“When writing doesn't work, the writer is assumed to be the guilty party.”
Teresa Nielsen Hayden

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

oh hey look i stayed up all day today good job
Thu 2018-01-25 00:44:26 (single post)

The Boulder County Bombers' 2018 season is officially on. We kicked it off last week Friday and Sunday with a guest clinic led by Luz Chaos, who is fantastic in every way. She's an extraordinarily strong and agile and smart jammer, some might say supernaturally so. She was here to teach us how we, too, could be supernatural. Then, last night, we had our first actual Travel Team practice. It began with a team meeting to set the tone, and it ended, as all practices for the next three months will end, with one full hour of off-skates conditioning. Half an hour of strength training; half an hour of metabolic workout. One full body of all the sore. My quads have been letting me know about it all day, I can tell you.

I'm not really complaining. I need to get stronger, and this will make me stronger. But in the meantime, it's put me on notice. I will have to curate my energy intake and expenditures carefully in order to continue pursuing my other-than-derby interests, like writing and keeping up with the household and volunteering and actually having a life. It is hard to have much of a life while flat on one's back in bed. Which is what happens when Sunday afternoon's post-derby collapse leads to an utter failure to sleep through the night, which leads to getting little done over the next couple days, not to mention an inability to adequately prepare for or recover from the next physical effort, which is probably derby since what with all the energy mismanagement and exhaustion I'm not likely to have much of a wherewithal left for any optional physical exercise.

And so the spiraling descent continues.

Basically, it's going to come down to a rational and consistent sleep schedule, a healthy diet, and appropriate self-care before and after exercise. Also not only getting up on time but getting to work on time, so that if I fall prey to an afternoon nap attack, it's not before I've gotten the majority of my day's work done.

Discipline. I hate discipline. It doesn't like me much either. I suppose we'll have to declare a truce.

Meanwhile, our season schedule includes "structured time off" for the entire month of October, so I guess that's when my annual run-away-and-hide-in-the-mountains week is going to be. There is also a blissful lack of bout-type events in July--great news for anyone planning to go to RollerCon (the big roller derby conference in Las Vegas) but also really great news for this New Orleanian who hasn't been able to participate in the Running of the Rollerbulls for three years now. Well. Guess where I'm gonna be the second weekend in July? Yeah you right.

Cover art incorporates public domain image sourced from Pixabay
i'll take the 1800-word entree and a side order of sticking my tongue out at jerk-brain
Wed 2018-01-17 23:55:30 (single post)
  • 1,534 wds. long

Two things tonight. Well, maybe three. Three things tonight.

Thing the first: I am having a hell of a time coming up with things to blog about this week. That I have three things tonight is kind of amazing. I think maybe I if I had been better sticking to my writing schedule this week, I would have more things. That is, indeed, the whole point of the actually writing blog. Anyway, that's the first thing.

Thing the second: I was late with last week's Friday Fictionette because I suck and also it was bout weekend. Time management continues to be a struggle, and that struggle is a work in progress, so when Saturday is going to look like "bout venue set-up, emergency last-minute painting of numbers on jersey, skate in two mini-bouts back-to-back, afterparty until 1:30 AM," the whole week leading up to it is probably going to look like AAAAAAUUUUUUUGGGGHHHHHH! Then throw in a friend's last-minute birthday party (I mean, I had to! I wuv my teammate! <3 <3 <3 Also, a bar that was also a classic arcade was involved, making the whole thing mandatory) and suddenly Sunday is the new Friday.

But the Friday Fictionette did go up Sunday. It's live. It's called "There's an App for That" (excerpt, ebook, audiobook) and it's about a smartphone app that takes matters into its own hands, for want of a better term, during a zombie apocalypse. The story includes a bonus game of "spot the irritating, condescending and ultimately ineffectual project manager" which you can play along at home. (I won't tell you who that character is based on, because A. that would be mean, and B. it's been long enough that I honestly don't remember his name, except that it wasn't the name the character got. The character is named after one of my better and more fondly remembered project managers, actually. It's rather unfair that his name was the first that jumped into my head.)

OK so finally, Thing the third: I found yet another thing to do with 4thewords that it probably wasn't meant for! But it is a writing thing! And using it to win battles with stupid stupid aracnu that barely give out spider legs, let alone rope made me more determined to do it all in one night rather than parcel it out over several!

Which is to say: Composing critique feedback for colleagues' stories!

There's kind of a lot of that needing to happen with, well, all the contests I'm participating in, actually, but today I'm particularly concerned with the one where everyone writes flash fiction over the weekend and then gives each other feedback during the week. The word limit is only 750 per entry, but there's enough contestants that, even once you split them into four divisions, each contestant still needs to read and critique and vote on almost 20K words. Which is a thoroughly worthwhile task, but long. It got me through nearly two aracnu who didn't give me so much as a single piece of rope, I probably should be battling Rudakai instead but they are expensive and also WHERE ARE THEY. Which isn't to say I actually turned in almost 1800 words of critique--I edited things down!--but I darn well typed 'em.

