“A person who sees nothing of the numinous in the everyday has no business writing.”
Kit Whitfield

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

ah that new writing group smell
Wed 2019-09-11 22:18:11 (single post)

It would appear I am in a writing group again. An honest-to-gosh manuscript-exchange-and-critique group! We have had ONE MEETING so far and I am EXCITE.

This one came about because a colleague on Codex who is also soon to be a fellow Viable Paradise alum decided they strongly enough wanted a writing group to be willing to do the heavy lifting required to set one up. Which is to say: recruiting for it, organizing it, making executive decisions where necessary, and facilitating more consensual decisions where feasible. Also being willing to play the role of Heavy-handed Moderator should that turn out to be a Thing.

This is the sort of heavy lifting I personally have not had the wherewithal to even consider doing lately, and I'm grateful they took it on. And I'm grateful I was active in one of the online communities where they were recruiting. Because I miss being in a writing group and now I am in one. Hooray!

I haven't been in writing group since, oh, 2011? 2012? Not regularly, in any case. I tried! But mostly all I did was collect a series of less-than-ideal experiences with writing-related MeetUp groups that turned out to be, as the typical rejection letter puts it, not a good fit for our needs at this time.

In one case, the group fizzled soon after our first manuscript exchange. I think we must have had wildly different expectations regarding critiques.

In another, the critique process was, on a purely mechanistic level, and in my not-so-humble opinion, doomed. There were two hours during which some thirty-five members were each to take their turn commenting, at length, on a full-length short story, which the author had read aloud earlier in the meeting. And this was supposed to happen twice in those two hours. Just, how?

In yet another, I was one of the very few speculative fiction authors in a group mostly dedicated to literary fiction, creative non-fiction, and journaling. Complete mismatch of goals, yes, but also complete mismatch of reading protocols, which is guaranteed to get in the way of giving each other helpful critiques.

And then there was that one group where the facilitator brought in all these exciting guest speakers! Authors of popular self-published books! Who gave us really questionable publishing advice and held terribly hostile opinions of "traditional publishing." Y'all, I had not signed up for two hours of correcting misconceptions and defending friends and colleagues in the publishing industry.

(In later years I found out, via the magic of Facebook birthday fundraisers, that the facilitator of one of these not-for-me groups was a confirmed anti-vaxxer. This rather saddened me and confirmed my reluctance to take their advice on anything at all, be it medical, literary, or other.)

This new group is a much better fit. Its founder was deliberate about where they solicited members. We are a group of seven spec-fic neo-pros looking to improve our craft and publish more fiction at paying markets, fully in the spirit of the Viable Paradise Oath. We had our first online meeting via a Discord channel on Tuesday. During that hour and a half, we hashed out critique format, decided on a preliminary schedule, shared our goals, and talked a little shop. I'm looking forward to sharing with them the story I'm currently revising, whenever the draft-in-progress is complete and polished up. In a month, maybe? Hopefully? If the inch or two I moved it along today is not indicative of the next few weeks? Please?

Anyway. Writing group! I am excite.

Cover art incorporates and modifies vector images from Pixabay.
look it's a thing it's a very late thing but it's a thing
Thu 2019-06-27 23:34:13 (single post)
  • 1,200 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,129 words (if poetry, lines) long

Hark! An overdue Friday Fictionette rises over yon horizon. It's "Love in the Time of Lizard People," nominally the release for June 14, and it has a little to do with the trustworthiness of telepathic aliens but a lot more to do with the trustworthiness of your bar buddy. Patrons at the $1 level can download the ebook in any of several formats. Patrons at the $3 level can download the audiobook too.

I'm-a work on the June 21 release tomorrow, but, knowing me and Fridays, it's more realistic to expect it out Saturday evening. After that I'm going to try for June 28 by no later than Monday. PROMISES PROMISES.

In other news, did you know that an interactive fiction piece about a portal-hopping protagonist need not have all, or indeed any, of its choices be about which portal to hop through? I am just figuring this out. Having figured this out, I am now having a surprisingly enjoyable time with the rewrite.

piece of childhood reclaimed or something like that
Tue 2019-06-11 23:41:28 (single post)
  • 55 words (if poetry, lines) long

I've been writing poems again. It feels good.

I used write poems a lot when I was in school. I mean, elementary school. When I was wee. Maybe that was the problem--as I got older, I associated the writing of poems with the production of the specific caliber of poem I wrote when I was just learning how to do creative writing at all. So maybe I got more embarrassed about it as I got older. Maybe I never felt confident in my sense of what made a poem good. But I could always tell when one of my poems was bad. I'd read it and cringe; that was how I knew.

