inasmuch as it concerns Routines:
Pen meets paper, fingers meet keyboard, nose meets grindstone, butt gets glued to chair. Y'know.
I Distract Myself With a New Pen
My new fountain pen arrived today. I said to myself the other day, "I just had a birthday. I can totally spoil myself." So I visited Sheaffer's website, because of all the fountain pens I have tried at any price, it's been the Sheaffers that are consistently a joy to write with. Smooth action, no missed strokes, good constant ink delivery. And the price ranges from "That's very nice for under a hundred bucks" all the way down to "Eight dollars? For a vintage Sheaffer? HERE IS CASH NOW GIMME."
I ended up ordering the Sheaffer Agio. I picked the black barrel with the gold-plated nib in fine point. It comes with a screw-fill piston converter, just like I like, along with two disposable cartridges I will probably forget to use because they are disposable and also in boring colors. Likewise, the "Luxury Gift Box" is lovely indeed but will probably spend its days forgotten in a drawer; I carry my fountain pens around in my Big Huge Everything I Could Possibly Need It Is My Mobile Office bookbag.
And lo, it arrived today, and it writes as smoothly as expected, and I have filled it not with boring blue but with Midnight Blue ink that I got last year at Papier Plume in the French Quarter. It is shiny. Shiny is good. Shiny keeps my mind off other things.
(Like the fact that a friend of mine broke her ankle at derby practice tonight. She's no newbie to wheels and she wasn't doing anything weird, just one moment she was up and skating and the next she was down and screaming, and it just happened and that means it could happen to anybody. No matter what you do. You can work hard to eliminate a lot of the reasons for injury, you can build up your ankle strength and get out of the habit of dragging your toe stop for balance, and all that means is when it finally happens to you it won't be because of insufficient ankle strength or bad habits. "Freak accident" is always lurking backstage waiting to pounce and there's nothing anyone can do about that.
(If I ever managed to wrap my brain around that and really think about it, I might never put skates on my feet again. But when I put skates on there is nothing in my head except how right skating feels, and that holds true even during the very first exercise we all do right after watching our friend get wheeled away into an ambulance. Seriously, I did not think about it again until we were packing up and leaving the building--and then I just about melted during the drive home. I called John up: "Can you be home when I get there? I need hugs. A lot of hugs." Because of knowing it could as easily have been me and it still could be me, it could happen Thursday at scrimmage, it could happen. Because of how helpless I felt seeing a friend in that much pain and not being able to make the pain go away. And because I felt guilty over freaking out and crying and demanding hugs and comfort, I mean, I'm not the one with the actual injury, this isn't about me, it's selfish and melodramatic of me to freak out when I'm not the one in the hospital tonight. And because oh my Gods what if that happens when I'm the only one around who can take charge what if I go to pieces instead of doing anything useful what then what then what then?! And also because--how could I just stop thinking about it? How could I just go on to the next drill as though nothing had happened? How could the world just keep turning, the clock keep ticking towards 8:30, the practice go on as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened?
(But that's what you do. And that's what our injured friend would want us to do. Keep on skating. For her. Because she can't now, and someone's gotta. And Thursday, somehow, that miracle will occur again, as it does with breathtaking regularity: Despite knowing it could happen to any one of us, we'll all put our skates on and get out on the track and play roller derby.)
So my pen arrived today, and it was perfect timing, because shiny and distracting is exactly what I need right now.
Videos of cute animals being cute would also be lovely right now.
There's Always Tomorrow...
So today was not the productive, happy, high-energy day I was hoping for. It started with a headache and it dragged along in slow motion. Today did not represent any sort of significant step in the great plans I have for new-habit-forming and rut-reconstruction. But I promised I would blog, and blog I am indeed doing. So there's that.
Here's the deal: I am tired of getting nothing done. On any given weekday I've been as likely to stay in bed with a book until the early afternoon as I am to get up and write. More likely, in fact. It's pathetic. And while a full-time work-at-home writer can set her own hours, I find I never really get up to useful speed if I stay in bed past noon. I'm a morning person. (A morning person who can't seem to get out of bed. I know, it's weird.) Besides, I've got derby practice three days a week. I can't entirely set my own hours.
