inasmuch as it concerns Routines:
Pen meets paper, fingers meet keyboard, nose meets grindstone, butt gets glued to chair. Y'know.
late fruitcake preparations for a quiet winter solstice
So I'm baking a fruitcake today.
I almost didn't bother. It's less than a week until Winter Solstice, so it won't really be ready to open up at the annual all-nighter Winter Solstice vigil and open house. It won't have had time to soak up enough booze. Besides, I don't even have the wherewithal to host the all-nighter this year anyway, so why bother with a fruitcake?
And then I thought, screw it. I like fruitcake. I like mailing slices to long-distance friends. And Dad's going to be in town shortly after Christmas, and he likes fruitcake. So let's do this thing.
But let's also be kind to myself about it, all right?
So when I browsed Whole Food's bulk section for dried fruits, I prioritized stuff that didn't need chopping up. I got raisins, both golden and Thompson. I got currants. I got blueberries, sour cherries, and cranberries. The only things I got that needed chopping up were the dates and the prunes. Why prunes? Prunes are tasty. Also they are easier to chop up than dried figs.
Then I forgot about "be kind to myself" long enough to pick up a Buddha's Hand Citron and make plans to candy it. Which I finally got around to doing last night.
Want to play along at home? Here's the recipe I used.
So his ingredients list includes weights for everything except the citrons themselves. Two citrons, the recipe calls for. But in the introductory blurb, the author refers to "one 8 ounce (240g) fresh citron", so I assumed the recipe called for 480 grams of chopped up citron. I also assumed from "cut them up into 1/2-inch cubes" that including the pith of the citron was OK. Thank goodness. I hadn't been looking forward to carefully peeling the zest off a fruit so inconveniently shaped for applying a peeler. I wound up with about 375 grams of citron and adjusted the other two ingredient quantities accordingly.
The bit where you're supposed to "blanch the citron pieces in barely simmering water for 30 to 40 minutes, until translucent" was a lie. Some 75% of the fruit was nicely transparent by minute 45; the remaining 25% only got part of the way there over an additional 45 minutes. This seems extreme even given how widely my citron pieces varied from the prescribed 1/2" cube. The next step took forever too. You'd think at a high altitude it would take less time to boil off sufficient water to result in 230-degree syrup, but my candy thermometer didn't reach the magic number for at least an hour. It was 1:00 am by then, so instead of leaving the citron to sit in the syrup for an hour and then straining it, I left it to soak overnight. I went to bed.
In the morning, the pot contained a block of something that was too soft to be called "citron brittle" but certainly too solid to pour. So I stuck that pot inside another pot to heat it in a water bath until it did pour. I poured it into a strainer and left it there as I went about my morning. When I came back, what remained in the strainer was more or less one solid mass again, so I rinsed it with boiling water (I'd have to rinse it for the fruitcake recipe anyway) until I had individual pieces which I could scatter on parchment paper to dry.
This was not what was meant by "being kind to myself." But I've been snacking on candied citron all morning, which is by no means a bad thing. And I'm kind of eager to do it again, knowing what I know now. For instance:
- The recipe told me to use the coarsest sugar I could find. The coarsest I had on hand was raw turbinado, which has a molasses component that I probably could have done without. This made the syrup much darker than in the recipe's photos. It also probably made it stickier.
- I'd probably skip step 4 and proceed directly from "we have reached 230 degrees" to "Strain."
- I might try doing it with just the zest. I'd hate to lose the slight bitter note from the pith which compliments the sweetness so well, but it might make blanching the fruit take a lot less time.
- The reason I did this at all was Whole Foods being out of candied ginger when I went fruitcake shopping. Maybe next year I'll candy my own ginger. I'll be able to cut fresh ginger into the long, thin shapes I prefer, rather than trying to cut up already candied ginger cubes. Fresh ginger is much easier than sticky candied ginger is to cut.
- And I'll darn well start earlier than 9:30 at night!
So now all that remains is to actually bake the fruitcake later this afternoon or evening. That's the easy part.
