The Memoir Challenge: Enjoying the Similarities and Differences Between Generations and Locations

Welcome to Always Write, Irene Waters. I met Irene in June reading one of her marvelous book reviews. We chatted a bit and I found out that she was interested in photo and writing challenges. She agreed to tell you about her favorite challenges and also what it was like for her to host a challenge.

Thank you for for being here.

Irene Waters Interview

by Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

What prompted you to begin to host a writing/photo challenge?

When the memoir challenge ended it left a hole which I decided to fill by running my own challenge with a twist. @Irene Waters

I enjoy participating in both photo and writing challenges. For photos I love Cee’s challenges as well as Lens-Artists and Paula’s Five word challenges. Although these are predominantly photo challenges I can’t help but weave story, often memoir around the photos I post. I came to writing challenges later. The first was a memoir challenge (no longer happening) and then I found Carrot Ranch’s 99 Word Flash Fiction. When the memoir challenge ended it left a hole which I decided to fill by running my own challenge with a twist.

Was this one of your dreams?

I can’t say it was a dream to run my own challenge although it was a dream to share memoir with others who perhaps hadn’t considered memoir a pursuit of interest.

What was your purpose in hosting the challenge? How does it help photographers or writers?

 I had hoped that the challenge would give us social insights into the way the world has changed between not only generations but also between geographical location. The prompt could be responded to in any form the participant enjoyed – prose, poetry, flash, photographs, sketches or any other form. I hoped that it would give both writers and photographers a way of writing/ displaying memoir and finding value in reading the differences and the similarities between generations and locations. I love it when a conversation starts and one post prompts memories in a reader/viewer previously forgotten. 

How long have you been doing this?

The first challenge was in January 2016 and I stopped in 2019 when my husband and myself were both diagnosed with and undergoing cancer treatments.

How much time does it take? 

I made it easy on myself and made the challenge monthly. I knew how much work was involved and I knew I was time poor. Don’t be fooled – people who run challenges put a lot of work into them.

If you stopped hosting the challenge, why was that?

As I have already mentioned I stopped due to health challenges but it was getting difficult to keep going anyway. Although it was only monthly it was difficult coming up with topics that would not cause anybody any angst.

Did you start a different challenge?


What would you do differently?

Do as the Lens’Artists – find a team of memoir enthusiasts and take turns in setting the challenge.

What steps did you take to get your challenge ready? 

It was simply a matter of coming up with a topic and writing to the topic myself, posting and inviting people to join in. The challenge had been running only a short time when Charli from Carrot Ranch invited me to write a memoir piece monthly on her site with an invitation to readers to participate in my challenge. This certainly created an audience for Times Past which helped immensely.

How did you follow up with your participants?

I would get participants to leave a link on my site in the comments and then visit each of them leaving a comment on their site. Hopefully other participants also dropped by and read their work as well.

How did you attract people to participate? / How do people usually find out about your challenge? Are you a part of a group on social media that picks up your challenge and promotes it?

I am a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to social media. I have facebook, twitter and instagram accounts but I rarely visit them. I relied primarily on word of mouth so to speak and having the article on Carrot Ranch linked was a big plus for me.

Do you determine winners? If so, how?

I didn’t determine winners. I think everyone who enters any challenge is a winner – we all have our own stories and none are more worthy than the other. I must admit it is a buzz when you are chosen by Cee or Lens Artists as an example of work that appealed to them – but I don’t know that either of those challenges would consider them winners.

What do you do with the entries? 

I have a Times Past page where there is a link to every challenge. It makes it easy for people to find them and follow links if they wish.

Given your experience with both hosting a challenge and participating in challenges do you think they are a valuable tool for writers and photographers?

Absolutely. Firstly for many challenges are a way that a writer or photographer can have their work viewed by others. It is also a way of honing skills and getting the creative juices working. Most importantly it is a way to meet like minded people and have conversations that you can only have with another writer or photographer. It may just be a meeting of minds that sees a friendship begin.

I hoped that it would give both writers and photographers a way of writing/ displaying memoir and finding value in reading the differences and the similarities between generations and locations. @Irene Waters


Irene Waters published her memoir Nightmare in Paradise in 2019. She blogs at Reflections and Nightmares She is interested in memoir having completed a Master of Arts with her research thesis examining the difficulties a sequel memoirist faces. Another passion from childhood is photography. She enjoys combining writing and photography on her website. She lives with her husband and two dogs on the Sunshine Coast of Qld in Australia.

About Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

I began my working career as a reluctant potato peeler whilst waiting to commence my training as a student nurse. On completion I worked mainly in intensive care/coronary care; finishing my hospital career as clinical nurse educator in intensive care. A life changing period as a resort owner/manager on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu was followed by recovery time as a farmer at Bucca Wauka. Having discovered I was no farmer and vowing never again to own an animal bigger than myself I took on the Barrington General Store. Here we also ran a five star restaurant. Working the shop of a day 7am – 6pm followed by the restaurant until late was surprisingly more stressful than Tanna. On the sale we decided to retire and renovate our house with the help of a builder friend. Now believing we knew everything about building we set to constructing our own house. Just finished a coal mine decided to set up in our backyard. Definitely time to retire we moved to Queensland. I had been writing a manuscript for some time. In the desire to complete this I enrolled in a post grad certificate in creative Industries which I completed 2013. I followed this by doing a Master of Arts by research graduating in 2017. Now I live to write and write to live.

View all posts by Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist →

Thank you, Thank you

Thanks again Irene for participating in the Blogging Challenge Series on Always Write.

As a side note, Irene is collaborating with me in the Rodeo Flash Writing Contest.

Watch for Carrot Ranch Signs along the way.

Why Cee Neuner Has Successfully Hosted Photo Challenges for Twelve Years

Selfless, encouraging, not afraid to try new things, Are those qualities you want in your life? See how Cee Neuner has developed those qualities in her photo challenges.

Always Write Interview Series #8

#Bloggers Hosting Writing and Photo Challenges

Hi friends, I’m Marsha Ingrao, editor of my hobby blog, Always Write, a blog to serve like-minded bloggers and participate in my  hobby of blogging.

My guest this week doesn’t need an introduction if you’ve been following photo challenges for a while or are one of the 1,500,000 views she’s had on her blog. Like many of those who have been interviewed, I cut my blogging teeth on WordPress Daily Photo Challenge and Cee Neuner’s Fun Foto Challenge and Odd Ball Challenge. I miss that one since many of my photos are odd balls.

Since she’s from Oregon, where I went to high school, college, started working and got married, I’ve always felt a special bond knowing some of the places she goes to photograph.

Cees Fun Foto Challenge – ships

What prompted you to begin to host a writing/photo challenge?

I started hosting photography challenges on a website that was basically for photographers, before I started my blog.  So when I started my own blog and saw that individuals could host a challenge on WordPress, I started my Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge. I just like to encourage people to take photos and have a lot fun with photography.  That’s how I came up with the name.

What is your purpose in hosting the challenge? How does it help photographers?

I host for a couple of reasons.  I find challenges gives me an incentive to go out and take photographs year around.  I like finding photos that fit different topics.  It has really expanded the range of photos that interest me.  I started out basically taking flower photos, now I shoot all sorts of things.

On the Hunt for Joy Challenge – Brighten up dull chores.

The other reason is that I want to encourage people to take more photos.  We develop our eye for photography the more we take photos.   

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, says it takes 10,000 hours of working in a craft or profession to become an expert in it.  I’ve seen many bloggers turn into outstanding photographers over the years, because they keep practicing their passion for photography. To me, witnessing this new passion in someone else is pure joy. 

One of the very first challenges I took part in called for pictures of purple cars.  I had never shot cars before, and I live in a small town so the odds of seeing a purple car weren’t good.  I kept my eyes open, though, and actually found a couple of cars to shoot.  It was so much fun that I’ve continued to shoot cars, motorcycles, planes, trains… topics way beyond the flowers I was used to.  It opened up my world.  And the adventure continues to this day.

Fun Foto Challenge – orange car

By the way, shooting automobiles is fun and challenging, especially show cars.  They are always polished to a high shine and the reflection takes some working around.  It can be hard to keep your reflection out of the photo, or fun to include sometimes.  Cars have angles that are unusual and you have to move around them to get a good shot.  I love to go to car shows.  The people are always friendly, the photography is great fun to do and you can learn a lot about composition, lighting, reflection, and staging.

How long have you been doing this?

Hosting challenges?  About 12 years or more.

How much time does it take? 

Hosting challenges does take time.  More time than I care to think about.  I really don’t count the hours, because I do it for fun.  In 2008, I had to quit work due to illness and I’ve not worked since.  I had just gotten into taking photography rather seriously, since I bought a pre-DSLR camera.  It was as close to a “fancy camera with lenses” without having to change lenses.  I felt like a grown up taking photos, and some of the photos I took with that Sony camera are still some of my favorites. I now have a full frame mirrorless Sony A7III camera with multiple lenses.

Anyhow, back to the question.  My blogging takes up about 3-5 hours a day.  Some of that time is hosting my challenges and the other times I’m finding challenges that I can participate in and share my photography.

What steps do you take to get your challenge ready? 

I keep lists of topics I’ve used over the years so I don’t repeat them too often.  I keep up my challenge pages weekly.  I really don’t plan ahead of time what photos I will use for my challenges.  I wait until the morning of my challenge and put my post together.  I’m not a writer, so finding photos and writing a short description is all I need.  

On the Hunt for Joy Challenge – Go “eye bombing.”

