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September 1 Free-Write


(Thank you to all the brave writers who gave this round a go! There are still four more chances to enter so get familiar with the process below. A new 24-hour prompt will be revealed September 7, 2018, at 12:00 a.m. EST. It will close at 11:59 p.m. EST 9/7/18.)

The clock started ticking at 12:00 a.m. (EST). That’s midnight in New York City when September 1, 2018, begins. The contest ends by the close of day September 1, 2018, at 11:59 (EST).

This is a free-write flash fiction contest to qualify five writers to compete in the October TUFFest Ride event during the 2018 Flash Fiction Rodeo at Carrot Ranch. A free-write requires you to draft quickly.

You can revise, edit or polish. But you only have 24 hours which is not enough time to let a first draft set. We know that. We are looking at your free-write skills, your bravery to write freely according to a prompt.

Judges will examine how creative a writer can be within both time and word constraint. Charli Mills, Cynthia Drake and Laura Smyth all of Hancock, Michigan will judge all TUFF contests. Your free-write must follow all five rules to qualify.


  1. You must use the revealed prompt: “scars from climbing”
  2. You must enter using the provided form below
  3. You must write your story in 297 words (exactly, not including title)
  4. You must enter by 11:59 p.m. (EST) on September 1, 2018 (use the form provided below or email your full name and entry to
  5. You must be willing to compete in the 2018 October TUFFest Ride if selected

If you qualify, you will be among five winning writers to further compete for first, second and third place in the TUFFest flash fiction contest you will ever enter. The event equates to bull-riding in a cowboy rodeo. It’s a chance to show your versatility of flash fiction writing skills. Five writers will compete:

  1. October 1: Writers tune into a live video posted at Carrot Ranch Facebook Page for the announcement of who will be selected the Fab Five from the September entries. These five writers will have five days to do a new free-write.
  2. October 8: The Fab Five tune into a live video for a twist to a 99-word challenge to rewrite their free-write. They will have five days to write.
  3. October 15: The Fab Five tune into a live video for a twist to a 59-word challenge to rewrite their 99-word story. They will have five days to write.
  4. October 22: The Fab Five tune into a live video for a twist to a 9-word challenge to rewrite their 59-word story. They will have five days to write.
  5. October 29: The Fab Five tune into a live video to find out which three advances. The remaining three contestants will have 24 hours to write a final 495-word story from their TUFF exhibition.
  6. November 2: First, second and third place announced. All five contestants will win a prize (yet to be determined, based on sponsors).


Go with your gut. At Carrot Ranch Literary Community, we play with 99 words, no more, no less every week. We’ve learned that our first instinct to a prompt might be strange or uncomfortable. The natural tendency of a writer is to water down that reaction — to write safely. Don’t. Be brave and go where the prompt leads you.

Be creative. Along with going with your gut, take a creative approach. If you are literal, you might write too stiffly. But do poke a literal response if that comes to you. Ask yourself how you can turn it upside down and create a surprising twist. Also, you don’t need to use the exact phrase (or the quotation marks unless you are using dialog or showing irony).

Be professional. We are all adults here, and adult content is a part of literary art. However, think like a professional literary artist whose job is to write. If you think shocking readers gives you an edge, think again. We live in a world desensitized by global crassness, violence, and inhumanity. Shock value is cheap. Instead, craft a clever twist, show intelligence and the ability to interpret the global theater. Make your readers think.

Write with emotion. You also want to make your readers feel. Characters give us all the opportunity to experience life beneath the skin of another. Literary art can share imagined experiences from what it is like to attend school at Hogwarts or be a polar bear. Invite your readers to feel these unique perspectives. Avoid stereotypes.

Breathe! When you control your breath, you control your mind. Yes, it’s a competition. Yes, it’s only 24-hours. Yes, you have a lot on your plate. But you have the right to be here. You are a creative writer — so breathe, read the rules, write, count your words, and enter. No matter the outcome, you were brave enough to write!

You can use Microsoft Word or use to determine 297 words.

There are no entry fees, and five winning writers will each win a cash prize. Please thank our sponsors:

Openings Life Coaching
SmythType Design
Solar Up


Write again!

