May 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

May 29, 2014

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionAs breathless as a newcomer to running marathons, I’ve just thrown myself into my chair ready to race fingers across the keyboard in a mad dash.

Okay. Time for a deep, cleansing breath. Time for a cup of nettle tea...but there’s no time for boiling water, my mind says! I’d continue to argue with my mind, but really I’ve no time to digress.

What happened to the day that is now cloaked in rainy nightfall? Muddled priorities, that’s what happened.

I’m a writer. Your a writer. We know this happens. A million moments a day we are confronted with distractions and decisions. I’ll write, but first…and those firsts seem to never end. Sure, I can justify that my husband was going out of town for ten days and that caused at least a dozen “but firsts.” Also,  I have an important client meeting tomorrow and since I’m not taking new clients I must first keep this one satisfied. Dinner? Oh, yeah, the spouse with a paying job left for said job so I have to feed the dogs first. Then me second.

So when do we put our writing first? And is it ever really that simple? No, and don’t expect it to be. If you think prioritizing is simple, you live in a different century (and how did you get here, by the way?).

But let’s discuss prioritizing our priorities so we can swath writing time as if we were farmers of words. When priorities clash, I call them muddled. We might want to harvest our words but to do so successfully we need to have a balanced life. We need to simplify. And that’s a process.

In order to simplify, we have to un-muddle those priorities and make decisions. And it’s the decisions that cause us the angst. Let me give you an example: my spouse has a new job eight hours away. One priority is to make enough money to live in a house; the other is to live in a house in the mountains with horses and pond. But the money to live in the house that fulfills us is on the opposite end of Idaho. So which priority do we follow?

Well, it comes down to need verses want. Not a happy decision, but we foresee a future move. Or a future miracle. I’ll pray for the latter until the Uhaul of reality arrives to move my desk and stuff.

How does this equate to writing? I want to write literature but I need to write for clients so I can write all words from home. Do I give up the fulfilling writing? No way! I rearrange my weeks, days and hours to make sure the field of growing lit gets enough attention to provide a harvest.

Between this moment and the first of August I have revisions to make to my first novel. I’ve committed to getting up earlier and I’m giving up my garden–a tough decision for me. My gut aches, but if I try to do it all, then priorities will clash. It’s much simpler to not have a garden this year.

And, by committing to mornings I’ll make sure my revisions get finished before other priorities come up in the day. I’ll feel less rushed writing first than I would if I put those other but firsts, first.

Write first, but in balance. Don’t run around like I was today trying to do more tasks than hours would allow. Take time to plan; to review potential priority clashes; and always make time to boil water. There are many tasks involved in writing–building your platform, portfolio, marketing, sales, editing, revising, reading, discoursing, fixing dinner. But always write first. That’s your seed from which all else grows.

A hearty “thank you” to the writers and readers of Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction. You are an important part of my writing vitality. Here, you allow me to plant new seeds, to experiment with future growth and rub elbows with other word farmers. I learn from you and my watering well of creativity stays full as your writing, comments and reflective blog posts inspire me. I hope you are all feeling the benefits of actively participating in a dynamic literary group weekly.

If you feel ready to submit your flash for possible publication, be sure to check out the submission guidelines at Flash Fiction Magazine. Contests are also a great way to build your portfolio and writer’s platform. Anne Goodwin shares these two nuggets with us: Creative Industries Trafford and The Bridport Prize.

If you haven’t already guessed, this week’s prompt will tackle muddled priorities. What happens to a story when a character has to make a decision? How is the story altered? How is the character altered? What are the consequences of the decision…or consequences for refusing the decision? Does choosing a priority make life easier or more complicated?

May 28, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a decision between two clashing priorities. It could be a relationship where each person has a different priority or an individual who has to decide which priority is tops. It could also be a story about an organization or an institution. This could make for an interesting compilation! Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, June 3 to be included in the compilation.

