Writing a flash essay is like surgery

Writing micro-nonfiction is no simple task. Our expectation is that each piece submitted will have all the elements of good writing: a clear focus free of tangents and word salads, proper grammar and punctuation, and a central conflict that keeps us interested from beginning to end. In addition, we ask you to submit your very best work in less than 600 words. No one likes to see their phrases on the cutting room floor, and the editorial team here is well acquainted with that feeling of dread that can sometimes accompany the revision process.

We’ve told you time and again to keep paring down, keep whittling away until what you’re left with is something that is nothing but the essentials. Lose the flowery prose, get rid of those extraneous adjectives, cut, cut, cut mercilessly all of those words and phrases that don’t complement and enhance your so what. But what happens when you cut too deeply?

Whoops, my scalpel slipped

Sometimes, we revise and edit so much that we cause irreparable nerve damage to our intent. Because of the transient nature of blogging and blog-readers, we must take great care to let each and every post stand on its own, without the assistance of prior knowledge. This is true for any short-form essay, really. Every piece you write should be written in a way that a brand new reader can pick it up and understand it. Each work on its own should form it’s own complete story, free of oh-you-had-to-be-there and don’t-you-remember-when moments. Assume everyone reading wasn’t there. Assume no one remembers. It’s a tricky line to walk, to be sure. You need to give enough context clues so your new readers can tell you’re talking about your cat and not your kid without boring your loyal readers to death with weekly re-introductions. 

So what’s a writer to do?

Edit your work carefully. Read it aloud before you publish. Have a friend take a look to make sure you’ve closed all of your loops and your references to others and past events are clear. It takes extra work, but no one ever said writing was easy.

One final word of caution: be careful with links to previous posts. It’s so easy to throw a link up and send your reader to the back story. It’s a useful tool and used sparingly, it can guide the reader through a complex topic that you wish to revisit. But what it can also do is pull a reader out of the momentum while they fumble through trying to catch up. The last thing you want is for your story to lose its punch because your reader is overwhelmed by back links. 

How do you deal with telling larger stories in the micro-essay arena? What do you think about back links? Join the conversation in comments, after you submit this week’s post, of course.

Odds, ends, reminders

  • The badge you will need to add to your planned submission is over in the sidebar
  • This immediate past Sunday is the earliest your submission can be dated
  • Your post can be no longer than 600 words
  • Personal essays or traditional blog anecdotes only
  • There are no weekly prompts; the topic is yours. Be compelling
  • The grid is open from Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. to Wednesday at 11:59 p.m.
  • There is voting. Voting will take place Thursday from midnight to 10:00 p.m. US eastern
  • The challenge grid is limited to 50 bloggers
  • The winners’ post will be published by noon on Friday
  • No self-promotional posts are allowed on the yeah write grid, including those containing links to other blog events and Internet contests

Yeah write #143 is open…


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