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5 Ways Flash Fiction Can Help You Overcome Writer's Block

When writer’s block tightens its grip and threatens to derail your writing project, here’s how to outsmart it.

Writer’s block is often caused by fear. Fear you won’t be able to do justice to the story you’ve perfected in your head. Fear you won’t be able to finish the project, so why bother continuing? 

When that all-too-familiar creative paralysis hits, it can feel as though your own mind is stonewalling you. Like a petulant child with a pout, crossed arms and a fierce scowl, your mind doesn’t want to play. You plead with it for one teeny tiny fruitful idea. One solution to a creative problem. One way to neatly sew up a nagging plot hole. But nothing is working. The child has plonked themselves down on the ground, refusing to speak.

As frustrating as writer’s block can be, it can sometimes be a sign you shouldn’t ignore. A sign you need to step away from your current writing project and try something different. Enter: flash fiction. 

When the words just won’t come, here are 5 ways flash fiction can help you overcome that mental block.

1. Get a quick win

With its short length, anything from a few words or paragraphs up to 1,500 words, it’s easier to start and finish a flash piece than a short story or an even larger project like a novel.

Getting a new short-short story finished quickly will give you a satisfying dose of closure and boost your confidence. It’ll give you a quick win to reaffirm your faith in your writing abilities. 

If you’re struggling with a large writing project, you could try writing a tangential flash story. Step away from the lengthy plot and character development work you’re thinking about. Focus instead on one particular moment or significant memory from your character’s past. This will help you get back into the writing style and feverish creativity you started with before endless drafting and editing pulled you into a problem-solving mindset.

2. Mental reset 

Have you ever wished you could capture that flow state where an initial idea arrives? That moment of magic where the words come pouring out and more ideas come to flesh out the first idea, where you’re typing with fury to capture it all before, inevitably, it disappears like smoke into the ether. 

Sadly, scientists haven’t yet figured out a way to bottle that state to allow you to take regular sips at every dip in an ambitious writing project. But taking regular breaks to write a piece of flash fiction could be the elixir you’re looking for.  If you’ve been staring at that blinking cursor for so long you’re starting to resent your writing project, taking time away can give your mind the reset it desperately needs. 

By providing a constructive distraction from the boredom, frustration and mental fatigue of writing something ambitious, this practice will get you back to basics. It’ll let you come back to your main writing project with fresh eyes and, hopefully, a mind fizzing with fresh ideas.

3. Sharpen your skills 

Flash forces you to be concise. When you don’t have the space to wander off exploring a major dramatic scene or hour-long pivotal conversation in your story, flash fiction gives you the creative constraint you need to get straight to the point

It’s the ideal form to experiment with if you’re struggling to kill your darlings. Flash pushes you to kill, bury and walk away from those darlings and focus solely on one key moment. 

This practice will help you take a whetstone to your writing skills. You can also use the form to focus on specific elements of your writing. For example, you could write a flash piece that is entirely dialogue and use the exercise to get to the root of the way your characters communicate and who dominates the conversation and why.

4. Develop a regular writing routine

Just as writing flash can give you a quick win, it can also help you develop a regular writing routine

With no strict word count, you can create a low-pressure writing routine around flash fiction. Especially if you’re between projects and want to hold off on the urge to jump into a new novel draft, regularly writing flash fiction will keep your writing brain active and sharp.

For example, if your daily target was one flash story, you could write a few sentences one day, 1,000 words the next and 100 words the day after that. With the fluidity of this form, you can remove intimidating word counts and give yourself the freedom to pause, create and slowly chip away at loftier goals.

5. Inspiration for future writing projects 

If you want to start a new writing project but you’re lacking inspiration, flash fiction is a great way to tease out those ideas buried in the back of your mind and put some meat on their bones before you dive into a short story or novel. 

The more you write flash fiction and explore different characters, styles, techniques and genres, the more likely one of those pieces will naturally grow. If you set yourself a challenge to write X number of flash stories in X amount of time, the likelihood is one of those pieces will stick with you. When this happens, return to that story and write more flash pieces on it. Before you know it, you’ll have a new story with legs that will start to carry you towards a much higher word count. 

Whether you’re stuck in the middle of a novel draft or desperately trying to streamline the plot of your short story, sometimes the best thing to do is take a break. Try experimenting with flash fiction to either flesh out an element of your current story or write about something completely unrelated. This bite-sized form can work wonders for your creativity. 

Sophie Campbell is a fiction writer and freelance creative copywriter and content writer. You can find her on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and her website.

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