inasmuch as it concerns Routines:
Pen meets paper, fingers meet keyboard, nose meets grindstone, butt gets glued to chair. Y'know.
stealth foodie blog strikes again: mardi gras edition
Welp, all that crowing about the Zoom co-writing structure-and-motivation for the day, and what happens? I utterly fail this week to 1. get to bed on time, 2. get up on time, 3. make the morning co-writing session. Alas! Counterpoint: A. "This week" refers to two whole days, let's not panic here; B. I've still gotten a metric ton of stuff done, because after the afternoon co-writing session ends there's still a lot of afternoon and evening left. So it's all cool.
But that is not what I came to blog about. I came to blog about winning at dinner. Yes, again. I get very excited about this sort of thing. This is nominally a blog about actually writing, but it is also a stealth foodie blog. (You're welcome.)
A friend of mine tweeted approvingly about this recipe here, Caramelized Shallot Pasta, and I got all interested. I mean, I like anchovies. I like pasta. I like absolutely everything about what I see here. Let's try it.
What follows are step-by-step instructions to wind up with precisely, or more or less, what I wound up with for dinner on Lundi Gras (and lots of leftovers for Mardi Gras).
One. About three business days before you want to do this, maybe five days if catastrophic winter storms are forecast for the weekend, order you a 3-pack of crawfish bread. Yes, it's expensive, but if you can budget for it once a year, I say go for it. Mardi Gras is a great time of year for this, but so is your birthday, or in fact any of your 364 unbirthdays. (Obviously you should only do this if crawfish, cheese, and bread of the gluten variety are things you eat. And if you like spicy things. This is a spicy thing.)
Two. About two and a half hours before you want to eat, start you thawing a loaf of the crawfish bread, if crawfish bread you are doing. I only allowed two hours, and it wasn't quite enough. Also, start defrosting a pound of boneless chicken breasts.
Three. Go get that pasta recipe and follow Steps 1 through 3, ending with the bit where you squirrel away half of the resulting paste for future enjoyment. I did not use a dutch oven, but rather my largest cast-iron pan. That turned out to be pretty much ideal.
Around now is a good time to preheat the oven to 350 F.
Four. This is where the multitasking starts. I got the pasta started in the usual stainless steel pot on the front burner on the left. I returned the cast-iron pan to the front burner on the right, removed the anchovy-shallot-tomato paste to a plate (to which I added another big teaspoon of hot pepper flakes because YOLO), and started the now empty-ish pan going over medium-high. Into the goodness remaining from the pan's previous activities I tossed two diced tomatoes as a sort of deglazing agent and also the chicken breasts. Salt and pepper on the chicken breasts to your taste; if you're me, that's a few twists on a salt grinder and about a tablespoon of black peppercorns rough-ground in a mortar and pestle. Pan fry the chicken until it is almost but not quite done through, slicing it up into strips whenever convenient.
Somewhere around here is when you shove the crawfish bread into the oven.
Five. Pick up again with Step 4 of the pasta recipe: Add the cup of pasta water, the very al dente pasta, and the anchovy-shallot-tomato paste to chicken and tomatoes in the pan, and let 'em thicken and coat just like the directions say. The chicken will finish cooking during this stage; so will the pasta. Follow through with Step 5 and the garlic-parsley mixture. By the time all this is done, the crawfish bread should also be fully heated, though you may still have to wait for it to cool a few minutes so you're not slicing into lava.
Plate it all up, optionally serving with a bottle of Abita's Mardi Gras Bock or other favorite carbonated beverage. Either resist the urge to have seconds or resign yourself to groaning and gently rolling uselessly around the house for the rest of the night.
And that is the process that led to this picture I tweeted. You're welcome!
virtual external systems of structure and accountability
My social life is entirely on Zoom. Increasingly, my working life, too. It's not a bad thing, honestly.
I just got finished about an hour ago with the Boulder County Bombers Thursday night Zoom workout. Sometimes skaters will bring their own workout to share, other times they'll find an official video from this or that trainer. Either way, we get to see each other and sweat together and turn our bodies into wet noodles of exhaustion with only each other as witnesses. Tonight, we ventured way back to 2009, the very early days of the modern roller derby era for Roller Derby Workout with The Heart Attacks (link goes to YouTube trailer, which contains an outdated link; try this Etsy page instead).
