inasmuch as it concerns Routines:
Pen meets paper, fingers meet keyboard, nose meets grindstone, butt gets glued to chair. Y'know.
but what about four mile creek is that wet too
There's this thing about writing that I keep having to learn, and relearn, and relearn, then learn again every time the precise context changes. It's like having to be told "the swimming pool is wet," and "the rain is wet," and "the water in the bathtub is also wet," because I never seem to mentally graduate to the point where I can just assume that all water is wet. It's really kind of annoying.
In any case, the lesson is this: The final draft doesn't come first.
I got a new story idea over the weekend, a really charming one, a sort of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret coming-of-age story that takes place in something like the world described by The Shadow over Innsmouth, centering on the friendship between the human protagonist and one of the (for want of a better term) Deep Ones. I got very excited about this idea--it kept me up late, watching phrases and images and scenes cobble themselves together on the insides of my eyelids.
Then I went to write some of it down for the next day's freewriting session... and it wouldn't come. Just couldn't get started. Typed a couple words. Erased them. Stared at the screen (which was infinitely less inspiring than the insides of my eyelids). Wrote and erased another word. It was like that Monty Python "Novel Writing" skit: "I am sorry to interrupt you there, Dennis, but he's crossed it out. Thomas Hardy here on the first day of his new novel has crossed out the only word he has written so far, and he is gazing off into space." It's all true!
I had to deliberately, consciously give myself permission to get it wrong before I could unfreeze and get any of it written. And by "any of it" I mean a paragraph here, a slice of dialog there, disjointed bits and pieces of what I remembered coming up with the night before. But once I started jotting down those pieces, more pieces just kept coming.
The final draft cannot come first.
Today I struggled to put in my daily half hour of work on this week's fictionette for exactly the same reason. The situation was, perhaps, exacerbated by having (theoretically) already gotten the bits-and-pieces draft done during a freewriting session a month ago; this week is when I'm supposed to take that draft and polish it into perfection. But in between the bits-and-pieces draft and final draft comes something else, something more coherent than the one but necessarily rougher than the other. A second draft, maybe? Or even a first draft, since the bits-and-pieces draft isn't so much a draft at all. More like notes toward a draft, really.
So, again, nothing happened until I let myself just start writing the story down as it occurred to me, rough and unstructured as it was. Any story element I knew needed to go in there was fair game. Type them up in no particular order, just the order in which they come to mind. And, magically, structure appeared as I went, sometimes in the form of square-bracket notes telling me to "[Move the bit about Bob's plans for the evening here]" or "[Put Lenny's bit about 'work-life balance' here.]" Then continuing on as normal, confident that I could come back and perform the prescribed edits easily, now that I actually had text on the page to edit.
The final draft cannot be expected to come first.
And then there was this blog post here. I had no idea what I was going to write. I stared at the blank page (uninspiring as ever) while thoughts chased each other around in my head like fish in a bucket, all of them too small to keep. Finally I just started typing up notes about my day. Prosaic, mundane, boring notes about a boring day. Who wants to hear about my day?
Nevertheless, one of those notes...
discovered that it's ok if the fictionette isn't getting written up in perfect final draft form today. it's ok to babble a little. helped me figure out some structure that way.
...turned into what you're reading now.
The final draft, I learned (relearned), doesn't come first, can't come first, can't be expected to come first. No, not even for a blog post. This water is wet too.
I think I will write "All water is wet" on an index card and tape it to the bathroom mirror, and I'll also tape on to the shelf above my desk. Maybe then I'll stop expecting the final draft to appear on a blank page like, I dunno, Aphrodite rising fully formed out of the sea foam, ever. It doesn't happen stop expecting it to happen stop tormenting and freezing yourself with the expectation that it happen. All water is wet. Understand?
but the desk has to stay against the wall
I had really good plans for today, but I managed to scuttle them via the usual reasons, i.e. sleeping late and not starting the morning shift until afternoon shift time. And here's the thing I found out: Even if I have the mental capacity to work four hours straight through--and today I might well have!--I nevertheless cannot because there are other things besides writing that I have to do with my day. Like, making several trips down to the storage closet. Catching up on the 2016 accounting (now that the 2015 taxes are out of the way). Getting up to date with league communications. Clearing out the dishes backlog in the kitchen, for heaven's sake. And etc.
