Flash Fiction as a Puzzle: Sarah Arantza Amador on Creative Confidence and Reclaiming Your Writing Time


Kathy Fish and I are THRILLED that Sarah Arantza Amador is joining us on our return to Costa Rica next spring! I chat with Sarah here about the reality of writing and having confidence in your work…oh and we talk about bugs, too!

Nancy Stohlman: The biggest challenge most writers have is finding the time to write. How do you “retreat” in your day-to-day life in order to honor your creativity?

 Sarah Arantza Amador: This is such a tough one. When I was in college, I was dumbstruck by authors who detailed highly disciplined writing routines (“Up at 5am, write for four hours at a tiny desk in my bedroom, etc.). Back then I had the privilege of  youth and a lot of unstructured time day-to-day. Things have changed, as they tend to do, and I’m a busy lady with a full-time day job and other responsibilities and obligations, and I understand that need for discipline and routine more and more. These days, it takes me a combination of scheduled writing time (often when I take lunch at work, sitting at the little meeting table in my office) and being nimble and flexible, taking advantage of less structured time and “filler” time (commuting, walking, waiting in line at the post office, etc.) to “write” by recording audio notes and typing reminders to myself on my phone. I keep that writing time that I schedule for myself like I do time at the gym (better, even — not going to lie) or scheduled doctors appointments. Time is precious — and nobody is going to value your time more than yourself — so protect it!

Nancy: I can’t agree with you more–it’s so tempting to put our writing time last in a busy life. Tell us about your relationship with flash fiction?

Sarah: I’ve loved flash fiction for a long time — but I didn’t always know to call it that! When I was a teenager, I wrote poetry and then vignettes  (and even self-published a chapbook of vignettes inspired by Bob Dylan songs!). In my freshman year in college, my LIT 01 professor introduced my class to Augusto Monterroso’s “The Dinosaur,” a perfect, one-sentence short story. Look it up — it’s incredible! I was amazed by that story and how a single sentence could have so much traction and trouble. I loved that it operated like a puzzle — that it and the reader work together to build a world, a series of possibilities, outcomes. I’ve been a big fan of microfiction and flash fiction ever since.

Nancy: I just looked it up and read it–amazing! What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

Sarah: “Have confidence in yourself and your work.” This is easier said than done — I know because I’ve spent decades so far trying to follow it! With time and experience and self-reflection and genuine curiosity, though, it’s gotten a lot easier for me to discern what critiques and criticism serve the work and what I’m going to choose to ignore. It feels really good, really satisfying, to receive feedback that *could* sting, feel unfair or misdirected, and then hear a little voice within me say: “nah, I’ll pass on that feedback.” So, the second best piece of writing advice: practice resiliency, in writing and in life. Oh wait: they’re two parts of the same piece of advice, aren’t they?

Nancy: Yes, they are! What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?  Where can we read it (if it’s available)?

Sarah: It’s difficult for me to choose one piece. I have more pieces unpublished than published, and every work, regardless of whether or not it has an audience yet,  is like a miracle. Last year, I wrote and published a piece of historical flash that helped me stretch my voice and my imagination, too: “In Dead Waters,” selected for publication in the always excellent FlashBack Fiction. I’m really proud of that flash piece (this one came together for me on a long, solo car ride — I memorized it while reciting it to myself on the road!) and I’m so pleased to have had it published by FlashBack, a journal whose work I really, really admire. Big shout-out to FlashBack editor Ingrid Jendrzejewski, whose thoughtful and careful feedback really helped me tighten and strengthen this piece!

Nancy: I love Ingrid! Have you ever been to Costa Rica before? What are you most looking forward to?

Sarah: No, I haven’t been to Costa Rica yet! I’ve never been to Central America and I’m excited to see this part of my hemisphere. What I most look forward to: run-ins with iguanas, monkeys, and tropical birds; (daily??) beach swims; and falling asleep at night listening to the night sounds outside of my jungle cabina. I can’t wait to embrace my inner tropicalia!

Nancy: You will definitely “hear” the howler monkeys! We saw quite a few iguanas last year too. So then react to this quote:  “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

― Marcel Proust

Sarah: I like this quote because it reminds me that the brain is like a muscle — it responds so quickly and so well to exercise, training, new stimuli. You can flex that “muscle” — your cognitive functions, your memory, your imagination — in all kinds of ways, and travel, experiencing and responding to new sights, sounds, smells, and textures in new settings and circumstances, can be a great way to make that exercise — that work — really exciting and generative. I can’t really grow new eyeballs, but I can push and challenge the ones I have to see things with newfound imagination and wonder! Too weird?

Nancy: Love that answer. Last thing: Tell us something we don’t know about you?

Sarah: I’m real squeamish around bugs. This may be my biggest challenge on this retreat, overcoming my tropi-spider fears.

Nancy: I promise it won’t be TOO bad–we aren’t deep in the jungle at least! Anything else you want to add?

Sarah: I am so looking forward to reclaiming my time (thank you, Maxine Waters!) with Nancy, Kathy, all my new flash friends (who still feel like mere twinkles in my eye?), and the exciting Costa Rican surprises in store for us in March!

Nancy: And we are so excited to meet you! Twinkle back!

Residing in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California with her dog Roscoe and person Richard, Sarah Arantza Amador writes about longing, ghost-making, the endearment of monsters, and the twists and turns of human loving kindness. Her work is featured in Best Microfiction 2019 and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She tweets @ArantzaSarah and sometimes blogs from www.saraharantzaamador.com.

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