Cobb’s Dilema by Charli Mills

Leroy twirled the rawhide rommel from the back of his buckskin gelding. He watched his brother standing along Rock Creek. Muddy waters slithered through the plains where two hundred head of red, shaggy shorthorns grazed.

“Cobb, you’ve got to decide,” Leroy said to his brother’s back.

Finally Cobb turned around. Leroy saw the war waging in his brother’s mind although a stranger might think Cobb was contemplating cows.

“Bring her to the ranch,” Cobb said.

“What about Sarah?”

“She stays!”

“Cobb, a man can’t have two women.”

“I asked you to bring the damn cattle, Leroy, not my wife.”


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.

You May Also Like…


  1. Paula Moyer

    At the Fork

    By Paula Moyer

    Jean stared at the quilt.

    It was gorgous; the colors bounced and vibrated against each other. It was a glory to behold. She loved holding the fabric, pulling the needle back and forth, watching the separate pieces become a new whole.

    And what about her book?

    The next chapter was a doozy. She kept putting it off. It was the one that was the whole point of it all, the one about the early warning signs of abuse, how a lying, faithless lover showed his cards by accusing his innocent beloved of infidelity.


    The quilt. Beautiful.

    But diverting.

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Paula. Wow. I love this.

    • Charli Mills

      There is so much going on as Jean quilts, and isn’t that true of our minds–weighing and deciding, keeping on task all the while. This flash captures the inner turmoil of deep tensions, even hints of abuse, yet shows how strong that urge is to seem calm on the surface. Great flash!

    • TanGental

      This is spoky, Paula; my flash was going to be on the same lines! I may have to think again…

      • Charli Mills

        Funny how that happens within a group. For fun sometime we’ll have to each write one sentence and send it on full circle to craft a group flash!

    • Norah

      I enjoyed this Paula. It’s lovely the way an activity such as quilting, and other crafts, can provide freedom for the mind to soar and explore other issues with time that seems to stretch beyond the rush of everyday activities.

  2. Sarah Brentyn

    Temporary Flight or Complete Freedom?

    Kim packed her nightgown and toothbrush next to her son’s tiny t-shirts and diaper cream. Everything fit in one suitcase. She sat on the bed and looked around at what had once been her dream home.

    Looking up at the ceiling, beyond which her baby slept peacefully in his crib, Kim held her husband’s heart medication. She would have to wake her son from sleep. But then what? The hotel was booked but what to leave behind—a house or a body?

    She walked to the bathroom, dumped the contents of the prescription bottle in the toilet, and flushed.

    • Charli Mills

      Another mystery brewing (or could this be the foot)? These kinds of decisions are the ones that stick with us–the ones we can’t return from. And you are building the tension around it. Great writing!

    • TanGental

      Creepy Sarah and a great piece. The pressure is on…

    • Norah

      Hmm. Interesting. I’m wondering where this one is going and what choice will be made.

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Charli and Norah: No mystery here. Sorry. Choice has been made… (Ha! Not the foot. I will always be the foot-under-the-bed writer now. Maybe I should write my next one about unicorns and rainbows.) 🙂

      Thanks, Geoff. Love yours. Both of them!

      • Charli Mills

        Hmmm…unicorns and rainbows…

  3. Norah

    Hi Charli,
    It’s interesting that you write about this issue as it is strongly on my mind and I grapple with it endlessly. I seem to be the only one who takes my writing seriously, and one may say that I don’t take it seriously enough as I find it difficult to give writing the time it requires. There are always so many other things that ‘have to’ be done. I gave up full-time work so that I could devote more time to writing, but the available time gets chipped away and I rarely achieve all that I wish. Mind you, I do have high expectations of what I can fit into my time so it’s always difficult to feel satisfied with achievements. I have begun musing on this prompt. I love that you have continued your story of Cobb and Sarah. That situation certainly poses a dilemma. It is interesting to compare the attitudes of the males. I look forward to reading other submissions. Thanks for sharing.

