“[L]ife is a good thing for a writer. It's where we get our raw material, for a start. We quite like to stop and watch it.”
Neil Gaiman

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Cover art incorporates and modifies fireworks photo by Flickr user Alli (CC BY 2.0) - click through for fictionette excerpt with link to original photo
and by here i mean now
Mon 2018-04-02 18:12:17 (single post)
  • 1,330 wds. long

As April begins, seeing as how I haven't really blogged regularly for about a month, it seems like we're due a little "here's where we're at" post. And by "we" I mean me. Here's where me's at.

Me's at a good place with Friday Fictionettes. I'm really, really happy I had a fifth Friday last month. The final fictionette for March ("Party Time," excerpt, ebook, audiobook--it's about doing the time warp again and again and again) came out late, oh so late, but I still did manage to get an early start on the April 6 release. I did all my meebling and morfling over "what the hell am I going to write" last week, which is how I was able to write a concrete outline for the story today rather than, say, Thursday or even Friday. Dear future self: It is best not to need several days of meebling and morfling just to draft a fictionette, please and thank you. Please arrange for an improvement in the weekly process. This may involve morning freewriting sessions which involve less babble and more actual narrative. Consider it, OK?

The end-of-month stuff is almost done. Today I released the Fictionette Freebie for March ("The Soup Witch's Funeral Dinner," HTML, ebook, audiobook, and you can read it on 4thewords, too if you've got an account there) everywhere but Wattpad; I'll catch up to Wattpad on Friday. I'll illustrate and mail out the February Artifacts tomorrow, then get right on the March Artifacts so they actually get mailed in April too. I think that's it.

April is one of the months during which Camp NaNoWriMo takes place. I've never participated before, but due to some gentle peer pressure over on 4TW (people inviting people to cabins! Untu arriving in space-faring pirate ships! New quests and monsters specifically to do with Camp NaNoWriMo!) I'm participating now. The Camp NaNoWriMo webpage explicitly encourages a certain amount of flexibility beyond what's preached in November. Forget the whole "NaNo Rebels" thing: If you're not working on a novel, or not working on a new novel, or have an alternate goal based on a different number of words or a number of something else entirely, you're not a rebel, you're just a participant.

So I'm a participant whose goals are...

  • 40 hours short story production: drafting, revising, submitting.
  • Healthier workday habits: 2 hours on short story production (a full "afternoon shift") every workday.
  • All 5 new flash (from Weekend Warrior) revised and tossed into the slush!
  • A whole bunch of resubmissions without fear or shame or self-rejection!

The "healthier workday habits" is the important thing here--it makes the rest possible. Unfortunately, today, my first workday of April, has not really comprised a stellar start. I overslept my alarm and then sort of used that as an excuse not to get to work until noon. That always makes getting a full workday in before evening activities (and I do have evening activities planned) rather tricky. aIn fact, I still haven't done my two hours today. I suppose I will do the bulk of them when I come home tonight. (It's possible. Tonight's evening activities are neither long nor derby-related. They should not entirely kill my remaining productive energy.)

I just got my first "Camp Care Package" in my Camp NaNoWriMo inbox this afternoon. These are, it would seem, teeny tiny capsule-sized pep talks. (They're also a hashtag on twitter.) Today's spoke to me in a "great minds think alike" kind of way. An excerpt:

But what happens if you tell yourself that you're only going to write a few sentences rather than skipping a day? Open up the manuscript and start writing, just for a few minutes. You will be shocked at how quickly you are pulled back in...

That's pretty much my "if you can't do a lot, do a little" strategy. It's also the way I coax myself to start a revision session that I Really Don't Want To. Instead of beating myself about the head and shoulders with the need to start the task, I gently, kindly, and patiently "trick" myself into getting started. "OK, fine," I tell myself, "that's all right. It's scary and I understand. So let's not do any revision. Let's instead just reread the manuscript so you can remind yourself what you need to do when you start revising." Inevitably, the simple act of reading will engage my editor brain, and before you know it I'm reaching for the red pen and making notes in the margins.

So... after I publish this blog post, I'll "just reread the manuscript" and remind myself what my next steps are. Then I'll come home from tonight's activity with a better idea of what to do during today's revision session... and a small part of the session probably already logged, too, because of how rereading the manuscript will have pulled me back in.

