inasmuch as it concerns Spit and Polish:
Contortions performed upon that endless search for perfection.
story solutions, unexpected uptime, and tempation
- 2,784 wds. long
Hello from the new Metropolitan Lounge at Chicago Union Station! My first time there since the renovation. It is an elegant two-story monstrosity accessible from the Great Hall or from the west side of Canal Street or from the stairs inside the main west-side Canal Street entrance. Stowing luggage is now self-service in a big closet to the right of the Great Hall check-in desk. Showers are available. There's a self-serve espresso machine and chilled sparkling water on tap. Round 12:30, they say, they bring out a cheese and veggie tray, though I will probably not be here for that since I've got a lunch date with a high school friend. (Obviously not the same high school friend I had lunch with in Covington.) The furniture is comfy and upholstered. There are AC outlets everywhere. There are also TVs everywhere, but I was able to find an upstairs corner where the ambient music is louder than the ambient news anchors, so that's OK.
So I've been thinking about my problems with "Stand By for Your Assignment" and I think I've figured them out. By which I mean, I think I have the right diagnosis and the first steps to a solution. Here it is: I'm trying to fit too much story into too few words. This is why I'm having so much trouble on a sentence-by-sentence and paragraph-by-paragraph level--I'm trying to make each syntactical unit convey too much information. Therefore, the solution is this: More scenes. A longer story.
I was working on it last night on the train. Which is to say, I was thinking about it really hard while trying to fall asleep. I'm afraid I let the unexpected wi-fi distract me. And why not? Since when has wi-fi been available on train 58/59? Or on any cross country train at all, really? Aside from the Coast Starlight, that is--and that one is no longer listed on the official wi-fi page, anyway (wait, it is still mentioned on the route schedule brochure as available in business class service). Certainly I've never seen it advertised on the City of New Orleans (though, as this forum post points out, it's offered officially on the Illini and the Saluki, which are essentially the same route but only between Chicago and Carbonale, IL). I suppose it's in a pilot phase. All I know is, as part of the usual feature orientation speech and greeting, the sleeping car attendant said, "In just a moment I'll have the wi-fi gateway set up and I'll post the network information near the water station at the top of the stairs," and my jaw dropped and continued hanging open right until he was done speaking.
It worked pretty well! There were a small handful of places where I was connected but with no internet, about the same as if I were connected to my husband's smartphone wi-fi hotspot and we hit a dead zone, but outside of that, the signal was effortlessly reliable. Only real outage was just after the power cycle in Memphis round about 11:00 PM; that SSID simply fell off the list of available networks and didn't reappear until sometime after I went to sleep. It was up and working perfectly when I got up at 7:00 AM, though, and remained so right into Chicago Union Station. So I was able to do all the wi-fi things, like update my submissions log, research manuscript submission possibilities (see? I was doing virtuous writing-related things online!), catch up on some blog community conversations, check in with my roller derby league via Facebook, all those things. Tried playing a little on splix.io and Puzzle Pirates, but I kept getting disconnected from the server. I guess even very simple live multiplayer games are beyond that little hotspot's capabilities. But for web pages and email, and even playing video off Facebook (a leaguemate had posted a few minutes from last night's Lindsey Stirling concert at Red Rocks, very nice to listen to during final hour of the trip), it was just fine.
Can't count on wifi on the train to Denver, though--not only is it, again, not officially listed among the promised amenities, but there's a lot of dead spots along that route, big ones. So that even if they do provide a hotspot, it will be of only limited use. Hence blogging now rather than later.
Anyway, more scenes. My plan is to reread the current draft of "Stand By..." and note wherever things get cluttered and awkward, or wherever I've tried to provide more flashback or exposition than comfortably fits into that point in the narrative. I'll experiment with making them full-blown scenes in their own right. (Possibly the story will be restructured to alternate between scenes set now and scenes set in Dolores's past, but I'm not wed to that idea yet.) Additional scenes will not only make things less clunky, I hope, but will also give the story room to better develop the necessary tension. Better pacing, in other words.
With several of my completed stories, I can point to a moment during the revision process where I restructured the narrative and everything came unstuck like magic. I am hoping I just reached that moment with this story. Only hindsight will be able to say.