If you missed this free-write, you have more chances to enter. You can enter more than once. Next qualifying free-writes will reveal secret prompts:

  • September 7, 2018 (12:00 am – 11:59 pm)
  • September 13, 2018 (12:00 am – 11:59 pm)
  • September 19, 2018 (12:00 am – 11:59 pm)
  • September 25, 2018 (12:00 am – 11:59 pm)


  1. Norah says:

    What a TUFF contest, Charli. It’s going to be a real test of writing performance and endurance. What a clever program. Good luck to all the writers!

  2. syncwithdeep says:

    Dear Charli.. I am not seeing this as a contest. It is a learning platform for me to write fiction of more than 200 words. getting selected or not is not my aim. how much I am able to learn is my goal. Thanks for the opening prompt.

    • Frank Hubeny says:

      I see it as an opportunity to write something, whether it is selected or not, that I might be able to use somewhere else after the contest is over.

    • Ritu says:

      These challenges are all learning curves!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Deepa, Frank, Miriam & Ritu — yes, yes, yes! I see the weekly challenges as the opportunity to explore, discover and play. Competitions are another level to grow and learn and you all have the right (write) attitude. You can learn from the experience or develop material for other submissions. I hope you all find it challenging and rewarding.

  3. I can’t even SEE the entry form. That probably eliminates me on the grounds of stupidity

  4. Annecdotist says:

    Mine is ready to go but I can’t see any instructions about titles and word count. I’m assuming it’s as usual with the weekly challenges (i.e. not part of the 99 words) but, just in case it’s not, I might submit untitled unless I hear back before drink time.

    • Jules says:

      The word count is 297 – it’s there in the post. I didn’t see anything about titles either.
      See my comment post about the Submit issue.

      • Annecdotist says:

        Oh yeah, I meant 297. Hope that didn’t confuse anyone. Agree, the instructions on wordcount are clear.

      • Norah says:

        The information does say 297 words, not including the title. 🙂

      • Jules says:

        The email version stated:
        3. You must write your story in 297 words
        So I guess it got fixed since the posted version now is different. But it’s all good. Iron out the boo-boo’s now. There’s bound to be some glitches. – Thanks.
        I’m sure since Charli has read through most of the conversations – that there won’t be anyone penalized because they didn’t have a title.

      • Norah says:

        Charli is very generous. I think a title was optional, not required. You’re doing well to keep us all up to speed. Thank you.

      • Annecdotist says:

        Thanks, Norah, but it didn’t say that yesterday! This jamboree is certainly bringing our different time zones to light.

      • Charli Mills says:

        Title was not originally included. I went back in clarified. They’re called clarifications, not boo-boos. I don’t want people thinking the rules were in error.

      • Jules says:

        Opps. Clarifications are good.

    • Ha! The no submitting or posting after drinking rule? I sometimes stick to that one. Sometimes.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Yes, Anne, same as with weekly challenges and thanks for clarifying. I did fix the form and update an alternative method of entry. The challenge is not meant to be figuring out how to submit!

      • Annecdotist says:

        There are bound to be teething issues with the first one, even though it’s only an extension of the weekly challenge. I hope our questions haven’t interfered too much was your weekend off!

  5. Jules says:

    I think I discovered the problem:

    You don’t see the submit form until you actually open the post? If you are only looking at the post in your mailbox you will not see the Submit Form. I just check and if you don’t open the post and are only reading in your mail box then there is no form. I repeat you have to open the post first and you do that by clicking on the Blue heading that says September 1 Free-write.

    I had no problem seeing the form. But… I opened the September 1 Free-Write post via my mail as it wasn’t up at Carrot Ranch…(as of 11:05 am my time -same as NY, yet.) The only thing on the side in regard to latest posts is the current 99 word Aug 30 Challenge.

    I don’t see a space for a title so I am thinking that this Free-write doesn’t need one.

  6. […] was written for the 2018 Flash Fiction Rodeo under the ‘scars from climbing’ prompt.  I immediately thought of this idea, about […]

  7. denmaniacs4 says:

    I of course always have a title so this venture into untitled flash is a bit disconcerting. Nevertheless, its posted, bereft of a name, but, on the bright side, I can always name it later…Thanks to the sponsors and Charli for her creativity…and anybody else I should thank.

  8. tnkerr says:

    First of all, I gotta say that the prompt is superlative. Thanks, Charli.

    Next, thank you, sponsors! It’s great to see businesses who care enough to get involved with communities such as this. Your generosity encourages my faith in mankind.

