Shortly after joining Twitter at the beginning of 2018, I discovered the Twitter writing community and the delightful and curious world of flash fiction and Very Short Stories.
Very Short Stories is a daily writing exercise open to writers of any genre. Each day, the challenge is to create a piece of flash fiction that includes the daily prompt word and share it with your followers, using the hashtag #vss365.
To see what I mean, search the hashtag on Twitter now if you like. I don’t mind waiting…
You’re back — hurrah!
Now, here are a couple of pieces of my flash fiction thrown in for good measure, and because I’m kinda sneaky like that:
‘My mother died on Christmas Eve. The church bells rang out the next morning, as they always had. But louder than before. And somehow, they had lost their melody.’
That was the first piece of flash fiction I ever wrote.
And here’s another with a hashtag highlighting the prompt word:
‘He’d always loved the sight of blood, been seduced by its crimson allure. As he cut into the stranger’s alabaster skin, he felt that familiar surge of adrenaline, that #delicious, incomparable sense of god-like power. Just another day in the life of a surgeon.’
Right, now you have a better idea of what flash fiction is, let’s talk about how this relates to copywriting.
Copywriting and flash fiction go together like peas and carrots
Shortly after I started copywriting, I was told by a far more experienced copywriter that I had no business writing fiction of any kind — I had to choose a path and stick to it. They warned me that if I tried to do both, it would confuse my focus. And if potential clients got wind that I was dancing with the devil that is flash fiction, it may even put them off hiring me.
Well, to that ‘helpful’ person I say balderdash!
Or bollocks, to put it more bluntly.
As an aspiring writer, the best advice I ever got was to read everything I could get my hands on — the good, the bad and the downright terrible. And I reckon this should also extend to writing.
Because the way I see it, copywriting is about stories.
Our job is tell the story of a person, product or business in a way that will hook the attention of the target audience.
In order to do this, you have to know who your readers are. The more you know about your audience, the easier it becomes to know exactly what words to use and how to use them in a way that will resonate with said audience.
Writing flash fiction is very similar; it’s not just about having a story to tell, the skill is in knowing how to tell it.
It’s all in the delivery
It’s like stand-up comedy — the same joke can live or die based on how it’s told. The key is in the delivery.
Of course, in copywriting ultimately you want them to buy a product/service or invest in an idea. But people won’t do any of these things unless you evoke some kind of emotional response in them first. Now, I don’t mean you have to make them weep them selves into a state of near dehydration. An emotional reaction can be as simple as a smile, a pang of nostalgia, or even annoyance.
But that emotional reaction is the difference between them choosing your soft drink or the thousands of others that are on the market.
Ignoring the ‘wise’ (interfering) old copywriter
So earlier in the year, I decided to ignore the advice I’d been given and started writing flash fiction on Twitter first thing in the morning before starting on client work. It was a great way to get the old creativity flowing.
And because of that pesky 280 character limit, I had to learn how to say more with less — an essential skill for a copywriter.
As a result, I learnt more about pace, suspense, impact and brevity than I ever could have imagined.
After a couple of weeks of doing the exercise every morning, I started to see a massive improvement in my writing. And I don’t just mean the flash fiction I was writing, I noticed the client work I was doing was better, too.
Taking a chance
So on a whim, I decided to enter the annual Serious Flash Fiction Competition. And I’m delighted to say that, despite having only ever won a tin of ravioli at a school harvest festival, I was among the winners!
The winning entry features in their 2018 anthology (edited by the talented Ben Warden), alongside some outstanding work from other established and emerging writers.
Since then, I’ve had my work featured in the 2019 and 2020 Serious Flash Fiction anthologies, and been published as part of National Flash Fiction Day’s Flash Flood 2020.
And not that I like to go on about it (that’s a lie, I talk about it the time, and my friends are getting understandably sick of me), but I’m also the proud winner of the Blinkpot Twiction Award December 2020 and was shortlisted for the 2021 Blinkpot Award for Flash Fiction.
So the lesson here is to walk your own path. Or if you’re a Fleetwood Mac fan you might prefer to ‘go your own way’. The important thing is to have the courage to do what feels right to you as writer, despite what people with more experience are telling you.
Because guess what?
While they may know a lot of stuff you don’t and have a lot they can teach you, they don’t know everything.
Read, Write, Repeat
Do you know what the best way to learn is?
And doing in this case means reading and writing like your life depends on it, whether it happens to be fiction, non-fiction or something in-between.
Because while I may have been in this business for over 9 years, I still have a hell of a lot to learn. So whether I’m writing copy for a client or flash fiction for my followers on Twitter, I’ll take those lessons wherever I can find them.