Cover art incorporates 'a t-res-fossil' by 3weg.nl (CC BY 4.0)
Cover art incorporates and modifies 'Mirepoix' by Matthew Yglesias (CC BY-SA 2.0)
avoidance and its protective coloring in the revision habitat
Tue 2018-03-20 17:30:25 (single post)

So on the 16th I released the Friday Fictionette for March 9th, then yesterday the one for March 16th. Here's a little bit about 'em.

Friday, March 9, 2018: "Tomorrow Belongs to the Dragons" (excerpt, ebook, audio). Dragon skeletons are a dime a dozen, but this one's lodged in a cliff face in Hannah's beachfront neighborhood. So it's special and familiar, all at once. That it makes her irritating friend Mary inexplicably nervous, Hannah considers a bonus.

Friday, March 16, 2018: "The Soup Witch's Funeral Dinner" (excerpt, ebook, audio). Sammy escapes an unexciting future in the family tailoring business by getting himself apprenticed to the soup witch. But the cauldron tells him things he'd really rather not hear.

All of which means I'm at lateness: zero once again, and I hope to stay there, because lateness: zero means I get to do interesting things like continue getting my Weekend Warrior flash fiction ready for commercial submission. Because--shock!--my writing career encompasses more than my Patreon experiment! You know that. I know you know that. Sometimes I need to remind myself, though. It's too easy to feel like doing my daily Fictionette work means I'm done for the day, when in fact I am not.

Except Fictionettes are, more or less, easy; revising fiction for commercial submission is hard. Flash fiction is no exception! Each of these five short-shorts I want to get out the door, they took me a weekend to think up, maybe 2 hours to write, that's it. But when it comes to doing just that "quick revision pass" I think is all each needs, it takes hours and hours and days. I'm not sure how much of that effect comes from me avoiding the difficult crap, and how much comes from the crap genuinely being hard. I suppose you can't separate the one from the other.

There's also a tendency to get bogged down for half an hour in trying to find the perfect first sentence for the next paragraph. Again, there's two factors at work here. There's panic over this being the final draft and therefore it must be perfect therefore not-perfect words cannot stand! And then there's the tendency to allow myself to get bogged down in tetchy details because it keeps me from having to face the bigger picture of the whole damn revision. Unfortunately for me and my avoidance issues, reorienting on the bigger picture is precisely what I need to do in order to drag myself out of the bog of tetchy details. When in doubt about different versions of a sentence, refer back to the purpose this sentence serves in the overall story! Argh.

Avoidance issues and difficulties notwithstanding, I hope by the end of this week to both A. get the March 23rd Friday Fictionette out on time, and B. submit one of my Weekend Warrior flash stories to a paying market. If I also get the Fictionette Artifacts for February in the mail this week, that will be a bonus. And next week is a week with a fifth Friday which means A. getting ahead of schedule, and B. taking a Friday off! Things are looking up and moving forward, is what I'm saying.

(meanwhile my new spiral knights character has all 4-star gear and is starting to venture into tier 3, huzzah, but she really really needs to upgrade her fyrotech alchemizer pretty please soonest--might have to dust off my old 5-star character and go grind for crowns and energy down to the core)

watching the time as it passes in tomato-sized chunks
Tue 2018-03-06 17:41:41 (single post)

4thewords.com has made a huge difference in my productivity as far as word count goes, but I seem to have let it diminish my productivity in terms of time. Measuring my writing in terms of monster battles is not of universal utility. It's amazing how I can log two successful monster battles a day of babble-draft on the current Friday Fictionette and still not have a coherent story ready on time. Meanwhile, if I don't pay attention to time spent on writing tasks and, more to the point, time spent getting around to the next writing task, it's very easy to look back on the day and wonder where all the hours went.

So I've begun using the Pomodoro technique again. And that's making a huge difference in my productivity. Holding myself to four 25-minute sessions separated by breaks of no more than five minutes means I get a lot of work done in two hours. And since two hours isn't such a large percentage of the day, I have plenty of day left after those two hours to deal with household stuff, catch up on email and other communications, cook and eat and clean up after a meal, maybe play some quick video games, and still put in another two-hour writing shift after that.

