“It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous.”
Robert Benchley

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

the sun always shines on tv but we don't get cable
Thu 2015-02-12 23:23:57 (single post)
  • 5,389 wds. long

I'm not at the fun part of the short story revision.

Is there a fun part? I hear that there is. But then I mostly hear that from writers who like the revision phase, so I'm not sure if I believe them. I believe it's fun for them, but I'm not sure the experience translates.

In any case, if there is a fun part, this isn't it. I'm still stuck in the segue glue. And it feels ridiculous, because the segues aren't between scenes. Microscenes, maybe. They're the transitions for getting the protagonist from one paragraph to the next, essentially. They need to be concise and perfectly worded to do two emotional tasks per sentence, and they need to either be written anew or refined out of existing draft.

Which is not easy. If it were easy, I'd have already done it, and the story wouldn't need revising.

Basically, I'm going from stuck to stuck. And it's not like getting stuck in rough draft, where getting unstuck means running for pages and pages on the new idea. No. Every "a-ha!" that gets me unstuck is good for about a sentence. Maybe two. Then I'm stuck again.

I think if I could bottle that "a-ha!" feeling and prolong it, that would be the fun part of revisions.

So, in keeping with my anti-BIC play-while-you-work strategy, I'm attacking the revision in very short sessions. Like, spend 15 minutes throwing myself at the current brick wall, then go do some unrelated thing. During that unrelated activity, something about the story will unknot itself and give me an "a-ha!" which will send me back to the revision with great joy and hope. Fifteen minutes and maybe two sentences worth keeping later, I'm making brick-shaped indentations in my forehead again and it's time to go do something else. Rinse, lather, repeat, all day long.

It's better than no progress at all, but it's not what I'd call fun.

(Which is why the unrelated thing is generally video games.)

having cross words with my bridges
Tue 2015-02-10 21:12:59 (single post)
  • 5,263 wds. long

So, about that injured knee.

Today, our emphasis shifted from regaining range of motion to strength and motion training. This is good news. It is also exhausting.

Unlike previous appointments, I didn't spend any time lying on the table while the physical therapist manipulated my leg. I was a much more active participant in my recovery today. I was compelled to do a whole bunch of exercises that required standing on one leg and lifting the other in inventive ways, generally while wearing a big rubber band around my knees or ankles. There were also some squats, a few balancing acts, and a bit of shuffling back and forth. (The shuffling was especially exciting; up until now I'd been forbidden all lateral movement.)

The long and the short of it is, I needed a nap when I got home, and I am going to be very sore tomorrow. I am also going to be decently strong by the time I'm cleared to skate. The latter makes the former totally worth it.

And it can't come too soon. Yesterday I had my first impatient-to-skate dream; I was walking into the Wagon Wheel with John, holding my skates in my hand, getting ready to participate in some really simple Phase 1 style skate training (individual skating skills, no pack or contact stuff). Then I realized, "Wait, I haven't been cleared to skate yet. I could re-injure myself. Damn." So I walked back out to the car to put my skates away. At least I could watch John skate, that would be nice. I woke up before I actually got back out to the car.

Mid-March seems so very far away.

I'm walking more or less fine now, incorporating all the bent-knee and straight-leg motions of a normal walking stride, and both the knee-brace and the compression aids are on an only-as-needed basis. I actually went downtown tonight without either, which feels a little daring.

Not that I anticipate maneuvering through crowds much tonight. I've taken my work out to Lindsay's Boulder Deli for dinner and I might make my way over to Bohemian Biergarten once the trivia crowd disperses. I really enjoyed the Biergarten Saturday night, when I meant to see about the Mardi Gras party in the back, but I wound up just enjoying my food, drink, computer, and the restaurant's 80s New Wave mix in a quiet corner near the front. When I walked by tonight, the theme was more Oktoberfest Polka as far as I could tell. We'll see what it's like in an hour or so.

I appear to be doing my work these days according to the theory of productive procrastination. I've been putting off my short story revision for last while doing all my blogging first, and I put off my Boulder Writing Examiner blogging while banking a bit of elbow grease toward refurbishing the final living room closet bi-fold. And of course the whole day gets put off for about 25 minutes while I take time first thing to do my Morning Pages.

And the Morning Pages get put off by... well, by sleeping in. Because Monday morning Morning Pages means oh, Gods, another week has started, why can't it still be Sunday? OK, but aside from that...

...we do get to the story revision in the end. And with plenty of time left in the evening, too, given that I typically don't go to bed until 1:00 AM. So. Wish me luck and I'll tell you how it went tomorrow.

but processing the stuff creates more stuff to process can i stop now
Wed 2015-02-04 23:44:23 (single post)
  • 5,263 wds. long

OK, so the story gained a few hundred words this time around. Not to worry. It's all part of the process. Besides, tonight's bit didn't go as well as yesterday's, so there was some "just babble and something good will come out of it" verbiage. I'm trying to stitch in a new microscene segue and I'm trying to start incorporating elements from the deleted scene, so some temporary bloat is only to be expected.

Yesterday's post about changing associations got me thinking: It works both ways. That is, bundling play and work together not only makes the work seem more like play, but it can also help change what goes on in my brain when I play. Or so I devoutly hope.

That didn't make much sense. I can make it make sense, but it's going to get a little personal.

