“Chill the champagne and polish the crystal goblets!
The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am glad.”
Clive James

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

dear dev team i have found a bug in the spacetime continuum there is not enough of it
Thu 2020-08-13 13:08:31 (single post)

So! As promised: WHINING. Well, wittering. Thinking out loud in public about what's working, what isn't, and what I might do about it. Thanks for being my sounding board.

As I said Tuesday, I'm trying to make August another novel-progress month. How much progress did I make on the novel during that first week in August? None. Zero, zilch, zip. And even on the days when I did make progress, that progress consisted of five minutes smashing the keyboard about how much the first draft sucks.

It turns out, time is finite.

Trust me, I have complained to the management about this. Loudly. However, the bug remains outstanding and I don't think it's even on the development team's priority list. So I'm trying to come up with strategies for working around this limitation.

STRATEGY #1: Put It On the Daily To-Do List.

I have a LibreOffice Calc spreadsheet I add a page to every weekday morning. The basic template lists all the usual writing tasks I want to get done daily. Then there's space to add any other to-do items like meetings, events, volunteer shifts, derby practice sessions, household chores, etc.

Since specificity in planning makes me more likely to follow through, I'll write a brief description: "Freewriting: 3 random words and Inspirobot." "Fictionette: Please finally finish the Aug 14 draft!!!" I'll clock in and clock out so as to have a record of how much time everything took. After the task is completed, I'll jot a brief note in the Outcome column about how it went.

Great! So let's put "New Novel Draft" in the description for the "Revision" line item. Great! Except "Revision," after "Blogging," tends to be item most likely to fall off my schedule when things don't go to plan. Where's your novel progress plans then, Niki?

Basically, the Daily To-Do List is a strategy for planning. It is not a strategy for dealing with failure cases. No, for that we have...

STRATEGY #2: Start Where I Left Off

At the end of the day, every task that didn't happen gets a big NOPE in the Outcome column, boldfaced and maybe even highlighted in red the better to shame myself instantly see what needs to be prioritized the next day. And the next day I paste those rows right onto the top of the new day's timesheet. The timesheet template now starts with a Leftover Items block specifically for this purpose.

So far it's working. When Monday's submissions procedures session went epic so that I never got to my planned short story revisions, I started Tuesday morning off with those revisions. When those revisions gobbled up more time than expected so that I never got to my daily Freewriting and Fictionette block, I made sure those came first on Wednesday. And when I didn't have time to finish this blog post on Wednesday, I continued it first thing today.

Great! Now no missed task will languish for longer than a day. Plus I'm starting to get a realistic idea of how my expectations match up to reality. Things always take longer than I expect. Also they take more energy. It'll be a rare day when the Leftover Items block on my timesheet stays blank. Maybe I can't actually fit every single task into every single day. Maybe I need a better plan.

STRATEGY #3: Put It On The Weekly To-Do List

Some things are daily things: Morning Pages as daily mental hygiene, freewriting as a warm-up exercise and story idea generator, a little progress on the next Friday Fictionette every day so I don't fall behind. But some things can stand to be done only one day a week.

This year, I moved my submission activities from a daily to a weekly routine. I'd do that, and only that, on Monday afternoons. Why Mondays? Well, for one thing, Monday isn't a derby night, so I'd have time and energy to spare. (These days, thanks to the pandemic, no night is derby night, but I still try to skate or exercise when I would have had derby practice.) Also Mondays conveniently happens to be the one day a week when Strange Horizons is open to submissions.

I wasn't sure it would work. I worried that it was a form of putting all my eggs in one basket, and possibly not a big enough basket. But I told myself it was an experiment. If the experiment failed, at least I'd have gathered data.

It's turned out wildly successful. I feel comfortable taking all the time I need without any pressure to rush through to the next item, because there is no other item. And since Monday is the only day reserved for submissions, I might as well submit everything I can. This past Monday, I subbed five things (including a short story to Strange Horizons). Then I gave myself time to putter around the internet doing market research and considering what I'd submit next week.

So the basket is definitely big enough. And if the basket gets wrecked, Strategy #2 means I can catch the eggs in Tuesday's basket, so to speak. And if rescheduling submissions procedures for Tuesday means some daily thing doesn't get done, well, again, see Strategy #2.

Theoretically, I should be able to wedge a weekly novel-writing/revising session into my week. I've got four afternoons left in which I try to hit revisions; three of them can be for short stories and poetry, and one can be reserved for the novel in progress, right?

