October 15: Flash Fiction Challenge

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.

October 15, 2020

My exuberance spills over, and birdseed scatters all over my back porch. I try to calm my shaking hands, remind myself to slow down and breathe. It’s a monsther of a month (thank you, D. for that word coinage), and this week is the busiest. Today, the Women Writing the West conference began online.

Earlier, I sat on my purple meditation pillow in the Unicorn Room for a three-hour critique with two authors and an agent. It always surprises me when so few writers take a chance — to enter a contest, to submit to a literary journal, or to sign up for a writing critique at a conference.

You gotta do the things that scare you.

Last night I confessed to my professor that terror frizzes my nerves every time I sat down to write my thesis. I recognized that any previous distractions or procrastination held these jumpy emotions. Like Anne Lamott hunting mice, I grabbed at the tails to listen to their squeaks, Yes, I know, I’m supposed to silence them, but I wanted to know THE fear. The one all the rest of the fears build upon.

You know what that mouse said? Beneath it all, I fear those I love, those who believe in me, those who cheer me on are going to find out that my writing really and truly sucks. That I can’t do it.

Sounds a lot like Imposter Syndrome and People Pleasing had a child. Yet, Nothing was beneath it. I had caught the last mouse. I pinched its tail, faced it, and tossed it in the jar with the rest of the squeakers. You can do this exercise, too. I’ll let Anne Lamott explain:

“I happened to mention this to a hypnotist I saw many years ago, and he looked at me very nicely. At first I thought he was feeling around on the floor for the silent alarm button, but then he gave me the following exercise, which I still use to this day. Close your eyes and get quiet for a minute, until the chatter starts up. Then isolate one of the voices and imagine the person speaking as a mouse. Pick it up by the tail and drop it into a mason jar. Then isolate another voice, pick it up by the tail, drop it in the jar. And so on. Drop in any high-maintenance parental units, drop in any contractors, lawyers, colleagues, children, anyone who is whining in your head. Then put the lid on, and watch all these mouse people clawing at the glass, jabbering away, trying to make you feel like shit because you won’t do what they want—won’t give them more money, won’t be more successful, won’t see them more often. Then imagine that there is a volume-control button on the bottle. Turn it all the way up for a minute, and listen to the stream of angry, neglected, guilt-mongering voices. Then turn it all the way down and watch the frantic mice lunge at the glass, trying to get to you. Leave it down, and get back to your shitty first draft.”

~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Even with that fear, I faced the three-hour critique because I’ve learned to want that feedback for my process. I left with a list of action items, a better understanding of what agents want, and two pieces of satisfaction. First, every critique the agent offered the two other writers, I had noted, too. That says a lot about what I’m learning with my MFA coursework. Second, the agent noticed and complimented my voice and showed interest in the work.

That mouse was wrong. I don’t suck and I won’t disappoint you.

Gotta run! This week we have chores to do, which is foundational to every ranch, and I’m sure, is universal. I hope you dare to enter contests that unnerve you and seek to silence your head mice.

February 25 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about chores. It doesn’t have to be a western ranch chore; it can be any routine task. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by October 20, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

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  1. Doug Jacquier


    Listening to our adult kids when they whine about how the world never gives them a break is a chore. Listening to politicians whose tin ears and stone hearts belong to the funders who put them there is a chore. Listening to teenagers who sheet home all the world’s ills to our generation and opt for despair is a chore. But listening to the magpies caroling to each other as they feed their new screeching chicks and listening to the whispering of the veg patch growing and listening to the desultory traffic of our village is not a chore.

    • Norah

      I agree with you about the magpies. The magpies and butcherbirds are music to my ears.

  2. denmaniacs4


    I had no dog to walk, no cows to milk, no sheep to shear, no fields to plow.

    My childhood was bliss.

    And a few dirty dishes every night.

    One day, my raised-on-a-beet-farm-and-swore-he’d-never-go-back-to-that old man decided, “He needs to work. Lazy as a bug.”

    We had a garden back of the house. One hundred feet by forty?


    So, he bought a mini rototiller.

    “Do ours first,” he directed. “Then ask the neighbours. Make some money.”

    The neighbourhood was full of back yard gardens.

    I hear the word ‘chores’ today, I chortle.

    But that rototiller never made me laugh.


    • Norah

      Chores as a kid? No one wanted them.

      • denmaniacs4

        not even in my adulthood…

      • Norah

        I totally agree!

      • Hugh W. Roberts

        I don’t know – if there was pocket money involved…

      • Norah

        There never was for me.

      • denmaniacs4

        right up to puberty…

  3. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Aw, Chuckles, you spelled monthster wrong. And was it you or some other of my teachers have me that bird by bird book? I don’t remember the mouse bit but it’s still a little close to home this talk of mice…
    Liked that flash. My dogs biological mother picked her own blueberries. My dog are them out of the bucket. But yeah blueberry picking is like milking a cow. Or a goat…

  4. robbiesinspiration

    I really like this advice, Charli, and I’m looking forward to catching those mice.