OK. I swear this evening I will not just think about it but also TYPE about it. Even if there is wi-fi. I will be good! I will be a hard-working little writer person! I will make words appear on the screen! Promise!
this fictionette registered late for grad school
OK, so, I'm not sending "Late Registration" anywhere tonight. It needs more than a quick once-over in order for me to feel happy with it out there bearing my by-line. But! I did finally post the Friday Ficitonette for August 12. Revel in it! It's called "Dr. Green Ascends to the Nether World" and that is not a typo. It's about BEING A SCIENTIST even when that means breaking through barbed wire fences and climbing sheer cliffsides to FIGURE SHIT OUT.
Here's the thing I never count on when I say "I'll be able to get so much done Saturday afternoon!" Getting sick. It starts with post nasal drip and that itchy, raw spot high up at the back of the throat, and next think I know I'm in bed, sniffling and miserable, and then I'm in the bathroom pawing through the medicine supplies and saying things like "I don't care if the doctor says it'll raise my blood pressure--pseudoephedrine is necessary for me to function. What do you mean I only have five more of the 4-hour tablets left? And how did we wind up with an odd number? We better not have dropped one on the floor. This stuff is gold." Sudafed is a modern day miracle. It makes the difference between 1. flat in bed wishing for unconsciousness, and 2. upright at the desk getting things done.
But the things I get done are still only getting done slowly. And not with a heck of a lot of concentration. So after I got the Fictionette up today--which took most of the day because I couldn't wrangle enough concentration to work straight through it (and also because I took a brief walk to the drug store to get more pseudoephedrine, the 12-hour kind this time)--I kept getting distracted by stuff rather than moving on to the short story. Besides, I really doubt I'd have any better chance of getting it ready had I started at 6 PM as opposed to 10 PM.
My initial thought was, "It's an anthology that pays only token rates. I can send it something from the college file. I mean, I'll need to polish off the obvious infelicities and maybe update some references, give the main character a cell phone, that kind of thing..." Then I settled down to work on it, and I had a second thought. "I don't care how little the market pays. It's going to have my name on it! It had better be perfect." And, well, maybe perfect is the wrong word, but... I have standards. And it was going to take more than just a handful of hours to bring this old story up to those standards.
On the other hand, hearing about the anthology did get me to dig this story up and reread it. And, having read it, I've decided I really do want to rehabilitate it and get it into the submissions cycle. It's a good little story. It's got characters I'd like to reacquaint myself with. I mean, hell, back in the day I had the idea of doing a series of related stories starring these characters. It's good to be reminded of these old goals that once fell by the wayside. I can pick them back up, brush the dust off, and breathe a little life back into them.
So even though I didn't end up submitting to the anthology I had in mind, a great deal of good came out of considering submitting to it. Neat.
if it was good enough for 20-yr-old me maybe 40-yr-old me should be cautious
The Friday Fictionette for August 12 will be coming out later on in the weekend because Aarrgh. That isn't an OMG ALL THE THINGS "aarrgh." That's a self-disgusted "aarrgh" which acknowledges personal responsibility in terms of an ongoing trend of badness which is in my personal power to fix but somehow I still haven't fixed. Aarrgh.
So instead what I've got to blog about is being in the preliminary stages of resurrecting a college-era short story for possible submission to a paying market today, nearly 20 years later.
Among writers, a perennial topic of discussion is "What do you do with your old/'trunked' manuscripts?" Opinions seem to range from "BURN THEM ALL" to "Dig them up occasionally to see how far you've come and maybe laugh." I do not often see the viewpoint "Consider submitting them for publication today" represented, and no wonder. 20-year-old me had a great facility with words and ideas, and she wrote things that impressed her peers and sometimes editors, but she did not have the same standards as 40-year-old me. She had a tendency to show off her witty dialogue skills and her overly clever metaphors. And she was, more or less, despite the 2 in the tens digit, a teenager.
I have a lot of sympathy for teenage me, but I think it would say something unflattering about my current maturity level (such as it is) if some of my teenage memories didn't embarrass me. I mean, for example: I'm a huge fan of the rock band Rush today. I was a raging fanatic about Rush when I was in high school and college. One difference being, I have more reservations and less uncompromising enthusiasm these days about some of their lyrics. Thinking about "Cinderella Man" from the A Farewell to Kings album (1977), only because that's the song that got stuck in my head the other day:
Because he was human, because he had goodness
Because he was moral, they called him insane
Teenage me waved that lyric like a battle flag. Present-day me winces a little and thinks it sounds like something you'd read in the diary of a teenager who thought they were the first person to discover moral intergrity. (Both of me cringed a little at the unfortunate phrase "had goodness," for whatever that's worth.)
