Carrot Ranch Flash FictionSerendipity. A good gift, seemingly by accident. Some would say coincidence. Others would say there is no such thing as coincidence. But a good gift, none-the-less lucky.

We often find serendipity when we write. Brevity taught me about nines: I can evoke a creative idea  at 99 words. This accidental discovery that word constraints turn my mind to flint that sparks promising impressions, I learned from poets.

Yet, longevity also offered a gift of nines.

When I attempted the National Novel Writing Month challenge, I had to write an average of 1700 words a day every day in the month of November. What I discovered by happenstance is that I struggle with flow up until word 999. Then it breaks loose and I’m a writing cannon-ball.

Receiving the gift of serendipity requires our participation, though. No one sits at home nom-nom-nomming on caramel popcorn, waiting for the patron saint of writers to materialize and pass out gifts like Santa Claus. Here’s what participation requires:

  1. You’re a writer. Write. While I do agree that writers need time for processing, day-dreaming and contemplating, we have to practice craft consistently. Free-write, journal or blog to limber up. If you write books, you have to write pages. If you write poems, you have to write verses. If you write blogs, you have to write posts. To achieve the finished product you have to write. And in writing, you’ll discover gifts.
  2. Allow for imperfection. I groan at my younger self as a writer. I was such a picky perfectionist that I’d write and re-write the first paragraph so many times it was like shoveling with a hoe–unproductive. Usually the pressure of a deadline would force me to break out of that perfectionist cycle. Later, I discovered that the magic of my writing happens unedited. Oh, it needs editing, but after I write, not during. It’s okay to break rules. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to write it differently than planned. It all leads to discovery and therein lies the gift.
  3. Show up. You have to go places to get places. When knocking on one door, the neighbor may answer his and have a gift for you. Take Bob Hoskins, British actor who died today at the age of 71. According to NPR reporter, Bob Mondello, Hoskins’ career was the result of serendipity: “Hoskins got his first acting gig, at 26, by accident: He went with a friend to an audition, just to keep him company, got a script shoved into his hand by someone who said “you’re next,” and decided to give it a shot.” Be alert for those chance encounters.
  4. Seek connections. Life has a way of weaving patterns even if we think we are following divergent threads. I grew up near wilderness with an eye for the natural world. In college learned nature writing. In my career I wrote farm profiles for the natural food industry. My daughter went to Baffin Island on a cultural exchange, giving me the chance to meet Will Steger which led me to learn about global warming and how it’s impacting the Inuit communities. Last November, I wrote my second novel project, “Warm Like Melting Ice” about a climatologist on Baffin Island. Just yesterday I found out that there is an actual genre called, cli-fi, that fits this novel like an Arctic mitten. Thank you, Anne Goodwin, for writing a flash cli-fi that led to this discovery. Suddenly, a lifetime of threads connected to reveal a tapestry.
  5. Dare to leap. Reading a post on Diane Mott’s blog, Being Truly Present, I related to her struggle to take off the training wheels. Two years ago I left my career in marketing communications to finish my first novel. I picked up client work writing content, reports and editing. As I built my writing presence online, I leaned heavily on my career writing to qualify myself as a writer. I felt that I was somehow less of a writer if I focused on literary pursuits, yet that is what I want to do. Yesterday, I re-branded my social media. I dared to leap. I dared to call myself a writer without having to focus on business or consulting. The training wheels came off.

How will you dare to leap? Serendipity can (and will) happen with your participation. You may set out to write one thing, but publish another. You may find an idea in flash that becomes a novel or you may take an idea for a novel and create brilliant flash. You can use the flash fiction challenge to explore, to compile material for longer prose, to  invent new possibilities. You can submit your flash fiction and see what doors it might open for you. Flash Fiction Magazine accepts submissions of 100-word stories–that’s near serendipitous to us writing 99-words!

This week, let’s take off the training wheels. You can leap as a writer and try something out of the ordinary for you or your character. What scares you? What scares your character? What lines of safety need crossing? Think about that moment when the screw-driver comes out (Mott’s terrific analogy). It could be exhilarating, terrifying or sobering.

I think about yesterday, when I deleted my Facebook “business consultant” page and reloaded it as an “arts/humanities” page. My mouse arrow hovered over the save button. Screw-driver quivered. Training wheels came off.  And I haven’t crashed yet (she says on Day Two).

April 30, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about the experience of letting go of  something that feels safe like training wheels. Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, May 6 to be included in the compilation. My contribution is a reconstructed passage from my cli-fi novel in progress. It was a fun exercise to make flash from a scene. May you find an unexpected gift this week through your writing!

Saving Face by Charli Mills

“I always thought a beard was protective,” said Dagen.

Alex paused, inventorying survival gear: sleeping bags, rations, fuel, water. He responded to the American who volunteered for the rescue mission. “A frozen beard is a frozen face.”

Numbering fifteen, mostly Clyde River villagers, they left on packed skidoos. Skirting massive outcrops of black rocks rising from white tundra, the group met up with three Inuit hunters outfitted with dog sleds. They joined the search for the downed Hercules yet days away.

When Dagen saw the polar bear he thought, “I’m a bearded climatologist. What am I doing out here?”


Rules of Play:

  1. New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
  2. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  3. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  4. Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  5. If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
  6. Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
  7. Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
  9. You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
  10. First-time comments are filtered by Word Press and not posted immediately. I’ll find it (it goes to my email) and make sure it gets posted! After you have commented once, the filter will recognize you for future commenting. Sorry for that inconvenience, but I do get frequent and strange SPAM comments, thus I filter.

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