    • Charli Mills

      You hit upon some points that I think we all deal with as writers–of course, time, but also achievement. Like you, I quit full-time employment to write more and quickly discovered that time fills up with other things. But I’ve also come to learn that writing is not 100% writing. It also requires internal processes that are difficult to recognize or even justify. For instance, drinking coffee on my porch, petting horses and watching blackbirds zip about the pond relaxes my mind like a child at play and prepares me for writing more imaginatively. Reading other posts, stories, chapters and comments engages my thinking and ultimately influences what I write about. At first I thought I was procrastinating, but when I learned how the non-writing activities made my writing richer, I started t pay attention to it. Now I accept it as part of the process, along with tackling the work–the writing. I’m exploring Cobb and Sarah’s story and had ideas bubbling as I drank coffee this morning. It may yet gel into something solid or bigger. That’s the fun of exploring new stories! I look forward to yours!

      • Norah

        Hi again Charli, and thanks for your lovely response. I agree with you about all the activities you listed as being part of the writing process. I was thinking of other non-writing related activities, but then as a writer, everything helps fill the pitcher. Since I had been musing about time, the use and lack thereof, I have made that, and choice, the topic of my post this week: I have included two ‘flash’ pieces. (See how you have fired me up!) In fact, I didn’t want to stop there. I am happy for you to include either one in the compilation. Once again I appreciate the opportunity and look forward to reading all the responses. A wonderful conversation is already developing through the comments. I will selfishly say, that where-ever you be, you’ll always be with us. But of course, I hope that things work out in the best way possible. Take care of yourself all the while.

      • Charli Mills

        I like that phrase, “everything helps fill the pitcher.” My writing feels rich when I’m able to read and observe, think and converse. Poetry and photos fill the pitcher, too. Inspiration is like writing itself–it taps into something unconstrained. Yet, as we are exploring here with flash fiction, constraints frame the art. Therefore, like you, I’m trying to figure out when and where to apply the constraints of time so that it adds to the writing without cutting off the flow into the pitcher. I’m off to read your blog and excited that you also wrote two! Imagine how sharp a longer piece of prose could be if we wrote it 99 words at a time. What a string of pearls that could be! I will be, not matter where I might be. 🙂

      • Norah

        A string of pearls indeed! I like that. It’s what you are doing with Cobb and Sarah; and that Sarah is doing with the foot under the bed. Writers like Dickens and Alexander McColl Smith wrote/write their stories in installments. Why shouldn’t we? You are always inspiring new ideas. Thanks! 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        That’s true–installment writing was a big deal back when newspapers were it for reading. Maybe we are rediscovering an old method…

      • Norah

        Hmm . . . pearls of wisdom!

  4. Annecdotist

    Oh, Charli, saddens me to think you might have to leave The Carrot Ranch. My muddled priorities pale in comparison. But I can see you making the best of whatever decision you take. And your dilemma has prompted some great flash fiction in your own, Paula’s and Sarah’s.
    We often tell ourselves that things would be okay if we could be disciplined enough to ditch the things that don’t matter, but often we have to give up stuff that’s important to us also, and that really does hurt. I suppose the prioritisation is a constant work in process.
    Anyway, here’s my response to this week’s challenge. Incidentally, I’ve never given mine a title as I was unsure whether that should be included in the 99 words. In my head, I’m calling this one Come to Cairo:
    although the post is on a different theme.
    Also, just to let people know who are interested in flash publication opportunities, there are links to some other possible outlets in my flash fiction page on my website:

    • Charli Mills

      Funny thing about Carrot Ranch–I invented it as “branding” for my writing before I came to this place where I write! In some ways, I’ll never leave the ranch, but the actual ranch where I live now (Elmira Pond) is up in the air and that saddens me, too. Such is life. I’ll savor every day here while I can and hope we find another place to house Carrot Ranch so adequately. Dilemma is indeed contributing to some more great flash writing. I greatly appreciate the links for flash publication opportunities for all of us playing with 99 words a week.

      As to titles, I should probably address that. I wasn’t thinking in terms of titles early on, but we are evolving that direction. Otherwise I’ve been using the generic “Flash Fiction by ________” if a title is not included. Off to read your post and flash!

