Slow Flash

May 1, 2018 § 15 Comments


By Melissa Ballard

“When will you write something about me?”

“Mom, you know I only write about dead people.”

End of conversation.

But the truth was, I’d already started more drafts about Mom than I could count.

As she began to have health problems, needed surgery, and finally had to move from her home of nearly forty years, those drafts got longer and became more numerous.

In October of 2013, Mom died. I continued to write. I revised, blended, made maps of the structure of some of the older essays, tore up the maps, wrote a series of paragraphs based on images. Nothing worked.

Eventually, it all went into my “dormant” file.

*

This is as good a time as any to disclose that I have a bursting file drawer devoted to typed and hand-written drafts, which I have tried in vain to organize. Recently, in an attempt not to waste paper, I’ve made a conscious effort to do less printing. I now have an unknown number of drafts in various locations on my computer and on a flash drive, which appears to be incompatible with my new laptop. Some, I think, are also in The Cloud, but I’m not sure how that happened, nor do I know how to access them.

*

In February of 2017, I took an online class with Penny Guisinger, “Writing Flash Creative Nonfiction.” Without referring to any of my previous drafts, I wrote a short essay about my relationship with my mom. At Penny’s suggestion, I worked on the ending. After a few more people read it, I made final revisions, and sent it to Full Grown People, where Jennifer Niesslein accepted it.

At least eight years in the making, a plethora of drafts, and a final word count somewhere in the neighborhood of 700 words—a flash essay, by most definitions.

*

In 2009, I was diagnosed with the fun-sounding GAD. It’s true that, if you add an “l” you have “glad.” But it’s short for “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” I began to write about anxiety and ended up with an unruly draft that included my great-grandmother, German cursing, and a metaphor about my washing machine. After many attempts it, too, found its way to the “dormant” drawer.

In 2013, I attended a Summer Writing Workshop at Kenyon College, where I took a creative nonfiction class with Dinty W. Moore. I arrived a day late, courtesy of GAD. When Dinty gave us the assignment for the next day: write directions or instructions for how to do something, I went back to my room in a panic. My self-talk went something like this: You don’t know how to do anything. There’s no time to research. Other people can write a decent draft in one day. You cannot, because you are not a writer. You should go home now.

I told myself to be quiet and stared at my overflowing suitcase. I wrote a draft, in list form, about what it’s like to pack for a trip when you have anxiety. I read it in class the next day, got some positive feedback, and continued tweaking it when I got home. Writer friends reviewed it, I submitted it, it got rejected. I was working full-time, so I let it, too, go dormant.

After I retired, I looked at the draft again and did some more revisions. This time, it seemed like a good fit for The Manifest-Station. Editor Angela M. Giles, agreed, and she published it. This version, which does not include either my great-grandmother or large appliances, was published some six years after its conception. It, too, had gotten shorter over time: from 1,900 to 800 words.

*

I had been writing drafts about my dad and his love of cardinals since soon after his death in 1995. I submitted a few, and they got rejected. I dragged one version to a writing class at Chautauqua Institution in 2008, where I got some great feedback during a one-on-one meeting with Liz Rosenberg but I still couldn’t get it right.

In the summer of 2016, I was reading River Teeth’s “Beautiful Things,” and I thought again of my dad and cardinals. I started fresh, with the 250-word limit in mind, and this time it worked.

*

Math gives me a headache, which is just as well. Any calculations involving how many publishable words I can produce in a specified amount of time would no doubt make me despair.

A writer friend commented that the word “dormant” sounded too passive. That made sense, so I looked up synonyms at Merriam-Webster.com, thinking that renaming my draft drawer might speed up my writing process. I found one I liked, but it has little to do with speed.

Latent: a power or quality that has not yet come forth but may emerge and develop.

The possibilities appeal to me. And regardless of the name I choose for my drawer of drafts, there is this:

I am writing.

Mostly flash.

Very slowly.

I am writing.

___________________________________________

Melissa Ballard apologizes if any readers are offended by the suggestive titles of her guest posts for Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog: Finishing, Stripper Girl, and Slow Flash. Or, having read the posts, disappointed she does not deliver on her promises.

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§ 15 Responses to Slow Flash

  • Leslie Dulfo says:

    They say in life, do it at your own pace and own time. Pretty works for everything too – even writing. Nonetheless, you are an inspiration to new writers like me.Way to go!😄

  • Speaking my language. You’d be surprised how many writers share your experience of “latent” files. Thankfully, I can’t count either; it keeps me from despair. Keep on
    emerging!

  • I honestly think this blog was one of the most perfectly worded works I’ve read anywhere in my entire life. It perfectly phrases what I secretly told myself was a secretly typo of thoughts no one else on Earth could possibly have been consumed with EVER!! Thank you for describing what I always considered a curse hand-crafted for just myself. I love this piece and look forward to reading many more magnificent writings from you.

    Sincerely,
    Rachel Ruhl

    • Wow, thank you, Rachel. You’ve made my day! So glad it resonated with you.

      • Melissa!! Hi! I’ve been trying for days to figure out how to respond to you, duh!! I adored everything in your article. Have you ever read “Alone” by Poe? I think it’s particularly fitting for our insecurities and disorders. There was always a “demon in my view”. I think it gets better with age;) GOSH, I hope so!!

  • […] via Slow Flash — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog […]

  • Susanne says:

    Thank you for giving me permission to tuck away all the drafts that refuse to solidify into anything presentable. They will go into a new file freshly labeled latent. Such a promising word.

  • Tricia says:

    Thank you for this honest piece. Even though it’s not sentimental, it feels like a piece of your heart, speaking to mine. I’m a slow writer.

    The writings in your latent file remind me of a cocoon: many of those pieces will emerge as crazy-beautiful butterflies. Some might not make it, which happens sometimes with real-life cocoons. But the ones that are meant to, will.

    Reading this gave me an idea for how to amend a strange flash non-fiction I wrote that hasn’t been accepted anywhere yet.

    I have the links you included open as I write this, and will go to them next. Thank you.

  • Thank you, Tricia, for this lovely expansion of my ideas. I’m so glad you’ve come up with something new for your own piece. And special thanks for your lovely response to “Red Birds.”

  • heatheroshea says:

    Thank you, Melissa! I have drawers like yours. Your piece is such a great reminder that doing the work is what matters, even if your words are stashed on some mysterious cloud.

  • Reblogged this on Notes from An Alien and commented:
    Today’s re-blog gives great insight into being willing to pare down one’s writing… Whether it’s from 110,000 words to 50,000 or from 1,600 words to 700…

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