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December 24: Flash Fiction Challenge

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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.

***

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.

###

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.

###

Merry Christmas


53 Comments

  1. Pat Cummings says:

    Charli, I am having so much fun writing these 99-word FFs! So here is my vision across a crowded room for this week’s challenge: http://goo.gl/ocAGaH Cue Rossano Brazzi! (although the voice may be Giorgio Tozzi…)

    I’m glad Sarah has an escort to the party; it isn’t good to be a wall-flower!

    Like

  2. Merry Christmas and thank you for the post. An excellent read to close the day off and reflect as well at all the blessings over the past year… well written and I thank you for sharing with us…

    Hugs and Blessings from Canada

    Like

  3. Love your vision Charli. Would love to join the Congress in Dreams 1, 2 and 3. This is a time of the year that I love also – the reflection and the vision for the future. A time of hope and great plans and I’m a great believer in Creative Visualization and our power to make our visions come true.
    Lovely to have Sarah revisit flash for a final end of year performance and you can sign me up to a retreat week at the Carrot Ranch if that is what we can expect.
    Off to visualise a vision and shall return.

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      Isn’t it a renewing energy that comes from reflection and vision? I do believe in Creative Visualization, too! I also believe we can access it by tuning into nature. Long ago, I got interested in “nature writing” and read Aldo Leoplod. He developed a method of teaching that engages people with their environmental surroundings. I thought it would be a wonderful outer way to engage writers with their inner creativity. Thus, I’ve held this vision to bring writers in small groups to beautiful landscapes that fosters a certain kind of nature writing retreat for any style of writer. I’m glad you enjoyed a year-end visit by Sarah! Thank you for supporting her unfolding story! May you dream big!

      Like

  4. Annecdotist says:

    Hi, Charli, I hope you’re still enjoying the Christmas snow. Another lovely post and two superb flashes: good to see a new role for Mr Boots in bringing a much deserved boost to Sarah and your writing retreat sounds fab – I’m sure you could pull it off, you seem such a hospitable person and great supporting other writers, and the remote setting seems ideal for those who can make the trek.
    Sorry you missed your targets but, as you say, a lot’s been learnt in the process. I did a post last year on how failure is inherent to writing, mostly based on a newspaper article I found useful:
    http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/annecdotal/7-writers-on-failure
    Regarding the novel in a year, I know some people do achieve it, but generally as a reader I prefer to read something that’s been marinating a little longer. Especially with your Rock Creek story, you might want to give it more time to get it the way you want it to be. It’s great that the subject excites you so much and it has great promise.
    I’ve taken your cue to write about a vision, but I’m afraid it’s not a writing vision, although it does include snow!
    http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/annecdotal/-envisioning-the-ice-the-surfacing-by-cormac-james
    As for my writing visions, as you know, I’m looking forward to my novel being published in July, and hope enough people will enjoy it – no idea what I mean by enough! Nothing much beyond that, really, just to keep on reading, writing and blogging – and connecting.

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      It’s a proper dusting for Christmastide. Evidently we have a storm warning that begins tonight and lasts over the weekend. Sounds like good weather to stay in and hunker down. Read your post and was encouraged by the varying perspectives on failure. Funny how we need failure to succeed, but as you mentioned, it really isn’t so black and white. Discovery and redirection are perhaps better terms to describe the process that is nothing like a straight line. Marination brings out flavors. Time also allows for a writer to develop layers. I’m more excited about the layering in Rock Creek because I feel more confident in what I’m doing and even at this point am still excited for more research t flesh out lean scenes or to replace imagined details with historical ones. So now I’m off to read your vision of snow!

      Like

  5. I love your Writer’s Retreat vision, it brought tears to my eyes imagining both the serene escape and the community and bond felt between writers alike. I hope to be apart of one, one day, though for now, our little one’s are my priority! And building an ever stronger relationship with the other half.
    This pieces altogether, is very motivating, helping to put into perspective, one’s failures and to help push forward past them, growing with each.
    You are such a lovely writer and have a great view on life and the world, I couldn’t have asked for the opportunity to be a part of a better community, Carrot Ranch is a great place to grow.
    Thank you for the dedication and passion you put into this site and its readers/writers!
    I can’t wait to read all of this week’s contributions, I think the diversity in the visions will only provide yet more inspiration and positivity. Such a perfect idea to wrap up the 2014 year.
    Best wishes to all 🙂

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks, Rebecca! I can see it unfolding and keep working at the steps to get there! There’s a lodge in town that is gorgeous and sits right on Lake Pend Oreille with all the Selkirk Mountains pushing up in the distance. I’ve thought about starting there or at my cousins historic hotel in a very western Montana cow-town. It will happen! 🙂 And this gathering of writers is a good place to start for building meaningful bonds among writers. You keep focused on those little one’s and collect your stories along the way. Keep your writer’s heart pumping and you’ll find a full life that embraces it all. Not an easy life, but full of vitality. Best wishes to you with the turning of the year!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. rllafg says:

    The Job Interview by Larry LaForge

    “Young man, where do you envision yourself in ten years?”

    The brash new college graduate saw his opportunity to impress. “Sir, I expect to be in your job within ten years.”

    After a cold stare, the interviewer smiled. “That would impress me were it not for the utter lack of substance in your record.” He pointed out the mediocre grades and absence of evidence indicating initiative, creativity, leadership or work ethic. “Perhaps someday you might learn the difference between true vision and false bravado.”

    The interviewer stood, pointing toward the door. “Good day young man.”

    “Good day Mr. Trump.”

