“Ladies. Has it ever occurred to you that fairy tales aren't easy on the feet?”
Kelly Link

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

look i have some yummy cheese for you
Tue 2014-10-07 23:03:41 (single post)
  • 5,300 wds. long

This week my major task is to revise "Caroline's Wake" so that I can resubmit it. Today, I have made a start.

Now, me and revisions typically don't get along. Not like me and first drafts do. First drafts are great! They're fun. They involve discovery and imagination and "what if...?" and "Oh, I know!" and a lot of happy babbling until THE END. Importantly, there is no pressure. Pressure is on vacation during the first draft. But it comes back to the office when it's time to revise. Oh, hi there, pressure! Welcome back! Wait, what? What are you saying? Now I have to get it right?

And then I run away.

Really, I do. For me, the first step in any revision process is a period of avoidance behavior fueled by pure terror. The second step is sidling up to the project and cautiously, carefully opening the file. The third step is crucial: I have to fool my terrified Rodent Brain into thinking "I'm not revising yet, so I'm safe." Only once I've successfully lured Rodent Brain out from hiding can I actually start the revision. Lately that means importing the critiqued draft into the story's Scrivener file then manually typing in all the critique notes. This is a mechanical enough process to assuage Rodent Brain's fears, but because it involves a close reading of the draft and the notes, it jump starts Perfectionist Brain. And once Perfectionist Brain gets started, whoa. You just get out of her way, because she's coming through and there ain't nothing gonna stop her.

This time around, the critter notes were in MS Word's "Track Changes" and "Comments" features. If you import such a document into Scrivener, all the margin comments become inline comments. That's fine; I just convert all inline comments to linked comments. There's a command for that. What's less convenient is that all the tracked changes turn into plain text. Additions aren't highlighted, and deletions are quietly reinserted as though never deleted at all. Thus I was obliged to pull up the MS Word and Scrivener documents side-by-side, find each tracked deletion or addition in the one, and manually strike it out or mark it as an inline annotation on the other.

You might think this frustrating, disappointing, or annoying. Maybe a combination of all three? You would be wrong! As it turns out, this was ideal for my purposes. It forced a word-by-word, line-by line rereading that engaged Perfectionist Brain so hard that I couldn't stop thinking about the story for the rest of the night.

No joke. I was at roller derby practice doing Hundred Lap Hell, and I could barely keep count because Perfectionist Brain was trying to figure out how to reincorporate this or that deleted bit without bogging down the pacing. And that, Best Beloved, is why Fleur de Beast was so slow to finish clockwise quarter-century numero uno. She kept count on her fingers, and she kept forgetting to flip the digit as she crossed the pivot line because maybe the conversation from the first scene can be held in real time rather than in flashback, maybe have Demi drift off to a window where she can stare out at the snow and try to ignore all the people, didn't an early draft start out that way?

So. I was going somewhere with this. I was going to start by describing all the fear and avoidance, the trail of cheese crumbs that lures Rodent Brain out into the open where Perfectionist Brain can pounce, and then I was going to defend all that emotional mess as being entirely reasonable in this profession. Only I've run long enough as it is. Tell you what--let's place a metaphorical thumb right here on the metaphorical page and maybe pick up tomorrow where we left off today. Sound good? Excellent. See you then.

His arms and legs are still a little insectoid for my taste; still, I am pleased overall.
in which we cast silhouettes on the sand
Fri 2014-09-26 23:53:05 (single post)
  • 5,975 wds. long
  • 3,380 wds. long
  • 744 wds. long

This week's Friday Fictionette went up on Patreon, with public excerpts there and here and on Wattpad, round about five this afternoon. I'm not only very pleased with the story, but I'm tickled about the cover art. I wanted to set up a silhouette of Humpty Dumpty on his wall, looking out over the desert. So I went down to the volleyball pit at the top of Center Green Drive, built a little wall out of railroad track ballast, and made a miniature Humpty Dumpty with my darning egg and a couple of pipe cleaners. I got to go play at sandcastles, more or less.

Despite that, I'm not sure in the end that it's obvious to someone who hasn't read the story yet that this is Humpty Dumpty sitting on his wall. I'm proud of it nonetheless.

