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October 15: Flash Fiction Challenge

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.

October 15, 2020, 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, 2020. 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 now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

Blueberries by Charli Mills

Blueberries spilled to the ground. “Like this, Kev.” Fran righted the bucket, setting it between the toddler’s bare feet. She knelt behind him, gently covering his hands with hers to pull fat, round berries from bushy strands. It was a bit like milking a cow, she mused. Kev pulled berries on his own, squishing a few into crimson juice. She smiled at her nephew and knelt to pick enough blueberries to make a pie. She didn’t mind babysitting his parents could vacation. Maybe country life would stall the creep of urban shadows. Her sister never did like the farm.

🥕🥕🥕