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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Flash Fiction Challenge Begins Next Week

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionNext week is the debut for Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction. March 5 and every Wednesday thereafter you’ll find a prompt at this blog to initiate the week’s challenge. You’ll have up until the next challenge to post a link to your blog.

How you craft your 99 words is up to you.  This is meant to be a friendly exercise among wordsmiths. Sometimes you might feel humorous and write something funny; other times you might be frustrated and write something horrific. Some will write into hard truths like warriors and others will gently catalog the wonder of fluttering butterfly wings.

The point is to find your true expression. That’s why the challenge is 99 words. The limitation on the number of words–no more and no fewer–actually is a key that unlocks creativity. Try it and you’ll understand after you’ve completed a few challenges.

Return to the weekly challenge that you are responding to and post a link to your response on your own blog. It’s a way to share our blogs in addition to fostering our craft of creative writing. If you do not have a platform to share your response you may publish it in the comments only if it is “business-friendly.” Why? Because my writing is my profession and  I don’t want to freak out any of my clients or promote writing that doesn’t fit my brand.

My belief as a writer is that writing is a business, even creative writing. My priorities are improving my craft, learning the publishing industry and extending my career as a professional writer. I want to meet other writers on the path to exchange ideas, inspiration and knowledge.

I also want to meet readers who voraciously gobble up stories like M&Ms. As writers we often think about what we want to say, but not who we want to say it to. The reader is as important as the writer in the art of written communication. Creativity is a dynamic relationship between writer and reader. My hope is that both will join in the Flash Fiction.

Here are the Rules of Play:

  1. Flash Fiction at Carrot Ranch begins Wednesday March 5.
  2. New challenge issued each Wednesday at noon (PST).
  3. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  4. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  5. Post your response on your blog before the following Wednesday and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  6. If you don’t have a blog, you may post your entry in the comments as long as it is business-rated, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read. Your blog, your business.
  7. Create community among writers–read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. When the next challenge is issued, I will post the response links to the previous challenge.

See you next week at Carrot Ranch! Lasso some time to ride on over and herd some words on March 5, 2014.

 

Flash Fiction Becomes a Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionAfter exploring options for developing the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction on Wednesdays (beginning March 5), I’ve refined two points. First, I’m clarifying that this is a “challenge,” meaning that any writer can participate. Second, there will not be a link option in the body of the hosting post.

 

These two changes alter the rules of play. Here is what to expect:

  1. Flash Fiction at Carrot Ranch begins Wednesday March 5.
  2. New challenge issued each Wednesday at noon (PST).
  3. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  4. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  5. Post your response on your blog before the following Wednesday and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  6. If you don’t have a blog, you may post your entry in the comments as long as it is business-rated, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read. Your blog, your business.
  7. Create community among writers–read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. When the next challenge is issued, I will post the response links to the previous challenge.

At this point, I feel like the new buckaroo on the ranch, and I have no idea if the other buckaroos will want to play cards with me. That’s okay. We can start slow. The point is for the challenge to be engaging to writers, including me. I’m inspired by other creatives and want to meet people who are tackling the same writing issues as me.

If this grows into something bigger, I’m considering making the challenge a contest. Top three responses would be highlighted and one monthly winner selected from the top responses to receive food. That’s right, I said food. Fun, foodie, organic stuff that I have access to on the ranch. No, not carrots from my garden, but prizes from vendors in the natural food industry.

But for now, mark your calendar for March 5 and stop back next week for a final reminder. This buckaroo looks forward to meeting you and reading your responses!

Tips For Writers: Justifying Changes

Tips for WritersYes, I’ve been talking out loud and no one but the dogs are in the house with me. You might think I’m suffering from cabin fever here at Carrot Ranch–after all, it has snowed, rained and spit ice-balls over the duration of a week. According to my smartphone, I’m in for another seven days of breezy with snow, sun and snow, chilly with snow, followed by a chance of snow.

It’s dull, gray and squishy-wet.

Which leads me to the thought that I don’t want my website to be dull and gray like the late winter weather in the northern Rockies. So, I’m talking to myself as if you were all here with me because when we write, we never write alone. We write for an audience.

Who do I think you are? Well, mostly I think you are writers, dedicated to your dreams and determined to see your writing come to fruition. Some of you might be bloggers or content writers looking to connect. A few of you might be reading because you need a business writer (my hand is raised for the job, if that’s you).

Here’s the situation–a year ago, I thought you were all potential clients for my contract work. What has changed is my game plan. I thought it would be another year or so before I reached the point that I’d be more interested in building my writer’s platform than my freelancing business.

Don’t get me wrong, I still need my client gigs to butter my bread (and at the ranch, this buckaroo likes real butter). But my writing has significantly shifted toward my creative goals. Thus it was time to make changes to CarrotRanch.com.

Whenever you make changes to your platform, you need to talk out loud and justify those changes. If the audience talking back to you is different, then, yes you do need to change. Yet, keep this in mind. What you change in one place must align with all your social media.

