Get Ready to Rodeo Like It’s 2019!

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.

October 3, 2019

The 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo begins October 3 (TODAY!) and remains a free-to-enter series of contests. Here’s the contest schedule:

  • Oct. 3 (11:59 pm EST): Modern Tall Tales (entries due Oct. 9, 11:59 pm EST)
  • Oct. 10 (11:59 pm EST): Pro-Bull Mashup (entries due Oct. 16, 11:59 pm EST)
  • Oct. 17 (11:59 pm EST): Three-Act Story (entries due Oct. 23, 11:59 pm EST)
  • Oct. 24 (11:59 pm EST): TUFF Beans (entries due Oct. 30, 11:59 pm EST)


This is your pep talk. Saddle up, you got this! It’s also the post to help guide you through the expectations. Each contest will have its own post, going live at 11:59 p.m. EST (set your clock to New York City). You have until the following Wednesday by 11:59 p.m. EST to submit. That’s a full seven days.

The Ranchers and Rough Writers who practice their craft through play and serious participation (writer’s prerogative as to which it is) will be familiar with the (mostly) 99-word literary art form. It is 99 words exactly. 99 words, no more, no less. This is the official word counter for the contest: Don’t count words on your own, or else you’ll find all the gray areas of counting, including hyphenated words and punctuation. Use the official word counter because it is the hard, fast constraint of what we do at Carrot Ranch.

Follow directions. In addition to the word constraints (TUFF has a several: 99-59-9-99), each contest will have its own prompt and criteria. Read the instructions thoroughly before you write, and again after you write your first draft. Often, after we get the first draft out, we realize we might have missed an important point. Or, you can reread the criteria and revise to better fit what the judges will be looking for in entries. It’s important not to be hasty. You have seven days, plenty of time for revision and final proof-reading. I want your best submission. I want you to wait before you submit and be certain you have no changes — because, this year, you get one submission per contest. In the spirit of wordplay and inspiration, you may submit as many challenge entries as you want. Use them to limber up, fulfill your need to be prolific, or play along if you don’t want to compete.

Go where the prompt leads! I want you to learn to trust your gut, write from the heart, and revise mindfully. When you follow your instinct despite writer’s doubt or critical inner voices telling you not to, you overcome a huge barrier to writing authentically. Carrot Ranch is built to be a safe literary community where writers can explore, grow, and incubate.

Incubation is not just for chickens! I think slam poets and stand-up comedians do this best — they take new material to a live audience, test-drive new word phrases and jokes. I like to hang with the poets because 99 words can be lyrical, and it aligns with acceptable mic time. Did you know 99 words equals 45 seconds? That might matter to you one day. If you have not read live, I’d encourage it. I often read from our collections,  less so than when I had a regular open mic night to attend when I lived in Idaho. But I find opportunities, including art or book fairs, to read my own 99 words to gauge reactions. There is no better audience than a live one to incubate new work. The second best is to share among an online group such as what we do here.

Reflect. Contests present a time for you to rethink some of the stories you wrote that got strong responses. If you’ve ever received a “well done” from me, that is the equivalent of Paul Hollywood’s handshake on the Great British Baking Show. Even if you haven’t received a “well done,” pay attention to what commenters, me included, have responded to. This gives you an idea of what your strengths are — writing with emotion, creating powerful imagery, crafting unexpected twists, fitting an entire story in 99 words, or crafting original ideas.


Don’t let doubt niggle away your confidence, focusing on weaknesses unless you can be constructive. Know that training is required for critique because it is a skill. Anyone can learn the skill, of course, but many struggle with the perceived negativity and rejection that can accompany criticism. And yes, there are those who exploit the weaknesses of others to feel better about their own abilities. Such insecurity is often expressed by trolls and bullies. But that doesn’t mean criticism falls into that realm. For our purposes, I want you to focus on what works in your writing. Respond from a place of strength, and you will feel more confident. Confidence shows in our writing!

Dare to be original. How can you stand out? Well, no one is you, no one has had your accumulative experiences, and we all come from diverse walks of life, locations, and interests. We each have a bucket of details to color the stories we imagine or base on ones we experienced. Yes, BOTS (based on a true story) are welcome here because by the act of committing the story to 99 words and deciding which details to include, and how you sequence the event, all ads up to fictionizing a real story. In fact, my virtual mentor, Wallace Stegner, wrote about his faith:

“…that fictionizing is an essential function of the mind and emotions–that reality is not fully reality until it has been fictionized.”

Follow your North Star. Before you embark on this contest, understand why it matters to you. You are here for different reasons – one writer wants to publish her book traditionally and hopes a contest win will add to her portfolio. Another writer has discovered new life and friends in writing online, and he’s here to have fun. Someone else might still carry the voice of a harsh critic, a perfectionist parent, or a dismissive teacher, and they want to prove they are a writer. Remember, it is best if you set your North Star overhead, aim for your own personal goals without comparison to another’s writer’s personal goals, and banish that voice of the critic. Have some of your most obnoxious characters apply duct tape to the mouth of your worst critic. And care for who you are as a writer. Care for your fellow writers. Care for this place where, together, we make literary art accessible, no one kept out.