It was... very dated. A lot more Jazzercize than punk. Not a tattoo to be seen, nor much variation in body type or skin color. The patter assumes only she/her pronouns in the audience, and yet the camera angles demonstrate a dedication to the hetero male gaze. Like, yep, that sure is a close-up of a woman's buttocks in very short shorts, isn't it? And not really in a "Check out how strong and toned your bum can be!" way, either. (Maybe it was actually meant for the queer female gaze on the sly? Maybe that was how they got queerness past the censors, so to speak.)
But at the same time, it was a damn good workout. It was a roller derby workout, targeting all the roller derby muscle groups. Lots of core, abs, hams, quads, glutes. Lots of squats, leg-lifts, and derby stance. Lots of "I don't think I could have held a one-legged squat this long during the height of my derby career, let alone one year into the pandemic!" moments. I may just order a copy of that DVD for my own library so I can memorize the exercises for the next time I get to lead a Phase 1 class.
So that was tonight's workout. Now I am recovering in a hot bath with a beer and a bowl of chole, the spicy garbanzo dish included in this fantastic cooking presentation. And I'm writing this blog post, because writing in the bath is what I do, some evenings.
Usually I'm writing at the desk in the second bedroom, which we've kitted out into an office. And more and more lately I'm writing during Zoom co-writing sessions.
It turns out, I really need structure in my day in order to have any kind of time management. Best is if I can replicate the routine of Going To Work. For a little while, years ago, I had a membership to a co-working space in downtown Boulder so that I had to Go To The Office. But it turned out I had little to no tolerance for other people in my workspace. I couldn't tune out conversations and other people's music, not even if I used headphones. So I went back to slouching across the house over to the home office instead. And I can make that work, but it's difficult to force myself to adhere to a schedule when it seems like it hardly matters if I don't.
Then, not long ago--maybe a little before the pandemic? I think?--I discovered Cat Rambo's Patreon; and from there, their Discord community; and from there, their Zoom co-writing sessions. These are great. Everyone says hi, shares a little about what they're working on, then mutes their microphones and works for 30 minutes. At the end of 30 minutes, everyone says how they're coming along, and then they go right back to it. In all, it's three 30-minute sessions dedicated to whatever on your agenda needs it, helped along by a little mutual accountability and leavened with a touch of socializing.
That. That there. That is my Office. On an ideal day, I will wake up in time to do my morning pages, then have breakfast and do all the morning routines, then log onto the morning co-writing session for 9:30 AM Mountain Time. It ends around 11:15 or so. I take a lunch break, do some household chores, maybe do a little cross-stitching by the sunny south-facing window or play video games. There's another co-writing session at 2:00 PM Mountain Time, and by the time that ends, the majority of my work for the day is done! It's magical.
And then, on Sunday afternoons, SFWA hosts a co-writing session too! This is something that started with their online Nebula Conference last year and just continued. Each week a different author or editor hosts. It follows a similar pattern to Rambo's sessions, but the break-time check-in and socializing between their two 45-minute work periods happens in Zoom break-out rooms, in groups of five or six people. Sunday afternoon SFWA writing dates were how four out of five of my Weekend Warrior stories got written. (The one where I missed the writing date was just harder, that's all.)
So that is my current time management plan. I've found an external system of structure and accountability, and it's great. It's not going to be everyone's deal--everyone's process is different, and no one's wrong so long as the writing gets writ--but if it sounds like something that might help you, then you can...
- Join Cat Rambo's Patreon at any tier
- Register for the virtual 2020 Nebula Conference and enjoy all its year-round programming
And those are my current thoughts on time management.
dear dev team i have found a bug in the spacetime continuum there is not enough of it
So! As promised: WHINING. Well, wittering. Thinking out loud in public about what's working, what isn't, and what I might do about it. Thanks for being my sounding board.
As I said Tuesday, I'm trying to make August another novel-progress month. How much progress did I make on the novel during that first week in August? None. Zero, zilch, zip. And even on the days when I did make progress, that progress consisted of five minutes smashing the keyboard about how much the first draft sucks.
It turns out, time is finite.
Trust me, I have complained to the management about this. Loudly. However, the bug remains outstanding and I don't think it's even on the development team's priority list. So I'm trying to come up with strategies for working around this limitation.
STRATEGY #1: Put It On the Daily To-Do List.