On the purely personal scale of "This is really writing and these are real words" to "OK, now you're just cheating," composing peer critique in 4TW feels less like cheating than does, babbling for 750 words or so about not knowing what I want to blog about, but, oddly, more like cheating than does composing a dream journal entry.

And that's weird. Peer critique is, objectively speaking, much closer to Professional Writing Practice than dream journaling is. But I guess dream journal entries feel more like first drafts of brand new stories, whereas peer critique feels like thinking aloud on the page, and that's where the cheating/not cheating divide is in my head.

It only goes to show I should continue striving to totally ignore the jerk-brain voice that says "You're not really writing, don't you dare give yourself credit for writing, that there doesn't count as writing." Far from having a reliable yardstick for such things, jerk-brain uses a yardstick that is actually missing a few significant inches and gets used primarily to smack knuckles. So if I say I'm not cheating, it can darn well take its yardstick for a hike somewhere else.

and then jerk-brain tried to drink up all my rocket-fuel but i said
Thu 2018-01-11 23:56:32 (single post)

There's another side of the Jerk-Brain vs. Gamification battle I didn't talk about yesterday because, frankly, that post had already gone on long enough. That was a post all about what happens after the writing that determines whether I get to actually feel accomplished. (It was also, briefly, a post about fruitcake, because I am a multidimensional being.) This post here is about what happens before the writing that determines whether I wind up writing at all.

It's the question of motivation.

The motivation aspect is a lot simpler than the External Validation Brain-Hack Machine. It's what gets talked about more. Almost every new member of 4thewords mentions it in their introduction post on the forum: "This is giving me so much motivation to write!" Motivation works in opposition to avoidance, the way thrust opposes drag when you're flying a plane. Motivation pushes you toward writing; avoidance pushes you away. It's never a matter of not having motivation; if you want to write, you've got motivation. It's a matter of which force is stronger at any given time.

To be clear, when I say "avoidance" I don't simply mean procrastination. I mean anything that acts to push the writer away from the act of writing. The looming difficulty of finding time and energy after a hard day of work, the inevitable drama of stealing back time and privacy from a demanding and unsympathetic family, the feeling that time spent writing is time stolen from more important pursuits. And yes, the temptation of just one more game of Two Dots. If motivation says "I want to write," avoidance says, "but I can't/won't/shouldn't right now."

Jerk-Brain is very good at strengthening avoidance and whittling down motivation. It says that whatever you're contemplating writing isn't important enough to be a high priority. It says you're selfish for demanding that people leave you alone to do it. It says that freewriting and other forms of writing practice are just busywork, that drafting new stories is your excuse for of abandoning other projects as soon as they get difficult, that the story you want to revise is pretty much awful and unfixable and no one's going to want to read it so why waste your time.

Jerk-Brain tells poisonous lies with lips all stained from drinking up all my rocket fuel to keep me from achieving anything like escape velocity.

Enter gamification. When natural sources of motivation fail, gamification is pouring a gallon of 100% Synthetic Motiviation in the gas tank. In the case of 4thewords, that motivation is generally something like "I still need 300 more words to beat this monster and only 5 minutes to do it in!"

Well, usually it's something less high-pressure, like "I'm on a quest to make a bunch of stone blocks, so I need to defeat a bunch of Grult since they drop raw stone. Then I need to find rope somewhere. I could buy it, but that's hardly satisfying. Guess I've got to go back to Mama Tree and fight a bunch of illi." But today after my fictionette work I got distracted watching Team Colorado's bout against Team Kansas and only remembered belatedly that I was still in a battle with the aforementioned Grult.

So I was all like, "Shit! I'd better get to it! Five minutes! Go!"

And it was like I was running at full-speed and then flying (thrust and lift beat gravity and drag!) while way back behind me on the ground Jerk-Brain was all "But, but, but, I was talking to you, I was saying--" and I wasn't listening anymore because I HAD ALL THE WORDS TO WRITE HURRY HURRY HURRY--

And that's how the bulk of tonight's blog post got done.

working around a broken gold star dispenser
Wed 2018-01-10 23:56:50 (single post)

Announcement: I have begun to mail fruitcake to people! This involved taste-testing it, of course. (Also I hadn't had breakfast yet. My taste-test was rather thorough.) Past taste-tests indicate that rum really isn't the right flavor for fruitcake, at least not in my opinion. It's just too sweet. The right answer is cognac. Brandy will also do. I used cognac to re-booze the cheesecloth wrap a few days ago, and the flavor is much improved.

