“I'm all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let's start with typewriters.”
Frank Lloyd Wright

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

lather rinse whine repeat
Thu 2018-04-05 00:33:42 (single post)
  • 727 wds. long

I have been slowly working my way through the revision of "Survival, After." It was under 750 words when I first wrote it; it had to be, given the constraints of the contest I wrote it for. Now it just has to be whatever length it needs to be in order to succeed at what it wants to do. Turns out it needs to be longer than it was; no surprises there. New scenes need to be created. Existing scenes need to be fleshed out more, their implications teased out. New rough draft needs to be written. And that's not fair! This teeny tiny short-short story was supposed to only need a quick once-over before it was ready to submit somewhere! I don't want to write new rough draft! New rough draft will itself need to be rewritten! Where does it end?

Fiction is frickin' fractal.

Today I wound up working on something different. Yesterday, during the submissions procedures portion of my work day, I discovered that a market I want to submit to is in the middle of a submission call for themed fiction under 1,000 words. And this market is not only reprint friendly--reprint encouraging, in fact--but it's also Patreon reprint friendly. I think "The Soup Witch's Funeral" might fit the theme pretty well, but I'll have to trim it down to two-thirds of its length first. I got a start on doing that today. Looks like when I get through this first pass it'll have gone from 1550 to maybe 1250, and I think I can do a second pass to tighten it up the rest of the way tomorrow. Then I'll be able to submit it.

And then I'll go back to writing brand new rough draft for the "Survival, After" rewrite. And rewriting the new material. And whining about it.

whether it's an excuse or an explanation depends on the night
Tue 2018-04-03 23:52:51 (single post)
  • 4,600 wds. 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 'a t-res-fossil' by 3weg.nl (CC BY 4.0)
Cover art incorporates and modifies 'Mirepoix' by Matthew Yglesias (CC BY-SA 2.0)
avoidance and its protective coloring in the revision habitat
Tue 2018-03-20 17:30:25 (single post)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

on setting oneself unreasonable expectations
Fri 2018-03-09 22:08:45 (single post)

"It'll be fine," I said. "The story's almost done. I'll just finish it up in the hotel in Cincinnati."

Turns out, when you spent all day running errands and then you go to the Denver Airport and you fly across two time zones in an eastward direction so that it's midnight local when you finally check into your hotel, you don't do much of anything but sleep.

Sorry, folks. Another late Friday Fictionette coming up. Sunday, I hope; theoretically I'll be getting those two hours back. Wish us luck tomorrow!

stomach churning heart palpitating ARGH but otherwise just great
Thu 2018-02-08 00:21:14 (single post)

Hi. Wow. So, I haven't blogged under the auspices of the Actually Writing Blog for like two weeks now, maybe more. I won't bother making excuses. For the most part I don't really have a good explanation. Or rather, I do, but, as explanations go, they are well-trod subjects that would be boring to rehash. Failure to adequately absorb the impact of roller derby practice on the rest of the week, I guess, plus a large helping of avoidance. Recursive avoidance. That's where you avoid doing the thing that's no big deal, because the thing you're really avoiding comes right after. Then you start avoiding the thing before the no-big-deal thing. And so it goes, like a row of dominoes, until you don't want to get out of bed at all because starting your day will start the one-thing-after-another chain of things inevitably leading up to the thing you're dreading. The thing I'm dreading, of course, because that's who we're talking about here. Anyway, it took me several days of dread and exhaustion to finally just say, fuck the chain of things, let's just skip to the dreaded thing and rip the gods-damned band-aid off.

Also there were multiple dreaded things. Most of them are now done, and aside from the "anxiety! is this what a panic attack feels like? How interesting" aftermath, I'm feeling a lot better now.

So! Actually writing. Since the start of the year, I've written five new flash-length stories! I made the deadline for each week of the 2018 Codex "Weekend Warrior" contest, and I'm looking forward to submitting every single of them for publication in the near future. A couple are almost perfect just as they are, and need only a little tweaking before being publication-ready. (Just my opinion, of course; the editors I submit them to will have the final say.) The rest could use some real revision and probably expansion--not everything needs to be 750 words or shorter--and will probably get submitted a little later in the spring.