But at least in high school and thereabouts I had teachers and other students giving me feedback. I had other people giving me the feedback I couldn't give myself, which is to say, they told me if they thought it was good. (I will always treasure the time a teacher told me, "Your poems almost always have that moment toward the end that makes me gasp." Not primarily because it was a high compliment--it was!--but because she had put her finger on something that makes a reader like a poem. She gave me a yardstick I could use. I learned to look for those "gasp" moments after that, though as always it's harder to give them to myself than to get them from others' poems.)

After I got more exclusively into short fiction workshops, I got out of the habit of writing poetry.

It may also be true that when I no longer had a regular writing workshop, I temporarily got out of the habit of writing short fiction.

I'm making headway getting back into both habits now. I'm dedicating a little time every workday to coaxing a manuscript toward publishable shape. And I dedicate one freewriting session every week specifically to poetry. I've been using the weekly poetry prompts on the Poets & Writers blog when they come out on Tuesdays, and I'm responding to them in verse. Maybe bad verse, I don't know. Maybe I'm choosing my line breaks in a sophomoric manner or falling back on cliched metaphors. Maybe there isn't enough sensory data to captivate a reader. Maybe the themes are preachy. But I don't know--that's the point. If I don't feel like I have a grasp on what makes a poem good, maybe I should be less self-assured in my sense of what makes a poems bad. Or at least, one of my poems. I generally know whether I like someone else's poem, and why.

Obviously I should be reading more poetry, too.

I'm certainly thinking in poetry a lot more now since I've dedicated Tuesday freewriting to verse. It'll sneak into my other freewriting days, too, right in there amidst the prose and the babble and the streams of consciousness along the lines of "I don't like this prompt and I don't know what I'm going to write but here are the thoughts I'm having right now."

And between yesterday and today I wrote a brand new poem. And I submitted it to a paying market. And that market turned right around and rejected it in under two hours flat. Which means I have a brand new poem that has already made a complete two-way trip to slush and back, and I can send it out again.

It feels good.

Meanwhile, I just got paid for the poem that got accepted last week. I'm told that means it will go live sometime next week. I'll be sure to let y'all know when that happens.

(Obligatory submissions tally: Submissions in June, 8; in 2019, 44. Rejections in June, 9; in 2019, 26.)

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

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

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

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

Avoidance, my friends, is fractal.

Here is how that works in my brain:

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

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

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

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

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

Thank goodness life is not a sudoku puzzle.

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

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

Cover art incorporates public domain image created by NASA
this fictionette had to make it up as it went along (and takes its waking slow)
Fri 2018-01-19 23:59:59 (single post)
  • 1,337 words (if poetry, lines) long

On time this week, by a hair. "The Education of Baby Rocket" (excerpt for all, ebook and audiobook for Patrons) is now available for your perusal. It's about fear, mostly, but also homesickness, and what exactly we mean by "home" in the first place.

I lost a 4thewords battle for the first time today. Let it be known: Not a single loss until Day 67! Lesson learned: I can do 800 words in half an hour easy if I'm drafting but not when I'm revising. Second lesson learned: No naps with a battle deadline less than two hours out, Mr. Rabbit. That's how Mr. Tortoise beat you, remember? Alternately, don't start a two-hour battle if you think you'll need a nap before you're done.

Speaking of lessons, sometimes I think a writing life primarily consists of learning not so much a long series of lessons over time but rather a small handful of lessons over and over again. This is probably true of life in general, come to think of it. But it's certainly true of writing.

Here's the lesson I had to relearn this week: I don't know what I'm writing until I've written it.

It's less that I forget it and have to relearn it, and more that I keep discovering situations where it's relevant. Still makes me feel stupid, though. Like, "Ohhhh! The swimming pool is wet! Because all water is wet. Dammit, I knew that."

This week, the application was, Because I don't know what I'm writing until I've written it, not knowing what to write isn't a reason not to write. Also, and very importantly, "I don't know what to write" is a perfectly cromulent first sentence to write on a brand new fresh blank page. It helps lube the word-making engine, and I can always erase it later.

It came up while I was working on the Author's Note for "The Education of Baby Rocket." Well. That's rather overstating things. It came up while I was staring at the blank new document upon which I had tasked myself with writing the Author's Note. Staring at a blank page is not conducive to getting the Friday Fictionette released on time, but that's what I was doing: Staring at a blank page and thinking, "I don't know what to write."

