“A poet can survive everything but a misprint.”
Oscar Wilde

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

whining my way toward a better way of ordering my day
Thu 2021-02-25 22:35:54 (single post)

Today's post is going to be a whining post. Be warned now. Or be happy, I dunno. I get a lot of comfort out of reading the whining of experienced and successful writers; it tells me that even they have off-days with avoidance issues and difficulty getting the butt in the chair. Which means my having days or even weeks like that doesn't mean I'll never be an experienced and successful writer myself. Indeed, I am now a somewhat experienced writer who is at least more successful than she was two years ago, so you may wish to take my whining in that spirit yourself.

Here is the whine: lately I've been having trouble getting up on time to make the morning co-writing session, or indeed getting any writing done in the morning at all. The lure of hot tea and a Morning Pages session with a backdrop of Rewarded Play usage points, it seems, can't compete with the temptation of staying in bed just a little longer, especially now that I've actually reached a state of solid sleep and technicolor dreams (which I often don't reach nearly as soon as I ought). So I wind up failing to drag my butt to the home office until something like noon.

This is a problem in so many ways.

It throws me off my routine, for one thing. You'd think it wouldn't matter--that no matter what time I get up, all I have to do is hit START on the established process. But no. The later I get up, the more slowly I move through the next steps, and the more time I lose.

And by then I've already lost the prime morning hours when writing comes more easily. Rachel Aaron, in her book 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, talks about the importance of figuring out when and where you're most productive--she is all about tracking your data and looking for patterns--and it turns out I am most productive in the morning at my desk in the home office. It also turns out I am the laziest night owl ever to attempt to pose as a morning bird.

So now I'm relying on the afternoon to get my writing started at all, which is never a safe bet. And I'll be relying on the evening to finish up the day's tasks. And that's even more of a problem, because by evening time I'm tired, I'd rather play, and, pandemic notwithstanding, I might just have something scheduled for the evening. Tonight, for example, was BCB Workout night. Whipsie Daisy led us in yoga, which was awesome! Convincing myself to complete the last items on my to-do list after I'd worn myself out with surprisingly difficult balance-and-strength poses was less awesome. And I've still got a half hour of reading to record for AINC before I sleep.

Eventually I wind up with this dilemma: fail to get certain things done, or stay up late getting them done? Staying up late is going to happen anyway, it turns out, which then makes getting up on time the next morning more difficult. And so the cycle is complete, the snake is biting its own tail, the downward spiral continues another round down the turning screw, etc., etc.,

All of which is quite sad and also pathetic. But there is one more stupidity hiding in this morass of foolishness, and that has to do with how I find myself approaching the afternoon co-writing session.

The afternoon co-writing session is great. (I may have mentioned.) It may in fact be a write-saver. For as long as I've separated my writing day into the Morning Shift and the Afternoon Shift, I've found it extremely difficult to come off of lunch break and get started on the Afternoon Shift. Knowing that I damn well have to get started right at 2:00 PM because that's when the co-writing session starts--that's been fantastic motivation.

But today, while I was considering the day's schedule, I found myself reasoning thusly: "Oh, dear. Once again I'll be pulling my first shift of the day during afternoon co-writing. When it's my turn to share with the group what I'm working on, do I really want to say, 'freewriting and fictionette' again? Maybe I should reverse the order of operations. It'll sound a lot more impressive to say 'I'm working on a brand new poem which I think I'll be able to submit tonight.'"

Now, there are valid reasons to reverse my usual order of operations. But wanting to sound more impressive to my co-writing colleagues isn't one of them.

(This, by the way, would be reason #375 that Morning Pages are good for me. I'm more likely to catch my really specious reasoning and correct it if I take the time to consciously discover it lurking in my brain.)

So, yeah. This failure to get out of bed on time is a problem. I have some ideas out of which I might cobble a solution, but those will be the subject of a different blog post.

A different blog post also full of whining.

You have been warned.

stealth foodie blog strikes again: mardi gras edition
Tue 2021-02-16 22:52:54 (single post)

Welp, all that crowing about the Zoom co-writing structure-and-motivation for the day, and what happens? I utterly fail this week to 1. get to bed on time, 2. get up on time, 3. make the morning co-writing session. Alas! Counterpoint: A. "This week" refers to two whole days, let's not panic here; B. I've still gotten a metric ton of stuff done, because after the afternoon co-writing session ends there's still a lot of afternoon and evening left. So it's all cool.

But that is not what I came to blog about. I came to blog about winning at dinner. Yes, again. I get very excited about this sort of thing. This is nominally a blog about actually writing, but it is also a stealth foodie blog. (You're welcome.)

A friend of mine tweeted approvingly about this recipe here, Caramelized Shallot Pasta, and I got all interested. I mean, I like anchovies. I like pasta. I like absolutely everything about what I see here. Let's try it.