I have a LibreOffice Calc spreadsheet I add a page to every weekday morning. The basic template lists all the usual writing tasks I want to get done daily. Then there's space to add any other to-do items like meetings, events, volunteer shifts, derby practice sessions, household chores, etc.
Since specificity in planning makes me more likely to follow through, I'll write a brief description: "Freewriting: 3 random words and Inspirobot." "Fictionette: Please finally finish the Aug 14 draft!!!" I'll clock in and clock out so as to have a record of how much time everything took. After the task is completed, I'll jot a brief note in the Outcome column about how it went.
Great! So let's put "New Novel Draft" in the description for the "Revision" line item. Great! Except "Revision," after "Blogging," tends to be item most likely to fall off my schedule when things don't go to plan. Where's your novel progress plans then, Niki?
Basically, the Daily To-Do List is a strategy for planning. It is not a strategy for dealing with failure cases. No, for that we have...
STRATEGY #2: Start Where I Left Off
At the end of the day, every task that didn't happen gets a big NOPE in the Outcome column, boldfaced and maybe even highlighted in red the better to
shame myself instantly see what needs to be prioritized the next day. And the next day I paste those rows right onto the top of the new day's timesheet. The timesheet template now starts with a Leftover Items block specifically for this purpose.
So far it's working. When Monday's submissions procedures session went epic so that I never got to my planned short story revisions, I started Tuesday morning off with those revisions. When those revisions gobbled up more time than expected so that I never got to my daily Freewriting and Fictionette block, I made sure those came first on Wednesday. And when I didn't have time to finish this blog post on Wednesday, I continued it first thing today.
Great! Now no missed task will languish for longer than a day. Plus I'm starting to get a realistic idea of how my expectations match up to reality. Things always take longer than I expect. Also they take more energy. It'll be a rare day when the Leftover Items block on my timesheet stays blank. Maybe I can't actually fit every single task into every single day. Maybe I need a better plan.
STRATEGY #3: Put It On The Weekly To-Do List
Some things are daily things: Morning Pages as daily mental hygiene, freewriting as a warm-up exercise and story idea generator, a little progress on the next Friday Fictionette every day so I don't fall behind. But some things can stand to be done only one day a week.
This year, I moved my submission activities from a daily to a weekly routine. I'd do that, and only that, on Monday afternoons. Why Mondays? Well, for one thing, Monday isn't a derby night, so I'd have time and energy to spare. (These days, thanks to the pandemic, no night is derby night, but I still try to skate or exercise when I would have had derby practice.) Also Mondays conveniently happens to be the one day a week when Strange Horizons is open to submissions.
I wasn't sure it would work. I worried that it was a form of putting all my eggs in one basket, and possibly not a big enough basket. But I told myself it was an experiment. If the experiment failed, at least I'd have gathered data.
It's turned out wildly successful. I feel comfortable taking all the time I need without any pressure to rush through to the next item, because there is no other item. And since Monday is the only day reserved for submissions, I might as well submit everything I can. This past Monday, I subbed five things (including a short story to Strange Horizons). Then I gave myself time to putter around the internet doing market research and considering what I'd submit next week.
So the basket is definitely big enough. And if the basket gets wrecked, Strategy #2 means I can catch the eggs in Tuesday's basket, so to speak. And if rescheduling submissions procedures for Tuesday means some daily thing doesn't get done, well, again, see Strategy #2.
Theoretically, I should be able to wedge a weekly novel-writing/revising session into my week. I've got four afternoons left in which I try to hit revisions; three of them can be for short stories and poetry, and one can be reserved for the novel in progress, right?
Except when a short story wants revising, there's usually a sense of urgency about it. Submission windows close. Contests have deadlines. My critique group is on a schedule. If I get to the revision item on my timesheet at all--and, again, I don't have a good track record on this--I tend to want to use that time to prep a manuscript for imminent submission.
What I need to do is clear the decks.
STRATEGY #4: Pick A Novel Writing Month
I got the idea from NaNoWriMo and Camp Nano: Pick a month and devote it to the novel. It doesn't have to be the same month as those national events. It just has to be is a month where I schlep stories out on Mondays and otherwise ignore them.
August was supposed to be that month. I'd just written a handful of new things for submission in June and July! I knew where I wanted to send them when they came back! Except... one of them came back and I wanted to revise it, since I'd done a rush job of writing it in the first place. Another came back from my critique group and I really want to hit it before my sense of what needs to change fades. Short story urgency strikes again!