Fun fact: Thoughts circle around and chase their own tails, but words written down are done. No amount of thinking "I don't know what to write" was going to get me anywhere. But typing "I don't know what to write" allowed me to move on to another thought, another sentence. It sort of forced me to really observe and acknowledge what I was thinking, you know? Like Morning Pages do. "I don't know what I'm going to write for this, so I'm going to just babble until I figure it out. I'll start by telling myself the story of how the writing prompt turned into the first draft, although that's not enough for an Author's Note by itself because really there's only so many weeks in a row the Author's Note can be 'here's the prompt, and here's how I got from prompt to story idea to first draft to finished story'...."

And off I went for, oh, several paragraphs. Three or four at least. Then something went click. I knew what I was going to write because by then I had already written it. Now I just needed to tidy it up and then delete the bits of babble that wouldn't be part of it. Don't get me wrong; that babble was essential. As in the Buddhist metaphor, it was the little boat that got me across the wide river that had separated blank page from finished draft. But it had done its job. It was no longer needed. I could leave it behind me on the shore and walk away.

As the poet said, "I learn by going where I have to go." As another poet said, "We make it up as we go along." I don't really have much to add to that except to testify that it's true.

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."

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)
  • 100 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 50,235 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 698 words (if poetry, lines) long

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.

all this and hot water too
Tue 2018-01-02 23:55:06 (single post)

OMG you guys. I took a bath today. In my own bathtub. With hot water and everything. And the new furnace is working great. The big open vents in the laundry room, rendered obsolete by the new units, have been capped off, making things a lot warmer on that side of the house. And the new thermostat is really cool too--we spent a little extra to get a 7-day programmable one so that we can differentiate our derby weekdays from our regular weekdays from our Sunday with derby in the morning from our Saturday with nothing scheduled at all.

The systems that support our comfort and energy efficiency are greatly improved. Today was a good day.

(Also, that bath was just as sorely needed as I expected. After so many missed practices due to holidays and/or weather, my body was not ready for all the plow-stops, hockey-stops, and sprints. My adductors, y'all. My adductors are very, very angry with me. My ribs aren't too pleased either, but they're not what's yelling at me every time I sit or stand.)

So. Writing? Yes.

Yesterday I said, a little of each of the things in every workday: drafting, revising, submitting. And while it's true for yesterday and today, it takes a bit of a stretch to see it. Drafting--no problem. The daily gottas take care of that handily. Submissions--more or less OK. Today I mentally paired up a market with an existing story, but the story is at this time a drabble and the market wants flash of about 1,000 words in length. So that will require some rewriting. But it still counts as submission procedures, by golly!

Editing, however... Well, I'm trying to stick to my mantra of "If I can't do a lot, I'll do a little." And what with the eight hours of appliance installation labor going on in my house today, I couldn't really do a lot. That dang brain glitch struck again: I felt paralyzed by being "on call" all day, obliged to remain AVAILABLE while the technicians were working. I worked through it, sure, but it was there to work through. It slowed me down. It especially made difficult the transition from one task to the next.

So I did a little.

In the case of the NaNoWriMo novel, and specifically the task of preparing the first 4,000 words for submission to the 4thewords contest, "editing" has so far only consisted of reading the first few scenes to remind myself what I wrote. What I wrote was a mess. I think when I finally get something concrete done, it won't be editing so much as notes toward editing. I'll go through those first few scenes and just catalog what information is being communicated by the text on the page. Then can I decide what information needs to be communicated and what information does not. Not to mention what information is being communicated redundantly; when I draft with daily word-count targets in mind, I'm not exactly terse. So, once I've done that, I should be able to cut whole swaths of unnecessary gabble, clearing the way for brand new draft.

In the case of this week's fictionette, it, too, got merely reread yesterday. But today--while I was in that lovely hot bath, bliss!--I revised the first half of it substantially. I'm still well on target to release it on time, if not early. Well, I mean, not release it early. But finish it early, and upload it early, and use the SCHEDULE feature so that it will go live on time with no further input from me.

The Fictionette Artifacts for November 2017 went into the mail today; the ones for October went a few days ago. I am all caught up. As long as I send December's on time, which is to say by the end of this week, I will remain all caught up.

So even with a little stretching, I think I can say that, two days into the new year, I am still on point with my New Year's Resolutions, such as they are. Two whole days, y'all! Let's go for three!

Cover art incorporates public domain image sourced from pxhere.com
this fictionette forgot that writing doesn't prompt itself
Fri 2017-12-15 23:34:41 (single post)
  • 1,022 words (if poetry, lines) long

The Friday Fictionette release for December 15 is up and available for your perusal. It's called "The Youth Fairy." Here's the ebook and audiobook links for $1/month and $3/month patrons, respectively; here's a little teaser for the rest of everybody.