Except when a short story wants revising, there's usually a sense of urgency about it. Submission windows close. Contests have deadlines. My critique group is on a schedule. If I get to the revision item on my timesheet at all--and, again, I don't have a good track record on this--I tend to want to use that time to prep a manuscript for imminent submission.

What I need to do is clear the decks.

STRATEGY #4: Pick A Novel Writing Month

I got the idea from NaNoWriMo and Camp Nano: Pick a month and devote it to the novel. It doesn't have to be the same month as those national events. It just has to be is a month where I schlep stories out on Mondays and otherwise ignore them.

August was supposed to be that month. I'd just written a handful of new things for submission in June and July! I knew where I wanted to send them when they came back! Except... one of them came back and I wanted to revise it, since I'd done a rush job of writing it in the first place. Another came back from my critique group and I really want to hit it before my sense of what needs to change fades. Short story urgency strikes again!

I may just have to pick another month. Or, at the very least...

STRATEGY #5: If You Can't Do A Lot, Do A Little

...reduce my expectations. Maybe five minutes a day thinking aloud on the page is acceptable. For August, anyway.

So that's me thinking about my novel-related scheduling problems. There are other problems related to the novel, but we shall talk about them another day.

Cover art incorporates and modifies image by Circe Denyer (Public Domain Pictures.net)
last month's friday fictionette links and also novel difficulties
Tue 2020-08-11 16:23:31 (single post)
  • 947 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,079 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,362 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,153 words (if poetry, lines) long

Oh, hello again. I fell off the blogging wagon for a bit. Let me clamber back on with this quick round-up of the Friday Fictionettes for July 2020:

  • July 3: "Your SmartFurnace Needs Love Too" (ebook | audio) In a world where large household appliances are sentient, maintenance technicians have to be psychologists.
  • July 10: "Swallowed Up" (ebook | audio) It's not the afterlife. It's a village-wide case of mistaken identity.
  • July 17: "One Hell of a Guy" (ebook | audio) Guys like this are precisely why we need a functional Total Perspective Vortex.
  • July 24: "Lost: One Memory" (ebook | audio) When the wind blows your memories away, where do they go? And how do you get them back?

The Fictionette Freebie for July 2020 is "Swallowed Up." Its links will take you to the complete story in your preferred format. The other links will take you to locked Patreon posts inviting you to pledge a monthly buck or three. (Unless, that is, you've already become a Patreon, in which case, thank you!)

July had a fifth Friday in it. I was hoping to use that extra week to get ahead of schedule again. I had decided to make August another month dedicated to advancing a novel draft toward a publishable or at least submittable state, and being ahead of the Friday Fictionette schedule would have helped with that. Alas, due to a combination of REASONS I did not upload the August 7 release until 1:00 AM on August 8. So much for getting ahead of schedule.

Attempts at novel progress go on regardless, but it's difficult. And it's not just because of the failure to establish a healthy advance upload buffer for the Friday Fictionette Project. Which is not to say that scheduling has nothing to do with it. It's got a lot to do with it. So does the content and quality of the first draft, which leads to despair. Also pathological avoidance. I have a whole bunch of THOUGHTS on the subject, which I will dribble out over the course of several blog posts. Starting tomorrow.

So. Now you know what you're in for. LET THE WHINING COMMENCE!

insomnia forces a body to prioritize
Wed 2020-07-22 18:04:40 (single post)
  • 520 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 22 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 100 words (if poetry, lines) long

Oh, hey, so, speaking of recovery days after insomniac nights, I had one of those on Monday night/Tuesday afternoon. And I'm not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg here, but two things were going on: it was very hot, making it difficult to sleep, and also I stayed up stupid-late reading. We're going to say that I stayed-up stupid late reading in order to not be bored while I couldn't sleep, how's that?

The book in question was T. Kingfisher's A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking. It stars a fourteen-year-old wizard whose magic only ever works on dough and baked goods. Bread, cookies, sweet rolls, great. Lightning, fireballs, not so much. Nevertheless, this turns out to be surprisingly useful in many ways, even after it becomes clear that this is a story about political intrigue and war. Also, this wizard's familiar is an omnivorous sourdough starter colony named Bob. Bob has a temper, which also turns out to be useful. Do you want to read this book? YES YOU WANT TO READ THIS BOOK.

Just try not to stay up all night doing so unless you can afford to sleep all day the next day. Because I did, and I couldn't, and, well.

