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Tendril by tendril the plants pull themselves sun-ward. Leaves bob on light currents of air, hiding fragile white blossoms. The plants thicken to the point of hiding the slender iron trellis they cling to. They’ve grown so equally green, I can’t distinguish one plant from another. Nor can I tell when the white blossoms have fruited. This is not a patch of raspberries or sun-gold tomatoes. I await a harvest of peas.
The late summer day when the plants drooped, pulling the trellis out of alignment, I knew. I recognized the heaviness of harvest.Ever since that transition from growing, climbing green to drooping, gifting green I have haunted the pea patch. It’s not easy to spot the first pea, but once you train your eye to see, you see the full magnitude of pea harvest glory. It’s a bit like practicing flash fiction.
When I first began writing various short forms, I did so because it sparked my creativity. After that, I began requiring my team to write a specific creative form of 25 words before our meetings. We didn’t have time to linger over creative writing so most meeting days, I announced to the department that we would meet at the Round Table in ten minutes. I reminded each person to bring their project updates, meeting agenda and their cinquain. Often, team members scribbled their 25 words in the final five minutes of preparation.
As a prompt, a flash fiction of 99 words doesn’t take long to write. When I was leading Wrangling Words at the Bonner County Library, I gave participants five minutes to write. Many wrote several hundred words! The first time I gave the prompt it was 10 minutes and the stories were much longer than I anticipated for our group activity. So I know it’s possible to write 99 words in five minutes. Is it ideal for those who gather here? Perhaps not.
But what does flash fiction have to do with spotting a hidden pea harvest?
Draw the similarity between learning to spot green peas and learning to write tight prose. I view it as training. When I first spot a hanging pea pod, suddenly I see more. My brain understands the cue. When you practice flash fiction, you train your brain to tell a story in 99 words. You might still write 200 and cut, or only write 70 and add, but your brain gets better at recognizing its target.
I used to joke that writing creative constrains was magic because my marketing team responded by solving project problems with improved innovation. But I know science supports the power of constraints in forcing the brain to go into problem-solving mode. Thus two factors occur when we regularly write flash fiction — our brains think more creatively quicker and we train our brains to adapt to a pattern.
If you are concerned that you’ll pick up the 99-word pattern, fear not. It isn’t as if you can only write in that mode, it’s more like you can use that mode to solve clarity or literary issues with other forms of writing. I’ve marveled over our writers who add in verse, and now I realize that as poets they have other forms their brains use. These patterns are of benefit to a writer and it legitimizes writing short forms as a tool.
Of course, if you are like me in a pea patch, you probably care more about the pleasure the taste of fresh pea pods bring over the idea that you trained your brain to find what is easily hidden. You might enjoy the challenge of word-smithing among others, the fun of creating stories and reading what others create, and the weekly activity. And that’s good! I’m not in the pea patch munching on pods because I read that peas are high in magnesium. I simply like peas. And the fun I have, knowing I get to them before others in my household!
Ah, the competitive nature. It’s not that strong in me unless I know everyone is having a good time. That’s why I want you all to have a great pea-picking time at the upcoming Rodeo. It is a contest and it will bring out the competitiveness in some, the intimidation or perfection in others. Let’s admit that’s all possible. We’ll likely have many writers show up whom we’ve not met before or who aren’t interested in hanging out by the campfire. So let me be clear about goals.
Number one: Carrot Ranch is a fun and welcoming place to practice literary art. Don’t be put off by the word “practice.” In no way do I want to demean anyone’s writing as scribbles of art. When I say practice, I mean it according to my personal philosophy that literary art is something writers master over a lifetime. How do you know you’ve mastered it? You’re dead. Shakespeare mastered all he was capable of mastering by the day he died. It’s not about comparing our work to others. It’s about never stopping to push into what we can create with words. The process is the hallmark of a literary artist, not the finished product. Therefore, let’s have fun while we figure out what is possible with words and how to sharpen our stories. The Rodeo is intended to bring you something different and exciting from our weekly writing.
Number two: Carrot Ranch wants individuals within the community to succeed. Those who regularly gather and are willing to do collaborative projects like the anthologies are part of a smaller group that helps spur on the Ranch. They are the Rough Writers. In return, they get expanded visibility for their own writing. Those who gather for fun, who share our posts and read regularly are the Friends. It’s up to writers to decide. Either way, there are no obligations. However, Carrot Ranch is a place where writers can step out of their comfort zones. A contest is an example. If it becomes achievable here, it can become achievable elsewhere. Success is what you interpret it to be, and the Ranch believes in the value of literary art and your contribution to it.
Number three: Carrot Ranch is growing and we want to celebrate. The growth comes in more ways to support access to literary art — the creation of anthologies, public readings of flash fiction, free adult education classes that use flash fiction as a tool to build a local literary community, inspiring retreats, and innovative workshops. We will be launching our first The Congress of the Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology, Vol. 1 late in November with pre-sales in October. A Rodeo is one way to generate excitement about what we do at Carrot Ranch.