  5. ellenbest24

    Love the description ‘those squeakers.’ Chores were worse for those that came before you. We had it hard, if you look at what todays youngsters do for chores. But, compare our 1960s hard to the parents hard … then we had it easy. The further back you go, the less easy clean fabrics, inventions, machines and implements to help you. We all have had different kinds of chores different levels of tough.

    • Hugh W. Roberts

      And do you remember the advert that said these words? –

      Now hands that do dishes
      Can be as soft as you like

      • ellenbest24

        Mild green fairy liquid

      • Selina Sarpong


  6. Norah

    I’m so pleased your 3-hour critique session went well and that the agent confirmed there is no need for imposter syndrome. Woohoo! I love that Anne Lamott book. I listened to it earlier this year. So much wisdom – including that mice exercise. Visualisation can be very useful. How much of a chore would picking blueberries be if you got to eat them as you went along? Actually, I think anything’s a chore if you’d rather be doing something else, or if someone else tells you it must be done. Great job, Charli!

    • Norah

      Here’s my story about chores. https://norahcolvin.com/2020/10/19/chores-flashfiction/

      A Lick and A Promise

      Lisa dropped her bag, discarded her shoes, and darted down the hall.
      “Where are you off to, miss?” called her mother.
      “You’ve got chores first.”
      “Did them this morning.”
      “Did them? Ha! Was no more than a lick and a promise.”
      “But, Mum. I’m up to the last chapter.”
      “No buts. You’ll do your chores before anything else.”
      Lisa muttered as she stomped to the broom closet.
      “And don’t give me any more of that lip or you’ll be reading on the other side of your face for a week.”
      When I’m an adult … Lisa promised herself.

      • suespitulnik

        I think we all remember the threat from the mother figure if we didn’t do as we were told, in my age group anyway. I don’t remember my mother actually saying those words, but then I remember purposely not doing anything that would rile her, so she got the message across somehow.

      • Norah

        It wasn’t that I didn’t try. I don’t quite know why the sweeping didn’t come up to scratch. Funnily enough. One of my first, if not my first, jobs outside of home was sweeping out a cabinet makers workshop on a Sunday morning. It took over two hours and I was totally pooped afterwards. The broom was huge, at least a metre wide (really!) and difficult to manoeuvre. I was blowing dirt out of my nose all afternoon (when I wasn’t sleeping). I was paid $1. I did it for a couple of years when I was about 13 or 14. I must have done it well enough to do it for so long. 🙂

  7. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    Another week, another episode of Charli Mills squeezing more into her day than some of us get through in a month! Congratulations on braving the three-hour critique group and glad you got something worthwhile from it.

    Our bush isn’t productive enough for picking blueberries to be a chore, but blackcurrants are another matter. A mixed blessing when the harvest is over.

    Is it only me, or is the submission form going dizzy? It won’t let me submit unless I put my email address in the box for URL. So please don’t publish that and here’s the link to my 99-word story on Toxic Love


    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      It’s gone dizzy. I left the url box blank and it went but had to correct the other boxes. Could be the Word Press gremlins making sure we always remember and never forget that nothing difficult is ever easy.

      • Charli Mills

        What do you mean by correct the other boxes? It’s not gremlins, it’s just my learning curve with the new editor.

      • Hugh W. Roberts

        Well done for having a go with the new editor, Charli. As I discovered with it, practice makes perfect.

    • Charli Mills

      The world’s gon dizzy and we don’t need forms following suit! Thanks for alerting me to the issue. This is the first time I used forms in the block editor. I’m learning. Because I duplicated the e-mail form block, it retained the email requirement. It’s now fixed to be an optional text box. It’s standard to require email so I can communicate any issues with submission, but I do not share that information. I realized with the block editor I can now create a message response. Would you mind resubmitting just to help me test it? Let me know if the response autogenerates. Thank you, Anne!

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        I put one in just now and you seem to have rectified the situation as Anne and I seem to have seen it. Sorry to have thrown glitches at you on your busy day in your busy month, Boss. Chores are doable, it’s the glitches and gremlins that get ya.

      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        I wondered if it might be the new editor. A learning point for us all. I’ve resubmitted and it seems fine. although no longer shows you what you sent.

    • Jules

      I thought of ‘master manipulators’….
      And I do believe I’ve known quite a few.

    • suespitulnik

      Isn’t that the way, one has been working and then gets noticed resting, without notice to what has been accomplished. Frustrating to say the least.

  8. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Thick As Thieves of Time

    The call to chores went unheard and unheeded by Pal, for Pal was on vacation, an unprecedented October Rest. But visiting Cuzzins Ash and Dusty Trales at Turnip Farm was not restful for Pal. Ash and Dust’s idea of catching up meant using Pal’s help to harvest their crop, working from sunup to sundown. Speeding along in the overloaded turnip truck, Pal felt lucky to have not fallen off.
    “I’m headin’ back to Carrot Ranch, cuzzins.”
    “Stay. Blood’s thicker ‘an water Pal.”
    “Yep. An’ water is life.”
    And Pal rode back to where the wells ran deep and fresh.