As for Winter Solstice itself, while I'm not going to announce to every social circle that I'm holding party space open all night long, I'm still going to hold vigil, keeping a fire lit the whole night through and waiting for the return of the sun. That part of the ritual is my own personal Pagan religious observation. I'll always do that, party or no party. And I'll probably still cook all the things I usually cook, because when else do I get to drink home-made eggnog and eat medieval midwinter pie?
And I'll probably spend a good part of the night writing like it's the first few hours of NaNoWriMo. Or the last. If any friends in the area want to join me in writing or crafting, or reading stories aloud, or reciting poetry, or other such quiet celebrations of creativity, my door will be open to you from sundown on Saturday night to sunrise on Saturday morning.
And the fruitcake won't really be ready by then, but we can give it a taste.
developing the means to turn my thoughts around
- 1,487 words (if poetry, lines) long
So I learned some things about myself and my workflow this past November. To start with, I learned that I very rarely manage to fulfill all my goals for a given day. Doesn't matter whether it's a kind and even coddling low-bar list, or a ludicrously over-ambitious goal that is sure to end in failure and self-loathing. Be it ever so reasonable, I'm not going to get through it. Some imp of the perverse, an attack of inexplicable fatigue, or just the usual cocktail of anxiety and avoidance, will waylay me between the start of a checklist and its finish. I'll try! I'll try really hard! And I'll tell myself, "Hey, self, if you're any good at all, you'll do this." And then I don't, so I come away feeling like I am in fact no good at all.
But I will try. The fear of feeling like I'm a no-good horrible lazy-ass hopeless case will provide enough motivation at the beginning to get me moving, and then I'll keep going on that momentum for a bit before the self-loathing kicks in, and I accept that I suck, and I shut down.
OK, it's not always as dire as that. Some days things are a lot more positive! The excitement about getting all this stuff done will kick me off, and the happy feeling of accomplishment over the first tasks will keep me going... and then exhaustion will kick in, or the sudden realization that I am TOTALLY OUT OF TIME, and I'll come to a halt while two or three items remain undone.
Either way, I'll generally get about two-thirds of the way through my agenda for the day.
So here's the epiphany: Over-ambitious goals don't have to end in failure and self-loathing. If I make myself a list that's about 130% as long as a list of reasonable length, I can trick myself into getting the reasonable portion done. And if I set my mind right at the beginning of the day, I can forgive myself the undone portion of the list as having been intended as bonus items anyway.
Brains are weird! If explicitly tell myself "These last few items are just lagniappe," I'd expect to completely fail to take those items seriously at all. I'd expect to ignore them, treat the rest of the list like the "real" list, and then only get about two thirds of the way through that. And yet I do find myself trying really hard to get to those bonus items. In video games, I have a completist mind set; this may be the brain-glitch I'm taking advantage of. Still, that being the case, I'd expect to experience a lot more crushing disappointment in myself when I don't complete the list. But somehow the message from that morning lingers: "If you get to these, awesome, but no big deal if not."
It all feels very contradictory. It's certainly not a strategy I deliberately set out to try. I more or less stumbled into it during the latter half of November, when I got really determined to finish and upload all those overdue Friday Fictionettes. I missed some days' revision and submission sessions, but dang I wrote some flash fiction on hyperdrive! And I felt good about it.
Speaking of which: The Friday Fictionette for November 15 just went up yesterday. It's called "The Story Master" (ebook, audio, blame the southern accent on a conversation we had over dinner Tuesday night) and it's based on a recurring family bullying incident, only replace "older cousins and sadistic uncle" with "horrible, sadistic ghost." Also, replace "Stephen King novels" with "graphic tales of violence and abuse, some possibly perpetrated by the ghost when he was alive." The graphic tales are only alluded to, not spelled out on the page, so I don't think any content warnings are called for here. The only one getting triggered here is me; for the rest of the afternoon, my brain kept reliving and futilely reinventing all the greatest and most toxic hits of that era. An overactive imagination can be a terrible thing, y'all. Anyway, I hope to release the November 22 Fictionette by the end of the weekend.
Back to the daily grind. The lesson I've taken away from all this is,
- When setting my day's agenda, consciously distinguish between "must do" and "nice to have".