This is probably related to Stephen King's anecdote, told in On Writing, about the huge oak desk in the center of the office. There's an adequate retelling of it here, but really you should read On Writing because it's just that good. Part memoir, part writer's how-to, it's earned a permanent slot in my reference library within easy reach of my own not-so-huge oak desk that's pushed up against the wall of the office that sometimes doubles as a guest room. But this is the money quote: "Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around."
Now that I revisit the story, actually, I find it resonates with me even more. The bit where he replaces the monster desk in the middle of the room with a smaller desk against the wall, and this makes room for his kids to come in and share the space with him--it made me think of last night. I was up late in the evening getting some things done at my desk. Or the desk, because I want it to be available to both John and me, except really I'm the only one who uses it except when he needs to print out a bunch of stuff. Really, for the most part, "the" office is for all practical purposes my office. But last night John came in and snuggled under the blankets on the futon-couch with his laptop and some programming work, and suddenly it was our office again, and that felt unexpectedly good.
But to put this in context of today: If I've only left myself some 5 hours of the day to work with, and I owe myself 5 hours of writing, I will still not get 5 hours of writing done, because writing is only one of my responsibilities.
However, the two hours of writing I did get done today were very good. I'm not all that displeased.
But I did put off starting this blog post. The blog post is the last writing task of the night. I have this sense that once I do my blog post, the writing day is over, and my failure to log all five hours has been cemented. Which is silly, because if I had started on it as soon as practice was over tonight, I might have had time for a little short story revision afterward. But I didn't, so I don't. So once this goes up I'm pretty much going to bed.
As always, tomorrow is a new day--another chance to get it right. Hopefully, despite its being a Wednesday, I'll manage it. If not, well, Thursday is a new day too.
unwise but tasty tea consumption choices
- 1,138 wds. long
So I got all my tax documents together today. Finally. Left it 'til the last minute, or at least the last three hours before my appointment, but I got it all done with time to spare. And as though the universe were rewarding me for completing this huge honkin' ginormous looming task, my big monstrous box of ALL THE TEA arrived early.
My favorite morning cuppa is Taylors of Harrogate Pure Assam. Used to be I could buy it at the Pearl Street Whole Foods or, in a pinch, the Peppercorn downtown. But of late nobody has been stocking that particular variety. They will sell me T of H's breakfast teas of English, Scottish, Irish, and Decaf varieties (that last one makes a very nice iced tea), but Pure Assam seems to have disappeared from the shelves. I was beginning to worry that T of H had ceased producing it, its absence was so absolute.
There really is no substitute. It has a deep, rich, malty flavor that's almost sweet despite the tannic bite it gets from my stewing the tea bag forever. (I do not add milk, whatever they say.) Irish breakfast comes close, an oversteeped high-quality Darjeeling is adequately strong (Smith's is expensive but so very, very good), but it's this particular Assam that is everything I want to wake up and write to.
And I haven't had any in months. I ordered some Organic Estate Assam from Upton's, but it wasn't quite the same.
So I finally up and ordered some. I couldn't seem to find my way to this particular product via T of H's retail site (it probably would have required a currency conversion anyway), but wound up instead on a website called English Tea Store. I put two boxes in my cart. I went to check out. And they said, WAIT! You get free shipping on orders of $50 or more, plus here's a 10% off coupon!!! So I said, OK, I'll take 7 boxes then.
(One box contains 50 tea bags. I am capable of consuming four of them a day, though I probably shouldn't.)
So today those 7 boxes arrived, each in their own cellophane wrap to keep them fresh, all stacked up in a bigger box and keeping company with the shipping slip and a bunch of plastic air pillows. And I damn well had a cuppa when I got home from all the afternoon's excitement, even though by then it was 8:00 PM and that sort of caffeine was undoubtedly a bad idea. You can see from the picture that I have drunk it all up right down to the oversteeped tea bag, exactly how I like it. And I deserved it, y'all. For all the things.
I may not sleep tonight until stupid o'clock. But I will go to bed happy.
