inasmuch as it concerns Spit and Polish:
Contortions performed upon that endless search for perfection.
in praise of those arsonists who light fires under my butt
- 921 wds. long
So my roller derby league does this thing where on Mondays they post a member profile to their public Facebook page, and this week the member being profiled is me. And that feels weird. Like, one, Anxiety Brain is sure that this makes me look like the biggest ego on the planet, despite how patently ridiculous that conviction is. I mean, it's not like I thought that about anybody else; why should anyone think that about me? ("But it's true!" says Anxiety Brain. "Doubly so now that you're boosting the signal on that post. You must want everyone to think you're a total narcissist." You know what? Anxiety Brain can take a hike.) And secondly, Perfectionist Brain is all, "Why'd you give them your Patreon link? Now everyone is going to look and see just how woefully behind schedule you are!"
Well. I'm a lot less behind schedule than I was. The Friday Fictionette for June 21 went up yesterday: "Thinking Outside the Dollhouse." It's kind of what happens when you cross Peter Gabriel's "Big Time" with Cat Steven's "Wild World" and then you miniaturize the result. (Patron-locked post: ebook here, audiobook here.) And today I got a metric shit-ton done on the Friday Fictionette for June 28; I hope to produce that one tomorrow night, then have the rest of the week to get July 5 done on time. Which means the only thing I'm really, really behind on are the Fictionette Artifacts for my $5 Patrons, who have been immensely understanding.
That aside, I am getting a lot done on the writing front. My week-daily submission streak continues with only one missed day since April 18. That missed day did not send me into a spiral of avoidance and despair; I got right back on the horse the next day and haven't fallen off since. So I guess we can cautiously pronounce that new work habit solidly implanted. This month I'm working on a new streak to carry simultaneously: at least 25 minutes of commercial fiction revision every weekday. It's not like that wasn't already in my list of Habitica Dailies for Monday through Friday, but it's officially no longer in my mental category of "eh, nice to have, but if I can't, that's cool--I'll just use my Stealth skill to avoid damage." Two days in: so far, so good!
Credit where credit is due: The support structure for both these endeavors comes from Guild Challenges hosted by the Habitica Guild "Ink Slingers". I won't bother linking it because you have to be logged in to see it, and if you're logged in, you can just search for that Guild by name. But, briefly, "Ink Slingers" is a Guild headed up by the fabulous, hard-working, and much-decorated writer Mary Robinette Kowal. In addition to writing top-notch science fiction and fantasy, she teaches writing classes and hosts monthly online writer dates via her Patreon. She's logged a number of years on the board of SFWA and has taken the reins as President as of yesterday. She's part of the team behind the podcast Writing Excuses. She's also an award-winning puppeteer. Somehow she still finds time to be active in various online writing communities, one of which is the aforementioned Habitica Guild.
Guilds serve as small communities within Habitica. And because those communities tend to share overall goals (like, say, "be a writer"), Guilds can create and host Challenges for their members. The Ink Slingers Guild hosts a lot of challenges, some created by MRK herself and others by enthusiastic community members. My recent successes at improving my work week can be attributed almost entirely to two Ink Slingers Guild Challenges in particular: the Rejection to Acceptance 2019 Challenge, in which participants strive to receive 100 manuscript rejections in a year, and, just now, the July Wednesday Writers Challenge, in which participants set a big goal for the month and then break it down into smaller weekly goals that will help them achieve the big goal.
The Rejection Challenge you already know about, because I've been yammering about it here for the last three months. But this is the first month I joined the Wednesday Writers' Club, despite having seen guild members reporting in and cheering each other on ever since I joined the Guild. So I set myself a goal for July of adding two stories to my stable of submission-ready manuscripts; and the weekly goal of sitting down to a 25-minute minimum story revision session every Monday through Friday. Tomorrow being Wednesday, I get to report on my progress so far, which, assuming I'm as diligent tomorrow as I have been today and yesterday, should be all smiles and thumbs up.
