Flash Essays

Complete Syllabus

Some experiences beg us to write about them, but we often feel overwhelmed when trying to capture the whole story at once. In this class, we'll explore the art of flash nonfiction and short essays—pieces that tell a complete story in no more than 750 words. Life is made up of moments: big showy ones and small quiet ones—many of them infused with deeper meaning. Sometimes we can easily articulate a moment’s meaning, but often we can only make sense of it peripherally. In a flash essay, the moment and the meaning must be distilled to their purest essence. Through a series of writing exercises, participants will generate a list of potential essay ideas and identify key details and imagery to help them dig into the heart of those stories. Students will also write up to five flash pieces of varying lengths.

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WEEK 1: Inspiration (Find Your Flash)
What is a flash essay? More importantly: What makes a flash essay sizzle and spark? This week, we’ll dive into the fray with a brief history of the genre and an exploration of what makes an essay part of the “flash” genre. We’ll read a selection of flash essays to get a taste of the form—and to explore our own aesthetics related to the genre. This week’s assignment is a collection of writing exercises designed to give students a list of potential “jumping in” points for the essays they’ll write throughout this course (and beyond).

WEEK 2: Distillation (Follow It Down)
This week we’ll follow the advice of Annie Dillard: “Push it. Examine all things intensely and relentlessly. Probe and search each object in a piece of art; do not leave it, do not course over it, as if it were understood, but instead follow it down until you see it in the mystery of its own specificity and strength.” We will examine a variety of writing craft techniques that can be used to distill a story into the small and powerful space of flash. We’ll look at framing your subject matter, choosing and shading details, and using imagery to support meaning. Students will write a short personal essay of up to 750 words.

WEEK 3: Exploration (Come At It Sideways)
Beyond length, there is nothing about the flash essay that mandates its form or contents. This week we’ll look beyond the narrative- and personal-essay forms to other kinds of short essays, including lyric, collage, braided, “hermit crab,” meditative, and micro- essays. This exploration of forms will also broaden the way we think about our own memoir-based subject matter by enabling us to come at our work “sideways.” Students can choose from a variety of assignment options this week.

WEEK 4: Realization (Make It Burn)
We will discuss techniques to revise and sharpen a flash essay to make it ready for publication. We’ll build upon the last three weeks and dive deeper into the nitty-gritty of how every single decision (from word choice to punctuation) counts in a flash piece. Students will have the option to write one new flash essay (750 words max) or revise their original essay from Week 2.

WEEK 5: Distribution (Send it Out)
Once you have a flash essay, what do you do with it? And what happens if you end up with a flash essay that wants to become something else? This week we'll explore sending our work out into the world for publication, as well as how to expand a flash into a longer piece. We'll look at some publications that feature flash essays and cover the basics of how to submit your work to literary journals. We'll also discuss if and when it's a good idea to transform a flash essay into something else, such as a longer essay or a collection of flash-sized pieces.

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Questions? Check out our FAQ page or contact our Director of Education, Sharla Yates at yates[at]creativenonfiction.org.