So recently I've been collecting strategies to combat that tendency. The best one, the main one on which all strategies depend, is to pattern my schedule after John's such that I wake up with him and then go in to work with him. Well, not with him at his office (though I suspect his coworkers would actually get a kick out of me coming in and taking over an unused desk once in a while), but with him in downtown Boulder. There are at least four co-working spaces set up in that area, and at least two more out on our side of town. I don't have a full membership anywhere, but most of them have a daily rate as well. For $15 or $20, depending, you can work there from 9 AM to 6 PM. And I've been doing that once or twice a week. I've worked a few days out of Scrib, I've tried out Co-Motion and BDA, and I've just about fallen in love with Fuse at The Riverside.
As it happens, the day I checked out Fuse for the first time was also the day John's company moved house. They were in the Colorado Building at 14th and Walnut; now they're in One Boulder Plaza. So after John and I walk to his office together, I continue on for one block south along Broadway. It's very convenient.
(And then, if it's Tuesday, we meet up after work and have dinner, then we both go back down to The Riverside because we're taking swing dance lessons in the event center space there.)
Thing about Fuse is, it's very much still under construction. But it is going to be awesome. It's already got rentable desks and an open seating work area and a creekside conference room. The cafe counter just got finished and revealed this week. Now they're working on the kitchen so that the cafe can actually serve food. And I can't wait for the library and wine bar downstairs to be completed. I'm really excited about what they're going to be. And I am this close to just plunging in and becoming a member and renting a desk. I want to support them. And there's value in getting in on the ground floor, so to speak. I sort of want to be part of the process of Fuse's creation.
But because they're very much a work in progress, they're still trying to build, or perhaps accrete, a community. It's like the physical version of the dilemma of starting a new online bulletin board: you need people to join in order to have a community, but in order to get people to join you need to have a vibrant community. So what they really need is people to be there, working or co-creating or conversing, filling the space with bustle and productivity and excitement, so that prospective members checking out the place see that instead of silent, empty rooms and construction dust.
So I committed to coming in twice a week, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. That's twice a week that I'm absolutely getting out of bed, going downtown, sitting down at a desk, and working. So far it's been really productive. I have set myself a schedule -- fiction before lunch, "day job writing" after lunch -- and if I haven't adhered to it perfectly, well, I'm at least approximating it.
And I'm hoping that the way I work at Fuse will become a new habit that will play out on my at-home days, too. It didn't happen today. I partially blame the headache for that, and also having to put my skates back together and do stuff like that. But mostly it was just me falling back in that same old rut. It's OK, though. It doesn't mean my attempts to change things are worthless and doomed. There's always tomorrow. Tomorrow could be a productive day. And, at worst, Tuesday will be here again soon.
About Time We Cleaned Up In Here
How appropriate. It's Spring, and I'm cleaning things.
Pictured here like an exploded diagram of skate anatomy are my freshly cleaned wheels and bearings. It really was about time. Seriously. The wheels were honest-to-Gods squeaking. There was hair wound up in the axles, and the wheels themselves looked like the view through a funnel into Hell. Also there was this time about a week ago I found myself obliged to skate a block and a half in the rain. Not good from a rust perspective. (Nobody's fault but mine.)
There are eight wheels. Each wheel turns on two bearings (each of which are actually six ball bearings inside a donut-shaped case). Each bearing has two plastic shields. Also there are the wheels themselves and the nuts that keep them on their axles. That's a lot of cleaning. The metal things want a non-water-based solvent and the plastic things want soap and water. Me, I want a lot of hand lotion now, and to get the pleasant but strong smell of citrus solvent out of my nose.
And then there was laundry. All my derby clothes are now drying on the line. Thank goodness this week's snow storm ended yesterday and the daytime temperatures have risen into the short-sleeve ranges.
You know what else is getting cleaned today? My fountain pen nib. The good one. The Sheaffer fine-tip that writes perfectly, except that lately it won't "suck up" ink from its supply. It will just stop writing, at which point I have to fiddle with the screw-fill converter to force a little ink up the line. I think it's because there's a small clog somewhere. So the nib got a really good soaking this evening and we'll see how it's doing in the morning.
You know what else is getting cleaned up today, this week, this Spring? Me. Me and my habits and my auto-pilot routines. I'm gonna drive a fleet of construction equipment into the mental/emotional/psychological ruts in my life and perform some deconstructive surgery on 'em.
That I'm blogging tonight, here, is a direct result.
More tomorrow. Promise.
