One-Hour Flash: What’s It Good For?

If you follow my blog, you’ve probably heard me talk about writing one-hour flash fiction. It’s something I do every other week in a group writing exercise and friendly competition, and, I shit you not, it’s one of the “secrets” to my publishing success. The exercise is simple. Someone in the group posts a writing prompt, usually a photo, but it can be a phrase or even a short piece of music, and then everyone, at the same time, has one hour to write a story of no more than 1,000 words. Then, we read all the stories, give a little feedback, and choose the one we like best. The winner gets to pick the prompt on the next go around. I first encountered the one-hour flash competition on the Shock Totem forums, and when it faded away there, I introduced it to my writing group, and it’s been quite a hit.

Look, I know; writing a complete flash story in an hour seems daunting, and it is, especially at first, but I think there are huge benefits to timed and prompted writing exercises. Before we get into the reasons I think the one-hour flash competition could be good for writers, let me tell you what it’s done for me. I’ve participated in 107 one-hour flash challenges. I have gone on to publish 39 of those stories. Some I’ve expanded into short stories, but the bulk of them remained flash and not too much different than their one-hour incarnations. So, clearly, one-hour flash works for me; now let me tell you why.

  1. I’m deadline driven. It’s probably a remnant of working as a freelance game designer and magazine editor where the clock is always ticking, but I thrive with a deadline. In fact, I can’t simply sit down and write without some kind of goal or deadline in mind. I set deadlines for my short stories, my novels, and, yes, even my flash. The one-hour challenge just revs me up and gets me writing.
  2. Gets me out of my head. When you have to look at a prompt and come up with a story in five minutes, you don’t have time to overthink, you gotta go with whatever pops into your head. That works incredibly well for me. It leads me down roads I probably wouldn’t take if I had more time to think, and some of my best (and most original) stories have come from the one-hour flash challenge. I also feel more confident exploring new genres at this weird, rapid pace, and that too has led me to some great ideas.
  3. A constant source of new material. I’ve been doing the one-hour flash challenge for about eight years, usually every other week (though, I’ve missed a few), and it supplies me with a never-ending source of stories to work on, revise, polish, and most importantly, submit. Of course, not every story is going to be submission-worthy or even worth finishing. Sometimes it really is just an exercise, and that’s okay too.
  4. Feedback and a group dynamic. The one-hour flash challenge is my favorite type of writing group. Every two weeks we all have something new to present in a structured event. You get a bunch of feedback on your story from folks you trust, and you get the chance to read and provide feedback as well (always good for a writer). It’s a great community building exercise in my opinion.

Now, of course, this is why the flash challenge works for me. It might not work for you, but I’d recommend giving it a try. A lot of folks I know who never believed they could write anything coherent in an hour have become enthusiastic supporters of one-hour flash. It’s important, though, that you find a supportive group that shares your writing goals. The one-hour flash challenge can get, well, ugly in the wrong hands. So, as always, vet your writing groups carefully.

Thoughts on the one-hour flash challenge? Have you ever tried it? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

4 Comments on “One-Hour Flash: What’s It Good For?

  1. I’ve never been a part of a group that did this, but now I want to ask a couple members of my writers group, who write the same genre, if they want to give it a shot. I could use the forced motivation these days.

    • You don’t even need folks who write the same genre, and, in fact, it can be more fun if you have a diverse group of writers. I hope you get the chance to try it out. 🙂

  2. What a great idea. Until the lockdown I used to do Writing Marathons – which are a lot like your one-hour exercise except we would walk around and write in different locations.

    I like your method – though I’ll have to try it on my own.

    Thanks for sharing.

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