I have discovered this week that it is all but impossible to give all three of the most time-consuming things in my current daily life sufficient time. One of them tends to have to give. Writing, roller derby, and our home improvement checklist: they are fighting for the crown, and they cannot all have it. This week, a surprisingly full derby schedule and a bedroom that needed painting has resulted in The One With The Feathers still sitting around at more than twice its target word count. I expect some weekend work is going to happen.

It will have to, because it's got to get submitted by Tuesday. Then "Caroline's Wake" is getting revised just as soon as possible, as per editorial request. Editorial request! Such a happy dance is being done by me. It is not an offer to publish, understand; it's, at best, an acknowledgment of the possibility that a revised version might convince them to publish it. If nothing else, my story received a critique from the senior editor at a highly respected publication, so now I get to take that critique and make it an even better story. That's certainly worth the time and email pixels.

prompts from poughkeepsie for an all-night road trip
Wed 2014-09-24 23:25:42 (single post)
  • 5,975 wds. long
  • 3,380 wds. long

I've been playing with a new source of writing prompts this week: "News from Poughkeepsie," as presented by Mur Lafferty. This is, or at least originated as, a series of writing prompts from the brain of Jared Axelrod. I suspect--though I haven't got a citation for this--that its title comes from Harlan Ellison's famous smart-ass answer to the perennial question, "Where do you get your ideas?" At one point I think Mur was reading one at the end of each episode of her I Should Be Writing podcast. In any case, I'm currently receiving them in her weekly email that you can get if you support ISBW on Patreon. Chuck a buck Mur's way each month and you can get her weekly email too! All while knowing that you're helping to keep the podcast's metaphorical lights on!

Anyway, I've been a supporter for two weeks now, so I've received two of these emails. This week I dug up the writing prompts and used them in my freewriting. Both of them, the one from this week and the one from last, had to do with your antagonist: exercises to help you get to know your story's villain as a three-dimensional character with agency and motives of their own. And I was stuck for a moment, because I don't know who the heck is "my villain." The last few stories I've been working on haven't had villains, not exactly.

Well, "Caroline's Wake" has Caroline's murderer; I guess he's an antagonist, of sorts. But, for one thing, I don't feel like he brings the true central conflict in the story. For another, that story is out in the slush now, so there's limited use in noodling over its antagonist's human moments.

OK, so, what am I working on now? The new story, the one with the feathers. The one that I still haven't come up with a good title for. It doesn't have an antagonist. What it has is a semi-random act of the supernatural and a handful of satellite characters affected by it. Those characters aren't pitted against villains or even banal antagonists. They just have the small day-to-day conflicts that we all do. It's rather like "The Day the Sidewalks Melted" in that way. Hell, it's almost written to the same formula, if "Sidewalks" can be said to have a formula.

In the end I gave up on trying to find a way to make the prompt work for any work in progress. I just made up a new character, decided she was a villain in a story I don't know yet, and let the writing prompt help me ease my way into that story. And that was fun. I had no idea where I was going, but I kept stumbling across signposts as I fumbled my way forward through the 25 minutes. It was E. L. Doctorow's "driving a car at night" style of writing, where "You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."

That's the best kind of writing, when there's a surprise at the end of every sentence that tells you how to write the next sentence. It's what I love about first drafts.

the secret trap behind the job description of full time writer
Tue 2014-09-23 23:37:35 (single post)
  • 744 wds. long

It's not a secret because no one tells it, mind you. Everyone tells it, to every writer who ever contemplates quitting their day job. No, it's a secret because it is rarely believed until it is experienced. To put it broadly, it is the secret no one can know until they learn it for themselves. And then, if they're me, they need to relearn it countless times.

Here is that secret: The phrase "I've got plenty of time" is a lie.

It makes sense. It seems obvious. But somehow I keep falling for the lie. I say to myself, "Look at this long beautiful Tuesday stretching out in front of me, with nowhere to be and nothing to do except my own things!" I tell myself, "I'll have a pleasantly lazy working day. Plenty of time to get all my tasks done, even if I take long breaks between them. Plenty of time, even if I sleep late. Plenty of time!"