It wasn't so bad. The crash didn't hit until well after my writing group's critique meeting was over. But it was bad enough. The crash hit while I was holding down a table at Collision Brewery waiting for the Volt to finish getting its leaky windshield wash fluid reservoir tank replaced. Falling asleep at a restaurant is Not Done, especially in pandemic season, so I did my best not to. I drank a lot of coffee. I tried (and failed) to work. But just as soon as I got home, and got my scheduled Bunny Care Chore done, and spent a couple minutes playing Katamari Damacy to sooth my rattled and caffeinated brain with peaceful absurdity, I collapsed in bed and stayed there until late evening.

And that was a small problem because I had a story due that night.

I'm participating in another Codex contest. This one's called Flash: Savior of the Universe. It's a lot like Weekend Warrior, in that each round consists of a handful of writing prompts and the assignment to write a new piece of flash fiction on an absurdly tight deadline, after which point everyone gets to vote and comment on the stories. But the word count for FSOTU is a touch roomier (1,000 instead of 750), and the deadline is less absurdly tight. And thank goodness I'd been actively working on my entry every day since the prompts landed, because I did manage to get that thing submitted, and even slightly polished, with about twenty minutes left before the 1:00 AM Mountain Time deadline. I wrote nothing else that day, but I got that much done. Huzzah!

But hey woo bad timing on the insomniac night and recovery day thing, yeah?

(Hey writers! Contests like these are one of many reasons why you should join Codex the moment you qualify. You get motivation to write new fiction and/or poetry. Plus you get instant feedback on said fiction and/or poetry. This can easily lead to more published fiction and/or poetry. It's a great racket! Remember my announcement that "The Ascent of Inanna" was going to see print in September? That poem originated as a Weekend Warrior short-short story. Remember "Other Theories of Relativity"? Weekend Warrior 2012. And the piece I just submitted to Daily Science Fiction, about which crossed fingers--hey, they liked something of mine before, maybe they'll like this one--that was from Weekend Warrior too.)

(Join Codex, join Codex contests, write more, publish more. That's typically how it goes. See you there maybe?)

Salmon-stuffed zucchini!
i accomplished a thing today dinner counts as an accomplishment
Fri 2020-07-10 23:11:20 (single post)

Today was a Friday. Fridays are hard. Today was an especially hard Friday because I had extra errands and it was far too hot. BUT I WON AT DINNER! Here's how:

So, the other week, 63rd St. Farm sent me home with a bunch of dill. I like dill. I especially like dill on smoked salmon. So next time I went to the grocery I picked up a bit of smoked salmon. And then I sort of forgot about them both until today.

Yesterday, 63rd St. Farm sent me home with two zucchini. And when I say zucchini, I mean ZUCCHINI. We are talking humongous. About which the farm did warn us; in their email they included a recipe for stuffed zucchini.

And then I remembered the dill and the stuffed salmon. And I did a thing:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 d F, I guess
  2. Cut one huge zucchini in half crosswise. Cut one of the halves (Zuke Half A) in half lengthwise; scoop out each of these until they resemble canoes. These are what you'll be stuffing.
  3. Take all the scooped-out zucchini bits and dice them fine. Dump them in a bowl along with a good handful of chopped dill and also a chopped-up garlic scape. (Garlic scapes are the flowering stalk of the garlic plant. 63rd St. Farm gave us a bunch of those, too, and they keep forever in the fridge.)
  4. Add a good few big spoonfuls mayonnaise to the stuff in the bowl. (Maybe 1/4 cup?) Stir stir stir stir stir. Season with salt and pepper as you like. If it seems too thin, dice up a bit more from Zuke Half B and stir it in. At this point you have essentially made mock tzatziki sauce.
  5. Take 4 ounces smoked salmon and cut it up to nice bite-size pieces, maybe 1/2-inch cubes.
  6. Autobots, assemble! Fill up your zucchini canoes with the salmon chunks. Top with the mock tzatziki sauce. Stick the whole mess in the oven and let 'em bake for about 40 minutes or until you've achieved peak tender-baked zucchini. If you get impatient and/or hungry while you wait, chop some zucchini sticks out of Zuke Half B, maybe also some kohlrabi or carrots (also from 63rd St. Farm), and use them to dip up any of that leftover mock tzatziki sauce. Or, if you have more self-control than I do, put the remains of the sauce aside for other things. It is amazing on everything.
  7. Eat up. Try not to splash it on your computer keyboard.

Thus, at the end of a tired, too-hot, writing-poor Friday, I would up feeling like I maybe actually accomplished something with my day after all. If nothing else, good food doesn't make a low-accomplishment day worse, right? I always figure, if I can't make my brain happy, I can at least make my stomach happy. And my taste buds.

