For the purpose of this series, we’ve been exploring what it is to write first works. We’ve considered What Lies Beneath the ongoing process of a memoirist who digs deep. We’ve interviewed a writer newly elected as State Representative of Missouri’s 91st District. We’ve contemplated writing that is Natural or Explicit, as well as recognizing when Raw is Ready. We’ve considered Jewels on the Page, Safe Spaces and what feeds Grit Lit.
Clearly there’s much thought to share about the process.
If you seek prompts, like the Weekly Flash Fiction Challenge at Carrot Ranch, you probably understand the benefits of writing quick raw responses. It can be like practicing scales, or warming up before a sport. After a year or two, you can amass suitcases of raw stories. What to do with them, might be on your mind. This week, Raw Literature is going to unpack some possibilities.
Suitcase #1: Craft
When I studied creative writing in college, I was taught to master the short-form before tackling the long-form. Master is a relative term, as I think writers continue to master their craft throughout their lives. That’s something raw literature reveals to us — our writing evolves. As craft, however, we can work on elements, such as characterization, tone, structure and language. What you practice, explore or learn in short-form you can apply to longer works.
Flash fiction is often spontaneous and can be fun for the surprises it might bring to both the writer and reader. Yet, the writer can also be deliberate in craft. I’ve watched regular writers play with twists (which work well in short form and also becomes a linchpin to ending book chapters). I’ve marveled at others who employ BOTS (based on a true story) as a way to use the challenge to explore inroads to memoir. Poets tackle the challenge with further constraints of form. Some flash focuses on imagery, others are character-driven. The brevity each week can offer ample possibilities to try different craft styles.
Another craft technique flash fiction can offer is what I’ve come to think of as non-committal application (point of view, character traits, tone). Raw literature employs discovery, but if I’m uncertain about a character, I don’t necessarily want to discover something essential half-way through the first draft of a novel. Flash fiction allows me to play with characters. One week a character might be the villain; the next week I might write him as the hero. When practicing craft, I don’t have to commit during exploration.
Something else I’ve seen other writers accomplish are serials. Through the weekly challenge, characters and their plots are born and progressed. Through the course of hosting flash fiction challenges, I’ve seen continuing stories of brow-beaten werewolves, a family with more twists and turns than an epic novel, a school girl explore her life between various ages, a western tale unfold and conclude, and characters start their own blogs. Many WIPS begin as a serial idea energized by weekly additions.
The possibilities for developing craft and raw material are endless.
Suitcase #2: Platform
A writer’s platform is both a billboard (for the writer) and a launching pad (for the writing of a writer). Raw literature can inform the platform’s elements of branding, credibility, community and target audience.
Voice is unique to each writer. Some writers might use the craft aspect of a writing challenge to discover or hone that voice, and more seasoned writers use it to further broadcast identity. That identity — a dark, lyrical writer of YA who is fond of hedgehogs and armadillos — becomes part of the brand. The writing that accumulates gives visual credibility that this is a writer who writes. If a writer intends to break into a specific genre, writing shorts in that genre is also a way to develop brand and credibility.
Writing among other writers is an experience in community. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of a platform. It’s interaction that can lead to friendships, tribes, networks or an assortment of each. Community can be supportive and encourage your aspirations, or you can reach out to community to learn from different experiences. Diversity is another rewarding aspect of community and can lead to greater insights through writing raw literature collectively.
You can use your raw creations to find or test your target audience. Often this is a confounding aspect of platform building because your readers are not always easy to encounter. However, you can use your raw creations to polish a few pieces you think represent your writing and longer-term goals and submit to short-form contests or literary magazines. This is a way to find readers and continue to build your brand and credibility.
Think of raw literature as possibilities for expanding your platform.
Suitcase #3: Marketing
If you are a writer, your writing is something marketable. First, let’s simplify what marketing is: it’s the continuous cycle of research, action and measurement. You can get into it more deeply than that, but at least recognize that marketing is more than promotion (action) and that promotion is one of many actionable tactics.
You can use your raw literature, your excerpts from WIPS or your flash fiction stories to gauge response. You can ask your community what they thought of a particular twist or for their impression of a character. You might produce a flash that others want to know more of the story. Exploration is a part of research when you are attentive to it. It might give you the idea to tackle a different genre. I don’t think I would have taken on a full-blown historical novel without the original feedback I got from flash fiction.
Action items can take many forms. You can use raw literature to build e-newsletters or e-books of short stories. You can quote from your own raw works and make memes on Pinterest or quotes on Twitter or Facebook. You can make postcards or bookmarks for promotion. What better way to promote your own writing than with your own words. You can take excerpts from your published (or soon to be) book and reverse-engineer it into a raw response to showcase the work it comes from. You can use your raw literature on your blog to drive traffic. You can be a guest writer and intersperse your raw literature between lines of an article or essay.
Measurement is about knowing if your actionable items were effective. While you don’t really use raw literature to measure, you can measure the impact it might have had on your action goals.
Final thoughts: keep writing raw, be mindful of your process and the possibilities of what you produce.
Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at firstname.lastname@example.org.