Flash fiction: brain workout

There is nothing quite like a tight deadline to focus your writing and sharpen your skills, whether it’s part of your job as a daily newspaper reporter or a self-inflicted challenge like a flash fiction contest.

For the past few years, I’ve challenged myself to write a few hundred words over the course of a couple of days to submit a story in the University of Iowa Alumni and Friends Flash Writing Contest.

I nearly talked myself out of it this time around once I saw the choices of writing prompts, which aren’t revealed until the Friday before the Sunday deadline. Having to choose between historical fiction and romance genres, which aren’t among my top favorites, I mulled it over before giving it a shot, choosing the historical route and a story that had to include:

  • No more than 1,000 words
  • A specified character: dog walker
  • An object: paper clip

After submitting my entry a couple of hours before the Sunday afternoon deadline, I’m confident that I now know a whole lot more about the history of paper clips and popular dog names from 100+ years ago.

I also have a new appreciation for what it takes to write historical fiction. Research, research, research, and I submitted somewhere between 500 and 600 words. Imagine writing a book in that genre! When it comes to writing fiction, I’ll stick to contemporary.

We’ll find out who wins in the multiple age categories in a few weeks. I always look forward to that, not because I expect to win – as fun as that would be – but because we all get to read a lot of flash fiction written by children as well as other adults. That’s a reward all by itself.

Write on,


Dogs and writing

A few days ago I ran across the following sentence and felt compelled to respond: “Writing is something you do, not something you are.”

It was among a good number of well-written sentences that added up to some good advice, but it stood out, and not just because it’s a bit awkward. It came to mind again when the first thing I saw on my phone this morning was that someone liked something I wrote back in February.

Who doesn’t enjoy a like? I went back in time to February to read that post and see what was likeable about it. Turns out it was about my dog, and the conversations we have, and why I write stuff.

This is what happens when you are a writer, despite some who say writing is something you do, but not something you can be. She was wrong about that part.

Dog pictures always seem to get likes, so now you see Red Dog Smith.

Red Dog facing the camera, with text overlaid in red type saying “I have questions.”

Maybe you’ll enjoy reading about him. I just happen to have a link. 👇👇👇

Strive to be antique

Image by Darkmoon_Art from Pixabay

Strive to be antique.
Your value is already


Red’s a smart, fine-lookin’ dog

A few days ago my funny, clever, multitalented daughter asked if Red Dog had come up with any questions lately. I had to think for a minute; he hadn’t. Somewhat later – just today, actually – I realized why that was. Red and I haven’t had much trail time lately, just the two of us. (He never asks me anything when Mrs. Smith is around.)

With that in mind, Red and I set out this morning for a walk down by the Colorado River, which is still tryna freeze. The temperature was around 20F degrees when we started. Most of the ice I’d seen on Corn Lake in late January was gone. We went east for a mile or so on the river trail, then across a pedestrian bridge and up a steep, switchbacked cutout to the top of a bluff.

Trail down steep switchbacks by the Colorado River
Heading back down to the river.

Along the way, as if on cue, Red asked me why I spend so much time doing whatever it is I do on this computer or on the other one in my home office.

“Most of that is called earning a living so we can buy dog food and treats and .…” I stopped about there because I could tell by the cold stare that he got the point.

“I’m teasing you, Red,” I said. “Feeding you is a real bargain and we’re happy to do it. You’re family!”

He smiled at that, with those big brown eyes. We kept walking.

He’d asked a great question. I’ve seen many writers respond by saying things like “I can’t not write” and “because I must” and so on. My reasons are pretty simple to explain, at least when humans ask: My job is writing and editing.

I’m fortunate that people pay me to do that sort of thing. I didn’t try to explain that to Red, and I didn’t get into why I’m putting these particular words in this particular order right now, but that’s not complicated, either.

I do it because I enjoy doing it.

I do it because I enjoy doing it. I like making stuff up and I like writing true stuff. It doesn’t matter much if anyone reads this, but I do appreciate those who do.

Back to the walk, which was interrupted as almost every walk with Red Dog gets interrupted, sometimes more than once. Men on the trail never say much beyond hello, if that. But women…

This morning the woman walking toward us, with a guy I’d guess was her husband or partner or whatever, said with a big smile on her face, “Oh, you’re so cute! I’m gonna take you home with me!”

Red assumed she was talking to him, and I suspect he’s right. Nobody talks to me like that.

Write on,