“[L]ife is a good thing for a writer. It's where we get our raw material, for a start. We quite like to stop and watch it.”
Neil Gaiman

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

watching the time as it passes in tomato-sized chunks
Tue 2018-03-06 17:41:41 (single post)

4thewords.com has made a huge difference in my productivity as far as word count goes, but I seem to have let it diminish my productivity in terms of time. Measuring my writing in terms of monster battles is not of universal utility. It's amazing how I can log two successful monster battles a day of babble-draft on the current Friday Fictionette and still not have a coherent story ready on time. Meanwhile, if I don't pay attention to time spent on writing tasks and, more to the point, time spent getting around to the next writing task, it's very easy to look back on the day and wonder where all the hours went.

So I've begun using the Pomodoro technique again. And that's making a huge difference in my productivity. Holding myself to four 25-minute sessions separated by breaks of no more than five minutes means I get a lot of work done in two hours. And since two hours isn't such a large percentage of the day, I have plenty of day left after those two hours to deal with household stuff, catch up on email and other communications, cook and eat and clean up after a meal, maybe play some quick video games, and still put in another two-hour writing shift after that.

When last I used this technique with any consistency, I used the app Productivity Challenge Timer. But its toxic attitude really wore me down, not to mention its extremely male-centric design. Eventually I stopped using it. I used Focus Booster instead, but the version I had installed was clunky, and upgrading meant either paying money or limiting myself to twenty "poms" a week. That's less than helpful when I'm trying to get up to eight a day five days a week. So I needed to find a new timer program.

I found Tide.

Tide is very simple. It shows you a peaceful image (it chooses them at random) and plays peaceful sounds (you choose by swiping between the five options) during your work session. At the end of your work session, it flips directly into break mode. At the end of your break, you hit the START button to do it again. After four work sessions, it gives you a long break. All times are adjustable. It has some other features about keeping track of your progress and letting your share it on social media, but I haven't been interested enough to mess with them. I'm mainly here for the session timing. The gentle sights and sounds are a pleasing bonus and a huge improvement over Productivity Challenge Timer's calling me a lazy slob, demoting me for insisting on a reasonable weekly schedule, and asserting that Male Is Default.

(To be fair, screenshots of PCT's latest version appear to indicate that the Man Doing Science in the Projects screen is now a Woman Doing Science. This means PCT currently has at least one non-male illustration of Humans Being Productive. Its attitude, however, has not improved.)

So there we go--one concrete action toward getting all the things done. So far, so good--in addition to doing my daily gottas, I actually spent some time today on a fiction revision and got this blog post done before roller derby practice. I get to play video games tonight! ...if I have any energy left for staying upright after derby, that is. Good luck me!

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

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

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

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

So. Writing? Yes.

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

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

So I did a little.

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

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

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

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

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.

hahahahah thursday you are not the boss of me I am the boss of you
Thu 2017-10-19 17:06:21 (single post)
  • 731 wds. long

So I did pick another fictionette to revise today and eventually submit for reprint/podcasting: "What Dreams May Hatch." The original draft of this piece happened when a daily writing prompt said to rewrite a fairy tale or nursery rhyme in the voice of another author, and I picked Humpty Dumpty and Peter S. Beagle. The released fictionette went a bit beyond that, though, and the results of today's revision crystallized things further still. I may tweak it a bit more before I submit, but for the most part I'm happy with how it reads now.

It is, by the way, another of the Fictionette Freebies, the one for September 2014. It seems to be a trend. I'm not doing it on purpose! I'm just searching my database for all manuscripts of a certain length that also count as a reprints. For some reason I've lit on these two. I suppose it's not really a coincidence; I tend to release as freebies whichever of the month's fictionette I'm most pleased with at the time. It's not surprising those would be the ones that sit up and go "Pick me! Pick me! The editors would love me!"