I try to find a variety of photos that match the challenge theme, and hopefully give ideas for those who get stuck with a topic.  I like to encourage people to “think outside the box”, and to look at things with new eyes.  I’ve seen other challenge hosts over the years make their topics too narrow, too specific.  I feel it eliminates possible participants right away.  For me, the fun of being part of a photographic community is sharing, learning, stretching what we do.  It’s a craft, and the more we practice it, the most interesting our photographs become.  You start really seeing the world with new eyes.  

How do you follow up with your participants?

I actually try to go out and comment on each blogger’s post to my challenge. I want them to know that I took the time to visit their blogs and actually look at their work.  I know I probably miss some people, just because of the high volume of responses to my challenges, but I try to touch everyone.  I follow a lot of bloggers and rely on my email so I can catch most of their entries.  I also go through the pingbacks on my blog daily and try and catch them that way as well.

How did you attract people to participate? How do people usually find out about your challenge? Are you a part of a group on social media that picks up your challenge and promotes it?

Fortunately I’m pretty popular on WordPress, so people tend to find me easily.  I really don’t know how they find out about my challenges.  I think it is because I run some popular challenges and new people find links to my blog that way.

Years ago WordPress ran a weekly photo challenge.  I participated in that challenge all time.  When I first started blogging, I would go through all the pingbacks and hit like on every single entry and oftentimes would comment.  I actually still do that from time to time on other people’s challenges.  It is a way of getting to know new people and photographers.

Is your challenge like a club where you put a widget on your website or embed something on your post?

Flower of the Day Challenge

I do have banners for all my challenges. If bloggers want to add them to their entry or for blog side bars, they are free to do so.  I encourage them to add my challenge name in their tags.  None of this is necessary, though, to participate in my challenges.

On the Hunt for Joy Challenge

Do you determine winners? If so, how?  What do you do with the entries?  – I’m thinking of what Cee does with her awards. (LOL – You  are my frame of reference!)

I don’t determine a winner.  Photography is an art that speaks to the heart and eyes.  A photo I really like because it touches my soul might not speak the same way to someone else.

I have just recently started featuring bloggers each week on my Fun Foto and Black and White challenges. [I did this way back when I started my challenges.] By featuring them, I’m giving them more exposure to a wider audience.  I really try to feature bloggers who are new to my challenges or new to blogging.  I also like to acknowledge bloggers who have joined in playing with me for years.  I have even created a banner that say “featured blogger” on them.  

Cee’s Black and White Photo Challenge – heads and facial features

I keep a detailed list of who I recently have featured, so people are not featured too often.  I pick six bloggers out of each challenge, so there are people who do get featured more often, just because they play weekly.

My hope for this is that people start talking to other photographers and help grow their own communities.  I know when I get a conversation going with a blogger, I tend to feel closer and more connected to them.  

What about a Facebook Group or Page, or a group in other social media? 

I really don’t use Facebook at all.

Do you post or promote the results or links anywhere?  Nope.  I have a FB page and Pinterest page, but I use them strictly to show flowers and my Pick Me up posters.  Most people don’t even know I exist other than my blog.

Flower of the Day

Cee’s Personal Story

I did not ask Cee to share her personal story, but she has done so on her blog in a couple of places. Her story adds another layer of admiration to what she does for the Photo Challenge world.

“On March 23, 2001, my life changed forever. It was the beginning of the nightmare of Lyme Disease. What we thought was stomach flu turned into a 40 day coma and brought me to the brink of death.


At first we didn’t think anything of it. I thought I had the same stomach flu that had been going around my office at work. But then I started having difficulty breathing, so Chris knew that it wasn’t stomach flu and called the paramedics. Before we could reach the hospital, they had to pull the ambulance over so that they could intubate me. I had lost the ability to breathe on my own. As my lungs failed, that started a whole cascade of failures.

Upon entering the hospital, my blood sugar was 1,400. Normal is 100 and death usually occurs around 1,000. When the paramedics came, I was still walking and talking. I had no history of diabetes before this. We didn’t know it at the time, but my pancreas had already shut down. My body had become acidotic, and was dissolving itself. I was bleeding internally. My kidneys also failed, so my body lost its ability to filter out toxins. The doctors didn’t think I’d live through the night…” Read the rest on her About Page.

Cee’s Challenge Home Pages:

On the Hunt for Joy –

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge –

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge –

Flower of the Day (FOTD) Challenge –

Cee’s Purple Car Collage 

Fun Foto Challenge – purple car challenge

Thank you for joining me here at Always Write to learn more about Cee Neuner and her many splendored challenges. I’ve been honored to have her as my guest today and I look forward to participating in more of her challenges in the future. Please join in.

Related Posts About Challenges

How to Lasso a Wild Carrot in 99 Words – No More – No Less

As a hobby blogger, participating in writing and photo challenges is a great way to build skills while you build community. Today Always Write introduces the 99-Word Flash Fiction at Carrot Ranch.