Meanwhile, I've still got the better part of Zuke Half B and also the second gigantic zucchini. I'm having additional zuke-stuffing thoughts. I could stuff that zuke with anything. Like, maybe, the leftovers from last night's beef panang curry and brown rice.

stop being so indecisive just pick yer poison already
Thu 2020-07-02 17:27:33 (single post)

My writing process is inconsistent. My writing needs are inconsistent. I'm going to whine about that now.

Getting back to Tuesday's lament: I wrote a 5K-word story more or less over 48 hours, submitted it Tuesday afternoon, then crashed hard. On Wednesday, I sort of puttered along at half-speed, getting about half my expected workload done. And if there's one huge takeaway I'm taking away from the experience, it's this: that's not sustainable.

Hence my goal of doing a little revision every day in July.

But I can't get away from how well Emergency Short Story Boot Camp worked. I don't just mean that it got written. I mean, there was an immersive quality to the effort that helped it get written. I lived inside that story all day, watching the characters interact, looking closely at pieces of their world, learning by trial and error the rules, such as they were, of the magic they manipulated. And it was magic for me, too.

It was just stressy as all hell, is all.

I find myself going back and forth between two different writers' blog posts concerning the words-per-day question. I don't really judge my output in terms of words per day, though I do track them; I also track hours spent writing, and I structure my writing day around a list of defined tasks I hope to accomplish or at least make progress on. But words-per-day makes a useful generic shorthand for all the different ways one might quantify the daily writing process. And in terms of words per day, these two blog posts I'm thinking of are talking about very different totals.

The first post is Tobias Buckell's "How Much Should You Write Every Day?" To be clear, that's a question he doesn't actually answer. He's not here to tell you how much you should write every day; rather, he describes how he figured out how much he should write every day, at least at this current point in his life. The answer he came up with was 500 words. Just that. 500 words of fiction every day. Only 500 words. But every day. It's a daily amount that allows for a healthy work-life balance, and, given a long enough run-up time, it's a sustainable pace at which to approach a deadline.

The post really resonated with me. Buckell describes periods during college when he'd binge several multi-thousand-word days and then spend the next couple days utterly collapsed--and I have been there. He describes deadline-oriented sprints followed by utter exhaustion--hoo yes. The slow but steady march of a defined and reasonable daily goal toward a finished project with "no drama" makes so much sense to me.

There's also the benefit of having "percolation time" built into the schedule. I can't just sit down at the desk and type until the story's done. I need nights spent thinking about the story as I fall asleep, long walks talking to myself about the plot, maybe even an hour in the bathtub trying to write the next scene out loud. There was a point Tuesday when, climax scene written and only the denouement left to go, I actively needed a fifteen-minute walk-and-talk session to clarify for myself what that denouement should accomplish, but I didn't have time. The submission portal was going to close in an hour. So I had to do my best hammering it out at the keyboard. The results were acceptable, but I think they suffered for the lack of walk-and-talk. A slow-but-steady pace would have allowed for lots of walk-and-talk, lots of hypnagogic brainstorming, lots of opportunities to dream and wake up and go "a-ha!"

But I'm still worried about this daily sessions in July thing. See, I've tried a similar process before: I spent a month holding myself to a daily 25-minute session of creating/revising/polishing the work in progress. And I succeeded at holding those 25-minute sessions fairly regularly. But I didn't seem to get anywhere. Why?

So here's the second blog post I keep coming back to: Kameron Hurley's "Life on 10,000 Words a Day: How Iím Hacking My Writing Process." She describes not writing a little every day, but rather writing a hell of a lot every Saturday. For her, a daily bite of time isn't conducive to that immersive waking trance she needs for writing novels. But with a dedicated six-hour block scheduled during an ideal time of day and in an ideal environment, she gets shit done.

And that resonates with me, too. It speaks to why 25 minutes a day, or even an hour a day, fails to move the meter on my work in progress. Having the freedom-slash-obligation to spend six hours Tuesday doing nothing but writing that story made the story happen in a way that half an hour a day had not.

Could I work that way on the regular? It sounds kind of thrilling, but also kind of exhausting. I don't typically choose to do just one thing over such a long period of time; the thought rather terrifies me. I'm not sure how much of that is me being hard-wired for multi-tasking, and how much of it is my just never having built up that kind of marathon-runner stamina.