I was trying to remember what went into the fruitcake so I could list the ingredients on one of the accompanying greeting cards. Raisins, black and green; currants, black; ginger, candied; dates, pitted because there are limits to how much work I'm willing to do. But... was that all? I mean, yes, and slivered almonds, of course, but--no other fruit? Maybe dried cherries, but--no, I remember in the grocery store thinking, "Not both cherries and strawberries." But I certainly have no memory of julienne-slicing several ounces of dried strawberries by hand. If I had done it, I would remember. Trust me. Having done the same to the dates and the candied ginger was extremely memorable.

Well. Guess what I found in the back of the Volt this afternoon. That's right. A sealed pint container of dried strawberries. From December.

It's cool! It's fine. Dried fruit is fairly shelf-stable. But I'm thinking, dang, that's a lot of oatmeal I'm going to be eating those strawberries with.

OK, so, anyway, what I came to blog about the first time: Writing Gamification and Brain Hacks, Part Lots of Many.

Writing is not a job with a lot of external validation. Not at my stage of the game, anyway. There's a lot of time spent churning out words that no one cares about but you. There's a lot of story submissions that result in mostly rejection letters. There may be some self-publishing but very few eyeballs successfully attracted.

Common wisdom says that, for this reason, this is not a job for someone who needs external validation. The only validation that counts has to come from within. You know that what you're doing has worth; that knowledge has to be enough to keep you going. And if it isn't, maybe you aren't really cut out for this writing gig. Many people aren't. It's OK.

Y'all, common wisdom is mean.

I think most of us really do need some form of external validation. We're not robots, for goodness sake. Simon and Garfunkel's "I Am a Rock" isn't self-congratulatory; it's ironic, and the irony is bitter. We're not rocks, we're not islands, and if our internal validation process doesn't get the benefit of an external reality check from time to time, at least a little, maybe we start to doubt.

And what if your internal validation process is broken? See, I'm not actually very good at telling myself a did a good job and believing it. I'm much better at finding reasons why what I just accomplished doesn't count. Look, I've been spending more hours writing per day, or doing affiliated writing tasks that need doing. My daily word count has gone up. I'm submitting more stories more frequently. Two of my previous publications will debut in podcasts this year! The writing is going great...

And yet that little self-sabotaging voice in my head says, You're just making yourself a lot of busywork so you can feel accomplished.

It says, So how many of those 4,000+ words went toward actual publishable works?

It says, Easy to surpass five hours in a day when that's how far you are behind schedule.

It says, But what are you submitting lately? Not new stories. Not full-length stories. Certainly not good stories. You're scraping the bottom of the barrel in order to check off the Submissions Procedures to-do list item on a technicality.

There is no private workday writing-routine accomplishment so great that that little self-sabotaging voice can't tear it down. It will find a reason why the latest thing I did doesn't count.

So if I'm not getting external validation from acceptance letters and reviews and fans and stuff like that, and I'm not getting internal validation because that self-sabotaging jerk voice is overwhelming any sense of legitimate accomplishment, then where am I supposed to get any validation from at all?

Possibility one: Self-administered gold stars. Respond to the accomplishment by awarding myself some small tangible pleasure. It can be a literal gold star sticker, a small piece of chocolate, a walk in the sun, a few minutes playing a fun game. Main thing is, it's enjoyable. Self-sabotaging jerk-voice can make me question my right to feel accomplished, but it can't stop chocolate tasting good or gold stars being shiny and cheerful. Establishing a pattern of "accomplish something--get a yummy treat" can over time help dislodge the pattern of "accomplish something--realize it was worthless." Or at least give it some healthy competition.

Possibility two: Self-initiated external validation systems. Otherwise known as--you guessed it--gamification.

Take 4thewords as the example, since I'm using it right now this minute. 4thewords doesn't care if the 1300 words you defeat a dust-zombie Villager with were story draft, blog post, freewriting, or even a bunch of incoherent babble. Write 1300 words, defeat the Villager, get rewarded. You'd think that this would further fuel the Jerk-Brain--It would have rewarded you for pasting in 1300 words of lorem ipsum, so it doesn't mean anything--but, weirdly, that doesn't seem to be the case. Possibly because I know that I wouldn't just paste in 1300 words of lorem ipsum and call it writing. Possibly because the incoherent babble has a purpose.

And definitely because it's like that piece of chocolate: It still tastes good. It still feels good to see the pop-up that says "You WON a battle against Villager. You received 4 dust and 136 XP."