As anyone who's heard me babble about Puzzle Pirates knows, I tend toward mini-games, puzzle-games, and classic arcade games, and not so much for first-person shooters or story-heavy RPGs. I like my RPGs tabletop; I like my video games simple.

But here's the problem, or rather the double-edged sword, about the simple clicky games: They leave a lot of room in the brain for running on auto-pilot.

This has been a bad thing, because my brain develops ruts very easily. Honestly, I think it's a form of PTSD, if a comparatively mild one. It's such that interpersonal interactions that leave me angry, hurt, feeling betrayed, and crying at the time will repeat on me for months, even years. They'll leap into my conscious mind unbidden, at which point I'll emotionally relive the damn experience and sit there crying all over again.

And whatever I was doing at the time that the painful memory came back, that activity may become associated with the memory... so that next time I do that activity, I relive the memory again. Which only strengthens the association. And so forth.

This is why Morning Pages are kind of a crap shoot. In working through the thoughts and emotions on the page, am I going to be successfully processing them, or am I just creating a trigger for them, such that I'll relive them every time I sit down at the spiral notebook? It could go either way.

Besides, how long can one be expected to process this stuff? Some of it goes back twenty years or more. Some goes back to early childhood. "Processing" it doesn't make it go away or diminish. It just means I'm having another experience of pain and anger and helplessness. Let it go? Gee, thanks--you say that like I've made a conscious choice to hold onto this stuff. I would love to let go of this stuff. But it won't let go of me. It comes to something when Cowboy Mouth's "Let It Go" and "Easy" start to feel like victim-blaming songs, you know? Like that time I tried to explain this stuff to Dad, and he just chuckled and said, "My, you sure can hold a grudge!"

Point being, certain mini-games in Puzzle Pirates are indelibly linked to certain unfortunate memories. Treasure Haul requires very little strategizing. There is plenty of room left in my head for running down the rut one more time of why that particular guy left our role playing group and what he said about me damn near fifteen years ago.

Ditto the Bilging puzzle, and the memory of sitting in an IHOP realizing that a particular freelance writing gig--which, mind you, only paid about three cents a word--was killing my brain and my soul but I felt trapped by my honor not to resign from it when I said I'd do it, and you don't go back on your word, dammit. Even if your cat just got diagnosed with cancer, you don't go back on your word! And other forms of punishing myself for daring to consider safeguarding my mental and emotional health.

Ditto the Rumble puzzle, and the pain and betrayal of a trusted friend and mentor telling me she thinks that women aren't to blame so to speak but don't they at least share responsibility for the rape that happened when they wore that skirt, went alone late at night to the party, or say "no" loudly enough and clearly enough to revoke the consent that is assumed to be given otherwise? Aren't feminists going overboard when they say that nothing but an enthusiastic "yes" is consent? She just wanted to know what my thoughts on that were; what a slap in the face that my thoughts didn't support her brave stance against modern feminism! How dare I react to her ideas by feeling less safe around her! How dare I decide she isn't a safe person to introduce friends to, if I know those friends are rape survivors! How dare I say that her beliefs support rape culture! We're friends--she's supposed to be able to confide in me without negative repercussions!

And then it gets recursive. These days, the precise memory that reruns during the Rumble puzzle is... playing the Rumble puzzle in the lobby of the Sheraton Mountain Vista in Avon while trying to block out thoughts of that interaction. While crying over it again, of course.

It's an improvement, though. It's an extra layer of emotional distance. I went from having to watch a movie of the event, to having to reread a novelization of the movie.

Still, I would like my pleasant brainless passtimes to be pleasant, not emotional mine fields. That should not be too much to ask.

So... I have a hope that parallel-tracking Puzzle Pirates and writing will help chase out some of those associations, and replace them with other ones. It would be super cool if every time I return to the Duty Navigation puzzle, that small backburner part of my brain instead remembers, say, trying to write the micro-scene segue glue that this story rewrite requires, or working out the plot of a novel.

I do not know how to break mental associations. I only know how to replace them: by having new experiences. I am trying to create new experiences for myself.

Replace the experience of dreading the scary writing task with enjoying the fun wrting play.

Replace the experience of unwanted painful memory while I'm playing with current writing project percolating while I'm playing.

It's worth a try.

if not you can darn well add your own element of fun
Tue 2015-02-03 23:33:52 (single post)
  • 4,516 wds. long

More writing. Yes! The short story revision, which was not finished by the end of January, nevertheless continues apace. Today I got through the bit with the maudlin elementary school teacher, which takes the draft just up to the threshold of the first major structural change to the scene. Which details mean very little to you at this time, dear reader, but check this out: the word count came down by another 300 today. Bringing the word count down is a large part of what the editor requested. At almost 6,000 words it struck her as a tad bloated.

Each day I'm finding it easier to get started. This should come as no surprise. All through the fall and winter I had this nasty, negative association with the story, something like "OMG there is no way this is impossible I suck I suck I suck." But each small revision session during which "impossible" and "I suck" is disproven eats away at that association, replacing it with something else, something more like "Where did I leave off? Oh yeah, I was going to do this..."

I find that most of my "stuck" has to do with negative associations, like "it's going to be hard," and "it's going to hurt," and "it's going to suck." Getting unstuck requires creating new, positive associations, like "This is fun" and "Gee, I'm clever" and "Wait, I wrote that? Wow." Which is where such strategies as "Just read it through, that's all," and "Just do that one paragraph, OK?" come from.