Then there's a practical problem: I have too many things I want to do with my work-week--hell, with my work-day--to feel like such a single-purpose day is a good idea. I'm not willing to sacrifice my daily freewriting sessions; that's my time to get warmed up for the day and come up with story ideas. I don't want to fall behind on the Friday Fictionette project; I most certainly don't want to cancel it. Meanwhile, I have multiple stories in the revision queue at all times and I want to finally publish a gods-damned novel! And then there are all those non-writing obligations that life demands. How do I get everything done?

Tallying it all up: I don't want any one writing task to monopolize my day. I want to spend a little time on each of the things every day. But I don't want to work on a project for so little time at a time that I get nowhere at all. And I definitely don't want to keep putting myself through the last-minute panic production process.

I suspect I'm not going to find the One True Answer. If there is a One True Answer, I suspect it will involve staying flexible about what the One True Answer is for any given day, week, or work in progress.

Writing process! What is it even? Well. I'm working on it. TBD.

the just-did-a-big-thing doldrums strike again
Tue 2020-06-30 21:58:31 (single post)

So I wrote a brand-new, never-before-seen short story over mostly last night and today, and I submitted it, and now I'm sort of sitting around wondering what to do with my life.

I ought to feel happy. Triumphant, even!

Instead I feel weirdly and intensely aimless.

I keep asking myself, what fun things was I not letting myself do while the story was still unfinished and the deadline was looming? What was I looking forward to doing once the manuscript was successfully submitted? And the only answer I keep coming up with is, "Not be working on that story anymore."

I am not unhappy with the story. I mean, sure, if I had another day to work on it, I'd smooth out some of the prose, work harder to differentiate the characters' voices, throw in more physical details and harden up some of the background worldbuilding. (And if the market I just sent it to declines to purchase, I'll spend a little time doing just that. Probably solicit some feedback from my critique group too.) But more or less I'm pleased.

It's a full-length fantasy story, just under 5,000 words, with character growth and a theory of magic and heroism and action and hard choices and also a beginning, a middle, and an end. It's a good day when I get to add a new one of those to my slush stable.

It's also the first time I've submitted a former Friday Fictionette not as a lightly revised reprint but as a completely rewritten and expanded original. (I checked with the editors ahead of time. The verdict was yes, submit it as an original. So we're good there.) This was something I thought I'd be doing more often when I first conceived of the Friday Fictionette Project. I certainly didn't think it would take almost six years into the project for it to happen. Nevertheless, I've done it now, and I'm proud of that.

(Usually I'd link this post to the Friday Fictionette/short story in question, but the place I sent it requires anonymous submissions, so I don't want to risk anyone stumbling over my blog during the reading period and seeing the title here attached to my name. Kinda paranoid, I know, but allow us writers our superstitions, yah?)

But. Anyway. Now I'm wallowing in this sort of "I ought to be doing a thing" mental space, and it's not fun.

Partially it's the familiar effect of having lived with a deadline long enough that the stress and guilt surrounding it becomes habit. I can't possibly have nothing to do right now! My base state at all times is "ought to be writing, aren't writing, feeling guilty and worthless for not writing, which is why I'm not writing even though I ought to be writing."

But it's also due to having scuttled my usual structured work day to get this done in time. So there's a bunch of daily stuff I haven't done today. I did my Morning Pages, OK, they're kinda necessary to getting my brain functioning for the day, but I didn't do my daily idea generation exercise (i.e. freewriting to a prompt). I didn't do my daily 25-minute-or-so session of working on the next Friday Fictionette. And I'm sitting here feeling like I should be doing those things now. I mean, that was the original plan: new fiction production and revision first, then submission procedures, then the "daily & weekly exercises" shift. And here I am not doing that.

You know why? Here's why. I logged six hours on today's timesheet, finishing up that story and sending it out. I am done for the day.

I just don't feel like I have a right to be done.

And if that's not a compelling argument against this "avoid-delay-avoid-delay-LASTMINUTEPANICPANICPANIC" process I've got going on, I don't know what is.

The Ink Slingers Guild on Habitica, of which you may have heard me speak before, has a monthly recurring challenge in which participants announce their goals at the beginning of the month and check in every Wednesday with their progress. My goal for June had been to make my daily Friday Fictionette work sessions so as to continue uploading weekly releases earlier and earlier. I more or less succeeded at that; all four June releases were uploaded to Patreon two days ahead of time, which felt great. Well, for July, my goal is going to be to hold myself to daily New Fiction Production & Revision work sessions, so that hopefully I don't find myself obliged to conduct another Emergency Short Story Boot Camp over the last two days of the next submission window I'm hoping to make.

