the Minneapolis area).

I’m loving it.  I’ve voted every day, and look for each new day’s bout.  Some of the stories floor me in how good they are.  Some of them are definitely not to my liking, even though I can tell they are well done.  Some of them are just flat out weird.  All are entertaining.

I love this concept.  I love taking writing out of its holier-than-thou sanctuary and making it spontaneous, uproarious and candid.  If I were a writer (I mean, a writer that was sought out for such things), I would love to do something like this.  Love, love, love.

But then, I’ve always loved short, short writing.  Possibly because it’s what I do.  I seem incapable of writing anything good that goes beyond 2,000 words, and I’ve come to terms with that.  (I was told once, when I was despairing of being able to write anything of “substance”, which I came to equate with “worth”, that the pieces I wrote may be short, but they shone, like small, sparkly gems.  After that, I felt much better.)  Some folks write wonderful short stories, novellas, novels, long sweeping essays… not me.  I write snippets.  Bits and bites.  I generally tire out around 1,500 words (which is usually about the length of these Gimblings).  But then, some of us are sprinters and some of us do better at marathons.

One of the most fun things I’ve ever done as a “writer” is participate in a weekly prompt from Velvet Verbosity which the purveyor of the site calls “The 100 Word Challenge“.  Every week, she gives those who wish to participate a single word (along with a blog post musing on that word), and then they write a 100 word entry associated with that word.  The entry has to have 100 words exactly – no more, no less – and although it is not required, the prompt is usually one of those 100 words.  Any format, any topic, any style – but 100 words exactly.  They then post their entry on their respective blogs, and link the blogs on the Velvet Verbosity site.  Readers are encouraged to “blog hop” through the entries, and leave comments.  Every week, Ms. VV highlights one of the entries/blogs from the past week.

I loved participating in this challenge (even though I only did it sporadically, and haven’t done it in a while).  I loved the discipline of the challenge, the inherent structure that felt freeing to me, of being able to work with something so concrete and yet so open.  I often would write something straight from the heart, but then would have to craft and craft and craft to make it fit within the 100 word framework without sacrificing the gist of what I was trying to relate – a perfect exercise for a self-avowed wordsmith.  Here’s one example.  The prompt was “Frightened”:

There’s only been a few times in my life when I’ve been truly whites-of-my-eyes frightened: once when stranded late at night on the London Underground, once when driving during a dangerous ice storm.  Once flying through bad turbulence while watching smoke from raging wildfires darken the sky.

But it’s when I look at my achingly beautiful, emotionally fragile daughter, knowing that someday I will no longer be able to watch over her and keep her safe – that’s when I experience an acidic, gnawing fear, edging on panic, made all the harder because I cannot let it show.  It lingers, hidden.

There were many weeks where the prompt just didn’t speak to me – and I didn’t want writing to be a chore, a banal exercise, so I opted out.  But when I did participate, it was ever so much fun.

I guess the point is that, even if there isn’t a market for short, short writing, it still is valid and of value, if it brings pleasure to writer and reader.  Perhaps it’s ludicrous that I should even feel the need to say this, but I doubt as if I’m the only one who struggles with what can feel like a shortcoming in their writing (get it?  “short”-coming?).  If you’re one of those writers, don’t feel like you’re alone – and don’t accept this as correct.

Actually, it seems like I might be a johnnie-come-lately to this concept of short works being legitimate (which will surprise no one who truly knows me).  I’ve learned just recently that something I’ve heard bandied about but never really looked into – flash fiction – is a term used for literary works that are 1,000 words or less.  There are websites (such as Flash Fiction Daily or Every Day Fiction), genre digests, anthologies, contests, calls for submissions – based solely on the bits and bites that appeal to me.  A whole new freakin’ world to consider!   There are even “microstories” – 500 words or less – something unsurprising in this social media age of online posting and 142 character limits.  Amazing!

Right now, I’m not sure if I’ll pursue flash fiction or microstories as a personal outlet.  I’m presently quite content writing my book reviews here at LitStack, and for putting out a weekly Gimbling in the Wabe (and again, I’m ever so grateful to Tee Tate for giving me such an affirming platform to clamber up on once a week).    But it’s nice to know that these other avenues are out there, in case I want to take the next step in flexing my writerly muscles.

It’s always nice to have something to choose to look forward to – even if it’s small, wouldn’t you agree?  Maybe even specifically when they’re small.  Sometimes it’s the tiny sparkles that most alluringly catch the eye, eh?

Shine on, tiny sets of words.  Shine on.


Related Posts