    En Garde, Le Pard

    Meanwhile, back at the Ranch, Kid worried about the kids. The billy goats had sampled Shorty’s manuscript and even ate write out of the story collection bin. Kid knew they didn’t have a chance against a champion goat wrestler like Shorty, who also had a thing for kid gloves.
    Worried and desperate, Kid almost didn’t notice the rental car parked along the trail. Almost. Before Logan and Morgan returned from vista viewing or whatever chore had taken them away from their vehicle, Kid had those kids stowed in the back seat, knowing these two would care for the goats.

    • suespitulnik

      This crew almost always leaves me with a chuckle. Thanks.

  9. writefunnydramatrue

    Intriguing, it makes me wonder if the sisters have an issue with each other.

  10. TanGental

    I’ll start checking for meeces tails. It might explain a lot… meanwhile the boys are arguing about language.. again..
    Chore Bores

    ‘Morgan, can you pick up your clothes? This place is a sty.’
    ‘Yes, mom, I’ll get right onto my chores.’
    ‘I know we’re in the States and I said we should embrace their culture, but in what world does ‘culture’ encompass their bastardised version of English?’
    ‘Hey, who yanked your tail?’
    ‘Everyone wishing me a good day and not meaning it.’
    ‘Like you always say you’re sorry and you don’t mean it.’
    ‘That’s different. Anyway we don’t do ‘chores’, any more than we do yard work.’
    ‘You liked it when that blonde said you had a cute accent…’

    And the submission form worked for me, I think…

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Good to see the lads are still in the states. You might notice two stories up that Kid has encountered them, or at least their rental car. Have a good day!

      • TanGental

        Ooo I’ll check it out!!

      • Selina Sarpong


    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Frank, I believe Ms. Mills has fixed the problem.

  11. Jules


    Continued success in your schedule and your continued encouragement of all those who venture to Carrot Ranch.
    I’m a tad distracted right now myself. But I’m trying to keep up with prompt challenges and contests too! I’m even, well even with TUFF!

    Here’s my bit for this prompt: occupational hazards?

    daydreams are cut short
    my cat visitors seek out
    attention from me

    I pet, they sometimes purr but
    mostly demand attention

    one more week before
    they make a return trip to
    their adoptive folks

    At the top of my chore list this past week and for next is to take care of my interlopers, two cats about a year old. They belong here, briefly. I am their chef cook and bottle washer, litter box cleaner, comforter and entertainer. Occasionally I get rewarded with a delicate cat purr. I’m behind on other chores, inanimate things can wait. Living things first!


  12. reading journeys

    Hi Charli:

    One of the many reasons why I enjoy your blog: you share so much of your journey as a writer. Thank you.

    Chores — have to be done, unfortunately.
    Reminds me of the fable — the grasshopper passing the summer singing while the ant stores up food for winter.
    Still – I like the idea of being more like the grasshopper!

    Keep well. And all the best as you write your way to the MFA.


    • Liz H

      That was a lovely story!

    • suespitulnik

      The helpful child is a blessing. Good for the Mom to let her learn.

    • Jules

      I had my children help fold kitchen towels. It didn’t matter how they did it. That and matching up sox, setting the table. Just because! 🙂

  13. reading journeys

    Thinking about the FF
    from Chores to crickets and ants to Mice…
    Specifically, if you are plowing (or ploughing):

    “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785”
    by Robert Burns

    I like the sound of that line in Scots:
    “Gang aft agley,”

    “But, Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
    In proving foresight may be vain;
    The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
    Gang aft agley,
    An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
    For promis’d joy!”

    In Englsh:
    “But Mouse, you are not alone,
    In proving foresight may be vain:
    The best-laid schemes of mice and men
    Go oft awry,
    And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
    For promised joy!”
    Back to my chores.

  14. H.R.R. Gorman

    Ooh, that actually sounds really cool! A wonderful opportunity. I hope it was/will be helpful!

    Let’s see if I can’t whack something out for chores…

    • suespitulnik

      I agree with you if we could create our own list of chores instead of having to do what is necessary, chores would be more fun.

      • Paula Light

        For sure! ????

  15. Liz H

    For those planning on Nano, or just writing in general:
    Preptober Chore

    • suespitulnik

      Seems finding excuses not to do what we should be doing is universal.

  16. suespitulnik

    Hi Charli,
    They say give the busy person the job and it will get done. I think we are all amazed at your schedule. Take care of yourself, and I give you permission to let the mundane chores go for a couple more weeks. No one cares about dust!

    Getting Things Done

    Tessa looked disgusted. “Would you please help me with the laundry and dishes? I have a meeting tonight.”
    With a twinkle in his eye, Michael responded, “I’ve got my own chore of getting fast enough at the fingering on my new tin whistle to be able to keep up with the band.”
    She swatted his arm. “How about I take the whistle with me and when I get home you’ll have the other things done.”
    “Dear woman, please, don’t start sounding like your mother making threats.”
    Tessa laughed, “That’s on unfair analogy. We’ll share the chores.”
    “Yes’m,” he grinned.

  17. joanne the geek

    I tried to submit my story to the collection, but I’m not sure if it did.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      It might not have, given the timing, but I bet you could just submit it again now that Charli has got the think fixed.


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