PS. Last week's fictionette went out on time, if a blog post about it didn't: "In the Hall of the Gnome King," about one possible interpretation of the King of Pentacles. Et voila.
doing things by halves
Well, I survived the weekend. We didn't win, but, looking at the final score, we could have, which is a pretty amazing thing to say the first time you face off against a team of that caliber. Tonight's practice was mostly taken up with talking about the game, about lessons we learned, skills we need to drill going forward, things we wished we could have done better and things we're glad that we did so well.
Next up, I will most likely be skating with our B team on April 30 in Eagle, Colorado, at a one-day tournament hosted by our friends and arch-rivals the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls. Between now and then, all the practice.
Got only half a work day in today, but it was a good solid half-day. Spent a good session on this week's planned fictionette offering--I've got a couple characters and a premise, but I'm still a little undecided on the shape and structure of the story. Figured I could at least start to draft the opening paragraphs despite my uncertainty about where they were going, and, as usually happens when I "just write it anyway," I found out some useful things that way. Seriously, it's amazing how useful and important those throwaway details, the ones that turn up because I sort of filled in a blank at random, turn out to be.
In addition to that, there was my designated half hour for dealing with the business side of freelance writing, which usually involves submitting a story somewhere or figuring out where next to submit a story. This time, since I didn't have anything lined up and ready to go, it was spent in pure research. "Research" here means catching up with an online writers' community bulletin board that I frequent and seeing where others have been submitting stories lately. It's a big, sprawling forum, and it's very easy to get lost in about fifteen different conversations. I focused very specifically on the part of the forum dedicated to discussing individual pro markets. Even so, I felt a little guilty. I was on the clock! I was supposed to be writing! What was I doing reading the internet?! Still, I reminded myself that reading this particular corner of the internet was a legit part of my business plan. Call it networking. Call it market research. I have a half-hour of every writing day set aside for precisely this, and this is how I get to use it.
As a result, I do, in fact, now know where I am next sending a story. Tomorrow I'll probably figure out which story.
approaching the rough draft in scattershot fashion
- 2,100 wds. long
Today's been an unusually glorious and productive day. I'm hoping to do something about the "unusually" part, going forward--days like this ought to be routine, drat it all!--but I've been in deplorable sleeping habits the last few days (or weeks). Up reading until sometime past two (and I'm not going to try to say how far past two, because around two is when I just stop looking at the clock), then, as effect follows cause, unable to get out of bed until dang near noon.
I did mention I was binging on T. Kingfisher ebooks, right? This would explain the "up until sometime past two" part of the equation. Nine Goblins was a lot of fun. Bryrony and Roses was amazing. Now I'm waiting on a paperback of The Seventh Bride to come in the mail.
Anyway. Today, despite being up until stupid-o-clock reading last night, I got up on time. That made everything else possible, including a substantial session on the new short story.
Yes! The new short story. It still doesn't have a title, but I've changed the working title (more like a working not-a-title) to reflect the main character's name. She has one now. It's Ellen. Well, in full, it's Barbara Ellen, and if you are at all of a folksongish bent you'll see what I did there. Maybe.
Good grief, was February 18 really the last time I touched it? (My database doesn't lie, but sometimes I forget to give it the whole truth.) Well, the draft is about 1500 words longer than it was. A neat trick, considering I really didn't know where to go after the first scene, or even how to finish the first scene.
I had--I continue to have--certain things I want in the story, plot elements and character backgrounds and so forth, but no clue just yet how to get from one to the next narratively. So, instead of spending another hour obsessively revising the first 500-word chunk, I switched over to what I'm thinking of as the Scattershot Strategy.
For each story element I knew that I wanted to include, I created a new Scrivener text file, and I just started writing in it without any thought for how the results would fit into the overall story. Just get everything that's in my head down on the page, regardless of whether it all works together yet. It wound up feeling a lot like plotting with index cards, only instead of physical index cards I've got virtual ones that I can drag and drop into any order. One of them has the very last two sentences of the story, and nothing else. One of them tells the tale of Ellen's mother's disappearance. Another is the scene where Ellen and the man who was a tree show up at Ellen's sister's house--that will probably be the third scene in the story. (The second scene still hasn't come clear.) Yet another "index card" has a few disjointed lines representing the climax of the story's central dilemma.