Anyway--two good workdays in a row, how'd that happen? Maybe that painfully introspective post on Tuesday helped me focus. I mean, it's never safe to say, "I'm totally over this unidentified mental dysfunction that keeps me from getting work done," and who knows what tomorrow will look like, but it can't not help to examine the process and get a better sense of what works and what doesn't. One thing that works is to make concrete and clear decisions about the day's schedule early on. Decisions like, "I will start my morning shift at 10," or "I will get to work on that flash-fiction revision at 2." I didn't actually get started at 10 and 2... but knowing I'd intended to, I kept myself within half an hour of the targets.

On that note (and because I'm still always justifying things), the morning pages are a great place to work out those decisions. If I get nothing else out of them, I get a great opportunity, first thing upon waking up, to plan my day. In excruciating detail. Sometimes it backfires and I get so intimidated by having made all these Great Monumental Plans that I immediately run away. But if the plans are more like Moderately Decent and Feasible Plans, then I'm less likely to flee.

Look at that. It's not even 5:00 PM yet. I don't leave for scrimmage until 5:30 (first whistle isn't until 7:00, but when you carpool with a coach you carpool early). It's a great feeling to go to scrimmage knowing that I have no work waiting for me at home because I already did it and I can just play. Or read! Or go to bed early. Whatever I like! I may be a little giddy and energetic tonight, knowing that.

some old fictionettes may be ready for their close-ups
Wed 2017-10-18 22:52:04 (single post)

Oh, hooray. Today went much better. Stuck to my routine for the morning, did the various things over a long lunch break, and got back to work in time to have a decent afternoon shift of revising short fiction before it was time to go play. (My flaggies and I on the Cerulean Ocean did a Kraken Hunt. I brought home my very first Kraken Egg! Go me.)

(If you are not familiar with Puzzle Pirates, that probably won't make much sense. Just smile and nod.)

Anyway. Short fiction! I'm getting busy with it. I've become aware recently of a bunch of podcasts newly open to submissions of short-short fiction, and they're cool with reprints.

For instance, there's Toasted Cake, that most elegant and yummy podcast by Tina Connolly. She ran a story or two every week from December 2011 to May 2016 or thereabouts. (One of them was mine, by the by. I have multiple reasons to think fondly of Toasted Cake.) Then, after 150 episodes, she had to stop for a while. But now she's back! She's accepting submissions during this month right here, October 2017, and in the meantime she's running a weekly episode now through the end of the school year.

So I'm working on a batch of three stories to send. For a moment, I thought, "What do I have? What do I possibly have? I don't think I have anything much at all..." Then I thought, Hmm, 650-1000 words. Reprints OK. Doesn't that sound like something I've been doing every week since August 2014?

So it's happening. I knew it would someday. Turns out "someday" is today. I've begun dipping into the Friday Fictionette archives for possible submissions material. The first candidate is "Out of Sight, Out of Mind," the Friday Fictionette for October 10, 2014--and, incidentally, that month's Fictionette Freebie, so if it should end up being podcast or otherwise published in the wide, wide world, you'll be able to compare and contrast the original with the new version even if you're not a Patron.

Because I did spend a good part of this afternoon revising it. Fictionettes aren't rough draft when they go up on Patreon, but they are rough. I think I'm happy with it now. It lost some 50-75 words along the way, and it gained maybe 25 words that were much better for the purpose. I think the result is tighter and more sparkly.

Now to get two more short pieces ready to go. Hopefully I'll be able to get right on that tomorrow.

Yes, it is a stout.
just a minite ago it was last week where did the time go
Mon 2017-10-16 23:14:39 (single post)

I saw this great tweet this morning about how A NEW EVIL ARISES but it is MONDAY so EVIL HAS A HARD TIME GETTING OUT OF BED. It was funnier in the original, but the paraphrase will do. This goes double for the first Monday back from a week of productive and mildly adventurous out-of-town introverting.

