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Tell Your Own Story

Flash Memoir: Writing Prompts to Get You Flashing by Jane Hertenstein

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Article by Jane Hertenstein ©.
Posted in the Magazine (Tell Your Own Story: , ).
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My writing was languishing. After a number of brilliant early successes, I suddenly found myself remaindered. Hot dogs seemed to have a longer shelf life than the novel I had just slaved over for five years. I couldn’t face another long slog. Let alone the money—the deal I got was negligible. Smaller than the poo I scooped up on the sidewalk after the dog.

Back to the beginning.

I’d sit in front of the keyboard and daydream, or play Solitaire, my latest obsession. I needed some positive reinforcement and fast. But what did I know outside of my own existence. With that, I hit upon the idea of memoir, or at least using autobiographical details to enhance my fiction. I was also at the same time experimenting with flash.

Word counts vary, but generally flash is thought to be 1,000 words or less. Some journals in their submission guidelines can be very specific. Smokelong for instance asks for flash that can easily be consumed in the amount of time it takes to finish a cigarette. One journal may want 66 words while another request only 6, just read guidelines carefully. Flash as a form can be applied to almost any genre. There are flash mysteries. Postcard flash might only be about travel—you are limited to the amount of space typically taken up by the back of a postcard. For example flash foodies write very small about . . . FOOD.

I quickly typed up a flash inspired simply by a friend who likes to keep her cell phone handy, as in tucked inside her bra. My brain flashed back to my grandmother. Thus, I wrote “Granny’s Pockets.” After lunch I came back and edited it down to 100 words and submitted it to Friday Flash Fiction, where it was accepted and posted by the end of the afternoon.

Well, that was instant gratification!

At my blog Memoirous, which I use as a platform to publicize my writing (and maybe to clear my head of political cobwebs), I started a column called Hot Flash, hoping to spark memories with my readers/writers. After compiling the best of these, I am launching an eBook, Flash Memoir: Writing Prompts to Get You Flashing (available shamelessly EVERYWHERE!).

Sometimes all it takes is a nudge to get the engine of memory to turn over. Once started memories, whether invited or not, continue to roll over us. What one needs to do is create a habit of acting upon these flashes by quickly jotting them down before they disappear. Using a process I call Write Right Now, I encourage readers to do just this: build a portfolio of small flash memories that will eventually be expanded upon or become the foundation for a scene. Memories are the building blocks to most everything we write.

For some of us sitting down to transcribe or pen a memoir can be an overwhelming task. I recommend approaching it in bite-size pieces or rather applying flash. By freeze framing a moment, a memory, like a camera snapshot, and dwelling there you are creating the foundation for longer memoir, a jumping off place to expand upon later. (see my other eBook, Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Memoir).

The nice thing about flash is that it can be unresolved. There often isn’t enough space/word count to fully explore the memory. And, like so many of our memories, there is an undercurrent of lose threads, fuzzy blurred beginnings and endings with little or no significance. They simply are.

So set yourself the task to sit down and set down these memories. Perhaps, begin with a prompts from my book, Flash Memoir: Writing Prompts  to Get You Flashing. Taste is a huge trigger—recall Proust in In Search of Lost Time or also known as Remembrance of Things Past where he writes about involuntary memory instigated by a simple cookie. Dunking a tea biscuit can easily lead one on a journey into the past. Some call this nostalgia or déjà vu. Think about some unforgettable taste that still lingers in your mouth. I once wrote about my mother’s fruitcake, archival and unforgettable, also useful as a door stopper. Write right now.

(c) Jane Hertenstein

About Flash Memoir:

We begin with a sudden memory, follow it to see where it leads. Yet so many of us tend to ignore these flashes. We think later yet later on we might have forgotten or lost the relevance of the moment, the urgency that led us there. I recommend a process I call write right now. In the amount of time it takes you to brush your teeth, you can jot down the memory and an outline which can be filled in later. The prompts in this book are designed to spur memories, to get you writing. I’ll also direct you to resources, authors to read and study, and places to submit. A number of the flash prompts included in this eBook were harvested from my blog: http://memoirouswrite.blogspot.com/

Order your copy online here.

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Jane Hertenstein is the author of over 90 published stories, a combination of fiction, creative non-fiction, and blurred genre both micro and macro. In addition she has published a YA novel, Beyond Paradise and a non-fiction project, Orphan Girl: The Memoir of a Chicago Bag Lady, which garnered national reviews. Jane is the recipient of a grant from the Illinois Arts Council. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Hunger Mountain, Rosebud, Word Riot, Flashquake, Fiction Fix, Frostwriting, and several themed anthologies. She can also be found at http://memoirouswrite.blogspot.com/ where she gets 10,000 hits a month