Raw Lit: From Mite to Might

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

January 14, 2019

By D. Avery

Their colors are those of Tibetan prayer flags, but these squares are not yet whispering in the wind. An unassuming plastic wrapped cube; they appear to be ordinary post-it notes. These are not ordinary post-it notes to be used for mundane purposes. This five-colored cube is composed of post-it notes destined for a special purpose. They will remain in their pristine packaging, neat and orderly until I’m ready to apply them to their designated task. For now I am inspired by their contained order while the story they will eventually help shape and organize swirls free-form in my head.

Ha! I happened to notice the word count (opening paragraph) — exactly 99 words. That’s seriously funny. And if there had been a prompt with “prayer” or “flag” or “post-it” those 99 words would suffice, no more, no less. 99 words come more easily since my early days at Carrot Ranch, but it is still very satisfying to meet the challenge of forging a 99-word story. To write even 99 words every week has been a worthy exercise, one I don’t think I’ll ever tire of. But lately, I am seeing how 99 words might, like another prompt, lead to more.

Yes, that second paragraph is also 99 words and is better for it. The constraint forced its construction to be more carefully considered, like with our flash fiction pieces. I enjoy crafting stories that are complete in just 99 words. Honing those skills is challenge enough. But recurring characters keep insisting I write their bigger story, even though I don’t know how. I’m not skilled or ambitious enough to write a big story. But then a funny thing happened after I published a collection of flash fiction and short stories. I found myself imagining how I might do it.

You will have guessed that the solution, like the previous paragraph, is 99 words. I might be able to use flash fiction as a tool to shape and sharpen a larger story. But there’s that word “might” again. Might. Its verb and noun definitions almost seem unrelated. As a verb, it is a form of “may” as in maybe, as in possibly. As a noun, might means strength, force, power. Maybe the noun and verb definitions are aligned. Maybe power comes from imagining possibilities and persevering to realize potential. Maybe 99-word flashes might be pieces of bigger stories.

If you are still reading you might rightly doubt me, might wonder if I could ever leave the comfort of 99 words; wonder if I could ever actually organize a big story. You wonder if I’ve forgotten those five colors of post-it notes. Nope; they are the color codes of characters and flashes. They are the pieces of a quilt, its pattern still emerging. The still unopened cube has been joined by a doodle pad where a scene gets hurriedly splashed onto its own page as it arrives unbidden. I might be getting ready for something I might do.

I will do it. I will write a big story. Because the mightiest outcome from writing weekly flash challenges has been in finding my creative courage, 99 words at a time, going wherever the prompts lead. These flashes and the encouragement of this community led to a book. It was through that experience that I finally got the idea of “raw” and finally accepted it in my own writing. It’s leading to more. I will write a bigger story because it is there. I will figure out how as I go along. Now it’s just a matter of time.

It’s all a leap of faith. But I will open that plastic wrapped cube, will start stringing my post-it prayer flags together. My characters and their stories will flash uncontained, will spread their wings to soar on the winds of possibility. In the meantime the hunting and gathering will continue, week to week, 99 words here, six sentences there, some flashes so raw it’s a health code violation, some satisfying and tasty. Risks will be taken, flaws will be evident, revisions will be made. I look forward to this self-imposed challenge; and then the next one after that.

Author of For the GirlsD. Avery, Rough Writer spinner of Ranch Yarns, shares prose and poetry at ShiftnShake. She has published two books of poetry, Chicken Shift and For the Girls. Her third book, After Ever, little stories for grown children, is evidence of her shift to fiction writing. You might find her funny, except when she’s serious, but you can certainly find her at Twitter and Amazon.

According to Sean Prentiss:

D. Avery has written a stunning collection of flash fictions that take us from here in Vermont to places far afield and from children to the elderly. These short stories in After Ever, though, all share one common thread, and that is tight, beautiful prose about the human condition, about the moments of our lives that make us weep from sorrow and from love.

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Raw Literature posts as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99-word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

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53 Comments

  1. Norah

    D., you were never a mite in my eyes. I have read all three of your books and appreciate greatly the philosophy, wisdom and inspired writing in all. You have the might to write a bigger story. I’ve seen some of the characters and plots knocking on your door begging to be let in to tell the whole story. They’re tired of whispering through the cracks. When they’re ready to tell, there is no might about it – I’ll be reading their tales for sure. Just go for it!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      I’ll go for it, but it won’t be a pretty process, I can tell. Well, except for the colorful sticky notes. But off to you know where for now. Thank you for all your support Norah, you’ve been a mighty force.

