Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Home » Posts tagged 'writing life'

Tag Archives: writing life

September 26: Story Challenge in 99-words

The gray-sky season has returned to the Keweenaw. Lady Lake Superior broods with atmospheric moodiness while air and water temperatures collide. Cloudy tension hangs over our rocky spine. Those who know what will come next already want to hunker into snuggly flannel and mugs of hot tea.

I miss my white porcelain tea pot. Once, I had a cheerful yellow teapot from the UK; a graduation gift back in the ’90s. It was so precious to me, that when we moved from a temporary apartment to our house in Minnesota, I decided to carry it rather than pack it.

What was I thinking? My children treasured the teapot, too, remembering their Aunt Kate back in Montana who had gifted me the item. We used to have tea with her and for my eldest’s ninth birthday, she helped me organize a high tea party. Tea leaves, water, and memories lived in that yellow pot. It shattered on the driveway of our new Minnesota house.

Later, I bought another teapot but it was smaller and the spout dribbled. I found another pot with less dribble and more capacity but it was devoid of any commitment to color. It was white. It served the family well enough that I miss its absence. It exists, somewhere in Idaho with shoes I’ve not worn in over five years.

Yet, I hardly ever drink tea anymore. It must be the moodiness of the changing weather tricking me into thinking cozy tea thoughts. I was surprised to find a British porcelain teapot on clearance at the Hancock food co-op. After all, I had never seen teapots for sale there. Its periwinkle-blue side flaunted a garishly orange discount sticker. I couldn’t resist. Now I’m properly potted, and yes, I’m drinking more tea.

Have you even tackled a project because you were infused with tea? That’s how I came to organize the historical research that I’ve lugged around since leaving Idaho, which led to the discovery of a weird note. Evidently, I scribbled the disjointed ideas on a recycled piece of paper. It could have been from 2004 or 2012. I have no recollection of jotting the thoughts I didn’t want to “forget.”

Drafting is the part of writing that is a massive info dump. If you are a pantser, then you know the joy of dumping to the page like lake-effect snow (not here, yet). The act is glorious but rarely is the mess. The other part of writing, revision, seeks to clean up the mess. If you are a plotter, you relish planning every last detail. Regardless of where your writing joy resides, you must find beauty and balance in “plantsing,” which calls us to draft, plan, and revise.

Trying to make sense of my dump note is like trying to understand my brain. Here’s what I wrote on a quarter-page of recycled paper:

Would you fake a broken arm for me? (based on a robin protecting another from potential danger at the cat farm) -- birdsers vs. cat lovers -- robin humping for worms or insects
<line>
The Isolation of a Lone Gunman
<line>
Find Your Happy Place as a Beauty Regime -- thrift store top -- earrings

I’m intrigued by my question. But what was the cat farm? Back in the ’00s, I was freelancing and writing columns and stories about food cooperatives and the local food scene. I probably interviewed hundreds of farmers, chefs, food artisans, and co-op members during that time and visited six to eight farms a year for 16 years. I can’t recall a cat farm; many farms had feral cats, though.

Birdsers is a funny typo. I’m pretty sure I meant birders and I can see that I was contemplating an article about the impact of farm cats on wildlife. I hope I never used “robin humping for worms” in anything I wrote back then. The other two items, well, I can’t say. Was I inserting plot points? I know I longed to write fictional stories while I was working. I can’t imagine lone gunmen relevant to the natural food movement. The Happy Place note is vaguely familiar. I may have used the idea for a “recycled self-care” article.

That note is a snapshot of my mind dumping long ago. The lead question still intrigues me: would you fake a broken arm for me? I thought it might be difficult as a prompt, though, so I simplified it to a broken arm. But if you are up to answering the question in a story, I’ll sit back and enjoy a pot of tea beneath moody skies and read your intriguing responses.

September 26, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a broken arm. What happened? Is there a cause and effect because of the broken arm? Was the injury faked? Why? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by October 1, 2022. Please use the form if you want to be published in the weekly collection. 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 the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

September 19: Story Challenge in 99-words

Thirty-five years ago today, a younger version of me put on a wedding dress and rode a horse-drawn buggy to marry a younger version of Todd on the summer meadows of the Jubilee Ranch. We had no idea how our lives, relationship, and future family would unfold. Last year, I didn’t think we’d make it to 35.

But, here we are.

The last ten years have been formative. For what? I don’t know and it’s okay. Younger Me would have wanted to KNOW; would have had a PLAN; would have wanted it all to MEAN something.

Between our wedding day and 35th anniversary, we’ve put a lot of mud on the tires. I guess this seems similar to balloons on a bumper. It differs, though. Mud is real. Balloons are temporary hopes and dreams susceptible to popping. Mud can stain. Mud can wash away. Mud says, “You’ve been places, Kiddo.”