This one began as a response to a Magic Realism Bot tweet, "An opera singer makes a fortune trading in adolescence." Only I skipped right past the literal idea of adolescence and went instead after the more general fantasy trope of someone who sells youth. How do they manage that? Well, they must be some kind of supernatural being, a fairy or suchlike. Where do they get it from? Well... probably from people who don't want it: young people who are in a hurry to grow up. "Youth is wasted on the young," the fictionette begins, and it goes from there.

Writing from prompts is something I always assumed everyone who was a writer did, because it's an exercise that all my writing teachers going back to elementary school would assign me. Not everyone did it, I knew that, but everyone knew how to do it. Right? Only that's putting it too strongly, know how to do. That phrase implies a skill that you have to learn and practice, like knitting or calligraphy or touch-typing. Writing from a prompt, that's just something you do. Right?

Well, I've had roller derby trainers who thought that things like keeping your eye on the jammer or staying near your teammates wasn't so much a skill you learned as just something you did if you weren't totally stupid. And they couldn't understand why, in my very first few months after passing my skills and safety assessments and being allowed to play the actual game, I didn't just do it. And they got impatient with me, and I felt stupid.

But as it turns out, pack awareness is an actual skill. Teaching it is tricky; it's not like a skating skill where you can demonstrate the individual motions that make up the maneuver. But it's still a skill that one has to learn and practice and develop. Kind of like, oh, defensive driving. In both cases, you've got a list of things to be aware of and stay aware of, simultaneously, at any given moment, and you've got to be able to process that data and make split-second decisions because of it. Teaching it might involve things like, oh, periodically redirecting the student's attention by asking them questions during the activity ("What color is the car in your rearview mirror?" "Where did the opposing jammer position themselves before the whistle?"). And, safety permitting, the trainer needs to give the student a bit of mental space in which to work out how best to wrap their personal brain around the challenge. I mean, it's their brain and all. They know best how to operate it.

So different individual brains will process the skill differently. And some brains will glom onto the skill more readily than other brains will. But it's still a skill, not an instinct that you just magically have waiting within you that you can tap when the time comes, just by virtue of having a brain. It's a skill. You have to spend time learning how to do it before you can be expected to do it.

Same with writing skills. There are skills I've been practicing so long that I've forgotten that they are skills, but they are. Writing from prompts is a skill that can be taught and learned and practiced and developed. And clearly there is an audience who want to learn, or else there wouldn't be so many articles online purporting to teach it. Heck, here's a wikiHow about it.

For me, in my own personal practice, there are three basic steps to working with a prompt.

Choose a prompt. Depending on the prompt, I might choose one or several. A common "spread" might be a couple random words (watchout4snakes is a good source) and one image (e.g. tarot card, InspiroBot poster). Or one Magic Realism Bot tweet, which tends to be just complex enough to stand alone.

Give the brain space to respond. The first minute or two isn't for conscious, directed thought, and it's certainly not for passing judgment. It's for watching the brain bubble. Whatever passes through my brain goes directly onto the page. It's somewhere between free association and automatic writing.

Ask and answer follow-up questions. Questions will arise, either in response to the initial brain bubbles or in direct response to the prompt itself. "An opera singer..." Why an opera singer? Which part do they sing? Buying and selling youth... OK, how do you even do that? What price do you set on youth? Who sells it to you in the first place? What's the effect of selling youth to someone--does their driver's license actually show a more recent birth year, or is it just a physical appearance thing?

These questions are, more or less, new prompts; the brain bubbles up answers in response. And those answers spawn new questions. Questions! Questions are, arguably, the atom-unit of story. Why did they do that? How will the other character respond? And then what happened?

There's actually a fourth step: Then write a scene. This step is sort of like "And then a miracle occurs." At some point, the prompts and the bubbles and the questions coalesce into story. The trick is recognizing that moment and then getting out of my own way and letting it happen. Sometimes it happens very early, the first sentence writing itself in direct response to the prompt. Writing down that sentence and continuing on to the next one is a kind of leap of faith. But the moment I'm starting to get even a little narration, it's time to stop babbling, bubbling, and free associating and just start writing.

What's the worst that can happen? I can get stuck. No big deal. Getting stuck generally happens because I ran into some questions I didn't have answers to. So I stop a minute and ask those questions and throw some answers at the wall and see what sticks.

The important thing in a timed freewriting session is not to interpret getting stuck as a reason to stop writing. I have to write until the timer goes off. When the timer goes off, I stop. Or maybe I keep going. Maybe I can see the whole rest of the scene and I want to get it down. So I do. And then I stop, reluctantly, and mark the session as "To-Do." Those are the sessions that turn into flash fiction, fictionettes, and full-length short stories.

And there you have it: How a writing prompt becomes a story inside my personal brain. Your brain may vary. Void where prohibited. Please do try this at home.

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