“If you can't annoy somebody, there is little point in writing.”
Kingsley Amis

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Cover art incorporates and modifies public domain image sourced from Pixabay.
but what is achievable is itself worthwhile, and worth celebrating
Mon 2018-08-13 20:53:09 (single post)

This week is off to a great start. I'm kind of being sarcastic here, but also not. Not sarcastic because I have been so productive! Even over the weekend! But also sarcastic because MOTHS. Awful, awful moths. Awful, awful levels of intense household cleaning required. So. Great start, week of August 13. Good job.

I should mention that last week's Friday Fictionette was released perfectly on time--and really on time, too, not just in the virtual sense but the technical one, before midnight on actual-factual Friday the 10th. It's called "Protocol for Visiting Witches," available both in ebook formats and as an audiobook. It's about right and wrong ways to do urban exploring. It's also about stories, and about who gets to be the protagonist. It will make you hungry for brownies. It might make you hungry for bad chowder and charred hamburgers, which would be OK but slightly baffling.

So that was good. Also good was doing my daily freewriting and fictionette prep work both days of the weekend, and also this morning. Productive! And I've got more stuff planned for the evening. I have a handful of rejection letters to log. I have a manuscript to send out again to a new place. I have several flash stories to revise for submission. This week is going to be great.

Except for the moths. Great.

Understand I am not talking about the kind of moths that sit on the wall with their painted wings splayed for all to admire. I'm talking about that bane of every fibercrafter's existence, the clothes moth. I had an infestation shortly before we moved two years ago, resulting in the loss of a heartbreaking amount of my stash, and now I've got another and it sucks. This time, thankfully, they don't seem to be getting into my fiber or yarn. Welllll, not this year. Last year they obliged me to thow out a couple bags of mohair a friend had given me, which was sad, but the infestation seemed to leave the house with the fleece. I did a bunch of medium-intensity cleaning in the area, just to be safe, and then winter came on, and the moths stopped appearing.

They're back this summer. They're all over the house. I squish them when I see them, and then I race into the office to peer at my black lamb fleece and my alpaca and the rest. Everything looks fine, so I breathe a sigh of relief. I assume the moths are being attracted to something else. Maybe the gunk in the sink. Maybe they're not clothes moths at all. I don't know.

Then I tidy the sheets on the futon in the office Saturday afternoon and I find honest-to-Gods larvae.

That's it! High-intensity cleaning commences. This will be my bible. With it, and through heroic, methodic, thorough effort, I will erase the scourge from my life!

It's not like I can drop everything and flash-sterilize the whole house in a day. Realistically, I can only manage high-intensity cleaning at the rate of one small bite each day. And each day, though I do my best, I know I'm missing something. So each day I repeat my mantra: Perfection is not attainable. Improvement is. I said this to myself lots of times yesterday as I wiped down a bookshelf's every surface with diluted vinegar, as I vacuumed the crevices and cracks with every attachment on the Dust Devil, as I cleaned the dust from every book before putting it back on the shelf. As I laundered the sheets for the futon in hot water and dried them on high heat. As I cleaned the futon frame. As I vacuumed the futon itself and tumble-dried the pillows on hot. Perfection is not attainable, but improvement is. And isn't it nice to have that fraction of the house clean?

Today's small bite continued cleaning efforts counterclockwise around the office walls. I emptied the brick-and-board bookshelf of all books and took it apart into its component pieces and got ready to wipe and crevice-vacuum and clean every book and--

I found the infestation.

Each of the bricks has a piece of felt glued to whatever side contacts the boards. That felt was moth-eaten. That felt housed masses of moth eggs. That felt was Ground Zero.

Today's cleaning got serious. The bricks went outside. My clothes, full of dust from moving the boards and bricks, went in the washer immediately to prevent my carrying viable moth eggs elsewhere through the house. The carpet where the bricks had been got vacuumed multiple times, once per hose attachment and then, after blotting with the vinegar-water solution, once again. Everything came off the top of the file cabinet because I wanted to increase the radius of my "small bite." The boards got wiped down with the vinegar solution. Where felt was stuck to the boards, felt was scraped off with a chisel--to hell with the wood finish. As much felt as possible got scraped off the bricks and the bricks went into the oven. New felt went into the oven too, at a temperature of 170 degrees (our oven's "keep warm" setting), to pre-treat it before gluing strips of it onto the thoroughly treated bricks (which got vinegared after they came out the oven, just in case.)