Point is, once I stopped worrying about how I'd get from here to there and gave myself permission to just teleport, more or less, it got fun. Like my freewriting sessions are fun. Like writing rough draft is supposed to be fun. I'm in the sandbox, playing with words and characters and ideas! Nothing has to be perfect! This, this right here, this is something I absolutely love about writing.
I sometimes lose track of the things I love about writing. Today I got reminded.
Hooray! More tomorrow.
this fictionette eats super local
- 1,012 wds. long
OMG a Friday Fictionette released on an actual Friday what is the world COMING TO. Also, consider yourself warned that "The Call Is Coming From Inside the Building" get out of there.
So this new work schedule of John's is having a salutary effect on my own. Unless I have a very convincing reason to stay in bed (like, say, the morning after skating in two epic back-to-back interleague scrimmages that left me sore and gloriously multicolored, just for instance), I get up when he does, whereupon we have breakfast together before he heads over to the office. And then I actually get a full day of writing done according to the master plan for world domination through workerlike fiction production. And life is magical.
The quest for breakfast also sent me about half a mile up the road on my bike to a nearby farm whose sign in their driveway advertising Fresh Eggs has been catching my eye every time I head up to roller derby practice. This would be The Diaz Farm, which, it turns out, in addition to selling farm-fresh eggs daily for $5.50 the dozen, is accepting CSA sign-ups for the 2016 season. I am all over that. 2016 will be the year of eating super locally, with pork sausage from the pig farmer who skates on our B team and rents us our practice space (her derby name is Baconator, naturally, and everything about her is made of awesome), and chicken from McCauley Family Farm where I used to volunteer (and may again someday, who knows), and now fresh veg from The Diaz Farm which is literally in my neighborhood considering I can darn well get there on my bike, rain or shine, in under 10 minutes. Given their extreme proximity, which is convenient given my lack of daytime access to a car, I asked them if they were taking volunteers. The answer was, not yet but we'll let you know. They are a very small operation.
Yesterday I turned one of those McCauley chickens into one of my very most favorite recipes from Kenneth Lo's The Top One Hundred Chinese Dishes, "Whole Chicken Soup with Chinese Cabbage (Bai Cai Ji Tang)." This sent me on another bicycle quest, this time for Napa cabbage. The little international grocery at Valmont and 28th can always be counted on to have that. Also fresh okra at any old time of the year. Also, and I was entirely unprepared to discover this, mirleton (aka "chayote"). I suspect my next chicken dish will be chicken and andouille gumbo on a stewed okra base with a side helping of shrimp and mirleton casserole.
You know what else you can get at international groceries? CDM coffee. Truly, New Orleans is another country.
springing forward and marching ahead
- 995 wds. long
Things are getting back on track around here, and not a moment too soon. Daily writing things got done throughout the weekend and right up through today. I'm getting ready to send all the recently rejected short stories right back out into the fray, and I'm wrapping up the end-of-month fictionette tasks. On that note, I've designated "It's That Little Something Extra" as the Fictionette Freebie for the month of February 2016; follow that link to the full text in HTML, and follow links you will find there for the PDF and MP3 options. (I make one fictionette free for everyone at the end of every month, but it's subscribers only who get to download all four per month the moment each comes out. And now you know.)
On that note, I've spent much of today's afternoon shift typing up two of the February fictionettes on my typewriter, getting them ready to mail to my two Patrons at the fictionettes-in-your-mailbox level, and I have to say that there's nothing like manually typing up a piece of fiction to become painfully aware of all the "favorite words" (continue, achieve... what else? I forget now) and the places where I probably could have phrased things more compactly. And then there's the times where I misanticipate the next phrase and end up just going with it because I don't want to spend time and corrective tape fixing it. All of which just goes to show that these typewritten Fictionette Artifacts are entirely limited edition specimens with unique typographical features all their own. *ahem*
In other news, I finally read The Interior Life by Katherine Blake (Dorothy Heydt). It was my first Perk purchase--which is to say, I redeemed Perk (née Viggle) points for a gift card, and I used the gift card to buy the book. Winning! But that's not the point. The point is that this is a dang good book. It's a book the likes of which you don't see every day. Jo Walton wrote a lovely review of it at Tor.com about six years ago, about the way it's really two stories that move along side-by-side, and one of those stories is entirely in the domestic "housewife" domain--Painting the walls! Doing laundry! Trying out recipes in advance of hosting parties!--and that is honored just as much as the other story's domain of adventure, sorcery, warfare, and derring-do.