I've encountered people who will haughtily assert that real writers don't need tricks or brain hacks or special challenges or communities in order to write. They just write! Because they can't not! And anyone who relies on the aforementioned list of crutches shouldn't dare arrogate to themselves the lofty titles Writer or Author. Well, I can say without hesitation or exception that every encounter with such a person has been an encounter I regretted having. Such people should own the claims they are making and absent themselves from any sort of community forthwith, is what I think, because who needs that kind of attitude? Look, brain hacks can be necessary. Community can be life-saving. And I am here to tell you that a friendly peer challenge can be a game-changer.
Hence today this post expressing gratitude for one those communities whose challenges have changed my game. Thanks, y'all!
look it's a thing it's a very late thing but it's a thing
Hark! An overdue Friday Fictionette rises over yon horizon. It's "Love in the Time of Lizard People," nominally the release for June 14, and it has a little to do with the trustworthiness of telepathic aliens but a lot more to do with the trustworthiness of your bar buddy. Patrons at the $1 level can download the ebook in any of several formats. Patrons at the $3 level can download the audiobook too.
I'm-a work on the June 21 release tomorrow, but, knowing me and Fridays, it's more realistic to expect it out Saturday evening. After that I'm going to try for June 28 by no later than Monday. PROMISES PROMISES.
In other news, did you know that an interactive fiction piece about a portal-hopping protagonist need not have all, or indeed any, of its choices be about which portal to hop through? I am just figuring this out. Having figured this out, I am now having a surprisingly enjoyable time with the rewrite.
still hard even when it's a different kind of hard
Let's talk interactive fiction. Do I know what I'm talking about when I talk about interactive fiction? Hell, no. But I'm trying to learn, because there's a story I've been wanting to submit to Sub-Q for, like, ever, and they're open to submissions right now until July 15.
Sub-Q publish interactive fiction, which is a form of storytelling which allows the readers' choices to alter the reader's experience of the story. Think of the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books--but also think of text-based games like Zork and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Or just go read some of what Sub-Q have available. They're more experts than me. They publish the stuff; I'm just beginning to think about writing it.
What I've got is a piece of flash fiction in which the main character goes on a journey, one of both geography and identity. It's been submitted a few times, but never received anything more than form rejections. Now that I'm looking at it with a mind to overhaul it into an interactive format, I'm starting to see why.
The thing's a travelogue, maybe a travel diary, but it's not a story.
It's also in second person point of view, which is a hard sell most places. But I don't think that's its worst problem, if problem it is. The main problem is, the protagonist isn't shown making important choices. Which means the protagonist is lacking somewhat in agency.
In interactive fiction, eventually, at some point, you invite the reader to make choices. And they have to be meaningful choices. They have to have consequences that the reader can guess at before they choose. They can't just be Bastian going through the House of a Thousand Doors in the latter half of The Neverending Story, choosing between a wicker door or a wood one, a red one or a green one, based on nothing more than gut sense that this material is more associated with the person he's looking for than that one. It's got to be more like, you know the green door will bring you to meet Atreyu, but you also know that the meeting and what follows will not be all rainbows and roses, so if you're having second thoughts maybe you should take the red door and go become writer-in-residence at the Silver City Library. Except that's not all going to be rainbows and roses either, so--which brand of interesting dilemma do you wish to explore, reader?
It's an apt metaphor. The protagonist in my story moves through a thousand doors of their own--through portals from one world to another, each more alien than the last. But in the original story, none of the portals matter. You see a portal, you go through it. As long as it takes you further away from your previous life, it's fine by you. And that's no way to write a story, interactive or otherwise. The protagonist has got to have the opportunity to make meaningful choices.
So today's story revision time was taken up with reading the current draft and identifying opportunities for meaningful choice. Also identifying other potentially interactive moments, like, say, the ability to click on a mention of the protagonist's backpack and get a list of its contents, maybe see how they change throughout the story. Click on mention of the watch and get some backstory about the person who gave it to the protagonist. That sort of thing.
It's daunting. It's daunting because I always had this idea that the story didn't need much more than a quick polish, an easy fix. But now I see that even if it stays traditional prose, it still needs no less than a full overhaul and a significant chunk of brand-new content, because protagonists need the opportunity to make meaningful choices. Otherwise they can hardly be said to protag, can they?