Interview with Charli Mills creator of Carrot Ranch.

Hi Charli. Welcome to Always Write, networking hobby bloggers worldwide.

Thank you, Marsha. It’s a pleasure to be here. So hobby bloggers are your niche. How do you define a hobby blogger?

Charli Mills

 The UK Domain defines a hobby blog as “essentially a blog that is set up and populated with content for the blogger’s personal enjoyment as a hobby, rather than to promote goods or services, or as a money-making endeavour to earn a meaningful income from the blog itself.”

The article presents a robust definition and is well worth the read. For me hobby bloggers create an atmosphere, a culture, either on their own or with the aid of a professional web designer that is welcoming and homey. 

That’s why I’m passionate about this series of interviews with hosts and hostesses of writing and photo challenges. Always Write is a place for hobby bloggers to find resources.

Your website is so clever. When and why did you start Carrot Ranch and the 99-word Flash Fiction Challenge?

I left my job to write a book in 2012 which I’m still working on. Then I started blogging, creating Carrot Ranch in 2014. In 1998 I graduated with a degree in creative writing, and I’m working on my Master of Fine Arts now.

Carrot Ranch is not about me or my opinions. In fact, I try to be neutral when I write. Sometimes I publish stories on the blog, even in the anthology that don’t agree with my views.  An opposing story fits within the greater world view.  The hope is that Carrot Ranchers will write from their own perspective. 

This online community is not an echo chamber. I don’t just want people of the same mind to come and write stories every week. When people come and go, it’s actually good. Carrot Ranch has an influx of people, people taking a break, working on a book. I want diversity. It is also nice when people know each other as well.

Charli Mills

I’m not against profit but I want to see literary artists making careers out of their creativity and not blocked by the barriers that have existed. 

How did you come up with the theme of Carrot Ranch? It doesn’t seem Michiganesque.

My family heritage is ranching. I’m a born-buckaroo from Northern California and still have family ranching in Nevada and Eastern Montana. I have lived in every western state except Colorado and Wyoming, so it was natural for me to want a ranch. 

Instead, I took my writing degree to Minneapolis where I worked in marketing communications for the natural and local food co-ops. Back in the ’70s, the Twin Cities co-ops used a fisted carrot as a symbol of social justice — food for people not for profit. 

Charli Mills

Wow, that explains it! Names are so interesting. We used to live in a walnut orchard with the sign “Fox Farming” hanging at the entrance. I imagined foxes growing out of the soil. It turned out that the previous renter’s last name was Fox. Carrot Ranch had sort of the reverse connotation for me – a herd of carrots, so It’s great to have that cleared up. Go on.

When I think about how literary art is controlled by academia and capitalism in the US, I feel like it needs to be in the hands of the creators — words for people. So, Carrot Ranch is a pairing of my past and future.

I’m not against profit but I want to see literary artists making careers out of their creativity and not blocked by the barriers that have existed. 

Indie authors are pioneers, but we still need to overhaul the big systems that shut out marginalized voices or only promote elite connections. Carrot Ranch is a literary community with a mission to make literary art accessible to all hobby and career writers, even to people who don’t identify as Writers. 

Charli Mills

Writing becomes art when it is read and commented on.

Wow, this is deep. In this interview series my quest is to find out why bloggers, like yourself, take the time to create challenges. Your blog, Carrot Ranch is an amazing operation. The way you organized it impressed me. Do you have help with the contests or the website? 

I had help from a graphic artist to design the website although I took the picture of the horse and bird but the organization of it is all me. The Rough Riders help me run the ranch.

Charli Mills

I love the way they are listed on your menu. Are they paid staff?

Not at all. A Rough Rider wants to take part in collaborative work. They are worker bees, though. 

Charli Mills

So when you say they take part, what do Rough Riders do? 

Rough Riders don’t have to just write, they can be readers. They just have to be willing to participate. Rough Writers maintain the community, engaging with one another. They aren’t doing jobs or maintaining the site, but they do the work of creating an authentic community.

For example, D. Avery is a Rough Writer who runs the Saddle Up Saloon. She writes ranch yarns between fictitious ranchers “Kid and Pal” and others who are aware of themselves. They have heard that they are the creation of D. Avery, but they don’t believe it. Jim Borden, a retired teacher makes comments, Becky Ross she makes comments. 

Participation is anything that has to do with literary art. Writing becomes art when it is read and commented on. That is the definition of literary art. It belongs in the hands of the people who read and write. That’s why the mission of Carrot Ranch is to make literary art accessible.

Charli Mills

I love that definition. That’s why I love blogging so much, it’s the comments of the readers. Your website has a menu item for patrons, are Rough Riders also your patrons?

Some of the rough writers are patrons, they don’t have to become patrons to support the community. Although patrons intended to support the infrastructure of the community, they don’t have to be writers.