My North Star. I want to make literary art accessible. That’s the mission of Carrot Ranch. Every door I open for you, I get to walk through, too. Like many of you, I love to write. Like those who have experienced writing education or careers, literary criticism can create unhealthy spaces. One day, after training, I’d like to expand Carrot Ranch into the dimension of offering productive critique groups, training writers into a process that teaches both skills of giving and receiving feedback. This will happen online and at my workshops or retreats. You grow, I grow, we all grow. Again, I defer to my virtual mentor to explain my vision for the kind of environment Carrot Ranch supports through weekly challenges, annual Rodeo contests, and future critique groups:

“Managing the environment for a group of talented (and frequently headstrong) people is not easy. I have often thought of it as comparable to the way one trains a hot-blooded colt, whose whole impulse is to run. You put him in a corral and you let him run—in circles, with a rope on him. You don’t yank his head off, and you don’t let him run over you. You teach him to run under control. And much of his control is going to be learned from the other horses in the corral.

A writing class is inevitably competitive, do you see? Everyone’s primary concern is his own success, and that success, when something as personal as literature is involved, is acutely personal. But if you encourage competition, or let it run rampant, any individual’s success becomes everyone else’s envy.

Ideally, if the class mix and the teacher’s wisdom operate right, every individual’s success becomes everyone else’s stimulation. The people in such a class, if it is well selected, are roughly equal in talent and opportunity. If one puts a story in The New Yorker or gets an enthusiastic acceptance of his novel, other members of the class have a right to feel that the possibility is all the more available to them.

That successful one is no better than I am, they will think. The gift there is different from mine, but not superior. What happened to him is bound, sooner or later, if I work, to happen to me. (C Mills, emphasis.)

For some such reason, in seminars that jelled properly, I have seen people write better than they will ever write again—write better than they really know how to. The trick is to keep the competitiveness friendly, to see to it that individual success stimulates other members of the group, instead of depressing and discouraging them.”

Stegner, Wallace. On Teaching and Writing Fiction (pp. 62-63). Penguin Publishing Group.

In a short while, your first contest will go live at 11:59 p.m. EST. May you ride well, sitting tall in the saddle. Success here is success for us all. Believe in possibility and never stop defining, exploring, and reaching for your North Star.

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  1. Sarah Brentyn


    • Charli Mills

      You are equipped!

  2. floatinggold

    I’m SO excited! Last year was a blast.

    • Charli Mills

      I hope this is a blast, too!

  3. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Well presented Boss.
    (A teacher might call this front loading or scaffolding- preparation = appreciation)
    This seems like a contest in which no one can lose!
    This is my third rodeo. It is weird to not be ringside in the judges’ booth, but I sure like the pro-fessional feel of this.
    (I will try to keep a rein on certain characters throughout these events, but, uh, yeah… )

    • Charli Mills

      When I read Wallace’s ideas on competition, of course, I had to share it. My DM is speaking to me from beyond the writer’s veil. Front-loaded, I hope you know how appreciated you are. I got backlogged.

  4. Colleen M. Chesebro

    Woo HOO! I’m so behind. I can’t believe its that time of year again! <3

    • Charli Mills

      Me, neither! 😀

  5. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Reblogged this on ShiftnShake and commented:
    Yep. It’s Cowpoke Christmas time again! October, Rodeo at the Ranch, when challenge becomes contest, when ya saddle up and give each prompt yer best ride.

    • Charli Mills

      Merry Cowboy Christmas!

  6. Ritu

    Might just come out of hibernation for this… ????

    • Charli Mills

      I hope so, Ritu!

      • Ritu


  7. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    Lovely intro, Charli, as we make our way towards the ring. Good luck everyone!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Anne!

  8. robbiesinspiration

    Lovely, Charli, I am looking forward to seeing the topics and participating.

    • Charli Mills

      Great, Robbie! I’m glad to hear that!

  9. Lisa L.

    Ooh boy. I am so interested, but I’m not sure I’m ready to rodeo. I’ve been away a looooooooong time.

    • Charli Mills

      Saddle up, Lisa! You won’t get bucked off and you’ll feel good about getting into the rodeo arena.

      • Lisa L.

        This is probably true.

  10. Norah

    This is exciting, Charli. I love the way the Rodeo has evolved and taken on a different format this year. All good things can still find ways to grow. It’s that yet mindset for which you are famous. I look forward to joining in and having fun as best I can. Let the games begin! (As ‘they’ say.)

    • Charli Mills

      I could not have reached this point without your help, Norah! In fact, you were the one who introduced me to rubrics. Now I’m learning how they work. We all get to grow. How meliorist having a growth mindset can be! The games have begun! <3

      • Norah

        I don’t remember introducing you to rubrics, but I’m pleased to have been useful in some way at least. 🙂 Yes, the games have begun. What fun!

      • Charli Mills

        When we were discussing criteria, I thought you brought up rubrics. But then again, with all the competing fiction in my mind I could have imagined it! 😀 But I’ve been learning rubrics, crediting you nonetheless for preparing me.

  11. Jennie

    Very exciting, Charli!

    • Charli Mills

      Rodeo season brings lots of excitement to the surface.

      • Jennie

        Yes, it does! ????

  12. joanne the geek

    Got my cowgirl boots on and I’m ready to go!

    • Charli Mills

      You are ready to ride, Joanne!

  13. Sherri Matthews

    Time to ride and write like the wind…Rodeo, here we come! Great stuff, Charli! <3

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Sherri! We’re kicking up lots of dust! <3


  1. Rodeo #1: Modern Tall Tale | Norah Colvin - […] Ranch for details, and read Charli’s previous post with suggestions to support your writing: Get Ready to Rodeo Like…

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