Nancy Stohlman, Writing Prompts & Craft Articles

Bribing the Muse: On Your Mark, Get Set…

Sometimes our stories fall flat, without that “pop” of tension. One great way to create urgency in a flash fiction story is by using another constraint: Time.


For almost a decade now, all my college classes have begun with a 10-minute timed writing. Timed writing is nothing new. We know that it helps us transition us into the writing space, like stretching before a workout. We know that it forces us to stay present and dig deeper—writing past where we might have naturally given up. And we know that keeping the pen moving quickly, without crossing things out or rereading, is a great way to evade the internal critic and uncover fresh ideas.

But I discovered something else through years of this practice: 10 minutes of writing without stopping is also the perfect amount of time to draft a flash fiction story idea from start to finish.

It makes sense: Flash fiction is defined by a (word) constraint, so why not create under a time constraint? Having that clock ticking while you furiously try to reach the end of an idea gives the piece a natural sense of urgency. And writing from the beginning to the end in one sitting also creates a sense of continuity—we see the end coming as we embark on the journey.

I do most of my timed writings longhand, scribbling. But it works with typing as well. And you can use a timed writing in many ways. For instance, you can:

  • Set the timer while writing to a prompt.
  • Set the timer when you’re feeling stuck and don’t know what to write about.
  • Set the timer and rewrite a “flat” story from scratch while the clock chases you to the finish line (my favorite)

And as a daily practice it’s even better.

Besides, you can do anything for 10 mins, right?

Regardless of how you use it, a 10-minute burst of writing can break you through resistance and lethargy. And creating something to push against allows inspiration to bulge and balloon in interesting and unexpected ways.


(How did it work for you? Share in the comments below!)


Onward to Costa Rica: An Interview with Author, Poet, & Editor, Amy Gavin

Hi, Amy! Nancy and I are so excited that you’ll be joining us in Costa Rica in January for our retreat. What has been your writing workshop/retreat experience in the past? How do you find ways to honor your writing in your day to day life?

My writing retreat and workshop experiences are quite unique. During the first of three Master Classes I attended at Hedgebrook, I bonded with four other women and together we created the Roving Writers. Since then, we’ve been meeting for two retreats a year. We hit the jackpot for our spring retreat, with you as our teacher!

One of my daughters describes my writing room as a mega vision board. I fix a cup of tea, light a candle, and work surrounded by books, photographs, trinkets from my childhood, and weird totems. One of my favorites is a small crystal book etched with the first haiku I had published, a gift from my hubby. Another favorite is the body and dress left over from an apple head doll my grandmother made me in the 1970s.

I really enjoyed working with you and all the Roving Writers, Amy. I love your description of your writing space, how you surround yourself with things that inspire your creativity. What a cool way to honor your writing! Please respond to this quote by Nancy Kress:

“Fiction is about stuff that’s screwed up.”

This is amazing! The screw ups give life to the stories. A couple of years ago, a complete stranger called and revealed a shocking family secret to me. I was struggling with this unexpected screw-up and my friend said, “Wow! I’m so jealous! You’ll have a lot of writing material from this one.”

Oh, wow. Absolutely. Tell me, what is your favorite story that you yourself have written (“favorite” doesn’t have to mean “best” or more successful or whatever). And why is it your favorite?

“Two For the Price of One” from issue six of MATH, a sex positive, ethical, diverse, feminist porn magazine. It’s my favorite because it was way outside my comfort zone, and I’ve had a ton of fun autographing and gifting copies of the magazine to friends and family! I thought erotica would be a one and done for me, but…stay tuned.

I think it’s great for writers to do exactly that: Write outside their comfort zones. And–you have more erotica in store? Keep us posted! Have you been to Costa Rica before? What are you most looking forward to as a writer retreating to this beautiful place?

I’ve never been to Costa Rica and admit I’m a little nervous. I love the ocean and I love adventure (point me to the zip-lines), but I’m completely freaked out by all things creepy crawly. AND, I’ve heard the cute little monkeys are known for flinging their poo at passersby.

Ha! Oh no, I’ve not heard this myself! Thanks for the warning. Now, can you tell us something we don’t know about you that you are happy to share. 🙂

I am an extreme weather geek who loves thunderstorms and dark rainy days.

Ah, those are the best! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, Amy!

Amy Gavin is an author, poet, and editor striving to push boundaries and create change with both her writing and social justice activism. A survivor herself, Amy is drawn to stories tackling issues of domestic violence and healing.

Amy has studied at Hedgebrook and writes in community with the Roving Writers, a small group of courageous women artists. You can find her most recent fiction in MATH.

Amy shares her home in Garnet Valley, PA with her husband and four wily cats.

(NOTE: A very few spaces remain for our Create in Costa Rica retreat in January. Find more information HERE.)