I did not make the deadline for the "4x4 contest" on 4thewords. I came very close, but in the last 24 hours of the contest I proceeded as though I had 48 hours remaining, which is because when the good folks behind 4thewords say "January 31 deadline" they don't mean through the 31st, as I would have expected, but rather until. But hell with it. The point of revising the novel isn't to enter its first 4,000 words into a contest. It's to have a fully revised and finished novel which may be entered in the contest that really matters, which is to say, publication. So I plan to come back to it in, I dunno, March I guess? March is the traditional month of NaNoEdMo, so that seems appropriate. Also that gives me the rest of February to decide what to do with my five fresh new flash tales.

So... that's the latest in writing. Tomorrow there will probably be stuff about cooking. (I've been cooking.)

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.

starting bid 48 hours, do I hear 24, do I hear--SOLD (probably) to the contractor with the two MINUTE response time
Tue 2017-12-26 23:34:35 (single post)

OK, so, derby practice was canceled. When outdoor temperatures are 10 degrees Fahrenheit at sunset, it's too dang cold to drive the roads, let alone skate in a mostly non-climate-controlled practice building where the floor gets really slick under low temperature conditions. But I am having that hot bath anyway, and not by dint of lots of stovetop activity either, but rather by the good graces of some friends we are cat-sitting for. Turns out their vacation timing was impeccable, and they are very generous with their facilities.

In order that we not have to impose on their generosity longer than necessary, I got on the phone about the dead water heater this morning.

08:30: Called EnergySmart and pled ignorance to all things water heater. They got us enrolled in their program and then talked me through my options for replacement units (tank or tankless), asked me about our furnace (which may also need replacing or at least servicing), and queried as to other related appliances in the house (yes, we have a programmable thermostat, but we would like one that is more programmable; between roller derby and working from home, a basic Honeywell of type WEEKDAY Y/N? doesn't cover all the bases). Then they sent me a list of contractors whom they have vetted as both trustworthy and having energy efficiency priorities.

EnergySmart's services are free: Boulder County tax dollars at work! And doing a brilliant job, too. A+ would pay my taxes again.

09:15: Called Save Home Heat Co first; of the contractors on the list who handled both tankless water heaters and gas furnaces, they were the company that were physically nearest to our address. After about ten rings I got patched over to their answering service. No one was in the office, doubtless because everyone was out tending to other emergencies that had cropped up during the December 25 Federal Holiday. Their answering service was professional and efficient, not to mention brusque and rapid-fire. They evinced some impatience with me for my constantly asking them to repeat that, please, more slowly? as they rattled back the info they'd interrogated me for. They told me to expect a call back as soon as someone returned to the office.

11:00 It turns out I can't get anything done while waiting for a call-back. Just another little glitch in my brain, I guess. (As though I don't have enough.) I could not seem to bring myself to tackle even a half-hour's worth of writing. Not even my morning pages. I mean, I guess I could have, if I'd exerted more willpower, but it would have been miserable. The feeling of paralysis was strong. It was like, in some mental/psychological way, being still on the phone and on hold for almost two hours.

Which is not Save Home Heat's fault nor their lookout. My brain glitches are mine to manage. Besides, EnergySmart says they ask the contractors they vet to return calls within 48 hours. That I had waited two was hardly unreasonable.

Still, I did have to manage that brain glitch if I was going to get any work done. So I went ahead and called a second contractor, Blue Valley Heating & Cooling. And their receptionist was really patient with me before patching me directly over to a tech, who was also patient and friendly. He listened to my story with sympathy, answered my questions with care (including giving me a rough price estimate on the unit I was interested in, subject of course to the details of my installation; it was about what I expected and quite reasonable for the expected lifespan of the unit, not to mention the savings in energy efficiency). Turned out that, hey, he had a call-out in Boulder tomorrow anyway; why not arrange for a consult while he was in the neighborhood? Since my plight was an uncomfortable one and shouldn't be prolonged unnecessarily, and all.

I said yes please thank you you're the best. We agreed he'd visit tomorrow around 8:30 AM. I hung up the phone. And breathed a huge sigh of relief, feeling immensely more psychologically free to get things done.