The books are still stacked up waiting to be cleaned. The bookshelf components are still waiting to be put back together. Once you glue new strips of felt down, it takes time for them to dry. If I put the boards on too soon, the felt will get stuck to them. So the office is currently a mess.

But this particular infestation is gone.

I'm not done, mind you. I won't be done even once I put the bookshelf back together. For one thing, there is probably another infestation in the bedroom; the brick-and-board bookshelf in there is simply the other half of what's in the office, all of which was next to that very first infestation at our old address. It would make sense for moths to be colonizing and feeding off the felt on those bricks, too--and it would explain why moths keep showing up in the master bedroom and bath. And even if that weren't the case, good anti-moth hygiene says you do preventative cleaning across the whole house radiating out from the infestation site. So the days to come will also have their small bites of high-intensity cleaning.

It's going to feel very good to have it all done and behind me.

Perfection is not attainable. Improvement is. And improvement is very, very satisfying.

The Friday Fictionette for July 27, 2018 is belatedly available. Cover art incorporates original photography by the author.
the good news is we don't have to go deeper
Mon 2018-07-30 23:07:41 (single post)

Today we're gonna talk about procrastination. Or, rather, avoidance; procrastination is merely a common visible symptom of avoidance, Avoidance that, in my case, leads to further avoidance. Contagious avoidance that infects previously unaffected tasks. Recursive avoidance. Self-referential avoidance. Meta avoidance.

(If you just said "Avoidance inception! We must go deeper!" then you need to go sit in the corner with a dictionary and think about what you've done. The popular Leonardo DiCaprio movie about dreams within dreams within dreams notwithstanding, all "inception" means is "the starting point." Also, when it comes to avoidance, no we must not go deeper. We do not ever want to go deeper. We'd kind of like to surface, please. Soonest. Thank you.)

The avoidance is made up of more avoidance. Hypothetical solutions to the avoidance get bitten by the avoidance bug. Take the task I'm avoiding apart into its component steps, and those steps into baby steps, and there's avoidance attached at every level, all the way down.

Avoidance, my friends, is fractal.

Here is how that works in my brain:

  1. There is a task I am avoiding.
  2. In an attempt to make myself stop avoiding it, I put it first on the day's to-do list. That means I have to do it in order to get to the rest of the day's work.
  3. Stupid monkey brain says, "So if you keep avoiding task number one, then you never have to do tasks two through fourteen, several of which you are also avoiding."
  4. NOTHING GETS DONE. I SUCK.

Ah, but I see that dynamic coming a mile away, and I want nothing to do with it. I flip things around! Back to front and upside down! But as it turns out, avoidance is not only recursive and contagious but also transitive and commutative:

  1. There is a task I am avoiding.
  2. In an attempt to salvage the rest of the day, I decide to do all the tasks I'm not avoiding first. That means at least something will get done. And maybe the uplift of "I did a thing!" will help me approach the much-avoided task at last.
  3. Stupid monkey brain says, "So if you don't do all the other tasks, you won't ever have to do the much-avoided task. You just won't ever get to it. The problem simply won't arise."
  4. Bonus: All the other tasks get tainted with the miasma of avoidance clinging to the much-avoided task. Now I have more much-avoided tasks.
  5. NOTHING GETS DONE. I SUCK.

If life were like a sudoku puzzle, the conclusion would be really depressing. See, there's this strategy for solving extremely difficult sudoku called "forcing chains." It can be summarized like so: Find a candidate in a cell and examine the consequences of it being the answer for that cell. Now examine the consequences of it not being the answer for that cell. If in both cases the same result obtains elsewhere in the puzzle, then you can confidently include that result in your solution. For instance, if a 5 in J9 forces E1 not to be a 6, and J9 not being a 5 also forces E1 not to be a 6, then you know that, whatever else may be the case, E1 simply can't be 6.

Likewise, in both the case where I put the much-avoided task first, and the case where I don't put the much-avoided task first, the same result obtains: NOTHING GETS DONE AND I SUCK. Therefore I should just resign myself to nothing getting done. And sucking.

Thank goodness life is not a sudoku puzzle.

PS. I finally uploaded the Friday Fictionette for July 27. It's "Highlights for Creator Gods." Ebook and HTML here, audiobook here. And if I am very good and it doesn't slip my mind, the freebie for July gets announced tomorrow.

