I know this post comes a little late, but Happy Lunar New Year, and Happy Year of the Snake! For handy instructions on how to say it in Mandarin (新年快乐), visit my post from last year. According to the Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes, us Snakes are “elegant, and enjoy reading, listening to great music, tasting delicious food, and going to the theatre.” Yup, sounds just like me. Though who doesn’t like all those things?
I pledged that 2013 was the year for some changes, and since it’s also my zodiac animal year, I feel like I’ve got double the incentive to make it something special. It only comes around every 12 years, after all! Remember how one of my resolutions was to finish a piece of writing? Well, I’m happy to announce that I’ve already reached that goal!
I recently was introduced to the world of flash fiction by a friend and I was fascinated by the idea. With FF, you have to write a brief, fully realized piece of fiction under a certain number of words. Most contests usually have limits that range from 300-1000 words. I’m not really into entering contests (yet) but the idea stuck with me and I found myself trying to challenge myself with a 300 word story. Then I realized- I can make this a regular writing exercise! I can work on refining my skills and write tiny short stories!
I adapted some of the rules and created a writing challenge that I’m doing with a couple friends. I’m actually quite excited, because such a short word limit really forces you to consider everything you put into the story. There’s no room for unnecessary fluff, so you as the writer have to think- does this further the plot or make us empathize with the characters? Does it get to the point and then some?
My rules for the flash fiction writing challenge:
- Pick a word limit between 300-1000. Can be as oddly precise as 472.
- Pick a single word that must be used in the story at least once. The story doesn’t necessarily need to be themed around the word.
- Optional for people who really want a challenge: Pick a genre.
Exchange your word + word limit with your writing partner, and write! Getting a random and unique assignment is much more challenging (and hilarious) than just giving it to yourself, because with another person involved, you can’t just give up halfway and say “no, I don’t think I like the word ‘turnip’ or a 400 word limit.” They want a 400 word story with a turnip, and they’re going to get one. I personally don’t like to set deadlines because then that reminds me too much of school. But to each his or her own. I finished my first challenge in two evenings, because I was so excited to write- a feeling I haven’t felt in a long time. It really helped fire up those creative juices and I’ve already got two other challenges set up with other friends.
One of my resolutions was also to be more open with my work, so after much deliberation, I’ve decided to post my recent writing challenge (format is a little weird in WordPress, sorry!) Word: patience; limit: 563. Any constructive criticism is welcomed, as I by no means think I’m close to being a top-notch writer. After rereading it, I’ve already found things I’d like to change but I am pretty satisfied with it, considering the word limits. It also in retrospect, kind of fits in with Valentine’s Day, but I totally didn’t plan for that. I did however, have Coldplay’s “The Scientist” playing on repeat while I was writing it, so if you like music while you read, I humbly recommend this song.
You could never see the sky properly in the city, Nick thought regretfully. Too many skyscrapers and blinding lights. Not enough trees, either. The air tasted like grease and unhappiness.
He coped by transforming his sad excuse of a yard into a garden. He spent most of his free time there, relishing the smell of greenery and fresh dirt. This morning was dedicated to planting sprigs of rosemary in the corner.
“You spend a lot of time in your garden.” Nick looked up. A pair of mischievous brown eyes peeked over the fence.
“Morning, Carrie. What’s up?”
“Just thought I’d be neighborly and see how you were doing. Can I come over?”
“Sure.” She disappeared briefly and emerged through the gate that separated their yards.
“You look nice.”
“Thanks, I’ve got a date with Jason,” she said, giving her dress a self-conscious pat. “We’re celebrating my birthday.” Nick scratched his head.
“Wasn’t it on the first? That was like three weeks ago.”
Carrie smiled with delight. “You remember?”
“It’s a pretty easy date to remember.” Her smile widened briefly.
“Well, he had work that night. And then things kept popping up— I had that conference, then he was training for his marathon…anyways, we’re celebrating it now.” She eyed his vegetable patch.
“You sure love gardening, don’t you?” She pointed towards her yard. “I do too— I’m growing the city’s nicest weeds.” Nick laughed.
“I grew up with trees and plants everywhere, so gardening helps me forget I’m in the city. Plus, it’s kind of nice when you get to eat the fruits of your labor, no pun intended.”
“And you’re willing to wait for weeks and months for them? Aren’t you afraid of them dying?” She crouched down next to him to sniff the rosemary.
“It does take a while,” Nick admitted, “and sometimes I get impatient. Sometimes they die. But the good stuff is worth waiting for, I think. It’s a chance you have to take.”
She shook her head. “I guess I just don’t have the patience, then.” She stood up and brushed herself off.
“Well, I’m off. See you later!” She waved goodbye as she left through the gate.
Nick came across Carrie on her front stoop that night, sitting alone.
“Hey,” he said. “Where’s Jason?” She looked up and he was startled to see tears. “What happened?”
“It’s over.” She laughed bitterly. “I brought up moving in together and he freaked out. We were moving too fast, he couldn’t commit. He wanted a break. We’ve been together for ten years, and he wants a break? I told him I couldn’t wait around any longer.
“I waited for him when he went to do his Peace Corps mission. I waited for him to finish his master’s. Every year I waited for that ring. My friends told me to move on, but I always hoped…”
Nick sat down and allowed her to muffle her sobs in his chest. He waited a while before speaking.
“You going to be OK?” Carrie wiped her eyes.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine, thanks.”
“You know earlier today, you said you were growing weeds.” She shrugged.
“I think you’d enjoy actual gardening.”
Carrie laughed. “Really?”
“I’m just saying, it’s really therapeutic for me. Though weeds are low maintenance, I guess.” She thought for a moment, then smiled.
“Ok. First thing tomorrow— let’s clear out those weeds.”