I may just have to pick another month. Or, at the very least...
STRATEGY #5: If You Can't Do A Lot, Do A Little
...reduce my expectations. Maybe five minutes a day thinking aloud on the page is acceptable. For August, anyway.
So that's me thinking about my novel-related scheduling problems. There are other problems related to the novel, but we shall talk about them another day.
last month's friday fictionette links and also novel difficulties
- 947 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,079 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,362 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,153 words (if poetry, lines) long
Oh, hello again. I fell off the blogging wagon for a bit. Let me clamber back on with this quick round-up of the Friday Fictionettes for July 2020:
- July 3: "Your SmartFurnace Needs Love Too" (ebook | audio) In a world where large household appliances are sentient, maintenance technicians have to be psychologists.
- July 10: "Swallowed Up" (ebook | audio) It's not the afterlife. It's a village-wide case of mistaken identity.
- July 17: "One Hell of a Guy" (ebook | audio) Guys like this are precisely why we need a functional Total Perspective Vortex.
- July 24: "Lost: One Memory" (ebook | audio) When the wind blows your memories away, where do they go? And how do you get them back?
The Fictionette Freebie for July 2020 is "Swallowed Up." Its links will take you to the complete story in your preferred format. The other links will take you to locked Patreon posts inviting you to pledge a monthly buck or three. (Unless, that is, you've already become a Patreon, in which case, thank you!)
July had a fifth Friday in it. I was hoping to use that extra week to get ahead of schedule again. I had decided to make August another month dedicated to advancing a novel draft toward a publishable or at least submittable state, and being ahead of the Friday Fictionette schedule would have helped with that. Alas, due to a combination of REASONS I did not upload the August 7 release until 1:00 AM on August 8. So much for getting ahead of schedule.
Attempts at novel progress go on regardless, but it's difficult. And it's not just because of the failure to establish a healthy advance upload buffer for the Friday Fictionette Project. Which is not to say that scheduling has nothing to do with it. It's got a lot to do with it. So does the content and quality of the first draft, which leads to despair. Also pathological avoidance. I have a whole bunch of THOUGHTS on the subject, which I will dribble out over the course of several blog posts. Starting tomorrow.
So. Now you know what you're in for. LET THE WHINING COMMENCE!
odds and ends on a Monday afternoon
So I finished a new story and submitted it last week. It's an expansion on the 500-word story I submitted to Escape Pod's flash fiction contest a couple months ago. At its new 1,300-word length, there's a bit more room to flesh out the characters, the setting, and the resolution. I really like it now and I'm feeling an unwise amount of hope regarding its chances. If that hope founders, ah well. I know precisely where the next two places I'm going to send it will be.
Thanks to this July push to include a revision session in every work day, I proceeded at a somewhat healthier pace than I did during production of the previous story. Because of that, and probably also because this story was only about a quarter of the previous story's length, it was a fairly stress-free procedure. There were still a good two hours of last-minute revision on deadline day, but 1) that's within the bounds of a normal revision session, and 2) it really was revision, and not a race to write the last two thirds of the story from scratch.
And then I did one more copyediting read-through, this one aloud to catch typos and misplaced modifiers and other awkward things, and totally choked up during the last two paragraphs. With the story having unexpectedly passed the "made its own author cry" test, I felt pretty good about sending it out.
One pleasant side-effect of all this social distancing, partial isolation, and public activity shut-down is that in addition to not having contracted COVID-19 (cross fingers, knock on wood, turn three times and curse and spit on the ground), I haven't suffered a cold or flu since well before things got real. And sure, it's summer now, but since when has that stopped me from developing sniffles and coughing and post-nasal drip?
Undoubtedly this has to do with keeping myself well out of range, as best I can, of everyone else, and--because Boulder County is thankfully a place where mask-wearing and social-distancing compliance is relatively high--everyone else is keeping themselves well out of range of me. Your common cold transmits over similar vectors to the current plague (minus the ability for the virus to survive for days on non-porous surfaces *wibble*), so if you successfully keep yourself safe from the novel coronovirus you're probably safe from the less novel sort. Additionally, during normal times I probably catch colds more frequently than I might otherwise because I play roller derby. If one skater's got something, the rest of the league's going to get it pretty soon. I haven't been smearing my body up against other skaters' bodies since early March. Much as I love my sport, I have to admit it makes a difference.