So there's an element of that sort of combination of lack of life experience and fervent intensity in my early writing. Some of it makes me flinch. Still, I'd want teenage me to be proud of present-day me, or at least not be disappointed by what she has or has not become. I stand by a heck of a lot of what teenage me wanted and needed in terms of, yes, moral integrity and justice. ("Hang on to your plans / Try as they might they cannot steal your dreams") I just think that maybe present-day me might be able to express adjacent concerns with more nuance, less willful blindness to complexities, more acknowledgment of other points of view.
In the case of "Late Registration," the writing problems are less about that, thank goodness, and more about the "Look at ME!" school of writing. So it may be possible to have something worth submitting on Monday after a relatively quick revision pass.
It was surprisingly hard to find the story. I have a record in my personal database of submitting it to two places in 1997 and '98. The first was Mind's Eye Fiction, one of the earliest venues for online short fiction. They preferred submissions to be as close to web-ready as possible, with a break indicated between the first part of the story which could be read for free and the second part which would be for paid accounts only. I must have had a master manuscript document, undoubtedly in Word Perfect for DOS 5.2 format, but all I could find on my hard drive at present was the HTML version I prepared for submission to Mind's Eye.
So that's what I imported into Scrivener and am using as a basis to type up a new version, lightly edited, that is acceptable to present-day me.
and sleep but not too much at all is really all i want
- 2,684 wds. long
I think I have managed to do all the things.
The car has received needed maintenance. My back has received needed maintenance. I have completed all of this week's fictionette that couldn't be done on the drive or in the hotel, which means finishing the text, recording the audio, and rough-assembling the cover art. That just leaves the mechanical assembly of the PDF, and the publishing of the ebook and audio posts to Patreon. I have even managed a good hour on "Stand By"--I will call it a "good" hour, despite that the hour didn't quite see me finished typing in edits to the first scene.
I've packed my clothes and my bout uniform. I've washed my wheels and bearings. I've reassembled the kneepads that I washed yesterday. I made a start on the AINC reading. All the plants that need to be have been moved to the front patio so a friend can come over and water them midway through the week. Several containers, watering plants, for use of, have been filled and staged.
I've picked up healthy snacks for nibbling in the car. We'll pick up a little more on the way. I've emptied the ice maker tray into another container in the freezer so that the ice maker tray will fill up again, so we can have more ice in the ice chest when we leave. I've mapped our route so I can print out key elements--from our home to our teammate's address for carpool pick-up, from Boulder to Salt Lake, all permutations of hotel to/from friend's house to/from bout venue. (Sorry, still no smart phone for me. I navigated by homemade TripTiks. Remember when TripTiks were customized flip books you picked up from your local AAA office? Now apparently TripTik is a web application.)
What's left? Finishing and uploading my AINC reading. Finishing and uploading this blog post. Reassembling my skate wheels and bearings once everything's dry.
Oh, and sleep. Can't forget that.
stick a fork in it and call it entertainment
- 2,631 wds. long
There's a point with any piece of writing when you have to just declare it done and send it out into the world. There are a number of ways to recognize when you've come to that point. For instance, author and writing instructor Jim Macdonald reminds us that your story is done "at the point where you're putting in a comma in the morning and taking it out again in the afternoon." But there are other symptoms that may present. The telling symptom in the case of "Stand By for Your Assignment" is... Well, it doesn't package well into a single sentence. Tell you what, I'll start a new paragraph and try to describe it there.
Today it occurred to me that it's been a couple weeks since I hit the story last--weeks in which I really didn't get a lot done, what with lack of sleep and too much upper back tension and also brain weasels. But for whatever reason, I didn't recall where precisely I'd left off with the edits. I had a vague memory of hitting the last page, though, so I figured I'd more or less finished the previous iteration and might begin a new one.