This is also where new, radical strategies like playing while I work come in.

Well... It's actually not all that new and radical, except in its application to writing.

For years now, I've used knitting and Puzzle Pirates to combat the deadly boredom of reading an hour of employment ads for AINC twice a week. Don't get me wrong, it's a very necessary and useful broadcast, but producing it is sort of mind-numbing. So while I'm reading the ads, I might also be knitting a sock, memorizing league points on the Jade Ocean, or earning obscene amounts of in-game currency during the latest blockade grudge match on the Emerald Ocean. It's not as complicated as all that. It just requires careful arrangement of monitor real estate so that the browser window, recording application, and YPP client are all visible and in close proximity. Then it's just a matter of glancing back and forth between the text I'm reading and the bilging combo I'm putting together.

Over the years, this has had an effect on my attitude toward reading the employment ads. When I first picked up the shift, I approached it with dread. "The next hour and a half is going to suck," I would think. And I'd put it off, and put it off, and then finally race the clock to get it done in time.

Now, I'm all, "Yay! Sunday morning reading! Which means time legitimately blocked out for playing Puzzle Pirates!"

Well. Recently, I started doing something like this to overcome a deep reluctance to do my Morning Pages. Sometimes I just don't want to do them. They're going to be three interminable pages during which I will distress myself with the contents of my head, stress myself out over the obligations of the day looming over me, and chafe at not being able to get started on said obligations because I still have to get through these three interminable pages of freehand writing. Some days, not even the cheerful bright colors I've put in my favorite fountain pen make Morning Pages look at all attractive.

It was a day like that when I got the bright idea of logging on to Second Life and essentially running around picking up spare change while doing my Morning Pages. There are a bunch of "earn Lindens for visiting sims" mechanisms in SL, most of which involve interacting with some object or other and then waiting around for some amount of time before the object pays out. It's ...not particularly fun, actually. But somehow putting that sort of thing together with the Morning Pages fulfills my need to always be doing two things at once in a satisfying way.

When I can't find a single thing about the task at hand to look forward to, I can bundle the task up with a completely unrelated element of play, and look forward to that.

It's this silly improbable trick that I play on my brain. It's similar to Havi's "proxy" theory, and it's all about replacing avoidance with interest and attraction.

I'm not doing my Morning Pages... I'm hopping traffic cones in Second Life, and passing the wait time at each traffic cone by scribbling down my thoughts in this spiral notebook here.

Sure, I have to record an hour of employment ads... but while I'm doing that, I can make a bundle buying large cannonballs at Armstrong Island and selling them at Paihia. (Emerald, not Opal. Almost always a viable trade. Check it out.)

I don't want to do freewriting for 25 minutes. How about instead I do freewriting for the time it takes to memorize Caravanserai to Kiwara on the Jade Ocean? It's not like I have to interact with the game for more than a few seconds every other minute or so. I basically complete one duty navigation puzzle and then hit pause, and wait to reach the next league point. During which time I can write the next paragraph...

OK, so some of those details won't make sense in and of themselves unless you play Puzzle Pirates too. On the other hand, those details in and of themselves aren't the point. The point is, adding a fun passtime to the dreaded task turns the dreaded task into an eagerly anticipated excuse to enjoy the fun passtime (as long as the task still gets done).

It's radically different from butt-in-chair theory. From a butt-in-chair perspective, it's heresy. But as long as the writing is still getting done, who cares?

On the other hand... I didn't need to bundle today's story revision session with playtime. I wasn't dreading the task enough to need to.

Hooray!

that nasty habit of unnecessary limping
Wed 2015-01-28 23:30:23 (single post)
  • 4,820 wds. long

All right, it wasn't a full five hours today, but all the tasks got done. The next brick in the story-wall got mortared into place, exactly as I said it would. And I suppose I could stay up and put in some more time--but I am freakin' done with this up-til-four-aye-emm business. Especially considering I didn't sleep well between then and when I got up at ten thirty this morning. I'm exhausted, y'all. Time to shift my work days back to diurnal standard time.

I'm actually quite pleased. Getting to all my usual writing tasks, and my usual Wednesday tasks, and my unusual Wednesday-the-28th tasks (well, one task and one social outing), is kind of a feat. Go me.

Speaking of which: My first physical therapy appointment went well. For one thing, I have been commanded to stop limping, dammit. It's the two weeks of hobbling around and not using the knee's full range of motion that's got things all tight and grumpy around the patella. So I don't have to be quite so protective of the joint. I'm not to run, jump, or make lateral movements ("cuts"), but I've been encouraged, nay, urged to walk normally. And I've been reassured that it's perfectly safe to straighten out the leg, and have indeed been assigned to do so in the context of several exercises. The knee brace has been downgraded from "as much as possible" to "only for extra protection in uncontrolled environments"--crowds, walking on icy sidewalks, anywhere where I might unexpectedly slip or stumble.

I'm to apply compression so as to help the fluid work its way out of the joint. To that end, I'm wearing one of my 187 Killer Pads gaskets--the neoprene sleeves I wear under my knee pads when I skate--until I've got time to pick up an Ace bandage. It feels weirdly comforting to be wearing a piece of roller derby gear during my enforced off-skates recovery.