What follows are step-by-step instructions to wind up with precisely, or more or less, what I wound up with for dinner on Lundi Gras (and lots of leftovers for Mardi Gras).

One. About three business days before you want to do this, maybe five days if catastrophic winter storms are forecast for the weekend, order you a 3-pack of crawfish bread. Yes, it's expensive, but if you can budget for it once a year, I say go for it. Mardi Gras is a great time of year for this, but so is your birthday, or in fact any of your 364 unbirthdays. (Obviously you should only do this if crawfish, cheese, and bread of the gluten variety are things you eat. And if you like spicy things. This is a spicy thing.)

Two. About two and a half hours before you want to eat, start you thawing a loaf of the crawfish bread, if crawfish bread you are doing. I only allowed two hours, and it wasn't quite enough. Also, start defrosting a pound of boneless chicken breasts.

Three. Go get that pasta recipe and follow Steps 1 through 3, ending with the bit where you squirrel away half of the resulting paste for future enjoyment. I did not use a dutch oven, but rather my largest cast-iron pan. That turned out to be pretty much ideal.

Around now is a good time to preheat the oven to 350 F.

Four. This is where the multitasking starts. I got the pasta started in the usual stainless steel pot on the front burner on the left. I returned the cast-iron pan to the front burner on the right, removed the anchovy-shallot-tomato paste to a plate (to which I added another big teaspoon of hot pepper flakes because YOLO), and started the now empty-ish pan going over medium-high. Into the goodness remaining from the pan's previous activities I tossed two diced tomatoes as a sort of deglazing agent and also the chicken breasts. Salt and pepper on the chicken breasts to your taste; if you're me, that's a few twists on a salt grinder and about a tablespoon of black peppercorns rough-ground in a mortar and pestle. Pan fry the chicken until it is almost but not quite done through, slicing it up into strips whenever convenient.

Somewhere around here is when you shove the crawfish bread into the oven.

Five. Pick up again with Step 4 of the pasta recipe: Add the cup of pasta water, the very al dente pasta, and the anchovy-shallot-tomato paste to chicken and tomatoes in the pan, and let 'em thicken and coat just like the directions say. The chicken will finish cooking during this stage; so will the pasta. Follow through with Step 5 and the garlic-parsley mixture. By the time all this is done, the crawfish bread should also be fully heated, though you may still have to wait for it to cool a few minutes so you're not slicing into lava.

Plate it all up, optionally serving with a bottle of Abita's Mardi Gras Bock or other favorite carbonated beverage. Either resist the urge to have seconds or resign yourself to groaning and gently rolling uselessly around the house for the rest of the night.

And that is the process that led to this picture I tweeted. You're welcome!

in which we reestablish communications with a winter edition pandemic variant status update
Wed 2020-12-16 19:45:35 (single post)

Hello, neglected blog! I haven't posted to you since, what, early November? And we've still got a pandemic on. Even with a vaccine just around the corner, we're gonna be in pandemic mode for a while. So let's talk a little about how this whole pandemic thing has changed winter in Chez LeBoeuf-Little.

The big change is, we don't get to host our annual Winter Solstice All-Night Open House & Yule Log Vigil. Which admittedly isn't the blow felt by, say, Average American Household not getting to hold Extended Family Christmas. But it's still a shame. I like cooking metric tons of seasonal food and then getting surprised by who winds up coming over at three in the morning. I like sharing my eclectic Pagan traditions with my friends and neighbors. I would have enjoyed the heck out of introducing Holland to our guests (although Holland may not have enjoyed it; he can be skittish around new people.) It's a sad thing. But it's a necessary thing. I accept the necessary sad thing.

And it's not like I can't fix myself midwinter pie, tomato-orange soup, and a pitcher of the world's best egg nog ("world's best" because my friend's recipe is amazing, not because I'm particularly good at making egg nog). But there'll be no one but me in the house to consume them (none of the above are to John's taste), so I'll have to make somewhat less than a metric ton.

On that note, there won't be a fruitcake this year. That, too, seemed like a lot of food to make for only myself to eat. Usually about half the cake gets sliced up and mailed to friends and family around the country and a couple outside the country, but again, pandemic. I'm just not sure about the wisdom of producing foodstuffs with my unverified and unprofessional bare hands to be sent out into the world for others to eat at this particular juncture. Maybe I'm overthinking it; there are no known cases of anyone catching the novel coronavirus via food. But wouldn't it suck to be the first? More realistically, shopping for bulk dried fruits and nuts is kind of fraught right now. Whole Foods shut down its bulk food zone and replaced it with an Amazon Prime delivery staging area. Lucky's North reopened their bulk aisle, and they made gloves and hand sanitizer available to shoppers in that aisle, and no one uses them but me. Possibly an exaggeration, but after the third time cheerfully chirping at a random fellow customer, "Oh, they want us to use gloves! They're over there," I get this strong impression.