    *****
    The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine.
    http://flashfictionmagazine.com/larrylaforge100words/2014/12/26/the-job-interview/

    Like

  7. Norah says:

    Charli, as always there is so much in this post to comment on. Snow! You didn’t have to dream of a white Christmas! How lovely.
    I really appreciated the sharing of your reflection on the year. While our goals, and visions were different, our “failures” (opportunities for learning) were similar. I did not achieve all the things I was hoping, but I achieved a lot and the path now becomes clearer as I move into the next stage of the journey, recalculating, as you say.
    The projects for which you have requested collaboration sound exciting and I would love to be involved in some way, though they do offer a diversion from my personal goals.
    Your two flash fiction pieces are excellent. Lovely to read of the serenity which Sarah was able to achieve at Christmas time. If only that quietness would descend over all the world, enveloping us in a cloak of peace.
    I love the picture you have painted of your writer’s retreat. I want to see those turquoise boots in person. I will start saving now to be one of the first group of Rough Writers to visit the retreat, giggle at the goats on the roof and slurp a peach fresh from the orchard. Count me in. The vision is brilliant! 🙂

    Like

  8. […] in response to Charli over at the Carrot Ranch whose prompt: December 24, 2014 : In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a […]

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  9. Sarah says:

    Thanks for another great prompt Charli! You’re making me delve deeper into my characters lives–something I sorely need to do. I hope your Christmas was merry and you have a writerful New Year!

    https://fictionaslife.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/new-years-resolutions/

    Like

    • Sarah says:

      And by the way I’m happy to help with your Rough Writers projects! I am taking an editing class right now and hope to dip my toes into other writers’ works. 🙂

      Like

      • Charli Mills says:

        I’d love to have you on board with the project and the Congress! Editing skills are good to develop. I’m a big-picture editor, but struggle with the finer details, like spelling and commas. 🙂

        Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      I’m glad this prompt has helped you to delve! The weekly flashes had helped me explore my characters and I felt that I could try different approaches. What if Cob really was a villain? What if he was innocent? What would he be like if he were both? 99 words didn’t feel like a great expense to explore a wrong idea, if that makes sense. It really helped to connect me with my characters and also to process the research I was doing.

      We had a “Crazy Christmas” as dubbed by our neighbor since we were both missing family members and tradition. So we made up new ones! It was fun and has been relaxing. I hope yours was, too and have a writerful New Year (I like that expression)!

      Like

      • Sarah says:

        It’s fun to make up traditions, even though a little bittersweet as you’re leaving behind traditions of the past. Our Christmas was truly crazy, but at 3 and 5, my kids are the right age for it.
        99 words is a great length to explore. I usually end up writing much more and cut it down. I think it has helped me grow as a writer.

        Like

      • Charli Mills says:

        I will always relish the “kid years” when all three of our were home and how we evolved into grand feasts (all three of my kids love to eat) and fun games. Enjoy the craziness and accept that truly the traditions grow with us. Writing tight does have an impact on our other writing. It give me a focus and a challenge which is better than just “fix it.” 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  10. […] December 24 Prompt: Visions (Write a story that includes a vision) Flash Fiction Challenge over at Carrot Ranch […]

    Like

  11. A bit late to the party again. (Missed last week entirely.) Hope you all had a wonderful holiday. Here’s my “Vision” flash:

    http://flashfictionmagazine.com/sarahbrentyn/2014/12/28/visions/

    Have a beautiful New Year!

    Like

  12. […] Mills, she of the Carrot Ranch has asked us this […]

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  13. Pete says:

    Merry Christmas Charli, if nothing else you certainly don’t fail at staying busy! Keep up the great work!

    The Vigilante

    Will held a silver pistol in his hand, weighing his Christmas bonus against the $450 price tag. Watching the riots on the news, he and his friends said the same thing: it was only going to get worse. He had to be vigilant.

    Will’s next stop was the police station. They were all in agreement. He put down his $450.

    The first annual Pineridge Police Basketball tournament took place downtown. Will sat unnoticed in the crammed bleachers, feeling the warmth of body and spirit as he watched officers instruct the young basketball players.

    It was a bonus well spent.

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      Ha, ha! I stay busy so I think I’m writing. 😉 Merry Christmas to you, too and thank you! And your flash this week is full of such meaning. I’m holding onto this vision for the New Year in America.

      Like

  14. rogershipp says:

    Hello to all. I just stumbled across this flash fiction opportunity. I am new to the genre but I am enjoying it immensely so far. I hope you enjoy my try at The Vision. http://rogershipp.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/the-winning-shot/

    Like

  15. Oh, Charli, what an invigorating post that was!! It made me sit up and write my flash immediately – I was in bed at the time with my iPad 🙂

    Here’s my response post and, of course, the flash …

    http://wp.me/p4rcRJ-mZ

    The Monastery of St Gall, in Glastonbury?

    The towers either side of the church rose high in Vanda’s path, blossom on half-grown trees planted last year already beginning to fall from young green boughs in pretty pink clouds. As she did her rounds of the buildings, from the infirmary to the many and various experimental archaeology workshops, via brewery, winery and cheese shop, hospitality and education suites, livestock barns, funny little round hen houses, kitchens and refectory, she smiled. They’d really done it, rebuilt the monastery that should never have been built – with a little help from an excellent plan. Whatever would they do next?

    Brightest New Year Blessings to Everyone,
    Tally 🙂

    Like

  16. […] a year is often used as a time for reflection, reassessment, and redefining goals. This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking just that: reflecting on the year that was, assessing her achievements and […]

    Like

  17. Norah says:

    Hi Charli,
    I’m back with my attempt. As usual, scroll to the end of the post: http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-n2 The title is not included in the word count. Thanks for the challenge. It was tough going whittling down to just one! Best wishes for the new year!

    Like

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