Just this past weekend, we got mud on the tires, traveling over 800 miles and crossing the Might Mac twice. As D. Avery can attest, there are a whole lot of trees between the Keweenaw Peninsula and the bridge to downstate Michigan. A whole lot of interesting water bodies, too, thus me saying throughout the fifteen-plus hours in the truck, “I’d paddle that.” We were not kayaking. Instead, we loaded up the Mause, a shotgun, and two boxes of shells (someone was hopeful).

We went pheasant hunting at Tails-a-Waggin’ Acres outside Marion, Michigan.

When I learned about the Veteran Pheasant Hunt that Chuck and Joan Connell offer, I wanted to enlist Todd but it was too big of a crowd for him. Chuck graciously offered a hunt the weekend before the big event. He let us bring our green hunting dog, Mauser Mannlicher (Mause). It seemed like it might be too big an undertaking, too far, and too much to ask of a young German Short-haired Pointer. But we were all willing to try. We left Friday after classes and returned Sunday in time for me to prep for classes.

Thirty-six years ago, Todd and I were dating. A typical date? You got it — pheasant hunting. Followed by pheasant plucking, pheasant marinating, and roasted pheasant meals. We ate so much pheasant during that time, I’ve not had it since! It took three decades for me to salivate at the thought of hunting game birds once again.

I had no idea what to expect. My job was to monitor Todd for pain, cognition resets and needed breaks. He can hike for miles but if he falls, he can’t get up on his own. I made sure we didn’t travel as fast and hard as he wanted. I told him I longed to enjoy a couple of nice hotel rooms. Pet-friendly, of course. Mause is not a fan of sleeping elsewhere. She shares that in common with Todd. They endured restlessly and I will have to catch up on missed sleep. The trip was worth the effort.

Todd and Mause were in sync in their happy place. I was the attending chronicler.

Although Chuck released three pheasants, Mause and Todd did not flush or shoot any. They hunted diligently and did not shy away from the brambles, alders, and deep grass. Todd had thorns in his socks and Mause found plenty of signs. Cool fact: German Short-haired Pointers do not get stickers in their coats and they have self-cleaning oils in their fur.

At one point, she carried a pheasant feather in her mouth. She learned what birdie she was searching for and her little tail buzzed. She ran circles and discovered the joys of a dog watering trough.

After we returned, Todd and Mause went out again. It took a lot out of him to hunt like that but it gave him back something he has missed, too. That night, as we watched the sun set over Lake Huron from our balcony room near the Mackinac Bridge, I asked Todd what brought him joy from the day. He said, “Watching Mause hunt.” I agreed but added that I enjoyed watching him, too. If ever we needed a healing excursion, this was The One.

Mause can show you her joy at the end of the hunt.

Thirty-five years and a lot of mud later, I’m not living the life I expected. Yet, it is my life and I rise with each new day I get to greet and search for stories. When we pay attention to the mud, we realize it has meaning, after all. I once read an article that claimed happiness was found in living a meaningful life. I can’t make sense of all that has happened to us, nor can I give back to Todd all he’s lost because of his service. I know he’d say he’d do it again even if he knew the consequences. I didn’t serve but I can dignify his service. I can find meaningful moments in the mud.

Dare I say, I’m happy? (Wipes mud from brow. Grins. Taps out a story.)

September 19, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about mud on the tires. The tires can be from any conveyance or serve as an analogy. How did they get muddy and why? What impact does mud on the tires have on the story (plot) or characters (motivation)? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by September 24, 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.

September 12: Story Challenge in 99-words

After I exit from McLain State Park, I follow the familiar curves of pavement home to Hancock four miles away. The road hugs the shore of the canal that makes our Keweenaw Peninsula an island. Mause is wet and snugged as close to me as she can get. We played with a lot of rocks while the waves battered the shore.

In the rearview mirror, I notice a truck advancing with great speed. Five other vehicles follow it closely and before I know it, I’m lead car. The truck behind me has white balloons bobbing from its front bumper. I feel like I’m sucked into a parade of sorts.

Unwilling to lead the party parade, I pull over to the narrow shoulder. The truck blasts past me and Mause. The tailgate reads, “Just Married.” Wherever those newlyweds are heading, I’m no longer slowing down their progress to party. The vehicles following the married couple pass, honking their horns. I honk back with good cheer.

It’s been a whirlwind of a week, but I’m finding my groove. I’ve had three full weekends and two full weeks of teaching. I have sixty-one students, three classes, and seven learning labs. I’m beginning to grade the first round of essays and I’ve already assigned the second 99-word story. I love how the students come to life in their writing. In ENG 103 we begin with personal narratives and in 104 we jump into writing with “rock essays.”

