September 25 Free-Write

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.

September 25, 2018

The clock started ticking at 12:00 a.m. (EST). That’s midnight in New York City when September 25, 2018, begins. The contest ends by the close of day September 25, 2018, at 11:59 (EST).

This is the final 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: “ranch romance”
  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 25, 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.

Thank you to our sponsors:

Openings Life Coaching
SmythType Design
Solar Up
Bill Engleson
Thread Tales Studio
The Continental

And our Leaders & Judges:

Geoff Le Pard
Irene Waters
Sherri Matthews
Norah Colvin
D. Avery
Chelsea Owens
Esther Chilton
Angie Oakley
Helen Stromquist
Hugh Roberts
Mike Matthews
Robbie Cheadle
Anne Goodwin
Bonnie Sheila
Colleen Chesebro
Miriam Hurdle

**There’s still time to sponsor the Rodeo**


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  1. Chelsea Owens

    It had to be romance….

    • Charli Mills

      Because it’s love or because it’s tough? 😀

      • Chelsea Owens

        I just… me and romance. urgh.

      • Charli Mills

        Ah, yes. It had to be tough, the last one!

      • Annecdotist

        I’m with you there, Chelsea.

  2. Kelvin M. Knight's blog

    Well, hmmm, well, what a lovely prompt, but tough in so many ways. Thank you, Charli.

    • Charli Mills

      My thoughts exactly, Kelvin! Lovely but tough!

  3. syncwithdeep

    This is tuffff.. Not sure if i can write something.. Let me give a try..

    • Charli Mills

      Give it a try, Deepa!

      • syncwithdeep

        Definitely Charli. The last four prompts really churned my brain to come up with emotional stuff. I am basically not the person interested in dark tales .. I would rather try another emotional one to end this journey.. Thanks much for the encouragement.

      • Charli Mills

        You did so good to meet all the tuff challenges!

  4. Annecdotist

    Now that is a tough one!

    • Charli Mills

      Hee, hee…yep! I saved the tough love for last!

      • Annecdotist

        Actually, I’ve written it! Surprised myself – and haven’t even been out yet for my morning walk. Will hold back from submitting in case I find some more inspiring words.

      • Charli Mills

        Love is in the air and on the page, after all.

  5. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Dang you, Boss. Yes, I laughed out loud, and as stated above-Urgh!
    But maybe something will come to me.

    It was a long cold winter…
    Her big brown eyes framed by her long lashes, Bessie looked at him. Extra oats? Cud this be love?
    Hay, why not, is all he would say of the affair.

    • Annecdotist

      Damn, you’ve pinched my idea!

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        You can have that idea! Take it back, please.

    • Norah

      I was hoping Pal or the Kid would find romance, or even puppy love. 🙂

    • H.R.R. Gorman

      Oh man, the cud pun had me going.

    • Charli Mills

      Cud be! 😀

  6. Juli Hoffman

    Reblogged this on Roundabout Forty and commented:
    This is the FINAL 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.

    The contest ends by the close of day September 25, 2018, at 11:59 (EST).

    Good luck everybody and happy writing!
    xo Juli

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Juli!

      • Juli Hoffman

        You’re welcome!

  7. Norah

    I like the thought of romance at the Ranch. We can all do with a bit of romance at times.

    • Charli Mills

      We can romance the words!

      • Norah


  8. floatinggold

    Can’t wait to read all the entries.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! That’s what three people in Hancock, Michigan are doing right now! You all created a bang-up collection.

      • floatinggold

        I’m glad we provided all the needy hands with work 😉

      • Charli Mills

        It’s lovely work, reading. It’s torture, selecting.

  9. syncwithdeep

    finally submitted. Thanks, Charli. Although Tuff, I really enjoyed writing this..

    • Charli Mills

      I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the contest so far, Deepa!

  10. syncwithdeep

    Thank you so much, Charli and the organizers for this month-long free write. having been used to less than 100 words, it is definitely a Himalayan task for me to write something for 297 words. I enjoyed writing the five prompts to the core as all the 5 stories definitely had an emotional touch towards the end. Wishing all the writers in this challenge good luck and congrats for those who make it to the TUFF write.

    • floatinggold

      I think I only wrote 3 (missed 2). It was a great challenge indeed. From 99 to 297. Quite a change of pace. The first one seemed the hardest. It got easier with time.
      I, too, am excited for the competition at hand. It’s like the Olympics. Can’t wait to watch! (and hopefully participate? ha!)

      • Charli Mills

        I love it — like the Olympics! Now to process 118 entries…and you all made your best Olympian writing effort, too.

      • floatinggold

        118. Wow! Valiant effort. Again, thanks for organizing,

    • Charli Mills

      Deepa, you wrote a total of 1,485 words! Look at you go! I’m really impressed with how you pushed yourself to write beyond what you had previously done.

      • syncwithdeep

        True that Charli.. Thank u so much

  11. Kay Kingsley, The Memory Cellar

    Done and done. Wow, hardest one yet! Just hoping I finished strong. I can’t wait to read everyone’s entries over this past month. I know it is tons of work to read, compile and judge so a huge thanks goes out to Charli and crew for the challenge. This was a lot of fun to participate in and I am looking forward to the new challenges The Ranch throws at us in October. Best of luck all!

    • Jules

      I don’t think I finished strong… But at least I had an entry for every week. I might post my entries in November after all the whoop-la.

      Good luck!