- Put the "must do" components first, the "nice to haves" later.
- When I complete a task, take a moment to just bask in the happy of it before going on to the next.
- When ending for the day, consciously congratulate myself on how much I got done. Remember and relive the post-task happy. Refuse to scold myself over incomplete items.
As alluded to above, my brain is very good at reliving past trauma. It will do it on autopilot and it will do it on infinite loop. But it seems like I ought to be able to put that facility to use in positive ways.
When I was in college, I worked my first regular "real job" at the dorm cafeteria. The length of the shift looming ahead of me seemed terribly daunting. To encourage the hours to pass more quickly, I'd imagine listening to an album I knew and loved. I'd get it started by visualizing an audio cassette tape player's capstans turning while the first song "played." After that, the whole album would run through in my head, one song after the other, and it would almost be like really listening to it on the stereo. It wasn't quite on the level of true auditory hallucinations, but it was the next best thing.
So if my brain can do that, then it can certainly go and sit inside another good memory of my choosing. So that's what I'm going to practice, going forward.
but the demons thing i only figured out just now
I'm nearing the end of today's writing tasks, and it's not even 8:30 PM. What the crud am I gonna do with myself for the rest of the night? Answer: Probably replay PixelJunk Eden until either my eyes fall out or my thumbs fall off, whichever comes first. Then go to bed early. LUXURY.
During today's short story revision session, I finally moved out of the babble stage and into the drafting process. This shift got me thinking about how I revise stuff. Like I said before, some stories are more fun to revise than others (which isn't the same as being easier or taking less time) and some revision strategies seem more appropriate to some stories than others. But I'm starting to realize that every story I revise requires all my revision strategies, though not all in the same proportion. Which is to say, each time I produce a new version of any given story, the process moves through (loosely speaking) three phases, remaining in each phase for whatever period of time is required and revisiting those phases as necessary.
And I'm gonna blog about those phases, because 1. someone reading this might find such a blog post useful or at least interesting, and 2. blogging about this sort of stuff forces me to think about it closely and concretely terms, and that usually helps to refine and improve my process.
So. Here are the three (loosely speaking) phases of revision I wind up spending time in:
Identifying problems. I wouldn't be revising the story in the first place if it didn't have problems. So the first step of any revision is to identify those problems. This may involve my printing out the existing draft and scribbling on it a bunch, then translating those scribbles into a neat and orderly list. Sometimes the list isn't so neat and orderly. Usually neatness and order break down several items as I discover that the problems are fractal--every problem contains a multitude of sub-problems, each of which contain sub-sub-problems, and so forth down through the layers of the onion whose core is made up of DESPAIR.
I'm finding the DESPAIR quotient non-negotiable. There is always at least one hot second, usually more, during which I just know the story is worthless, nothing will make it better, there is no justifying the time and effort I've spent on it thus far, and shame on me for even thinking I might submit it in any form to professional paying markets. Lately I've been dealing with DESPAIR by simply writing that down on my list: "Problem #92: Story is garbage and should be buried in the compost under the used tea bags and moldy zucchini peelings." And then I just keep going.
It's sort of like rock climbing that way. Several years' practice at the climbing gym didn't "cure" my gut-level fear of heights; instead, it taught me how to keep climbing through an attack of acrophobia rather than freezing up and hanging there trembling until I came off the wall. It's also sort of like the meditation ideal of acknowledging the negative thought in a neutral way. Yep, that's a thought I'm having. Next?
Finding Solutions. This is where I spent the first week I had the current story on the metaphorical workbench. It was fun! Basically, for each listed problem, I opened up a new document and babbled to myself about it, restating the problem, brainstorming possible solutions, and pouncing on new ideas as they arose.This process spawned new documents and more enthusiastic babbling as other facets of worldbuilding or character creation or backstory came to light.
