Freeze Frame: Writing Life Moments

Monday, July 29, 2013
By Jane Hertenstein

As a writer and a working woman, it’s easy for me to get overwhelmed—especially when facing the blank page. In freshman comp we’re told to “write what you know,” but that is sometimes easier said than done. At the end of a busy day, I’m not sure anymore what I actually know or if it is simply assumed.

The same goes for memory. If writing what one knows or, put another way, memoir, is about what happened, then there is still room for a thousand different angles. What “happened” depends on where one stands in the story.

Your story. Anne Sexton is quoted as saying, “It doesn’t matter who my father was; what matters is who I remember he was.”

Your memoir matters. Many of us are looking to write memories—either in the form of literary memoir or simply to record family history, in order to pass down stories to children or grandchildren. Writing about the past can be therapeutic, helping us to make sense of the here-and-now. For some, myself included, writing can be the cause of anxiety.

So what I do is look at life in bite-size pieces. In my book Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Memoir I de-construct the process I use to stir up memories and write about them. Just like how a camera focuses and gives us a snapshot, I freeze-frame a memory from the past, something that actually happened, crop it or enlarge it, and bring it into focus. Flash!

Publishers of literary journals are eager for flash, the haiku of prose, where every word counts. There is no widely accepted definition for the length. Some journals are asking for no more than 100 words. Six Minute Magazine is looking for quality fiction that can be read in under six minutes. Morgen Bailey has put out a call for six-word flashes for Flash Fridays. The upper limits of flash might be 1,000 words. Tin House Magazine runs a column every Friday for flash a 1,000 words or less. Regardless of length—flash is hot. In one 12-month period I’ve had over 20 such flashes accepted.

For some, flash is a proper story with a beginning, middle, and end. I propose with flash memoir that one not look for plot but write for the “ah ha” moment. That may be an impression, a vignette or scene with a simple take-away, or a stream-of-conscious journaling, where the present is captured and poured out onto the page.

One way I do this is to improvise. Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way instructs us to “make time,” not wait to “find time” for writing. She suggests free writing where for 10 – 20 minutes you write whatever comes into your head without editing, without even lifting your pen from the page. Her method is called Morning Pages.

Flash memories come unbidden, unconnected—yet can stay with us like last night’s undigested roast beef. Try not to get bogged down with facts—or exactly how it happened. Our memories are flitting fireflies, one minute we see them like the light of day and in the next instant we are floundering in darkness. Allow yourself to get distracted and let your mind wander. But, no matter what, stick with it.

In my book Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Memoir and at my blog Memoirous I have a section on where to submit flash memoir. Good luck flashing!


Jane Hertenstein’s current obsession is flash. She is the author of over 40 published stories, a combination of fiction, creative non-fiction, and blurred genre both micro and macro. In addition she has published a YA novel, Beyond Paradise, and a non-fiction project, Orphan Girl: The Memoir of a Chicago Bag Lady, which garnered national reviews. She is a 2x recipient of a grant from the Illinois Arts Council. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Hunger Mountain, Rosebud, Word Riot, Flashquake, Fiction Fix, Frostwriting, and several themed anthologies. Her latest book Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Memoir is available through Amazon. She can be found blogging about Flash Memoir at


Margo Dill said...

This is interesting to me. I've never really heard of flash memoir--but I can see how it would be beneficial to someone who writes both personal essays and even a full-length memoir, as well as the markets you mentioned. Thanks for talking about it today on our site!

Renee Roberson said...

Very interesting topic, Jane! You gave me a great idea for a flash memoir piece I'm going to work on for my blog. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Margo and Renee
some of my favorite topics have been flashing about first times--the first time you tasted Coca-Cola, the first time you flew in an airplane, your first apartment.

Unknown said...

Morning Jane, I'm excited about this and want to start "Flashing". Sounds risque, doesn't it? LOL
I don't have Kindle, but Kobo. I wonder how else i can get a copy of your book?

Anonymous said...

I have neither a Kindle nor a Kobo, but I've heard that any download from Amazon, even if you don't own a Kindle, you can read on your computer--with a free app that allows your computer to become a "reader". Good luck and THANKS!

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