It's such a seductive lie. How nice it would be, a work day with no urgency to it! Why, it wouldn't even feel like work. It would make the work feel like play. No stress, just playing with words at a leisurely pace all the day long.

But the very lack of urgency has a tendency to result in no work at all.

This is why it's so important for me to make a schedule at the beginning of the day, and affix the scheduled items to scheduled times--or at the very least, work out how long each item will take. "Plenty of time" is in fact a finite amount of time. Remaining aware of that helps put the urgency back into the work day.

Also, I'm not allowed to read books early in the morning anymore. I have a distressing tendency not to put a book down until I've finished reading it, even if it contains real howlers about my hometown.

I did manage to spend a half hour polishing up this week's planned Friday Fictionette release. I'm really rather pleased with it. Tickled, even. When I first approached the writing prompt that it sprang from, I groaned, thinking, "This is twee and embarrassing and likely to be No Fun At All." Then I did it anyway, and, surprise! it was exceedingly fun.

And that's the secret to writing prompts, which, again, no one may know until they learn it for themselves (and they may need to relearn it on occasion): The greater the resistance, the greater the potential. There is fun and interesting stuff on the other side of the "Do I have to?" wall. Go get them.

story production engines firing on all four cylinders
Wed 2014-09-17 23:13:42 (single post)
  • 3,380 wds. long

I finished the exploratory draft of the new story today. It's still got no title, but that's OK. That'll come during revision. More troubling is that it clocks in at 3,380 words. That's more than double the cut-off called for in the submission guidelines. It's even more than double what the draft was at yesterday, when I figured I was about halfway through.

Such an occasion calls for introspection, or at least evaluation. Which is to say: Can this really be cut down to 1,400 words?

The part of my brain arguing for YES points out that there is, as I observed yesterday, a lot of cruft to be culled. Several things get said over and over again and also redundantly, and many things get said that need not be said at all. For instance: It is less important to remark on Rosalind's Sunday exception to her morning routine of reading the entire newspaper, back to front, than it is to mention that she no longer bothers reading the obituaries. It is less important (for the sake of the story, anyway) to voice Elaine's disapproval of the labels "homeless" or "transient," given her permanent residence under a particular tree in the park, than it is to capture the voice of her tree asking her to be its new dryad.

The theory that YES-brain espouses is this: Now that I've met all the characters in this story and gotten to know their backgrounds, I'm well equipped to trim their surrounding exposition down to those few phrases that best crystallize who they are and what's at stake for them.

NO-brain is more pessimistic, as you might expect. There's too much going on here, says NO-brain. This story needs at least 2,500 words for the reader to have any clue what's going on. Don't sell your characters short!

On the other hand, NO-brain is also bringing some optimism to the table. It points out that as easily as this story idea arose from my freewriting sessions, just as easily might another that's more apt for the submissions call. YES-brain concedes the point, but counters that, this being the case, there's no harm in making the revision attempt here. I've made such good progress while still nearly two weeks to deadline remain, that there will be time to pan for more gold in my Daily Idea .scrivx should this story remain stubbornly above the maximum word count. And then I'll have two brand new stories to shop around!

What strikes me here is how very natural it was to go from "The deadline's imminent and I've absolutely nothing to send!" to "Well, what came out of my timed writing sessions lately?" That didn't used to happen as readily. But now that I've begun the Friday Fictionettes offerings, it's happening every week at the very least. Every Friday, I'm looking at the past week's scribblings and deciding which of them I'll polish up, stick some cover art on, and upload to my creation stream during the corresponding week of the following month. It only makes sense that this mental process would fire up in response to the need for new story material in additional contexts.

This was one of my sneaky self-improvement goals with Friday Fictionettes. The headliner goals were, firstly, to get more of my stuff out where y'all could read it, and more frequently; and, secondly, to potentially earn a little spare change doing so. But behind the scenes I was also hoping to see some improvement in my larger Story Production Process. I wanted to get in some regular practice making that transition from "just a wisp of an idea that I'm noodling on" to "fully fledged and publishable story." I wanted to see that process go more smoothly and happen more often.

