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Seeking the Well

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I’m like an eagle standing on the ice. The thaw is near enough that I can hear the trout beneath claws designed to grab what I need — words like trout populate the pond of my stories. So close. So close.

But the words I wrote populated pages requested by clients. Nothing creative. Nothing literary. I interview board members and vendors. Such as the ice-cream maker who explained the moment she realized sugar was killing her husband. It was Valentine’s Day and she returned home with a box of chocolate. He loved his chocolates and Mountain Dew. But on that day he met his wife at the door, he told her he had diabetes.

This client told me her story and how years later she still has that unopened box of chocolates in her kitchen cupboard. Her husband stuck to a life-changing diet until he told his wife if he had to give up ice-cream he didn’t think he could stick to it. They were chemists and turned their kitchen into a working laboratory until they created a satisfying, sugar-free, dairy-free, whole-ingredients, plant-based ice-cream.

The secret to their company’s success? They made their mission fun. They were the eagles who broke through the ice and found the pond swimming with all the trout the would need.

I was that eagle on the ice trying to figure out how to break through after my second run at NaNoWriMo in 2013. For 22 years I had been writing for businesses and organizations, writing features, local profiles, and columns. I was a professional writer, a marketing communications manager with a thick freelancing portfolio, but I faced the ice — I wanted to write creatively; I wanted to spread my wings and be a literary writer.

After reflecting, as I do every turn of the year, I felt ready to make the literary leap. But how? I knew I could address writers with my professional experience and share business skills and marketing communication strategies. And that was the first stab I took as the eagle on the ice — Tips for Writers: By What Authority. One person read it. I thought of attracting readers through Ranch Recipes after all my writing beat had been local food systems — artisan cheese-makers, food-justice advocates, and chemists-turned-ice-cream-makers.

No, it was time to take the full literary plunge and it had to be fun.

Anyone who has been writing since the 1990s likely knows who Julia Cameron is — she wrote The Artist’s Way. She is someone who shares my love of Joseph Campbell’s work (especially the hero’s journey), reminding me to follow my bliss just as the creator’s of healthy ice-cream followed theirs. Her method includes daily free-writing, a practice that silences the inner critic. After all, we want to play with our bliss, not analyze it into an early demise.

The other part of her method includes a weekly activity to “fill the well.” She writes:

Art is an image-using system. In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond. We’ve got big fish, little fish, fat fish, skinny fish– an abundance of artistic fish to fry. As artists, we must realize that we have to maintain this artistic ecosystem.

If we don’t give some attention to upkeep, our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant, or blocked. Any extended period of piece of work draws heavily on our artistic well.

As artists we must learn to be self-nourishing. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them– to restock the trout pond, so to speak. I call this process filling the well. (From The Artist’s Way, posted at Julia Cameron Live.)

Understanding that the well is filled with the art — and raw literature — of others, and that creativity is a tribal experience, I sought to make Carrot Ranch a playground for writers. Flash fiction would be the game we played. Nearly four years ago on February 13, 2014, I wrote my first Weekly Flash Fiction Challenge:

Word 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 other words, I had played with raw literature in mind from the beginning. I had no tribe. I trusted the ice would give and trout would be plentiful beneath. I trusted that if I sought the well every week, other seekers would show up. The first to do was was Norah Colvin. Norah’s first words to me ever were: “Powerful. Sad. Unjust. Distressing. Hateful.” I’m not sure those are the attribute of a strong friendship, but she trusted the space to leave a meaningful comment.  And she later returned with her own flash fiction.

We all improved our responses. Practice with any art or skill results in breakthroughs. But the greatest breakthroughs came in recognizing the power of the tribe. I’ve never grown tired of what the well reveals each week. I can’t predict it. But I know it’s going to be powerful.

From our earliest attempts at Raw Literature, our tribe became the Rough Writers. We’ve grown and taken on more Friends as writers also seek the well at Carrot Ranch. We are now a literary community and have debuted an anthology based on our earliest 99 words. We launch our book on February 4 with a live Facebook Event on February 4 from 11:00-11:20 am (EST, same as New York City). Like our flash fiction, it will be quick, inspiring and celebratory of the tribe.

On Monday, February 5, Geoff Le Pard will kick off a Rough Writers Around the World Tour. Every Monday will be in a different country with a different Rough Writer. February’s line-up includes:

Geoff Le Pard (UK) at Tangental on February 5
Anne Goodwin (UK) at Annecdotal on February 12
Anne Edall-Robson (CA) at Ann Edall-Robson on February 19
Sacha Black (UK) at Sacha Black on February 26

This is what one reviewer has to say about The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1:

“A fascinating book packed with bright ideas and worthwhile material. I was greatly entertained by the stories and essays and so taken with the idea that I thought I would give it a go with a 99-word review.

Stories of ninety-nine words, no more, no less, little gems from the Rough Writers of the Carrot Ranch. Like wild flowers in an early morning meadow glistening with dew and I, a butterfly or bee, flitting from bloom to bloom, immersing myself in a kaleidoscope of experiences which pass through my mind like an ever-changing dreamscape. Stories of love and loss, victory and defeat, struggle and gain from the pens of talented authors with backgrounds as diverse as their stories. A brilliant idea that has created an astounding anthology, one that you will return to time and again.” Charles Remington, Readers’ Favorite 5-Star Review

You might think that a 5-star review from an independent source before a book has officially launched is tops. But it’s the fact that the reviewer found the well and was inspired to write his own 99-word story. That’s the beauty of the Ranch — a deep and open well for all who seek.