That last bit is the brain hack. It's magic. It should not work. I'm the one pulling the marionette's strings. I'm the one starting the robot on its preprogrammed sequence. And yet when the sequence completes and the robot says "Good job!" I react emotionally like my old Null-kitty getting belly rubs. Because even though I'm the one awarding it to myself, chocolate still tastes like good.

Basically, I've installed an artificial connector between "write a bunch of words" and "feel good about having written a bunch of words" to replace the built-in connection that got broken somewhere along the way. It's actually "feel good about the game quest that writing a bunch of words enabled you to complete," but it doesn't matter. It is still a direct line between writing and feeling good, and that line is vital to keeping me motivated to write.

Now, there's a whole 'nother speech Jerk-Brain likes to give me about what a pathetic specimen I am for needing all these brain-hacks and artificially induced belly rubs and chocolate when Real Writers Don't Need Tricks to Get Themselves to Write... but that speech, at least, I've learned to shrug off. "That may be so," I tell Jerk-Brain, "but I'm still writing."

adventures are what happens when you're busy making other plans that you subsequently get distracted from
Tue 2018-01-09 23:45:01 (single post)

Broke my New Year's streak of flawless workdays yesterday. Had to happen sometime. Had things on the schedule after which I felt tired and headachy and sick and good for nothing. So I wound up just doing my freewriting last night and not much else. (Of course I did my freewriting. I am not breaking my 4thewords streak if I can help it.)

The morning was taken up with a visit from an EnergySmart assessor who came to help us determine how energy-efficient our home was. Turns out, not very! Some of it we'll be able to improve, some we will not, at least not without cooperation from the Condominium Association Board. It will all be in a nicely itemized list with explanations and instructions when the assessment report comes in next week.

I mention this mostly in order to explain why I got none of my work done in the morning, and why I was counting on a productive afternoon. Which I didn't get. Well. Not in the way I had expected, anyway.

I spent the afternoon in Longmont. I had an afternoon appointment at Cafe of Life, so I drove on up with the Volt around lunchtime to give it time to charge at Village at the Peaks. This is fairly routine for a Cafe day. What generally happens is, after I start the car charging, I walk over to wherever I'm going to have lunch, then after lunch I have a long writing session at Ozo Coffee. Then, depending on whether the car's done charging, I either walk or drive to my Cafe appointment. There's usually also groceries at Whole Foods and beer and soda at Wyatt's, sandwiched into the afternoon agenda wherever it most makes sense.

Only yesterday, after lunch at China Buffet, I didn't walk back over to Ozo. I got distracted. Or, more accurately put, I got curious. I wanted to see how far I'd have to walk east along the ditch between the Hobby Lobby and the Sam's Club before I found another place to cross over. Why? There doesn't gotta be a reason. I just wanted to see.

Turns out, the closest spot to cross over is the little spur of Sunset Way over between Valley Subaru and Sunset Acadamy. It was a middling long walk over grass lots, gravel, sand, and ditch-side boulders. I saw intriguing graffiti on the dam where the ditch leaves the mall area. I saw ducks where the water escaped the most recent freeze. A V of geese flew low enough overhead that I heard their wings creaking rhythmically. Across the ditch, behind The Suites apartments, I saw people out exercising their dogs. The dogs crossed the ditch wherever they wanted to; they clearly didn't mind getting their feet wet. I did, so I didn't.

I saw myself when I was a young teenager, getting on my bike and hitting the path for a long ride just to see where I'd be when I stopped. (That was almost thirty years ago, which seems impossible.) I don't do enough of that these days. I mean, I do some. There was that one time I headed out barefoot to get a paper and, when the box I visited turned up empty, I just kept walking all the way down to Bluff Street. (Reading a book as I went.) And I'll go rambling through Mountain View Memorial Park once in a while, since it's right there and all. But I don't make a habit of it the way I did when I was thirteen or so. Mostly I just Go For Walks, which involves set routes, known locations, and a predictable amount of time. It's not the same.

It felt so nice to channeling my inner pre-teen and go on a walking adventure that I kept walking. I made one big loop via Sunset to Nelson to Ken Pratt, checking out all the retail storefronts I can never quite identify from Diagonal Highway. I tried to go to the City Cafe whose sign I'd seen before but never investigated; turns out that, since November, the sign is all that's left of City Cafe. The sign, and a bunch of chairs stacked on tables. I wound up instead at the Bavarian Bakery (Google tells me it's actually called Michael's, but the sign out front says Bavarian Bakery) doing a late Morning Pages session over coffee and piece of baklava.

Walking adventures are fun and all, but they are tiring. My back was getting very angry at me over the size of my bookbag and the length of time I'd required it be carried. My feet were starting to hurt. I had a headache. And I still had to make groceries and go to my Cafe of Life appointment. Which I did. (Not complaining; I ran into an old friend while I was resting at a table in the Whole Foods. Rather, she ran across me and got my attention. I'm so glad she did. HEY SELKIE IF YOU'RE READING THIS DO PLEASE STAY IN TOUCH I'VE MISSED YOU CALL OR TEXT SOMETIME.)