On Dailiness: Morning Pages and the Contents Thereof
Life has to return to normal sometime. So this is me, trying to establish a normal, work-a-day writing pattern. I have historically not been good at this. But it's a new year, one that's forced some life-altering changes on us right from the get-go. As long as I'm trying to get my feet back under me, I might as well try to put them down somewhere sturdy.
(Everything's changing around here. With Uno away into the great beyond, all our cat-having habits have no place and all the legacies left by our cats--which is to say stains, hair collections, and broken bits--can now be addressed in a permanent and non-futile fashion. Also, a second burner on the stove has given up the ghost. Suddenly we're shopping for large kitchen appliances, considering new flooring, picking out new bed sheets, and replacing the leaky shower head and the wobbly up-lamps and the toaster oven that hasn't had a working toast function in years.)
So, writing habits. Daily ones. Here's one I'm returning to, one that I both love and hate--or, rather, appreciate and dread: "Morning pages," a la Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. Morning pages, very simply, are three long-hand pages of writing committed first thing in the morning. Cameron recommends doing them before anything else, especially before reading or writing anything else.
Ideally, I'd open up my eyes, roll over, grab my notebook, and do it. In practice, best case scenario finds me heading to the kitchen first for a fresh tea bag and water for the electric kettle. I also fiddle with my fountain pens a bit. That's what fountain pens are for: all the colors in J. Herbin's catalog, and also fiddling.
Less good cases involve oversleeping, racing through my morning, and eventually slowing down long enough to do my pages. If I ever get there. I'll be trying harder to get there this year.
So I appreciate and dread the practice for roughly the same reason: It forces me to confront the contents of my brain. It's a lot like appreciating and dreading hard exercise, like the off-skates workout that Give 'em Elle put us through at derby practice Sunday. I know it's good for me, but I know it's going to hurt.
Not many people really know this, but--I don't much like what's in my brain.
Still, what I don't confront, I avoid; and what I avoid, I tend to obsess over in the avoiding. Weird, right? Perverse as all get-out. (I'm telling you, my brain is out to get me.) But that's the way it works, so it's probably best to hit the nasty things head on so that they don't follow me throughout the day and get between me and the world. Or between me and the page.
That's the theory, anyway. I'm not 100% convinced it works. I mean, does journaling about nasty brain contents lay the ghosts, or does it just create new associations for them to haunt? Sometimes it goes one way, sometimes the other. I can never tell in advance which it's going to be.
Argh. Enough blog therapy. Moving on.
A significant few paragraphs of my morning pages tend to focus on my Plans for the Day. They are optimistic, my Plans. They aspire. And they impose a structure so that I don't lose my day in a wishy-washy haze of "Better write. Eek! Writing is big and scary and I can't do it!" Planning it out makes it something that I can, presumably, do. Unfortunately, my thoughts soon turn to how my Plans for Yesterday fell through (guilt! despair! shame!) and how I'd better adhere to my Plans for Today to prove myself (pressure! stress! more despair! more avoidance!).
This would be another of those love/hate aspects of the morning pages ritual. I'm kind of a mess.
Sometimes I spend a page or more working on a current story problem. This character needs motivation! What does these two characters mean to each other? Let's make up some character history.
Sometimes I spend a few lines noticing a handwriting habit I could fix. Then I write very slowly for a short while, repeating the letter combination I've been tripping over. I would like to have nice handwriting.
Sometimes I write down my dreams.
Sometimes I get distracted by the world outside the window. The deer across the street Saturday morning, just grazing their way around the senior living center's tiny dog park, were a particularly eye-catching distraction.
Sometimes I get distracted by sudden thoughts, which I mustn't forget. I try to just make a note of them rather than interrupt the writing to act on them. But I have to make a note elsewhere, because I generally don't want to reread my morning pages until quite some time has passed.
The thing about writing down the contents of my brain, it's like writing down a story's rough draft or thinking out loud. (I talk to myself a lot. It's embarrassing when someone catches me at it.) I don't really know what's in my head until my physical senses, eyes and ears and touch, can experience it. I think I know--wouldn't you think you'd know what's in your own head?--but I don't, not really, not until I am forced to experience my thoughts as words in real time.
It's a good thing, this forced specificity. It turns big vague scary obligations into manageable, discrete tasks. It turns story outline dilemmas into concrete plot goals. It captures dreams before they slip away. And even the nasty stuff that only gets louder for writing it down, even though it hurts, at least by writing it down I come to know exactly what it is that's causing the hurting, which is a necessary step on the road to doing something about it.
