The old practice of paying magazine writers by the word rewarded verbosity. Short-short narrative calls on different skills to make every word count. Constraints can spur creativity, we found in Gale Walden’s Write-by-the-Lake workshop on flash memoir and flash fiction last week. You might have fun with one of these:
For my first stab at flash fiction six years ago, click on “Her Next Bed” on the Writing page of this website.
Why Do Brides Wear White?
Not all women marry in white, of course. My mother wore deep orange-rust velvet for her September wedding long ago. Nor has white always been traditional for European and American bridal gowns. That started after 1840, when Queen Victoria’s white wedding gown set a new fashion among the wealthy.
White was a color of conspicuous consumption because it was so hard to clean. (Nothing to do with purity or innocence.) Until well into the twentieth century, even the elites expected to wear their gowns again for other occasions. Most brides simply wore their best dress, which might or might not be new. The single-use white wedding gown did not become widespread until after World War II.
Traditions are customs, beliefs, or practices passed down through generations. In wedding fashion as in more important spheres, they’re not to be confused with eternal truth or the way things were always done.
We’re not talking cute animal videos or funniest home videos here. We’re talking a four-to-seven-minute movie complete with story line, dialogue, and action. In the 48 Hour Film Project, each team in cities around the world rushes to create a movie over a weekend. Like running a marathon, it’s structured as competition but the great achievement is to finish.
All a team is allowed to do before the Friday evening kickoff is register, scout locations, and assemble cast, crew, and equipment. At the kickoff, teams draw lots for genre and learn the required elements: a specified character, prop, and line of dialogue. Then begins the fun of plotting, script writing, costuming, shooting, editing, and submission. The films submitted Sunday evening will screen before a live audience in a local theater.
Like National Novel Writing Month, the 48 Hour Film Project can teach perfectionists the concept of “good enough.” Unlike the novel-writing challenge, the film-making challenge requires collaboration—and, I suspect, the willingness of creative people to cede individual control. Forty-eight hours is too short to thrash out all your decisions till everyone gets their way.
On Doing What Scares You
When I commuted to work in downtown Chicago, I sometimes crossed outdoors between moving cars on the elevated train, not to reach a different car but to practice facing a fear.
“Do one thing every day that scares you.”* Something not dangerous or foolhardy, but dysfunctionally intimidating. For some it’s public speaking, complex paperwork, or raising a touchy issue with a friend. The “Fear” I burned in a New Year’s Eve bonfire involved unfamiliar machines and bus systems. The more I use them, the less they scare me.
Two caveats. First, advice to leave your comfort zone suggests a false dichotomy between discomfort and being stuck in a rut. There are far-from-boring ways to be “in the zone”: creating, writing, learning, running on the beach. No need to break the flow just because it doesn’t scare you.
Second, desensitization isn’t the only way to ease fear. In the body, a case of nerves looks much the same as excitement. Even for those of us not adrenalin junkies, it may be easier to reframe unhappy jitters as happy ones than to calm ourselves down. A wiser adage might be, “Do one thing every day that excites you.”
*Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune, June 1997. Read here for quote history and misattributions.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.