With the current story, I'm seeing evidence that this is happening. And I'm delighted.

rewriting my relationship with deadlines starts now
Mon 2014-09-15 23:08:39 (single post)
  • 0 wds. long
  • 4,400 wds. long

Until about 2 PM today I was under the impression that the deadline on submissions to An Alphabet of Embers, edited by the most excellent Rose Lemberg, was September 15. That is, today. Which misconception gave me two specific thoughts:

First, that it was a darn good thing I'd begun holding myself to a freewriting session every day, and not just every workday. I added it to my HabitRPG dailies and everything. So Saturday, grumbling but dutiful, I did it. For a writing prompt, I recalled a moment earlier in the day when a feather had floated past the window and I'd thought, "What if that was only the first?" Like, what if, just behind that feather, at any moment, there would come a huge cloud of feathers, like ten down pillows' worth, just billowing along from east to west. Why would that be? What would cause a sudden explosion of feathers, and what effect would it have on the neighborhood? So that's what I wrote about for 25 minutes.

As I drifted off to sleep Saturday night, the results of that timed session came back to me and started to sound a lot like a possible story.

Second, I thought that it was also a good thing I'd taken today off from the farm. There was a good chance I'd wake up this morning in Colorado Springs, having spent Sunday afternoon in the Pikes Peak Derby Dames' Cutthroat Derby Tournament, a four-team, three-bout mix-up. Even if we did drive home Sunday night, I anticipated being absolutely wiped and needing to recover. (And yes, indeed, I did.) Which also meant I'd have all today to write this brand-new story and send it along.

But then I checked the call for submissions and saw that the deadline was indeed September 30. And that gave me a couple of thoughts:

First: "Hooray! That means I don't have to work on it today." Monday isn't typically a writing day, see. (Although it is now a freewriting day. Which I did without grumbling.)

Second: "Looks like I'll be postponing 'Hook' until this thing is done, then. Yay! I mean... Darn."

So now I get a chance to work on this whole "relationship with deadlines" thing. Remember that bookmark? The one that says, "It got better from here"? This week I got to make good on that.


a little light comedy with your fictionette
Fri 2014-09-12 23:14:13 (single post)

Another Friday, another fictionette. Read it in its entirety or, if you're not quite ready to chuck a buck at it, read an excerpt on Wattpad or right here.

Despite the aforementioned difficulties, I think I'm getting better at this. Which is to say, getting all the fictionette things revised, posted, and settled still took longer than it should have (I seriously need to simplify the system), but it was my content writing gigs and not my freewriting or my short story revision that paid the price for it. Priorities! I might possibly have a few.

And for a story-like object that had me in fits all week, it didn't turn out all that bad.

Favorite place this week to revise stories: Over a huge steaming bowl of pho at the neighborhood restaurant. I'm told there are better pho restaurants in Boulder, but this is the one I can walk to, and I think it's yummy. The artwork on the walls is kind of creepy, though.

Least favorite place this week to revise stories: On the BV bus, heading from Boulder to Denver, and realizing that the person sitting next to me is actively and unabashedly reading my work in progress over my shoulder. That is in blatant contradiction of public transportation etiquette, y'all. Don't do that shit.

Not counting for the purpose of Amtrak departures and arrivals, I hadn't been down to LoDo in ages. The occasion for this trip was having heard that the Sklar Brothers would be performing at Comedy Works in Larimer Square this weekend, and thinking, "Why not?" So I went. And they were pretty darn funny, so I was glad I did. The opening acts weren't too bad, either. Stand-up comedy can be a bit of a minefield for me, as exemplified by Jackie Kashian's pin-pointedly accurate summary of the jokes that male comedians tell about their wives. When I'm listening to the comedy channel on the radio, and I hear a comedian start in on his wife, or how it was censorship when a venue wouldn't let him use his favorite ethnic/gender/ableist slur, or how violence against women can be perfectly justified, amiright guys, that's my cue to change the channel for a while, because they ain't going nowhere good from there.