The challenge is always to continue in ordinary life the good work practices I found room to practice during my getaway. There is less room in ordinary life for good work practices. Ordinary life has household bills and cleaning and other chores and also a 4:45 appointment and my shift on the monthly roller derby training calendar at 6:30. But I am happy to say I rose to the challenge. If I did not get to revisions on "White Noise" before having to leave the house at 4:20 PM, that's probably because I took the time to mildly polish up "The Blackbird Is Involved in What I Know" before sending it out to a pro-paying literary magazine. Can't complain.

The remainder of my mountain adventures were quiet but rewarding, and they were as follows:

Saturday morning I set my alarm so I could be at Taquería No Se Hagan Bolas right at menudo o'clock. Word is they make the best menudo for miles around, but you have to be there early, because once they run out, it's gone. So I got there shortly after they opened and, yea, I acquired menudo.

There's this one Yelp reviewer who docked them a star (thus giving them only 4 out of a possible 5) precisely because they run out of menudo by noon "while customers continue to request it all afternoon. How about making a 2nd pot?" I wondered whether this reviewer also docks stars off great donut shops because they, too, run out of product by noon. My friend, this meal is not something you just whip up another pot of if you're running low. To give y'all an idea--and this will sound delicious to fans of bone stock, and gross to everyone else--after my leftovers had cooled in the fridge (maybe 10 ounces left of the initial huge portion; a good menudo is too rich for me to finish in one sitting), they were no longer liquid but rather gelatinous, indicating thorough integration of the collagen from the bones used to make the stock. That takes hours to achieve--this article suggests overnight.

Anyway, it was delicious and I got to eat it two mornings in a row and I am docking that reviewer a star for unreasonable expectations.

Saturday afternoon I took a trip into Edwards to visit the Bookworm on the Riverwalk. After that, I went back across the river to spend some quality beer-and-Puzzle-Pirates time at Crazy Mountain Brewery. Pictured above is my favorite of the beers I tried there--and I tried the whole flight, even the IPAs and ESBs I knew I wouldn't care for. The winner is a stout. I know it doesn't look like one. They warn you it doesn't look like one. But, hell, if you can have black IPAs (when the P stands for "pale"), why not a golden stout? It was delicious.

Sunday morning I checked out of the resort. My original plan was to hang around to watch the Saints game at Bob's Place. Then I thought, I'm going to have an ice chest with things inside that should stay cold, I should just get that stuff home and put it in the fridge. Also I expect the traffic heading east on I-70 on a Sunday afternoon is worse after 2:30 than it is before 10:00. So instead I set my alarm a little earlier and got out of town by 9:00, got home by 11:30, unpacked the car, refrigerated the ice chest's contents, and headed over to the 28th Street Tavern.

This turned out to be the right choice. The bar wasn't too crowded, I had a great view of the game and a place to plug in my laptop, and John, whom I hadn't seen all week and whom I missed dearly, was able to join me midway through the third quarter about the time that things got really entertaining.

The Saints won. I'm not really sure what else to say. It was a very weird game.

So that was the rest of my Avon weekend and the beginning of my reintegration into ordinary life. Hi.

i come by this all-worn-out business honestly
Fri 2017-10-13 00:03:32 (single post)
  • 3,339 wds. long
  • 649 wds. long

Wooooo I am exhausted. It's late and I'm squinty-tired and bruised. So this will be short. Here's the teal deer version: I DID ALL THE THINGS AND DERBY TOO. And also solid playtime on my computer over beer and pizza after derby. I made a very good day happen and I am pleased.

The longer version, which is not very long:

  • I sent "It's For You" back out into the slush. Go, little story, go! Wow your readers! Go!
  • I reacquainted myself with the novel in progress and had a new worldbuilding factor occur to me while I did so.
  • I revised and fleshed out what had been a rather weak backstory for the short-short "White Noise." 700-word short-shorts don't typically need a lot of backstory on the page, but having it worked out satisfactorily made approaching the rewrite a lot easier. I drew up a new outline incorporating what I now know, and I hope the actual rewrite will go smoothly.
  • This in addition to the getting the cluster of daily gottas done by 1:00 PM.
  • This, as I said, in addition to roller derby scrimmage with 10th Mountain.
  • Also the currywurst was as delicious as advertised.