The eagle has plunged through the ice.


26 Comments

  1. “Well, Kid?”
    “Well, what Pal?”
    “The well. Shorty said the well’s gotta be replenished. So let’s go, let’s git ta work.”
    “Ah, there was somethin’ fishy ‘bout all that. Anyway what I heard Shorty say is we’re s’posed to play.”
    “Kid, yer a ranch hand, ya gotta work.”
    “Nope. I am ta be like the deer ‘an the antelope ‘an play.”
    “I’m about played out with yer foolishness, Kid.”
    “Hey Pal?”
    “Now whut?”
    “Ya ever play cowboys ‘an Indians as a kid?”
    “Why?”
    “I’m confused about bein’ part of a tribe a buckaroos.”
    “It’s all good, Kid. Buckaroo Nation.”

    Liked by 5 people

  2. […] I am reblogging this because I can. And these wise and well written words from four years ago still ring true. The starling has since molted, migrated, and morphed into an eagle, as evidenced by a more recent post, Seeking the Well. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ha! Now two people have read Tips for Writers. And one of them reblogged it.
    This is a seriously wonderful playground. But you knew that. I thank you anyway. Thanks.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Ritu says:

    I’m so looking forward to reading The Congress of Rough Writers!
    And it is true, if we don’t allow our creative selves to continue to flourish, it withers away…
    It’s like the dried version of fruit, needs moisture to get that real juicy taste flowing.
    After starting my WIP 17(eek!) years ago, I did no writing for many a year, and it took me to starting my blog, and being involved in creative writing challenges, to fill my well again. It means that the WIP is over 50, 000 words better off, and nearing completion… hopefully soon…!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      That’s a great analogy about dried fruit, Ritu. And true! We put out for our writing and yet we really do need that filling experience to make it complete. I also believe we need time to process. Your WIP will have been the crafting of you as a writer as much as the result of your output.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Juliet says:

    Thank you, Charli for the chance to fill my well every week at the Ranch and then stand on the edge of it fishing for the words that will create my next story. I’m a happy fishergirl.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Jules says:

    Charli,

    I found the Carrot Ranch because someone else I knew played. And I was drawn in (pun intended). Since I’ve started – not from the beginning – but from Mid 2015 I’ve romped and played every week. I even got roped into leading a section of the Rodeo.

    I’ve meet new friends and some of my friends have joined the Buckaroo Nation. Last week you encouraged us all to write about ‘going to the edge’ and I wrote three pieces. And then I played some more.

    All because of encouragement in the exchange of visits and comments I extended one of the 99 word pieces. Because sometimes 99 words just aren’t enough… If any are interested y’all can go here:
    On the Fringe of Storms
    Guess I coulda called it ‘On the Edge of Storms’ – So once again thank you and all the Rough Writers and other writers and readers for a safe and encouraging place to write and be received.

    This is going to be a great year! Everyday we can make it better by playing to solve situations that might seem less than hospitable. So let’s set a spell and share some good vittles.

    And because you know I love to research words: Vittle is an obsolete alternative to the word victual, which is defined as food prepared to be eaten. A piece of chicken that has been grilled and is ready to eat is an example of a vittle.

    Cheers all, Jules

    Liked by 4 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      I’m glad you found the Ranch and stayed, adding to the well. You’ve been gracious when roped and encouraging and information to others. Like vittle — how incredible it is to learn about words. I’m delighted to see an uprising of Buckaroo Nation! It’s the community that makes it the community it is.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. susansleggs says:

    I reblogged your entire post as today is Inspire Your heart With Art Day. Thank you for letting me ride on your wings. I am proud to tell people I play with the Rough Riders.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I’m not big on fish but I do love nachos. I wonder what kind of art emerges from someone who ‘fishes’ for nachos? Anyway, the book sounds wonderful and I wish you and the contributors an ocean of success.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Thank you for your dream Charli and thank you for leading me to the well. The eagle has landed and broken the ice! Trout a-plenty fill your claws and thanks to you, we all share in the feast ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Annecdotist says:

    A real hero’s journey, Charli, to build such a vibrant community of writers. And I imagine you gaining a few more readers of Tips for Writers. I’m off to read it now.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This post is a lovely tribute to the Rough Writers, Charli. I am looking forward to the first book.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Norah says:

    Wonderful post, Charli, and wonderful posts through the links. What a strange comment I made on that first prompt. I do hope they’re not all as strange as that. How honoured I feel to have been the very first. That must put me on the honour roll. I do remember when I first came across you and your Carrot Ranch and your forward notice of the flash fiction prompts. I had no idea what they were, but I was excited at the thought of having a weekly challenge. Now that I’ve created a weekly challenge of my own or two, I still make time for yours. It is great fun to participate. How fitting to have the launch of the anthology almost four years to the day since the launch of the challenges. My, how the Buckaroo Nation (love that term, Pal) has grown since then and how the well fills with all those creative juices flowing each week. We learn from each other. All good things take time, but it’s worth it in the end to keep a focus on your intent.

    Like

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