It's recommended to call multiple contractors anyway, so one can get multiple bids and make a sound economic decision. I had not been looking forward to this. It would involve multiple contractor visits which would probably entail multiple days or weeks before we could have hot running water again. But it seems like I did, in a way, get two separate bids just this morning. Only, instead of being expressed in job price, they were expressed in terms of rapid response and friendliness.

And though I got a late start on my workday, I did get to start. And continue. And finish. Which I might not have otherwise, because...

23:32 (at the time of this writing) ...I still haven't heard a peep from Save Home Heat. I guess they're just super busy and never got back to the office at all.

and andy williams can take the kids jingle belling ELSEWHERE thank you VERY much
Mon 2017-12-25 23:13:34 (single post)

When you celebrate a minority religion's holiday rather than the big mainstream federally approved one, you get problems. Some of them are petty and some of them are huge, but most of them are part of a larger issue about social justice, erasure, inclusion, assimilation, un/equal representation and respect, that sort of thing. You have this huge compelling social machine operating through every imaginable vector to push Christmas, Christmas, Christmas until everyone, Christian or non-, is warped around that one day.

My problem stems from that problem, but it is mostly a petty problem. On the scale of stubbed toe to social injustice, there's barely any hopping around and cussing at the furniture at all. Still, I'm going to whine about it. What else is a blog for, right?

Here's the problem.

Today, for me, was just a regular work day. Wake up, do the morning things, do the writing things, do the household things. But it was very, very hard to resist the siren voices of commerce and nostalgia singing "It's Christmas! It's a holiday! You don't have to work today! Sleep late, eat all the things, visit with family, open presents!"

Look, stupid voices, I already took my holiday off. I took off the two days surrounding the Winter Solstice. I ate all the things Wednesday night and I slept late Thursday. I already called family--well, I called Dad, and it was more about celebrating the Saints' total domination of the Falcons in Sunday's football game than it was about Christmas (please to Google "Lattimore" and "buttception" for maximum lols) but it counts. And wrapped presents is not a big expectation in my current social circle right now, thank the Gods. Point is, I did the holiday things. I did them during the holiday I actually celebrate. Today is not that day. Today I am working.

"But it's Christmas! No work today! Go play!"

I'm not listening to you. La la la la la...

OK, I slept in. I did do that. BUT THEN I WORKED. I did my writing, darn it. I may have done it late, but I did it. So there.

(I may also be grumpy because our water heater, which has been showing signs of being on its last legs for some weeks now, picked Christmas Eve to kick the actual bucket. Thankfully, at this address we have forced air heating rather than hot water radiators, and our furnace is working just fine. A dead water heater doesn't mean we're are actually freezing indoors. But it is very cold out there and I had to go walking out in it a lot today and I want a hot bath and I can't have one except I guess unless I boil a hell of a lot of water on the stove all at once which I may just do if the water heater isn't fixed or replaced by post-derby time tomorrow--if we even have practice, given the temperatures forecast for tomorrow. Also certain key portions of sidewalk which I rely on to get from my house to my neighbors for whom I am cat-sitting have been neglected by their respective snow removal teams. Look, it's freezing out, it snowed, it's winter, I am a southerner by birth and upbringing, I am going to be grumpy. Deal with it.)

Also, that early-wee-hour freewriting session got me my 30-day streak wings. It's my wire anniversary!
a reminder that gamification exists to serve the writer, not vice versa
Thu 2017-12-14 00:31:49 (single post)

So I've been praising 4thewords to the heavens, but I haven't mentioned, possibly because I hadn't been acutely aware of them until recently, its detrimental effects. Welllll, "detrimental effects" is putting it a little strongly. It's more that the RPG quest-and-battle style of gamification, in addition to infusing my writing tasks with extra motivation and enthusiasm, also adds complications.

For instance, I've already mentioned the challenge of choosing one's battles. I don't want to "waste" words by not being in a battle. But I don't want to end a writing task with an inconvenient amount of battle left to go. My work day turns into a sort of jigsaw puzzle, where I try to fit tasks and battles together just so. It's not a bad problem to have; generally, if I've got a bit of battle left over, I'll find there's another writing task, one I had originally planned to work on the next day, that I can instead jump on immediately. This leads to more projects making more progress more quickly.

