“I don't take much notice of critics, except when they praise me extravagantly.”
Philip Pullman

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

saved by my morning cuppa
Thu 2015-08-27 23:09:22 (single post)

So this morning was Go Time. John had to get to the airport for an 11:45 a.m. flight, which meant leaving the house at 9:00. I set my alarm for 8:00 so I'd have time to do my Morning Pages before we left. (I get to click the happy habit plus-mark on Habitica if I do them immediately upon getting up. Clicking the happy plus-mark gives me gold and experience points.) And I went to bed reasonably on time last night, so I figured even with a little reading in bed I should get enough sleep.

Well, that alarm went off. I hit snooze and lay back down. And then memory hit me like an elbow-guard to the face. "You're not allowed to snooze," memory said. And I wanted to cry. You know that feeling? You're just settling back into the pillows, and then you remember why you can't afford to go back to sleep? And you realize that it is no longer your turn to sleep, and you do not get another turn for another--what, eighteen hours? You know that moment of utter despair?

In that moment, all the angst of my teenage years revisits me with a tackle-hug. Only not like a tackle-hug. There's nothing huggy about it. There's just a tackle.

So, influenced by the unreliable mean brain chemicals of being half-asleep, I said to myself, "Eff it. I'm going back to sleep. I'll do my Pages after dropping John off at the airport." (I have to click the sad habit minus-sign on Habitica if I don't do my Pages immediately upon getting up. Clicking the sad minus-sign makes me lose hit points.)

But as I settled into the pillows once more, defiant and cranky, I realized two things:

  1. My body suddenly didn't want to go back to sleep.
  2. I was seriously craving tea. Like, fantasizing about it.

I have very little control over whether 1. happens. Nearly forty years in this body, I still haven't figure it out. Bodies, y'all! Am I right? I'm totally right. But something I do have control over is my morning routine. The routine goes like this: Get up, make the bed if it's empty, start the kettle, water the plants, pour boiling water over tea bag, take tea and notebook and fountain pen and possibly bottle of ink out to the patio table, do Morning Pages. Given enough repetition, all those things become associated with each other in interesting ways.

I wasn't looking forward to getting up and beginning the routine. But in my mind, the thought of the routine tasted like a strong cup of Taylor's of Harrogate Pure Assam. And I wanted that taste in my mouth very, very badly.

So I got up. And I got my Pages done on time. And I got John to the airport early. And it was all because I was craving my morning cup of tea.

They say that it's not too smart to rely on specific tools for your writing routine. What if your special fountain pen breaks, or you can't find your lucky notebook, or Scrivener crashes and won't get up again? What if there's no T. of H. Assam tea in the house? The associations you create to help you write can also hinder your writing if they break down.

But when they work, hoo boys 'n girls do they work.

fuel gauge on E, next gas station 48 hours away
Thu 2015-08-06 23:54:33 (single post)

Some days are just low-energy days. I don't like it much, but I still haven't figured out what to do about it.

Talking about yesterday. Yesterday I dragged myself out of bed about an hour late, more like two hours, and then I spent the rest of the day dragging around. Could barely get through my pages, and couldn't seem to stay upright. Eventually 6:30 came around and found me at team practice, but even after our off-skates exercises I was still dreadfully low-energy--yawning and drooping as I skated warm-up laps around the track. It was like I couldn't quite get enough air.

I wanted to blame it on not going down to the creek that morning like I had for the past few mornings. The five-minute walk in the sun and fresh air must help get the blood moving at a faster pace, right? And the creek has an energy all its own, chattering away downstream, stair-stepping down a sequence of miniature waterfalls and, y'know, just being running water. This was the first morning in a while I hadn't started out that way--whether fishing or not--and I figured it had an effect.

But for one thing, no amount of going for a walk, writing on the patio, or sitting out by the little lake out back seemed to help. And for another, this morning I also started off late and indoors, and I felt fine. I went outdoors later, yes, but by then I'd already observed in myself a greater store of get-up-and-go than was alloted to me yesterday. I didn't even have to try, to feel that way. It was just there.

