Earlier this semester, I asked editors around Wyoming to write me a little something. I wanted to know about their experiences running journals, as students, as writers—their successes, setbacks, and everything else. I know that manning The Other Room has had ups and downs. I’ve been both super-excited and super-stressed to see submissions pile up. I’ve watched readership rise dramatically and then dwindle. So it goes.
Here, then, is Tasha, from scrapfiction. Enjoy.
“I’ve owed you this piece-o-bloggery for a while now. Has anyone else responded? I didn’t really know what to say, so I said a lot, and perhaps not very well. You can decide whether to use most or some or none of this as a sort-of response to your request for some thoughts on being the editor of a journal. (Am I an editor if they’re my stories? Or am I God?) Anyways, here it is:
Imagine you’ve just read a few very insightful paragraphs about comedian Eddie Izzard, whose stand-up shows are mainly improvised, as a jumping-off point for discussing my flash fiction website, http://www.scrapfiction.com …
… This is a long way of describing how I got the idea for scrapfiction. I thought, if I could do a prose version of what Eddie Izzard does, I might develop the spontaneity and sense of risk that’s missing from many of my more polished stories. I was also thinking of the way my dad told me stories when I was little. The Serendipity series are fantasy books with great pictures, and to keep them interesting after they’d been recycled a few times, my dad changed the stories each time he “read” them. He just made something up that more or less corresponded with the pictures. It was great. Anyway, I wanted to create a website that would require me to a) respond to story requests and b) write each response within a one-hour deadline.
Taking requests is a cool way to involve other people in the writing process, since writers tend to miss out on the fun I imagine one might experience in a band — getting together and collaborating and creating something, and then being able to say, hey, neat, let’s go see if other people like it, and stuff. The links between creator and creator, and creator and audience, aren’t always so obvious (and sometimes aren’t present at all) in writing, and sometimes it’s nice to do something with someone, for someone. Also, figuring out how to shape other people’s ideas into stories adds an element of pressure, since a type of transaction is being made between requester and responder, and as the responder, I want people to feel like they’re getting what they “paid” for. Which can be a little tough because of the time-limit thing and my own limited powers.
My project supervisor, Alyson Hagy (like many of our web-based writing ventures here at the U of Wyo, scrapfiction is intended as my MFA Project) agreed that not only responding to requests, but writing under a deadline, is crucial to the whole risk-taking/improvising concept. So I decided to limit myself to one hour for each story. To just start writing and hope something works out. And then stick it online. Finished, or not. Decent, or not. I figured, if not good for the writing, it’s bound to be good for the soul—a weekly stare-off into the eye of Failure, and a quick stretch, like fiction-yoga. It’s probably also good for the writing. In any case, I’m sweating at the end.
I had dreamed up an entire wacky website, with a tab for dispatches from my ferret, Ted, and another for “Tales from a Dyslexic/ADD Biker,” but then, I thought—keep it simple. Though the design’s pretty simple (it’s a WordPress blog with a domain name), I’ve run into a few problems. Since I randomly select only one request per week, people might feel discouraged from re-submitting, since there’s no guarantee I’ll ever draw their request. I’m starting to see a decline in the number of visitors, and fewer requests are coming into ye olde gmail-box. Maybe people are getting frustrated when their requests aren’t drawn, or the concept’s getting boring, or people are just forgetting to check for updates. I’m considering taking requests directly on Facebook, since my WordPress stats tell me that’s where most of my traffic comes from. It’ll mean almost no additional work for me, and it’s much easier for potential requesters. The other issues might be more difficult to address.
But I just wanted to start something. I figure I can make changes as I go along. In the future, I’d like to host guest writers and hold contests to shake things up. Perhaps there will be merchandise. But even if the site doesn’t branch out beyond my own posts, I hope people will keep requesting. At any rate, it’s a valuable way to spend an hour of my week. I get to read other people’s cool and weird story ideas, and I get to write something for them, specifically—crafting their ideas into something that belongs to both of us, which is rare in my world, and the closest I’ll ever get to being in a band, or performing improv, or telling stories like my dad, or doing yoga, or interpretive-dancing with three close friends who will all be too embarrassed to look each other in the eye afterward, etc.”
To say again, scrapfiction posts on Fridays. As for Tasha—she does cool things most days (see again: interpretive-dancing).