So aside from the odd recovery day after an insomniac night (more to do with the summer heat in a house with no air conditioning than with pandemic anxiety), I haven't really had to give myself a day off work. I've had a remarkably healthy and productive pandemic, is what I'm saying.
Yesterday I tried out this fava bean hummus recipe in all its complex and high-maintenance glory. You may ask, was it worth it? To which I would reply, MOST ASSUREDLY. Yes, the recipe could stand to be simplified (why bother wringing out as much of the water from the blanched spinach as you can when you're just going to add water back in the blender? Why go out of your way to use a neutral oil to make your lemon zest tincture when you're going to add a quarter cup olive oil to the final product?). Also clarified (wait, in step 3 you blend the fava beans and the spinach together, but in step 5 you fold the spinach puree into the fava been mixture?). Also it could use a reminder that fava beans require a second shucking after you blanch them (unless they actually wanted that tough outer skin on each bean included in the puree? Really?). But the recipe seems pretty forgiving of mild variations, and in any case the results were amazing.
I think I'm going to have a little more right now on the sourdough discard naan I fried up over lunch...
the state of the fictionette is actually pretty good
- 1,213 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,336 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,098 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,199 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,129 words (if poetry, lines) long
So speaking of that Friday Fictionette project that I have no intention of taking a break from, here's an overdue June Round-up and State of the Fictionette report.
As you know (Bob), the Friday Fictionette project is a short-short story subscription service powered by Patreon. Every first through fourth Friday I release a brand-new, never-before-seen short-story-like object in the range of 850 to 1,200 words, which Patrons get to read (or listen to, depending on their pledge tier) as soon as they are released, and one of which per month everybody gets to read or listen to at the end of the month regardless of whether they subscribe. Here's the round-up of the Fictionettes released in June 2020:
The Fictionette Freebie for June 2020 is "The Piano and Her Boy". You can use the links above to go straight to the format of your choice and check it out.
Fictionette production of late has been remarkably stress-free. I spent the entire month of June two days ahead of schedule. I would have liked to be a week ahead of schedule, but constantly uploading them on Wednesday for scheduled release on Friday provided enough advance time buffer to keep me relaxed about the whole thing. The less deadline panic in my life, the better.
Now, speaking of deadline panic, I lost a day last week when I was pushing everything to the side in order to get that short story written and submitted. Which, because of that two-day buffer, meant I uploaded July 3rd's Fictionette on Thursday rather than Friday. Which is a lot better than during the weekend following. Which only goes to show how awesome having an advance-time buffer is. I hope to upload this week's release on Thursday as well--and then steadily increase that buffer over the next few months until I'm a week ahead.
I might succeed sooner rather than later! July 2020 is a month with a fifth Friday in it, which means a week with no Fictionette due. Maybe this time I'll actually use it to add substantially to the buffer.
Meanwhile, I'm poking at this whole "take a past Fictionette and create a full-length story out of it" thing again. I had a freewriting prompt that reminded me of the otherworldly saurian detectives from last year's "Love in the Time of Lizard People." Turns out, there's another young couple in that town who have their own reasons for not wanting telepathic police to pick through their brains. I could see their story multithreading along with Bob's story and several others around the core incident of the lizards' appearance and the diner's disappearance, and, oh, anyway, it's kind of exciting. I sort of want to hit it right now.
But I have a flash rewrite to get through first, because another submission window I want in on closes on the 15th. Don't worry--I should be done well in time to avoid Emergency Short Story Boot Camp.
And with that, my writing day comes to an end, and I'm off to Longmont for a bit of safe, face-masked, socially distant roller skating. 'Til next post!
stop being so indecisive just pick yer poison already
My writing process is inconsistent. My writing needs are inconsistent. I'm going to whine about that now.
Getting back to Tuesday's lament: I wrote a 5K-word story more or less over 48 hours, submitted it Tuesday afternoon, then crashed hard. On Wednesday, I sort of puttered along at half-speed, getting about half my expected workload done. And if there's one huge takeaway I'm taking away from the experience, it's this: that's not sustainable.
Hence my goal of doing a little revision every day in July.
But I can't get away from how well Emergency Short Story Boot Camp worked. I don't just mean that it got written. I mean, there was an immersive quality to the effort that helped it get written. I lived inside that story all day, watching the characters interact, looking closely at pieces of their world, learning by trial and error the rules, such as they were, of the magic they manipulated. And it was magic for me, too.