What I love about the rock essays is that I get to go full-on rock nerd. I collect rocks for each class, thinking about rock lessons, such as comparing granite to gneiss. Both contain a similar mineral makeup of quartz, plagioclase, k-spar, and mica but the minerals in gneiss form bands. Amygdaloidal basalt (or rhyolite) allows for me to explain vesicles (gas bubbles) and secondary metamorphosis where minerals like epidote, calcite, jasper, analcime, and chalcedony fill the holes. I like to pick plain basalt and tell students it’s 1.087 billion years old!

Of course, I also look for my favorites — prehnite, copper, and agates. It’s fun to watch the students pick a rock and then ponder it. The assignment asks that they observe the rock dry and then wet, noting any differences. Then, they have to solicit opinions from their peers about their rocks. Finally, I go around the room and inform each student of their rock so they can research it. This assignment establishes where my students are at with writing and how difficult it is to write about a topic they have no experience or interest in. It sets up the next two weeks of exploring topics for their 15-page research paper.

I remind my students that writing is thinking. But it is also feeling. We write best with material (subjects, genres, BOTs, stories) we can relate to. However, one of my students who has clearly had a classical education, explained how he developed a thesis to engage with his rock observations, opinions, and research. He’s way ahead of where I’m leading the class, but through brainstorming, mind-mapping, and plumbing the depths of modern media we will catch up on how to develop research questions.

It always cheers me when a student declares an appreciation for their rock. Better, is when they decide they might actually appreciate writing.

We know, as writers, that stories are thrilling to collect. The moment I saw balloons on a bumper of a big pickup truck in my rearview mirror, I began to see stories rise. I wonder…what if…the treasured inspiration we think about and feel our way into as imagination greets us to play.

September 12, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about balloons on a bumper. Is it a spectacle, an occasion, an eccentricity? Why are the balloons there? Who is involved? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by September 17, 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.

September 5: Story Challenge in 99-words

And Mause swam into the sunset.

I had stood waist-deep in the cold water of Lake Superior at my favorite pebble beach at McLains State Park, coaxing the 21-month-old German Shorthaired pup. She had followed me out as far as she could stand, barking at me to throw her a rock.

Our game goes like this: I find a rock beneath the clear water, one that glows like a translucent agate or prehnite. I scoop the rock of interest and a bonus rock — any rock — the size of a chicken’s egg. I throw the egg-rock beyond the pile of beach-worn pebbles to the sand further upslope. Mause chases the thrown rock and digs it into the sand. She pushes it with her paws back to shore or picks it up in her mouth. I look at the rock I wanted to see and keep or toss it.

I had walked backward, continuing to convince Mause to follow. We have spent the summer trying to teach her to swim. She will go into the deeper water and panic-paddle, thrashing. On this particular day, the waves were big and intimidating. They pushed at me, threatening my balance. I waded deeper where they swell with less thrust.

Mause decided to change games. Instead of following me, she chased the big rollers as they crashed at an angel to shore. White breakwater splashed as she followed the crest down the beach, turning around to chase another. Then she braved the swells and paddle-splashed toward me. Todd said to lift her belly when she neared.

Okay. Grabbing a half-panicked dog in cold rising waves is no easy feat. But at last, I timed it right, side-stepped and slipped both forearms beneath her. Todd was right. The lift corrected her thrashing paws. Mause paddled beneath the water, and swam back to shore. She returned and made a beautiful half arc. Todd and I cheered. Our pup finally learned how to swim.

The third time out, her front paws pulling beneath the water with her back legs tucked up like a baby hippo, Mause swam past me. Todd was out even further. She swam past Todd. And that was the moment she swam into the sunset. We called her back. Slowly, she swam in a large arc and glided past us to shore. Relieved, we followed.

Sometimes, life goes so swimmingly well we don’t want to stop.

After a rough start to my third semester instructing college English composition, the week went smoothly. Mostly. I temporarily lost a class. We found each other. A returning student walked into another class, gave me a big hug, and announced to his classmates that I was the best prof on campus. I felt giddy, listening to students interview one another for a writing assignment as they shared stories about their names and why they chose their majors. So much potential and promise. Fresh starts.

Of course, there are the labs to run, data to maintain, lesson plans to create, and the reality of grading papers for sixty students. I walked into my office to discover I forgot I borrowed a plant from another faculty last year. I forgot I was an adopted plant mom over the summer. My officemate forgot, too. But she decorated my W-board with colorful markers and I remembered why I liked officing with her. We are both forgetful plant tenders but we nourish each other’s creativity.

I felt fully supported by my college, my dean, my Learning Center director, and my students when I missed the first day of class. I caused ripples by asking for a different classroom because I have the largest incoming freshman classes in the smallest humanities classrooms. I had to admit to my dean and registrar that I had already moved my class, maverick that I can be. No one was using the larger room, so I made a decision. I didn’t know it takes an act of the registrar gods to reassign a classroom, let alone three times. But my dean stood up for me. And I stood up for my students.

