Small stories: Alice Bishop on crafting microfiction

Like a good song (or maybe that first morning coffee) a perfect short story can wake you up. You see the world more clearly when you’re reading. You feel less alone. Short stories have a way of getting to the core of things that we sometimes don’t, or can’t, talk about.

I also think that reading (and writing) short stories can help you take notice of the little things. Making the bigger, more daunting, parts of life feel like they’re made up of smaller, worthwhile parts.

A butter knife on the edge of your grandma’s sink; wattle powder across a stranger’s shoulders; the familiar smell of your partner’s cigarette ash, the lingering wool wash of his clothes. There are small stories (and maybe also bigger ones) in all of these things.

Whether you want to be the next Warsan Shire, or are more of a Richard Ford or Durga Chew Bose fan (I love them all): I want to share some small things I’ve learnt writing short fiction:

Don’t use social media to measure your work’s worth

Sharing your microfiction, or links to your short stories, on social? Brill. But don’t evaluate your work on how many likes/retweets/faves it gets. Using this form of measurement, you can easily start to lose sight of what’s important. I try to live by what Queen Patti says (via Boroughs):

“Don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful — be concerned with doing good work and make the right choices to protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually, that name will be its own currency.”

From little things big things grow

Lots of my stories have started really tiny: as a tweet, or as a note in my phone. Both are a good way to record those fleeting things that make your heart pull.

Even though I’m in a Twitter bubble where it’s not v. cool to tweet microfiction I *attempt* to ignore that fact ‘cause Twitter can be a really good writing tool. Like anything, you can look at the microfiction part of your brain like a muscle; it needs workin’.

Keep your loved works close

For me it’s Junot and Josephine, it’s Deborah and Warsan beside my bed. When I’m feeling like my mind is muddied I can pick up any of these four collections and instantly feel like writing and learning.

Be someone’s shot of whiskey, not everyone’s cup o’ tea

Don’t write to please everyone. Writing can be one of the spaces you can really be heard, and especially being a woman / any minority it’s so easy to start making yourself smaller, quieter, more pleasant, or more agreeable without even knowing you’re doing it. But, in saying that, if your voice is quiet, speak in it. You don’t have to be loud to be good .

Also, criticism isn’t the end of the world. It can help you grow. But unsubscribe if it’s clearly not coming from a good place.

On that note, I’ve recently been really (and probably too intensely) interested to the strong negative reactions some people have to Instapoets, particularly Rupi Kaur. I reckon there’s almost been a similar reaction to Durga Chew-Bose’s work, which can be flawed at times, sure, but at other times can be everything.

This tweet pretty much sums it up though.

Look after yourself

The persistent myth that you have to be self-destructive / a bit f’d up to be a writer or an artist is just that: a myth.

Eat breakfast (and lunch and dinner). Sleep. Repeat.

Since I’ve taken better care of myself I have the resilience to work harder. I’ve also had more stories and essays published, have been able to read more, and have learnt to take professional (and sometimes personal) setbacks in my stride (well, most of the time) x

As part of DWF17 Alice will be joining Julian Novitz and Alex Menyhart to talk all things microfiction. Tune in and join them for the Crafting Microfiction panel, streaming live on the DWF  website, Wednesday 25 October, 12.30pm.