Carrot Ranch Flash FictionThe snow delivery arrived. Not that I ordered it, but it seems appropriate to have a white Christmas. Today is Christmas Eve and I’m lazing by the roaring fire in the wood stove, having brought in enough wood to forgo that chore a few days. I’m waiting for the clock to tick past noon so I can justify making a simmering pot of mulled wine.

This time of year is good for reflection.

Last week I wrote about perfectionism and how, for me,  it ties to a sense of failure. As I reflect on my goals this year, I can list one failure after another. I failed to get novel number one published. I failed to do anything with novel number two and I failed to complete novel draft number three. I failed to earn the minimum income I agreed to make if I were to stay at home and write full-time. I even failed to plant a garden.

But I also wrote of generosity last week. And it starts at home with this writer. I don’t mean the kind of mollifying generosity, like “it’s okay to fail” I mean the empowering kind. The kind of generosity that gives space to ask (and answer) the question, “what did you learn from these experiences?”

What I learned is far more valuable than any failure to reach goals. After all, goals are merely tools of measurement and orientation. They get us focused and pointed to our north star, but they are not the destination nor the journey.

Lessons learned:

  1. I can’t write a novel a year. Not yet. Maybe, not ever.
  2. Multiple projects take more time, not less.
  3. Historical novels take lots of research. Lots of research. Lots.
  4. Writers can make money. Maybe it wasn’t enough, but 100% was from writing.
  5. Gardens need a sabbath year.

Reflection sparks resolution. No longer am I moping over perceived failures, now I’m getting ideas for what to do next. It’s like walking a long road and arriving short of my destination. I can keep going, knowing I’m closer or I can try this side road I wouldn’t have known existed if I hadn’t come this far. Choices. And ones that empower my journey.

Like the modern GPS, I’m recalculating:

  1. Novel number one is so close. I have several choices: press on with recommended changes; shoot the moon and send out to agents and publishers; consider independent publishing; ask for more feedback. There is no wrong choice.
  2. Novel number two can live in the desk drawer. Now I understand why other writers have manuscripts lingering in drawers. Now I feel like a real writer, Mastro Geppetto. It’s not abandonment; it’s aging in an oak barrel, awaiting a better time.
  3. Novel number three (WIP) excites me the most because all the intangibles I learned from drafting number one and number two. I can apply what I learned from previous works. It also excites me because it’s historical fiction and I can openly admit it is my true love. It requires lots of research and that makes me giddy. Research and writing.
  4. Money. I want my writing life to be sustainable. The conundrum is finding balance between paid gigs and producing a product. Producing a product requires quality to sell said product. Thus finding writing work during lean production times is an ongoing quest. I have updates in the works for Carrot Ranch, ideas for short-term projects and plans to localize freelancing efforts.
  5. I’m planting a garden and setting up an outdoor desk-slash-bird-viewing-station. It’s the beginning of putting down roots for my dream of having a writer’s retreat in the remote Pacific Northwest.

Recalculations help redefine goals. Why set goals? Because if you have dreams, goals become a way to navigate to them. Your vision is like the north star, guiding you along the way. My vision is big and includes much more than successfully publishing novels. It includes creating literary spaces both physically and digitally–places to learn grow, create and recalculate. Collaboration is part of the vision.

Carrot Ranch fosters a literary space to practice craft, communicate ideas and read stimulating writing. Rough Writers are regulars or founding contributors, and Friends are our readers and commenters. We have many friends who pop in once in a while when inspired and others who faithfully read. Together we create a community that honors what literature is about–progressing the imagination to describe, define or experience life. Literature thrives in an open environment.

Join the dream. An open invitation to the Congress of Rough Writers & Friends:

  1. Help develop a Carrot Ranch Anthology (expanded shorts based on flash fiction, for example). It can be a fun way to explore collaboration and indie avenues from crowd-sourcing to publishing.
  2. Help develop a Christmas project for next year (what trouble can we write Rudolph into with his visits around the globe).
  3. Research a possible text or workshop based on how flash fiction can build skills and that college classes or writing groups can use.

These are just a few ideas. To be collaborative, the idea becomes one of the collective, not just a collection of ideas from one. I hope this has reached you in such a way that you reflect on your year and turn any perceived failings into a potential fortunes for what it has to teach you. Embrace your love for the craft and stand firm in the clouds of your own vision. Create goals to take you farther than you’ve already come on this path.

May visions of sugarplums and writing success dance in your head tonight. But don’t rely on Santa to deliver; set goals to gather what it is you need on your journey.

December 24, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a vision. You can write your own personal vision and “fictionalize” it in the sense that you write it as if it already has come to pass or is unfolding right now. Or you can write the vision of a character. Dream big. dream bold.

Respond by December 30 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here.

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A special gift to those of you who might be missing Sarah Shull. She and Mr. Boots make an appearance. And a second vision of what I’d love to manifest on Elmira Pond–a writer’s retreat.

Sarah’s Vision by Charli Mills

Christmas Eve and Sarah watched fat snowflakes fall and wood-smoke billow from the stone chimney. It was cold in the solitude of the barn, but she had to escape the oppressive bustle of Mary’s kitchen and excited children. She found a black cat hunkered down in the loose hay. Black with white chest and boots. Mr. Boots, her escort to the Christmas ball. The horses nickered and transformed into gay and welcoming guests who asked after her health and happiness. Best of all, Mr. Boots was a bachelor with no wife or children. Sarah smiled and accepted the vision.

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Retreat on Elmira Pond by Charli Mills

An osprey dropped to the pond and retrieved a trout. Blue heron gronked on his log. A group of writers watched from a deck overlooking the pond. They were journaling morning pages, delving deeper into their writer’s truth, observing and capturing what it revealed. A few nibbled on fresh peaches from a nearby orchard. A rooster crowed and someone pointed to the goats on the sod-roof of the B&B. They gathered under the apple tree for a discussion of yesterday’s writing with the author and retreat host who was smiling in her gauchos, turquoise boots and broad buckaroo hat.

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Merry Christmas


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