We have several nicknames going on at the ranch, so I’ll try to clarify! 

Charli Mills
  • Rough Writers are the ones who write to the prompt and hang around long enough to get roped into Anthologies, Rodeos, and writing columns. 
  • Some writers are in a group online where we post goals, share information, ask group questions and play story games. I refer to that group as the Carrot Ranchers. Some are Rough Writers, too. 
  • And, if that’s not confusing enough, the community has also informally dubbed Carrot Ranch “Buckaroo Nation.” I think it would make a fun title to a lit magazine from the community. 

I love it! But it is confusing!

But that’s the thing about an authentic community — it can be messy, but we are there to play, write, and support each other in an industry that includes hobbyists and professionals. We wear different hats, sometimes. Publicly, I refer to the published work of Carrot Ranch as writing by the Rough Writers whether it’s the weekly collection or an anthology.

Carrot Ranch writer’s challenges and subsequent anthologies give opportunities for Carrot Ranchers to publish their work. Ranchers, and you are a rancher because you have submitted a story, have different goals. Writing for Carrot Ranch builds credibility and confidence no matter what your goals. The point is for the community to learn to use the 99-word Flash Fiction as a writing tool. 

Charli Mills

I find fiction writing difficult. It’s hard to get away from real people and real incidents.

Wallace Steger, one of first American authors to receive an MFA in the U.S., said something like, “You can go to therapy, you can pay to be on someone’s couch, or you can write. No matter how much you fictionalize, you are writing into your own truth. The minute you put yourself on the page, that person becomes fiction.”

It’s impressive that you published an anthology. Do the profits go back into the community of writers?

What we make covers Rough Riders’ travel scholarship and expenses for Vol. 2 or whatever the next volume is. The Anthology Volume 1 was a test. You don’t make much money off of online or book store sales. Sherri Matthews won the scholarship from the Volume 1 profits to go to Bloggers Bash. 

Charli Mills

That’s cool. Sherri is a good friend and former Californian, too, if my memory serves me. Congratulations to her! 

Part of my vision for Carrot Ranch Rough Riders is to teach them to use the book to stage speaking events. You have a better opportunity to sell books if you go to events. Of course, that’s on hold right now. But when things return to normal, any of the Rough Riders can purchase the books for cost and can sell the book themselves. So if the book costs $6, they can sell it at an event for $10, and they keep the profit. 

Charli Mills

The more you understand the trends and where you are in the landscape, the more you realize that there are tangible techniques to learn. Publication is not the luck of the draw.

That’s awesome. One 99-word fiction could earn a Rough Rider some big bucks if they work at it!

We help writers find where they fit in the publishing ecosystem. Ninety-six percent of all manuscripts get rejected. What are your chances of becoming the 4%? The more you understand the trends and where you are in the landscape, the more you realize that there are tangible techniques to learn. Publication is not the luck of the draw. Those who can take the time to learn the industry and apply what is going along socially, have a better chance to succeed. 

 Women’s fiction is big. Women  want to read about women’s issues. Relationships are big. 

The reality of being an author is you have to invest in it. Nobody is going to pick up your book without some investment on your part. You can go to school, spend $40,000 for an MFA (Masters of Fine Arts), go to workshops, or hire editors. The reality is that you are going to spend money to publish your work. Every writer needs editors, both developmental and line-by-line-proofreading even if you attend workshops and have a degree.

Charli Mills

How well I know about that! According to your website menu, your 99-word Flash Fiction is not your only challenge. What about the Rodeo Contests? 

Rough Rider writing a book.

In October of each year we host the Rodeo Contests to get people geared up for Nanowrimo. It’s play, it’s practice. Some people work on it as though it were to submit to a literary contest, but mostly people do it for play. You have to imprint the 99-word pattern. Ninety-nine words are the smallest element of a scene. If you can write a 99-word scene, you can write a chapter.  If you can write a chapter, you can write a book. 

Charli Mills

Everything you do is 99 words, then?

Everything except TUFF, which stands for The Ultimate Flash Fiction. TUFF is also part of the October Rodeo. Ranchers start with a 99-word piece, then they reduce it to 59 words. Finally they take the 59 words and reduce them to 9 words. That gives them the heart of the story. Once they realize what the story is about, then they rewrite the 99 words. 

If you can get that process going, it helps you get unstuck. The goal is to see a writer use the 99-word write as a tool. I love to see them being brave and changing their story as it goes and letting it evolve. That’s why revision is hard. We don’t want to let go. 

Charli Mills

Writers have different paths and expectations with what they want to do and the workshop is for people who want to publish their work. We help them figure out what path they are on and how to jump from one path to another.

99 words no more no less picture of eggs.

You mentioned that the 99-word-story benefits the community. How does that work?

Anyone can write a 99-word-story in ten minutes. 

Charli Mills

No way! Mine sure took longer than that! 