In short: Revising stories is still hard, y'all.
confessions of an epicurean nature
- 10 wds. long
So I'm in the bath right now. This is the sort of thing you find out about me when you read my blog. Sometimes, when I'm too cold, too tired, too reluctant or too neurotic--tonight it's the "too tired" case because of roller derby scrimmage--in order to write anything at all, I need a tub full of hot water and a selection of cold beverages. (Tonight it's a mango Waterloo and an Abita "Andygator".) As this is a habit of many years, I've perfected the process. I have a pressboard plank that sits across the tub and acts as my desk. On that desk are a wireless keyboard, a wireless mouse, and my drink de jour (de nuit?). My laptop sits on a tall stool near enough that I can read it without squinting. Oddly, no candles or beauty concoctions are involved. Sometimes a cup or two of Epsom salts, because derby, but that's it.
And eventually I do the damn writing. Something about sweating my brain out my ears in water that's just as hot as I can stand shakes something loose. Also, after so many years, the association is well and truly built up; I might as well use it.
Today was a good Doing All The Things day. Yesterday was not. Yesterday I was running on too little sleep and too many errands. Today went a lot better:
- I revised a very short poem and sent it somewhere that particularly likes short things (compressed things, in fact). (It is not actually 10 words long. It is 10 lines long. I still need to write the if/then case into the manuscript stat box so that it says "lines" instead of "words" if the manuscript is a poem.)
- During my freewriting session, thanks to the Writer Igniter prompt generator, I got very invested in a retelling of the folk tale known as Aarne-Thompson type 706 ("The Armless Maiden") involving an apprentice tattoo artist. It's going in the revisions queue, which means one day this millennium I might actually finish it.
- I didn't finish the draft of this week's Friday Fictionette, but I finally figured out how to finish it.
- I typed up the first page of the second of the November Fictionette Artifacts I want to put in the mail by the end of the week.
- And I did this blog post. Ta-da.
Obligatory running submissions tally in handy tabulated form (copied from the source of the handy PHP page I wrote to pull up these stats from my database):
Aren't you glad you asked?
but why is this only paying off now and not like three years ago
- 639 wds. long
Today I want to talk about short story revision. But first: check it out, two days in a row of successful adulting! That's a surprise. Usually, after a day as successful as yesterday, I crash and burn; the pressure of having to live up to the previous day just does me in. But I seem to have evaded that trap today. Once again, I got everything other than this blog post done by 5:00 PM. And because tonight did not feature any roller derby practice, I finally found myself with time to thoroughly clean that gross covering of several years' dust off the magazine rack in the hall. I've been wanting to do that for months.
But. Story revision! Story revision and creation, actually; the story I'm working doesn't really have a finished draft to revise. It has the babble draft that came out of a freewriting session in a diner in Eagle, Colorado on the night before a roller derby tournament. And that's the trouble, really. I've already done the babble draft, so I have this innate sense that I'm not allowed to babble at it anymore. What I'm supposed to do now is create a draft that is shining and perfect, the story that is everything the babble draft dreams of being. All at once. Right now.
Not going to happen, obviously, but try telling my emotions/instincts/editor-brain/gut that.
This is what I meant yesterday about being unable to drag myself away from the procrastination method du jour when short story revision is the next thing on my to-do list. That nearly happened again today. With Merge Dragons being the procrastination method and everything. The only thing that saved me was knowing I said I'd get started at three, I was supposed to get started at three, it's three-oh-seven already, would I damn well get started already? Also, the next task after that needed to be done by 5:00 PM and would easily take up the full hour and a half I'd alloted it. So please let's not make with the holdups, OK?
Note to self: this particular brain hack has now worked multiple, repeated times on this particular brain. Continue with the hacking, please.
So I got started. But I fully expected to just spend half an hour futzing around with the opening three paragraphs again. I knew, plotwise, what would happen over the course of the story, but how to write those scenes down in a graceful, artistic, and compelling manner, that was a doozy. Hell with it, said I, just write it down any old how. So I did. And in doing so I tripped over a detail I had not hitherto considered, and wound up babbling some 500 words of backstory that turned the work in progress into a very different place.