So, anyway, when I got home, I was tired. I didn't do hardly nothing.

Today was much better. I slept in to chase away the last of the sore-tired-headachy blues, but other than that everything went to schedule.

And for today's freewriting session, I let yesterday's walking adventure inspire me. I wrote the germ of a short story involving two warring factions of Faerie, separated by that same ditch that I'd walked along yesterday, having negotiated a truce requiring each to stay to their side. Each faction developed its own culture based on the nature of their microterritory. The graffiti on the dam, which said (it really did!) MIRROR MIRROR ON THE WALL WHO WILL BE THE QUEEN OF THEM ALL, was, when I got through with it, a souvenir from the last annual ball that the Northside Fae had held. They elect something like a Prom Queen every year. They lead a hectic and frivolous life, throwing parties, playing tricks, and vowing not to be like the ants that lived in the grass lot they'd made their home. The Southside Fae, a more serious bunch, have adopted The Suites. They keep watch over pets and children at play; if they like you exceptionally well they might come help out around your apartment, too. And then there's a Thing that lives in the ditch that will steal fairy children away if they got to close. Human children, too. But for some reason it absolutely dotes upon on dogs, especially Labradors and golden retrievers. It will need to be dealt with. And of course the heroes of the story would be two children, one from each side of the boundary, finding common ground in the need to defeat the Thing. Working title: Creekside Story.

Anyway, it just goes to show, experience is never wasted. It just sometimes isn't the experience you'd planned on having, is all.

pathological multitasking strikes again or maybe bowls a strike i don't know yet jury's still out
Thu 2018-01-04 23:08:56 (single post)

I had no idea what to blog about today, but I had some 650 words left on a battle with a Tylu (they're tough!) and only half an hour to finish up in, so I just started babbling to myself about my day so far in hopes of stumbling across an appropriate blog subject.

Welp, it worked. Here's the topic du jour: MULTITASKING! Does it help or hurt? And does it matter? IT IS WHAT I DO.

There's a topic that shows up sometimes when writers get together online to talk about writing. (It may show up when they get together face-to-face, too. I don't know. I am very rarely in face-to-face conversations with other writers. It's kind of sad and I'm working on it.) That topic is, "One project at a time, or several?" And it seems to me that, more often than not, the consensus is, "One. Dear Gods, one. I can't even imagine switching back and forth in the same week, let alone in a day. I'd lose the thread."

Maybe it's confirmation bias on my part to think that this is the answer in an overwhelming majority of cases. And goodness knows the universe of writerly conversations I have witnessed is not by any means a statistically meaningful representative sample. But after babbling descriptively about today's activities, and then letting that babble sift into my hindbrain during tonight's scrimmage (writing doesn't get a place in the forebrain when the immediate concern is "jammer in lane two, jammer in lane three, jammer in OH GOD I HAVE OFFENSE HELP ouch")... I got to thinking.

I got to thinking that "one project at a time" isn't remotely what I do.

So here's a condensed version of some of that babble. We'll skip the boring bits where I whine about what a late start I got and why that might have been, and go straight to an itemized list of actions taken on January 4, 2018:

  • Dream journaling (15 minutes)
  • Freewriting (15 minutes)
  • Story rewrite toward converting a once-submitted, never-published drabble into a 1,000-word flash piece (50 minutes, 800 words)
  • Submission procedures: logging some new response correspondence in the database
  • Fictionette Artifact production (only 25 minutes/one typewritten page because holy shit I've only got 30 minutes left to defeat this Tylu)
  • Pre-blog babble (17 minutes, and yes, I did prevail in battle)

And now I am working on this blog post, and afterward I plan to...

  • Finish revising the Jan 5 Fictionette
  • Get started taking notes toward revising the NaNoWriMo novel

That is by no means "one project at a time." It is emphatically several. I went from "somehow I never manage to get any fiction revision into my workday" to GET YOUR ASS IN GEAR AND REVISE ALL THE THINGS RIGHT NOW. This on top of my latest trick, which is multithreading fictionette production so that I am revising this week's offering while drafting next week's in the same day. (That, at least, I've decided is maybe not such a good deal, if only because it crowds out time I could have used to revise stories for commercial submission.)

Is it a problem? Is it just my process? Is my process an acceptable process or am I getting in my own way? I don't know. The question may be moot at this time; everything I'm revising today has a deadline coming up. But going forward, maybe I need to figure this out.