PPS. I submitted another story today. I DON'T SUCK.

this must be friday i never was any good at fridays
Fri 2018-07-27 23:51:59 (single post)
  • 3,453 wds. long

This may not be news, considering how many times I've said "The Friday Fictionette for this week will be late again" (and yes, I am saying it again) but I kind of suck at Fridays.

I'm still not sure whether I suck at Fridays in an avoidable way or not.

Here's generally what happens: I wake up on a Friday morning with all of my work to do. I have time to do a very small sliver of it before heading out to bike my Boulder Food Rescue shift. This involves about an hour at the donor grocery store sorting through the produce they have for me, culling the compost and packaging the good stuff for travel. Then, because it's summer and the nearby school I usually deliver the produce to is not in session, there's a round trip bike ride of about 7.2 miles. The half of the journey with 200+ pounds of food on the trailer is mostly downhill, thank goodness, but I have to go up those hills on my return journey, which is nothing to sneeze at even unladen.

After returning BFR's bike and trailer to the rack where they live, I typically walk across the parking lot for a buffet lunch during which I will inhale about three times my weight in various curries and tandoori chicken and naan. Then, if I'm feeling particularly virtuous, I return to the donor grocery store as a customer. Then I drive home, cursing the traffic on 28th Street and, because of the deadly combination of hard exercise and too much food, trying desperately not to fall asleep at the wheel.

Once I get home, I fall down flat in bed and don't move for hours.

Eventually I get up again, still feeling sort of sick and feverish, and make a half-hearted, low-energy stab at the day's work. A very small fraction of what's waiting for me gets done. I go back to bed, this time for keeps, feeling ashamed and dispirited.

Today was pretty much like that. I had some misguided idea that shifting the whole BFR-lunch-groceries-collapse routine earlier in the day would lead to my getting out of bed and back to work sooner. Alas, no. It just meant I napped longer. I don't know what my problem is--is my endurance so minimal? (My roller derby performance would suggest that not, but then I also tend to collapse after roller derby, too. It's just less noticeable since, most of the time, that collapse coincides with bedtime.) Am I just not protecting myself enough from the sun? Must I stop rewarding myself for all my hard work with hearty, nutritious, tasty food in vast quantities? Should I just resign myself to my limitations and either A. switch to a BFR shift that isn't on Friday, or B. stop pretending I actually have Friday available as a work day? I just don't know.

But on the plus side, the fraction of the work I got done included submitting my short story to its intended market. So yay!

(Annoyingly, this involved cleaning up garbage characters from the final manuscript which 4thewords seems to insert wherever italics or certain paragraph breaks show up, and which Scrivener for Windows is ill-equipped to find and replace. I had to compile to RTF and perform some find and replace routines in Libre Office before I could convert the whole thing to plain text. Otherwise there'd be a bunch of random question marks scattered through the submission, which would certainly not help its chances at winning the editor over. There has got to be a better way. I refuse to believe that including 4TW in my workflow must inevitably result in processing the manuscript through no less than four editors and a handful of by-hand tweaks before the dang thing's ready to submit anywhere.)

So, yeah. Same old same old. Saturday is the new Friday, and I'm really good at whining. Seems like I ought to offer y'all some cheese to go with that whine, but all I bought during today's grocery run were sliced muenster and cheddar, and I am saving them for our sandwiches so you can't have any so there.

you fall small, you fall alone, you get up as soon as it's safe or at the very least by 8:00 am
Thu 2018-07-05 23:46:45 (single post)

I'm going to keep this short because I jammed my finger pretty bad during the last jam at scrimmage tonight. I took ibuprofen almost immediately, and I clutched an ice pack the whole way home, and that helped, but nevertheless typing is a little bit of a trial right now.

(It was very stupid. I have been skating roller derby for more than six years now. I know how to fall safely. I have taught other skaters how to fall safely. "Let your wrist guards protect you," we say. "Let the hard part of your wrist guards take the impact," we say. So what do I do tonight? I fall on my face and, instead of letting my wrist guards take the impact, I land on a tripod of finger tips like I'm playing the piano or something. Go forth and do not likewise.)

So anyway.

To continue the topic of dailiness: Not so consistent this week, but then yesterday was a holiday, so I'm letting myself off the hook. Today I managed to hit every one of the writing-related items on my list, so I'm happy.