And just as the problem-identification phase has its demon DESPAIR, the problem-solving phase has its own demon: DEPRECATION. "Yeah, you're having fun babbling, sure, but are all these hundreds of words actually getting you closer to a new draft? No. They are not. Basically you are wasting your time. You are pretending to get work done when you actually aren't working at all. That's why you're having fun. If you were actually doing anything worthwhile, it would not be fun." That's what the demon says. I'm working on responding to the demon with "Yep, you're totally right" in my most neutral and boring interior voice while I continue babbling away uninterrupted.
That demon actually means well, but it's laboring under a big misconception. It thinks that finding a solution and implementing it should happen simultaneously. And, well, maybe another writer can go right from "here is the problem" to perfectly polished final draft words all in one go; I, at this time, cannot. I need to give myself room to just talk out a problem with myself in a process- rather than results-oriented way. Once I realized this, life at the metaphorical workbench got a lot more liveable.
Implementing the solutions. This is the phase where I start drafting the new version of the story. I decide to begin doing that today not because I thought I'd successfully addressed every single problem I'd identified thus far, but rather because I'd addressed those problems relevant to the first couple pages of the story. Also I suspected that I'd gotten to the point where the solutions I'd come up with so far would obviate some of the problems still waiting to be addressed. And so they have.
The demon hiding in this phase is PERFECTIONISM, and I have to ignore it. I'm still not trying for perfectly polished prose at this stage. I'm just writing a new draft that implements the solutions to the previous draft's problems. If the protagonist has new and better reasons for their actions, if I've chosen to include a more appropriate memory from their backstory than the one I had before, if the facts of the case are now altered to close the previous draft's plot holes, if each paragraph of the new draft serves a valid story purpose, then the draft is a success.
After all the problems are solved and a new draft is in front of me, then I can worry about polishing the prose to a fine shine. But that's line edits, which I don't really consider part of the revision/rewriting process. Until the revision is complete and every line on the page can justify its existence in the story, there's no point editing those lines for style, spelling, grammar, and flow. They might still get replaced, after all.
I expect I won't make it out of revision and into line edits without having to revisit every phase a couple times. I'll hit a place in the draft where I can't continue without brainstorming some more. I'll probably identify more problems whose solutions will require rewriting bits of story I already rewrote. The three phases are very fluid and lead into each other in unpredictable ways. But if I can tell myself which of the three phases I'm currently working in at any given moment, that helps keep me from trying to do all of it at once, and that in turn keeps things possible.
All the above requires the usual caveat, which is: Different writers do things differently. The above strategies are mine (all mine!). They may not be yours nor that of another favorite author. All strategies are valid to the extent that some writer somewhere finds them effective. And which strategies a writer finds effective will change over time--one's best process is an evolving rather than static thing.
Main thing is, it's not wrong if it works.
from the end of a pretty darn good week you get a pretty darn good view
- 1,164 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,009 words (if poetry, lines) long
As promised, the Friday Fictionettes for Week 1 of both August and September are up. They didn't go up on Friday, but given the overdue I'm overcoming, Saturday in the early afternoon is practically on time. So here they are:
- August 2, 2019: "Eyes in the Rain" (etext, audio) - "I first saw those eyes in the cafeteria, looking at me through the rain. It was raining everywhere in those days. Nothing could keep it out. The rain passed through roofs the way that elementary particles pass through the largely empty space of a living body. It passed through our clothes and glazed our living bodies like a second skin. It joined us for lunch, it slept in our beds, and it threatened to wash everyone’s sanity away."
- September 6, 2019: "The Best Revenge" (etext, audio) - "I’d never personally witnessed a deathbed curse, let alone been the subject of one. They tend to be something that happens to a friend of a cousin’s daughter’s classmate’s uncle’s co-worker. You never hear about it from the people who get cursed. I found out why. You mention that you’ve been cursed, people start to look at you funny. They start wondering if maybe you deserved it."
It's been a good week, writing-wise. There were no dud days. Even the day I spent biking most of the way across south Longmont, all the way from County Line to Hover and back again, while the Chevy Volt was getting serviced at the dealership from 8:30 AM until 6:00 in the afternoon, I still got all the things done: Submission procedures and short story revision at the Java Stop (highly recommended; a more comfortable space I haven't been in since that late night computer and video game cafe that used to be on The Hill closed), freewriting over a chicken sandwich at 300 Suns (they have a full kitchen now and a new menu, y'all!), and fictionette work and blogging back home late in the evening.