Here are some tips for when you have justified the need to make any updates or changes:

  1. Have a game plan. When buckaroos round up the herd they don’t just ride off into the hills. They map out where the springs and meadows are located, knowing these to be likely spots for range cattle. Likewise, as a writer you need to plan for the best places to write, when to write and how to progress your writing. For some of you, this might be a vision and for others, it will be a written strategy.
  2. Establish goals. If you have a game plan, the goal is to win, which means something different to each of us. The buckaroo wants to gather all the herd and you want to herd words into a publication. Set goals that are specific and have a deadline. What do you want to win? Answering that will help you forge your goals. I want to build a rock-solid, fully-engaged writer’s platform by the end of 2014.
  3. Know the impact of changes. You see, without a game plan and goals, changes don’t impact much because you are just roaming around the hills expecting cattle to come to you. Reality is that you need to be strategic with your writing if you want to win something. This means that changes you make will have an impact. Know what they are before you commit to the changes.
  4. Maintain consistency. You as a writer are your own brand. Be aware of making changes that impact your brand. If I get tired of horses and buckaroo analogies and suddenly change my header to pink pandas, there’s going to be a huge disconnect. It would be like changing the genre of your book mid-way through the writing. That would be weird and would disrupt reader continuity. So think about your brand, always.
  5. Proofread. Anytime we alter our static pages, we run the risk of making a mistake, including typos or word omissions. Always take time to read over your changes. Sometimes errors get through and the next day our eyesight improves. I always come back and re-read my changes after a day or two. The beauty of online is that corrections are easily made.

So, what changes did I make? Since my game plan has changed, so has my target audience. I thought about what would be useful to change, delete or keep. My home page, “The Ranch” is revised. It offers a brief background so that you know I have a credible history and I’m not just writing about writing. It also includes my two key blog elements (“Tip for Writers” and “Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction”). It also keeps a call to action for any potential clients, but shifts to my creative writing emphasis.

Speaking of creative writing, I renamed the vague page “Inspired.” Now it’s clear that the page and its corresponding tab read, “Creative Writing.” The last changes were to update my “Credentials,” including my photo to match the one I’m using on other social media sites. That’s tightening my brand consistency. Nothing changed about my services or client preferences so those remain. Neither did I change the “Legend of Carrot Ranch,” which is just a fun way to brand my own story about me as a buckaroo writer.

Are you thinking about making changes? You can leave a question or comment. Discussions are welcome.

Chocolate From the Ranch

Recipes From the RanchHe always gets me at chocolate.

How can we not embrace a day that professes love and chocolate? Dear Ones, I’m speaking of Valentine’s Day. And that’s today, which calls for a chocolate recipe that’s so easy you can love it all the rest of the 394 days in a year!

Originally, this ranch recipe hails from the genuine rodeo wife of legendary saddle bronc rider, Butch Small. It’s called oatmeal fudge (I know, not very romantic-sounding). But add dark cocoa and it’ll be love at first bite. Add a few extra goodies like white chocolate chips and dried cherries and Cupid will sing in your kitchen. Here’s the Carrot Ranch version:

Chocolate Live Bites

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup canned milk
  • 1/4 pound butter
  • 2 Tbsp. dark cocoa powder
  • 1 and 1/2 cups quick-cooking oatmeal
  • 1 package white chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Boil the first three ingredients for 2 minutes. Add cocoa and and oatmeal, mixing well. Add the chips, fruit and vanilla last. Let it sit for about 20 minutes, then drop by the spoonful onto waxed paper. Once solid, store in a bowl and share with the ones you love.

Or hide away near your desk.

NoBake Cookies (2)

Power of Word Prompts

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionThe first word prompts I ever used were issued weekly by my 7th-grade teacher, Mr. Price. It was called a spelling list and the assignment was to use 10 of the 20 words in a story. That’s when I discovered my calling as a storyteller.

Words prompts continue to make for enjoyable practice. Practice makes for better craft, of course, but it also can be freeing. If it’s just “practice” then the writer can leave behind her critic or his editor, and just do the one thing we all want to do–write.

Take a break to have fun, and you just might return to your work renewed with playful creativity. I’m looking for some writers to play with once a week. The game is flash-fiction and each week will have it’s own prompt. Only 99 words, so not a big commitment. You can even develop a blog post around your submission and meet other writers–poets, bloggers, authors, j-students, teachers. If you write you are invited to play. Nothing serious; it’s just practice.

In the spirit of writing tight, I’m condensing the rules of play:

  1. Flash Fiction at Carrot Ranch begins Wednesday March 5.
  2. New prompt issued each Wednesday thereafter for submission the following Wednesday.
  3. Entry is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  4. Entry is to include the prompt.
  5. Entry is to include the Week# in the title.
  6. Post your entry on your blog and link it to the host blog.
  7. If you don’t have a blog, you may post your entry in the comments as long as it is business-rated, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read. Your blog, your business.
  8. Create community among writers–read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.

Here’s an example based on a flash-story I wrote back in 2008. The prompt was: “Write a short scene in which one character reduces another to uncontrollable sobs without touching him or speaking.”

