Welcome to my stop on the Rough Writers Tour Around the World as we launch the first flash fiction anthology from the Carrot Ranch on-line literary community. If you’re new here, you might be wondering why a memoir writer is peddling flash fiction? And we’ll get onto that, but first, you might also need to understand my brain works in a mysterious way. I seem to discover what’s going on in my subconscious by writing it out. So first I need to tell you a little story about myself.
..Growing up, I learned a very specific way of worming a cat.
And because I learned it from my mother, I didn’t question it for many years.
I grew up in the country and we always had cats, all of them waifs and strays collected by mum on her rural rounds as a district nurse.
Poor things with broken legs or in various states of malnutrition. They were often great hunters, used to fending for themselves.
Great hunters eat just about anything and inevitably a fair few parasites. Most commonly, tapeworms and roundworms.
Being a nurse of yesteryear, my mother gave short shrift to the namby pambying of pets or children. There was only rarely a day off school for feeling ill. You had to prove you had broken bones or be delirious with a temperature of 104.
But occasionally she would see fit to worm our semi-feral cats who weren’t all that keen on any medical intervention themselves.
It was a two-person job.
I can only assume my her methods had something to do with the fact she had also been a midwife.
The poor cat was swaddled in old bath towels from the neck down, to immobilise all four paws and their claws.
One person held the towelling rocket, with its, by-now, hissing and spitting head, while the other prised open the jaws and attempted to insert the tablet into the back of the mouth. The element of surprise now lost, the cat’s tongue was busily transmogrifying into a highly effective tablet-ejector.
It was often a bloody affair when the person holding the bundle failed to contain all those claws or the cat simply bit down hard on the finger entering its mouth..
How To Worm a Cat, was the title of the 4th speech I delivered to the Stratford and South Warwickshire Speakers Club. I had had to pick a subject that would lend itself well to demonstrating I could use gestures and body language. This might seem a trivial aside but having spent my professional career side-stepping roles that required any element of speaking to a crowd, I hadn’t imagined ever joining a speakers club! But… Unfortunately, I was invited to, only 24 hours after declaring this to be the year of saying yes to the bearer of the invitation.
Sometimes being forced to have a go at something, helps you develop something unexpected. And this was definitely true when I felt I had to have a go at Flash Fiction. I’ve never been a good liar so making stuff up, seemed a certain failure. The unexpected outcome of persisting past the extreme discomfort this caused, was like a mental stretch – the sudden release of a tension that let me reach further. Overall the biggest benefit to me was letting go of perfectionist tendencies which often lead to paralysing procrastination!
It was day two of a course in cognitive behavioural coaching when it finally dawned on me that other people, normal people, do not seek perfection in everything they do. Apparently the negatives outweighed any potential positives, most of the time.
It’s one of those crystal clear memories. I remember the exact moment: where I was, who I was with. I remember a rush of adrenalin and an audible “Oh” escaping my mouth and all those other evidently more perfect people around the table looking at me with a mixture of sympathy and superiority. I blushed with shame.
Of course, it is much much easier to have a go at something new when those watching are behind you all the way. At the Carrot Ranch and at the Speakers club, feedback is positive and constructive and I’ve felt free to learn not only by doing but watching and joining in with others who have been at it far longer.
No surprise then, my first speech at the speakers club was about perfectionism nor any surprise when Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch asked me to write an essay for the Rough Writers first anthology, I decided it had to be about how participating had been a surprising instrument to overcome perfectionism.
Extract from my essay in the anthology.
You can’t always distil perfectionism from reasoned self-doubt or attention to detail but you can spot it in certain behaviours. It’s of clinical interest, disordered behaviour, when it stops you doing small things and things you really do want to do that won’t harm others. (It can be a good thing in certain situations: think concert violinist, brain surgeon.) My kind of perfectionism means procrastinating writing projects I dearly want to succeed with. Either they grind to a halt or never start. (If I don’t start they can’t be bad.) But things like ironing don’t get done either because I think I should get around to the writing first. Or the house is dirty because cleaning the bathroom takes up two hours because I obsessed about removing limescale around taps using an old toothbrush.
The cognitive-behavioural way of fixing these issues, as with most behaviours, is to practice new and better, more helpful, thoughts and actions and congratulate yourself for doing so. Iron five items, not the whole pile, just wipe the taps. The limescale can wait. Congratulations! There’s still time left to write. But it’s much harder to see in the actual writing. Having a go at being imperfect means moving past phrases that don’t quite work or making do with the first thing that pops into your head rather than waiting hours for the sixth idea in case it’s better. Wanting to write a perfect memoir, had paralysed the first draft. I was still rewording the first 10,000 words whenever I opened the file. To finish the rest, I realised I needed to practice being content with something ‘good enough’ and moving on to write the next bit.