It's amazing--not surprising, exactly but still amazing--the difference a week like this makes in my overall outlook. Weeks where I barely eke out two good days between days of I can't even leave me feeling scared and despondent about everything that still needs to get done. I look back at how little I accomplished in the previous seven days, and I despair of what remains on my plate. But a week like this one, a week in which every day I hit every assigned task--except blogging, and that's kind of sort of optional anyway--I look back on this week and get a generous impression of how much I can get done in a week. Which makes the stuff currently on my plate look like an ordinary meal.
(Pardon the food metaphors. John and I just had an amazing dinner. I put together some caprese, he baked butter fan rolls to serve with spaghetti, and we made apple fritters as a dessert experiment. Talk about a lot on our plates. There are most certainly leftovers. John's probably gonna put up a photo on twitter, but he hasn't yet.)
Anyway, I'm optimistic about my short story revisions and oddly excited about getting the Friday Fictionettes Project all caught up by the end of the month. Like, 1. it's going to happen, and 2. it'll be awesome. Happy weekend, y'all!
all right fine i'll stop denying reality are you satisfied
- 867 words (if poetry, lines) long
Hey lookit it's a Friday Fictionette! The one that was due on July 19th! At this rate, I'll be caught up... well, never, actually. The past few releases have taken more than a week each. I do not like that, and I expect I'll do something about that real soon now. But I did what I could do today, which was to finish and upload the one for July 19th.
It's "The Indecisive Lifeguard," a title with which the protagonist will almost certainly take issue. But his ability to argue is currently limited. Still, if you put your ear right up close to the granite, you just might get to hear his side of the story. (Ebook edition available for $1/month Patrons; audiobook at the $3/month tier.)
I was hoping to be able to upload that fictionette and blog about it on Friday, but, well, Friday was not a day of Doing All the Things. Friday so rarely is. I should not be surprised by this. I always start off Friday telling myself, "I don't care how tired I am after biking several hundred pounds of food uphill! I will not nap!" And then I get done with my Boulder Food Rescue shift, and I remember why naps are necessary. And then, just about the time I'm recovering from that, another physically and/or socially taxing thing will happen (e.g. Friday night dance skating lessons), which means writing doesn't happen.
This is a pattern. This is a trend. Next Friday will not magically be better. Your humble, introverted, and aging author has finally realized that this means Fridays cannot be workdays. Mostly. There will probably be exceptions. But for now, Saturday will have to be the Day of Doing All the Things, and Friday will have to be the Day of Doing Minimal Things that Saturday had been.
Flexibility! Adaptation! Serious troubleshooting! Honest self-observation an' stuff! It's harder than it looks, innit.
confessions of an epicurean nature
- 10 words (if poetry, lines) long
So I'm in the bath right now. This is the sort of thing you find out about me when you read my blog. Sometimes, when I'm too cold, too tired, too reluctant or too neurotic--tonight it's the "too tired" case because of roller derby scrimmage--in order to write anything at all, I need a tub full of hot water and a selection of cold beverages. (Tonight it's a mango Waterloo and an Abita "Andygator".) As this is a habit of many years, I've perfected the process. I have a pressboard plank that sits across the tub and acts as my desk. On that desk are a wireless keyboard, a wireless mouse, and my drink de jour (de nuit?). My laptop sits on a tall stool near enough that I can read it without squinting. Oddly, no candles or beauty concoctions are involved. Sometimes a cup or two of Epsom salts, because derby, but that's it.
And eventually I do the damn writing. Something about sweating my brain out my ears in water that's just as hot as I can stand shakes something loose. Also, after so many years, the association is well and truly built up; I might as well use it.
Today was a good Doing All The Things day. Yesterday was not. Yesterday I was running on too little sleep and too many errands. Today went a lot better:
- I revised a very short poem and sent it somewhere that particularly likes short things (compressed things, in fact). (It is not actually 10 words long. It is 10 lines long. I still need to write the if/then case into the manuscript stat box so that it says "lines" instead of "words" if the manuscript is a poem.)