      • Norah

        It doesn’t matter how ugly the process, it is the wonderful result that will crawl out of the mess that we’ll enjoy. Mind you, those other two you hang around with here at the Ranch don’t seem to waste too much time on process. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        I love your “crawling out of the mess” anthology, Norah. We never stop needing time to play to learn. From that mess, we crawl with a better understanding of craft and what meaning our writing has.

  2. Ritu

    Those 99 words are powerful!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Thanks Ritu.
      I think you know this self imposed challenge?

      • Ritu

        I do indeed!

    • Charli Mills

      Ritu, I’m excited about where you are at as a writer. Carry on!

      • Ritu

        I’m planning of carrying on Charli!

  3. calmkate

    Nice to know more about you D. … you have been busy, good luck with the sales 🙂

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Thank you. Sales would be nice! But it’s still all about having fun. 99 words at a time.

      • calmkate

        lol great you have taken that theme to heart 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Theme, Kate? It’s a way of life, lol! 😀 Yes, it is good to embrace the exploration and potential that begins with 99 words.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for sharing with Marcia and her good community!

  4. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Straight Talk

    “Jeez, Pal, what’s she up to now?”
    “Who?”
    “You know who. Our author. Reckon D. Avery knows what she’s doin’?”
    “Might. Might not. Cain’t say, not knowin’.”
    “Why cain’t she jist talk straight?”
    “Prob’ly ‘cause she’s suddenly fancyin’ herself a writer.”
    “Hmmff. What’s a ‘big story’, fer instance? She meanin’ a novel?”
    “That’d be new… Shift! Ya reckon she’s gonna put us in a big story?”
    “Better not. We cain’t be gallivantin’ aroun’ in some dang story. We got chores ta do here at the Ranch. That shit in the barn don’t shovel itself.”
    “Thet’s right Kid.”
    “Dang straight.”

    • Jules

      While these two would do well between the sheets (of pages in a book collection… ) I think that they are perhaps not the characters you will be highlighting in your colorful post it notes. I like the idea of those post it notes being prayer flags.

      I too have too many starts… and not enough finished. I just enjoy writing, especially the short stuff. Conclusions to serials… well they just turn to mush when you add milk. At least for me – so far.

      Keep at it and maybe you can teach us something, like perseverance salted with determination.

      Giving you all the support I can through the net and any more you’d like other wise. Cheers, Jules

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Ha! Dear Jules. So glad you clarified the sheets comment, ’cause it’s not that kind of western dream.
        Not sure that I have anything to teach any of you all, but I will keep at it. Yeah, these dang serials is more like writing oneself into a corner. May have to renovate and reconstruct.
        I thank you for your thoughts and support.

      • Jules

        Teach, sure you do – just the process of gettin’ your own books published. That’s seems awful scary to me. I’ve only put printed pages in those plastic report covers and given’ ’em away…

        And I’ve been in a few charity books too, but I wasn’t the one who put the published works together.

        I met this one gal once who became her own publishing house so-to-speak, but about ten, twenty years ago that was about a thousand dollars. And she couldn’t publish anyone else, just her own stuff. So there’s a bunch I bet you could relate.

        I also knew a children’s author, but she wasn’t all that helpful. Keeping the competition at bay I suppose. I showed her something and she liked it, sort of flash fiction. Then she asked who wrote it, I told her I did – but I don’t think she believed me.

        It’s nice to have folks at the Ranch who support and believe in each other. 😉

      • Jules

        Oh.. did you mean that spaghetti westerns don’t have nuthin’ to do with spaghetti straps? 😀

      • Charli Mills

        Jules, your comment on serials and adding milk reminds me of a note my daughter once scrawled and posted on the inside of the cereal cupboard — “Life. It’s just cereal.”

      • Jules

        😀

  5. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    I’ve been smiling and nodding all the way through this account, D, a lovely tale of the flashes of inspiration through which you’re finding your voice as a writer. And colourful stationery, along with your beautifully crafted collections of 99-words, is a great way to start. Look forward to following the thread.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Thanks Anne. If you weren’t a writer as well as a psychologist I wouldn’t admit that my motivation simply is to silence the voices in my head. One sticky note at a time.

      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        I hate to break it to you. but it’s likely that once you’ve silenced one lot of voices another lot will spring up.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        That’s just crazy talk! (Crazier still, it sounds like good news)

      • Charli Mills

        Ha! Anne is right — more voices show up! Embrace it now, and write what they tell you as they can be good guides. My professor and mentor used to say that a fiction writer who got to the point where characters talked was lucky.