You can, though. I present library writing programs. We did Carrot Ranch sessions in three libraries and a bookstore during our retreat. I challenged participants to five minute writes and five minute edits. They looked at me like I’m crazy, then BAM, ten minutes later they were done.

Charli Mills

Of course, I did that all the time in my classroom and as professional development with teachers and aides. We called them Quick Writes. But they weren’t ready for publication in ten minutes.

That’s not the ultimate point. When I do a reading from Volume 1, I ask people I meet at Farmer’s Markets, book fairs, libraries and bookstores where I am set up, “Can I read you a 99-word story? It will only take 45 seconds.”

They almost always say okay. Then I read a 99-word story. It catches their attention. The anthology brings the power of people together. It’s anthropology because they write their individual story about the prompt. It is so human to bring the stories together and put them into a collection. Some stories go together and other times they are polar opposites. There is usually an anchor story. Those who read the stories are responding to human conversation. 

The last line, when I’m reading in public is , “Do you want to buy a book?”

Charli Mills

Funny! What a marketer. You’ve got to have a close. I want to stray a little from talking about writing challenges. You mentioned a retreat, Charli. Tell us more.

Rough Rider, D. Avery hosts the retreat in Vermont. Writers have different paths and expectations with what they want to do and the workshop is for people who want to publish their work. We help them figure out what path they are on and how to jump from one path to another. We instill that there is no shame in what you write. Even if it’s not a best seller. The annual retreat honors the work writers have done in a year. 

The retreat counts as professional development as an author. It may take 3-12 years to get published traditionally. It will help you have things in your platform so it gives you an edge.

Charli Mills

Is this your ultimate goal?

No, no, no, no. I am developing an educational program to provide the platform for teaching literary art under the Carrot Ranch Brand. 

Along with my MFA, I am earning a certification to teach online creative writing. I will use that to add the educational component to Carrot Ranch and to invite interested community members to participate as instructors. I need to train them first, but then they can develop and sell their own online classes. 

That’s all I’m saying for now as I work toward finishing my degree next year and developing this education program.

Charli Mills

That sounds so exciting, Charli. I want to be on board for that! Teaching was my career and my master’s degree is in curriculum and instruction. We are getting off the target of writing challenges a little here, but I’m curious about your book and writing clubs. 

We have one writing group on Facebook. The question you have to answer to join the group is, “How has Carrot Ranch impacted your writing?” I want to know if people know what Carrot Ranch is. It’s not open, it’s a writers group for Carrot Ranch. On Monday’s I call for goals. It’s a place where writers can have accountability, if they want that. Some ranchers post occasionally, others post regularly. On Tuesdays we have started something new. We are doing an open mic on Zoom. Attendees get five minutes to introduce themselves, their work and to read. It happens on the third Tuesday of the month at 11:00 am Eastern time, 8:00 am PST, 5:00 pm for people in Great Britain. 

Charli Mills

Charli, it has been a pleasure to chat with you today. We’ve covered a lot of territory – typical ranch life! Good thing we held our horses! I look forward to collaborating with Carrot Ranch very soon. Your mission strummed the creative strings in my internal gee-tar. 

Success! You’re on the list.

What to Do When Your Muse Disappears 60,000 Words Into Your Book

You don’t give up when your muse leaves town. You start a new challenge. Join me in giving author Suzanne Burke a warm Always Write welcome!

Always Write Series: #Bloggers Hosting Writing Challenges

Writing Challenge hostess #1 Suzanne Burke AKA Soooz

Have you wanted to write fiction and struggled to get started? Or maybe you wrote a book, and your muse disappeared or you got snagged somewhere in the process of publication.

If this sounds like you, read on.

Author, Suzanne Burke hosts a flash fiction challenge and supports her participants with multiple social media shares. 

As I read her posts, it occurred to me how much goes into hosting a writing challenge of any kind. She responds graciously to every comment in her inbox. 

After exchanging a few comments and emails, I feel like I have known her forever. 

Suzanne agreed to write the first guest post/interview for Always Write to tell authors everywhere how she started and what it is like to host a writing challenge. 

Take it away Soooz.

Firstly, my grateful thanks to Marsha for inviting me here today. I hope I have given you a glimpse into my experience hosting a visual writing prompt. 

Q: What prompted you to begin to host a writing challenge? 

A: It all came down to the timing. I was already 60k into my latest WIP (work in progress) when my muse decided to grab a stagecoach and get out of Dodge. It’s happened before and the frustration and procrastination genies were warring with each other for dominance. I needed to commit to something creative, something I would also need to contribute to. That’s when the idea was born. 


I can feel your pain. I have never made it to the end of a fiction publication. Grrrrrr.

Q: How long have you been doing this? 

A: It’s only been six weeks since the first prompt went up. It’s been a huge learning curve. But I’m having a marvelous time with it.


Q: How much time does it take? Is it all-consuming so that you don’t blog about anything else?