I've had this theory that when I wake up all low-energy like that, I need to go for a jog, go biking, take a long walk, do something to get my body revved up. And if my day continues in a dragging, drooping sort of way, it's my fault for not "fixing it" like that. Except if I'm still feeling droopy after doing fifteen minutes of jogging and core work and plyometrics with my roller derby team, well, there goes that theory.

I take multivitamins, I have a daily cup of strong unsweetened black tea, I try to eat right, I exercise like woah, why've I gotta have days like that? How do I make them go away?

All I can do is push through them, focus on one little task at a time and force myself to get that task done. Then the next one. Then the next. Which, honestly, doesn't sound like a very kind way of handling the problem. I just don't know of a better way.

In happier news, my new laptop battery came in. I might drag and droop, but my laptop can now say "3 hours 30 minutes (80% remaining)" and mean it, too. To celebrate, I went down to the creek and enjoyed an hour of writing without worrying about whether my laptop would crap out on me. And when we went to the IHOP after scrimmage tonight and the host asked us, "Do you need an outlet tonight?" (we're regulars, he knows we usually ask for a seat with an outlet) I pointed at John and said, "That's up to him," and felt smug about it.

So here's to finishing off the week on a high note tomorrow, with a smidge of luck, a lot of determination, and to the best of my ability.

the delays you get are not the expected delays
Tue 2015-08-04 23:07:25 (single post)
  • 1,200 wds. long

So lunch was indeed delicious. The crawfish count included in it was 37 (live weight 2 lb 4 oz; yield 6 oz), about a third of which were caught in the DIY trap I will talk about at some later point. Also, it wasn't so much lunch as dinner, because I started it late and it took forever.

Started it late: Because I exercised self-restraint (for once) and finished my morning shift first. Some of it I did out by the creek, but some of it required wifi and so had to wait until I came home and plugged the laptop in. Until the new battery arrives, I can't have wifi on battery alone; the poor laptop goes from 98% remaining, to 86%, to 66% barely minutes later, then shuts itself down hard, over the space of fifteen minutes.

"Also it wouldn't be right to just use some random private residence's unencrypted signal."

Right, what she said. Who was that, anyway? My conscience? Right.

Anyway, the bits that required wifi, I came home and did them. Well, first I put the morning's catch in the refrigerator and tidied away my fishing supplies, but then I did the rest of my morning writing shift.

Notably, this included submitting "Keeping Time," a story that has been out into the world twice already, to a brand new likely suspect. Or, if not as likely as I like to think, then at the very least to a market I'd be very pleased to see publish it. "Keeping Time," like "Stand By for Your Assignment," is a story whose first incarnation was A) much shorter, and B) in second person point of view. Unlike "Stand By," which needed to be changed to 3rd person POV, "Keeping Time" remained in 2nd person. I seem to default to 2nd person when I write very short pieces. I worry that it's a sign of laziness. Except, when pieces like that go to workshop, they occasionally get encouraging critiques along the lines of "Normally I hate 2nd person POV but you seem to pull it off," so maybe it's OK.

(This should not be confused with stories like "The Day the Sidewalks Melted" or "Other Theories of Relativity," which, despite including a whole bunch of sentences starting with the word "you," are actually in first person POV. The perspective character is an "I" who is addressing the "you." If it were second person POV, the perspective character would be the "you." But the mere presence of many sentences starting with "you" does not by itself indicate 2nd person POV, no more than the presence of "to be" by itself indicates passive voice. This is a minor sore spot with me, since while shopping "Sidewalks" around for reprints, I got a rejection letter that said "Sorry, I just don't enjoy 2nd person POV," and I kind of wanted to write back, "OK, fine, I accept that you don't care for the story, but did you somehow miss the bit where the narrator refers to himself as 'I'? The narrative is epistolary! Only instead of writing a letter, he's leaving a message on someone's cell phone voice mail! Gahhhh!")

(I didn't, of course. Never write back to argue with a rejection letter! Write blog posts instead. If you must.)

Anyway, so, off it goes.

Took forever: There is nothing about jambalaya itself that takes forever. Ditto etouffee. What takes forever is crawfish prep.