I'm happy to report that tonight's show didn't go there. It occasionally went to places from which you could see it, and once or twice it brought out a copy of the map and pointed to key landmarks, but it didn't actually go there, you know? So I left reasonably happy.

Before I left, I randomly ran into a derby skater in the crowd. Well, I assumed she was a skater. She could have been a fan. Anyway, she had on a High City Derby Divas hoodie, so I said hello. I introduced myself by skate name and league and I asked her whether she'd be at the Pikes Peak Derby Dames mix-up on Sunday. I may have been a bit too enthusiastic. I didn't actually say "OMG YOU'RE DERBY I'M DERBY TOO IT'S A SMALL DAMN DERBY WORLD ISN'T IT DERBYYYYYY!!!!!" but mmmmaybe I came across that way? The interaction went all unexpectedly awkward. At least I had enough self-restraint to keep it short.

For a few hours before and a few hours after the show, I worked on the aforementioned Friday Fictionette stuff over at Leela's European Cafe. They're on 15th between Champa and Stout, they're open 24 hours, they have wifi and comfy seating and a nice variety of music, and they serve really tasty hot chocolate. Also beer and cocktails. Heck with coworking--I want to spend my working day at Leela's. Well, sometimes, anyway. Their late night crowd is really interesting.

In conclusion: I should go down to Denver more. There's enjoyable stuff down there.

I admit I have little skill at cover art thus far. I hope to improve.
one down, all of THE FUTURE to go
Fri 2014-09-05 23:52:00 (single post)

Hey look! The first Friday since launching Friday Fictionettes has come, and I have indeed published a Fictionette to my Patreon creation stream. Huzzah! It's called "Those Who Would Dance for the Gods." You can read an excerpt in all three of the places (Patreon, Wattpad, and right here).

Reading it in its entirety is at this time exclusively the privilege of Patrons pledging at the level of $1/month or higher. It will probably remain so for some time, as I want to reserve September's end-of-month freebie slot for the fourth Friday offering. But please do not let that stress you out. If you'd rather put off pledging until you have a better idea of whether I can actually stick to this weekly deadline thing, that is totally cool and understandable. (You read this blog. You know about my relationship with deadlines.) Also, you won't miss a thing. "...Dance for the Gods" will remain in the content stream for as long as there is a content stream. Creations do not, to my knowledge, get archived and hidden away once they get too old or something. The work required to dig them up may increase as more and more fictionettes stack on top of them, but I'm reasonably certain everything will still be down there.

So that's the shameless plug portion of today's blog post. The rest of the blog post will be given over to shameful confessions. Well, not shameful per se, but kind of embarrassing.

To wit: My goodness, it's easy to spend a lot of time tweaking this stuff.

Seriously, I spent more than three and a half hours on revising the Fictionette one last time, coming up with some Author's Notes, creating minimally presentable cover art, compiling the PDF from scrivener and then combining it with the cover art and then doing that all over again about three times to correct mistakes noticed just a titch belatedly, taking all the same material and creating the Wattpad upload, then creating the manuscript record whereby you can read the excerpt here at the blog, figuring out why the Author's Note at Wattpad suddenly wound up locked, going back and fixing one more thing pretty much everywhere, deciding I should probably be pledging support to other people's Patreon campaigns, doing that, and then thinking, "Gee, Ursula Vernon's 'thank you' page sure is snazzy and fun to read. Maybe I should take a few minutes to improve my own." Which I did.

I suppose it's only... cyclical? Yesterday I spent too much time working on a Boulder Writing Examiner post to get any progress on the Friday Fictionette offering. Today I spent too much time on Friday Fictionettes to do my freewriting or short story revision. I guess that means next time I should spend so much time on all things fiction that no content writing gets done. And so the torch is passed!

Except that Friday Fictionettes eating up freewriting time is disturbingly cannibalistic. It's eating its young, y'all. I mean, without freewriting, Friday Fictionettes do not arise.

I guess that's OK so long as freewriting can happen over the weekend, just like it did when I was participating in the Conquer the Craft in 29 Days challenge. Actually, in light of CTC29, I thinking of taking freewriting into a 7-day schedule anyway. That would help keep my writing muscles limber rather than letting them go stiff from three days of non-use. It would also give me more material to choose from when it's time to select the next Friday Fictionette.