- During my freewriting session, thanks to the Writer Igniter prompt generator, I got very invested in a retelling of the folk tale known as Aarne-Thompson type 706 ("The Armless Maiden") involving an apprentice tattoo artist. It's going in the revisions queue, which means one day this millennium I might actually finish it.
- I didn't finish the draft of this week's Friday Fictionette, but I finally figured out how to finish it.
- I typed up the first page of the second of the November Fictionette Artifacts I want to put in the mail by the end of the week.
- And I did this blog post. Ta-da.
Obligatory running submissions tally in handy tabulated form (copied from the source of the handy PHP page I wrote to pull up these stats from my database):
Aren't you glad you asked?
piece of childhood reclaimed or something like that
- 55 words (if poetry, lines) long
I've been writing poems again. It feels good.
I used write poems a lot when I was in school. I mean, elementary school. When I was wee. Maybe that was the problem--as I got older, I associated the writing of poems with the production of the specific caliber of poem I wrote when I was just learning how to do creative writing at all. So maybe I got more embarrassed about it as I got older. Maybe I never felt confident in my sense of what made a poem good. But I could always tell when one of my poems was bad. I'd read it and cringe; that was how I knew.
But at least in high school and thereabouts I had teachers and other students giving me feedback. I had other people giving me the feedback I couldn't give myself, which is to say, they told me if they thought it was good. (I will always treasure the time a teacher told me, "Your poems almost always have that moment toward the end that makes me gasp." Not primarily because it was a high compliment--it was!--but because she had put her finger on something that makes a reader like a poem. She gave me a yardstick I could use. I learned to look for those "gasp" moments after that, though as always it's harder to give them to myself than to get them from others' poems.)
After I got more exclusively into short fiction workshops, I got out of the habit of writing poetry.
It may also be true that when I no longer had a regular writing workshop, I temporarily got out of the habit of writing short fiction.
I'm making headway getting back into both habits now. I'm dedicating a little time every workday to coaxing a manuscript toward publishable shape. And I dedicate one freewriting session every week specifically to poetry. I've been using the weekly poetry prompts on the Poets & Writers blog when they come out on Tuesdays, and I'm responding to them in verse. Maybe bad verse, I don't know. Maybe I'm choosing my line breaks in a sophomoric manner or falling back on cliched metaphors. Maybe there isn't enough sensory data to captivate a reader. Maybe the themes are preachy. But I don't know--that's the point. If I don't feel like I have a grasp on what makes a poem good, maybe I should be less self-assured in my sense of what makes a poems bad. Or at least, one of my poems. I generally know whether I like someone else's poem, and why.
Obviously I should be reading more poetry, too.
I'm certainly thinking in poetry a lot more now since I've dedicated Tuesday freewriting to verse. It'll sneak into my other freewriting days, too, right in there amidst the prose and the babble and the streams of consciousness along the lines of "I don't like this prompt and I don't know what I'm going to write but here are the thoughts I'm having right now."
And between yesterday and today I wrote a brand new poem. And I submitted it to a paying market. And that market turned right around and rejected it in under two hours flat. Which means I have a brand new poem that has already made a complete two-way trip to slush and back, and I can send it out again.
It feels good.
Meanwhile, I just got paid for the poem that got accepted last week. I'm told that means it will go live sometime next week. I'll be sure to let y'all know when that happens.
(Obligatory submissions tally: Submissions in June, 8; in 2019, 44. Rejections in June, 9; in 2019, 26.)
the struggle is real (more real on some days than others)
- 1,011 words (if poetry, lines) long
OK so I didn't Do All The Things on Friday. And that was disappointing. Having found a strategy that worked for three days running, it was discouraging to just fail on the fourth day. And it was a day when, supposedly, I had all the time in the world... but not, as it turns out, all the energy.