OK, no, boiling crawfish takes no time at all. You bring the water up to a boil, tossing in your seasonings while you wait; you dump in the bugs and let them go for 3 to 5 minutes; you dump in ice and leave them to soak up the spices for 15 to 30 minutes according to your tastes. No big deal. Most of that's just waiting around. But shelling them, and shelling them thoroughly--deveining tails, scooping out the fat, picking out some of the claw meat--that took a little while. (As opposed to eating them right out the shell, which would take no time at all. My friends have to remind me at the Nono's Cafe crawfish boils that I have to slow down to give other people at the table a chance. In this I am very much my father's daughter.) It took a while, and it was a continuous working while.

I have a system for claw meat, by the way. You take a butter knife, and you split the claw vertically. Then you for each half of the claw you use the other half's claw tine to dig the meat out. Quick and easy.

Anyway, lunch prep began around 1:15 with a trip to the grocery and didn't end until I was scooping jambalaya into my bowl around 6:00. And then of course it was time to eat. Leisurely. While reading blogs and online articles. And forgetting, what with my tummy being all full and happy, that time was continuing to pass.

The actual catching of the crawfish coexisted with my writing day quite well, especially since adding the DIY trap to my process. But if you catch them and bring them home, you gotta cook them, and, tasty as the results are, I'm not taking the time to do that again until at least the weekend. Maybe crawfish will turn into a Monday thing. That would work.

So I'll be off to work on the rest of my "afternoon shift" now, shall I? Got a YPP Examiner post I want to write, and a short story whose revision is seriously overdue. Guess which order I'll be doing those in. Go on, guess.

no, seriously, pull up the floorboards, i mean it
Thu 2015-07-16 23:41:11 (single post)

Today's Submission Procedures session was extremely productive. I logged a new rejection letter--"It's For You" came back after only 6 days out. I logged it in my own database, and at the Submission Grinder, and I posted about it to a forum where people post about such things. Scrolling up through other people's posts, I saw mention of another pro-paying market I have never submitted to. So I began preparing another story for submission to it. (I didn't quite finish because I ran out of time before derby. I'll send the submission out tomorrow.) Meanwhile, I tweaked my database so that I could use it to note submissions that I plan to make, and it could remind me so I don't lose track. All that, and I still haven't sent "It's For You" back out. Tomorrow!

Rejection letters aren't so terrible. They're the industry's way of confirming that yes, you've been playing the game, and, by the way, it's your turn again.

So, this other submission I'm planning to make. It's an expansion of an existing and unpublished drabble. And it gave me fits today. It's not that I don't know the shape I want it to be. It's that I'm realizing the story lives in that weird borderland between magic realism and psychological suspense-and-dread. It's "The Telltale Heart," that's what the problem is. The speculative element could be easily written off as the protagonist having a nervous breakdown and imagining things. Now, I was that kid in class who insisted that the hideous heart really was beating under the floorboards. But apparently the rest of the literary world agrees that Poe's murderous protagonist is hallucinating, the spoilsports.

So I'm trying to come up with anti-spoilsport ideas. Here's what I've got so far.

Put it in 3rd person to give the protagonist's perspective a sense, however illusive, of authority. Like, look, you don't have to just take the protagonist's word on this; here's a totally reliable narrator voice confirming it for you. It's not a promise on a factual level; obviously you can write an unreliable narrator in 3rd person point-of-view. But it's an attempt to create a particular emotional experience for the reader, encourage them to trust more. It's like painting an oncology waiting room sky blue to induce a sense of calm and comfort in the patients. You're not telling them that everything's going to be all right; you're just trying to help them feel like everything's all right. All right? Right. See also titles like "The facts in the case of..." or "An account of events witnessed at..."

Create internal consistency in the speculative element so that it looks more like an actual coherent thing that's happening and not a series of random weird events. Though it'll never wind up on the page, I need to decide on the complete reality behind these glimpses of the uncanny, and then have every manifestation conform to that. Basically, we're talking about worldbuilding.

Highlight the theme at every opportunity. The story will be submitted to a themed submission call; the theme is "anticipation." The theme of the issue is already present in this story, of course, but it can be underscored, made to do double, triple duty in every scene. Not just waiting, dreading, and anticipating in the context of the spec element itself, but in every incidental detail. In each scene's setting, in each situation, in the protagonist's interactions with other characters, there should be an element of are we there yet? is it over yet? how long to my bus stop? why aren't we done with this meeting? will the person in line before me please hurry up? when will I find out what's going on? what are you waiting for, just tell me! Done right, this will make the story more of a seamless whole, and a claustrophobic one, sort of compressing the reader into identifying with the protagonist. I hope.