What worked today that didn't work Tuesday? Getting to work on time. Really. It's amazing how many hours are at your disposal when you hit your first task at ten instead of twelve thirty. There was still a bit of slippage, but there always is. I can absorb it if I start my day on time like a responsible working adult.

Not much of an epiphany, I admit. "There is more room in a day that starts before noon." Pretty darn obvious. But that's about the only observation of interest I have for the blog today. That's how it goes. Some days you're a genius, and some days you smack yourself on the forehead and say "I could have had a V8!"

(And sometimes you make references to pop culture moments that really date you, but you figure if you can link the appropriate video you can at least show the youngsters what the hell you're talking about, and there is a really specific thing you're thinking of, only it turns out neither YouTube nor Google have heard of that stand-up comedy bit where the guy does an impression of what it would look like if David Bryne of the Talking Heads did a V8 commercial. Look, it was right around the time that "Once In A Lifetime" was big on MTV, OK? It happened! I am not making this up! ...So you give up and just link an example of the TV advertisement itself, which is less funny but does the job.)

quod erat demonstrandum etcetera
Wed 2018-06-06 00:22:10 (single post)
  • 100 wds. long

Oh hi there SURPRISE ERRAND TO GET A LEAKY TIRE PATCHED. Car, not bike, so you can see it was kind of immediate. Nevertheless, I kept my promise. Today was MUCH MORE RIGOROUS. Maybe not as many hours logged as I'd hoped, but every task on the check-list got done, so I'm calling it a success.

Also, today was relevant in terms of the new "hard stuff first, easy stuff later" theory of scheduling writing time. Only not in the usual way. I didn't get to do the hard stuff during my morning shift because, thanks to the leaky tire errand, I didn't get a morning shift. So I had to do the hard stuff shift as an afternoon shift, when it is always hard to get back to work. Plus, after the sort of morning I'd had, I really felt like I deserved to skip to my budgeted play time the moment I got home.

But no! I was good. I clocked in and began my submissions procedure session. I figured, it didn't need to be a lot. I'd just check on the status of all outstanding submissions, and then I'd take a look at a couple newly opened submissions windows and give some thought to whether I had anything vaguely ready to go that might be remotely appropriate. And it's a good thing I did! When it turned out that in fact I did have something appropriate, and that it was more than just vaguely ready to go, I revised and submitted that sucker.

It was like the manuscript submission version of tricking myself into an actual honest-to-goodness story revision session with "All right, you don't have to edit it, but at least open up the document and read the draft". Time and time again, we see amply demonstrated that A GOOD WORK ETHIC IS ITS OWN REWARD. If you can't do a lot, do a little, and be open to the possibility of that little turning into a lot after all.

(It was also a demonstration of the principle DON'T SELF-REJECT. I caught myself thinking, "They want science fiction. Is this science fiction enough? There is a unicorn in it. The space ship and the cloning might be considered a pasted-on afterthought." Then I whapped that thought with a rolled up newspaper. I told it sternly, "There is a space ship in it! And cloning! It is science fiction! Send the damn thing! It is better to send something than to not send something!" So I sent it. So there.)

Anyway, where this ties in to the "hard stuff first, easy stuff later" theory of scheduling is here: Getting the hard stuff done during the brief window of time I had open this afternoon meant that I had only the easy stuff remaining when I got home from roller derby practice. After derby is, as we know, not when the hard stuff gets done. It's not realistic to expect me to put on either my editing or marketing hat at that time and not disgrace the headgear. But even exhausted from the heat and tender from new bruises, I can manage about 500 to 750 words of freewriting. And I can at least reread the current draft of this week's Friday Fictionette, make a few line-edits, and scribble some notes toward working on the final draft tomorrow.

And I can blog. How hard is blogging, really? It is not really hard. I mean, even I can do it.

All that done, I may stay up a little late playing Spiral Knights. It is the season of the Apocrea, and I want to go farm Apocrean Sigils on the Grasping Plateau. And during the little bit of play time I budgeted this afternoon, the dang game server kept booting me before I even got to the Grasping Plateau. The random gate rotation would put me through three levels of bog-standard Clockwork Tunnels and Arenas, and then, just before it absolutely had to send me to the Grasping Plateau because it's the last level before the departure lounge and that's all you can get, wham! Lag, lag, lag, lag, logged off. WASTE OF MY TIME, GAME SERVER. I feel owed another chance at it tonight. And if that means I'm up until two aye em, so be it.