No doubt, hopping from task to task is my natural inclination. I start to chafe if I spend too many hours on a single thing. I start to feel trapped and a little desperate, like dear Gods in alphabetical order, will this thing never be done? But I don't entirely trust that I'm simply gravitating toward a process that works best for me. I experience it rather as a failure to persevere and stick through a thing and see it through. I wonder if my tendency to keep a bunch of balls in the air is an indication less that I'm good at juggling and more that I tend to shy away from a task the moment it becomes hard work.

But, then again, can I really trust my evaluation of the situation? I'm notorious for being terribly down on myself, not to mention depressive and anxious. I have no reliable yardstick for diagnosing this mess.

It may be that my best bet is to wait and see what the results are. I mean, who cares if I'm running toward or away, so long as I successfully get all the crap done on time?

I can at least speak to the obstacle my colleagues have mentioned, that of failing to keep the threads of multiple projects untangled. That, at least, has not appeared to be a problem. I'm not distracted by one project while working on another, nor do I find myself mentally lingering in the wrong fictional world. But! (Yes, here comes more anxious wibbling.) But is that really because I'm just preternaturally good at multitasking, or because I don't let myself sink as deeply into any one fictional world as art would require? Am I in fact producing shallower work?

If so, I can't entirely drop the multitasking, not if I'm going to keep up the Friday Fictionette project. And I'm not going to just do the Friday Fictionette project. Even if by some miracle I had enough subscribers that it paid as much as I could ever hope to earn as a freelance writer, it's not enough for me artistically. I have longer stories to tell. So I will, for the time being, be working on at least two projects in a day. And doing my freewriting and dream journaling and morning pages, because those are good for my skill set, my idea flow, and my mental health. So...

Maybe the question really is moot. I'm clearly not going to stop cramming multiple writing projects into a single workday any time soon. The question is, how many projects? Two? Three? It depends? And what's the best way to juggle them? How can I best organize my day around the current projects so that my writing life continues sustainable and meaningfully productive? And still leaves room for me to be a competitive roller derby skater and a responsible adult householder?

See, this is why I keep spreadsheets.

just another day on the job
Wed 2018-01-03 23:41:10 (single post)
  • 1,200 wds. long
  • 100 wds. long

Lesson for today: Submitting fiction is no big deal.

With the new year I am renewing a long-term goal of mine, or ideal, that every workday will include a session of what I call submission procedures. This means tending to the business side of being a freelance author of commercial fiction, which is submitting stories to paying markets.

I successfully did this on January 1 by logging a rejection letter for a story I had submitted, then sending that story on again to another market. I successfully did this on January 2 by identifying a market I wanted to submit to, deciding on a story I wanted to submit to it, and determining to rewrite the story so that I could submit it there. (I began that rewrite today. It's currently a drabble; the rewrite will be about 1,000 words.)

I was sort of stumped as to what to do today.

I mean, I can always pull up my list of what's currently out on submission and double-check that there's been no response yet, but that's sort of busywork. I can't do that every day and call it fulfilling the spirit of my resolution. But what did I have that was ready to submit? Nothing, I thought. Everything's either out or I don't know where else to send it and maybe it should be revised or even trunked because clearly it sucks and no one wants it.

This is not a productive state of mind.

Around this point, my mouse happened to hover over the browser tab with the Codex Weekend Warrior 2018 contest discussion in it. (Codex: an online community of pro and semi-pro writers. Weekend Warrior: a high-pressure contest wherein writing prompts appear on Friday and fresh new flash fiction is due on Sunday. You can see a list of previous winners, as well as contest entries that went on to be published, here.) I'm going to be participating in that contest, and I'm kind of nervous that I just might forget to write my first contest entry this weekend, so I've been keeping that tab open.

Now, a common concern of participants is, where am I going to try to publish all these new stories I'll have written for the contest? So several people helpfully listed markets that publish flash fiction.

Reading through those lists, I felt a light-bulb go on in my brain. It's not that I don't have anything ready to submit anywhere. I have a good handful of unpublished drabbles and short-shorts. But somehow I've mentally disqualified them all as "no one wants drabbles" or "this one isn't ready to go out again" or even "this one I've earmarked for rewriting into an interactive fiction piece, so until I do that rewrite I can't send it anywhere."

I've also got this weirdly elevated idea of the very process of submitting fiction. Like, if you're going to send it, you'd better be sure it's perfect and that it's a precise fit for that market and the stars are aligned just right. I'm not sure I consciously realized I had that idea until just now, but, turns out, I do.

Hell with all that, I thought, and sent two pieces out to two different flash-publishing markets in quick succession. One's a drabble about a unicorn that no one's seen except SpeckLit, who didn't publish it (and who have closed since then anyway). The other's the dimension-hopping flash piece that I want to rewrite as interactive fiction but that's no reason for it to sit on its hands all bored and stuff waiting for me to get around to it.