      • Kay Kingsley, The Memory Cellar

        I totally missed the first week entirely but I was able to submit for all the others. Maybe finish strongly was a bit generous on my end. I finished is more like it 😉 Post your entries for sure! I would love to read them. I posted all of mine (except today’s because it is still open) but I would love to read other takes on the prompts.
        Best of luck to you too!! Fingers crossed we are facing off in October ;-D

      • Jules

        It is going to be interesting because we really don’t know how many have entered. We’ll have to see how the contestants are being posted before I post my pieces – but I’ll label them as clear as I can as to what they were written for. 🙂

        And then those unknown twists… That’s hard to imagine. But maybe we’ll find out soon enough 😀

    • Charli Mills

      What a ride it’s been so far and the Rodeo hasn’t officially started! I’m impressed at the quality of drafting you all displayed. I’ll include statistics in a few days. Everyone who participated will receive a PDF of all the stories. Everyone who competed could only finish strong!

      • Kay Kingsley, The Memory Cellar

        Well, technically our ride officially started 5 weeks ago 😀 I can’t speak for everyone but I am pretty sure we are all in agreement that we had a lot of fun and really enjoyed the challenges these last few weeks presented. No matter the outcome, I know we are looking forward to reading the PDF and following along those 5 lucky writers who get to participate in the rodeo!

      • Charli Mills

        The PDF will show you all how impressive your mutual enjoyment of writing is!

  12. Liz H

    Okay…submitted by the form and also by email. Yikes!

    • Charli Mills

      Got ’em! By sea and by land they came…

  13. Jules

    Best to all the entrants!

    I’m in. Later than usual, had some errands.
    Anyone got an extra raft and oars… it’s raining – again.
    News said over 170 days of rain in my area – so far this year!
    Nope I don’t live in a rain forest, just feels like it this year.

    Good wishes to all those who’ll be taking the Bull by the Horns at the Rodeo and for those who just wanna watch from the sidelines 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for grabbing the bull by the horns, Jules! Stay dry or maybe consider growing bananas. Come rain or high water, we will Rodeo!

      • Jules

        I’d have to move to grow bananas. That’s not going to happen for a while. Going bananas…. that’s a different story 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Ha, ha!

  14. Ritu

    Not sure whether it has gone through so I am going to email it as well!

    • Charli Mills

      Got it, Ritu! Now we all wait. Well, you do. I read! 🙂

      • Ritu


  15. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Pal! Thought mebbe you were off courtin’ an’ sparkin’. Romance is in the air. Love…”
    “Really Kid? What these folks love is a tuff challenge. Look through these comments. There’s excitement and anticipation. An’ a growin’ case of nerves.”
    “That was a tuff challenge, alright, Pal. Shorty’s got kind of a mean streak, ain’t she?”
    “Yep. But ya know, ever’one seems ta have had fun with the challenge too.”
    “Reckon jist givin’ it a go is an achievement.”
    “Yep. Ever’one done Shorty proud.”
    “Done themselves proud. Bet they learned a lot about their writin’ an’ themselves.”
    “Gotta love that.”

    • Norah

      Sharing the love around. Gotta love that, too!

    • Charli Mills

      Everyone who entered done proud!

  16. Juli Hoffman

    Just under the wire! WHEW!!!

    • Charli Mills

      You slid in, Juli!

      • Juli Hoffman


    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Deepa!

  17. floridaborne

    Can’t believe I totally missed this one!

    • Charli Mills

      Romance sparked and fizzled fast! 😀

      • floridaborne

        I had the time and date wrong…we never had a chance. 🙂

      • Charli Mills


  18. Richmond Road

    Wow! I think I may have underestimated the size of this thing and the number of people buzzing about it.
    I put aside about 20 minutes and wrote something silly. I just stopped writing when it hit 300 words and then deducted 3 (of the many) unnecessary ones.
    Probably best to tell the judges not to bother reading it.

    • Charli Mills

      Richmond, I think that’s a great strategy! One of the hardest lessons for a writer is to learn that play has value. That’s why we “play” every week. Somehow we think it must feel like work. But truly, giving into the fun and silliness of drafting gets amazing results. Of course, the next hard lessons are to learn to revise. I love your strategy to write to a higher word count and then remove words.

      • Richmond Road

        And reading about it all now I think I was supposed to fill in an entry form …. which I didn’t do. Whoops.

      • Charli Mills

        We’ll get you practiced for all the other contests coming up soon!

  19. Colleen Chesebro

    CRAP! I just entered and realized the date. Boo hoo… I think this was the best one I wrote. I had power outages and all kinds of mayhem yesterday!

    • Jules

      Awe. Maybe the romance that is left in the air will change the clocks or somehow interrupt the time continuum… ???

      • Colleen Chesebro

        If only. We had a power outage yesterday which we’ve never had before. Then, I had crazy computer problems! I truly though today was the day. I’m so bummed. ????

      • Jules

        Cheer up there will be other Rodeo contests 🙂 Hugs from here. {{{Colleen}}}.

        At least you didn’t get seven spam calls (I hope… including one which could have been a Microsoft spam… which came in as Number Unavailable – but I did hear boiler room garble in the background. I never answer Unknown calls.

      • Colleen Chesebro

        LOL! Thanks, Jules. I’ll be at the rodeo for sure. 😀

      • Jules


    • Charli Mills

      Awww, that’s heartbreaking! Do you mind if I include it in the collection, Colleen?

      • Colleen Chesebro

        Please do! I worked on this for hours today. ????

      • Charli Mills

        Oh, I’m so sorry! I will include it in the collection!

  20. Charli Mills

    Thank you to all the TUFF writers out there who dared to draft in 24 hours for a writing contest. That takes boots! Now my judges and I have the challenge of selecting five writers to continue with the TUFFest Ride. I hope you take a moment to celebrate your achievement in overcoming all the barriers we face as writers to commit to our craft. Well done. You are a TUFF Writer!


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