Tomorrow's Wednesday, after all. I don't have anything planned for my Wednesday evening. I'm free to time-shift my work day if I choose. That can't possibly go wrong.

i left all my adrenaline in topeka
Mon 2018-06-04 14:20:35 (single post)

Well, I'm back from Kansas. The Capital City Crushers took the wins in both of our roller derby bouts Saturday night. Both were exceedingly tight games with very close scores, and both leagues have a lot to be proud of. An additional joy was the unexpected honor of being the Crushers' choice for MVP Blocker in the Bombshells game. We all hit hard and played our hearts out. For some of our crew, it was their very first bout. Congratulations to them!

The drive there and back was pretty straightforward. I had it easy; I wasn't the driver. All I had to do was sit there and be a good passenger. Nevertheless, sitting in a car for eight hours on a hot, sunny day can be pretty tiring all by itself, so I'm moving kind of slowly today. Which is precisely why I started another Suulan battle on 4thewords. When you have to reach 3,500 words by 2:00 PM, there's only so slowly you can afford to move. Thus far today, I have...

  • written down this morning's dream (another weird and stressy dream about roller derby)
  • done a freewriting session using a Magic Realism Bot tweet as a prompt
  • posted the Monday Muse for this week's Friday Fictionette
  • and also composed its Author's Note.

And I'm in the middle of writing this blog post, as you can see.

I made some good use out of the return drive yesterday, drafting this week's Friday Fictionette right there in the car. It's a fun bit of fluff involving goblins, elves, and other mythical beings. It needs a bit more shaping and refining, of course, but it's more or less the same story it was when I first came up with it last month in response to one of Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge writing prompt blog posts. Which only goes to show, final drafts are easier when first drafts are actually drafts and not just babble.

(This just in: I have defeated the Suulan / that I was battling / and that required another 250 words with 10 seconds to go. / Forgive me, / the cost to fight was too high, / copy-pasting too easy, / the battle rewards too sweet to let go to waste. )

I may or may not get to the short story revision today. There's time, but I am allowing myself to consider today a recovery day, at least in part. Plus I have some household chores to catch up on after being away for the weekend.

Tomorrow will be more rigorous, I promise!

collecting data and assembling furniture
Thu 2018-05-10 22:06:47 (single post)
  • 2,211 wds. long

So... let's not talk about yesterday. Well, OK, let's; it's a very short story. The story is this: Brand-new epiphanic schedule reversals can only do so much when you're so bone-weary from the previous evening's off-skates workout that you can't get out of bed. (Seriously. How do my teammates do all those things and still go to work the next morning like functional adults?) It's fine--I did a little of most everything on the list. But it was an uncomfortably late start.

Today was much better. It was pretty much perfect. Well, except for that part where I totally forgot I had a 4:45 appointment in Longmont. I was hip deep in polishing tomorrow's Friday Fictionette offering when the 4:15 reminder went off. This is why I make myself reminders. Other than that, things were awesome. I have logged another great day's worth of evidence supporting the new schedule theory, and it isn't even 6:00 yet. (I've begun this blog post from the bar of the Outback Steakhouse next door to the building that houses Cafe of Life, where my 4:45 appointment was. I expect I'll be finishing it later tonight, after scrimmage, though.)

This morning I was bubbling with ideas for today's short story revision session. I wound up taking those ideas on a short walk around the block, talking myself through them out loud and getting weird looks from neighbors. Then I sat down and spat out notes about those thoughts all over the story draft. (This would be another example of learning from self-observation: having learned that I work best by alternating periods of writing with periods of thinking about writing, I'm now deliberately scheduling time for the walking-around-thinking phase of the cycle. I'm counting it on my timesheet, too. YOU CAN'T STOP ME.)

During the contest I wrote it for, "Survival, After" got some feedback along the lines that maybe we need to see what life was like before. This is a fantasy story, so we can't just assume mundane here-and-now reality before the apocalyptic event. Also, in order to make the story an actual story and not just a verbose outline of a story, I need to give the protagonist a real, tangible life that got interrupted by the apocalyptic goings-on. They need to have memories that mean something to them and add emotional and thematic content to the story. Those are two problems in search of the same solution, which I began implementing today.

