Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Witnessing magic at a flash fiction writing workshop

This past Saturday morning I participated in a creative writing workshop.

It was my first ever.

As you know, I only ever write non-fiction here on the blog (and elsewhere online). Actually, now that I come to think of it, I probably hadn't even written fiction since elementary or middle school.

Seeing this as an awesome opportunity to try something new and stretch my creativity (and comfort), I gladly signed up.

After a partner introduction warm-up activity, we then used these neat "story cubes" to make a ridiculous chain story, one sentence at a time until we'd gone all the way around the table.

Next up was the main event: flash fiction. (Side note: I'd actually only heard of flash fiction before because of this lovely post of ways to get in French reading practice without cracking open a book (#3). Flash fiction is a great idea for reading and writing practice in any language!) After learning a little bit about it and hearing two published flash fiction pieces read aloud, it was our turn to write. Everyone wrote one word on a slip of paper, put them in the middle, and then drew a word that would spark your story. I put the word "flood" into the pile, and ended up drawing the word "escape." (Not a bad prompt to get, eh?)

Then we had ten minutes to write a piece of flash fiction, right then and there. When the time was up, everyone went around and read what they'd written. I was so impressed by what others had come up with in such a short time! They were all so, well, creative! We could pass if we wanted to, by the way, but everyone had shared their flash fiction aloud that first time around, and I was the final one to go, so I just read it. It wasn't anything I would have volunteered to read aloud—but who cares?

Then we took a quick break, during which we were asked to walk around the cafe and find something that catches our eye—a color, an object, anything. That would be the prompt of our next piece of flash fiction, which we then wrote in 10 minutes and shared with everyone just as before. (What caught my eye was a wooden newspaper rack hanging on the wall. It reminded me of the newspaper racks at our public library as a child, back when books still had index cards for stamping the due date.)

Since it's not often that I put myself in these sorts of timed "forced creativity" situations (um, close to never?), it definitely felt new and challenging—which is completely expected. It follows naturally, then, that I wasn't really pleased or proud of the quality of any of my creations that day (The first line of my "escape" piece was the ever so original "Time was running out," just to give you a sample)—but that's also totally normal and wonderful! I'm pleased and proud that I created.

And it's thanks to a growth mindset (shoutout to Dr. Carol Dweck) that I could see it this way. The point wasn't to write something amazing; it was to challenge yourself to be creative, and to learn from everyone else's creations. You're creative—everyone is—but I think it's kind of like a muscle in that it gets stronger the more you use it.

Both of my flash fiction pieces had elements to them that I'd borrowed straight from my life, which is probably because that was the quickest way I could come up with ideas on Saturday. One was really blatant: I used Damien's grandpa's dog in my second story—from his failing health, down to the dog's real name (Jimmy). It takes practice to widen your thinking into imaginative realms, so now I have a base line I can measure from to see how it changes over time.

My other big takeaway from the experience is that it had been so refreshing and delightful to witness these interesting short pieces from my fellow writers—which were substantially something—created from nothing. It was honestly almost magical, which, if someone had told me that beforehand, I probably would have winced at the mushiness of the thought. But having experienced it, that's the best way I'm finding to describe it.

I was thinking about all of this while waiting for my tram afterwards—that creation of this sort is so unique. For example, had I gone home a half hour earlier on Friday night, I'm 100% certain I would have written entirely different flash fiction pieces on Saturday. Perhaps I'd have sat somewhere different and grabbed a different prompt. Or even if I'd had the exact same prompts, I think the different state of my mind would have pulled different words out of it.

Kind of like how if I'd written this very post yesterday or tomorrow, it would not look like what you've just read today.

So flash fiction, songs, poems, paintings, books, and any other human creations? They are treasures which could have easily never been brought into existence.
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