Actually, having written them out, they look like pretty decent ideas. For now, anyway. Enough to go on until I think of better ones.

the game i'm supposed to be playing
Tue 2015-07-14 23:42:29 (single post)
  • 3,330 wds. long

So apparently it takes me another, what, three hours? THREE HOURS to get what ought to have been a simple Hugo Awards 101 blog post done. Seriously, it is not worth it. I need to be able to prioritize, and, when priorities are low, turn the exhaustive perfectionist dial wayyyyy down.

But speaking of priorities, I have modified my must-dos for the workday mornings. To date, I've required of myself three things to start each workday:

  • Morning Pages (mental morning hygiene)
  • 25 minutes of freewriting (scales and arpeggios)
  • and 25 minutes working on the next Friday Fictionette (getting it done a little at a time, rather than all at the last minute).

Recently I looked at my timesheet template and realized that there was one line I was consistently failing to visit: "Submissions Procedures." Also, I had a rejection letter in my email that I still needed to log a month after I received it. So I've added...

  • 25 minutes of Submissions Procedures

...to my morning gottas.

What do I do with that session?

Log submissions and responses. If I send off a manuscript, if I receive a response to a submission, I've got to log that. I keep such records in a personal database that's hosted at this domain (it feeds the "Recently Published" block on the front page and the "Works Progressing" list here on the blog). I also make note of them in the Diabolical Plots Submission Grinder, which does a lot more with my data than I've programmed my own database to do. It does things with my data that benefit other writers, too, mostly to do with market statistics. Anyway, communications regarding submitted manuscripts go there.

Query long-delayed submissions. This is what I did next after I logged that pending rejection email. I had a couple submissions out since early 2014 with no response logged. I sent emails to both markets asking after those submissions' statuses, and, when one of them got back to me (and resent the rejection letter I'd missed in my spam last year), I logged that too.

Resubmit rejected manuscripts to new markets. I did this Friday! "It's For You" had returned with a rejection letter back in December. It was about time I sent it out again. Off it went to meet the staff of a different magazine, hopeful and full of energy!

Research markets for future submissions. Here's where being on the clock becomes absolutely essential. I can spend hours doing this--reading the stories published by professional markets, deciding whether any of my existing stories would fit well in a table of contents with them, reading my colleagues' reported experiences with those markets, plugging the stats for my unpublished stories into the Submission Grinder search form to find even more markets, reading all their submission guidelines... But because I'm on a 25-minute timer, I try to stay focused.

Today I spent my Submission Procedures session pruning a handful of browser tabs open to various submission guidelines. With one exception, I discarded non-paying markets. Then I discarded the ones I'm honestly unlikely to come up with suitable material for any time soon. Of the ones that remained, I chose two whose current submission period ended on or about July 31 and decided what I was going to send them. In both cases, I chose unpublished drabbles that could be expanded into flash or full-length short stories this week and next. Then I made note of a couple other tabs open to markets whose next submission period opens in August. I've existing pieces I could send them as-is with a clean conscience.

Making this a daily ritual has got me back in the game. I mean, I've sent off a piece to a pro-paying market! For the first time in months! That's huge! But it's also valuable as a regular reminder of what I'm supposed to be doing in the first place. Things like Friday Fictionettes and Examiner blog posts can feel like such an accomplishment when I finish them that it's easy to forget that they're not my main gig. My main gig is writing fiction for love and getting it published for money. So now, every workday, I take time on the clock to plan or enact the next step required to play that gig.

That way, even if I don't manage to spend the bulk of the working day on fiction for professional publication, even if I throw most of my hours down the black hole of FIND ALL THE PERFECT LINKS FOR THIS BLOG POST, I've at least spent half an hour with my head in the right game, so I don't forget which game I'm supposed to be playing.

why bother having a patio if it's going to rain all morning
Thu 2015-07-09 23:58:20 (single post)

It went from baking hot last week to raining constantly. Didn't we do this back in May? And it makes me grumpy, because it is affecting my writing routine.