So I have successfully included Submission Procedures on day 3 of 2018. And it was No Big Deal.

so about those new year's resolutions
Mon 2018-01-01 23:07:23 (single post)

Happy 2018 everybody! I hope the first day of the new year has treated you splendidly. If it hasn't, well, what's one day out of three hundred and sixty-five? Not even one percent. Tomorrow can always be better.

I have done my darnedest to stuff everything I want into a single day. Writing, playing, exercising, cooking, time with my husband doing all of the above. All that was missing was fibercrafts and derby, and those will happen tomorrow.

I even got in a visit to the Boulder Bookstore. When I checked out the other day, they gave me a coupon for 25% off everything in the store on January 1. "Is this because you've got annual inventory coming up, and you'd like as little stock as possible to inventory?" I asked. Both staff members on check-out duty nodded emphatically. So John and I went in today and did our part to make their annual inventory easier.

I got new packages of non-specific winter holiday greeting cards. (All the winter solstice cards had sold out long ago.) John got a couple of books. One of them was all about bread. So tonight, a few hours after our lovely homemade dinner of saag paneer over rice with fresh naan (I win at dinner), John opened up his new book and started experimenting. As we speak, he is eating quesadillas made from his very first attempts at making tortillas.

So I said I'd come up with some New Year's resolutions today, something more specific than what I babbled out Friday. I'm not sure I have, actually. I've just kind of made today into a sort of microcosm of what I want my writing life in 2018 to look like. Which is to say: drafting new story, revising existing story, submitting finished story. I want every working day to have all three of those things in it.

Additionally, I want to:

  • Keep the Friday Fictionette project on schedule
  • Finish new stories and submit them to paying markets
  • Make meaningful progress on novel revision

And of course I would love to actually make some sales and get published more. But I'm leaving that out of my resolution-like statements here because it's not entirely under my control. I can't make editors say "Yes, we love it, take our money and let us publish it please!" But all the work that comes before the editor's yes or no--that is, writing, revising, and submitting pieces of fiction to paying markets--that is under my control. So that's what I'm resolving to do in 2018: More of that.

As for right now this minute I want to write enough words to defeat enough Winter Frizis to collect enough Winter Snowflakes to complete the Snowflake Collector Quest before the Winter Wonderland 2018 event ends midday January 3! Well, that's less "this minute" and more "tonight and tomorrow." Still.

Yay, one more Winter Frizi down and two more Winter Snowflakes in my inventory! Woot!

not with a bang but i defy you to say i'm whimpering
Sat 2017-12-30 01:27:56 (single post)

Speaking of holidays, what with being in the middle of an ongoing parade of them, turns out thanks to the Friday Fictionettes project I've made up my own personal recurring holiday: Fifth Fridays. I only do a release every first through fourth Friday, so the fifth Friday is a day off. It only today occurred to me to really treat it like a day off--not just from Friday Fictionettes, but from writing. Like, total holiday. Guilt-free. I don't really have a system of holidays in place for myself; Winter Solstice excepted, and that only through necessity, I tend to hold myself to a full workday Monday through Friday regardless of the calendar. So why not explicitly give myself permission take fifth Fridays off?

And boy howdy did I treat it like a day off. I stayed in bed an inordinately long time rereading Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation (inspired by seeing the trailer for the movie release in March; I'm excited about it, even though I have no illusions as to its likelihood to match the book for pure brooding weirdness), getting up only when necessary to run my Boulder Food Rescue grocery delivery shift. Then, after that and a bit of dinner, I did get a couple writing tasks done, but not a heck of a lot. Converting this morning's dream into a coherent narrative. Typing up the second Fictionette Artifact owing from October. Reminding myself I am not to feel guilty over getting nothing else done. Holiday!

Despite my work-from-home flexible schedule, I don't really get to sleep in very often. At least, I shouldn't. I can't get a good workday in if I'm not up by at least eight, and my weekends have their own morning obligations. So today was a bit of a treat.

It was, or would have been, my last workday of 2017. The occasion inspires a bit of introspection. And introspection sort of hurts. I mean, I sucked at producing new fiction in December. I flat out failed. I never completed the new story nor got to work editing anything in the revision queue. On the other hand, I stayed on track with daily tasks; other than today and the two days I took off for Winter Solstice, I haven't missed a day of freewriting. I'm nearly a full week ahead on Friday Fictionettes. So that's nothing to sneeze at.