It's a little like architecture, or maybe like assembling prefab furniture according to blueprints I'm writing as I go along. Insert tab A into slot B. Assemble boards and nail them together just so. Open bag labeled COMPACT FLASHBACKS and affix contents to the story where indicated.

strike that. reverse it.
Wed 2018-05-09 00:07:13 (single post)
  • 1,722 wds. long
  • 1,097 wds. long

I HAD AN EPIPHANY YESTERDAY. About the extreme difficulty of getting to the short story revision part of the day. About my entire work-flow. ABOUT HOW TO FIX IT.

First up in the equation is time.

I write more efficiently and productively in the mornings. That's just a given. The long day is still ahead of me, I'm awake, I've just had my first mug of tea and done all the morning-wake-up things, maybe I've had a little walk around the block, I'm ready.

I do not do so well in the afternoons. I have a hard time circling back around to the writing after a couple hours not writing--whether it's making lunch or going out and getting it, doing household chores or running errands, or even just having a well-deserved play break. Two o'clock comes round and everything about me says "noooooo." Sometimes I wind up just crashing from sudden fatigue. The afternoon shift quite often doesn't happen.

And then there's tasks.

It's easy to get my "daily gottas" under way. They are rote, they are mechanical, they have the inertia of habit behind them. The stakes where they are concerned is low. Fictionettes are not guaranteed to be sparkling undying literature, and freewriting is no-holds-barred crappy-as-you-want-it idea generation. It is play.

It's so much harder to jump into the revision process. The stakes are off the charts. Making things perfect becomes my job, and it is a scary job.

There you have it. We have two times of day, one that lends itself more effortlessly, more energetically, to the writing than does the other. We also have two types of writing tasks, one that is much easier, brings lower stress, and feels more fun than does the other.

So.

Here's where I *facepalm* forever:

I have been pairing up the unfriendly time of day with the more difficult writing task. WHY. WHY AM I STUPID. Why would I do that to myself? Why would I take a hard thing and make it harder? That is not a nice thing to do to myself! That is not what we call reasonable expectations! Seriously, this is basic self-observation, writing efficiency, Rachel-Aaron-2K-to-10K stuff: Gather data, find out how you work best, and then work that way! Do not attempt to work in a less-than-best way! That way lies less-than-best work. Sheesh.

So! In the name of getting out of my own way already, today I tried reversing the workflow.

For my morning shift: Submission Procedures and Short Story Revision.

  • I submitted "Soup Witch" to a new market. A big one! Big enough that I've never submitted to them before, but always thought, "No, this isn't good enough for them." But, hey, DON'T SELF-REJECT, we have people to do that for you, they're called editors. (I kid. Except I don't.) Anyway, they happily take second publication rights, they don't seem to care where the first rights were used up, and they specifically publish for a younger audience. IT'S PERFECT.
  • I reread the Cast of Wonders submission guidelines for Banned Books Week and this time my eyes snagged on the bolded words new stories only. They in fact they don't want reprints for this particular call. Whoops. (In my defense, I don't think I'd looked at the guidelines on Submittable before, but only at the very brief guidelines at the CoW website. So. I guess I will not be emergency-editing "Making Friends" for them after all.
  • Upon not finding anything in my searchable manuscript list that's unpublished, less than 3,000 words, and in any way to do with libraries, I resigned myself to returning to the rewrite of "Survival, After." Which is fine. Honestly, I feel like I was using EMERGENCY DEADLINE REVISION DISTRACTION as a way of avoiding it, because it's hard. All revisions are hard.
  • So I worked on the bit in "Survival, After" about the singing beef jerky. (It gets its own scene in this longer version.)

For my afternoon shift: Freewriting and Fictionette Prep

  • Freewriting. Yay! For a writing prompt, I turned to InspiroBot, who gave me this creepy beauty. Be strong! Don't die!
  • Fictionette. Drafting is coming right along. It's too long, but that's OK; Tuesday is early days. I've already condensed two characters' functions into a single character, always a welcome development when writing flash fiction.

And for my lunch break, I...

  • Did some household financial chores.
  • Played about an hour of Spiral Knights!
  • Then spent an extra couple hours avoiding getting back to work.

So the rearranged schedule is not a panacea. But! It helped. I did not at last look at the disapproving clock and decide there was no point trying to fit a meaningful session of (difficult, impossible, nebulous, ill-defined) short story revision into the hour and a half remaining before I had to get ready for derby. Instead, I thought, OK, 25 minutes for freewriting and another, oh, 45 minutes for fictionettes. Golden! And off I went. I damn near made myself late for derby because I was not going to put down the fictionette draft until I'd soundly defeated the possessed Villager and taken their stash of Dust and Wood (4TW brings all the motivation), but I did it.