Meanwhile, in the name of staying a month ahead of this game, I was supposed to have chosen October's first Friday Fictionette by now. Oh dear.

(Nobody panic. I got this.)

a case of the unexpecteds, but it will NOT triumph
Tue 2014-09-02 17:48:46 (single post)
  • 4,400 wds. long

This week I'm back to work on "A Wish for Captain Hook." I finished scribbling my way through the previous draft's print-out today. Once I stopped feeling deathly embarrassed over the constant unironic use of an ethnic slur throughout the draft--or, at least, once I managed to put the deathly embarrassment on a mental shelf so I wasn't constantly stubbing my mental toes on it on my way to and from other mental tasks--I figured out what overarching single thing was really wrong with it.

Shaping. It's got none. It's got architectural plot-wise structure, but its emotional shaping is uneven in places and simply off in others. Characters' reactions to each others' actions aren't what they need to be. As a result, tension isn't smoothly built toward a climax, but rather lumped here and bled out there. I'm going to need to do some big-picture thinking and eagle-eye viewing in order to figure out how to fix it. I foresee timeline sketches pinned to my office wall with multicolored Sharpie scribbles.

(Speaking of deathly embarrassment: I had the little boy Jimbo pretending to be a Neverland Indian brave on the war path, woo-woo-wooing his way up and down Houma Boulevard. Oh the irony. All die. On the bright side, I'm now thinking more concretely in terms of the regional and cultural contexts for this story, such as the United Houma Nation and also the long-standing New Orleans tradition of the Mardi Gras Indian tribes. Admittedly, what I know about either, you could fit in a brand new matchbox after lighting a toddler's birthday candles, so this isn't going to be easy.)

I drew up a very specific hour-by-hour schedule for everything today, as per my newest resolution for Getting Stuff Done. It called for two hours of work on "Hook," from 1:30 to 3:30. It also called for more work on my Friday Fictionettes project, mostly to do with setting up my Wattpad profile, during a planned lunchtime outing that was to start at 11:00 AM. (Just because I launched it yesterday doesn't mean there isn't work yet to be done.)

And then... stuff happened.

I ended up being obliged to be At Home to surprise work crews: One to disinter our utility outlets from the new wall where they had been mostly drywalled over, and one to reassemble (or, as it turned out, replace) our floorboard heater cover. Then I realized I'd neglected to make time for paying the bills and doing the household accounts, which absolutely had to be done today. Yet more time had to be made for filling out and signing the e-document format Seller's Disclosure Form. The contractor who might help us replace, update, and/or fix our unit's persistent door problems had to be called. Messages needed to be left on answering machines. And so forth.

This is why I'd resisted hour-by-hour schedules in the first place. Stuff happens.

The solution I'm trying out today is this: Deal with the unexpecteds as they arise. When they are done, pick up with the schedule at whatever hour it is and whatever task I should be doing at that hour. Whatever tasks got erased by that case of the unexpecteds, get back to them during a previously unscheduled hour or whenever all scheduled tasks are done. The theory is that this will help me avoid feeling like the unexpecteds Ruined My Whole Day. Sure, it ate up my morning chunk of schedule, but there's no reason I can't faithfully complete my afternoon tasks. Empowerment!

So, yeah. The unexpecteds did eat up my morning, gnawing thence into my afternoon. Out of the 2 hours I'd planned for short story work, I only got about 45 minutes. And I never hit the Friday Fictionette work at all. But seeing as how the rest of my tasks today got done more or less precisely in their allotted timeslots, I'll have plenty of time to return to those other tasks that got eaten up.

Plenty time! Just as soon as we deal with that e-document. Bleargh.

everything's in the details, god, the devil, everything
Wed 2014-08-27 23:50:04 (single post)

Excellent. I now have five drabbles ready to go. Tomorrow's goal is to write two or three more. Specklit allows a maximum of ten to be submitted at a time. I'll be happy just to submit another portfolio of eight.