Since we brought home patio furniture, I've begun taking my morning tea and my Morning Pages outside just about every day. No matter how hot it's predicted to get, it always stays nice and cool out there. During the hottest part of last week, when even the house got too warm, the patio was a cool refuge. It only gets a little direct sun every morning, just this narrow stripe that travels over fifteen minutes between the outer edge of the table and the flowers (which are blooming at last, and fit to riot too). Aside from that, the spot is entirely shaded by the second and third floor walkways.

Sometimes the neighborhood cat comes to visit me. He'll poke his head around the privacy wall, or he'll yowl out in the cul-de-sac to get "someone! anyone!"'s attention; the moment he sees me looking at him and hears me calling, he'll come running up to me. That's how I wind up writing with my right hand and petting a cat on my lap with my left.

And--this is going to sound weird and maybe a little egotistical--another enjoyable thing about it is imagining myself being seen as a sort of "fixture" in the neighborhood, like, "Oh, there's number 17, he rides his bike down the walkway at this time on his way to work. There's the cat, everyone knows the cat, we think he lives at number 41. Don't worry, he doesn't claw or bite. And there's number 15, she's out there scribbling around this time of day. Later she might bring out her spinning wheel."

To put it another way: On my way to and from high school, we'd pass this one house on Poplar Street, just after we crossed the little bridge over the Bonnabel Canal. This house had a small front porch. On that front porch was a rocking chair. And on that rocking chair, at certain times of day, there was an elderly man sitting there, rocking, and waving at everyone who went by. And everyone waved back.

I always wanted to be able to sit on my front porch and greet the people going by. I've never had a front porch before! I have one now. And when people go by, I darn well say hi.

I have begun to depend upon this morning ritual. I don't always look forward to my Morning Pages--sometimes I downright dread them (which is how I know I need to keep doing them)--but I look forward to sitting at the table with my tea and my notebook and my fountain pen, and maybe getting some quality kitty time, and saying hello to people going by.

This is why rain in the mornings makes me grumpy. Because it means I don't get to do that. Why even bother getting out of bed?

Today and yesterday, the mornings were dry again. I unfolded the table and a chair and I had my morning outdoor ritual. And that was nice. But then it started storming in the afternoon and I had to run out there and fold the furniture up again.

Seriously, can we stop this now? At least slack it off a little?

quality blogging takes time, like, all tuesday
Tue 2015-07-07 23:58:56 (single post)

Hello, Tuesday! You start my writing week off. You started this week off well! Five hours of writing every Tuesday through Friday, that's the idea, and by the Gods I have done that today. And not because I was frantically trying to finish an overdue fictionette! No, I am all caught up (more or less) on fictionettes, so I just did my daily half-hour on the upcoming one. Bliss! I get to fill my writing hours with other writing things.

Like that Boulder Writing Examiner gig I used to do almost regularly, but haven't done at all since February. I done did summa-dat today! Only the post is not up yet because it is not yet finished. Which is frustrating.

Since it's Hugo voting season, I'm working on an article explaining that yes, you too can vote on the Hugo Awards, here's what you need to know, go do it! It's just a Hugos 101 post, mind you. I'm not going to be getting into the Sad/Rabid Puppies mess, other than a link or two where appropriate. ("Some reasons why voters use the No Award option...") Even so, two hours were not enough time to get the post done and uploaded. I don't know what it is takes me so long with Examiner articles--finding good links? Finding the right way to word things? Sourcing an image? (I haven't even gotten to that part yet.) But it does. It reliably does.

Just to be clear: In terms of money, the hourly rate of return on writing this Hugos 101 post is minuscule. One does not do it for the money. One does it 'cause one's got something topical to say, because one wants to do one's part to get out the vote, to get that vote out just about as far as it can possibly be gotten. (One may also feel slightly ashamed that one's Puzzle Pirates Examiner posts outnumber one's Boulder Writing Examiner posts. Makes my priorities look a little whacked.)