I’m still nervous-excited when I think of each day in the classroom. Honestly, I hope that never goes away. It means that I care enough to want to do my best for sixty young minds. I want to teach what can be the hardest thing to teach — writing. “Writing is thinking,” I tell my students. I can’t teach them to think or find their voices. But I trust the process of writing to be my co-instructor. I trust the 99-word template to give them a pattern, a prompt to spark creativity, a safe space to grow, and weekly writing to practice craft.

We write a lot in ENG I, starting with personal narratives and ending with literary criticism. Our book is Firekeeper’s Daughter and our style guide is good ol’ Strunk & White. In ENG II we slow down the full writing process from brainstorming to organizing thoughts to researching to drafting to revising to editing a single 15-page research paper. We are also listening to The Four Pivots on audiobook in class.

One week down, 15 more to go, including finals week and Thanksgiving break. I hope it all continues to go swimmingly. Like Mause, I’m facing the beauty of the setting sun, trusting newfound buoyancy.

September 5, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the word, “swimmingly.” which means “smoothly or satisfactorily.” What is the situation? Who is involved? Let the word take you into a story. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by September 10, 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 on social media.

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

August 28: Story Challenge in 99-words

I’m stuck in O’Hare International Airport, and so many flights are delayed there’s no seating for everyone gathered. Rain pelts the windows facing the F-concourse where my husband worked for the airlines back in the1990s. The golden era of flight back when I wore a pin on my jacket proudly proclaiming, “I Love to fly!”

It’s been a downhill slide after 9/11.

I could bemoan the industry with stories from this single day. Travelers are cranky, and employees (if you see any) are crankier. Digital systems drive everything. You can’t fly without a smartphone. The “contactless” systems startled me since I haven’t flown in a while but my flight to New York was smooth. Not so much on the way back. However, my trip was a good one, and that’s the story I will tell while I sit in O’Hare with other delayed passengers who are sharing their travel tales like we are waiting pilgrims.

New York state is beautiful. I landed in Buffalo on Wednesday and Sue Spitulnik picked me up in a forest green Lexus SUV. We rode in style to Niagra Falls and I watched in awe as the water that begins with Lake Superior and makes its way over rapids and falls between New York and Canada. I never knew that visitors could stand right next to the top of the falls. The rising mist felt good on my skin.

The next day, Sue lowered the roof on her red Mini Cooper convertible, and — surprise, surprise — we visited cemeteries. First, she took me to Mount Hope Cemetery where Susan B Anthony is buried. It’s the largest cemetery I’ve explored to date. We even found abandoned plots on a hillside at the back where I was delighted to see a boulder on a grave. A boulder! And not just any boulder but what we call a pudding stone in Michigan.

From Rochester, we drove to explore murals in small towns and other smaller cemeteries with family ties to Sue. It’s a personal way to learn stories of families rooted in a region. One cemetery sat on top of a rural hill above an old battle site. It felt peaceful. The murals we visited each were different and reminded me of how the stories in our collections each week differ, expanding the capacity of art. It was the best (first) convertible adventure I’ve had.

That night we got down to business and I presented to Sue’s veteran writing group. She is an organized leader of her local groups and had members attend in person and on Zoom. We had a good discussion and I ended with one of my 99-word stories I thought the group would like. It’s a personal challenge to pick stories for people and I hit the mark. The Lt. Col. in the group asked for a copy and I said, “Sure, I’ll give you this story and a penny if you give me a dollar.”

Friday was a day of viewing the vistas of the New York Finger Lakes with Sue and her husband, Bob. After a Greek breakfast at Steve’s, we were back to the Lexus and I felt like I was on a luxury tour. Bob held open both our doors, played blues music on the radio, and talked about the views of each lake. Sue introduced me to quilt fabric stores! Her art — and her quilts are indeed art — amazed me with how she can calculate designs. We ended the day with a white-hot (a New York hot dog).

Saturday, Sue put on an all-day seminar with two sessions and lunch. I was the guest presenter. Session One was Revision, and Session Two was Marketing. We began with a call to 9-1-1. Our emergency? The Town Hall was not open where we were to set up the seminar. Sue took charge and got it resolved and we only started 15 minutes late. It was a good crowd, about 30 people. That night, she and Bob took me out to a Rochester creation called a Chicken French — lemony, garlicky, and served over angel hair pasta.

The food, fun, and friendship keep me smiling despite this long delay in Chicago. Hopefully, I’ll get to Hancock with some time to sleep before my first day back at FinnU. I’ve had conversations — and overheard others — to fill up my afternoon and evening. Our challenge this week will put you in a red convertible for your own adventure.

Maybe someone will pick me up and take me north to the Keweenaw!

August 28, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features a red convertible. Who is driving or riding? Where is the car going? Maybe it isn’t even a car. Have fun and go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by September 3, 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.

