by Sherry Morris
Talking Craft, Hermit Crab Flash and a tempting 2020 ‘Words Worth Writing’ bash with Ingrid Jendrzejewski and NFFR’s Founding Editor, Meg Pokrass
S: Tell us your thoughts on craft. What are the most important skills for writers to learn?
I: Once a writer has a good feel for the basics, I think one of the most difficult aspects of writing to master comes down to the question of what to include on the page and what to leave out. What does the reader need to know? What can we trust the reader to fill in, guess, or imagine? What do we want the reader to bring to the story? What is overkill? It’s such a delicate balance!
Many of the common struggles writers have – for example, uneven pace, unrealistic dialogue, poor characterisation, abrupt/overdone/unsatisfying endings, telling instead of showing (and also showing instead of telling), etc. – can be framed in terms of this balance. What can we cut and what do we need to add? Does every word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, section add something important to the piece? Are there questions raised by the piece that are not either answered, addressed, unanswered in a way that feels intentional, or in some way transfigured by the end?
I think really great writing has the power not just to take the reader from Point A to Point B, but to invite the reader to become a collaborator of sorts on that journey.
S: What are your top tips for getting words down on the page?
I: Many times, I have to write my way in to a new day’s writing, particularly if I’m having trouble tuning in to the story and turning off the other concerns of the day.
By giving myself permission to free-write with no expectations that it will turn into something ‘good’, something ‘relevant’, even something that makes sense, I can often tap into ideas or solutions that would not have occurred to me otherwise. For me, I have to be sitting with a notebook or a computer, plugging away. I let myself look up things on the internet as long as I can justify it to myself, but this is usually limited to Wikipedia searches. Social media and music tend to distract me, so when I have the choice, I like to write in a quiet place with notifications and alerts turned off.
Some of my most successful pieces were a result of pushing through a resistance to write, so I’m a big believer in writing whenever I have the chance, not just when conditions are right or when the words are flowing easily. When time is tight, I schedule in time to write, even if it’s only a handful of minutes here and there, and try to keep to that schedule, no matter what happens on the page. The more regularly I do this, the more quickly I can find my flow during an individual session.
S: You have editorial roles at both JMWW and Flashback Fiction. Tell us what you look for. What are the key ingredients in successful stories? Do you have any favourite themes you’ve discovered in your own writing?
I: I write about quite a variety of things; science, parenthood, shifting identity, and unusual juxtapositions of things. I love ‘hermit crab’ stories, or stories that adopt the form of another type of writing (say a recipe, list, or glossary, for example). I also like all manner of experiment and play.
As an editor, I’m open to all sorts of writing, be it ‘literary’ or ‘genre’, traditional storytelling or something more unusually structured. However, what I love reading most are those rare pieces where I get the sense that I’m reading something individual and unique, something that could only be written by this single person who has authored the piece. This isn’t to say that the piece itself need to be in any way autobiographical; the author’s personal fingerprint could come in the form of voice, style, rhythm, mood, imagination, subject and/or atmosphere. I’m always thrilled when a writer takes me to a place I’ve not been before, or helps me to see something familiar from a different lens.
S: Any chance we could do some free writing with you and get a taste of these ‘hermit crab’ stories? They sound unique!
I: Yes! I’m thrilled to be offering a writing workshop and retreat with Meg Pokrass at the idyllic Rydal Mount, William Wordsworth’s family home in the Lake District. Taking inspiration from his name, we’re calling our retreat ‘Words Worth Writing’, and from the 15th to the 18th of March 2020, we’ll be delving deep into flash fiction and prose poetry with daily workshops, one-on-one sessions and, of course, time to write in the beautiful house and gardens.
I’m so excited about the programme we’re planning. Meg and I are trying to make the absolute most of the time we have with workshops, individual conversations, social opportunities, and of course, time and space to write in beautiful, inspiring surroundings. For each of the three days, both Meg and I will give a workshop each on various aspects of shortform writing. The first day will focus on generating new material and unlocking new ideas, impulses and techniques; the second day, we’ll focus on craft; and on the third day, we’ll tackle editing and finesse. We’ll also be meeting with delegates for one-to-one session covering both feedback on writing and discussing their trajectory and next steps as a writer. We’ll also host some fun social writing activities in the evenings for those so inclined, including a salon on the final day where everyone will have a chance to share their work (be it something written during the week or before arrival).
We’re tailoring the content to flash fiction writers and prose poets, though much of what we cover may be of interest to flash non-fiction writers or even longer short story writers keen to experiment with shorter word counts. We’ll be taking a deep dive into many different aspects of shortform writing, but that being said, we welcome writers of all backgrounds and experience; there is no need to have a publication history or have had any sort of formal creative writing training. We’re consciously designing the weekend to be rich in content but free from pressure; sharing work is optional, and we welcome writers to bring rough drafts and polished work with them to edit, share and develop alongside any new writing that comes out of the workshops and free writing opportunities. Full info on the workshop and retreat with Meg Pokrass is available on Meg’s website:
S: That sounds great! Anything else you want to tell us about?
I: As usual, I have a few projects on the go in multiple spheres.
In terms of my own writing, I’ve been focusing on a couple projects involving linked series of flashes, and I’ve been continuing to explore ‘hermit crab’ and hybrid shortform techniques. It’s been both enjoyable and challenging thinking about the shape of longer projects.
I’m looking forward to reading for the 2020 National Flash Fiction Day Anthology alongside guest editor Sophie van Llewyn. Anthology and microfiction submissions open in mid-December and despite our name, we welcome submissions from anywhere in the world. https://nationalflashfictionday.co.uk/
Finally, I’m always on the lookout for ways to give something back to the writing community, and have been exploring different ways to work with other writers in person. In addition to the Words Worth Writing retreat in March, I’m looking forward to the workshops and sessions I’ll be presenting at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in Derbyshire https://www.swanwickwritersschool.org.uk/ and the Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol. https://www.flashfictionfestival.com/
Ingrid Jendrzejewski currently serves as Editor in Chief of FlashBack Fiction, is an editor at Flash Flood, and a flash editor at JMWW. She also co-directs National Flash Fiction Day (UK). In her free time (!), she runs workshops on editing, prose poetry and hybrid forms, and is happy to speak on a variety of topics relating to writing and editing.
Ingrid will be teaching a writing retreat-workshop, Wordsworth Writing , at William Wordsworth’s Home in the Lake District (March 15 – 18th, 2020) with New Flash Fiction Review’s Founding/Managing Editor, Meg Pokrass