You’d think that all the editing would happen on the computer: rearrange sentences, delete words, add a detail here, experiment with different punctuation. And that does happen – excessively. I arrive at an arrangement of words and ideas that seems satisfying and so I begin to write them out, pen-and-ink style, on a small rectangle of graph paper.
There’s something in the physical process of writing out the story that results in a different perspective though. I discover new inconsistencies, new problems within the story that I had missed while editing on the computer. I feel the flow of words differently because I’m forced to slow down. Watching sentences appear from the tip of my pen creates a different rhythm in the story-voice I hear in my head.
But it’s frustrating to get halfway through a handwritten piece and decide I want to change one word or the order of sentences. That will make this copy less-good than the possible copy I could create if I start over. Do I really need to? Does it matter that much? Who’s going to see this anyway and will those people even notice the care with which I’ve chosen words?
But I care. Deeply. Writing is the art of using language – that includes sentence structure, punctuation, the rhythm and prosody of word choices, even the etymology that lingers in them like ghosts. These tiny stories allow me the luxury of laser-focus on a work of manageable size where I get to play with all aspects of language that advance a story.
Why graph paper? I have a bunch of it from some idea of a project years ago that never happened; I don’t even remember now what it was. The lines are faint enough to not distract from the reading but helpful enough to keep my writing aligned. But I also find poetry and symbolism in my use of graph paper. It seems like a funny juxtapostion: paper generally used for subjects that seem so far from fiction. But flash fictions demand a tight geometry, proportions cannot be lax. Like a well-drawn graph, a flash fiction must include just the right details in a very small space, so that an outsider comes away with a meaningful story that she’s helped create through her reading.
Hoping the snow doesn’t keep me from getting these five new copies of the fourth edition of Lost Mitten Fiction out into the world this week!