I've got loads of PT homework. Going off what I remember of each exercise's hold time, repetitions and sets, I estimate that I've been assigned somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour of exercise every day. I'll start on it tomorrow. Today was already full up. Plus the physical therapist worked my knee a good deal already. I'm exhausted. It's amazing how tired a body can get just lying down and being worked on; see also dental visits and MRI appointments.

Back to the writing for a moment. I've got further thoughts on Anti-BIC Week, flavors of writing advice, and possibilities for blending work with play, but, again, I'm exhausted. I'm doing all the item's on today's list (except, alas, for the one about five hours of writing), but at this point I'm taking as little time on each as possible.

So it's only a brief(ish) status report today. I'll make up for it tomorrow with a long-ass post full of philosophizing and woo. Whether that's a warning or a promise is up to you.

have investigated rabbit holes, have not fallen down any
Tue 2015-01-27 22:48:50 (single post)
  • 5,268 wds. long

Day one of the Anti-BIC experiment is going well. I have all sorts of rabbit holes to report on. And I hit my next goal for the story revision--the one I was going to do Friday but didn't because, as usual, the Friday Fictionette release ran me out of time. One of these days I'll figure out how to make Fridays work.

My goal had been to take the first "brick" in the unmortared wall of rough-revised scene--that is, the first block of text in a revision that consisted of simply moving blocks of text around--and turn it into the opening of the new version of the story. But that opening would be polished. And so it is. And so I did.

Obviously, I can't hit my self-imposed deadline if I work in such small chunks every day. But my hypothesis is that if I make working on the story less scary, then every day I'll get a larger chunk done than the day before.

Now, I don't want to get ambitious and say "I'll finish the scene tomorrow!" Tomorrow I have a lot of non-writing stuff on the agenda. I have my usual Wednesday morning AINC remote reading shift. I have my semi-regular Wednesday night trivia with a fellow BCB skater in the evening. And in the afternoon I have my first physical therapy appointment, about which I'm pretty darn excited, let me tell you. Physical therapy means I get to do something more assertive than just wait for my ACL to heal.

Anyway, tomorrow's assignment on the story revision is simply going to be the next brick in the wall, which is the bit with the guys from Caroline's hunting club telling hilarious stories about the deceased. It's a slightly larger brick than today's brick, which was Demi feeling claustrophobic and the house failing to make it better.

As for rabbit holes, here's what I've got to report.

Slept until noon. Why did I felt the need to sleep until noon? What does sleeping until noon have to tell me? Well, for starters, it's telling me "Don't be up until 4 AM, dimwit." I kid. Sort of. Actually, what it's telling me is much more cheerful and encouraging than that. "It's OK to be up until 4 AM. Just remember that you still have to get enough sleep if you do. Aren't you glad you work from home on your own schedule?" Yes. Yes, I am.

An excessive amount of time playing Two Dots on Facebook, despite having already beat all the boards available to me. I'm actually just trying to raise my Level 73 score from two stars to three. When I realized I was dawdling this way, I investigated what Two Dots had to tell me. "Just connect the dots," it said, which is a reassuring way to look at big projects. "Realize that every action you take now plays a part in the choices available to you in the future," which is a bit of a reality check.

Waydaminnit. Wait a minute. "Trying to raise my Level 73 score from two stars to three." Today's small chunk of story revision included an emphatic narrative mention of how the house was used to accommodating three women, but now there were only two. Two where there should be three. Oh my. That's kind of neat. And also scary. (What, the synchronicity, or your pathological tendency to convince yourself that there are patterns everywhere?) Um. Well. Both?

*ahem* Anyway...

Yet another long Puzzle Pirates Examiner blog post, complete with slideshow. Again. Which, again, I did before the story revision. My instinct was to yell at myself and kick myself in the ass about it. "You know better. Why are you doing this first?" But, again, I'm trying to trust the rabbit holes. So. Investigating. Maybe I'm not putting off the story revision--I'm prepping for it. Something about the experience is part of essential preparation. Something about games and playing. "Remember, what you're about to do? It's not work. It's a form of play. Play hard!"

The urge to go to IHOP instead of home at 11 PM. On Tuesday nights my house is full of people. Happy people who are having fun! Which is lovely, but it is also loud. So I've begun taking my Tuesday night work down to the Remington Post Clubhouse, where it's dark and quiet and empty. So I wrapped up the Examiner post around eleven and realized I was hungry. I could have gone home, but home was still full of people. I could have gone home, grabbed some food, and come back, but that didn't sound appealing. It's kind of a long walk on this knee. So I gave into temptation and I went to IHOP. What's at IHOP? What has IHOP to say to me, to help me with my story revision? "It's about food and drink, and warmth, and creature comforts, and heart comforts. This story is about struggling from a world that's the wrong shape towards a world that's the right shape. Also, why is there no food in the last scene? There's food in the other two scenes. There should be food in the last scene."

And now I'm wrapping up at IHOP, having met all my writing goals for the day and brought my timesheet up past five hours. Day one is a success! I am well pleased. Let's see how the experiment continues tomorrow.

(Let's see first if I can get to bed sometime before 4 AM so I don't sleep until noon again.)

revisiting destuckification and legitimizing the avoidance
Tue 2015-01-06 23:14:36 (single post)
  • 5,300 wds. long

I said "solid work week," and I meant it, gosh darn it. And today has been a solid, if oddly scheduled, work day. I haven't reached my five hours yet, but I will, even if it takes me right up to 1:00 AM. Even if it means I have to ... *gulp* start working on the short story rewrite.

