“I can fix a bad page. I can't fix a blank one.”
Nora Roberts

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, I wrote them down, of course!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,552 words (if poetry, lines) 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)
  • 1,552 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,543 words (if poetry, lines) long

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 words (if poetry, lines) 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 words (if poetry, lines) 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."

email