Extreme Writing Challenge #59: “www [dot] com”

One quick word before we get into today’s challenge and story:  please take a second to check out my recently-launched author website, www.hopemccain.com.  I have an additional blog there I will use for all of my non-challenge posts–meaning Impossible Words will now strictly be my stories and challenges, and all other writing/reading-related content will be posted on my other site.  🙂

Today’s challenge is tied in to the theme of the story:  Every sentence contains at least three W‘s, and the story contains at least ten unique words beginning with com

Wendy was sure she couldn’t handle one more day of teaching old geezers how to use the computers their kids forced them to purchase. Admittedly, it was comical to watch their bony fingers hover over the keyboard while they searched for the letters they needed. Greta was the worst, scanning the keys once for twenty minutes looking for one labeled Enter.

Every day Wendy heard a new complaint she could add to her ever-growing list. These windows are too small, these keys aren’t wide enough, the click of the mouse is too loud. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for her to show up at work dressed for combat. These old wrinklies were whinier than a room full of toddlers.

And yet, all Wendy had to do was say the magic word. She’d tell them, “Now I’m going to demonstrate what you can do when you log on to the internet.” The complexities of technology that so far baffled them were nothing compared to the World Wide Web. Wendy opened a website, always a different one, and chuckled at the reactions. Jaws dropped and eyes widened during the ooh-ing and ahh-ing from a titillated crowd. They might as well be witnessing Halley’s Comet, they were so awestruck.

The web always stirred up the room until it felt ready to explode with commotion. The women wanted to shop and the men checked sports statistics and read the news and then griped about it. Wendy was proud to awaken them, no longer comatose in their dusty recliners and shouting numbers at the television while watching The Price is Right.

That’s why Wendy kept coming back when she longed to run for the hills. To share with these seniors the best part of life they’d been missing—where else would she find such satisfaction? With the few years they had left on the earth, they deserved the chance to enjoy the magical, wonderful internet.


Prompts for September 8

Your weekly dose of pen-spiration.  🙂  Have your own writing prompt to share?  Leave it in the comments and help contribute to the end of writer’s block!  Also, if you’re on Pinterest, please feel free to follow my Pen-spiration board for writing quotes and exercises!


Behind the Scenes

When I post a story on my blog, what you see is the final product: sparkly clean and fine-tuned to linguistic perfection. What I don’t show you is what kind of effort goes into writing a mere 500-word story. So, I thought some of you might be interested in a little “behind the scenes” look at Impossible Words.

The first thing I do is pick a challenge. I keep a list and add to it whenever an idea comes to mind. Okay, scratch that—I keep several lists. One in my wallet, one on my computer, one on a sheet of paper in a drawer in the house…you never know where you’ll be when inspiration strikes. 😉

Once I’ve decided on a challenge, I have quite a bit of prep work before I can begin writing. To give you an idea of what that entails, I’ll use my latest story to demonstrate.

My last challenge was to use at least 25 unique words whose third letter is P, in a story less than 500 words in length.   The first step is to start writing down every word I can think of that has a P as the third letter.

In this instance, I wasn’t at home when I made the list. I’m often not—but if I am, I’ll usually type them into Excel rather than write them out by hand. (More on that later…) If I’m having a hard time coming up with a decent collection of words to fit my criteria, I’ll turn to Google. For this challenge, I didn’t need to take it that far.


Once I feel my list is a fairly good size, I analyze the words to see if there’s a “theme” that seems to encompass a handful of the words. Sometimes it helps, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a nice place to start when you have a blank canvas, but it’s not critical to cranking out a story.

The first sentence is always the easiest. I write a lot of “first sentences” that never go any further than that. Sometimes I’ll write the first one, study my list of words, and realize I need a change of direction. Luckily, it doesn’t happen every time.  🙂

Then things start to get a little tricky. Not only do I have to make sure I use a certain number of words from my list, but I have to keep track of the ones I’ve used (since I can’t count the same word twice!). To do this, I make a tally mark every time I use a word, and I also put a check mark next to the word so I know I’ve already used it. (If I list my words in Excel, I highlight the cells instead.)



(From a story using words ending in “-ion”)

Once I’m finished, if I wrote the story by hand, I’ll type it into Microsoft Word. If I’m writing a story that, for instance, doesn’t contain any E’s, I’ll do a search of the doc for “E.” Yes, I do find slip-ups after I’ve finished, and it’s a pain in the butt to fix them!

And that’s how an IW story is born. A lot of work for a one-page story, but no one ever said challenging yourself is a quick effort!



Extreme Writing Challenge #33: “Miracle”

Do you ever have one of those days that just NEEDS to end with chocolate?  What a long Monday!  It’s especially dangerous when Valentine’s candy is 75% off…

Here’s a new story for you all.  I’ll let you know what the challenge was at the end!