Remember that bit about how procrastinated tasks get heavier and heavier the longer I put them off? Well, right now that rewrite feels like it weighs some four or five tons of weaponized plutonium. The avoidance tendency is strong with this one. How strong? Strong enough that I tried really, really hard to meet my five-hour quota today by writing resumes. And the volunteer WFTDA Editor position doesn't even require a resume. I lingered lovingly over that application, though. Ditto the new DMS resume. Oh, did I linger.

It is possible that I am lingering inappropriately over this blog post, too...

Avoidance! It's what's for dinner. And also for elevensies. Which means it's time to review some avoidaince-avoidance strategies. That is, strategies for avoiding avoidance.

I come back to Havi's post about avoidance (and how to get out of it) time and time again, hoping it'll magic-bullet me into World Fantasy Award level productivity. Or any sort of productivity. Magic bullets! Why can't there be magic bullets? I was so comforted by Bruce Holland Rogers's book, Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer, where he repeatedly and unashamedly says he doesn't want to do "self-help," he has no patience for "self-help," what he wants are tricks that work. I want a trick that works. But Havi's post (from which all blockquoted bits today are drawn) is really more about ongoing self-help than it is about magic bullets, and I suspect it's because there really aren't any magic bullets.

But it does have a magic bullet for shooting a different problem: My tendency to start getting impatient with myself over the avoidance. Worse than impatient. Angry. Frustrated. Depressed, and wondering whether I've been a fraud all along. When I get like that, I need to reread the following words and hold them close to my heart:

Youíre avoiding the thing thatís holding all your dreams? Good grief! Of course you are! That symbolic weight? Itís that much potential for hurt and disappointment.

If you werenít avoiding it on some level, Iíd be worried about you. If you could do the thing easily and painlessly, without having to spend years and years working on your stuff to get thereÖ Iíd probably assume that it didnít mean everything to you.

"Doc, I have these symptoms that are really worrying me. I want to do the thing, I want to do it so bad... and then I don't do it at all, for weeks at a time. What's wrong with me?"

"Nothing's wrong with you, honey. What you're describing is a symptom of how much you want the thing."

"But that doesn't make any sense!"

"It makes perfect sense, sweetie. The more important a thing is, the scarier it is. The scarier it is, the more you want to run away. Perfectly logical when you look at it that way."

So I reread that post, and I go away with my permission-to-experience-avoidance renewed. Not that I want to experience avoidance, mind you. But I am experiencing it, and I can't exactly work through it while I'm busy denying it. So I need to stop denying it. So I need reassurance that experiencing avoidance doesn't invalidate my I Am A Writer claim. So that's the magic bullet I get out of rereading Havi's lovely post.

And then there's the ongoing self-help work part of the post: sitting with the avoidance and recognizing its legitimacy.

And every time I recognize that itís legitimate for me to feel whatever it is Iím feeling about the way things happened to be, I get room to breathe.

But that sort of self-work takes time. And I don't want to take time about it. I want to get that rewrite done this week!

Which is where the whining and moaning and the "It's not fair!" complaining comes in. Which I guess is OK, as long as--like the famous writer said about writing itself--I indulge in it in private and wash my hands afterwards. So. This is where I run away and have my "It's not fair!" temper tantrum off-stage.

[ muzak interlude ]

OK, I'm back. With thoughts. Here's my thought: I'm going to take a little time to do the self-work. Just a little, every day, telling myself things like, "I see you there, avoidance. I recognize you as a valid expression of fear. What am I afraid of, and what do I need to feel safe enough to do the work?" And I'm going to allow myself to count it toward my total count of time spent working on the short story, just like I would time spent staring into space, mulling over plot problems, or typing up verbose character backgrounds and worldbuilding notes.

Basically, I'm legitimizing the time spent working on the avoidance. Which will go a long way toward legitimizing the avoidance itself.

I wonít say that itís easy or anything. But it beats the hell out of drawing the conclusion that stuckification and avoidance mean that my dreams arenít important to me.

Because they are. They must be. Because they still scare me.

I'd rather not be scared. But if I've got to be scared, I rather be scared and productive, rather than simply scared stiff.

Someone threw a snowball at me. Now I am a snowpeep.
cooperative solitaire, and a way of keeping score
Mon 2015-01-05 23:13:37 (single post)
  • 5,300 wds. long

Oh boy! First full week of the new year! Whatever shall I do with it? How about "everything I've been putting off, ever"? Or at least those long-procrastinated tasks which I've codified as "to-dos" in HabitRPG.

I started using HabitRPG early last year. (I may have mentioned it once or twice since then.) It aims to help you break bad habits, foment good ones, and generally be more productive by "gamifying" your life, role-playing game style. You gain gold and experience points for practicing good habits, getting daily tasks done, and completing to-dos. But you lose hit points for succumbing to bad habits or leaving daily tasks incomplete.

It is an oddly compelling interface. I wondered, though, how compelling it would continue being once I'd earned enough gold to buy all the armor, weapons, and shields, once I'd tried all four character classes, and once I'd acquired all the pets and mounts.