It was just stressy as all hell, is all.
I find myself going back and forth between two different writers' blog posts concerning the words-per-day question. I don't really judge my output in terms of words per day, though I do track them; I also track hours spent writing, and I structure my writing day around a list of defined tasks I hope to accomplish or at least make progress on. But words-per-day makes a useful generic shorthand for all the different ways one might quantify the daily writing process. And in terms of words per day, these two blog posts I'm thinking of are talking about very different totals.
The first post is Tobias Buckell's "How Much Should You Write Every Day?" To be clear, that's a question he doesn't actually answer. He's not here to tell you how much you should write every day; rather, he describes how he figured out how much he should write every day, at least at this current point in his life. The answer he came up with was 500 words. Just that. 500 words of fiction every day. Only 500 words. But every day. It's a daily amount that allows for a healthy work-life balance, and, given a long enough run-up time, it's a sustainable pace at which to approach a deadline.
The post really resonated with me. Buckell describes periods during college when he'd binge several multi-thousand-word days and then spend the next couple days utterly collapsed--and I have been there. He describes deadline-oriented sprints followed by utter exhaustion--hoo yes. The slow but steady march of a defined and reasonable daily goal toward a finished project with "no drama" makes so much sense to me.
There's also the benefit of having "percolation time" built into the schedule. I can't just sit down at the desk and type until the story's done. I need nights spent thinking about the story as I fall asleep, long walks talking to myself about the plot, maybe even an hour in the bathtub trying to write the next scene out loud. There was a point Tuesday when, climax scene written and only the denouement left to go, I actively needed a fifteen-minute walk-and-talk session to clarify for myself what that denouement should accomplish, but I didn't have time. The submission portal was going to close in an hour. So I had to do my best hammering it out at the keyboard. The results were acceptable, but I think they suffered for the lack of walk-and-talk. A slow-but-steady pace would have allowed for lots of walk-and-talk, lots of hypnagogic brainstorming, lots of opportunities to dream and wake up and go "a-ha!"
But I'm still worried about this daily sessions in July thing. See, I've tried a similar process before: I spent a month holding myself to a daily 25-minute session of creating/revising/polishing the work in progress. And I succeeded at holding those 25-minute sessions fairly regularly. But I didn't seem to get anywhere. Why?
So here's the second blog post I keep coming back to: Kameron Hurley's "Life on 10,000 Words a Day: How Iím Hacking My Writing Process." She describes not writing a little every day, but rather writing a hell of a lot every Saturday. For her, a daily bite of time isn't conducive to that immersive waking trance she needs for writing novels. But with a dedicated six-hour block scheduled during an ideal time of day and in an ideal environment, she gets shit done.
And that resonates with me, too. It speaks to why 25 minutes a day, or even an hour a day, fails to move the meter on my work in progress. Having the freedom-slash-obligation to spend six hours Tuesday doing nothing but writing that story made the story happen in a way that half an hour a day had not.
Could I work that way on the regular? It sounds kind of thrilling, but also kind of exhausting. I don't typically choose to do just one thing over such a long period of time; the thought rather terrifies me. I'm not sure how much of that is me being hard-wired for multi-tasking, and how much of it is my just never having built up that kind of marathon-runner stamina.
Then there's a practical problem: I have too many things I want to do with my work-week--hell, with my work-day--to feel like such a single-purpose day is a good idea. I'm not willing to sacrifice my daily freewriting sessions; that's my time to get warmed up for the day and come up with story ideas. I don't want to fall behind on the Friday Fictionette project; I most certainly don't want to cancel it. Meanwhile, I have multiple stories in the revision queue at all times and I want to finally publish a gods-damned novel! And then there are all those non-writing obligations that life demands. How do I get everything done?
Tallying it all up: I don't want any one writing task to monopolize my day. I want to spend a little time on each of the things every day. But I don't want to work on a project for so little time at a time that I get nowhere at all. And I definitely don't want to keep putting myself through the last-minute panic production process.
I suspect I'm not going to find the One True Answer. If there is a One True Answer, I suspect it will involve staying flexible about what the One True Answer is for any given day, week, or work in progress.
Writing process! What is it even? Well. I'm working on it. TBD.
the just-did-a-big-thing doldrums strike again
So I wrote a brand-new, never-before-seen short story over mostly last night and today, and I submitted it, and now I'm sort of sitting around wondering what to do with my life.