Obviously all that babble will have to be ruthlessly whittled down--more revising! revising is hard!--but it's made the rough shape of the finished story just a little clearer and future revision sessions just a little less difficult. So that's something.
The thing is--and I keep going back to this point, I know--allowing myself to just put down terrible unreadable babble is a skill I'm learning from the Friday Fictionette project. When the story is due at the end of the week, there's no time to sit there staring at the page under the mistaken impression that if I just think about the story long enough it'll come together perfectly in my head. All I can do is throw words at the wall now and trust that something will stick.
The story I'm working on right now has no particular deadline. True, it's at the head of a very long queue of short stories that need work before they can be submitted to paying markets, so there is pressure to finish it sooner rather than later, but it's all internally applied. So it doesn't have its own supply of anti-procrastination jet fuel. It was sort of strange and wonderful watching it borrow fuel from my Friday Fictionettes practice.
It would appear that I have learned a lot more than I consciously realized from writing four new stories a month for almost five years.
why i do this to myself
- 739 wds. long
Today I rediscovered why I keep plugging away at the Friday Fictionette project.
There've been times when I've wondered exactly that. The project has certainly been an additional source of stress, especially when I get behind schedule (and some aspects of it are still very, very far behind schedule). It has taken time away from other writing I could be doing. Hell, I've only just now got anywhere close to a workable, sustainable daily process that accommodates both the Friday Fictionette project and my commercial freelance goals, not to mention keeping up with this blog. And I mean just now, like, in the past week.
But every once in a while a reason to persist shines up brightly out of the mess of my day-to-day like an encouraging beacon that says "Keep it up! You're going the right way!" Or maybe it's more accurate to say it blinds me with its obviousness. WHATEVER.
Oh, there are the official reasons. It gives me practice meeting regular deadlines. It forces me to write a new thing with a beginning, middle, and end four times a month. It's motivation to meet myself on the page every day. But these are the medicine reasons, the bran flakes and lima beans reasons. The half hour of strength and endurance conditioning at the end of each roller derby practice. "Eat it up. Drink it down. Struggle through. It's good for you." I tell myself those reasons all the time, and I only kinda sorta believe them.
But there was that time last year when a Friday Fictionette release went on to be included in the Toasted Cake podcast. Nothing like listening to Tina Connolly read my little story to make me think, "I'm so glad I'm still doing this!"
And then there was that time yesterday when I realized that the fictionette I was just finishing up, three days late and counting, was a perfect fit for the themed submission call I'd been contemplating with a certain amount of despair. I kept looking sadly at the submission guidelines and lamenting, "I don't think I have anything suitable..." Well. Now I do. It just needs a bit more of a polish and a trim is all.
And would I have written it at all without the Friday Fictionette project to maintain? Well, yes. Like all fictionettes, it began with a daily freewriting session. But would I have remembered that particular freewriting session in time to write a submittable draft if I hadn't had this four-times-a-week assembly line demanding to be fed on the regular? Probably not!
To be clear, not every flash fiction market accepts reprints. And among those that do, very few accept reprints of self-published material. And then you've got the audio markets who don't care if it's been printed before or where, but if it's ever been broadcast in audio, they can't take it. So it's not like there's a lot of places I can send my short-shorts that began life as a Friday Fictionette.
So you can see I'm very pleased to find one that does, and for whose themed call my most recent release is a more or less perfect fit. And even more pleased that I've continued the Friday Fictionette project these past nearly five years.
More details later--after the submission resolves itself one way or another!
rejections += 1 (yay) and so do submissions
I got a rejection letter today! That makes four of the one hundred I want to acquire in 2019, and the first in response to the avalanche of daily manuscript submissions I began sending out mid-April. It's working, it's working!
Meanwhile, Hi. I'm in a hotel room in Eagle, Colorado. Tomorrow I skate with the Boulder County Bombers "All Stars" in the Melee in the Mountains tournament. Our first game, against the Chicago Outfit, will be at noon. And I am super tired and ready for bed.
It doesn't help that I just walked down to the Park 'n Ride to retrieve my car from where I left it charging at the free public charging station, only to discover when I got there that I'd left my car keys in the hotel room. So I decided the car can just stay there until tomorrow morning. I'm not unhappy that I went for the extra walk, though. Walks are nice.
