Keep it Short: Make it Elegant
Written by
Jane Hammons
November 2010
Written by
Jane Hammons
November 2010
Hint, micro, flash and sudden: all ways to describe a very short piece of writing. This short form appeals to me a lot: always has. Years ago, when I’d write a story of 1000 or so words, people often responded with dismay at how short it was. Didn’t I want to develop it? Maybe it was really the beginning of a novel? Shouldn’t it be longer? The truth is that I was more likely to trim it down than to bulk it up. This is not to say that I don’t like long stories. I do. I write those, too. Currently I’m working on a novel. So it isn’t that my brain has been destroyed by Twitter (oh, how I love to tweet) or by reading short bits and following hyperlinks on the Internet. I can handle long complex texts both as a reader and a writer. But I also appreciate the complexity of the short text. It was on Twitter, in fact, that I saw the call by Robert Swartwood for something called Hint Fiction. 25 words? Count me in. I had been working on a series of connected stories—very short ones, most under 1000 words. I’d published several of them as stand alone stories, so I mined 25 words from one of them and submitted it. Much to my delight “The Land With No Air” was chosen for Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer, edited by Robert Swartwood and just released by W. W. Norton to good reviews. In The New Yorker’s blog The Book Bench, Ian Crouch admits to his fear that the book would be gimmicky, but finds it “an interesting, often thrilling collection, not because it rewards our shrinking attention spans, but because the best of these stories transcend the gimmick and are complete, elegant moments of fiction.” The magazine Creative Nonfiction elicits such moments of nonfiction from its followers @cnfonline, which hosts a daily competition for micro-essays of 130 characters (plus the hashtag #cnftweet) on Twitter. The daily Favorite is retweeted. I hesitate to use the word competition to describe this activity. The generosity of my cnftweeters amazes me. Long before (sometimes days before) @cnfonline chooses its winner, we are retweeting our favorites, sending messages to each other about the #cnftweets we like and why. I don’t think we see ourselves as competitors, but rather as a supportive writing community, sharing bits of truth and observation from our lives. As a nice bonus, Creative Nonfiction selects a few of their favorite Favorites and publishes them in Tiny Truths, a column in the print edition of the magazine. I have one in the Fall 2010 issue. Recently, I’ve been using the #cnftweet as a way to brainstorm for a personal essay I want to write about Juaréz, a place I visited frequently throughout my youth. Here is one of the micro-essays from this series that was recently chosen as a Favorite by @cnfonline: My mother declares her purchases at the border. Dismayed, she relinquishes the switchblade; relieved, she keeps the Everclear. As a teacher of writing, I probably drive my students crazy with my insistence that it’s all about the sentence. They are more used to thinking in terms of thesis statements and essays: the big picture. Yes, that's important, too. But if you don’t have your reader engaged from sentence to sentence, you don’t have your reader. And I like to have mine, preferably by the lapels.

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