    I have submitted; sans title. I have not published my submission in my blog and will refrain from doing so. Maybe after the Rodeo, I can rehash all my writes and rewrites in a single post. That might be fun!

    • Is it against the rules to post a submission on your blog? I didn’t see anything against it on this page. I feel like there’s all kinds of minutia about this challenge that I was unaware of…

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks, Thom! I appreciate that you recognize the sponsors, too. As always, copyrights stay with the authors at Carrot Ranch. It’s at your own discretion to publish the entry on your blog. I created some confusion by not clarifying the role of a title — simply, if one is included, it does not count toward the 297 words.

      Last year I had the ambition to publish a digital book, but ran into several unexpected hurdles, including the entries adding up to the size of a hefty novel! This year we will publish entry collections when each contest winner is revealed. I’ll be a stickler for word count, though.

      I think it’s a great idea to publish your own post with all your entries after the contest! I want writers to feel supported in their own goals, so do what works best for you.

  9. Jules says:


    I was a tad busy figuring out the submit issue that I forgot to say thanks to the sponsors. Good to have back up in any form! From the key players, the prompter, judges and all the ranch hands.

    Thank you very, very much. ~Jules (JulesPaige)

  10. Ritu says:

    I have submitted…
    Wow! That was a bit intense! Though we have 24 hours, there are so many other things to do in the day, that it was more an hour!
    Thank you, Charli, and you wonderful Rodeo crew for setting this up, and a big thank you to the sponsors for supporting our literary art!
    I’ll be saving my entry(ies) for possible use later on, if they go nowhere here!!!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Yes! I was hoping for that feeling of intensity a tight deadline gives. If this were a live TUFF, the free-write would only be 10 minutes!

      I think that’s a great idea, Ritu. I’ll always encourage writers to make something of what they create through these challenges and contests. I see them as seeds.

    • Annecdotist says:

      I’m with you on the intensity. It felt a lot harder than 3 x 99 words – or even another 1000 words of a novel-in-progress, but it was fun and I’m glad I braved the ring.

  11. Wholly cow patty! Boss, do you realize how much work this is for you and your co-judges?! Jeez, Louise, you love bottlenecks.

    • Charli Mills says:

      I’ve been working on this since January! Of course, we’ll see how it runs. I really wanted something that could be an exhibition, but make it manageable (five writers). Also, it creates another local connection for me and yet serves our global community.

  12. Psst. Charli…
    I submitted a second one because I actually screwed up the prompt phrase in the first submission. Please disregard and shitcan the first. Or maybe I’m disqualified. All good.
    I wasn’t going to submit anything but couldn’t see how to just do this as a challenge and also what fun- I’m gonna play.

    • Charli Mills says:

      As long as it’s within the timeframe, that’s doable! It’s a fun one to play!

    • Annecdotist says:

      Like you, I wasn’t going to go with this – I prefer the more collegiate atmosphere of the Ranch. But an idea came to me, and it was fun. Now my competitive edge has been reawakened I’m hoping I can fit the rest into my creative day.

  13. syncwithdeep says:

    I posted the entry in my blog. Not sure if i did the correct way. Not sure if it has reached. Charli pls help

  14. Liz H says:

    God that went fast. I blame a full day at the MN State Fair for coming up with something weird…corn-dog and blueberry beer hangover, perchance?

    A few things puzzling me as we barrel race through the Rodeo:

    1. The idea of a free write that allows us to edit (cuz free writes often feel like beginnings, rather than something in the shape of a story, or a skipping stone). I always though of free write in terms of time…new sensation!
    2. The parameters around word count (Geoff’s dialog advice for his challenge)–do we count an elipses as a word? I think Word does count them as such, and it was an issue in the 2017 Rodeo, so it’d be good to be clear on that as we wait in the shute.
    3. Not always sure if our entries are meant to be fiction, or creative non-fiction, or writing up someone else’s story/joke. Sounds like we have a real variety of writing types to deal with in this month(s)-long challenge.
    4. Oh yeah! And will there be a consistent system of recognition across all challenges? Great to be recognized, but will it be First/Second/Third, or First and Judges Picks, or something (also) creative? Inquiring minds, ya know…

    Okay, good night, all!

    • Annecdotist says:

      Wow! I hadn’t thought about ellipses as a word. I guess it depends how Microsoft Word or counts them. But what if they throw up different answers?