Week #8: Incident in a Raspberry Patch

Raspberries spilled from Grandfather’s hand. He lay on his back, a gunshot wound to his groin, another spreading blood across his chest. I longed to go to him, and place new moccasins on his feet.

From my hiding place I watched the white invader kick Grandfather with his boot, then tie a rope under his arms. He rode off with Grandfather dragging behind his horse.

Later I found Grandfather’s body in a refuse pit outside their town. Hair hacked off, body decaying, nostrils blown away by firecrackers celebrating the 4th of July.

Tears spatter like raspberries left in the dust.

©Charli Mills 2008

Questions? Leave me a comment!

Business Review: 6 Strategic Steps Online

Were did everybody go? Here we are…we’re online! Are you?

As a business owner, you might feel overwhelmed by social media. You can easily get started on WordPress and Facebook with 6 strategic steps. Read my article at azcentral.com for full details. It’s a quick 3 minute read: Need Help With WordPress & Facebook Marketing Strategy.

Need help strategizing your social media plan? I can offer you a review and a plan based on your time and resources. Contact Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch: wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

Tips for Writers: By What Authority

2013-Winner-Square-ButtonDuring NaNoWriMo* 2013, a fellow Wrimo** wrote a tweet–along the lines that by 2015 every person on Twitter will have published a novel. That’s probably because writers were tweeting #NaNoWriMo  and #mybook like starlings garbling in a copse of cottonwood trees. It seemed that only novelists or aspiring novelists existed in November.

As one of the starlings, I think that’s swell; I’m not alone. How terrific it is that so many people are writing. If people are writing, people are reading, and I’m of the opinion that books cement important pillars of humanity, including imagination, critical thinking and life-long learning.

However, to those standing beneath the cottonwoods, it sounds like chaos–too many starlings.

Go beyond November’s gathering of novelists and we still have busy writing tweets, many linking back to blog posts such as this touting, “Tips for Writers.” What to read? What to write? By what authority? Tweet, tweet, tweet, all the birds sing.

The answer to the latter question is that there is no governing body that certifies a post as worthy or not. It all comes back to you. You, as writer, are the one to declare authority over what you read and what you post. Let’s break it down into a few guidelines that can help.

What to Read:

  • Recognize Quality. You’ll know it. It’s that post that captivates you with practical information, entertains you with humor or beauty, startles you into realization. As a writer, you want to be filling your head with good writing like a balanced meal.
  • Prioritize.  Avoid anything that doesn’t serve your purpose–sure kittens are cute, but unless you’re writing about a kitten-toting hero, posts on “My Cute Cat” might be a waste of your time. Instead, read that post on character development. Know what is important, and start with the important stuff first. Fluff can wait for a rainy day.
  • Seek Authorities. If you’re writing YA, read the blog posts of established YA authors. If you are looking for inspiration or encouragement, read posts from those you find inspiring or encouraging. Interested in traditional publishing? Follow what lit agents or publishing houses have to say to writers.

What to Write:

  • Think Process. Unless you are writing a book on sales, don’t start writing to sell. Share your process. What have you learned so far? What milestones have you achieved and how did you get there? You are the authority of your own journey.
  • Your Voice. In a tree full of starlings, your voice needs to be uniquely different. By writing everyday, you practice your voice, like a piano player warming up with scales. Give your voice an outlet. Write about the things you know and love. Maybe you do write about kittens because you have a barn full of them. Exercise that voice daily. It’s the one you are authorized to use.
  • Be an authority. Maybe you decided to write a book because you’ve read thousands. That’s makes you a book authority. What has your experience reading taught you about books? Maybe you’ve spent the last 10 years as a dental hygienist. You must certainly have something to say about teeth and people’s fears. How can you relate that experience to your writing?

By what authority am I even tapping at my keyboard tonight? As a student, my only saving grace was that I could write lengthy responses. My first attempt at a novel was writing about a girl named Silver who lived in an old mansion beneath a Comstock mine. Stories got set aside for newspaper writing. Small-town stuff like council meetings and obituaries. I had to try college twice before I nailed it the second time. Most of my successes have been because of the failures that proceeded.

Because I wasn’t afraid to fail or get rejected–oh, but I hate how it makes me feel like being kicked by a horse–I started querying editors before  graduated with my BA in English–Writing. What I learned is that regional editors were more likely to take on a new writer. 22 years later and I’ve had my by-line in regional and national publications hundreds of times. Nothing huge like “National Geographic,” but a solid sub-career as a freelancer.

Marketing became my actual career. It taught me to apply skills and experiences to a new application. It also taught me the value of seeking a mentor. I learned that my perseverance equated to leadership and not only did I get to build brand strategies I also got to build teams that worked together strategically.

Now, I’m semi-retired in that I still freelance some and I still take on a few marketing communications clients. But I’ve returned to that old binder that harbored my dreams of writing fiction. So, I’m pooling all this swath of experience into reflections to help cultivate me and other emerging novelists into successful starlings.

And that’s what you can expect from me: tips that cultivate, ideas on how to be professional as a writer, and stories that relate to my experiences and processes.

Explanations:

  • *NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month
  • **Wrimo = One who attempts to finish a 50,000 word manuscript project