August 22: Story Challenge in 99-words

Shame is among the most difficult feelings a human can experience. Fair warning: this week’s challenge can provoke any writer. But it will be worth the effort to explore our shadow selves — the darkness of the human condition.

Experts explain what makes shame different from guilt is the focus of the emotion outward versus inward. Internalized, shame can isolate people to the point of longing for the death of self. That’s heavy. As writers, we craft with emotion and explore the depths of what we experience, observe, and imagine.

Even though most people experience shame to varying degrees, shame is so painful, it can be difficult to articulate. We’ve all heard the expression, “Shame on you.” Often, the emotion is used to correct behavior in families and social groups. Yet those three words can leave lasting scars. Shame, because it is internalized, can be a dark pool of despair to mirror our worst thoughts and beliefs about who we are.

However, social standards are shifting, and more people are talking about the impact of being shamed for their differences. More than ever, as a worldview, we are more open to understanding shame. If we are to heal the world’s trauma, we must first heal our own. Shame is a guidepost to where the scars hide.

By the way, it takes tremendous courage for those to speak up regarding their shame. Why be so vulnerable? Healing. While Dr. Sean Ginwright’s book, The Four Pivots, is not about shame specifically, he understands that without healing, we will fail to grow into our possibilities. Shame can prevent us from pivoting, which can stifle creativity.

But this current challenge isn’t about healing as writers. It’s about capturing stories of shame. It’s about honing our creative craft through braving dark emotions and experiences. It doesn’t mean all shame stories will be bleak fodder for horror, drama, or tragedy. Shame stories can open up common ground between enemies (consider contemporary stories of developing empathy for villains because of their painful pasts). Such stories can be adventurous, uplifting through overcoming, and even humorous.

The one thing emotional stories seek to achieve is verisimilitude, the creative writing technique for making fiction appear real. Shame must feel real, relevant, and relatable. That’s another reason why this challenge will be challenging. You have to go into the dark to bring back an authentic light.

Why am I all about the shame this week? Well, it was a chance viewing of the 2014 Kennedy Center Honors which included Sting. I was surprised to learn he wrote one of my favorite Johnny Cash songs, I Hung My Head. The title alone embodies the feeling of shame. It’s a western-style gun ballad about a youth playing with his brother’s rifle to feel the power of death over life. Talk about a whopper of a shame story. You might argue that the character in the ballad felt guilty for his action, but you can’t deny the overwhelming sense of shame in the repeated lyrics, “I hung my head, I hung my head.”

When I watched the clip, the audience moved me. We get to see Sting’s reaction to Bruce Springsteen’s performance. We see the audience nodding, listening, and reacting to the music. That is verisimilitude in musicality. No such story exists. But it could. And everyone in that audience understands the overwhelming feeling at the heart of the song. The end result is cathartic.

To me, this video clip represents what we aim for when we write. We aren’t telling people how it is; we are slinging stories that remove people from their moment into ones we are sharing through art. If you write because you feel something in your stories, aim for your audience to catch the feeling, too.

August 22, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story exploring shame as an emotion or theme. Consider how to use shame to drive a cause-and-effect story. How does it impact a character? Is there a change? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by August 27, 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.

Why My Ears Work Better Than My Eyes When It Comes To Advice About Writing

There is lots of writing advice out there, but there are two things I can’t entirely agree with that some authors swear by.

The first is to drink gallons of coffee because writers need lots of the stuff. I’m not too fond of coffee, are you? But I am partial to a bar of coffee-centred chocolate or coffee-flavoured cake. Does that count?

What if you don’t read books?

The second thing is that to be a good writer; you must read books.

The problem with that piece of advice is that picking up a book often terrifies me.

As somebody with dyslexia, reading books is something I struggle with.

I cannot finish reading 90% of the books I pick up because I can’t make any sense of them. But it’s not usually the author’s fault, but the fault of how my brain works when reading words on a page.

My heart sinks when I read the advice that you must read lots of books to be a good writer. I start doubting that I’m not a good writer because I don’t read enough books.

Picking up a book is a frightening experience because my brain tells me I will fail to reach the end.

But even though I dislike drinking coffee and don’t read many books, I still love to write!

They say practice makes perfect.

It’s one of the reasons I participate in the Carrot Ranch 99-word flash fiction challenge every week. People tell me that my writing and flash fiction has improved a lot. And, yes, I can see the improvements.

However, if I rephrase ‘to be a good writer, you must read books,’ to ‘to be a good writer you must watch lots of television,‘ would you look at me oddly?

You see, there are many ways I get ideas for writing fiction and improving my writing, and reading books hardly features.

I watch much more television than I do reading books.

Because of my dyslexia, I find watching television, a movie at the cinema, or a show at the theatre much easier. I can sometimes lose the plot, but I often put that down to a poor script or lousy acting.

I have much more success improving my writing from the screen or stage than from a book page.

However, just because I find reading books problematic doesn’t mean I find other stuff hard to read.