Turns out that one key to keeping HabitRPG alive, for me at least, is being in a party and accomplishing quests. I began using HabitRPG along with other writers in the online Codex community--and if you are a neo-pro writer with a pro sale or a pro workshop under your belt, consider joining! Codex has rejuvenated my writing practice and career like nothing else. Having a community to cheer you on, a hive mind whose brain you can pick, and a group of friends you can safely vent to, is more valuable than I can say. I can post, "I just submitted X story to Y market," and there will be a chorus of "Woot!" I can post, "Y market just rejected X story," and there will be a chorus of sympathetic groans--and also woots, because these are writers, and writers understand that there's a satisfaction in collecting rejection letters. Rejection letters mean you're doing what a writer should do, which is finishing and submitting stories. And then there's contests, and market news, and the ability to compare notes about contracts and experiences with editors. If the Absolute Write Water Cooler were a big city, Codex would be the liberal arts college situated in that city.

So imagine how much more motivating it is to team up with a bunch of fellow Codexians in quests to defeat boss monsters! When you're in a quest of the boss monster variety, any daily tasks you leave incomplete will not only do you damage but also your whole party. Many an evening I've contemplated my remaining dailies and considered leaving them undone, because I'm Just That Tired. But then I consider the shame-faced "Sorry for the damage, ya'll" I'd have to post to the Party chat room. So I reconsider, and I set a timer, and do my freewriting after all.

Another thing HabitRPG does to stay fresh: The designers are constantly releasing new content. Every few months a new quest will appear, one that rewards you with a pet you've never seen before. Every season, there's a "Grand Gala," which is to say, an amusing storyline, a new selection of limited edition gear, seasonal tricks and treats, and, again, new quests.

But probably the most useful thing for me about HabitRPG is, it's a list repository. Lists are my favorite coping mechanism. Lists help keep me from losing track of, or getting overwhelmed by, all the things I gotta do. HabitRPG is my one-stop list shop.

On a day-to-day basis, the list of dailies keeps me from forgetting household chores when it's my turn to do them. The 30-day fitness challenge I'm participating in with some of my derby friends, that's a daily too. So are my various writing tasks. I've made "Morning pages," "Freewriting," "Friday Fictionette Preparation," and "actually writing blog" into dailies, not to mention "Five hours of writing every workday!" with a checkbox for each hour so I can at least get partial credit if I poop out an hour early. Some of these are due every day, some only Monday through Friday, and the five-hour writing task is only Tuesdays through Fridays. Thus HabitRPG organizes my approach to the work day.

On a long-term basis, I can make one-time tasks into To-Dos. You know the way a procrastinated task gets heavier and heavier in your head the longer you put it off? I've found that if I encode the task as a to-do, preferably broken down into a bunch of sub-task checkboxes, it weighs less. This is not least because part of the weight of a long-delayed task is "I have to remember. I have to remember. I mustn't forget I have to do this!" Well, once I've made it into a To-Do, I won't forget. It's there, written down.

And then when I do it, I get to check it off and get a ton of gold and XP for doing it. The longer it's been waiting for me to check it off, the more reward I get--and the bigger a whallop it delivers to any boss monsters we might be fighting. That makes checking off to-dos very satisfying.

Today I realized that despite having been home from our trip for almost a week, I still hadn't unpacked my suitcase. Every day I've been tripping over that thought (and also over that suitcase). Today, I said, "Enough already," and I made the task into a HabitRPG to-do. Then I unpacked my damn suitcase already. Then I checked off the to-do. It's amazing, and kind of stupid really, how much motivation the to-do interface added.

Brains! They are so weirdly manipulatable!

Anyway, this week is my "clean up my to-do" list week. I contributed to that goal today by

  • unpacking my suitcase
  • mailing fruitcake and New Year's cards
  • deciding, with John, what appetizer we'd contribute to the BCB Black & Blue Ball potluck
  • and doing my bit to help spread the word about our State Line Roll Out roller derby tournament this Saturday.

Tomorrow, I'll continue by...

  • putting together one writing resume for WFTDA, for their volunteer editor position
  • putting together another, more focused writing resume for Demand Media Studios, for access to the Home & Garden channel
  • doing the books, which task came due on Friday,
  • and making some progress on the revision of "Caroline's Wake."

Because that story revision is a to-do, as well. And my other goal for this week was to have "perfect days" all week long, which is to day, completing all my dailies every day, including the five-hours-of-writing one. Which will be achieved by working on my actual writing.

It's going to be a solid work week, y'all. Hopefully the first of many.

So that's my goal, and that's how HabitRPG helps me achieve my goals. If you're inspired to try it out, I'm playing under the handle "vortexae". If you see me, shoot me a note!

have laptop, will go drinking
Thu 2014-12-04 00:39:29 (single post)
  • 7,020 wds. long

I'm finishing up my writing night at Loaded Joe's. The only event listed was "free games," but as it turns out there's live music tonight too. It's a little louder than I like, and the performance can most kindly be described as "unstructured," but what the hell. I was stalling out in the hotel and I needed some stimulation. So I came over here, bought a cup of darjeeling tea and a pastry, and made a small but meaningful bit of progress on the new opening to Iron Wheels.

It's weird. You'd think that "introvert trying to get writing done" would require being alone somewhere quiet. But sometimes where I really want is to be alone is somewhere out in a noisy, happy, rowdy public place. Hence, writing in coffee shops and bars.

Writing in coffee shops has come to be generally accepted. Sometimes I hear people mutter all disgruntled about how no one ever goes to a coffee shop to talk to their friends or just think--no, they always have to be on a computer. Kids these days! My lawn, get off it! But for the most part, writing in coffee shops has become the norm.