      • Norah

        I have wondered about titles also. I have usually given my piece a title, but not always included it in the word count.

      • Charli Mills

        I started titling mine as titles came in. I wouldn’t count it in the word count unless you are into constraining each word. 🙂

      • Norah

        Thanks. I appreciate the few extra words that not counting the title gives!

  5. Lisa Reiter

    There’s something going on in the universe it seems! My mother would suggest the planets are out of line but whatever, there are quite a few of us with and muddled by our many priorities at the moment, especially around the writing!
    Great topic this week and some fab responses already. I’m looking forward to reading the rest!
    (PS Hoping you don’t have to move..)

    • Charli Mills

      I’m working the miracle angle, Lisa! We told our landlord that moving was a possibility and we were worried because our lease was up, but they said that it’s so economically depressed here that they have no renters in line. That makes me sad, too to think of this place as abandoned if we do move. But I suppose that’s why the hubby can’t find work locally and why this ranch rents so cheap. And writing–well, I don’t know about you but I’m still a ways off on that first million! 🙂 Ah, and the muddled writing priorities. If it has you in its grasp, you can claim your writership! We navigate it every day. And yes, I failed to revise first thing this morning, but had a lovely time outside “processing.”

    • Sarah Brentyn

      I think the planets ARE out of alignment. Or we’re all just so overwhelmed we can’t prioritize.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m not big on rejection, Geoff. I figure we writers get enough of that from publishers and agents! I did the same with Lisa a few weeks ago for Bite Size Memoir and she graciously plucked one of my two submissions. Since our flash is so short, I think I’ll just rotate your two within the compilation mix. Happy that you were so inspired to write two!

      • Charli Mills

        Brilliant flash–both!

    • Norah

      Oh no! I did two too!

      • Charli Mills

        The outpouring of creativity is upon us! Write, write, write!

      • Norah


  6. rllafg

    Teamwork by Larry LaForge

    “Don’t take afternoon classes during practice time.” Coach Greeley was emphatic.

    They’ve got us on the easy track, guaranteeing good grades and positive publicity for the university. But easy won’t get me into medical school, and the science classes I need have afternoon labs.

    The call home didn’t help. My parents understood but it’s what they didn’t say that got me.

    Giving up my football scholarship will affect Erin and Michael. My younger siblings have college aspirations too. The folks are strapped.

    “Sign here,” said the football aide, pointing to a line on the scholarship renewal form.

    I did.

    • Charli Mills

      “Teamwork.” What irony in a title, Larry! This flash takes a concrete example and makes it into a showcase for muddled priorities. It’s even harder to make a choice when it involves the priorities of others. great flash!

  7. lorilschafer

    How right you are, Charli, about all those things that have to be done “first” that always get in the way! I find it hard to concentrate on writing when I’ve got a bunch of small undone tasks hanging over my head. I actually hit upon a strange but effective solution to this problem last year – I discovered an easily accessible flat spot on my roof that gets sunshine starting at about 1 pm every day. So from early afternoon until early evening, when it gets too cold to sit outside anymore, I go up there with my laptop and that’s when I write. In other words, I have a schedule now. No, no, I can’t do housework now – I’ll miss my sun time! Of course, I’m fortunate that my work schedule is flexible enough to permit this, and that I live somewhere warm enough to make this work, but setting aside that specific block of time has made all the difference in my productivity. On the flip side, I also don’t get caught up in writing all night long anymore because I stop once my writing time is over – which means I can actually get my other chores done.

    • Charli Mills

      What I really like about your solution is that it is so natural! It’s not a timer, or a schedule–it’s honoring the natural rhythms of your body and soaking up sun. You live in California, right? Perfect place to do this! I’m so far north that in November, I find that it is “natural” for me to hunker down into NaNoWriMo because I lose that sense of time when I lose the daylight. My natural time clock kicks in (and its an odd one–I write best between midnight and 4 a.m.). But I can do that when the days are super short for about three months, so November is perfect. I’m so glad you shared that!