One day does not constitute a sufficient body of evidence, but it'll do for proof of concept. Let's see how well it works tomorrow.

and sometimes food, and maybe a movie or play
Wed 2018-04-25 23:06:22 (single post)
  • 1,722 wds. long

I'm still working on the same story. The same 750-word flash fiction piece that I was just going to give a brief spit-and-polish revision before submitting to, oh, I dunno, Flash Fiction Online. Well. It's not flash anymore and I'm still working on it.

I mean, to be fair, first I had to get to the point where I was actually putting in time on it every workday. Despite my lofty Camp NaNoWriMo goal, or perhaps because of it--because of the pressure such a goal created--I didn't manage to get any short story revision time in most days, let alone two hours every workday. I talked about that a little bit last blog post, which was... gosh, almost a week ago. Blogging's been a victim of the same mess of pressure and unreasonable expectations. I mean, here's the truth: I'm not going to go from "zero hours most days" to "two hours every day" without some sort of transition period, like "some non-zero number of minutes most days."

That's about where we're at this week. Yesterday, an hour and a half. Today, an hour. Monday, a little less than an hour. Some non-zero number of minutes.

Turns out the story needed its ending completely revised. To support that ending, the scenes needed a little fleshing out, both to improve pacing and to allow the themes involved to seed themselves more naturally through the plot. Next thing I know, the scenes are getting quite a bit longer, long enough to be worth separating into discrete text sections. And now the thing's more than 1700 words long, and instead of Flash Fiction Online I'm thinking Shimmer. I think it's gonna be really Shimmery.

But here's the other problem with two hours: Unless I have two-hours worth of stuff that I know how to fix, I can't. I can't go two hours. It's not a matter of stamina; it's a matter of creative process. An hour, an hour and a half in, I hit a wall.

Oh, you doubt me? You think I don't know what a wall looks like? This is what a wall looks like: Me, changing a sentence into two sentences, then, five minutes later, changing it back to one sentence with two independent clauses joined by a semicolon. Occasionally I will take a prepositional phrase and move it to the other end of the sentence. Then I will move it back.

Now, sometimes that sort of useless copyeditorial wittering means the story's done and you should just send it out already. That is not what is going on. How do I know? I know because the scene's still broken. Like, there are two different versions of this or that paragraph because I'm in the middle of moving text around for better flow. Only now I don't know how to fix the segues. It's messy. And my brain is just sliding off the problem like a jammer on 94-durometer wheels sliding out of Turn 2 at Mayday Mayhem. (Have you seen that track? Polished cement. Slick as never-you-mind. I plan to bring my 84s that were grooved aftermarket and I'm still nervous.)

That wall, I have learned, means that it's time to take a break. Stop writing for a bit and go do something else. Best if the something else is partially mindless, like taking a walk or cooking a meal or even re-reading a too-familiar book. It's got to take my conscious mind off the writing problem but leave room for things to simmer on the back-burner. Or maybe I should just go on with the rest of my day and plan to come back to the revision tomorrow.

That's what happened yesterday. I got to an hour and a half and knew I couldn't make two hours. I put it away. I went to derby. (Derby was very much not mindless. SO MANY THINGS TO LEARN, omg.) I played Spiral Knights a bit. I went to sleep. Then, this afternoon, I took a short walk just before getting back to the revision--and damn if some interesting things didn't just jump right into my head.

Well, I wrote them down, of course!

I hit a similar wall when I'm specifically trying to think about a writing problem. I discovered this when I was in Cincinnati for our bout back in February. Day of the bout, I decided to walk somewhere for lunch and cogitate on that week's Friday Fictionette, which, like many this year, was running late into the weekend. It was running late because I didn't know how to make it work. So I figured, I'd take the fifteen minute walk to figure it out in my head, then I'd take lunchtime to implement whatever I figured out.

Halfway through my walk--you guessed it--I hit a wall. That kind of wall looks like this: My brain, running over about half a scene, arriving at some insight or other, and then repeating from start. Over and over again.