When last I used this technique with any consistency, I used the app Productivity Challenge Timer. But its toxic attitude really wore me down, not to mention its extremely male-centric design. Eventually I stopped using it. I used Focus Booster instead, but the version I had installed was clunky, and upgrading meant either paying money or limiting myself to twenty "poms" a week. That's less than helpful when I'm trying to get up to eight a day five days a week. So I needed to find a new timer program.

I found Tide.

Tide is very simple. It shows you a peaceful image (it chooses them at random) and plays peaceful sounds (you choose by swiping between the five options) during your work session. At the end of your work session, it flips directly into break mode. At the end of your break, you hit the START button to do it again. After four work sessions, it gives you a long break. All times are adjustable. It has some other features about keeping track of your progress and letting your share it on social media, but I haven't been interested enough to mess with them. I'm mainly here for the session timing. The gentle sights and sounds are a pleasing bonus and a huge improvement over Productivity Challenge Timer's calling me a lazy slob, demoting me for insisting on a reasonable weekly schedule, and asserting that Male Is Default.

(To be fair, screenshots of PCT's latest version appear to indicate that the Man Doing Science in the Projects screen is now a Woman Doing Science. This means PCT currently has at least one non-male illustration of Humans Being Productive. Its attitude, however, has not improved.)

So there we go--one concrete action toward getting all the things done. So far, so good--in addition to doing my daily gottas, I actually spent some time today on a fiction revision and got this blog post done before roller derby practice. I get to play video games tonight! ...if I have any energy left for staying upright after derby, that is. Good luck me!

Cover art incorporates public domain images sourced from PIXNIO
this time i'm taking notes
Mon 2018-03-05 23:10:58 (single post)
  • 1,054 wds. long

This is another Monday post announcing a Friday Fictionette that got released on Saturday, because I am a time warp.

The March 2nd release is titled "Taking Care of Bigfoot" and it involves that near-universal childhood discovery of what usually happens when you try to keep a wild animal as a pet. My brother and I learned that lesson when we brought home a small... king snake? I think? In any case, one of the many harmless varieties whose coloring mimics that of the venomous coral snake, giving rise to the rhyme that goes something like "Red touching yellow, dangerous fellow; red touching black, it's OK, Jack." (Exact words may vary by region and generation.) It was a red-touching-black snake. We kept it in a terrarium. We took it out occasionally for the thrill of watching it coil around our fingers. We caught live lizards and dragonflies and spiders for it to eat, but it didn't, and eventually the poor thing died. And our parents said, "That's what usually happens when you try to keep a wild animal as a pet."

(We had much better luck with the crawfish we saved from a weekend crawfish boil. We put it in an aquarium that at the time was full of guppies. Soon the aquarium was empty of guppies, and the crawfish was a good deal bigger. We fed it bits of hot dog after that, hoping it would grow into a lobster. It didn't, but it made a sincere and noticeable effort before going the way of all flesh--at least, the way of all fleshly beings on a diet of nothing but hot dogs.)

Not to spoil the fictionette, but I feel obliged to reassure you that no one's pet actually dies in this story.

Subscribers may download the full text of "Taking Care of Bigfoot" as an ebook or audiobook depending on their Patreon pledge tier. (Teaser excerpt linked above.)

Now I'm looking back at last week and wondering where it went. It's hard to remember. Most of the details are lost to history because my Morning Pages are illegible, for one thing, and for another, I utterly failed to make any blog posts at all. Maybe I can keep better track of this week before it decants into the weekend, when the Boulder County Bombers "All Stars" and "Bombshells" will each have their first away games of the season. (It will be in Cincinnati!) Once I get on the plane Friday afternoon, nothing much else of use is going to get done. So between now and then, I need to keep up with the daily stuff (so far so good), make time to work on flash-fiction revisions (today not so much), remember to account in my planning for time spent fulfilling other obligations (such as taking the Saturn in for its oil change and tire balance/rotation and also picking up a Boulder Food Rescue biking shift on the windiest darn day of spring thus far). Meanwhile, I'm going to try not to fall off the blog quite so dramatically again.

Hi! Lookit that, I blogged today!

I have been better at getting to bed on time. Go me. Going to bed at eleven feels luxurious. Now that I think about it, that might be where some of last week went: going to bed earlier but not getting up correspondingly earlier. Math, that spoilsport, says if you do the one but you don't do the other you get fewer hours in your day. Stupid math. Math is clearly why we can't have nice things.

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.

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