But sometimes--not tonight! Not so far, anyway. But sometimes--I get bothered in bars.

I'm not talking about getting hit on. Fortunately, I've been more or less spared by the lamentably common "woman! alone, in a bar! must be available!" phenomenon. I suspect it's a combination of my not performing femininity particularly well, so that I'm not the first woman whom That Guy wants to approach; and my failure to pick up on the subtle openings of the flirtation game, so that I inadvertently signal "Not interested, scram." Which is exactly what I'd want to signal if I knew flirtation was going on, so, great.

(I also have a tendency to shut down some forms of gendered approach with the verbal equivalent of a tactical nuke. Somewhere along the way I decided that if someone else fires the first shot in the rudeness wars--by, say, physically grabbing my arm or acting aggressively entitled to my attention--I will have no compunction about firing the second shot, and it will damn well be big enough to be the final shot. Ain't nobody got time for that shit.)

No, what I get subjected to is better described as, "woman! alone, in a bar! must be lonely. I will remedy this!"

Last year I was at Loaded Joe's on karaoke night and, as often happens, I was here alone. With my laptop. And to the woman sitting at the booth next to mine, this was obviously a tragedy. So she took it upon herself to relieve my loneliness by chatting with me.

Now, this could have been enjoyable if I hadn't really just wanted to play on my computer and rock out to the music. And even then, it could have become enjoyable if what she had to say was interesting. But it was bog-standard drunk person chatter. And every new volley in the conversation began with her practically punching me in my shoulder and shouting, "Hey! Hey!" in my ear.

(At one point she noticed my computer, a Dell, and began trying to convert me to the holy church of Mac. Only she kept framing the comparison in terms of Mac versus Dell, rather than Mac versus PC or Mac versus Windows. It was disorienting.)

I remember being a little irked that, while she chatted at me relentlessly, she never took the opportunity to say something like "Hey, nice job up there," after I took a turn at the karaoke mike. (I think she didn't care for karaoke in the first place, and considered it a necessary evil to be endured in the acquisition of booze on a Friday night.) It's not that I needed her to compliment me on my singing; it's more that she declined the opportunity to turn the conversation in a direction I'd actually demonstrated interest in.

The other version of this when someone--either a man or a woman, it's been kinda 50/50--leans in to scold me: "Hey! You are in a bar! You're supposed to be having fun." But thankfully this type of interaction tends to end after I say, "I am having fun," or, if they're being particularly rude about it, "Who the hell do you think you are to tell me what I'm supposed to do?"

Anyway, despite the pervasive narrative of "you're doing being-in-a-bar wrong," the above examples are more exceptions for me than they are the rule. For the most part I do succeed at carving out my Circle of Protection: Intrusive Extrovert (please, someone design that Magic: The Gathering card for me?). Which is awesome. I get to enjoy the atmosphere--and a drink--without giving up my alone time. I get to have my cake and eat it too. Tonight is, happily, no exception.

So why am I thinking about it? Well, I am at Loaded Joe's, and I'm even sitting in the exact same booth where I was last year when Generous Chatty Woman talked my ear off. But also, earlier today I was reading this Captain Awkward post and its subsequent comments about men acting entitled to women's attention, and this related Doctor Nerdlove post. Particularly, I was reacting to the Doctor Nerdlove post asserting that it's generally OK to approach a woman in a bar because that's a social context in which being approached is expected. And I thought, "Well, yes, usually, but not always..."

But it's OK. Doctor Nerdlove has that covered too:

People who are uninterested in talking to people Ė especially people they donít know Ė will often make a point of signaling that they wish to be left alone through non-verbal means. ... Similarly, someone who is engrossed in a book, her laptop, her phone, an iPad or a sketchbook is likely not interested in talking to a random person at that moment.

There is an order of operations here, and, alas, some people get it wrong. Just remember: the non-verbal signals trump the locational context, 'k? K.

an overly elaborate manifesto about the games i don't play
Thu 2014-11-27 23:00:48 (single post)

Today's post is difficult to write. It's heavy, emotionally, for me. It'll be too easy for me to come across as defensive. And there's also a sticky matter of confidentiality, in that the conversation that moves me to write happened in a private space. But the opinions and thoughts it inspired are my own and I would like to express them. I can only hope I have succeeded at doing the latter without violating the former.

It's a mess, is what it is. I hope you'll bear with me.

Monday, a dismaying event happened on the national scale. A grand jury announced its decision that a white police officer who killed an unarmed black boy need not go to trial, and that the killer's demonstrable racial prejudice was somehow a mitigating factor and not evidence that the a police officer was unfit for his job and not to be trusted with a gun. The grand jury made this announcement at 7:00 PM Mountain Time, 8:00 Central. The announcement and its implications have dominated national and online discourse since then.

Here are other things that happened Monday:

  • I had my last regularly scheduled farm day for 2014.
  • The Saints played the Ravens to a disappointing loss.
  • I did some more work on the Refurbish the Closet Doors porject
  • I blogged about the farm work and the closet doors.

Now, I have a TwitterFeed account set up such that anytime I blog, that blog post gets announced on Twitter. Which means that in the middle of a Twitterstorm about injustice in Ferguson, I not only blogged about something that had nothing to do with that outrage at all, but I committed a self-promotional tweet telling people to go check out that blog post.