That's the main symptom I'm recognizing here. "Iterations." The idea that being done with revisions means starting revisions over again. It's not a key symptom in and of itself; stories can often benefit from multiple passes. But there needs to be a purpose to the new pass. I'm afraid that right now my purpose was to look for, or, if necessary, manufacture evidence that the story needs more revision.
Now, I think the story really did need more revision. When I printed out and read through, I encountered a bunch of lumpy bits, awkward passages, top-heavy paragraphs, and missed opportunities. These things do need fixing.
But after this pass, after the next few afternoons spent implementing the edits suggested by the marginalia I scrawled today, I think we're going to have to call it done and submit the sucker. It still won't be perfect, but it never is. Perfection isn't a feasible destination; it's just the direction in which you aim yourself. And hopefully each story I write will wind up farther along that vector before I decide it's as done as it's gonna be and I send it out to meet the nice editors.
On the bright side, I did get a revision session in today. After several weeks of not touching the story at all, that's huge. That's a victory, and I'm going to celebrate it. I may celebrate it by going to bed early, mind you, that may be all the celebration I'm up for tonight after a hard roller derby practice in 90-degree weather, OK, but I will celebrate.
but what about four mile creek is that wet too
There's this thing about writing that I keep having to learn, and relearn, and relearn, then learn again every time the precise context changes. It's like having to be told "the swimming pool is wet," and "the rain is wet," and "the water in the bathtub is also wet," because I never seem to mentally graduate to the point where I can just assume that all water is wet. It's really kind of annoying.
In any case, the lesson is this: The final draft doesn't come first.
I got a new story idea over the weekend, a really charming one, a sort of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret coming-of-age story that takes place in something like the world described by The Shadow over Innsmouth, centering on the friendship between the human protagonist and one of the (for want of a better term) Deep Ones. I got very excited about this idea--it kept me up late, watching phrases and images and scenes cobble themselves together on the insides of my eyelids.
Then I went to write some of it down for the next day's freewriting session... and it wouldn't come. Just couldn't get started. Typed a couple words. Erased them. Stared at the screen (which was infinitely less inspiring than the insides of my eyelids). Wrote and erased another word. It was like that Monty Python "Novel Writing" skit: "I am sorry to interrupt you there, Dennis, but he's crossed it out. Thomas Hardy here on the first day of his new novel has crossed out the only word he has written so far, and he is gazing off into space." It's all true!
I had to deliberately, consciously give myself permission to get it wrong before I could unfreeze and get any of it written. And by "any of it" I mean a paragraph here, a slice of dialog there, disjointed bits and pieces of what I remembered coming up with the night before. But once I started jotting down those pieces, more pieces just kept coming.
The final draft cannot come first.
Today I struggled to put in my daily half hour of work on this week's fictionette for exactly the same reason. The situation was, perhaps, exacerbated by having (theoretically) already gotten the bits-and-pieces draft done during a freewriting session a month ago; this week is when I'm supposed to take that draft and polish it into perfection. But in between the bits-and-pieces draft and final draft comes something else, something more coherent than the one but necessarily rougher than the other. A second draft, maybe? Or even a first draft, since the bits-and-pieces draft isn't so much a draft at all. More like notes toward a draft, really.
So, again, nothing happened until I let myself just start writing the story down as it occurred to me, rough and unstructured as it was. Any story element I knew needed to go in there was fair game. Type them up in no particular order, just the order in which they come to mind. And, magically, structure appeared as I went, sometimes in the form of square-bracket notes telling me to "[Move the bit about Bob's plans for the evening here]" or "[Put Lenny's bit about 'work-life balance' here.]" Then continuing on as normal, confident that I could come back and perform the prescribed edits easily, now that I actually had text on the page to edit.
The final draft cannot be expected to come first.
And then there was this blog post here. I had no idea what I was going to write. I stared at the blank page (uninspiring as ever) while thoughts chased each other around in my head like fish in a bucket, all of them too small to keep. Finally I just started typing up notes about my day. Prosaic, mundane, boring notes about a boring day. Who wants to hear about my day?
Nevertheless, one of those notes...
discovered that it's ok if the fictionette isn't getting written up in perfect final draft form today. it's ok to babble a little. helped me figure out some structure that way.
...turned into what you're reading now.