Fridays are when I bike my Boulder Food Rescue shift, and of late the bike ride's been long and the food donation on the trailer has been plentiful. By the time I get home, I'm generally on the verge of falling over. This is why the very reasonable plan I'd drawn up that morning while fresh out of bed and sipping my first mug of tea became absolutely untenable by lunchtime. So it became a matter of prioritization. I submitted a story, because I am not breaking that streak, and I produced the Friday Fictionette due on that day, because I'm going to release those on schedule from here on out no matter what. Having gotten those things done, I just forgave myself the rest of my to-do list.
(Speaking of which, the Friday Fictionette for June 7 is "Lord Alchemist's Harvest," in which magpies are both a blessing and a curse. Patrons at the $1 level can download the ebook in their preferred format (pdf, epub, mobi, and/or html); Patrons at the $3 level and above also have access to the audiobook. Non-Patrons are invited to follow the feed in order to be alerted when the monthly Fictionette Freebie is released and when the Monday Muse posts go up. The Monday Muse is where I share the writing prompt associated with that week's Fictionette so y'all can play along at home, should you feel moved to do so.)
I'm still evaluating whether Doing All The Things On A Friday is simply an advanced goal toward which I am making baby steps by at least accomplishing the do-or-die goals described above, or whether I need to just give in and accept that Fridays need a shorter to-do list.
Whatever the answer, I need to give myself space to figure that out rather than constantly excoriating myself for not doing enough. It's like what I and the other trainers were saying to our brand new Phase 2 skaters tonight, "You're learning new things, and you'll make mistakes. That hasn't changed. But now, since you're entering the full contact stage of your derby training, you're going to make those mistakes while deliberately crashing into each other. It may be awkward. It will definitely be painful. Please resolve to forgive each other for that, and also to forgive yourself."
Good advice! But it's always easier to give advice than to take it, though. I'm going to have to give myself space to screw up at that, too. At taking my own advice, I mean. To forgive myself for screwing up, is the advice I'm talking about.
Real quick before I sign off, here's the running submissions and rejections totals.
Submissions: in May, 23; in June, 7; in 2019, 43.
Rejections: in May: 13, in June: 5, in 2019, 22.
78 more rejections to make 100 in 2019! Also I Did All The Things today. So there.
add-on benefits of a daily manuscript submission practice
Today is Day Three of Doing All the Things On Time. More importantly, it's Day 37 (counting weekdays only) of Submitting a Manuscript Every Weekday. And besides that one acceptance (so far) and the accelerated progress toward my goal of 100 rejections in 2019 (I'm up to 20 now! Woot!), there've been some unexpected add-on benefits.
First, I am no longer avoiding my email. I have been horrible about email for a while now. Which is awkward, considering, oh, bills to pay, league business to take care of, friends looking for cat sitters this weekend who don't need to hear a month later, "Oh, I'm sorry, I just found your email..." But the thing about daily submissions is, I gotta check daily to see if there are responses to submissions. Which means not only checking email regularly but also cleaning out the spam folder regularly too, just in case. Also, I use Thunderbird's calendar function to keep track of when submission windows open and close, creating events with reminders that go off and tell me things like "Escape Pod opens to submissions in 15 days, start revising that flash story up to their minimum word count," stuff like that. And those reminders won't pop up if Thunderbird isn't running. So.
(By the way, have you met Escape Pod? They're the science fiction wing of the Escape Artists podcast network. There's also Podcastle (fantasy), Pseudopod (horror), and Cast of Wonders (young adult, all genres). From a listener perspective, they constantly publish well-produced episodes of absolutely fantastic fiction. From a writer perspective, they pay pro rates for both original and reprint fiction. But they have very definite submission windows. Hence my Thunderbird event reminders.)
I'm still not exactly wonderful about this email thing; the temptation is to check the author email inbox (the one associated with this domain here) and just ignore the email for regular personal business and household stuff (the ones associated with littlebull.com). But I am trying not to do that, OK? At least I'm opening Thunderbird regularly.