But now I'm really tired. Therefore the rest of today's writing update will be super fast and super brief.
- Still way behind on the Friday Fictionettes, but I got a decent nibble in just now on the one for April 19.
- I kept up my daily submitting streak. Over lunch, I sent "First Breath," with its Colorado ski-town setting, to a Denver-centric anthology that might reprint it.
- Over meatloaf at the Eagle Diner, I managed a brief talk-to-myself session on the current short story revision.
- Also at the diner, I did some similarly brief freewriting, resulting in what looks like a solid "zero draft" for a brand new short story.
To be painfully honest, I have to admit to overestimating my submission streak the other day. At the time, Habitica reported a 9-day streak on that particular daily task, but it's very generous in preserving my streak so long as I use my Rogue powers of stealth to avoid damage from uncompleted dailies. Looking at the Submission Grinder, I see that today's submission brings me up to seven days of daily manuscript submissions, one each weekday from April 18-26 inclusive. Also I did one April 16. So it's not like the ongoing achievement loses any impressiveness after the correction. I'm still pretty damn pleased.
So. Today I did a Boulder Food Rescue shift, packed for a weekend trip, and drove three hours from Boulder to Eagle, and I still managed to do all my weekday writing things. That's pretty darn cool. Here's hoping I can do the same Monday despite Saturday's tournament, Sunday's drive home, and Monday's much-needed recovery activities.
your daily dose of me stating the obvious
I am contemplating a short story rewrite.
I originally wrote the story in response to a specific prompt in the submission guidelines of a themed quarterly publication. I submitted it; they rejected it; we move on. I rewrote it before submitting it elsewhere so that it wouldn't look so obviously like a story written to some other publication's prompt and theme, but, looking at it now, I'm forced to admit, the thing's still pretty darn skeletal. And incoherent. And obviously written to a prompt.
(I feel like a lot of things I write these days are skeletal. It's like I suddenly don't have the stamina needed for writing the actual story, so instead I write a really verbose story outline and call it a story. I'm a little worried about this.)
So I need to revise the story again. But I hardly know where to start. I've been staring at the draft and jotting down questions to myself in the margins: "Does this scene really serve the story? How?" "What's this story really about?" and "How does the homing device/angels/aliens thing interact with the lives-you-wished-you'd-lived theme?"
I have not jotted down any answers yet. I've taken fountain pen and spiral notebook and babbled out a series of possible directions in which I might choose to take the story. I have yet failed to choose any of them. I kind of suck at making decisions sometimes.
So... yeah. Short story rewrites are hard. In other news, water is wet and ice is cold. Good night.
what i did after i came home from my summer not-so-vacation
- Friday Fictionettes
- Idol Worship
- Mapping Territories
- Selling My Soul
- Spit and Polish
- The Beast That Rolls
- 1,299 wds. long
- 954 wds. long
- 909 wds. long
It's been almost a week since I've said hi. Hi, blog! Stuff has been happening.
I came home from Omaha on Monday! I got sick! Now I'm getting better! I had a massage and a day off from practice on Tuesday, then I had classic sinusy crap on Wednesday, and then by Thursday I was feeling better enough to go to scrimmage.
That may not have been smart. I got more worn out and beat up than at either of our Continental Cup games! It being my first time back on the track in the Mile High area after spending a weekend playing derby at an elevation of only 1,090 feet might be a factor. Being sick, yeah, that was a factor too. Also relevant: we only had five skaters per bench. We played four-on-four so that everyone could get a chance to sit one jam in five, and everyone was in the jammer rotation. (You know what's fun? And by "fun" I mean "hell"? TWO-MINUTE JAMS. It is not always good news when the other jammer gets a penalty. Sometimes it just means now NOBODY has lead jammer status, and life for the next minute and a half will suuuuuuuuuck.) Then, at halftime, someone on one team had to leave. One of our skaters who had NSO'd the first half geared up to replace them. For reasons that were never entirely explained, the replacement skater was assigned to the other bench, so the second period of play featured a team of four versus a team of six. GUESS WHICH TEAM I WAS ON. Deathmarch scrim FTW! Did I mention that everybody jammed? And now nobody gets to sit out any? Woo. We got extra-long line-up time between jams, probably 45 seconds or a minute instead of the usual 30 seconds; it was just enough time for me to get just enough wind back to be able to swallow a small sip of water and then rush back out to the track.