So that was two hours. Two other hours already went toward those daily tasks that are mandatory for a work day--warm-ups, daily maintenance, that sort of thing. And the remaining hour starts off right here with ye olde actually writing blog. If there's time left over in the five hours, I'll work a little bit more on the Hugos thing.

It is possible that five hours over four days isn't enough in a week to get everything done. But I'm not futzing with the overall goal until I'm actually meeting it every week. That I'm reaching the five hour mark today is kind of a wowzer. I'd like it to be more of a routine occurrence before I step back and evaluate whether it's the right goal for, well, my goals. The long-term goals. Like "submit more fiction" and "get published more often" and "get a novel ready to meet the nice people."

So, that was Tuesday. It was a good Tuesday! (pats Tuesday on the head.) Tuesday gets a cookie! Good Tuesday.

we have met the enemy, yadda yadda yadda
Thu 2015-06-25 23:59:59 (single post)

Being a terribly self-indulgent iteration of the steps by which a mind sabotages itself. This is how it begins:

  1. "Oh, crud! I overslept! The whole day is ruined!"
  2. "No, wait, it's OK. There's still plenty of day left. Not all is lost!"
  3. "In fact... heck, I could go back to sleep. There's still plenty of time."

Second iteration

  1. "Oh, crud! I wasn't supposed to go back to sleep for that long! I've overslept! The whole day is toast!"
  2. "No, wait, it's OK. There's still plenty of time. Let's not panic."
  3. "In fact, let's relax. Have a nice breakfast (er, lunch). Let off a little steam."

Third iteration

  1. "Crud! How did another two hours pass while I was just reading blogs/playing games over breakfast/lunch? It is now futile to get anything done today!"

...And so forth. Steps 1-3 repeat for some indeterminate number of times until Step 1 is followed by Step APOCALYPSE, which is, "Seeing as how it is futile to get anything done at this late hour, I might as well not try. It's not worth the stress. I'm sorry, but, good night."

What I'm trying to do is build exit ramps for this merry-go-round.

To be clear, there's nothing wrong with "It's OK, there's still plenty of time, don't panic." As a source of hope, Step 2 is quite healthy. The problem is Step 3, wherein Step 2 is used as an excuse to procrastinate.

I'm experimenting with an alternate Step 3, which goes, "So if I get started on my work now, I'll finish it early and have plenty time for other things, like spinning or practicing piano or playing video games!" Followed by actually starting the work, no matter how late the day's gotten. I mean, hell, no matter how impossible it has become to log a whole 5 hours of writing, I can always at least log a few minutes. (And, for the record, I did. This blog post is part of that. Go me.)

Practice, as they say, makes permanent. Unfortunately, I have a lot of practice finding excuses to never get started at all. Doing otherwise requires a certain amount of escape velocity. Doing otherwise repeatedly is damn difficult. Thus, Tuesday was pretty good, Wednesday was only half-good, and today... was barely any good at all.

Tomorrow will be better.

For our purposes, "tomorrow" starts now.

Cover art incorporates a photo of a Greyhound bus by Kevin.B on Wikimedia Commons. Click to see original photo.
this fictionette is only for the strong of stomach
Tue 2015-06-23 22:21:33 (single post)

So here's the Friday Fictionette I was supposed to post for June 19. It's called "All Creatures Great and Small," and it is, at least partially, about puking. (That's by way of your content warning. You may not want to read it while you're eating.) It's also about the creation of teeny, tiny, cute yet disgusting monsters after the manner of a particular fairy tale.

Today's work day went almost exactly as planned, down to taking five-minute spinning breaks out on the patio in between 25-minute sessions of writing. I'm spinning a lovely half-fleece of "black" (really a very dark brown) CVM lamb. At least, I think it's CVM. I used to have this written down on a card that I kept with the fleece, but the moths ate it along with a shameful amount of wool.

When I discovered the moths had gotten into it--this was last year when I was cleaning out the office closet at the old address--I went into Emergency Wool Rescue Mode. The first step of Emergency Wool Rescue Mode was wash it all right now. The second and subsequent steps were to allow it to freeze, then allow it to thaw, repeat until sure all moth eggs have been destroyed.