I ought to feel happy. Triumphant, even!
Instead I feel weirdly and intensely aimless.
I keep asking myself, what fun things was I not letting myself do while the story was still unfinished and the deadline was looming? What was I looking forward to doing once the manuscript was successfully submitted? And the only answer I keep coming up with is, "Not be working on that story anymore."
I am not unhappy with the story. I mean, sure, if I had another day to work on it, I'd smooth out some of the prose, work harder to differentiate the characters' voices, throw in more physical details and harden up some of the background worldbuilding. (And if the market I just sent it to declines to purchase, I'll spend a little time doing just that. Probably solicit some feedback from my critique group too.) But more or less I'm pleased.
It's a full-length fantasy story, just under 5,000 words, with character growth and a theory of magic and heroism and action and hard choices and also a beginning, a middle, and an end. It's a good day when I get to add a new one of those to my slush stable.
It's also the first time I've submitted a former Friday Fictionette not as a lightly revised reprint but as a completely rewritten and expanded original. (I checked with the editors ahead of time. The verdict was yes, submit it as an original. So we're good there.) This was something I thought I'd be doing more often when I first conceived of the Friday Fictionette Project. I certainly didn't think it would take almost six years into the project for it to happen. Nevertheless, I've done it now, and I'm proud of that.
(Usually I'd link this post to the Friday Fictionette/short story in question, but the place I sent it requires anonymous submissions, so I don't want to risk anyone stumbling over my blog during the reading period and seeing the title here attached to my name. Kinda paranoid, I know, but allow us writers our superstitions, yah?)
But. Anyway. Now I'm wallowing in this sort of "I ought to be doing a thing" mental space, and it's not fun.
Partially it's the familiar effect of having lived with a deadline long enough that the stress and guilt surrounding it becomes habit. I can't possibly have nothing to do right now! My base state at all times is "ought to be writing, aren't writing, feeling guilty and worthless for not writing, which is why I'm not writing even though I ought to be writing."
But it's also due to having scuttled my usual structured work day to get this done in time. So there's a bunch of daily stuff I haven't done today. I did my Morning Pages, OK, they're kinda necessary to getting my brain functioning for the day, but I didn't do my daily idea generation exercise (i.e. freewriting to a prompt). I didn't do my daily 25-minute-or-so session of working on the next Friday Fictionette. And I'm sitting here feeling like I should be doing those things now. I mean, that was the original plan: new fiction production and revision first, then submission procedures, then the "daily & weekly exercises" shift. And here I am not doing that.
You know why? Here's why. I logged six hours on today's timesheet, finishing up that story and sending it out. I am done for the day.
I just don't feel like I have a right to be done.
And if that's not a compelling argument against this "avoid-delay-avoid-delay-LASTMINUTEPANICPANICPANIC" process I've got going on, I don't know what is.
The Ink Slingers Guild on Habitica, of which you may have heard me speak before, has a monthly recurring challenge in which participants announce their goals at the beginning of the month and check in every Wednesday with their progress. My goal for June had been to make my daily Friday Fictionette work sessions so as to continue uploading weekly releases earlier and earlier. I more or less succeeded at that; all four June releases were uploaded to Patreon two days ahead of time, which felt great. Well, for July, my goal is going to be to hold myself to daily New Fiction Production & Revision work sessions, so that hopefully I don't find myself obliged to conduct another Emergency Short Story Boot Camp over the last two days of the next submission window I'm hoping to make.
Because while I'm damn proud of myself for writing a clean and reasonably polished short story of almost 5,000 words in under two days, I have to admit: this post-boot-camp feeling of hollow, aimless, joyless despondency is kind of crap.
my personal version of original sin or something like that
As I've been delightedly chirping about, my work days lately have been fantastic. Partially because of Cat Rambo's co-writing sessions, partially because of all the appointment cancellations and stay-at-home routines of the pandemic, and partially because changing to a different hypertension medication at the beginning of the year means that, after four years of not, I'm getting enough sleep at night... I'm doing all my work, every day. I'm hitting every item on my checklist at more or less the planned time. With results including: I've got a good amount of manuscripts out on submission at any given time, I'm finishing my Friday Fictionette releases a day early, and now I'm rewriting a novel!
It's wonderful. I'm getting an amazing amount of things done every day, and come five or six o'clock, I'm more or less off the clock. My responsibilities are met. I can relax.