When the fantasy quest story cuts into the narrative, it's signaled by a change of font so subtle that the author herself had trouble distinguishing it in the published copy. I noticed it--at least, I got the impression that the type had gotten more compact and slightly "pointy" in the way of serifed calligraphy, but I kept questioning whether I'd really seen it. (A comparison of the letter "e" dispelled any doubts.) Thing is, I love that. The subtlety feels right, echoing the main character's having slid from household chores into a fantasy life without realizing it for maybe a page and a half before she goes "Woah, where did that come from?"
Anyway, I love this book with all my heart. Also, reading it made me suddenly quite eager to clean the frickin' house already. Which is convenient. John started his new job this week, such that instead of working from home as he has for the past couple years, he'll now be working from an office nearby in Boulder. Which means the division of household chores will shift a bit towards me, since he won't be able to do a bit here and a bit there between day job tasks anymore. But I was home and I did do a bit here and a bit there between my work-a-day tasks, and now laundry is done and the compost has been taken out and so have the recyclables and I also did large portion of the weekend dishes.
I am bad-ass, y'all.
Also I will be rereading The Interior Life all over again shortly because I need to fortify myself against spring cleaning.
(Spring! Can we call it spring yet? Is it safe to call it spring? Pleeeeeeease? It's March!)
all right what's next
And now we are all caught up. Again. For as long as that lasts. In any case, "Weird Quantum Science" is the Friday Fictionette for, er, yesterday, and "The Touch of Iron" is the much belated fictionette for the Friday before that. Which makes four for February. Ta-da!
Why I keep getting behind on this stuff is very simple. In theory, I'm to spend a little time every day working on the next one that's due. Simple. Perfectly achievable. Leaves plenty of room for other writing tasks, like the production of publishable short stories and all that. But in practice, something happens most days per week to keep me getting to my daily fictionette-prep session. And then Friday comes and the thing isn't even drafted, much less exported to PDF and paired with some sort of cover art and also recorded to mp3. And Friday has whatever it's got waiting in the wings or hovering over my evening or sabotaging my afternoon, and there's no way I'm putting in all three or four hours it's going to take.
It's just like NaNoWriMo, right? You do your 1,667 every day, or your 3,333 every other day, whatever--or you do a 10K marathon at the last minute. Or worse. And I hate marathons. I'm much better at daily sprints.
So there's my confession for the week: I've kind of been sucking at this time management thing. But a new week starts now! A new month starts next week! New leaves: I am turning them over at a rapid pace! Watch them fly!
Do I perchance hear someone snickering in the peanut gallery? Do I? Surely not! Oh, wait... it's me. Because I do this every week. Every evening. "I give up. I'm done. I'm going to sleep. But tomorrow will be better!"
Well, and tomorrow will be better. Just... in small increments. But small increments do add up.
a day off to consider the next day
So I'm not at derby tonight. It seemed unwise to skate six days out of the seven in a week culminating in a bout. "I'm saving myself for my Bombshells this week," I said, "'cause that's who I'm going to be on the track with this Saturday." Then, having decided to take the night off from All Stars practice, I promptly used that as an excuse to take the afternoon off from writing. Which means another late night trying to get all my hours in. I'm so smart, y'all.
Late or not, I am writing. Did all my daily gottas. Now I'm contemplating my next fiction project. This is not as easy as it sounds. When I'm in the middle of a project, it is my whole life. I am eating, breathing, sleeping it, and when I'm not, I'm feeling guilty about it. I never seem to think, "When I'm done this, I'll do that." No, instead I think, "THIS IS MY LIFE NOW." Then it's over, the story's finished and submitted, and I don't really know what to do with myself anymore.