How the world of blogging helps.

When I first discovered the world of blogging, I amazed myself how easy it was to read many blog posts.

I can easily read most blog posts providing the quality of writing is good and does not show any signs of being rushed. I can spot a rushly-written blog post from miles away.

One downside for me because of being dyslexic is that I find blog posts written in accents hard to read. Even the simplest of words prove difficult as my brain tries to determine what the characters are saying.

However, I have no problem if I’m watching a movie or television show where the characters speak in a particular accent. This dyslexia can be a funny business, sometimes.

One last writing tip that may help.

I also get many ideas for stories and blog posts when ‘people-watching’ and listening in on conversations that I and the entire world can not miss because of how they’re being conducted.

My ears work more than my eyes to help me overcome my problem with dyslexia.

I’ve had some success listening to audiobooks, but my eyes need to watch something while listening, so I often give up on them too.

So don’t feel weird or out of touch when other authors and writers recommend that you must read many books to become a good writer and author. It isn’t true for all of us, especially those with problems with words and letters playing tricks on them.

As for drinking gallons of coffee, I’ll have a couple of slices of that coffee and walnut cake rather than a mug of coffee, please.

Are you somebody who is dyslexic but who loves to write? Do you have difficulty reading books? What tips do you use for improving your writing?

Copyright © 2022 Hugh W. Roberts – All rights reserved.

About the Author

Hugh W. Roberts lives in Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom.

Hugh gets his inspiration for writing from various avenues, including writing prompts, photos, eavesdropping, and walking his dogs. Although he was born in Wales, he has lived in various parts of the United Kingdom, including London, where he lived and worked for 27 years.

Hugh suffers from a mild form of dyslexia but, after discovering blogging, decided not to allow the condition to stop his passion for writing. Since creating his blog ‘Hugh’s Views & News’ in February 2014, he has built up a strong following and now writes every day. Always keen to promote other bloggers, authors and writers, Hugh enjoys the interaction blogging brings and has built up a group of online friends.

His short stories have become well known for the unexpected twists they contain. One of the best compliments a reader can give Hugh is, “I never saw that ending coming.”

Having published his first book of short stories, Glimpses, in December 2016, his second collection of short stories, More Glimpses, was released in March 2019.

A keen photographer, he also enjoys cycling, walking, reading, watching television, and relaxing with a glass of red wine and sweet popcorn.

Hugh shares his life with John, his civil partner, and Toby and Austin, their Cardigan Welsh Corgis.

You can follow Hugh’s blog at Hugh’s Views And News and follow him on Twitter at @hughRoberts05.

August 15: Story Challenge in 99-words

An eclipse of moths bounces in broad daylight. Their wings beat like floppy puppy ears. I like to think of the moths as goofy puppies when I’m shooing them away from my head. I have no idea what species of day-breakers I have all a-flutter on Roberts Street. I tried to investigate moths of upper Michigan and the closest match is the “Gets Wifi” moth at Bird and Moon.

What if these moths are providing wifi? No wonder it’s intermittent.

The moths appear harmless even if they have forgotten to be nocturnal. I’ve forgotten my way, too, blinded by the bright lights of what I expected or others expected of me. I flopped and fumbled and floundered until I came to rest. On my back in the mown mix of plants I call lawn, I rested next to my broken puppy. Don’t worry, she’s fine. I call her “broken” when she whines to go out only to flatten her body to the sunkissed earth. Nothing budges her. She sprawls and I laugh, jokingly calling her a broken puppy.

I rested beside Mause. I was not tired. Nor sick. I was as well as an 18-month-old German Shorthaired Pointer, learning to sprawl in the middle of the day. Learning to flop my awkward wings and fly like a day-blind moth. I watched a few white clouds shift for position in a blue sky we all know but can never aptly describe. I felt a cool breeze beneath warm sun rays. I felt my skin breathe, my bones settle. When we rose for no particular reason, I felt refreshed and alive.

I’ve been through something. It’s too early or too long-enduring to say what but I feel released. No reason why other than the floppy moths came to town.

I kayaked to my heart’s content only a few weeks ago. In another week, I’ll be flying out to upstate New York to explore, visit, and write in Sue Spitulnik’s corner of the world. When I return, I have three English Comp classes (ENG I and ENG II) to teach. Finlandia also hired me as a professional writing tutor and my schedule is sweet because I knew how to set it up this year. I have office hours, writing time, Carrot Ranch time, and for the first time in three years, I don’t have to work so hard.

It’s okay to flop, I’m learning.

I’ve often told writers we all have seasons and not to fret. I knew I was having a season and I knew I had to shatter my life to remake it. I let go of everything and it became something new. I’m cautiously optimistic that we are finally having breakthroughs in understanding Todd’s condition and a few small adjustments are making a universal difference. The VA Caregiver Support Team at Iron Mountain is phenomenal. I had so much training between December last year and April that my brain felt at capacity. They helped me get an appointment on September 7th that I gave up ever getting after almost four years of trying. I taught a creative writing workshop online through Caregiver Support and now I have a monthly writing group at the VA. My world is recalculating.