So I've been meaning to blog about my new genius innovation in Successfully Getting Work Done. It's amazing. It's upped my game by like 150% and I have never felt so productive. Here it is. You ready? Check this out:

Daily scheduling.

I know, right? Seems kind of obvious. But until last week, I'd been actively resisting the idea of scheduling my day with any assertive specificity.

To be fair, I'd thought I was already being specific enough. I'd have the goal of five hours of writing on a work day, and I'd have my spreadsheet for keeping track of those hours divided into categories like "fiction" and "content writing" and so forth. While scribbling my way through my morning pages, I'd often worked out which specific tasks I need to work on in a given day: "For Boulder Writing Examiner, that review of Rogers's Word Work that I've been meaning to do," or, "For short fiction today I need to do a final revision on those two drabbles in progress and come up with their 'About the story' snippets."

But I hadn't been holding myself to doing these tasks at specific times during the day looming before me. I didn't trust myself to do it. I didn't trust my day to let me do it. And I didn't trust myself, if, having planned to begin my work at 10:00, I were to find my day delayed by an hour due to unexpected household administrivia muscling into my morning, not to just give up on the whole day and go back to sleep. One of my glitches is, once I get attached to "the shape of the day" as planned, I'm terribly dependent on the day going as planned. If circumstances beyond my control change those plans, I go into a low-level panic. A glitch, like I said, but I didn't want to set myself up for that kind of stressy neurotic crisis.

So instead I'd just had this vague idea of "These things need to get done, and I have all day to get them done in." Which reduced the pressure. I wasn't relying on starting at 10 quite as much. Which meant that if my working day got pushed back to 11, instead of tossing out the whole day as "Nothing's going to get done on time, there won't be enough time, why bother?" I just sort of shrugged and thought, "One hour late. No big deal. There's lots of hours left in the day."

Except that "one hour late, no big deal" can often stretch to "four hours late, no big deal," and so on, until it hits algebraic impossibility. Which is to say, the point at which I realize that 24:00 minus Y < X, where Y is the time of day and X is the amount of hours remaining in my daily five.

So I gave in and tried hammering out a schedule during my morning pages. It would be a very specific schedule, with each task assigned to a particular hour of the day. I'd plan when my lunch break would be, too. I was determined to give myself a lunch break. And I'd take into account when I'd have to stop to get ready for derby practice, if it was a derby practice day.

As a result, two important things happened in my favor:

  1. The algebra got worked out right up front rather than on the back end when it was too late.
  2. I had my lunch break to look forward to!

The effect of front-loading the time calculations was this: That "predicted shape of day" attachment of mine got proactive. Instead of "OMG things changed on me now nothing's going to go right," my mindset was more like, "If you want things to go as planned, you have to put down that sudoku--yes, even if you're not done with it yet--and get to work now." And so I did.

And the effect of having my lunch break to look forward to was this: I didn't feel crushed by the weight of the day ahead of me. Before, I'd cringe thinking about the long hours, all achingly draggy five of them, of drudgery that wouldn't end until it was time to go to my evening obligations (usually roller derby practice), and the realization that I'd never get any significant length of obligation-free time all day just sat on top of me like a lump of despair. But defining my schedule every morning allowed me to divvy up the work day into two or three chunks separated by playtime and meals (and, yes, roller derby), and that in turn made me excited about every stage of the day, the work as well as the play (as well as the skating).

It's hard to explain, harder still to justify. My brain is like a toddler who wants everything just so and is prepared to scream itself blue if someone tells it "no." But specific hour-by-hour planning of my day ahead enables me to appease that toddler in healthy ways. And as it turns out, simply knowing how long everything will take me and having a starting plan for where to slot each task makes me much more able to absorb the unexpected and juke around obstacles productively.

I can still have off days. Today was one of them. But even my off days are better than they used to be. They're near misses instead of total abject failures. I can still be proud of what I accomplish on a near-miss day. (Look! Two more drabbles ready to go! And a book review!)

It's no big shock that specificity works for me. I am the checklist queen. I am notorious for overthinking things. But it sometimes surprises me how well it works, and how many more aspects of my daily life could stand to be improved by it.

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