Why I Write Flash Fiction — A Musing in which I Fan-girl on Meg Pokrass

I was asked to write a craft essay for the forthcoming edition of Best Microfiction — a first for me, and a huge honor. It got me thinking about how I started writing flash fiction, and why I love the genre so much.

To give a simple answer: Meg Pokrass got me started writing flash fiction. Meg, and the community she created.

If you haven’t already discovered Meg Pokrass, remedy that immediately. Any of her books will do, they will all leave you gasping for breath. I don’t know anyone who writes quite like Meg. She’ll break your heart and you’ll laugh while it’s happening. No one gets the beginning of how things end the way Meg does. She can tell a story set in the past, or one set right now, and it all feels like something you’ve remembered, or something you’ve only just now understood though it was there all the time. Every single thing in a Meg Pokrass story means something, but her stories are never weighed down, they are never pompous.

I found Meg on Facebook when social media was still fairly new. I don’t remember exactly how. Meg posted prompt words nearly every day. And a large community of writers used them and posted their drafts there. So I started to do it, too.

Meg’s instructions were to use all the words — usually 8-10 of them — in a story written in about 20 minutes of continuous writing. In other words, a timed freewrite.

I confess at first I thought these freewrites were merely writing exercises, something you did on your way to whatever it was you were really going to do. But then I started hearing this term “flash fiction.” And I noticed how the other stories from the prompts were put together, how they worked as full stories and packed an outsized punch.

Meg’s first book, Damn Sure Right, was still new. I bought it — and the sun shone through the clouds, and birds sang, and rainbows arced, and brooks babbled merrily. I got it all at once, what flash fiction was about, what it could do, why it is so powerful. An epiphany, if you will…

It wasn’t just reading Meg’s work, though. It was reading everyone else’s stories on the page, too, watching how they used language, developed characters, moved the narrative — all in less than 1,000 words. What’s more, these accomplished and well-published writers offered kind feedback on each other’s stories — and on mine too!

From the comments made on my stories — or not made — I began to understand where I’d been successful and where I still needed to work. Meg herself was always encouraging. Others in the community — Charles Rammelkamp, the late and much-missed David James, James Claffey, Morgana McLeod, Francine Witte, Frances Leibowitz, Michael Dwayne Smith, Sherrie Flick, Rosemary Tantra Bensko, so many others — were kind to newbie me. Sometimes they saw a gold nugget in a story I thought was a throw-away. Occasionally, someone would suggest an edit, and as I tried out the suggestions, I began to understand how to craft my work.

One of my favorite things in reading the other stories was seeing how everyone else used the prompt words. Sometimes several writers would use several of the words the same way, sometimes even in the same word order. Other times, someone would bend a word in a way I didn’t know it could be bent! Meg in particular is a master of this, with a James Joyce-level of attention to details and bits of truth that are simple on the surface, but weighty as an iceberg with lurking (and often devastating) meaning.

I’ve kept most of my freewrites from then, dating back all the way to 2012. Some of them are embarrassing! I’d write with mad passion, deeply personal but without much relevance for anyone else — like writing a diary entry — and call it a story. That kind of confessional writing was good for me, cringy though it is for me now. It was instrumental in teaching me to shut down that inner critic, to write now and edit later and to get out of my own way.

From that freewrite community, I learned to play with language and to allow even delicate words to do some heavy-lifting. I learned to write myself out of a hole, to take sharp turns when necessary, and to finish the story, not just let it trail off into mist. That it’s okay to throw away whole paragraphs, to begin the story at the end, to admit that this one just isn’t going to work. To write every day or at least regularly — and to expect some days to deliver sluggish and uninspired work. And that it’s important to share your work, and to get feedback on it, to have a writing community.

I’ve since taken plenty of flash fiction workshops: with Meg, Kathy Fish, Nancy Stohlman, Lorette Luzajic, others. I’ve learned something profound in every one, whether it’s a new approach to pulling a story out of the air, or an editing methodology for an unruly story that maybe has something to offer.

I’ll always write flash. I love the immediacy, the spontaneity, the unpredictability, the challenge. I’m writing some longer works now, including proper short stories. I’ve got a novella-in-flash going, a hybrid collection, and a horror novel. Flash is where I found my voice, though, and it’s the well-spring that will always refresh.


  1. What a nice article to read! Whilst I’m pretty new to flash fiction, I agree it’s an amaing genre, you can fit so much in so little words. I’ll have to check out this Meg girl’s stuff too. Appreciate the post!

    1. Meg Pokrass is my favorite flash writer. Her latest, Kissing the Monster Hunter, uses the Loch Ness monster as a theme, but she takes that so many different places. She’s amazing, she really is.

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