We found Ava walking barefoot down the middle of the road.  The only light was that of the moon and a million tiny stars hanging like glitter in the sky.  Ava’s feet were crusted with sand and motor oil, but she pretended to like it.  Stan found a rag in the glove box, and Ava dusted off the bottoms of her feet, ignoring the trenches between her blistered toes.

“Stan, see if there’s any food left in the cooler,” I told my husband.  We were on our way home from a picnic in Mule Deer Cove.  To Ava, I muttered, “Dear, you look famished.”

Picking bits of sagebrush out of her hair, Ava asked, “What day is it?”

Stan said, “It’s Tuesday, the 19th.”  From the cooler, he dug out a chicken leg wrapped in foil and handed it to the young woman.  She took it from him, uttering a “thank you” so soft you’d have thought it was the wind who said it.

“I should be dead,” Ava told us, unwrapping the chicken leg.  Even in the August heat, she was shivering.  Stan draped an old hunting coat over her shoulders.

“Do you need a ride somewhere, dear?” I asked.

“How far are we from Bear Lake?”

Stand told her it was close, only four or five miles away, and Ava graciously accepted the offer of transport.

I helped her into the front seat, hoping she wasn’t as fragile as she looked.  As I climbed into the back, she began to nibble at the meat still half-wrapped in foil.

Stan began to pull back onto the road when Ava cried, “Wait!”  She cracked open her door and let go of a wave of vomit.  When she finished, she began to weep into the oversized arms of Stan’s coat.

Ava had been to hell and back, that much we could see.  I hoped something good awaited her in Bear Lake—someone who was missing her, a home-cooked meal, a shower and a soft bed.  As brittle as she looked, I had the feeling that the moment Stan and I found her was the moment she began to heal.

In Bear Lake, Ava asked us to stop at an unmarked building on the main street that ran through town.   A small boy tried to peek out the window unnoticed, but we all saw him just before he darted behind the faded paisley curtain.  The sight of him pulled a single tear from Ava’s eye.

As she slipped out of Stan’s coat, I ripped out a page from the small book of prayers I kept in my purse.  I folded it gently and gave it to her, saying, “Read this when you get inside.  You are a real miracle.”


The challenge for this story was:  Every sentence contains a unique word containing two vowels in between two consonants (for example, “road”).

Now, let’s all go eat some chocolate!


Three Years, Five Lessons

einsteinquoteThree years ago, I started the Impossible Words blog to bail myself out of writer’s block jail.  It worked, and has continued working.  This blog has made a big impact on the quality and the quantity of my writing.  Yet, I didn’t just learn how to improve my writing and keep myself inspired.  Over the years, I’ve learned some pretty significant things from my IW blog.  For instance…

It’s possible to turn limitations into opportunities.  All of the stories I post here are limiting in one way or another; if I’m not limited to words that don’t contain the letter A, I’m bounded by the challenge of using a pair of homophones in each sentence or using 50 X’s in just a few paragraphs.  No matter what the challenge, I am limited in the fact that I can’t write just anything.  At first, it’s a bit daunting.  There are still times when I think of a challenge and wonder, “Is that going to be too much of a struggle?”  But when I look back on it, I’ve written over thirty stories here on my blog (and 25 more in my book!), and I never would have written any of them had it not been for this blog.  My writing challenges aren’t the only limiting aspects in my life.  Though all of life’s limitations aren’t always as easy to overcome, it’s good to have a reminder that they often turn into experiences you wouldn’t have otherwise.

The things that challenge you can be a LOT of fun.  The idea of being “challenged” usually means more work, increased effort, and a whole lotta mental strength.  Just thinking about it is exhausting, honestly.  But any challenge, including the stories I write, often results in something worth being proud of—a sense of accomplishment, if you will.  When you know how it feels when the extra effort pays off, the hard work involved becomes something you really look forward to.

Variety is the key to continuously falling in love with what you already love.  You know that saying, “I love you, but I’m not in love with you?”  Well, that’s how I feel about writing when I have really bad writer’s block.  Each writing challenge I give myself here is so different than the last that not only do I beat my writer’s block, but “writing” becomes—in a sense—a whole new experience with every story.  Variety is what helps me to stay “in love” with the act of writing.

To do what you want to do, you’ll sometimes need to get creative.  Not everything comes easily.  We all know that, right?  Well, we might all know it…but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating when we have a hard time achieving what we want to achieve.  Oh, if only you knew how many stories I start for some of my challenges, only to delete them from my computer in a bout of irritation.  These are the times I sometimes think, “Welp, I’ve failed that challenge.”  But give me a couple of days to turn it over in my head, and I WILL find a way to finish the challenge.  Since I’m one of the most impatient people in the world, this has been a good lesson for me:  sometimes you have to take a detour to get where you’re going, but once you get there, that detour won’t matter anymore.