Which is something I would not have thought twice about--except that in the course of the aforementioned private conversation, I became informed that such a tweet makes a person look self-absorbed, tone-deaf, offensively oblivious. It would have been even more offensive, apparently, if I'd live tweeted my reactions to the football game (as I sometimes do), or promoted my Patreon campaign (as happens on those Fridays when a fictionette goes up). But my one self-promoting tweet was bad enough. As a responsible citizen of the internet, and especially as a writer with a Twitter account, I should have gauged the online climate before allowing such an inconsequential tweet to go through. Given what an important conversation was going on, I suppose I should have turned off automatic Twitter announcements of my blog posts for the night. Or, better still, not blogged at all unless it was about Ferguson.

Except... well, no.

There's a difference between disrupting a focused conversation on someone else's blog (like, say, the comment thread at the above-linked Slacktivist post) and, well, using Twitter for what Twitter is for. It's a grave misunderstanding of any social media to think that there is only one conversation going on at any time, to which you either contribute appropriately or shut up. Twitter is a microblogging platform on which millions of people have hundreds of thousands of separate conversations at any one time. And different people are listening to different pieces of that conversational storm depending on whom they follow. It's not unlike a huge version of a party where you can talk to your friend about whatever, and other people can overhear you or not as they choose. You can still abuse the venue by interrupting someone else's conversation--for example, at-checking someone inappropriately with your book-promo tweet--but simply talking to someone else about something else while in that room is not an abuse of the venue.

So I blogged Monday because I hold myself to a Monday-through-Friday blogging schedule, and I'm damn proud of myself when I succeed at keeping to that schedule. I post a Friday Fictionette every first through fourth friday because that's the committment I've made to potential Patrons. And someday I hope to be able to tweet that my first published book has become available in bookstores. If something globally awful happens on a day when I'd be blogging, fictionetting, or book-promoing, I'll probably still blog, fictionette, and/or book-promo, though I may choose not to. I may or may not have anything useful to say about the globally awful thing; that too is entirely up to me. One thing I know for sure: My tiny "off-topic" tweet is not going to make the globally awful thing objectively worse.

There is room on the internet, much as there is room in a single mind, for many things at once: raging at injustice, conversing quietly about the changing season, complaining about how long it takes to sand a paint-stripped door, and wondering when the national sportscasters will get tired of their love affair with Jimmy Butterfingers Graham and turn some of their attention to, say, players who are actually catching the ball tonight (or running it for 70+ yards holy fuck Joseph Morgan you are my hero).

That football game it would have been tone-deaf of me to tweet about Monday? A significant subset of both teams' players were a hell of a lot more personally affected by the Ferguson outcome than I. Some of them have sons who could have been Michael Brown. Some of them could have been Michael Brown. I don't know if they got to hear the grand jury's announcement when it happened, or if they were shielded from the news until the game was over. In either case, they had to know the announcement was coming. They probably predicted the way it was going to turn out, while hoping it would turn out otherwise.

And they still played that game, because Monday Night Football happens on Monday night. They participated in post-game interviews and they talked with their coaches and teammates about what tonight's game means for next week.

Normal life doesn't stop for tragedy. Sometimes we wish it would--sometimes it seems downright malicious that the world should keep spinning and gravity keep tugging as though anything could possibly be the same again. And sometimes we're grateful that normal life just keeps driving on regardless, because a veneer of normality can make the difference between coping and spiraling into a black hole of despair.

What you need right now, at this particular moment in American history, is a story that doesnít stoke your feelings of rage, depression and moral exhaustion. And I am here to give it to you.

--Mary Elizabeth Williams, "The Ferguson library gives a lesson in community"

Monday we learned, or had our suspicions confirmed, that we have a lot more work to do as a society than we might have hoped, that the road toward justice is a lot longer than it has any right to be in 2014. And yet we still have to cook the next meal, earn the next paycheck, write the next story. We may not have to tweet about the latest football game or converse with friends via at-replies, but small pleasures and human interactions can make the hard work easier to bear. It certainly can't hurt.

And metaphorically wearing sackcloth doesn't materially aid the cause of justice any more than finishing your lima beans did a damn thing for the children starving in Ethiopia.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: There are things going on in my life. I'm going to talk about them. I may use Twitter to do it. I'm not going to preemptively gag myself on subjects that aren't objectively as important as the latest breaking national news. The conversations I choose to have aren't subject to anyone else's sense of propriety. That I choose to have one conversation doesn't mean I'm incapable of caring about other issues. The game of Prove That You Care is rigged, and the only way to win is not to play.

You don't have to be in those conversations with me. You may judge me harshly for having those conversations at all. But you can't reasonably expect me to always make the same choices you would about which conversations to have and when. If the choices we make differ enough to make you unhappy with mine, by all means disconnect from me on social media. We'll probably both be happier that way. But I think maybe composing nastygrams about How Dare You Tweet Banalities While Ferguson Is Burning isn't a positive contribution to any situation.

What might be a positive contribution? Well, if you're so inclined, you can donate to the Ferguson Library, because they need it and because they are awesome. Change.org has a petition demanding that Michael Brown's killer be prosecuted in the Missouri Supreme Court; the petition has nearly reached 150,000 signatures tonight. And this HuffPo article has more suggestions for activism in addition to these.

That's (some of) what's on my mind tonight, so that's what I'm choosing to blog/tweet/FB about.

That's how this works.

email