The pieces have started to come together as if floppy little moths picked each one up and arranged a pattern I hadn’t imagined. The imagination perceives beyond the primary senses but even then it’s impossible for one person to see all the possibilities. Week after week, my joy is bringing together story ideas, perspectives, and expressions beyond my grasp. Creativity is endless. It is not fleeting or weak. I witness what capacity creativity holds each time I compile the collection to a challenge.

Sometimes, creativity lies dormant, soaking up what it needs. Life finds a way.

And so will our stories, our words, our characters, our visions, our art. They say we need to know that wilderness areas exist — places of pure natural possibility. As writers, we need wild spaces to be. Not to be competent. Not to be judged. Not to be corrected. Not to be compared. We need places where we can recall the raw wild beauty of why we write. Writers need places to simply be.

Welcome to Carrot Ranch. Where creative writing is accessible to everyone and the range is wild. Maybe today is your day to dare. Every day is yours to write. Or rest on the lawn next to a puppy beneath moths wobbling on a blue sky day.

August 15, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that uses the idea or phrase, “floppy as puppy ears.” You can be explicit or implicit with your response. What is floppy and why? It doesn’t have to be about dogs at all. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by August 20, 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.

August 8: Story Challenge in 99-words

The dress was sewn with care. The long slender sleeves have small caps at the shoulders, and the hem would have hung below the knees in a stylish drape. Small porcelain buttons align with neat buttonholes. Despite decades of sun, brutal Keweenaw winters outside the kitchen window, and a transition from home to coyote den to goat barn, the dress thins and fades.

Likely to disintegrate if touched, the dress has become an icon of Ghost House Farm.

My daughter Allison and her husband Drew raise goats, pigs, chickens, market crops, and flowers for bouquets. They farm like science nerds who love the writing of Brandon Sanderson, hip podcasts, D&D, wild spaces, and local food. Ghost House Farm is an expression of their life, creativity, and commitment to humanely raised food, soil, and water. They honor the land ancestors and immigrants who farmed (and mined) before them.

You’ve heard about my goats(es) and how they live in the ghost house. Drew and Allison have researched old property maps and know that as many as nine houses were on their farm. I’ve researched people who lived at the Franklin Junior Mine and farmed this property known a village called Boston Location. I’ve shared with you some of the cemetery stories that have ties to Boston Location. History lingers in the shadows of old orchards.

Until now, I’ve not had an actual ghost story to tell you.

It could be explained as a sleep disturbance. It’s a story that could have been a dream. It’s a story to question. But it is my story. An otherworldly experience.

Friday, Allison and Drew left for Wisconsin to attend a wedding. They have partnered with other young farmers in the area and have people to check their livestock and crops. They asked me to dog-sit and give blind-kitty snuggles. I even faked a diurnal cycle for a sick chicken in the basement. In exchange, I got to pick the market gardens for nightly kale salads and watch Our Flag Means Death on their HBO account. They even let me sleep in their bedroom where I could delight in air conditioning.

That’s where the farm visit went awry.

Normally, I sleep in the guest room/home office. But it had been a rare hot Keweenaw day and I don’t have air conditioning of my own. I was looking forward to a cool night’s sleep. The pups and I settled into bed and I began to drift off. I don’t know how long I was asleep but gradually I became aware of a strong energetic presence in the form of words.

I. DON’T. WANT. YOU. IN. MY. HOUSE.

Startled, I woke up immediately only to find myself in a state of sleep paralysis. In my 20s, sleep paralysis impacted me so badly, that I thought I was dying. That’s when I discovered I had PTSD. It’s been years since I’ve suffered from this condition, having retrained my sleep cycles through meditation, CBT, and EMDR. In that paralyzed state, my mind was fully awake but my body would not move and my voice would not work.

After numerous attempts, I finally yelled, “Fuck off!”

Not a classy response but an honest one. I unplugged the air conditioner, grabbed my pillow, and took the dogs to the guest room to sleep. It was hot but felt safer to me. I felt like whatever the presence was, it didn’t want me in Allison and Drew’s room.

The next morning a friend picked me up for a veteran’s funeral. It turned out to be a beautiful celebration of life and I found Pastor Bucky’s sermon to be profound and even a balm for what I had experienced the night before. When I told my friend the story, we both got goosebumps as I repeated the words. When I retold the story to her boyfriend he suggested it was a nightmare.

True. I had been thinking the same thing. But usually, it’s the other way around with sleep paralysis (at least from my earlier experiences with the condition). The paralysis happens first and the terror follows. Sleep disturbances can be triggering for me, but this was so intense that if it were merely a nightmare, why did it trigger a condition I have long overcome? I was more curious than scared.