In still more derby news, my season would appear not to be over! I will be skating with the Bombshells in the B-team tournament bracket at the Thin Air Throwdown, which we are co-hosting at the Boulder County Fairgrounds on September 14-16. Tickets are available, and I recommend you get right on that, because in addition to the B-team tournament, there will be a round-robin exhibition of three of the highest ranked teams in the world. How often do you get to see Rose versus VRDL without leaving the state, let alone the county? So. MAKE PLANS.
Also I wrote! And finished stuff! And submitted stuff too! It's been a good week.
On Wedensday, I finally put up the Friday Fictionette for August 24. It's called "Change'll Do You Good." What kind of change? Any kind you like. Change of scenery. Change of career. Change in your social circle. Shape-changing, too, let's not forget that one. Anyway, it's about 1300 words long and available to subscribers in ebook and audio formats on Patreon.
Then I had to hurry up (as much as I could while subsisting on pseudoephedrine, Mucinex, and tea) and revise some older fictionettes for reprint submission for a deadline of TODAY. (I mean "today" as in August 31. I am aware it is has not been August 31 for a couple hours now. Shh.) I put them into the email about two hours ago and am feeling very proud of myself now. I'm actually quite pleased with how they turned out. Should they come home from today's excursions with rejections, I think they're worth the "til Hell won't have 'em" treatment. (When I finished my week at Viable Paradise in 2006, I swore the VP Graduate's Oath, which is to write, to finish what I write, to submit what I write, to paying markets, until Hell won't have 'em.) There aren't that many places that I know of that A. take reprints B. at flash length, and C. don't mind if their only previous appearance was on Patreon or by other self-publishing means, but I intend to find them all.
What with the traveling and the sick and the playing catch-up and the other, more implacable deadlines, I have not yet released the Fictionette Freebie for August. I intend to do that this weekend. I haven't selected one yet, but it probably won't be "Change'll Do You Good." Because it's only been out a few days, that's why. It would feel silly to have published it only Wednesday and then suddenly revisit it to change its "Who Can See This Post" option. Might as well have just pushed it up full public in the first place.
Look, I don't claim to make logical sense here. I'm not sure I even claim to make sense, period. But this is the sense of it I've got and I'm sticking with it until further notice.
Also scheduled for this weekend: More anti-moth activities. Yay? I finished putting the portion of the office I'd last cleaned back together last week Wednesday--which involved, you might remember, vacuuming every single book and vinegar-rinsing every single item that wasn't made out of paper--just in time to leave for Omaha. My next step will be the brick-and-board bookshelf in the bedroom, which I am now 98% sure houses its own infestation. We've been keeping doors closed so the moths don't migrate, and the bedroom's almost the only place I've seen moths all week. ALMOST. One crossed my path in the office the other day and I just about wept. I'm hoping it stumbled in after taking a tour of the house during a time when the bedroom door was left open. BUT WE'LL SEE.
Wow, that was a long post. Maybe my posts wouldn't be so stupidly long if I blogged more than once a week. More research on the subject is needed.
newsflash: simple isn't, easy ain't
- 3,511 wds. long
OMG there is a PLOT HOLE in my story. This is not a typo; this is an honest-to-goodness LOGIC ERROR. Which was present when the story went out on submission the first time. SHAME.
So... the protagonist is only home because of taking a semester off from college. Also their little brother is in school. Also it is quite hot out BECAUSE IT IS JULY. All right, there are circumstances under which this would not be a plot hole, fine, cool, but I'm not going to try to build one of them into the story because DISTRACTION.
Nobody panic. I can fix this.
But why the crud do I have such trouble with SEASONS and CALENDARS? This is not the first time I've made a goof along those lines. Also why does every single "simple" editing pass turn out to be all complex and stuff? Why can't it ever be easy?
*grumps off back to the keyboard, muttering*