Because while I'm damn proud of myself for writing a clean and reasonably polished short story of almost 5,000 words in under two days, I have to admit: this post-boot-camp feeling of hollow, aimless, joyless despondency is kind of crap.

poetry is a help in times of water falling from the ceiling
Thu 2020-04-30 00:24:13 (single post)
  • 22 words (if poetry, lines) long

About that poetry sale from the other weekend: I've got the go-ahead to share the details with you! My poem, "The Ascent of Inanna," will be part of the September 2020 issue of Dreams and Nightmares Magazine. Founded in 1986, it's one of the longest-running print publishers of speculative poetry, and I am so pleased to get to be a part of it.

The thing about this poem is, it started as a piece of flash fiction, which I wrote for Codex's annual Weekend Warrior contest. I'm sure I've mentioned it before; this was my third time participating. Each entry must be written new for the contest in the space of a single weekend and can be no longer than 500 words. For Week 2, somehow I lit on the idea that after Inanna hung around three days dead in the Underworld, it must have been just the absolute pits to have to climb back up to Heaven and be Queen again.

So that's what I wrote. But I couldn't figure out how to end it properly. There wasn't enough story in the moment of Inanna's contemplation of her re-ascent to the Great Above. But attempting to pack her entire return into 500 words, right up to the bit where she finds her husband celebrating rather mourning and tells the demons they can have him in her stead, was a little much. I knew that no matter how well or poorly the story did in the contest, it would need a significant revision.

I wound up revising it into a poem. And the editor of Dreams & Nightmares offered to buy it. And you will get to read it in September. Information on subscribing to the magazine can be found here. (I'm intrigued to see that lifetime subscriptions are an option at roughly the cost of a three-year subscription. That's super tempting.)

The acceptance email came on Sunday the 18th, and payment, as the guidelines said it would be, came shortly after that acceptance, on Saturday the 25th. And on Thursday the 23rd, my laptop came home from the repair depot full of brand new hardware that worked blissfully well. It was a good week! And apparently I needed it, because the next week--this week--was gonna start out pretty crappy: In the wee hours of Monday the 27th, I was awakened by the sound of a waterfall where a waterfall had no business being.

About a gallon of water, all told, just poured out of vent fan unit. (This was due, I found out later, to a toilet in the unit above me overflowing. Also, this is not the first time something like this has happened. My upstairs neighbor has let me know she's doing what she can to make sure it's the last.) But it started slowly enough that, before the deluge hit full force, I had time to hop out onto the back porch, select the bucket that was full of pruned bits of tomato plant rather than potting soil, and then--this is key--stand there wavering groggily over what to do with those tomato prunings. I think I stood there for about twenty seconds, just paralyzed over having nowhere to put 'em. This is what happens when I get woken up suddenly at 3:45 AM. My brain does not work. Finally I came to my senses, dumped the compost-to-be onto the patio deck, and raced back inside to position the bucket where it would do the most good. Maddeningly, the water was coming down precisely onto the edge of the toilet seat, not a stable place for the bucket. I wound up using a stool to support it.

Then I went to call the condo association's emergency maintenance line. The emergency maintenance line unexpectedly went to voice mail. I left a rather pathetic message, which was returned around 7:30 AM by the property manager, telling me that they'd get the property restoration people on the case right away, and also that I should have called the emergency maintenance line. "Option four," they tell me. "You press four, that gets you the after-hours emergency people." I told him I did press four, and that's how I got the answering machine. Why did that happen, did they think? "Oh. I don't know why that happened." *facepalm*

So now we are living with two heavy duty fans and a dehydration unit in our bathroom, making the whole bedroom/bathroom area hot and noisy. But the noise is surprisingly easy to sleep through, and the weather outside is nice enough to leave the bedroom window open all night, and the heat in the bathroom has made my sourdough yeast starter experiment encouragingly vigorous. So things aren't all that bad.

Besides, I just sold a poem! I can't get too far down in the dumps before I remember that and smile.

Almost 5 down, lots more to go
but i guess temptation was strong and i was weak
Tue 2020-04-21 22:01:18 (single post)
  • 50,347 words (if poetry, lines) long

So the thing about the novel is, it's a NaNoWriMo novel. As such, it's got certain features that are making it a challenge to edit.