So it's not really a problem at all, is it? It's 4thewords acting exactly as advertised. It's great.

4thewords has also improved my workday pace to no end. Instead of taking long, leisurely breaks between writing tasks, procrastinating when I ought to get back to work, and suddenly finding I've run out of day to do things in, I've begun moving more briskly from one item on my list to the next, mainly because I still have a bunch more words to go before the current monster is defeated. And I've only got 40 minutes left write them in! All right, fine, I'll take that 5-minute stretch break, I know it's good for me. But that's all! I've got to get back to beating up that Nitana! I will defeat it! It will not defeat me! I WILL TAKE ITS FEATHERS AND MAKE THEM INTO A HAT!

Besides, it's an RGP-style video game after the nature of its species. It comes with that classic temptation to keep playing just a little longer, complete just one more quest, defeat just one more monster before shutting things down. Only, in the case of 4thewords, "just one more monster" doesn't keep the player from getting back to work; it requires the player to get back to work.

So this is all wonderful. In addition to encouraging greater discipline, or at least a really convincing cargo-cult imitation of it, it's made me more often successful at getting through my task list by five or six in the afternoon. It's an amazing feeling to get to the end of a three-hour roller derby practice and remember that all my work is done. No obligations are waiting for my tired brain to tackle them. I don't have to do anything but rest, play video games, take a long bath, maybe even go to bed early. Bliss!

Except.

Except 4thewords has to complicate matters by making certain monsters only come out at night. If I am very good and do all my writing between 8 AM and 5 PM, there are monsters I will never see, whose unique battle rewards I will not get to collect. And that's tragic!

So yesterday I deliberately left myself some work to do after derby. (Mainly my blog post. Which was just as well, given the news that altered its subject matter.) And, yes, that meant I got to fight the nocturnal Mawt, the defeat of which rewards the player with Fur and Claws, which are needed to complete certain quests and craft certain objects.

And then my blog post was done and I still had like 800 words to go and it was midnight.

And that's how I got today's freewriting out of the way before 1 AM. Hooray for silver linings, I guess?

Silver lining or not, it remains that, in this particular case, 4thewords is actively working against my personal writing goals. It has put certain in-game accomplishments out of reach of my preferred writing schedule. Oh, there are workarounds, like temporarily changing my computer's time zone or clock. And I haven't ruled out experimenting with late-night sessions as my schedule (and energy level) permits. But it's still a little jarring to encounter a situation where I do have to adapt either my writing routines or my use of the gamification app to make both sets of goals coincide.

And now I have about 50 more words to write to finish off this adorable but inconveniently timed Rudakai. Blast. Guess I'll pull up the new short story and hammer away on it for a minute or two.

don't you hate it when that happens?
Tue 2017-12-05 17:24:30 (single post)

So, here's the situation.

You've just discovered the existence of a literary magazine, Riddled with Arrows, that pays semi-pro rates for flash meta-fiction and meta-poems. Writing about writing. Which is totally up your alley. Seriously, that arguably describes most of what you wrote in college. So you go rifling through your manuscripts--or, rather, you do the MySQL database version of rifling through your manuscripts, which is to say,

SELECT * FROM `manuscripts` WHERE `wordcount` <= 1500

and you scan the titles until you find something suitable. To wit: a bit of light erotica involving a guy whose lover uses him as her muse. It only needs a little bit of touch-up--there are some sentences that strike you as laughable, but for the most part, it's actually a pretty good 560-word piece.

So you spend the next hour giving it that touch-up, formatting it for submission, and getting ready to send it...

...and then you realize the current submission window, with a deadline of December 10, is actually only for submissions that fit the Winter Solstice theme, "Feasts and Families." Which this story emphatically does not.

Don't you hate it when that happens?

Or is it just me?

...It's just me, isn't it?

Oh well. It's not a total loss. The story is ready to send somewhere; I just have to figure out where. And tomorrow I may just discover a manuscript in my archives that does fit the theme. Or I'll write something brand new. I can do that! A new flash piece in five days? That's demonstrably one of my superpowers!

Meanwhile, I submitted "Sidewalks" to a market that's reprint-friendly, and I spent another half-hour noodling on the new short story. Today was not, by and large, an unsuccessful day, is what I'm saying.

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