Write Short

flashfictionlogoMy pal (and former editor) Andy Meisenheimer did me a huge favor and he doesn’t even know it. At the tail end of my first writing “career,” Andy started Story Praxis. He would provide a daily prompt and encourage writers to bang out ten minutes (or so) of prose. It was a way to keep in shape, so to speak, like a ten-to-fifteen minute workout. I dutifully complied and ended up with piles of really short “stories.”

I recently reviewed some of these morsels and found quite a few worth salvaging.

Writing short forces you to learn to say a lot with a little. And since most writers (me included) tend to say very little with quite a lot, forcing oneself to write really short stories and essays could just prove to be an invaluable skill. Like everything else, it takes practice. My first few forays into micro stories came out stilted and riddled with melodramatic sentence fragments. Now they read a bit more like stories. The best news? Every single time I write short, my facility with longer forms improves. This never, ever fails.

I routinely write/submit tiny stories (from seven words to 140 characters to exactly 100 words). This discipline sharpens my ability to choose “just the right word” or phrase “in the moment” while composing longer forms. This may not make me a better writer. But it certainly makes me a more confident one. Or maybe it’s a placebo? I’m good either way because it still works.

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PS: Andy did a lot of things to help my writing. If you find yourself in need of professional editing, you might want to look him up. (Not to mention, he’s now a New York editor!)

Mower

(This is an interesting piece I recently found. Apparently, I had some kind of love/hate thing going on with a former lawnmower).

My lawnmower hates me. And who could blame it? I don’t simply mistreat the miserable machine; I abuse it. I routinely ask it to do things it was not designed to do, then forcibly push it into precarious circumstances, well beyond both its capabilities and its horsepower. When it coughs and sputters under my grip, I tip the front wheels off the ground and allow it to momentarily catch its mechanical breath. Then I drop the wheels and watch it choke on dust and weeds and overly long grass.

Not long ago, I bought a riding mower and parked it next to the beleaguered walk-behind. I change the oil and filters and sparkplugs in the big machine. All I do for the little guy is fill it with gas, but even that’s begrudging. Sometimes I whisper small reminders that maybe it ought to be a little more grateful, that before the big rider came along, I used to bounce its rickety wheels across an entire acre of uneven field, usually once a week.

Regardless, my mower keeps on taking my abuse, then coming back for more. In one rather extreme act of defiance, it refused to shut off after I let go of the safety handle. Nowadays, when I want to kill the motor, I have to reach dangerously close to the little engine-that-obviously-can and manually close the throttle. Sometimes, it burns my fingers a little.

On our last outing, as I alternated between banging its already-dented frame into a fencepost and force-feeding it a row of small trees, it flung off its own floppy discharge guard. My mower gaped up at me, grinning. Then it proceeded to spray fresh mulch all over my face and clothing until I wired its mouth shut with a metal coil and a rusty bolt. I may have had the last word, but that round clearly went to the mower.

We’ve been together about four years now. And if I have anything to do with it, we’ll be together for many more to come.

No matter how much my lawnmower hates me, I will not reciprocate. It’s hard not to respect its sheer willpower, its tenacity, its threshold for pain and exploitation. I’ll admit my feelings for my little green mower veer toward the erratic. We got along famously when I brought it home and we shared our inaugural stroll. But over time, I grew to resent not just the machine, but what it represented as well—hot afternoons, buckets of sweat, soreness and blisters, ruined sneakers. Resentment eventually morphed into respect, and respect into an odd form of adoration. Recently, in a moment of weakness, I almost drained its black, chunky oil and replaced it with new. I considered tightening bolts, sharpening its blade, and swapping out filters and plugs and whatnot. But that sort of coddling would no doubt alter the crude balance we’ve been able to maintain these many summers.

Besides, for some strange reason it feels so good to love something that so thoroughly despises me.

Writing Again

I got the itch again. So I started getting up early again to poke around on my trusty Mac and see if writing might still be fun. Turns out, it kinda is. The plan is to write every day because that’s where the good stuff starts to accumulate. But I have a job that I really like and a family that I like even better…so we’ll see how it goes.

I did have a couple of flash pieces accepted (click the Stories tab for more info) and The First Line is publishing a short story of mine called Eye Of The Beholder in their forthcoming issue. I’m pretty excited about that. As well, I have have several dozen other pieces out in circulation. So I might have the privilege of updating the Stories tab again soon. If not, no worries. I learned a long time ago that the actual writing is the best part. So I can keep doing that whether anyone else wants to read along or not (although I hope a few people do…)