Despite the emergency washing, the wool still feels greasy. But it's nice. Lanolin is good for your hands, after all. And each flicked lock seems to stretch like taffy as I draft it into the twist. It's pleasant and easy work, and very rewarding as the yards and yards of thin single ply wind onto the bobbin.

We've been spending more and more time out on the patio since bringing home the deck furniture. John and I had breakfast out there together, along with our usual post-breakfast state-of-the-household chat. Then I brought the spinning wheel, fleece, and carding combs out, and they sat beside or on the table all day, ready for me to come out and take each five-minute break. When the five minutes were up, I could easily hear the Pomodoro Timer's "get back to work" whistle through the open office window. Neighbors passed by and waved, smiled, commented on the weather. Lawn mowers sent their buzz-saw serenades up into the sky, where small planes doing airport pattern work occasionally echoed that song back down.

Despite the heat of the summer, it's cool on the patio, cooler even than in the house. It's a very nice place to be--at least until the mosquitoes start their twilight hunt. I may start taking more of my work out there.

making the write decisions
Tue 2015-06-16 23:53:28 (single post)

There are no wrong decisions. This is very important to remember. I keep forgetting, which causes me no end of problems until I remember it again.

For a little while, I was working through the exercises in Creativity Rules! (A Writer's Workbook) by John Vorhaus. I never made it all the way through the book. Partially due to a feeling that the exercises were becoming less relevant to my particular practice, and partially due to some irreconcilable issues I came to have with the author's perspective, I fell out of the habit and eventually put the book aside.

Nevertheless, that book did introduce me to a couple of eternal verities that I have tried to hold onto. To wit:

  • All writing is good writing. Any writing is more writing than you had before.
  • Today's goal: Be a better writer than I was yesterday.
  • Writing means deciding, often arbitrarily, between infinite possibilities.
  • There are no wrong decisions.

It's that last bit I have to keep remembering. Of late, my freewriting sessions have devolved into circumlocution when they ought to be zeroing in on specifics. "The main character investigates too closely into some mystery," I'll write, "which results in he or she uncovering a Terrible Truth which they will always wish they'd never learned." OK, fine, but what's the mystery? What's the truth? Who is the character?

And that's where I'll stall out--I don't want to make any decisions. I'm afraid I'll make the wrong decision. I'll write myself into a corner. I won't know what I'm writing about. If the mystery and the terrible truth involve a corporate outfit, I'll trip over my total ignorance of corporate culture. If it's an IT environment, my memory of how that goes is more than ten years outdated. And that's before I consider the implications of what gender I make the main character, or what economic background, or what their particular role is in the environment where they are investigating the mystery, and...

And paralysis.

Which is silly, because, as I must constantly remind myself, there are no wrong decisions. Any decision leads to story. Different decisions lead to different stories. And no decision is final! Sure, each decision narrows the possibilities available within any one story. Once I decide to make the main character a trust-fund baby used to getting his own way at his father's bank, I no longer have the option of making her a woman who has clawed her way out from poverty and up the corporate latter. But after writing for twenty-five minutes about the banker's son, I can open up a new blank document, reset my timer, and write for twenty-five minutes about the self-made woman. Different decisions lead to different stories, and I can write them all.

So I just have to remind myself: Angst over arbitrary decisions is just another way to put off the actual act of writing. It's one of the sneaky ways Resistance and Avoidance manage to crash the productivity party. The moment I notice that I'm writing around the story idea instead of writing it down, that's when I need to convert all that circumlocution into a game of Mad Libs. "[Character] investigates [mystery] in [some corporate environment] and discovers [the horrible truth]... OK, make that 'college intern,' 'weekly meetings she's not invited to,' and 'demonic invocation.' Go! ... OK, now let's try it again with 'newly appointed interim director,' 'shameful inefficiencies concerning environmental studies,' and 'deaths being covered up in appalling numbers'. Wait, doesn't that sound kind of familiar? Who cares, play with it anyway."

Point is, it's a game of fill-in-the-blanks, and there are no wrong answers. Fill in the blanks more or less at random. Write about the results, in good faith and with actual scenes and characters and details. Then fill the blanks again, and write those scenes and characters and details.

Every decision is the right decision, so long as it's the "write" decision.

...And there's your cheesy inspirational slogan for the week. You're welcome!

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