January is going to be busy. I am going to be participating in two, count 'em, two contests, for both of which the chance of winning is much less important than the motivation to Do A Writing Thing. To wit:

Codex Weekend Warrior 2018: I belong to the Codex online writing community, and one of the benefits of that is several contests every year to help motivate you to write, revise, and submit fiction. (If you like the sound of that, maybe you should join Codex. Check it out.) Weekend Warrior is a flash fiction contest that happens every January. Prompts go up on Fridays, you submit a flash fiction based on one of those prompts by Sunday, and during the week you read and rate each others' stories. The winner is the writer who, by the end of the contest, has the highest score based on these ratings--but, again, everyone who participates is a winner because they've got up to five new flash stories they can then polish up and try to sell. For example, my story "Other Theories of Relativity" was originally a Weekend Warrior contestant.

4thewords "4 for 4" contest: The announcement begins, "Since you wrote so many words during the month of November, we want to help you edit those words, spend some time with them, and polish them for future use." Members are encouraged to polish up the first four chapters or first 4,000 words (whichever is shorter) of their novels and publish them to the READ section (you must be logged in to access the READ section of 4thewords). Other participants will read these offerings, comment on them, and rate them. (There will be a "best comment" award, to encourage sincerity and brilliance in that activity as well.) Prizes include cash, in-game currency, and special in-game wardrobe items--but, again, the real prize, as far as I'm concerned, is getting a jump-start on editing my novel.

So that's what'll be keeping me busy for a good chunk of January 2018.

As far as New Year's Resolutions go: Write more! Finish more stories! Submit more things! Start shopping a novel around! Except, other than that last one, these are all admirable but really ill-defined goals. I need to think about how to make them more specific so that they're challenging yet reasonably achievable. I'll get back to you on that come January 1, how about it?

it's all fun and games 'til the cat gets confused
Thu 2017-12-28 23:44:55 (single post)

All right. So. Still no hot water over here, but we have accepted Blue Valley's proposal on a new water heater. Also a new furnace, because 95% efficiency and hefty rebates and also PVC venting which means finally sealing the combustion vent holes in the laundry room wall. It's dang hard to keep a house heated comfortably when one exterior wall is letting the ten-degree weather in through two holes the size of softballs. And that door between the kitchen and laundry room? It's just a regular interior door. Big crack under the door and everything. I keep a rolled-up afghan against it during the winter, sort of a makeshift draft-dodger. After Tuesday, probably, that will no longer be necessary.

Yesterday around eleven, noon or so, after Blue Valley had already visited but just before they emailed the proposal, Save Home Heat finally got back to me. We set up a visit for today during the noon-to-two window. But by today 9:30 we'd already examined Blue Valley's proposal, gone over it with the EnergySmart advisor, and accepted it. So I called Save Home Heat back and canceled. (It was really handy to have those two hours back, actually.)

So no hot water until Tuesday probably, but in the meantime, still cat-sitting for generous friends with working showers. And boy did I need that hot soak after scrimmage tonight. (We actually had scrimmage tonight! It was warm today, and overnight lows will be in the 30s--bliss!) And it wasn't the usual format. It was Team Colorado versus The World format. So those of us Boulder County Bombers who aren't on Team Colorado, we got our asses handed to us in a most educational way. No, seriously, it was amazing. I have never had so much fun dying on the opposing team's wall or getting blown up by offense. But, as you might imagine, I expected to really need some quality bath time for my sore muscles after that. I had been looking forward to that bath all day.

And I'd planned to write this very blog post while in the tub, as I sometimes do. I have a system! It involves setting the laptop on a stool or chair well out of harm's way and not touching it at all, putting a pressboard plank across the tub in lieu of a desk, and using a wireless keyboard and mouse to interact with the computer. This also might involve dinner and a beer or a glass of wine. I have my needs. I am not proud.

Except I forgot to bring the wireless keyboard over. Now that I have a laptop with a functional keyboard, I don't carry the wireless keyboard around by default. It lives in the drawer in our bathroom, precisely for use during long hot baths. But I did not bring it with me to my friends' house. I brought the wireless mouse. I brought the pressboard desk. But I did not bring the wireless keyboard, damn it.

I did bring my typewriter.

I'd brought it earlier this afternoon because I'd thought to have time to do some catch-up work on Fictionette Artifacts during that visit. Only I didn't. So I left the typewriter there thinking, OK, well, maybe after the blog post tonight. Or maybe during tomorrow's visit.

Turns out, manual typewriters are perfectly safe around water. They are not electric! And mine fit on the pressboard plank just fine, and the plank was sturdy enough to hold it. The set up was perfectly absurd, but it worked surprisingly well. The first of the two Fictionette Artifacts I still owe for October 2017 got typed up. Nothing got damagingly wet.

Meanwhile, I totally confused the cat. I count that as a win.

And now this blog post, having more to report than originally planned, is longer than it would have been, which 4thewords counts as a win. So.

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