Secondly, I have reconnected with my online writer community. I'm in there reading the market reports, reporting my submissions, logging my rejections, and crowing my non-rejections. And, since I am no longer avoiding that community because of that nagging sense of guilt that comes with knowing everyone's submitting things and writing things and getting published WHAT ABOUT YOU, NIKI, WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING LATELY, HUH? ...I'm hanging out in other parts of the forum in my free time, too, just having conversations with other writers about A. writing stuff, B. non-writing stuff, and C. everything else. Not to mention participating in their contests! Because I'm not failing to read the announcements until it's too late to enter!
Lastly, I'm getting all my daily shit done. I mean, this week's drive to Do All the Things On Time each day didn't begin this week. It began with the daily submissions goal. Because you don't just go from zero to 100% overnight. Well, I don't. It's been baby steps all the way. First, make sure to submit something every day. Next, find a way to submit something every day without sacrificing time to actually write--get at least one of the rest of the writing tasks in, OK? Friday Fictionettes if nothing else, since they're on a schedule? Freewriting too if you can manage it? All right, now can we add in a story revision session? We're running out of stuff to submit, here!
If I've finally managed to get to the point where I'm reliably submitting something every day and doing all of the rest of the writing tasks too, it's only because I started with this: Submit a manuscript for publication every day.
but why is this only paying off now and not like three years ago
- 639 words (if poetry, lines) long
Today I want to talk about short story revision. But first: check it out, two days in a row of successful adulting! That's a surprise. Usually, after a day as successful as yesterday, I crash and burn; the pressure of having to live up to the previous day just does me in. But I seem to have evaded that trap today. Once again, I got everything other than this blog post done by 5:00 PM. And because tonight did not feature any roller derby practice, I finally found myself with time to thoroughly clean that gross covering of several years' dust off the magazine rack in the hall. I've been wanting to do that for months.
But. Story revision! Story revision and creation, actually; the story I'm working doesn't really have a finished draft to revise. It has the babble draft that came out of a freewriting session in a diner in Eagle, Colorado on the night before a roller derby tournament. And that's the trouble, really. I've already done the babble draft, so I have this innate sense that I'm not allowed to babble at it anymore. What I'm supposed to do now is create a draft that is shining and perfect, the story that is everything the babble draft dreams of being. All at once. Right now.
Not going to happen, obviously, but try telling my emotions/instincts/editor-brain/gut that.
This is what I meant yesterday about being unable to drag myself away from the procrastination method du jour when short story revision is the next thing on my to-do list. That nearly happened again today. With Merge Dragons being the procrastination method and everything. The only thing that saved me was knowing I said I'd get started at three, I was supposed to get started at three, it's three-oh-seven already, would I damn well get started already? Also, the next task after that needed to be done by 5:00 PM and would easily take up the full hour and a half I'd alloted it. So please let's not make with the holdups, OK?
Note to self: this particular brain hack has now worked multiple, repeated times on this particular brain. Continue with the hacking, please.
So I got started. But I fully expected to just spend half an hour futzing around with the opening three paragraphs again. I knew, plotwise, what would happen over the course of the story, but how to write those scenes down in a graceful, artistic, and compelling manner, that was a doozy. Hell with it, said I, just write it down any old how. So I did. And in doing so I tripped over a detail I had not hitherto considered, and wound up babbling some 500 words of backstory that turned the work in progress into a very different place.
Obviously all that babble will have to be ruthlessly whittled down--more revising! revising is hard!--but it's made the rough shape of the finished story just a little clearer and future revision sessions just a little less difficult. So that's something.
The thing is--and I keep going back to this point, I know--allowing myself to just put down terrible unreadable babble is a skill I'm learning from the Friday Fictionette project. When the story is due at the end of the week, there's no time to sit there staring at the page under the mistaken impression that if I just think about the story long enough it'll come together perfectly in my head. All I can do is throw words at the wall now and trust that something will stick.
The story I'm working on right now has no particular deadline. True, it's at the head of a very long queue of short stories that need work before they can be submitted to paying markets, so there is pressure to finish it sooner rather than later, but it's all internally applied. So it doesn't have its own supply of anti-procrastination jet fuel. It was sort of strange and wonderful watching it borrow fuel from my Friday Fictionettes practice.
It would appear that I have learned a lot more than I consciously realized from writing four new stories a month for almost five years.