I think I want to write something new, rather than digging something out of the revision queue and working on it. I mean, I have plenty of stories languishing in the revision queue, but I sort of need to remind myself I can write new stories.
Good thing I have this daily freewriting habit. Plenty of potential there. Every day, theoretically, I open up my "Daily Writing Idea" Scrivener project and create a new file, pull up a writing prompt or three, and fire away at that blank page for 25 minutes. Sometimes it's just 25 minutes of playing scales on the keyboard, but sometimes it turns out to be more. If I feel like I might want to come back and explore the story idea further, I slap a "to-do" status marker on the file to make it easier to dig up later. Later, as in, when I'm looking for an idea for a brand new story to write. Like now.
So the plan is, run a search on the "to-do" status marker, browse the results, see what nibbles. Start work on whatever that is tomorrow.
It's a good plan. Let's see if I can manage to stick to it.
the fragility of afternoon writing time
- 1,904 wds. long
I've finally realized: On roller derby evenings, my afternoon shift is really fragile. Yesterday I lost it because of a sudden attack of the sleepies that, honestly, I should have just pushed through--writing, like skating, makes me feel better, if only I can exert myself to beat the inertia. Today? Doctor's appointment. Which always takes longer than expected on both sides of the scheduled appointment time, especially if you're chasing down a prescription and some equipment afterwards that turn out to be out of stock. So then you go make groceries instead. And then it's already 4:00 and you planned to leave for derby at 5:30 and you really, really need some downtime in between...
The doctor's appointment was interesting. Seems around this time last year, out of seemingly nowhere, I started exhibiting freakishly high blood pressure on a consistent basis. Like, Stage 2 Hypertension high. I kept hoping it was just a hiccup and things would return to normal, but after Tuesday morning's dentist appointment got me a reading of something-or-other over 104, I made an appointment to discuss it with a doctor.
The long and the short of it is, I'm going to have to start taking blood pressure medication at the ripe old age of 39. Seriously. Despite my exceedingly active, moderate-drinking, non-smoking lifestyle, my perfectly acceptable blood cholesterol and thyroid numbers, and goodness knows I've never really had cause to worry about my weight despite what the BMI says ("Top 10 Reasons Why the BMI Is Bogus," NPR.org)--well, just goes to show, you can do most everything right and still draw an unlucky lottery ticket. But that's a lesson I should already have learned from my experience with leukemia at age 11, right?
But there's a silver lining here! When I mentioned "self-diagnosed Raynuad's Disease" to the doctor (and we discussed that a little bit, like how often does it happen, how severe is it, etc.), she brightened up and said, "One of the blood pressure medications I could prescribe you also happen to treat Raynaud's! What do you think?" I think it's a low priority, but if it's that easy to roll the two issues into a single solution, hey, let's do it. I could sure do with fewer 7-finger days in the winter, that's for sure.
Anyway, after some deep conversation with the doctor, an EKG reading (also perfectly normal), instructions to make an appointment for an echocardiogram just to make sure, I left the doctor's office at about 2:45 and pointed my car toward my usual pharmacy. Only to find the medication wasn't actually in stock yet--"Come back tomorrow after 1:00 PM"--and neither was an automatic arm-band style blood pressure monitor of an approved brand--"You might just have to try the Safeways and the Walgreens and that"--and so I lost another 45 minutes of afternoon shift to futile attempts to run these doctor's-orders errands. And then, like I said, I went to the grocery.
I'm glad I decided to rest and eat dinner rather than work and snack, though, because roller derby practice consisted of a special clinic led by a D1-level skater and then a scrimmage that beat us all up some good. Also last night's squat workout came back to haunt me. I'm sore and tired and this hot bath with epsom salts plus optional beer is really awesome.
Again, I'll get a little bit of work in on the short story. Just not the two hours I wanted to log. Last night, after posting to the blog, I spent about a half hour just reading through it--which means I didn't just read through it, but instead tweaked sentences here and there. Weird thing about my revision avoidance issues: if I can only convince myself to open up the manuscript and "just start reading," I'll find myself unable to resist doing at least a little revision. So tonight I suppose I'll pick up where I left off.
And tomorrow I have nowhere to be in the evening, except maybe in a holiday party on Puzzle Pirates.