What I have always wanted is the Writer’s Life.

Growing up, books transported me and expanded my understanding. The old Conestoga wagon at the ranch near my home, where I climbed to the seat and worked the handbrake, featured in many books I read. Laura Ingalls Wilder and other pioneer stories explained the remnants of the Immigrant Trail that spanned Alpine County, my childhood home. Ian Flemming, Louis L’Amore, Kathleen E. Woodwise, and Julie Garwood introduced me to espionage, western literature, and highland romance.

Yet, I recognized that not all stories were in books. The story of Dot So La Lee and the Washo elders I knew as grandparents to school friends, made me want to read their stories, too. The women I met as “old-timers” or ranch hands in my hometown also had stories and worked jobs that didn’t fit into the trope of the western woman. The omission of stories not found in the mainstream made me want to write. And I did — in wide-rule notebooks.

Really, I wanted to be Indiana Jones. He was an archaeologist who found adventure in the field, taught college, and knew stories. My dream for the writer’s life mixes a vibe of outdoor adventure, learning about new places and people, and telling the forgotten stories from the fringes. It expands more than writing and publishing. For me, it’s a way of life. When I met Indiana Jones on the big screen, I saw a hero who also was a storyteller and a teacher.

As I’ve matured, the dream ebbed and waned. Parenthood was a pause but also a later catalyst that propelled me onto the college path. Employment used my writing skills and taught me the value of storytelling in marketing. I never stopped dreaming or going to historical sites or writing. Every new year for 16 years, I wrote “Live a Writer’s Life” in a journal or on a calendar. When I had to defer writing to parenting or employment, I still looked for adventure outside, let my curiosity roam, and collected stories from life, history, and imagination.

Then, I took those steps to pursue that Writer’s Life and began working on the craft of creative writing, not just filling the well from where I write. I began to crave connection, the deeper I wrote. The ability to connect through stories, caught and told, is in my DNA. It’s in yours, too. Our brains are hardwired for stories — just ask Brene Brown.

“the idea that we’re “wired for story” is more than a catchy phrase. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak has found that hearing a story—a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end—causes our brains to release cortisol and oxytocin. These chemicals trigger the uniquely human abilities to connect, empathize, and make meaning. Story is literally in our DNA.”

~ Brené Brown

Now, I have come to know the deep connections that writers can make as a community. This is the icing on the Writer’s Life cake. Further, I recently fulfilled that Indiana Jones dream to teach college. Last semester was my first; this semester I’m also tutoring 13 learning labs in addition to my English writing class. Two weeks into the semester and I still have the jitters. I love this part of my Writing Life — the people.

In December, I took a break from Carrot Ranch. As a (recently acknowledged) caregiver to a wounded warrior, my life has not gone as planned. In fact, I never would have imagined such a twist. I needed the time to settle into my new support program which gives the stability I’ve not had in years because of my husband’s condition. When I slowed down, I wanted to also reflect on what I’m doing at Carrot Ranch. Undeniably, it is an important feature of my Writer’s Life.

But I also felt lost. This is why I believe in vision work for goal-setting, and knowing what my North Star is. Mine is “Living my best life, writing, teaching, and publishing books.” The first part of the sentence captures the Indiana Jones dream but accepts reality, too. I don’t need exotic locations, I have my backyard. Seeing the first spring crocus is a bit like finding treasure. The second part of the North Star is specific. I feel like I have arrived at a place where the possibilities have dwindled to a focus.

Carrot Ranch has a North Star, too. It’s been: “making literary art accessible 99 words at a time.” During my break, I also found a tighter focus for the Ranch. The mission of Carrot Ranch is “to make the craft of creative writing accessible to those who dare.” It’s wordier but also more specific.

The craft of creative writing.” Early on, I wanted to make literary art something that all people could participate in through readership, discussions, and writing. However, the emphasis is on the writing. I wanted an inclusive term for poets, genre-writers, and storytellers. Creative writing fits the description better than literary art.

Accessibility. I wanted better accessibility to the greater writing community. I wanted accessibility for writing stories than anyone could do. I wanted accessibility to improve my craft. I wanted accessibility for readers who feel too busy to read. 99-word stories provide that accessibility for me, you, and anyone seeking their own Writer’s Life.

“To those who dare.” Yes, this is totally a nod to Brene Brown. Over the break, I had an epiphany that I could not teach every student or writer who comes to me, nor could I make anyone feel safe in their own being. What I mean, is that as hard as I try to create safe spaces in my classrooms and community, I will still have students fail and writers who won’t try to overcome their fears. I’m not responsible for those hard circumstances or choices. Thus, it’s important to me to highlight and encourage “those who dare” to write creatively, flawed, ever-improving craft.

“When I see people stand fully in their truth, or when I see someone fall down, get back up, and say, ‘Damn. That really hurt, but this is important to me and I’m going in again’—my gut reaction is, ‘What a badass.’

~ Brené Brown

It feels good to be back among the badass writers who dare to stand in their truth and write their stories. No matter what your path, the hardships you face, your hopes and dreams, you are here. You are willing to join in with other writers to access creative writing. Weekly. 99 words at a time, no more, no less.

Now that I’m back, let me unfurl the changes. It might feel awkward, it might be frustrating, or it might feel like a relief, but I’m only accepting 99-word stories in the form. If you blog, include your link to your story, and please link to the Collection, not to the Challenge.

My reasoning is that I was trying to be too many things to all writers. Multiple posting of stories, which I encouraged so people had different ways to share, became redundant. I want to encourage people to read your stories, of course! But let’s focus on the Collection. Please do not post stories in the comments, or share links on the Challenge Post. Share your links to the collection, this is more favorable to you as a writer.

Then, when I publish the collection, I will encourage readers to follow blogs of authors they discover and like. I will encourage bloggers to visit the sites of other bloggers. I will visit all the blogs where you posted your story. If you want to say why you like a particular story(ies), comment on the Collection.

The form message indicates “if your story is accepted.” It’s to protect Carrot Ranch from the scammers of the world. The occasional Nanjo gets through. Also, I may have students submitting. It’s also a nod to the future. If we grow, there will be a limit to what I can curate within a week. At that point, I might consider a blog hop through a linkup program. But we are not at that point.

I don’t expect us to adjust smoothly. I will give gentle nudges to anyone who misunderstands or doesn’t read the post and changes. It’s okay. It’s a needed shift and I welcome your feedback throughout the transition. In all the years we have been writing 99-word stories, no one has ever published only in the comments. That was supposed to be an option for those without blogs, but I have discovered that if a writer is not a blogger, they are more likely to feel uncomfortable posting anything in the comments.

However, if you write (or respond) to one another in story, poetry, or in character (like Kid and Pal), that’s great! I’m trying to reduce the redundancy of our shared stories and emphasize the Collection.

Another change is the dates. With my schedule at Finlandia University, I realized I needed to develop a better workflow for me at the Ranch. I can work on posts over the weekend. Challenge posts will publish every Monday and the Collection on the following Wednesday. I need the extra days to put together the collaborative works of those who submit their stories.

Also, I’m not posting a story either until the collection!

Other programming at Carrot Ranch will remain on hiatus until we have further plans to share with you. The website will be getting an overhaul and plans are building up from the soil. Our soil is the community and the writing. I will share more in March. For now, let’s write!

January 24, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about “the wish I made.” Whose wish is it and how does it fit into the story? What kind of wish? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by January 29, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

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

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