Inadvertently, practising flash fiction in a constrained time-period, forced me to do just this: To be satisfied with 80% rather than dwelling on the 20% further potential. I learned in a very small way to get over myself. I am good enough. The words are good enough.
So the practice is important, but the support to do so will help you accelerate the progress. The right community will provide the congratulations for having a go even if you would still be too hard on yourself. If you find the right community you can tackle all sorts of new things. And this first anthology from the Carrot Ranch is testimony to Charli’s determination to create an online literary community so that being anywhere in the world, means you can still have a go in the company of others. The impact of practising flash fiction (and I confess, I haven’t even done that much) has genuinely had a permanent and positive impact on me forever.
But back to the task of worming a cat. Some things are worth perfecting 100% but working out how on your own, can lead to bizarre and ineffective practices! I’m pleased to say a vet eventually taught me the mechanics of restraining and immobilising a cat to worm it in a much less harrowing manner.. I was quick to share this with Mum and subsequent generations of cats have been spared the cat equivalent of water-boarding.
My happy three.. Dot, Dick and Darth
So if you’re thinking of dabbling with Flash Fiction or even think you’re already an expert, I would urge you to visit the Carrot Ranch to see how it’s done over there. Better still get hold of a copy of this first anthology, edited by Sarah Brentyn, one of my favourite bloggers. It contains much more than collections of short stories. We share what we’ve learned together to save you developing weird and unnecessarily torturous ways of beginning.
..And amongst the essays there’s an almost perfect one on perfectionism.
Please see last weeks post for a bit more on how to participate in the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction prompts. You never know where 99 words might take you!
If you want to revisit any of my flash fiction, just type Flash in the search bar.
Thirty writers began with 99 words and forged literary feats. Vol. 1 explores the literary art of flash fiction, beginning with the earliest compilations at Carrot Ranch and later pieces based on a new flash fiction prompt. This is not your typical anthology. It continues with longer stories extended from the original 99-word format and essays on how flash fiction supports memoir writing. Based on the experiences at Carrot Ranch, the concluding section of Vol. 1 offers tips to other groups interested in using the flash fiction format to build a literary community.
Charli Mills, Series Editor, Publisher & Lead Buckaroo
Sarah Brentyn, Editor & Contributor
The Congress of the Rough Writers (contributors):
Anthony Amore, Rhode Island, USA; Georgia Bell, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Sacha Black, England, UK; Sarah Brentyn, USA; Norah Colvin, Brisbane, Qld, AU; Pete Fanning, Virginia, USA; C. Jai Ferry, Midwest, USA; Rebecca Glaessner, Melbourne, Vic, AU; Anne Goodwin, England, UK; Luccia Gray, Spain; Urszula Humienik, Poland; Ruchira Khanna, California, USA; Larry LaForge, Clemson, South Carolina, USA; Geoff Le Pard, Dulwich South London, UK; Jeanne Belisle Lombardo, Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Sherri Matthews, Somerset, UK; Allison Mills, Houghton, Michigan, USA; Charli Mills, Hancock, Michigan, USA; Paula Moyer, Lauderdale, Minnesota, USA; JulesPaige, Pennsylvania, USA; Amber Prince, North Texas, USA; Lisa Reiter, UK; Ann Edall-Robson, Airdrie, Alberta, Canada; Christina Rose, Oregon, USA; Roger Shipp, Virginia, USA; Kate Spencer, British Columbia, Canada; Sarah Unsicker, St. Louis, Missouri, USA; Irene Waters, Noosaville, Qld, AU; Sarrah J. Woods, Charleston, West Virginia, USA; Susan Zutautas, Orillia, Ontario, Canada.
Published by Carrot Ranch Literary Community
Distributed & printed by Book Baby
Cover art by Ann Rauvola
Subgenre: Anthologies (multiple authors); Literature Collections; Short Stories
Series title: Congress of the Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology
Series Number: Vol 1
ISBN-13: 978-1543917956 (Print)
Where to purchase
The Congress of the Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1 is available through distrubution in 17 countries world-wide. Buy direct from our Print on Demand distributor at Book Baby.
Preferred Seller: https://store.bookbaby.com/book/The-Congress-of-Rough-Writers
Amazon Global Digital: https://goo.gl/eZXBYu
Amazon Global Print: https://goo.gl/jUz5qC
For US Libraries (Baker & Taylor): https://www.blio.com/web1/actions/searchHandler.do
All profits from digital sales benefit The Congress of Rough Writers through a Travel Scholarship which is available by application to any active Rough Writer who needs help getting to a book or writers event. Profit from print books sustains the publishing and inventory cycle of Carrot Ranch Literary Community. Any excess profit is to be shared among the contributors. Any contributor to Vol. 1 can invest in their own inventory at wholesale cost and keep 100% of their profit.