Way back in the day, when I was more active on the NaNoWriMo forums, there was a particular category of "advice" that popped up at the beginning of the month. "When you're reaching for 50,000 words, every word counts," certain contributors would say, "so make sure you spell out every contraction and every acronym! Write 'do not' instead of don't, 'Personal Identification Number,' instead of PIN. Be conscientious about this and you'll hit 50K in no time!"

This would invariably make me *facepalm*. I mean, fine, if you think of NaNoWriMo as a game, there's nothing wrong with wordcount-padding strategies to help you win it. But if you think of NaNoWriMo as the motivation to finally write the first draft of an eventually publishable novel, why in heaven's name would you send your character to use an Automated Teller Machine on campus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology? Why would you strew your first draft with litter when you'll only have to clean it up at the revision stage? I mean, yes, first drafts aren't perfect, sure, and sometimes you do babble out any old thing as a placeholder for those names or details you'd rather not break your current flow to research. But that's a different animal than deliberately inserting crap that A. you know is crap, and B. serves no purpose other than to pad your word count!

Look, I compose my drafts on 4thewords. Every day is NaNoWriMo when you've got monsters to battle. The interface counts words as they are typed, rather than words I commit to saving, and yes, I will take all sorts of advantage of that. I will happily babble and keyboard-smash my wordy way into a story idea. But that babble is actually serving a purpose. I think out loud on the page; that's the only way I find out what I'm thinking. If the babble weren't genuinely part of my process, if it weren't serving my art and my career, then I might as well win my monster battles by copy-pasting Wikipedia entries for all the good it would do me.

So. Those are my holier-than-thou thoughts about NaNoWriMo. So you can imagine my chagrin when I discovered that I, too, was playing the game of Wordy For Word Count's Sake back in 2006. And, y'know, I'm pretty sure I knew that's what I was doing at the time. Maybe I wasn't omitting contractions or spelling out acronyms, but I was definitely--just for instance--having my protagonist list the songs on favorite albums, or having her say in quoted dialogue something that she'd already told the reader via first-person narration. I was absolutely padding my wordcount with crap that I knew was crap and that served no purpose in the draft or to my process, except inasmuch as my process was "win NaNoWriMo."

And now it's my job to clean it up.

Thanks, past me. Thanks awfully much.

In other news, the granny square afghan continues apace. Here, pictured above, are the squares I've begun or finished, laid out according to the pattern's directions for assembly. I think there's a metaphor in there for assembling a second draft novel out of first draft scenes, but I don't really feel like going into it. Dealing with the novel itself is hard enough as it is; I don't need to deal with it on the meta level as well.

my personal version of original sin or something like that
Wed 2020-04-08 21:49:27 (single post)

As I've been delightedly chirping about, my work days lately have been fantastic. Partially because of Cat Rambo's co-writing sessions, partially because of all the appointment cancellations and stay-at-home routines of the pandemic, and partially because changing to a different hypertension medication at the beginning of the year means that, after four years of not, I'm getting enough sleep at night... I'm doing all my work, every day. I'm hitting every item on my checklist at more or less the planned time. With results including: I've got a good amount of manuscripts out on submission at any given time, I'm finishing my Friday Fictionette releases a day early, and now I'm rewriting a novel!

It's wonderful. I'm getting an amazing amount of things done every day, and come five or six o'clock, I'm more or less off the clock. My responsibilities are met. I can relax.

But just try telling my scarred little brain that.

Stress is a habit. Guilt is a habit. The conviction that, if I'm playing or reading or cooking a meal or going to sleep early, it's because I'm procrastinating the day's writing and that makes me a bad, lazy, undisciplined wanna-be of a writer, that shit carves a rut in the brain. So that conviction lingers, even when it no longer reflects reality.

Which leads to scenes like this:

It's eight p.m. and I've completed my checklist of writing tasks. I've logged four and a half hours of solid work. I've even taken care of some financial chores during my lunch break. I'm done. Now I get to play! I boot up Spiral Knights, I log in... and then I sit there looking at the mission screen, feeling a nagging sense that I shouldn't be here. I should be doing something virtuous right now. Something productive. It's simply not valid for me to spend the next couple hours smashing jelly cubes and gremlins in the Clockworks.

So maybe I play anyway. And the whole time I'm playing, that sense continues to nag. And it makes the game not fun.

So maybe I don't play. And I sit there at my desk, staring at my computer, wondering what else I should do with my time. No ideas occur.

And that's how the rest of the evening passes: half-heartedly poking at this or that pastime but never really settling in to enjoy myself, and then suddenly it's bedtime. I earned an evening of fun, but I failed to cash it in before my credits expired.