So that's morning pages. I'm doing them again.
Tomorrow morning, too.
Blasting Through an Early Morning Draft
- 1,854 wds. long
Up and writing earlier than I intended. Birds start to tweet around 4:45 or so, and then it's no use trying to sleep. I tried anyway, shuffling and rewriting the mental index cards for the new story, until the sentences assembled themselves into WRITE ME DOWN fashion and I got up and went to the computer.
Thinking I was just jotting down notes, I actually blasted through an entire draft composed as minimal HTML in EditPlus. That's another weird thing about the way I work; sometimes I get unstuck when I change writing medium. The phone story shook loose when I went from yWriter to WordPerfect 5.1. "First Breath" came tumbling out when I unearthed my typewriter. This morning, the new story got a real first draft when I took the text editor I use for making grocery lists, writing blog posts, and editing PHP/MySQL, and I pretended I wasn't actually writing a draft.
It worked, I think, for two reasons. For one, I can see more of the text at a time composing single-spaced in a text editor than I can double-spaced in the little blue WP51 window. For another, the stripped-down text-editor environment made it easy to write simply. No long flashbacks about the protagonist's railroad-flattened nickel or philosophical maunderings about mingling guilt with fascination with a sense of power. Just simple sentences describing a select few key details adding up to the story I was trying to tell. And no more bogging-down.
As far as I know, I'm OK so long as I submit this thing while it's still August 1 wherever the editors of The First Line reside, or maybe as long as my email is time-stapmed August 1. So I think what I'm going to do this afternoon is take this draft for revisions to the place I've set the story: the Madison Street Diner, on Madison Street just south of Colfax. OK, well, the real Madison Street isn't an all-night diner, it's only open from 4 PM until 10 tonight, but why not, right? Then I'll come up with a real title (I hope), submit the story, and drive back to Boulder in time to meet friends for take-out food and a game of Dread.
Until then, though, I'm going to try to get some sleep. At least for a few hours.
On Unexpectedly Early Mornings and What to Do with Them
When I was in college, I used to wake up at 6:00 AM every weekday morning so I could write. I'd make myself coffee, soft-boil a couple of eggs, toast and butter a couple slices of bread, maybe scrape some onion shavings onto the toast if I was feeling fancy. Then I'd write. I didn't have a particular work in progress. I just wrote.
Which isn't to say I had no goal. I set myself two constraints. First, I had to fill one whole page of a WP51 document I'd specially formatted for this purpose: single-spaced, 10 point serif, 2-page-per-sheet bookfold. I had to end right on the last line. If I went over, I had to edit back. If I ended short, I hadn't actually ended. Secondly, whatever I filled that page with had to have a beginning, middle, and an end. It had to come to some sort of conclusion.
I was teaching myself to write flash fiction. I didn't know that at the time; I didn't know there was such a thing. But I did it every morning before I went to my 8:00 AM class. I have two home-printed, hand-bound chapbooks to show for it.
Clearly I've gotten out of practice. I'm out of the habit of early mornings. I'm struggling to get back in the habit of daily writing. And when I participated in Codex's "Weekend Warrior" contest -- respond to Friday night's prompts with a story of up to 750 words by Sunday night, five weekends in a row -- I found the exercise exhausting. This is particularly demoralizing considering I have so few demands on my time these days. I'm not a student and I'm not externally employed, so why is it so hard now to do what I did back when I carried a full courseload and worked 20 hours a week besides?
(I'm pretty sure the answer lies precisely in the lack of demands on my time. When all you've got is an hour to get things done in, you effin' get things done, right? When you've got all day, you putter about like you've got all day. Well, I do, anyway.)
Writing habits of days gone by come to mind on mornings like this, when the cat walks across my pillow at 4:45 AM and I can't seem to get back to sleep afterwards and the plot of the short story I failed to finish this past weekend ("Mega Weekend Warrior" -- prompts on Friday, a story of 2,000 to 7,500 words due Sunday night) comes back and tap-dances on my brain. It seems like writing is a better use of time than lying in bed being mad at the cat.
Apparently I can make coffee pretty well in the dark. I still haven't finished that short story, but the first scene is closer to complete.
A soft-boiled egg on toast sounds pretty good right about now.
I Get a Sunrise!
- 40,984 wds. long
Sometimes I am not so smart.
Today is Monday, which means I'd usually be heading to Abbondanza for my weekly volunteer shift. Only, it's also November. As the fall season drifts into winter, the weather gets less predictable. And even when the weather is fine, the farm is slowing down -- getting put to bed, you might say. So I've been getting in the habit of texting the farmer on Sunday just to confirm that I should, in fact, be coming on Monday.
I forgot to text yesterday. Oops.
This morning, I missed the bus by that much -- and it really wasn't necessary. I mean, in the first place, it's not necessary to be late getting out the door. I was up by 6:15 AM, leaving myself plenty of time get dressed, get fed, and even check in on some kitchen processes I started last night.
One process was the fruitcake I finally got around to baking. I left it in the oven to cool overnight, and this morning I boozed up a cheesecloth in brandy, wrapped the cake in the cheesecloth, and sealed up the whole package so it can do its stuff until Winter Solstice. Like I say every year: You Have Been Warned. (In case you're interested: Walnuts, almonds, currants, raisins both golden and not, dates, figs, dried strawberries, diced dried-and-sweetened papaya. I think that's all. Did I mention the brandy?)
The other process was a pot of chicken stock in the slow-cooker. One of this year's end-of-season offerings for Abbondanza's CSA members was a small frozen chicken specifically for making stock. I defrosted it last night in a pot of simmering water and then tossed it and a bunch of vegetables into the slow-cooker last night. This morning I poked at it, decided it had enough water for the rest of the morning, and ate the drumsticks. I can see why it's emphasized that this is a chicken for stock only. It's not particularly plump or tender, this chicken. But eight hours in a crock-pot on low along with carrots, onions, garlic, celery, bay, and "Italian Spices" (I didn't have any thyme on hand) made a yummy couple of bite-sized drumsticks.
Yay kitchen stuff! You bored yet?
Anyway, I had plenty of time to do all that and my Puzzle Pirates blockade schedule besides, and also to clean up after the inevitable mess the cats left me. (Null is not only unable to control his bathroom functions these days, but also he managed to find all the almond slivers I dropped last night. He's a freak for almonds, that cat, and he's not supposed to have them -- too high a concentration of protein for his degenerating kidneys. How do I know he got into them? I cleaned up the barf, that's how I know. Ew.) None of this is responsible for my getting out the door late. No. The real culprit was deciding, "Oh, I have time for a few minutes on Glitch."
And I still would not have missed that bus if, upon the point of departing, upon the point of setting foot to bike pedal, I had not discovered that my wallet was not on my person. It was in the gym bag from yesterday's indoor climbing session. But still I'd have been fine if I'd stopped to think, "You know, this is no emergency. I know exactly where my wallet is. And I don't need it. I've got cash and bus tickets in my book bag. I'm set." But no. Up I run to retrieve the wallet. Down I run to pedal like mad toward the bus stop. And of course I watch the bus pass my stop while I'm still a block away.
The weather was gorgeous. The sunrise was shrouded in a thick cover of puffy pink-and-blue clouds. The wind had calmed down some from its pre-dawn gusting. It was still significant, but mostly it blew my way. And it was warm -- it was supposed to be only 37 degrees in Boulder, but that was while it was still dark. I had to shrug out of my jacket and overshirt 'round about Jay Road. It was a great morning for a bike ride. In fact, I'm half convinced I went back for my wallet because I had a subconscious desire to start my day with a 50-minute bike ride on this beautiful morning.
As I cycled along, I sent a text message to the farmer: "Running a bit late this am. probably there by 8:30. til then!"
I did not realize he'd responded until I got to the stop light in Niwot and pulled out the phone to check the time. "Today is open! No crew and I'm working on tractor."
Oh. OK then!
I turned off Diagonal Highway onto Niwot's Main Street I mean 2nd Avenue, locked up my bike at The Eye Opener, acquired a cup of coffee, and sat me down. Out came the laptop, and here we are.
So this weekend I was not exactly at my brightest as far as planning goes. On the other hand, if I hadn't forgotten to text yesterday, I probably wouldn't have been up and writing before 9 AM, and certainly not in Niwot after a half hour of brisk biking through the tail end of a gorgeous sunrise. I'd have slept in for who knows how long. But I did forget, so I did get up, and that's how these things work sometimes.
More later. Hitting the novel now. I'm still behind schedule and there's only three days left to go!
Pre-Sirens Avon Writing Retreat, Day 2
- 1,050 wds. long
In some ways, today went even better than yesterday. Remember yesterday's checklist? Everything got checked off today that got checked off yesterday: Morning Pages, both Day Job Writing components (those being Examiner.com and Demand Media), and Fiction. And this time I didn't cheat on the Day Job Writing -- which is to say, instead of just completing a rewrite request on a Demand Media article, and a rewrite request which consisted only of a copy editor's request for reference clarification, today I wrote an actual article. And submitted it. (And got it accepted, too. So: yay! More money on Friday!)
But there was a cheat component today, too. I didn't get to the short story until about half an hour ago -- at least, not to the putting-words-on-the-page part; I was thinking about it all day, including while asleep -- and all I wrote were a few sentences.
They were fairly lovely sentences though, I think. They came out of an observation that yesterday's writing lacked specificity. Who were all these people in the womens' house? Which normal human beings come to the funeral of a Goddess? What names do I put in the places where I've currently got "[NAME]"? These questions did not get answers yet. But I imagined myself standing where Demi stands, gazing from her living room out across the frozen lake, and I thought of the chill that bites through window glass when it's cold enough to freeze lakes. And that's what's in the few sentences I pecked out tonight.
That's stories for you. Sometimes they come in miserly dribs and drabs, and you've just got to set your bucket out to catch whatever little falls in.
Lori and I continue enjoying our retreat. We took a walk aroud the lake that's at the far end of the soccer field -- Nottingham Lake, Google Maps tells me. And, on my insistence, we dropped by the library again. I got a library card for the Eagle Valley District a couple years ago, thinking that John and I could check out DVDs to watch together. This week I've been checking out Julia Cameron books. Yesterday it was Vein of Gold, but after reading through the first few chapters I don't think it's where I am right now. So today it was Walking in this World, which still isn't exactly right, but it's closer. Lori and I are doing quite a lot of walking, after all.
The Italian restaurant in the Lodge at Avon is under new management. The Tuesday lunch special, a baked tortellini with a Caesar salad side, was very tasty and just the right size.
Loaded Joe's continues comfy and convenient. Especially comfy. Both today and yesterday I nearly fell asleep on their sofa. So both days I came back to the Sheraton Mountain Vista after Joe's and had a nap. (This is the "including while asleep" I mentioned earlier.) Tomorrow and Thursday Loaded Joe's will be closed for some minor renovations. I hope we get a chance despite the conference to see how those renovations turn out.
We had dinner in the room tonight. Lori makes a delicious pesto. She bought some wine to go with it. Now I am full and sleepy.
Somewhere tonight I got distracted by the archives of the web comic Three Panel Soul. Now I am trying to remember the short story that Lem's guest strip is referencing. Neither title, author, nor anthology are coming to mind. I remember this much: it involves living one's life over again several times on the way to saving the world and dying too soon. I think it's on my bookshelf back home.
That's pretty much it for today, and probably more than was really necessary. It's late and my blogging abilities are devolving into brain-dump. Heigh ho.
I suppose tomorrow I should continue the strategy of starting with whatever I skimped on the previous day. Today I hit the Demand Media article directly after Morning Pages because I'd skimped on that part of my checklist yesteday. Tomorrow I suppose I had best start with the short story.
Pre-Sirens Avon Writing Retreat, Day 1
- 2,615 wds. long
Another writing-related event is around the corner: Sirens, a conference dedicated to women in fantasy literature. (I have been telling people "women in science fiction and fantasy," but looking at the Sirens website now, I see that was too broad a description.) This will be my first year attending, since I only just found out about it last year during NaNoWriMo (which is just around the corner, by the way) when Zak and Sharon visited around Thanksgiving and asked if I'd be going.
The theme of Sirens for 2011 will be "monsters," and panels promise to focus not just fantastical beasts who happen to be female, but also on the distressing tendency to treat women as monstrous. It should be no surprise to anyone to hear that this is right up my alley.
I'll be blogging about Sirens over at Boulder Writing Examiner, of course, because this is the sort of thing that Boulder-area writers should know about. What I'll be blogging about over here, where things are All About Me, is the awesome half-week of pure writing retreat that Lori and I are having during the run-up to Sirens.
We're staying at the Sheraton Mountain Vista, same place as Bridget and I stayed at last year (though, looking back, I see I got the hotel/resort's name wrong), writing and perpetrating yummy cooking experiments. (Looking back, I also see that weekend was where "Blackbird" started taking off in my head. "Unfinished Letter" has made no progress since then, to my shame.) Using the timeshare week for a writing retreat has, as I said then, become a bit of a tradition for me. It seemed the convenient thing to do when Lori and I stopped waffling around and decided that yes, dang it, we'll be attending Sirens.
We drove up yesterday, but no writing got done then, mainly because we had just driven up from Boulder. Add to this my early-morning start driving a friend to the airport, and the sum was exhaustion.
But today was a different story. We were both up by 7:30 AM, drinking coffee and doing writerly things. Writerly things continued throughout the day. Lori is concentrating exclusively on her novel-in-progress; I heard her say "Finished the chapter!" at least twice today. As for me, my writerly things consisted of the following:
- Morning Pages (for the first time in ever)
- Two Examiner articles (here and here)
- The first scene in the Persephone/Demeter story's new draft (from blank page, hence the word count drop)
- A Demand Media rewrite
Also a bunch of Glitch got played, much of it while watching Monday Night Football. I was rooting for the Buccs over the Colts, 'cause I want our division to represent, yo.
My main goal this week is to find a way for my fiction writing to coexist peacefully with my "day job" writing, ideally such that both get some of my time each day. If today is any indication, this is indeed possible. At least, it is when I have not cats and bills and housework and groceries and other errands of daily life to run. Making it work while on retreat is easy. Bringing the lessons back to the day-to-day will be something else entirely.
But I'm not going to fall into the trap of "That's nice, but it could be better" or beat myself up with the stick of "That's nice, but it's not much, is it?" I'm going to appreciate what I get done each day. Which isn't something I've been historically good at, sure, but new habits gotta come from somewhere.
"Saturday was the longest day I ever lived..."
- 2,850 wds. long
It started out in Nebraska, for one thing. I was riding the California Zephyr from Chicago to Denver, and it crossed the state line sometime around 5:00 AM or so. I'm not sure if I was awake for that. I know I woke up several times through the night to see the moon, just past full, shining in on me. Then the sun was rising and my seatmate said, "It was 6:15 a moment ago; now it's 5:30." "Oh," I said, rubbing my eyes, "we must have crossed into Colorado."
I put on my shoes, went downstairs to replace my morning breath with minty toothpaste breath, and went back one car in search of means to replace that with coffee breath. The lounge car had just opened for service and the line stretched up the stairs and halfway through the sightseer deck, so I put off coffee 'til later. Open up laptop and write story now.
I was on tap for story critique for my twice-monthly Wednesday group. It would have met tomorrow, but since not enough RSVPs were received it got canceled. But I didn't know that would happen, so I was slightly panicking. I wanted to email that story the moment I got home. I didn't have much time.
That's the thing with new stories. I can work them over in my head as much as I'd like, but they don't really come out until they come out. Of course, the sooner I start writing the first scene, the sooner I'll know how the second scene goes, and so forth, but I swear I wrote and rewrote the first scene several times and had no clue. Really, the story wasn't actually there to be written the way it ought to be written until I realized that the beginning catalyst and the climax mechanism, if related, would make each other less contrived and the story more efficient. And that didn't happen until sometime Thursday.
Would it have happened sooner if I'd spent more time thinking about it sooner? I don't know. The person I was Thursday is not identical to the person I was Wednesday, or the week before. Maybe the person I was the week before couldn't have figured out what the person I was Friday afternoon on the train needed to know to start churning out scene after scene at last.
Because that's mainly what I did Friday on the train. I also knitted a good deal of sock, read the first chapter of Orphans of Chaos (a free Tor.com download for the site's registered beta users from a couple years ago), and wrote up an article for Demand Studios using web pages I'd Scrapbooked earlier for research. But mainly I wrote the story's first real draft.
Writing a story draft when I only have some 24 hours to do it in is panic-inducing. Every scene I get done, I can't help but think how many more scenes I have to go; and every scene I've written seems to require that the story be at least one scene longer than I'd originally planned. I kept checking my word count and despairing at the realization that it was already 2500 words, already 4000 words.
This, unfortunately, makes for a first draft whose pace gets more and more rushed as the story goes on. But I'm not allowed to fix it just yet. I already mailed it out for critique. It really bugs me when someone responds to comments on his or her story with "Oh, don't worry about that, I've fixed that since, it's totally different now." Might as well just add "Those hours you spent in good faith critiquing my story? Totally wasted. Sorry 'bout that!" I don't know if that bugs other people as much as it bugs me, but I'm not going to do that to anyone else. So I'm not allowed to reread or edit this story until after June 8, which is when my critique was rescheduled for.
So the train arrived and I got home thanks to my terribly sick husband, who peeled himself out of bed long enough to drive down to the Table Mesa Park 'n Ride where the regional bus dropped me off. He went back to bed with my profuse thanks. And I hit the desk to finish writing this dang story.
And I emailed it off.
And promptly regretted it.
It's really pathetic how all it takes to make me insecure about my writing is for me to put it in front of other peoples' eyes. I just have to remind myself that this is how I felt after emailing an early draft of "First Breath," too -- and you know how well that went. (Really well. The anthology it's in will be on bookstore shelves come September 13. I have the PDF of the proof copy right here on my personal hard drive. With a table of contents with my name in them. And Ellen Datlow reports that the galleys are going to Book Expo with her for autograph events scheduled for tomorrow and Thursday. I didn't know galleys went to autographing events. People will see them! People in public! Can I stop hyperventilating now?) Which is not to say this new story is going to be all that and a bag of chips, of course, but it does help remind me that my insecurity isn't an accurate reflection of reality.
So. Story draft done and emailed out. After which, I and five friends drove down to NoNo's Cafe and ate rather a lot of crawfish. Then there were cats to feed, ice cream to purchase, and several episodes of Doctor Who to watch. Also the new My Little Pony cartoons, which, in the capable hands of Lauren Faust (Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Powerpuff Girls), are rather more fun than Hasbro's first go-round.
Conveniently, the world did not go all to pieces at 6:00 PM, so there was nothing stopping us watching cartoons until we were falling-down sleepy.
And that's what I did Sunday.
But oh hey wait not done yet! So. I have this really good friend from high school, right, he actually reads my blog and stuff, he says to me over lunch in Metairie last week, "So when do we get to see more chapters?" And he's right -- I should be posting excerpts more often. So here's the first few paragraphs of my brand new short story draft, which is provisionally titled "The Interfaith Intercessional Fellowship Meets Saturdays at Seven," and is very likely still full of The Suck but hey, it's down in writing now. Ya gotta start somewhere.
Janice Claire joined the cult because, having nothing else to do with her Saturday night, she had no good way to tell Madeline no.
Not that she hadn't tried. "But I don't really believe in prayer," she'd said. "I mean, I hope like anything for the best, but -- I'm not very religious," she finished uncomfortably.
"Oh, that's OK. A lot of people in the group don't pray." Not that Madeline had said please come join our cult. What she'd actually suggested was that Janice Claire accompany her to her prayer group. "It's OK to just hope. Just knowing you're there -- you've given me so much support already, I don't know what I'd do without you."
Not for the first time Janice Claire regretted having opened her mouth. "So much support" had in fact consisted of her mumbling something sympathetic early last week when Madeline had checked her daughter into room 301, bed B. It seemed to be the thing to do. The twelve-year-old had been in and out of consciousness since then, mostly out. No diagnosis had yet surfaced. Janice Claire hadn't been the only one in the records department to express sympathies, but Madeline responded with such an urgently grateful look that she knew it was Uncle Morris's barbecue ribs all over again. Really, she'd known better. Talking to people only got her in trouble. That was precisely why Janice Claire preferred to spend her Saturday evenings in bed with a book.
Ta-da! And that excerpt includes the correction of a major typo that made it out to everyone in the group on Saturday. Dammit. Well. HEY GROUP! Just sort of mentally insert Madeline's name in the sentence that doesn't parse. Where it goes "but responded with," like that. (Sheesh.) Also, it occurs to me that I meant to rename the uncle at some point because naming antagonists after actual real family members sort of sends the wrong message. (I'm sorry! It was automatic! I was in Don't Think Just Write mode! I was visualizing the usual Weilbaecher Family Thanksgiving Dinner, and the name of the annual host of the festivities just dropped in there along with the floor plan of his kitchen! I didn't mean nothing by it! I also didn't mean anything by it!)
And I'm going to stop thinking about this now, OK?