The final draft, I learned (relearned), doesn't come first, can't come first, can't be expected to come first. No, not even for a blog post. This water is wet too.
I think I will write "All water is wet" on an index card and tape it to the bathroom mirror, and I'll also tape on to the shelf above my desk. Maybe then I'll stop expecting the final draft to appear on a blank page like, I dunno, Aphrodite rising fully formed out of the sea foam, ever. It doesn't happen stop expecting it to happen stop tormenting and freezing yourself with the expectation that it happen. All water is wet. Understand?
everything is a metaphor for writing, ask any writer, they'll tell you
- 2,506 wds. long
Like I said, normal life. Which means there isn't much to report. Writing got done in quantity, as did other things.
Finally got a chance to read through the comments on "Stand By..." from my new critique partner. Her critique did what a critique ought--showed me my story through the eyes of someone who isn't the author. This is critically (ha!) important, whether it's simple details that aren't as obvious to the reader as I thought, or more complex things like the last couple sentences of a paragraph that made no sense to anyone who doesn't live inside my head. (Frankly, those particular sentences didn't make much sense to the only person who does live inside my head. At least, not until I'd reread the whole paragraph several times.)
I reread the submission guidelines for a market I was thinking of submitting to before its May 31 deadline. Good thing, too. Little details like "We will not read stories longer than 1,100 words" can change your entire submission strategy! Well. What have I got that's under 1,100 words? Seems like I used to have more drabbles and flash fiction, but seems like I've also been expanding a bunch of my flash fiction into full-length short stories of late. Hm.
On the non-writing front, I played in the dirt today. My compost bin is full, full, full and its contents, despite all being far enough along in the process that they smell more or less like soil, are still decidedly mixed. I turned it out onto a tarp and began screening it, using a bit of plastic mesh scavenged from a discard pile at a nearby construction site. (I am absolutely sure it was discarded. The long snake of straw-inside-mesh-tube was no longer pegged into the ground along deliberate lines, but was bunched up in a pile at the curb. There were holes in it where the straw was spilling out. It was trash and I repurposed it.) Anyway, anything that passed through the mesh went into buckets for soil/compost mix, probably to be screened through a finer sieve and then pasteurized in the oven depending on how meticulous I'm feeling. Anything that didn't (corn cobs, bones, egg shells, wads of leaf mulch, last year's dried squash vines) went back in the bin to decompose some more. I got about halfway through the original contents of the bin, and I'm feeling very accomplished about it.
I am also feeling a little sunburned. I should remember to wear a hat the next time I wind up standing on the back porch for any amount of PM time. That sun was fierce.
There is probably a metaphor or parallel to be drawn between sifting compost and revising a short story, but I am not feeling motivated enough to investigate.
transplanting tomatoes and exposition
All the things. All the writing things! Every single last one of them, and scrimmage too.
And also gardening! Look, look, I put plants in the dirt. Here are the lovely tomatoes that my teammate gave me, and there's a bunch of arugala seedlings that will hopefully do more than just fall over, and there's also some sunflower starts which it is my fervent desire that the neighborhood squirrel not discover until they less resemble something you find at a salad bar. Since there is no bird feeder out there this year, there has been no squirrel-attracting mess of seeds on the patio floor. So maybe we are no longer on the squirrel's habitual commute. Who knows? I have one more peat pot of sunflower seedings still indoors, just in case.
For today's short story revision session, I finally wrote that phone call that needs to happen during the office scene, the bit where the protagonist is hard at work and her older sister calls her up with a job interview opportunity that the protagonist doesn't want, we have talked about this before, did I ask you to find me job interviews, I don't think so. I thought this might be an opportunity to move some exposition out of the narration, where it was boring, and into the dialog, where it would feel more natural. But as it turns out, not so much. Turns out, the protagonist told her sister, "I am not going to explain this to you again." Which meant she wasn't going to explain things again, not even for the sake of the reader. Drat. Hopefully the thing I wanted to explain will be understood well enough with the hints I was able to include. Hopefully I can get a few eyeballs on it this weekend to tell me whether it worked.