And finally…

It’s okay to be good at something, but not be perfect at it.  I used to be hard on myself when it came to my writing.  REALLY hard on myself.  By writing the stories I post here, I’ve learned that it’s not about writing something that is perfect; it’s about writing with a purpose.  My challenges are not meant to produce perfect stories.  They’re meant to keep me inspired, to help me grow as a writer, and to encourage me to see things from a different perspective.  As long as they continue to do that, I am proud of each and every word I write.

For those of you who write/blog, what kinds of things has writing taught you?

Extreme Writing Challenge #12: “The End”

I knew after the first sentence that this challenge would make me pull out all of my hair.  Can you figure it out?


“I’ll have to ask for your patience,” the nurse said, “as many of Dr. Nelson’s patients have recently been under anesthesia.”

We all wait, drumming our fingers on our clipboards while the room grows heavy with the weight of high hopes.  It’s been an hour since our phones first rang with the news.

A haggard man dressed in scrubs stands before the room and sighs as the size of the audience continues to grow.  There must be at least four hundred journalists here for the big announcement.

The man in the scrubs, Dr. Nelson, seems to be in a daze after almost ninety days of trying to contain the spread of the Q Virus.  Week after week, the world tuned in to the news reports of people suddenly falling weak, coughing up tissues, and clawing at themselves to try and rid their bodies of excruciating itching and pain.

Dr. Nelson says, “Maybe we can all sleep a little more soundly tonight, as I’m here today to confirm that there may be a cure for the Q Virus.”  The room becomes a sea of clapping hands, for we are grateful to see there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

“I have four patients who are willing to speak here today; the rest of them are still too weak from surgery,” Dr. Nelson continues.  The patients come forth, the first three in wheelchairs and the fourth with the assistance of a walker and a nurse.

“This is Roy,” Dr. Nelson says as he motions to the man with the walker, “and though his wounds will heal, he’ll never be the same.”

Roy clears his throat and says, “I’m here because I want all of you to hear my story.  Though there is a hole in all of our hearts from the devastation caused by the Q virus, Dr. Nelson has provided us with a miracle to make us whole again.”

We stand idle as Roy tells his story from the beginning, and ends by tearfully thanking our new idol for his determination to save us all.  As we anxiously prepare to hear the other patients tell us their stories, we breathe deeply knowing there is nothing to fear any longer.


If you didn’t guess the challenge, it was:  each sentence contains a pair of homophones.  This was a great exercise in creativity, especially because I really tried to prevent the homophones from having an echoing effect!

Extreme Writing Challenge #10: “Diagnosis”

And I’m back!

Following a great suggestion from a reader, I have decided to do things a little differently.  Instead of telling you my challenge up front in each post, I’m going to let you read the story and reveal the challenge at the end.  Hope you enjoy today’s story!


There were two options, the doctor said, and I should take my time to consider them both.

Dexter was with me for the appointment.  He’d requested the day off from work, worried by the thought of me sitting at home alone after hearing the news.

“But what if it’s fantastic news?” I’d asked.

“But what if it’s not?” he’d inquired.

So there we sat, in a warm, brightly lit room with walls covered in certificates and motivational posters, and Dr. Lindstrom strolled in with a thick folder with my name on it.

The cab ride home was silent as I turned over in my head the complicated terms thrown at me in Dr. Lindstrom’s office.  Dexter flipped through pamphlets and brochures, but I rested my head on the cool window and counted the raindrops on the outside of the glass.  I listened to each word, each instrument, and each sound effect in the song playing on the radio.  I allowed the sweat, the smoke, and the dirt of the cab to permeate me.  What was foul to me yesterday was welcome today.

At home, I flopped face-down on the bed and sobbed myself into exhaustion.  Dexter sat in a chair beside the bed, massaging my shoulders.  My phone rang endlessly inside my purse—people who wanted to know, what did I find out?

I told Dexter to go home to Maggie and the kids, but he insisted on ordering takeout and cleaning my living room while I took a hot bath.

The last time I’d had a bath was in my childhood, when I caught mono after sharing sodas with the other kids at school.  Eighteen years later, I couldn’t remember the last time hot water felt so good on my skin.  What other simplicities had I been taking for granted?

It was midnight when Dexter left.  I sat where he left me on the sofa, contemplating the screen on my phone that read, “8 Missed Calls.”  Dr. Lindstrom suggested I take my time to think things through.  My mind had been made up before Dexter and I stepped off the elevator, but I still eyed the pamphlets scattered on my coffee table.  The easy road and the difficult road.  The hopeless road and the hopeful road.

I scrolled through my missed calls and selected the one with my mother’s name.  It was midnight, and she was still awake, anxiously awaiting my call.

“My baby girl,” she says in a voice as soothing as the ocean.

“Mom,” I say, “one way or another, everything is going to be okay.”


Did you figure it out?  This story’s challenge was:  every sentence contains at least one word containing eight or more letters.