A: I must admit that I underestimated just how time-consuming the process would be. I spend many hours scouring the internet for free to use images. Images engage the creative juices. We writers tend to be intensely visual creatures, taking mental snapshots of everything that catches our muse’s attention. 


The marionette image evokes some strong emotions. Your 750-word example kept me on the edge of my seat. 

I heard recently in a class that a blog needs some type of image every 100 words. I use and have tried as well. They both have thousands of images you can sort through in the click of a search word.

Q: How did you determine the genre?

A: I chose not to impose a genre restriction. That tends to isolate some folks from participating. I’ve been lucky to have had some wonderfully diverse entries, yours included, Marsha.


Thank you, Soooz, with three o’s.

Q: What steps do you take to get your challenge ready? 

A: Because it can take almost a week and sometimes just before the deadline before the entries start coming in. I write my own contribution during that time. 

Then I share all the entries over the course of the week. 


That’s a benefit for your participants to build the traffic to their blogs. 

I check daily for comments on the Author’s blogs who have shared the challenge, respond to those. 

Another great benefit to those who submit, Soooz. I found my entry that you shared on Twitter. How fun! I also found a typo in my customized excerpt. I need a better proofreader.

I’ve had a great response doing that. Finally, I put up the next week’s prompt. I’m determined to still make time to write and post Book Reviews and support other authors on my blog. 


Q: How did you attract people to participate? / How do people usually find out about your challenge? 

A: I have been so fortunate to have met some wonderfully talented and supportive writers since my first foray into writing. Many belong to an online book club I’m a member of, and still others I’ve met via Twitter, all have been amongst the most generous and supportive folks I’ve ever met. These folks share my posts via tweets and the word begins to spread. I find Twitter to be a very effective platform.


Q: Do you have help reading all the entries?

A: No, I enjoy reading all of them.


Q: What do you do with the entries – like do you ever publish anthologies, award widget certificates?

A: I’m keeping it as simple as possible at the moment. I may use some of my own entries in an anthology in the future.


In Conclusion

Thank you, so much for this wonderful post, Suzanne, Soooz, S., Stacey. It’s been a super pleasure to have you as the first interview/guest post in the Always Write #Bloggers Hosting Writing Challenges Series.

I hope you will come back to write another guest post again.


Contact Suzanne at …

Her author page on AMAZON.

On Twitter.

On Facebook

On Goodreads.


Suzanne Burke resides with her daughter and grandson in a small country town located hundreds of miles to the west of her previous home in Sydney Australia.

Life interrupted her routine and allowed her to begin her journey into the world of writing in her early fifties, a journey she’d wanted to start for many years.

You can find Suzanne’s memoirs under the pen name of Stacey Danson.  Search for her powerful thrillers Acts Beyond Redemption and Acts of Betrayal and her paranormal anthology Mind-Shaft under the name S. Burke. 

Both of Suzanne’s non-fiction books, Empty Chairs and Faint Echoes of Laughter, have ranked in the top one hundred paid in Kindle on Amazon and continue to earn wonderful reviews.

Welcome Suzanne with your comments and check out her #6 Challenge.

Success! You’re on the list.

Why Blogging is the Best Weight Loss Program

Interview with Carol Cormier

Most of us don’t think of blogging as the fast track or best weight loss program. But one blogger shows us what happened when she started blogging. In this short interview, my friend Carol will share with readers two ways blogging helped her lose 32 pounds blogging. As a bonus, she explains what has made her blog grow as well.

Welcome to Always Write, a blog for newbies and fun bloggers, writers, and photographers. Hi everyone, Marsha Ingrao here.

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Carol before losing 32 pounds.
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Carol after losing 32 pounds

Today I’d like to introduce Carol Cormier from Toronto, Canada, one of my blogging friends and a fellow teacher and administrator.

Carol, you lost thirty-two pounds blogging. WOW!

I didn’t know that blogging could help you take off weight. I’m impressed. Maybe you can transfer your weight loss success over to  Always Write, and readers who need to lose weight can just plug in their computers and let the pounds come rolling off!

In addition to losing weight, Carol, you have had some blogging success as well. There must be a connection there somewhere.

1.  What is the ONE thing that you do, that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your blogging successes, so far?

When I started blogging I was hoping to use it as an incentive to lose weight. I thought if I put it out there in the blogging world I would be more likely to succeed. I also wanted a platform to share stories with my family about my life.

I soon discovered that more people were interested in my weight loss journey than my past.

I lost 32 pounds and found the support from other bloggers very helpful. I’m not sure how successful I’ve been at blogging, Marsha, since it’s taken me four years to attract 1000 followers.

That makes sense because so many of us are overweight. Anyone who has tried to lose weight knows how difficult it is as we pass 40. So your weight loss came as a result of how much support you had from your readers. Experts tell us that we need the encouragement of friends and family to help us lose weight at least in the short term. Studies have shown that people who lose weight with friends keep the weight off longer than people who try to do it alone. 