But just try telling my scarred little brain that.
Stress is a habit. Guilt is a habit. The conviction that, if I'm playing or reading or cooking a meal or going to sleep early, it's because I'm procrastinating the day's writing and that makes me a bad, lazy, undisciplined wanna-be of a writer, that shit carves a rut in the brain. So that conviction lingers, even when it no longer reflects reality.
Which leads to scenes like this:
It's eight p.m. and I've completed my checklist of writing tasks. I've logged four and a half hours of solid work. I've even taken care of some financial chores during my lunch break. I'm done. Now I get to play! I boot up Spiral Knights, I log in... and then I sit there looking at the mission screen, feeling a nagging sense that I shouldn't be here. I should be doing something virtuous right now. Something productive. It's simply not valid for me to spend the next couple hours smashing jelly cubes and gremlins in the Clockworks.
So maybe I play anyway. And the whole time I'm playing, that sense continues to nag. And it makes the game not fun.
So maybe I don't play. And I sit there at my desk, staring at my computer, wondering what else I should do with my time. No ideas occur.
And that's how the rest of the evening passes: half-heartedly poking at this or that pastime but never really settling in to enjoy myself, and then suddenly it's bedtime. I earned an evening of fun, but I failed to cash it in before my credits expired.
This is not insurmountable. I'm not really complaining. Like all bad habits, this tendency to never feel sufficiently off the hook to enjoy myself just needs to be replaced with good habits, which I will practice until they become, well, habitual. It'll take a certain amount of mindfulness, but I'll get there. It's no big deal.
It's just weird, that's all. I thought it was worth mentioning.
one hundred words closer to upgrading my SFWA membership
- 50,347 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 100 words (if poetry, lines) long
I have happy news today! One of the three stories that sold back in January has now been published--it is online where you can read it and everything! "The Rarest of Prey," what I've been referring to as "that tacky little unicorn drabble," is now live for your reading pleasure at Daily Science Fiction.
Meanwhile, I continue plugging away at all the daily and weekly writing tasks...
This morning's freewriting session resulted in a couple potential poems, one about the pandemic, the other about prejudice, and both depressing as heck. (Sometimes poetry is like that.)
This week's Friday Fictionette is slowly but steadily taking shape. That's particularly reassuring to see, since this one started out more nebulous than most.
Another page of a very overdue Fictionette Artifact got typed up. The very last of the the ribbons I ordered back in January 2017 is on its last legs, so I placed an order for more yesterday with Ribbons Unlimited--and they've already been shipped! Should be here Thursday. They are not just speedy, but solicitous, too. In response to a note I included with my order, the proprieter called me up on the phone to reassure me that, despite a change of verbal description, the part number I had ordered was indeed compatible with my particular typewriter (a Tower "Quiet-Tabulator" from the 1950s that an acquaintance in Oregon sold me for $50 back in, oh, 1998 or so).
The early novel revision efforts are inching along. I wrote The Bookwyrm's Hoard using a very early version of yWriter. Possibly version 2? I installed version 6 and it didn't want to open the novel directly; instead, I had to use one of its Import Earlier Version commands. 2006 was that long ago in software years. In any case, I've created a Scrivener project and have begun importing the draft, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. (I'm up to Chapter 3.) As each scene gets imported, I read it and make notes broadly identifying areas I need to fix or pay special attention to. (There are a lot of problems need fixing. Some of them are very embarrassing. No, I'm not going to list examples.) I'm trying not to judge but rather to observe and acquire data. I'm also getting surprised a lot. I remembered the basics of the plot, such as it was, but there are loads of details I'd forgotten, and some of them are actually a delight.
And of course there was dinner. (Bonus food content!) Native Foods said "Hey, it's Takeout Tuesday! Double points if you order today!" so I was like, OK, fine, let's try your fancy Plant-Based Roast. I scheduled an order for 5 PM delivery. It arrived right on time. My hunger also arrived right on time. Only problem was, the fancy Plant-Based Roast arrives frozen solid and requires an hour and a half in the oven. Whoops. Good thing I had also ordered a 4-pack of their burger patties. Those cook up in about 5 minutes on the stove.
The roast, when it was finally done, was delicious. Also it will feed me for days. (Just me. It's not really John's thing, although the burger patties might be.) A+, would recommend. Just understand that, once it arrives at your door, you aren't going to get to eat it for at least two hours, and schedule your delivery accordingly.