This is not insurmountable. I'm not really complaining. Like all bad habits, this tendency to never feel sufficiently off the hook to enjoy myself just needs to be replaced with good habits, which I will practice until they become, well, habitual. It'll take a certain amount of mindfulness, but I'll get there. It's no big deal.

It's just weird, that's all. I thought it was worth mentioning.

not that 2020 is done paying off its debt you understand
Tue 2020-01-28 23:54:16 (single post)

Hey, look, it's tomorrow, and I'm dang well writing a blog post. And I'm going to start it off with more maddeningly vague news of a celebratory nature: Today's email included two rejections (one a form and one personal) AND ONE ACCEPTANCE. That's three acceptances in a single month and I'm starting to wonder when the other shoe will drop.

Maybe it already has dropped. I mean, just for example, if you're a Rush fan--and I'm a huge one--January got off to a rocky start, to say the least. (I don't feel I can blog about Neil Peart's passing yet. Maybe not ever. It's too big and sad, and others have said anything I could have said about it much more eloquently.) And if you're a sports fan, you just got some pretty terrible news this weekend about Kobe Bryant. The year 2020 is being totally tactless about how it hands out its good and bad news, just utterly failing to read the room. "Hey, so, don't be mad, but I killed off one of your lifelong heroes. Sorry, kid. Everyone dies eventually. But, hey! I'm making sure you get a ton of stuff published! So... we still cool?"

2020: The year of Really Good Stuff and Really Bad Stuff. Just like every other year in human history, I guess. I hope others affected by the Really Bad Stuff have some Good Stuff of their own to balance things out and make the Bad Stuff easier to bear. Because 2020 owes all of us a goddamn debt, right? Let's make it pay through the nose.

So, OK. This post was supposed to focus on the Good Stuff, so let's do that.

My two big fiction sales in 2019 were reprints, and I was glad of them, but they did leave me wondering if I'd ever write any publishable prose ever again. The flurry of poetry successes isn't to be sneezed at, true! But short stories are where my heart lives, and I began to doubt whether that love was requited. Then came the sales to Daily Science Fiction and Cast of Wonders, which made me do the Happy Dance Incessant! And yet those were pieces written in 2014 and 2018, respectively. What if I just... never wrote anything good again? What if I was doomed to sub and resub the same stable of stories, either placing them or trunking them ("trunking" is filing a story away as unpublishable and not submitting it anywhere anymore), maybe reprinting a few, but never successfully finishing new publishable works again?

(I believe that cognitive behavioral therapy calls this "catastrophizing." I'm kinda prone to it, if you hadn't noticed.)

So, hey, turns out that's not the case. The story that just now today got accepted for publication was written in its entirety during the first week of January. Hm. Well. "First week" is overstating things. I'd say 90% of the drafting and all of the editing was done on deadline day, because me and responsible adult time management are hardly ever in the same room and also not on speaking terms. I stayed home from roller derby practice to finish it, which meant I finished it Under Pain of Regret--I'd have desperately regretted skipping practice and not had a story submission to show for it. But I did finish it, I did submit it, I felt good about it, and I went to bed hardly regretting the lack of skating in the previous 24 hours at all.

And now that story's been accepted, which not only makes me feel that much less guilty about skipping practice that night, but also helps to reassure me that, there, Niki, you see, you can still write new stuff and get it published! Look at you, writing and selling new stuff like a real goddamn writer and everything!

I'm also pretty pleased because one of the hardest things to do is take a story that was specifically written to a particular market's theme and then try to sell it somewhere else. I'm still kind of annoyed with myself for failing to revise that old bringing-potato-salad-to-the-cult-meeting story in time to submit it to Galactic Stew, and that theme was just "spec fic in which food is important." This theme was much more specific. You just know that the editors at all the other markets are going to be like, "Ye Gods, not another story about Kangaroos from Alpha Centauri! Rejections must be going out for the Marsupials in Space anthology. *facepalm*" (Note: My story was not about Kangaroos from Alpha Centauri. If you like the idea of a Marsupials in Space anthology, feel free to Kickstart it yourself, because I don't think it actually exists. Yet.) For this reason the Clarkesworld guidelines list "stories written for someone else's theme anthology or issue" among their hard sells. So I'm rather relieved not to have to worry about a new home for my very specifically themed story at this time.

OK, so, well, that was a heck of a lot of blog post to write about something I'm not even sharing useful details about yet. Hi. This is my brain. I hope you've enjoyed your visit. MORE LATER. Good night!

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