Tomorrow I get to rewrite the board of directors meeting. Or the budget meeting. Or the shareholder meeting? That's the thing. The story as it currently stands can't seem to figure out whether the protagonist works at a non-profit or a shareholder-owned corporation, and whether it's got a board of directors or not, and whether the boss man gets called "the director" or "the CEO" or "the president." Gah. These distinctions are not things I am usually interested in, people! Why do I have to be interested in them now?
starting to look like a solid trend
- 1,039 wds. long
Two good days in a row! Progress on all the things. Prepared one of the Fictionette Artifacts to be mailed on Friday (with very clever illustrations on page 2, if I do say so myself) and did another solid revision session on "Stand By for Your Assignment."
Here's the thing about a good day: It takes doing. There are things I have to do to make sure they happen. Thing is, between John and myself, it's pretty much understood that I've got some form of mild (undiagnosed) depression weaseling around in my brain, whence comes (among other things) the occasional inability to get out of bed until external forces intervene. So I've got certain self-care strategies to deal with that:
- John gets to poke and prod and harass me until I am up, feet on the floor, and productively puttering about the house. (External forces!)
- By the time he leaves for work, that 20 minutes or so of upright-and-puttering helps ensure I'm fully awake and not tempted to go back to bed.
- I may not feel like writing. But I know that doing that first task will make me feel accomplished and proud, which emotional lift will carry me into the rest of the morning shift. So get to that first writing task!
- After my first task, I take a walk or otherwise small bit of exercise outside. Exercise and sunlight are known things that help ward off the funks.
But the problem with that last bullet point is, too much exercise in the sun leaves me feeling like I got walloped in the can-do. So today almost bottomed out when my bike ride up to The Diaz Farm for eggs and tasty sourdough took out all my get-up-and-go. But! I've got the evening off from roller derby--the Bombshells got a much-needed rest after all our efforts at the tournament--so enough time remained to restart the day in the afternoon and damn well get stuff done.
OK, yes, in order to convince myself to work on the short story revision, I had to do the hot-bath-and-glass-of-wine trick. But hey! I got work done on the revision, and I got a relaxing soak in the tub with a glass of wine. Win-win!
Tomorrow:A good, full writing day and Thursday scrimmage! Can it be done? YES IT CAN, my friends. Yes, it can.
a good time was had by all the story-like objects
OK! So. We got Friday Fictionette catch-up and short story revision. We got a good day.
The Fictionette Freebie for April, as it turns out, is "Reviving the Legends." (Click for the full text as HTML as a page on this blog or a post on Patreon, as a PDF ebook, or as an MP3 read and recorded by me. I am all about providing options.) I have some trepidations about releasing this fictionette into the wild, though. Generally I am very good about cover art; either it's my own photography, or it's something released under a Creative Commons Attribution license and I attribute like woah. In this case, I'm afraid, I was less than punctilious. So. Featured at right is a possible alternate cover art model. His name is Velvet. He is ready to step in should his services be required.
Bonus fact about me you didn't really need but that I will tell you anyway: My brain is a free-association jukebox. ("Gee, Fleur, tell us something we didn't know," says my entire roller derby league.) The whole time I was converting "Reviving the Legends" from Patron-only to Freebie, I had Neil Diamond's song "Suriving the Life" stuck in my head on infinite loop. Eventually I gave in and just queued up the Beautiful Morn album and sang along very loudly.
Anyhoo. Short story revision! Got "Stand By for Your Assignment" to a place where I could print it out again and consider it as a whole. This draft was spent removing all the things I wasn't 100% sure it needed, so that I could front load the creepy bits rather than the exposition. The next draft will be spent putting some of what I cut back in, but with intention. Like painting over the painting-so-far with a thin wash of Protagonist's Family, stuff like that. I'll start on that tomorrow.
Meanwhile, I seem to have just joined a local critique group. Maybe. They're having their initial meeting this Saturday, just to see if it's going to work, and I'm going to bring "Stand By" or another of the short stories I'm editing to it, see what they think about it. For those of y'all who are my Local Writer Friends who are women and are interested, this is the "Small Circle Women Writers" on Meetup.com, located in/around Longmont. It's public in the sense that any woman can apply, but it's private in the sense that applications must be approved by the organizer.
Anyway, I'm excited about going, and a little nervous, and also I am feeling the pressure of Short Story Revision MUST Be Done By Saturday!!! Which, ultimately is a good thing. A little fire under my butt is useful for cooking up fiction.