And now, that blogged, I go collapse. G'night!

in which a tedious writing exercise becomes inconveniently interesting
Thu 2017-08-31 22:48:21 (single post)
  • 1,136 wds. long

The long blog silence is testimony to the truth of the adage "After derby is too late." Not a universal adage, admittedly, but a fairly reliable one in my little universe. So today I'm blogging before derby. Just before. Instantaneously before. I'm in fact sitting at the folding table in the Officials' Corner at our practice location, and I have until they arrive and need to actually use this table to get this blog post done. Go me!

(I think I will be able to manage posting it after derby. There is no wifi at our practice location unless I beg use of someone's smartphone uplink. And smartphones notoriously fail to get signal in our practice location.)

I found a little time earlier this week to play around with interactive fiction. In Melissa Ford's book Writing Interactive Fiction, I had just got to the Designing Agency section--it's pretty early on in the book, I'm not moving through it particularly quickly--and worked through the Beanstalk exercise. The exercise has, to my thinking, two purposes: It gives you more practice using Twine to give the reader/protagonist choices, and it focuses your attention on whether those choices are meaningful. If they aren't, the interactive fiction isn't.

The exercise was to write a sort of Jack and the Beanstalk... sequel? Alternate plot? Basically, the giant is threatening to come down the beanstalk and STEAL YOUR SISTER. Oh noes! The first scene must end with two options, and each of two ensuing scenes must end with two options, which means there will be four possible endings.

I was not enthusiastic about this.

(Oh, crap, it's 6:30 already. I have to go put my skates on. I will finish this after derby! I will!)

(And now it is 10:00 PM. I'm a little more bruised and a lot more tired than I was when I left off. Now... where did I leave off? Oh. Right.)

I was not enthusiastic about this. I had absolutely no desire to rewrite Jack and the Beanstalk, much less in four permutations. But that was my assignment, so, darn it, I was doing it.

Forty-five minutes and 1,500 words later, I had done it and it wasn't so bad. Having no love for damsel in distress storylines, I had worked every branch toward the revelation that Jack's little sister had become a soldier competent to lead an army. The reader's choices would determine where she and Jack stood as siblings. In one, they were teammates working together to defeat the giant. In another, they were enemies, traitor and betrayed, and Jack wound up exiled for his sins.

It was all very silly, but it still managed to capture my interest by the end of it. That night, on my way to sleep, I couldn't stop thinking about ways to expand the story into something actually worth reading. I could foreshadow the little sister's development into a warrior princess, for instance. I could tell how she'd practiced swordfighting and climbed every tree in sight so she could grow up as fierce and strong and brave as her adored big brother. I could note the foolishness of Jack treating the giant like a personal problem when in fact his little farm was part of a great big nation which the giant might rightfully be seen as invading. And what about the harp? Did she resent Jack for having stolen her during his earlier foray? Did she miss living up in the clouds? Was she the medium by which the giant delivered his threat?

And so on, and so forth. And what's ridiculous about it is, it's probably not going to be commercially viable no matter how well I revise and expand it. The entire premise is from an exercise in a well-known (I think?) book on the subject, which other aspiring interactive fiction authors have no doubt already worked through themselves, and there aren't that many markets for interactive fiction at this time. So I really shouldn't let myself obsess over it, at least not until I've got a bunch of other projects out of my hair. Like, say, the short-short I want to expand into an interactive piece that actually is commercially viable. Hey, brain, maybe we should obsess on that story, and not on this one, what do you say?

Darn it, Muse! You are so inconvenient!


Lastly, some quick fictionette news: The freebie for August 2017 has been released. It's "Tina, Destroyer of Worlds," and you can now read/download it as an ebook, an audiobook, or as a webpage via Patreon regardless of your patron status. Also I finally put the Fictionette Artifacts for April in the mail. I hope not to take so long with the ones for May. If I take a whole month to do each one, I'll always be three months behind, and that would be depressing.