2.  You have gained a good number of followers for someone who blogs as a hobby. Why do you think that is?

I think my success is due to a number of factors:

  • visiting other blogs and leaving a comment
  • replying to comments left by other bloggers on my posts
  • participating in a number of challenges
  • trying new things – I do mostly photo challenges now but I have tried writing challenges
  • posting regularly – I try to post daily but sometimes life gets in the way
  • not getting too political or writing about religious issues

I think 1,000 followers is great, Carol, but the important thing is that you are doing what you enjoy in the blogging world having what most would consider positive results.

3. How do you balance your time between your personal and career/blogging life?

My blogging life is my entertainment.

Just to be clear, not bungee jumping, correct?

Right, I watch very little television since I started blogging. My family comes first, my career second and my blog is third.

So blogging took the place of watching television. It’s harder to eat and blog. No wonder you lost weight.

4. Can you walk us through how to be wrong?

If you’re going to be wrong you have to admit to yourself and the world that you made a mistake. If you can’t do that you’ll quickly lose respect from your readers. I have the same philosophy in my personal life.

I’ve always apologized to my children, my students, my husband, my colleagues, and close friends when I’ve said something inappropriate or behaved badly. Sometimes it’s difficult to do but in the end, it is worth it.

Admitting when we are wrong takes the wind out of our opponent’s sails for the most part. It’s hard for them to argue with the statement, “You’re right, I’m wrong.” Realizing that we are on the wrong track with our weight is another important factor in starting to lose weight, too. 

Carol, your background is much like mine. You have been a teacher and administrator and not a professional writer. Tell us a bit about your career.

5. What concerns or obstacles have you overcome in your career?

Later in my teaching career, I decided that I wanted to take on more of a leadership role and become a vice-principal. I took numerous leadership classes and applied for positions that would help me further my career plans. Sometimes I felt that I waited too long to make these changes and that my age would be a deterrent to reaching my goal.

I decided to forge ahead anyway and took some risks that I probably would never have attempted at a younger age.

I discovered that I was very capable and I quickly found a confidence that I never knew I had.

I successfully became a chairperson, with added responsibilities, and loved the position. I’m still a chairperson today and decided several years ago not to pursue the position of vice-principal. The job had changed in many ways and you are no longer able to be a teacher and a VP. Since I loved teaching as much as I did, I never regretted the decision to remain a teacher with some additional responsibilities.

I’m also very much a person who likes change and a challenge.

Five years ago I took an online course so that I could earn the qualifications needed to become a teacher/librarian. It was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do but I learned so much and today my role has gone from being a grade 5 teacher to being the librarian for the school and having contact with all the students from Kindergarten to grade 5.

What an inspiration, Carol, to take on this challenge toward the end of your career. It’s good for young people to see that they don’t have to stop learning when they finish high school or college. They can start something new and exciting even at the end of their career. 

Continuously learning new skills keeps our lives exciting and vigorous. Writers and bloggers do a lot of journaling and Carol has a cute idea for us. To make a very simple gorgeous art journal out of one sheet of watercolor paper, click the link to her blog post which includes video instructions.

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Evah does not want you to read her diary!

6. Tell us about something that you are not good at doing. 

I’m not good at diving. It’s something I’ve regretted not learning. It’s possible that it has something to do with my fear of heights. You will never see me standing in line to bungee jump off a bridge or sign up for sky diving.

LOL, you had to scroll to the bottom of the list of personal successes to find that handicap, didn’t you? 

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Your humor is starting to bug me, Marsha! (One of Carol’s macro photographs)

8. If your blog or career ended today, what would be the legacy that you left behind?

I’ve never thought about leaving a legacy.

I know that I’ve inspired some people to take out their cameras and start using them again. I’ve also encouraged some very talented people to pursue their art when they didn’t think they could paint.

I guess my blog could be considered a personal journal of my life and perhaps my grandchildren will get to know me a bit better when I’m no longer here to share my stories.

Carol, thank you again, so much for sharing your story with us. It’s been a pleasure to get to know you better. I wish you continued success in your blogging journey and thanks for being part of my life.

If you enjoyed this interview,  you could connect with Carol on her blog, Mama Cormier, …. my journey to a healthy life, making new memories and so much more.

You will find some beautiful photographs, and if you’ve ever wanted to paint, she has some instructional painting videos, too.  Here’s a sample of acrylic painting.

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A painting Carol auctioned

Your Turn

If you enjoyed this post, please forward it to your friends, especially teachers and parents or grandparents with elementary-aged children.

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Carol’s cup of Irish coffee

Thanks again for joining us here at Always Write for a cup of coffee and a great interview with our guest blogger, Carol Cormier. Don’t forget to give her blog a peek! 🙂

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