But! When I sat down to write, I implemented that one insight... then discovered another insight on my way there. And another. Turns out I had to take the thought to the page before I could proceed to the next thought. There in fact wouldn't be a next thought until I switched from thinking to writing. So I wrote down the next thought, and the next. Then I ran out of thoughts and didn't find the next one until I was walking back to the hotel.

That's my creative process. Write, hit a wall, put it away. Think about it, hit a wall, proceed to the page. And repeat.

This may also be why I'm complete rubbish at pulling all-nighters, and why even on completely unscheduled days I can't whip out a complete new draft from scratch. I need time for this write-wander-think-write cycle to iterate. Time, and sleep. (But not too much at all. Is really all I want.)

whether it's an excuse or an explanation depends on the night
Tue 2018-04-03 23:52:51 (single post)
  • 4,600 wds. long

OMG lookit me I'm writing after derby. Help.

I go back and forth on whether I can usefully get stuff done after derby. When I started this post during the last half hour before practice, I was thinking, this whole "can't work after derby, sorry" thing is just an excuse. But at that time I hadn't had derby yet. It's easy to plan to be virtuous when I haven't had three hours of skating hard, hitting and getting hit, attempting to perform strategy while metaphorical bricks are being thrown at me, and then doing a whole bunch of off-skates conditioning hell. Now that I have done those things, I'm feeling less gung-ho about writing, or in fact doing anything other than collapsing into bed. But I had a Perfect Day on Habitica yesterday--a day where I completed and checked off all my Dailies--and I'm damn well going to make today a Perfect Day, too. So I'm doing writing stuff after derby. Gods help me.

In addition to finishing this blog post, I also committed to doing my submissions procedures. Submission procedures isn't just one of my Habitica Dailies, and thus required for a Perfect Day, it's also hours I count toward my Camp NaNoWriMo goal! Any work done on drafting, revising, or submitting short stories counts. (I'd already done today's short story revision work, which was also a Daily I needed to check off. I only worked on it for about a half hour, but that counts.) But the thought of attempting to put together a submission late at night on a post-derby brain is kind of scary. I mean, post-derby brain is capable of all sorts of ridiculous mistakes. Post-derby brain has trouble telling black from white and counting to five, y'all. How am I going to rely on it to scrupulously follow submission guidelines, remember which editors I'm emailing, and attach the right file?

Theoretically, this can be easy and even mindless. Take that same manuscript file that went out last time, attach it to an email going to the new place (or upload it via their submission form, whatever), and off you go. Theoretically. But that's before you consider that some markets require blind submissions, so you have to scrub your identifying information off the page headers. And some editors prefer real italics and some prefer you use underlines in place of italics. Some editors really, really hate the Courier font, so you probably better change that to Times New Roman or Verdana or whatever it is they like. (Or maybe you hate Courier, but the market you're considering is all MONOSPACE OR DIE. Everyone's a potential casualty in the font wars.) So it's in the author's best interest to read the submission guidelines carefully and make whatever adjustments they require.

But before I get into all that, I have to know which story I'm sending out and where I'm sending it to. And that's really hard for post-derby brain to figure out, especially when pre-derby brain kind of had no idea either.

Thank goodness for the Submissions Grinder. It's a free-to-use submissions-tracking system built on top of a truly enormous market database. The whole thing is a labor of love and community service by Diabolical Plots and David Steffen, and I don't know what I would do without it. Poor post-derby brain Niki can just log in, click "Manage Pieces," and scroll down the list, and say to her self, "Oh, 'Caroline's Wake' isn't currently out in slush, is it? It should be. It's one of my best stories. I should submit it somewhere." Then I can click on the corresponding "Run Search" link to pull up a market search form already filled out with the stats for this particular story, and easily get a list of markets which accept submissions of that length, in that genre, and which I have not submitted this story to before. (That last is important. I got that last bit wrong once recently and it was so embarrassing. The rejection letter was very kind. They said they remembered the story and how much they admired it the first time they read it, but they would really like to see something else by me, pretty please.)

Anyway, that's what I did when I got home from derby. And while I didn't actually find a place to submit that story, I found a place I could submit it just as soon as they reopened to general submissions. In the meantime, they are reading for a very particular theme and format, for which one of my other stories might be a perfect fit, only first I need to trim it down to about two thirds its current length.

Which I will attempt to do tomorrow because, having fulfilled my duty vis--vis blogging and submissions procedures, collapsing in bed is imminent. Me and my sore, beat-up, worn-out body wish you a good night.

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