Enjoy the Rodeo, use the contests to try different prompts and don’t let intimidation hold you back. Every writer feels doubt. Don’t let it stop you from the joy of what it is to create literary art. Join in, saddle up and write! Remember, the Rodeo replaces the weekly prompt with two weekly contests Oct. 5-31. Stop by the Ranch for a progressive kick-off party on Tuesday, Oct. 3. You might win a random drawing prize so leave a comment on the Oct. 3 blog post. CR FB page will have drawings and live readings from Vol. 1.
Last call for Rough Writers for the next anthology: the one criteria is willingness to participate. We use material from the compilations to build upon, and some of our writers create new work. If you’ve been writing here weekly (even occasionally) send me a quick note. Find out if it’s something you want to pursue. I’ll introduce new Rough Writers at the Rodeo Fest (kick-off party on Oct. 3).
One last note: I’m not perfect. Seriously, it’s worth saying! We all make mistakes and I tend to bring in a bumper crop. So, I fudged my hastags. I’m not a hashtag genius to begin with and I forgot that I had created #FFRODEO for the Rodeo — Flash Fiction Rodeo. When I created the Rodeo Fest promotion I inadvertently created a second hashtag of #CRRODEO as in Carrot Ranch Rodeo. Better editors than my Inner Editor, pointed out the blunder, but by then both hashtags had been shared widely. I’m a flash fiction writer, so having trained my brain for solutions I will simply use #CRRODEO on October 3 for the Rodeo Fest and pretend that’s what I meant.
Be sure to follow along the Rodeo on Twitter at #FFRODEO. May it bring you all a bumper crop of fun!
And if you missed the post on Tuesday, check out the new Flash Fiction page at Carrot Ranch. It includes recipes for preparing flash fiction and introduces something I’ve been working on for a while — The Ultimate Flash Fiction (TUFF), which is a challenge, the final contest in the Rodeo, and the foundation for a new workshop I’ve developed using flash fiction as a tool to teach an integrative writing/editing approach to book revision.
Thank you for your patience as the sawdust clears on all these new barns and events at the Ranch! I’m a week behind on compilations, but whipping and spurring to get caught up in the next few days. I’ll let you know as new pages go up, too! This is the final prompt until weeklies resume November 2. I’m delighted to have you all here!
September 21, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about what it is to gather a harvest. You can use the phrase or show what it means without using the words. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by September 26, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published September 27). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Harvests Aren’t Gathered for All (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Sarah gobbled picked peas from her gnarled hands.
“Get out of there!”
Sarah blushed, gathered threadbare skirts and fled fast as a 91-year-old could muster. She held her head despite the curvature of her back and walked past the angry gardener as if she were on a Sunday stroll. In fact, Sarah realized, it was Sunday.
“You stay out you tramp!”
So much for Christian charity, she thought. Wandering without a destination she passed other gardens in full harvest. At the end of the street named after her father in the town bearing her surname, Sarah turned away, hungry.
Hitting the ground is part of the ride. It’s not personal when a bull stomps your belly; neither is it personal when an publisher or agent never gets back to you.
Today, I discovered an embarrassing blunder and at least I can say with great confidence, I know why this particular publisher will never get back to me. I sent the wrong manuscript. Right title; right revision; wrong edit version.
I don’t know about you, but I get lost in all my revisions. I don’t mean revising, I mean all the versions of my novel that hold space in my folders. They are organized numerically and by date. My revisions exist in Scrivener and as Word Docs. The latter, I share with beta readers or my editor.
When the last revision returned to me it was the final revision with the final edits. But wait — I had to accept the corrections and make recommended changes. I had to accept the commas and change awkward sentences. In my haste — yes, I recall Laura Ingalls quoting Pa, “haste makes waste” — I wasted my opportunity. I thought I had saved the changes, but I sent a file with the complete mark-up of edits on every single page.
Picture this: you are in a writing class. You spend the semester writing, revising and critiquing short stories. Your professor encourages you to send off your latest revision to a literary magazine. But instead of mailing your clean re-write, you mail the professor’s last round of remarks which leaves each page looking like a bloodbath.
Do you think the editor of the literary magazine is going to try to read your submission buried beneath red ink? Most likely, not.
Worse, I recall a similar scenario at work — reading resumes. I was part of the hiring team and often had to read numerous resumes while I was busy with my own department and work. Sometimes I would find such absurd mistakes that I would share the laugh with my team or the HR manager. I cringe to think my submission made someone laugh — look at that mistake!
Rodeo stock-riders make mistakes, too. Especially right out the gate (meaning, your first ride). So I’m going to share a laugh with you, courtesy of comedian, Bill Engavall. When he says, “I am a cowboy,” substitute, “I am a writer!” This is what my first ride felt like, but I’m all psyched up to try again!
Lessons learned from Ride 1:
- Now I know what the ride feels like.
- A friend cached me on how to save my changes.
- Next time I won’t submit in haste. This isn’t a race. It’s a rodeo.
A big buckaroo shout-out to the talented photographer, Jamie Miles. That amazing bull ride photo is her work. I’ve long been a fan of her photography (she covers country music concerts) and when she posted photos from a national bull riding event I asked her if I could purchase one. Consider ways that artists can support artists.
Any feedback for a newbie taking the ride to get published? What was your first ride like? Did you ever blunder? How did you bounce back?