  6. Charli Mills

    A mighty wash of stories explored 99 words at a time will deepen into the pool of material you’ll shape into a book. And you’ll appreciate those sticky notes!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Hope so Boss. That pool’s a mite murky right now. Swirling, but murky.

      • Charli Mills

        Murky is good for now — means you are stirring the waters! That’s writing. Revising is clearing it all up. But you can’t clear up what isn’t murky. The more pond scum the better.

  7. Chelsea Owens

    Loved reading this, D. You will do it! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      It’s great to have encouragement from the pilgrims on the path. Thanks, Chelsea!

      • Chelsea Owens

        I think I’m somewhere in the woods; but thanks, Charli! 🙂

  8. usfman

    You sold me on the 99 word blog. How often do you post a new topic to consider?

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Welcome to the Ranch. I recommend wandering around- there’s a lot to see here. And Charli, the Lead Buckaroo, posts a flash fiction challenge every Thursday. It’s not too late to write for the Jan. 10th prompt. It’s fun and a good group of participants.

    • Charli Mills

      You are always welcome to join us! We write 99 words every week and it’s both a form of literary art and a writing tool for exploration.

  9. Liz H

    Fording the rushing stream of a full novel, 99 stepping stones at a time! Fantastic–and the image of Tibetan prayer flags waves us right along.
    Beautifully blogged!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Thanks, Liz, I appreciate your kind words. Hope I can make something work out. I will, eventually.

      • Liz H

        No doubt in my mind!

    • Charli Mills

      Ooh, Liz, your analogy presents a beautiful image.

      • Liz H

        Thanks Charli! Inspired by the blog post~~

  10. robbiesinspiration

    A very good post, Miss D. I read it with great interest. During 2017 I came across Carrot Ranch through Norah Colvin’s blog. I had published a couple of my Sir Chocolate books and was busy with a larger book (20 000 words) which became Silly Willy Goes to Cape Town. I did not study writing although a produce a lot of non-fiction books as part of my job. I thought it would be good for my writing to embark upon the 99-word flash fictions and become part of this community of writers. I started off with some pretty ordinary flashes and these became more and more adventurous. Last year, Charli gave us a flash about a bunch of flowers. I had an idea for a flash for that and immediately an idea to develop it into a much longer story. I sat down and pushed out about 2 200 words for this prompt. A few weeks later, I was doing some research and I was hit with an idea for a book that would build off this 2 000 word short story. Last week I finished Through the Nethergate which is currently 67 000 words. This whole undertaking started with a prompt from Charli. I thought it might interest you to know how it worked for me.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Thank you for this Robbie, it is of interest and feels supportive to me and all of us here. Your response is part of the Ranch Round Table discussions, the ongoing sharing and caring.
      Guess what? I’m in the class of ’17 too! It wasn’t an entirely horrible year after all.

      • robbiesinspiration

        Absolutely Miss D. Maybe I will write a post about it. I am quite amazed by my progress under the wings of various bloggers like Charli.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m so proud of the Ranch Class of ’17! Robbie, I’ll be tearing up when you publish! Thank you for sharing your story with D. I also appreciate how each writer come to Carrot Ranch on his or her own terms and allows the creative space to open up into something. That could be the joy of weekly writing or those stepping stones across a novel that Liz mentioned. You certainly used the 99 words as a tool and through your own efforts and vision, you made it work well to build something with it.

    • susansleggs

      As Robbie came through Norah, I came through Robbie and now feel part of the ranch. I find the 99 words fun and challenging though some stories turn out much better than others. Now I have to find the where-with-all to shorten a way too long novel with way too many characters. You folks are helping me to believe I can do it. It’s enriching to watch so many people grow.

  11. pedometergeek

    What a writer you are, D. It is interesting to read about your writing process as well as all of the others here. Writing in the vernacular isn’t easy, but week after week, I see you do it.
    I am so glad that Jules introduced me to the “sport” of 99 word flash fictions through Carrot Ranch because I have seen/read all the different styles from all of you. I learn so much every week.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Ha! Those vernacular ranch hands are too easy to write. They are fun for me and help me process the post and the prompt so I might get started with a flash response.
      I’m glad Jules got you over here. It’s a great playground. I have enjoyed your writing too.

    • Charli Mills

      Nan, I know what you mean because I learn so much every week, too! I’m always blown away by how creativity is endless and love to watch how each writer deals with where the prompt led. I also think 99 words is enough to try so many different craft techniques, like D. vernacular dialog which gives us all such vivid Ranch characters.

  12. susansleggs

    Another great set of stories, so many snippets of life and the meaning of enrichment. My quilting friends hear about the Ranch every time we are together because I share the highlights of 99 words at a time.

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