      • Liz H says:

        Good question. It’ll make word count a little more complex, but I’d hate for folks to be tossed out of the running because too many words. So we need a ruling before we go in, I think.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Liz,

      Welcome back from the Fair to the Rodeo! Good points of clarifications.

      1. Free-writes are timed (typically). the 24-hour free-write is the closest approximation I can get to a live “10-minute” free-write. As an editor, I know it is not possible to truly edit within 24-hours. As an editor, you have to let a piece sit for a few days before you see it fresh. Yes, you can tweak and change it but I see that as part of drafting. As long as it’s within 24 hours, it will count as a free write even if you upload changes. However, the free-write doesn’t count errors.

      2. Yep, different word processors count ellipses (and dashes) as words. That’s why we require the use of Microsoft Word or The count the same, thus giving Mac or free-ware users a secondary option to Microsoft Word.

      3. “Fiction” means creative. Any genre, including memoir or auto-fiction. Somebody else’s joke? As long as it isn’t plagiarized! Overhearing conversations, you are okay.

      4. Yes, we are streamlining the recognition. There will be one first prize winner, then a second and a third for each. Except TUFF — fize writers win $25 and then compete for first, second and third.

      Does that answer your questions? Thanks for allowing me to clarify! I’m sure others wondered too!

  15. Charli,

    Thanks so much for hosting this. I wasn’t sure where to put this question/comment/explanation, but my word count shows as 294 because it’s counting sneaky hyphenated words as just one. I think they ought to count as two; as such, my count is exactly 297 -so don’t disqualify me, please. 🙂

    • Annecdotist says:

      I wait for Charli to clarify but she does say use the word count as defined by Microsoft Word or use to determine 297 words. If hyphenated words are to be counted separately mine will be below the required word count.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Chelsea, I’m a big fan of coining new words and hyphens are a tool that allows for such artistic interpretation. As Ann points out, the rules do ask writers to use one of two word-counters (which measure using the same count standards). No matter the use of artistic measure of punctuation (for example the use of ellipses, n-dash, and m-dashes measure too!) the standard goes to the word-counters.

      Definitely, this is the correct place to ask or comment so we can all benefit from clarification. I did send you a private email and I hope that will settle the entry! Thank you!

  16. Juli Hoffman says:

    Thanks so much for hosting this! It’s my first time flash fictioning with you all. I really enjoyed doing this! 😀

  17. […] (297 words Carrot Ranch 2018 Flash Fiction Rodeo) […]

  18. […] for Carrot Ranch:  You must use the revealed prompt: “scars from climbing”                       […]

  19. […] counted using the competition recommended Maybe you’ll nip over to the Carrot Ranch and join in with the next themed completion prompt on September […]

  20. Jules says:

    I’ve got a question… as FB was never mentioned that I remember before – for those of us who do not have or want to use FB what is the alternative way to find out who proceeds?

    • Charli Mills says:

      Jules, FB is where we can post live. It’s part of the social media engagement to make the event more interactive and a unique way to build audience. It’s not required that the contestants tune in live. We’ll post at the Ranch afterwards. But it’s important that writers want to participate because it is more in the social spotlight than the other contests.

  21. floatinggold says:

    Aaaaaand, I’ve missed it. Hopefully, I’ll have the presence of mind on Friday to get to it.
    Will the entries be posted at the end of all this, co we can read and see what happened?

    • Charli Mills says:

      Goldie, the next one will be September 7 and they will go quickly! I’m collecting them differently this year to post the collections when winners are announced.

  22. […] right, the Carrot Ranch Rodeo is coming back in October. The slack rounds have already begun with Charli’s TUFF challenge, which continues through September. Check out Carrot Ranch for fun and free writing […]

  23. […] my slow start on the 24 hour free-write yesterday over at the Carrot Ranch I’ve spent this morning a meandering and a mooching, reading various other ranchers and […]

  24. Oh wow. I totally missed this one! Boo-hoo! I NEED this Rodeo to get me back in the saddle. I will be putting the rest on my calendar. Qualify, win, whatever – time to get back at it.

    • Charli Mills says:

      No crying in your boots, Lisa! 😀 These free-writes will come and go, fast. But the Rodeo will have a gentler pace this year with lots to give you inspiration. Get in the saddle and write!

  25. […] counted using the competition recommended Maybe you’ll nip over to the Carrot Ranch and join in with the next themed competition prompt on September […]

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