So. No fruitcake. No party. But hey, no superspreader behavior, either, so ultimately it's a win.

One nice change was that John was able to come with me to Avon this year. Usually he can't; it would mean time off from work, and generally he's used up most of his vacation time with gaming conventions by now. But this year 1. no gaming conventions, and 2. he's working from home every day. So there was no reason he couldn't work out of our room at the Sheraton Mountain Vista.

So we went. We bundled ourselves into the moving bubble that is our Chevrolet Volt, we wore our masks and used hand sanitizer on our way to check into the hotel, we used sanitizer wipes to extra-special sterilize the luggage cart that hotel staff had probably already sterilized, and we brought enough food from home that we didn't need to visit the grocery but once late in the week. And then we proceeded to work and play more or less like we do at home, in isolation but with a different selection of scenic views.

It was great. We cooked each other meals and also explored our take-out and delivery options. We watched some good TV. We read some good books. I skated around Lake Nottingham a few times because the weather was amazing. Meanwhile, Avedan sent us pictures of Holland being adorable for her. (Avedan apparently does not count as new people. Holland was comfortable enough around her to entertain himself by giving her sass with both barrels. He was glad to see us when we got home, but I suspect he did not miss us.)

"But Niki," I hear you say, "this is the actually writing blog. After a hiatus of more than a month, aren't you going to blog about the actually writing?" Yes! I shall. Writing has been Actually Happening. It's glorious. But about that, more tomorrow. This post is long enough already!

Cover art incorporates and modifies unattributed image from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)
shilling for September
Thu 2020-10-15 22:29:02 (single post)
  • 979 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,357 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,038 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,380 words (if poetry, lines) long

Check it out: it's a Friday Fictionette roundup, two weeks late. Obviously I couldn't post a roundup until all the fictionettes it was rounding up went live; the fourth didn't go live until Monday. In related news, the Friday Fictionette for October 2 will be going live tomorrow. Everything's two weeks late.

I can't entirely blame this on the awful, rotten week in September when Gemma died. I mean, that didn't help. It happened on a Wednesday, and it shut me down entirely until the following week. But I was already a few days behind and scrambling to catch up when it happened. And it turns out that not writing, even for the very best of reasons, is habit-forming.

So here we are.

The good news is, October is a month with a fifth Friday. That's a week when time stands still, at least for fictionette purposes, and I'll have extra time to catch up.

Here, then, is the list of Friday Fictionettes posted in scheduled for September.

Friday, September 4, 2020: "Inherit the Earth" (ebook, audiobook) In which the winners begin to write history.

Friday, September 11, 2020: "A Gryphon Walks Into a Bar" (ebook, audiobook) In which you witness a hero being drawn out of retirement.

Friday, September 18, 2020: "Hardly St. Francis" (ebook, audiobook) In which an unsympathetic character gets told off. This is the Fictionette Freebie for September 2020.

Friday, September 25, 2020: "The Size of the World" (ebook, audiobook) In which we are made to feel small.

Obligatory explanation, for those just tuning in: The Friday Fictionette Project is a Patreon-powered minifiction subscription service. Patrons at the $1/month level get a new short-short story-like object every first through fourth Friday in any of several homebrew ebook editions (html, pdf, epub, mobi); Patrons at the $3/month level also get the joy of having me read it aloud to them while my Dell Inspiron so-called gaming laptop's fan whines in the background. (Audacity's noise reduction filter is miraculous.)

There are a couple tiers after that which involve a physical object in your mailbox, but they are (1) limited edition such that only one more slot remains in each tier, and (2) even more behind schedule than the ebook and audio releases. (I just typed out and illustrated Page 1 of one of the December 2019 Fictionette Artifacts, to be perfectly honest with you. My two Patrons at the $5 level are exceedingly patient, and I appreciate it.)

Meanwhile, one fictionette per month gets released as a Fictionette Freebie;"Hardly St. Francis" is the Fictionette Freebie for September 2020. Also free are the Monday Muse posts, where I share the writing prompt associated with the upcoming fictionette (they all start as freewriting from a prompt) and also some random news from my life, writing and otherwise. (By popular demand, rabbit news predominates.)

So that's the September 2020 Friday Fictionette Roundup. If intrigued, do click through and check it out.

In other news, which I will babble about thoroughly in upcoming posts:

  • I'm taking a Carnegie Center remote writing class, because the pandemic is why we can have nice things;
  • Thinking about writing is too writing, and so are long walks;
  • What with NaNoWriMo coming up, I'll be diving back into the godawful novel draft in an attempt to make it a wee bit less awful, or, failing that, make its awfulness somewhat less godly;
  • Holland continues in good health and is currently licking the sofa cushions.

'Til then.

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.

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