I grew up in the shadow of the ’49ers. Not the San Fransico American football franchise, but the remnants of miners. The global rush of gold-hungry humanity flocked to California in 1849. The year marked the estimated 90,000 people who arrived by land or sea from all around the world.

As a seventh-generation Californian, I’m a product of that inundation. A part of a rich vaquero history. A part of an extractive culture that yet remains. A witness to those who knew how to live with the environment. I grew up understanding the allure of shiny rocks, sturdy horses, and living as one with the land.

Even though I can trace my roots from California back to the Pyrenees, Azores, and Great Britain, I can’t find the cultures I know in history books or novels. Or the women from this time period who were neither a Mrs. His Name or a Soiled Dove. This drives me to write from the “fringes of the frontiers” where all people exist despite missing documentation or representation in popular culture. Because of this gap, I mine my own missing heritage and life experiences for stories. In my manuscript, Miracle of Ducks, I gave my protagonist a mixed lineage of Azorean Portuguese and French Basque. It was both unsettling and liberating to dig deep into my roots.

That’s one reason I recognize writers who dare. Writers are courageous because they commit their thoughts, ideas, feelings, stories, and fringe elements to the page. It’s one thing to imagine a story, and another to write it. We blunder as we go. We do the best we can with what we know. We learn. We dare. We grow. What feels daring to you in your writing or as a writer?

When we put ourselves out there to be read, we are exposed. People with different perspectives from ours will read and weigh our words against what they know. Experiences differ. Traditions and beliefs can clash. People with ideas about how writing is defined will judge our craft. Readers will form opinions. And sometimes, we will invite criticism to grow. Productive critique is insight and questioning shared to improve a piece of writing for its purpose, but it can feel uncomfortable and expose what we don’t yet know.

Brené Brown understands the act of vulnerability it takes when we put ourselves out there — when we dare to write or dare to write the thing that scares us to write or write before we know it’s exactly correct. We dare, we writers. She understands the critics will circle. However, she developed her own ideas about daring greatly from the words of an earlier American President who wrote:

“It is not the critic who counts: not the person who points out how the strong person stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends themselves in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if they fail, at least they fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

~ Theodore Roosevelt, Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910 (CMills made gender-nuetral changes)

And thus I continue to err my way forward through my Writer’s Life because it is my arena. The critic does not get my focus, but growth and learning do. Last week, after I posted changes, I created confusion. It’s understandable. Communication can be murky because each person has a different perspective. I definitely wrote about the changes to the Challenge from my perspective. But I also listened to each of you from your perspective, too. Some of you even summarized the changes into succinct instructions on your own websites.

Then, while I was at Finlandia University in the Teaching and Learning Center (aptly called the TLC), I read a wall cover in Brené Brown quotes. And one exposed my own error of last week’s announcements:

“Clarity is kindness.”

~ Brené Brown

This week, I’ll be kinder. This week, I’ve learned to communicate more clearly. Sometimes, less is more. All you need to know about participating in the 99-word Story Challenge is that you use the form below.

That’s it. Use the form.

I never meant to tell you when and how to post. I didn’t mean you couldn’t post your responses earlier. I didn’t think through your process when I asked you to link to the Collection instead of the Challenge. Please disregard that error from last week. You can post your story and link any time. However, I won’t link to the story until I publish the collection.

This challenge is for writers on the fringe, too. College students, writing clubs, readers, libraries, people who are afraid to write out loud but ready to take the plunge. Not every writer has a blog. All writers are welcome to participate and we do that through the form provided with every challenge. It’s access for all.

When the Collection publishes, take pride in having dared greatly! You went into the arena and risked your fears to write among others. Remember — the critics don’t count, only those in the arena do. Therefore, we celebrate our collaborative efforts together. We can post encouraging comments and visit the blogs or social media of those who have online writing lives. We can find new authors to read, new writing friends to share the journey and renewed inspiration.

In the background, I will visit every website or blog post linked in the form and respond via email to those without. After the first week, I feel relieved. I can connect with all writers through the form and comments. It’s a privilege for me to work with all your individual stories.

The Collection is where the magic happens.

The Challenge is the arena.

And you are all invited to come along on this ride at Carrot Ranch to practice a weekly craft that will continue to open doors of creativity and solutions to you. This week, we will expand the meaning of a historical moniker. What can a ’49er be? What grabs your imagination — learning about history or turning an old phrase into something new?

A little song to put you into the ’49er spirit.

The next Collection (The Wish I Made) publishes Wednesday, February 2. I appreciate all of you who dared to enter and make sense of the changes to our weekly literary activity. Thank you to all our readers, too!

January 31, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about “the ’49ers.” Who or what are they? What is the significance of the number? Do you follow the Gold Rush history or venture into new territory? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by February 5, 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 or social media 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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