      • lorilschafer

        So it’s not just me! The short-days winter thing works out perfectly for me too, because with all the year-end accounting and tax work, I need to spend more time at my inside desk anyways. Plus I save all that money on sunscreen 😉

      • Charli Mills

        That works! 😉

  8. TLPoague

    I have enjoyed reading your posts here and your Elmira Pond. I hope you can find a way to stay at your current place. I miss living in the mountains where the wildlife were at the tips of my fingers. I love the titles you have come up with for your blogs. I missed this last weeks Moody Monday posts but hope to be back this coming Monday. I will have to give your flash fiction some thought and see if I can squeeze on in one of these days.
    I understand where you are coming from with finding time to write. It seems that when I get a chance to make a schedule something comes up to derail me. I feel fortunate that I don’t have to worry about holding down a full time job. I kept thinking this would allow me to dedicate a good portion of my day to writing, but alas, my little box of craziness thinks differently. In time though, I have learned that with a little patience and time it will all work out.
    I am looking forward to trying this challenge as soon as I get a chance.

    • Charli Mills

      Time is a quirky thing, isn’t it? I think we learn with writing that time both speeds by and yet also requires us to show up without an agenda. It’s finding balance and giving priority to the craft. Seems we are all contemplating priorities and time.

      I enjoy Moody Mondays–I’ll look for it tomorrow! And join us in the flash anytime! It’s meant to be short so as not to conflict with bigger priorities, yet it serves as weekly practice and provides inspiration and discussion. But when you get the chance, of course!

  9. Hope (@NannyShecando)

    I can completely identify with all that you’ve just said. I too am finding that I’m simply trying to squeeze too much, and the impossible, into my day. As night fall comes I’m suddenly panicked to realise I’ve not accomplished anything of what I had anticipated and scheduled, and yet I had 8 hours to do so.. so where does it all go? I have found that as you say, it all comes down to priorities and properly scheduling those priorities with realistic consideration.

    • Charli Mills

      There’s a prioritizing technique called “Working Off Your As”…As as in the letter-A. It is helpful when I’m faced with tons of tasks. The premise is that you assign tasks a letter (A, B or C) according to importance. For instance, if you have a daily writing goal, give the task an A. If it’s something that needs to get done, but not immediately, it gets a B. If it is non-essential, give it a C. Then do all your A tasks first. After a while, it becomes second nature and it can help schedule those tasks! But I do think we waver between priorities and processing as writers. Good discussion! Thanks for joining in, Hope!

    • Charli Mills

      99 words and the unleashing of something in the form of a story can do that. Great flash fiction!

  10. Lisa Reiter

    (edit my spelling and punctuation p-lease!)

  11. Charli Mills

    Oh, no–what did I miss? I’ve had a few doozies myself this week (and it’s only Monday).

  12. Charli Mills

    Hit the spot! Got it! Will change it!

    • Charli Mills

      Clever response, and making such a decision is nothing to sneeze at! 🙂

  13. Charli Mills

    No apologies! Your flash arrived on time and is a great story that sweats out the details of making a choice.

  14. Charli Mills

    The wheelbarrow continues to creak through the mystery!


  1. Stick or Twist? | TanGental - […] Another week, another prompt from Charli Mills, this one on competing priorities ( […]
  2. Life: a choose your own adventure – how do you choose? | Norah Colvin - […] In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a decision between two clashing priorities. […]
  3. 99 word flash fiction challenge: Priorities | Reflections and Nightmares- Irene A Waters (writer and memoirist) - […] […]
  4. Flash Fiction: Hobson’s Choice | Lisa Reiter - Sharing the Story - […] If you have time to have a go, or to read more of her post and other’s contributions here.…
  5. This Is Exactly Where You Need To Be In Life - […] the difficulties when choosing how to spend your adventure. Charli Mils explained the dilemma of needing to prioritise our priorities…

Discover more from Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading