“What is writing? Telepathy, of course.”
Stephen King

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are other things that happened Monday:

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

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

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

Except... well, no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What you need right now, at this particular moment in American history, is a story that doesn’t stoke your feelings of rage, depression and moral exhaustion. And I am here to give it to you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's how this works.

a mark of the changing seasons
Mon 2014-11-24 23:44:07 (single post)

Farm Mondays have more or less come to an end for 2014. The default has flipped: From here on out, the assumption is that unless I hear otherwise, there will not be a Monday crew.

Today was the last Monday where it was the other way around, and even so, I was asked to arrive an hour later than the usual. And even still, there was some early downtime involving hot tea and a very needy orange marmalade tabby cat. As a result, the shift seemed to pass very quickly.

The shift comprised three basic tasks:

Preparing dried lavender for sale/use. Rebecca's Herbal Apothecary & Supply turns out, unsurprisingly, to be super interested in locally sourcing some of their herbs. So that's who's getting the dried lavender blossom that I got to help process today. In this case, "processing" meant separating, as much as possible, the blossoms from the stems. The first step was easy: we took bunches of dried lavender and rolled them between our fingers over a couple of buckets. The next step was a little more complicated: We experimented with different gauge screens, and different methods of pushing plant material through said screens, to result in a maximum of blossom and a minimum of stem passing through. In the end we filled a gallon-sized Ziplok bag fairly snugly.

We came away from that task smelling heavenly, which was really nice considering our next task took us in close proximity to another team who were processing pepper seeds. The peppers were in a really advanced stage of fermentation. Trust me on this one.

Preparing the field for the plow. This meant examining the west terraced crop beds for wooden stakes, very large rocks, sandbags, and, in one case, someone's mason jar full of coffee. Anything the plow would have trouble with, or that we didn't want getting plowed under, needed to be removed. Jackets and coats started coming off around now despite the incoming coldfront, because carrying sandbags in full sunlight tends to raise one's core temperature.

And finally...

Picking peppers in the greenhouse. Several varieties, some of which had clearly been featured on the rodent four-star buffet. Even while we were picking the fruit that remained, we could hear mice squeaking as they ran by at top speed underneath the ground cloth.

And then it was one o'clock and time for me to go. I made a stop in Niwot to put gas in the car and pick up a few groceries (including some delicious udon noodles from Sachi Sushi), and my aspirations to get right to sanding the closet door undergoing refurbishing lasted right up until I got home (and devoured the udon).

But I've gotten quite a bit of the sanding done since waking up from my nap, so that's cool.

Anyway, with the farm going into off-season on-call mode, that frees Mondays up to be just another writing work day. Certainly that's true of next Monday, when I'll be in Avon, Colorado, having my sort-of-annual solo writing retreat/vacation from normal life. Works will progress! Also, yummy food will get cooked, karaoke will be sung, and a certain amount of video games will be played. But mainly writing will happen.

And the current closet doors had just better be done by then, that's all I have to say about that.

hey look a new drabble
Tue 2014-11-18 23:17:26 (single post)

I'm not quite sure how it fell off my radar, but November 2 arrived a couple weeks ago and brought with it my latest drabble publication at SpeckLit. It's called "East of Omaha, West of San Francisco," and it's about one person's very small rebellion against the inevitable shrinking of her world. Or about a general tendency to cope with loss via selective amnesia, maybe. It has more than a little to do with Michael Swanwick's "The Edge of the World" (a damn fine story) getting stuck in my brain and taking up permanent residence there.

My second SpeckLit drabble for this quarter, and my last for 2014, will show up right at the end of the year, on December 30. When it goes live, I'll be on a train heading from New Orleans to Chicago as John and I return from a long, leisurely holiday trip to visit my family. I'll try to remember to blog and post a link during our layover.

Meanwhile, SpeckLit is currently in its voting period for Reader's Choice Best of 3rd Quarter 2014. I encourage you to read the eligible stories and vote for your favorites! I have two drabbles that were published during that period, and they are in some outstanding company. The full list of eligible stories is at the linked page, as is the voting form. You should read every single one of 'em (they're only 100 words each, so it won't take long), and then vote for your favorite three. Voting deadline is November 30.

November 30 is also the submission deadline for 1st Quarter 2015, so I've started to tune my freewriting toward drabble production again. Lately I've been using the Daily Dash prompts from the Second Life group Virtual Writers, Inc. It might be more precisely termed a Semidaily Dash, as there are two each day, one at 6 AM and one at 6 PM Pacific Time. As each Dash begins, the group sends a notification to members which includes a single word's dictionary definition as a suggested writing prompt. The prompt for today's afternoon dash was "raindrop," which somehow got me noodling toward a drabble about fallen angels. Because both raindrops and certain angels fall, apparently.

You know, I really see no reason why I couldn't do at least the morning Daily Dash every work day. 7 AM is a perfectly reasonable time for me to be awake and typing. Reasonable, that is, if I stop staying up past one in the morning...

recommend that you not
Tue 2014-10-28 23:13:06 (single post)

So this is my latest trick. (It is not a smart trick.)

I seem to have returned to Second Life. I logged in for the first time in about three years: firstly, because you cannot leave Groups without logging in, and I had some Groups I didn't need to belong to anymore, nor get their emails; secondly, because I wanted to blog about doing NaNoWriMo on Second Life with the Milk Wood Writers and Virtual Writers, Inc.

There will, by the way, be more blog posts of this nature as November arrives and NaNoWriMo proceeds. I may no longer be one of Boulder's Municipal Liaison--emphatically not!--but I'm still your friendly neighborhood Boulder Writing Example, and NaNoWriMo is a big damn writerly deal.

Anyway, so, Second Life. And apparently I had some L$1,350 (in-game currency) sitting in my account along with about $10 (real world money). Now, I used to blog for the Metaverse Tribune. I'd make L$500 per post, and when my balance got to L$1,500 I'd exchange it for U.S. currency (about five or six dollars, depending on the market that day); and this was how I made a little pocket change off Second Life. But the reason I got into that gig was, I was wearing the Earn2Life HUD and participating in their Pay4Visit program. They send you places, you walk around and look at the place for a certain amount of time, they pay you a few Linden Dollars for your visit. So my blog series at the Metaverse Tribune, "Have Avatar, Will Travel," involved writing reviews of the places that Earn2Life's Pay4Visit program sent me.

I had to branch out a bit from there to keep the blog interesting. The places featured in the Pay4Visit program tend to be shopping malls, skill gaming locations, and strip clubs.

Anyway, upon logging in the other day, I thought, "I wonder if the Pay4Visit thing is still happening?" And of course it was. And following that rabbit trail led to the Fruit Mania traffic boost program, and following that led to the Bletaverse traffic cones, and the traffic cones led to the Gold Rush thingie, and the freeplay casino games, and the Coin Mania sphere, and mini-raffles, and so on, and so forth, and...

That's how I ended up using some random casino's L$1/15min dance pad, rather than FocusBooster, to time my freewriting today. "It's kind of like getting paid to do my timed writing session! Sort of. At a rate of a penny and a half per hour, but that's not the point--"

Don't do this, y'all. It does not end well.

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.

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