Cover art incorporates pubilc domain photograph via Pixabay.com and clever use of opacity gradients if I do say so myself.
this fictionette is good practice and also not to blame
Fri 2017-08-11 23:53:55 (single post)
  • 1,013 wds. long

Good evening! It is Friday; here is a Fictionette. "How Grief Transforms You" (ebook, audiobook) juxtaposes a bereft parent, obnoxious gossipy neighbors, and a mysterious phenomenon causing nightly havoc in the forest. It went more or less according to schedule, so it was not the reason I didn't go to the yoga class I was contemplating. That choice is better attributed to how very attractive the idea of a night spent at home was. Introvert, remember? Yeah. So, maybe next week with the yoga.

The Friday Fictionette project is having an unexpected beneficial effect. It's giving me a lot of practice at turning concept into outline into draft. I often have to start the week by writing an outline just because the base text--a freewriting exercise from the previous month--is such a rambling, incoherent mess. This is good. Because you know where else I need to be able to turn concept into outline and then outline into draft? Novel writing.

I have all these novel notes from last year that haven't get been turned into manuscript because, frankly, I'm kind of terrified of commitment. A scrivener document full of brainstorming, worldbuilding, and vague notes toward plot is a thing full of joyous potential. But writing the manuscript means making choices, committing to certain possibilities and rejecting others. It means closing doors and hemming myself in. (It also means writing a shitty first draft, which sucks because it means that the first time I read this novel it will be a shitty first draft. It's an unavoidable step in the process but I really wish it wasn't.)

So practicing this concept to outline to draft conversion in the short form every week will theoretically help make it No Big Deal when it's time to do it in the long form for a novel. Hooray for practice!

On the other hand, I hope to produce fewer rambling, incoherent messes going forward, as I'm trying to hold my freewriting sessions to the beginning-middle-end standard that I mentioned the other day. That way I can skip the outline phase entirely, or, at the very least, have already done the outline phase by the time I sit down to turn the piece into a Friday Fictionette.

This morning's freewriting, by the way, produced the first draft of the next story in what I'm calling the Posthuman Just So Stories series. (cf.) This one involves a faithful dog and a prankster rabbit. It possibly wears on its sleeve the influence of my frequently rereading Watership Down. On revision that factor will either become less noticeable or will look more like I did it on purpose all artful-like an' stuff.

projects proliferate perversely
Thu 2017-08-10 23:08:36 (single post)

So I was scanning my list of favorite fiction markets, and it turns out Daily Science Fiction 1. only accepts pieces up to 1500 words long, disqualifying several pieces I'm looking to submit, but 2. does accept pieces as short as 100 words. Yay, drabble market! And it also turns out that they will consider flash-fiction series, which is to say, three or more short-shorts relating to a common theme. And I thought, "Perfect! I have this series of drabbles about talking animals in a post-human world. I'll send three of those!"

And I also thought, "They might need a little sprucing up before they go. But it shouldn't take long."

So. Turns out, wrong on two counts.

Count the first: I don't actually have three unpublished. I only have three, period, and SpeckLit took one of them. Not complaining about that, mind you. But it means I only have two unpublished, so I shall have to write another. Cool. Needn't be a drabble, either.

Count the second: In fact, probably best that it not be a drabble. Because the other two? Are not, currently, stories. They are not shaped like stories, not even as basic as the one in "Priesthood Has Its Privileges." They're more like... portraits. So I'm going to have to expand them.

That's what I spent this afternoon doing, when I really wanted to be diving into the whole Twine/Interactive Fiction thing.

And even then I'm not done. Because, even expanded, both of them have basically the same story: Animals muse upon the forgotten past, then the focus widens to reveal that, Lo! Humankind is extinct; humankind is the forgotten past. Look, variations on a theme require variation. More than just "This one's about pandas and that one's about a gull and a sea lion."

Why do things have to be so complicated?

*brb bemoaning the shortage of hours in the day*