At some point during the day, I decided to accept the incident as a ghostly message. I don’t see ghosts or channel ghosts, but I’m a cemetery story-collecter. I can perceive stories from minor clues that feed my imagination. The imagination is often disregarded as fantasy or “not real” but some of my greatest truths and epiphanies have emerged from this sensory organ.

As creative writers, we know the value of a good imagination.

Thus, I decided to channel a story. A ghost story from the woman whose dress hangs in the house turned goat barn. And what I discovered surprised even me (and I was the one writing).

She won’t tell me her name. She doesn’t know that I’m Allison’s mom, and she has no desire to connect with me. But she’s connected to my daughter. That idea concerned me until I realized that this ghost loves flowers, too. The farmhouse was never her house. She lived next door and had planted all the Sweet William, lilacs, pink roses, myrtle, globe thistle, monkshood, and oregano. She is the farm’s tree twister. She loved the beauty of the place and suffered great sorrow after her father died. She had never married but her brother got rid of her by sending her off to an asylum in Marquette.

Her breath, once released from her earthly body, found its way back to the land and flowers she had loved so much. Not all ghosts haunt. She tends to the seeds, buds, and flowers of Ghost House Farm. Her dress neatly hangs in the goat parlor and she is fine with the arrangement because she has another woman to share a love of floriculture.

Evidently, I disturbed her peace when I went to sleep in Allison’s room. She was telling me to get out on behalf of my daughter. They have flowers to tend and I’m a rock gardener. I remind her of the heavy-handed men who built the stone walls and mines near the farm. Allison is going to have to let her flower partner know, I’m just mum. And like rocks as beautiful as flowers.

Later that day, I cleaned the rooms upstairs with rosemary and selenite. I made the bed and promised never to sleep in Allison’s bed again. I understood how much energy it took for her to muster the warning to me and it happened at the juncture in sleep when one enters into dreaming. The same point in a REM cycle that — if disturbed — causes sleep paralysis. The perfect point for ghosts to speak.

That’s my ghost story and I’m sticking to it.

August 8, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about “the one who left the dress.” A 1940s-era dress still hangs in an abandoned house. Who left it and why? You can take any perspective and write in any genre. It can be a ghost story. Or not. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by August 13, 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.

August 1: Story Challenge in 99-words

Bird books describe common mergansers as “streamlined ducks.” Ever since my first encounter with hooded mergansers on Elmira Pond in North Idaho, I thrill to encounter them in the wild. In a remote wilderness area on the remote peninsula of the remote northernmost mitten of Michigan, I spent eight days outside and on the water with fellow writer and Carrot Rancher, D. Avery. And we got to watch a mama merganser swim and fish with her eight acrobatic ducklings.

We camped and kayaked at Sylvania Wilderness Area, Twin Lakes, and Ghost House Farm. We paddled Crooked Lake, portaged to Mountain Lake, and ate lunch on the water. We paddled beneath soaring eagles and among loons and logs turned terrariums. We paddled four lakes in a single day and pondered a memorial carved into a mystery on a picnic table. We took breaks to play Scrabble. We sloughed. Laughed. We watched birds, followed a moose trail in a swamp, smiled at pigs in sprinklers, and agreed that any writer’s residency on the Keweenaw didn’t need to be rustic.

The rustic cabin was a bust, but it made me realize that rustic was the wrong feature. The Keweenaw is remote and rich in inspiration.

While the re-enactment of Doug Jacquier’s “Bad Day at Black Fly Rock” did not unfold as planned, there were moments when we were swarmed. Mosquitos, Paulding Lights, a tour of kayakers. Yet, the one wee thing that nearly sent me squealing out of my own kayak was an awkwardly over-friendly frog. We will not talk of the frog. I still talk to frogs, but none will be allowed to frantically hop between my thighs in a kayak. Again.

We did not see the Northern Lights, but we did catch the Paulding Lights. Our first night, I woke up to D.’s tent flashing like a casino. We were in the wilderness area campground so it seemed strange. The next morning, we realized there were no campsites behind D.’s tent! I thought it must be the Paulding Lights, but it was a Christmas in July effort by our camp hosts. They did direct us to the actual Paulding Lights and we watched the phenomenon:

As promised, D. and I investigated the Conglomerate Falls Cabin as a possible place for a Carrot Ranch Literary Artist in Residency. We decided there’s such a thing as too rustic. I’m now considering ways to focus retreats, workshops, and residencies on the vastness of nowhere and anywhere of the Keweenaw. Carrot Ranch Headquarters are remote beauty sure to inspire writers.

August 1, 2022, prompt: Write a story that features someplace remote in 99 words (no more, no less). It can be a wild sort of terrain or the distance between people. What is the impact of a remote place? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by August 6, 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.