None of us are strangers to “the diary.” While it might conjure up images of Lisa Frank lock journals from the early 2000s, diary-keeping actually comes from centuries of travel and spiritual meditations. Some of the oldest records originate in antiquity from Middle Eastern and East Asian travellers. These entries, rather than being private, were meant to be read and shared. The practice of “private” diary-keeping became popular in mid-19th-century Britain, which conflicted with previous attitudes that diaries—and thus, the people who wrote them—were only valuable if they were published.
Popular ideas about journaling today favor attitudes that are more private and less structured; most people journal via stream-of-consciousness. But is writing without inhibition necessarily better than writing with it? To write intentionally and with restrictions, rather than freely, might seem counterintuitive. But imagine if you wrote in a way that spared you from feeling that you needed to record every single detail—that you knew when to stop. Imagine forgiving yourself for forgetting a name or an object or an event. Imagine writing around absence, and letting that silence hint to a larger story.
In comes the genre of “microprose,” a bite-sized narrative packed into less than 300 words. It is a sister genre of “flash fiction” and “flash nonfiction,” which are generally narratives consisting of less than 1,000 words. It is no new way of writing—being something akin to taking a photograph with words rather than with an image. The literary magazine, Brevity, has further expanded on the various practices of microprose. Whether it be a moment from childhood that the writer could not forget, or a philosophical idea that needed extra attention, microprose has offered writers (and those who previously thought themselves to be non-writers!) boundaries that allow them to flourish. Writing just 250 words of microprose every day would give you 91,250 words by the end of a year—the length of a memoir or a collection of essays, like Sarah Ruhl’s work, 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write.
Considering the struggles brought forth by the year 2020, it might be worth taking note of 2021. Nurturing the memory of this moment in time, even if incompletely, can liberate one from the desire to write with accuracy and instead, write toward the truth, since no feeling or moment can ever be completely grasped. So write with constriction! Go ahead and delve into the past. Write the present. Reimagine the future. Let confines pave the way for writing experiments—ones that will give new meaning to memory and the legacy of a life.
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