Writers' Café: Flash Fiction and Using Constraints to Write—Peg Alford Pursell & Tom McWhorter

September 22, 2017 - 3:30pm

One of the many paradoxes of creativity is that it benefits from constraints. We might think the imagination needs total freedom, but the reality of the creative process is that it's often entwined with formal requirements and strict conventions, as is common in poetry based upon particular verse forms. It’s not until we encounter an obstacle that the binds of cognition are loosened, giving us access to unexpected connections simmering in the unconscious. Constrained writing—a literary technique in which the writer is bound by some linguistic condition that forbids certain things or imposes a pattern—isn’t reserved for poetry. Flash fiction has the obvious constraint of limited word counts. We’ll try our hand at writing short pieces, imposing constraints on them.

Peg Alford Pursell is the author of Show Her a Flower, A Bird, A Shadow (ELJ Editions, March 2017), a collection of flash fiction, micro-fictions, and hybrid prose with praise from Antonya Nelson, Peter Orner, Joan Silber, and others. Her work has appeared in Permafrost, the Los Angeles Review, Joyland Magazine, and many other journals and anthologies. She is the founder and director of the national reading series Why There Are Words and of WTAW Press. A native of Southwestern PA, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit her at www.pegalfordpursell.com.


Tom McWhorter is a lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh and the Department of English’s Internship Coordinator and Academic Integrity Officer. He earned an MFA in fiction and a JD from the University of Utah. Tom teaches courses in Writing, Composition, and Public & Professional Writing (PPW). His stories have appeared in The Madison ReviewShort Story, and New Stories from the Southwest.