“Aliens enter Writers of the Future, but only earn honorable mentions.”
Greg Beatty

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

doing more by expecting less
Wed 2015-01-21 23:40:43 (single post)
  • 5,300 wds. long

When it comes to Great Big Tasks What I Am Avoiding Like Whoa, less is more. Small goals are less threatening than big goals. And giving big goals a less imposing deadline doesn't make them less scary; it just makes them loom from farther off.

Having big goals like "Make a first pass at a revision this week" or "Finish the revision by the end of the month and submit the story" is great if the aim is to make my stomach churn with acid and my brain churn with self-loathing. It's not so great if the aim is to revise and resubmit that story.

A smaller goal, like "Spent 15 minutes tonight making a list of elements to be retained from the scene to be deleted," is a lot less threatening and therefore a lot more doable.

By a striking coincidence, that's what I did today. I made that list.

But I didn't just make a list. Each list item got some babble about how that element might be repositioned in the new draft. And along the way I wound up reshaping the next scene in the story, putting the key incidents into a new order that made sense as a new home for the elements salvaged from the deleted scene.

Less really is more. When I set smaller goals, I feel freer to stretch a little past those goals. It's much easier to be an overachiever when expectations are human-sized. Also, smaller goals make it easier to just start already, and starting has a way of continuing. It's sort of the same principle whereby "Oh, no big deal, I'll just read through the story real quick" turns into an hour of almost compulsive line edits.

And smaller goals are a kindness. Big goals carry the weight of ultimatum: "Get this done or you're a failure!" "Get this done or you'll miss out!" Ultimatums are not kind--they're a kind of threat. Whereas small goals have kindness built in, and encouragement, and appreciation too--somewhere between "Could you do me a favor?" and "I bet you can do it. Give it a try, OK? For me? I knew you could!"

You can think of it as being gentle with the inner child, or encouraging Creative Brain to come out and play. Or, if that sounds a little too woo to you, you can think of it is "Be nice to yourself, all right? Who else can you count on to be nice to you, if not you?"

In the immortal words of Kurt Vonnegut, "God damn it, you've got to be kind."

So I guess the small goal for tomorrow is... to take a copy of the second scene, reorder it according to today's idea, and then insert the elements from today's list. To be clear: I'm not expecting myself to rewrite the scene. I'm giving myself the purely mechanical task of block-cut-and-pasting paragraphs and then typing up notes in square brackets at the appropriate places.

I'm good at purely mechanical tasks. Purely mechanical tasks are not scary. Tab A into Slot B, fetch and carry, copy and paste. Moving things around. Genius isn't required. Perfection isn't the point. No need to get anything right, just get it done.

But if in the middle of that purely mechanical task I find myself moved to, oh, maybe perform a few line edits here, tidy up some dialog there, well, I'm not going to hold myself back or anything.

go away snow you have made your point
Tue 2014-11-11 23:41:21 (single post)
  • 0 wds. long

It's still snowing. It was snowing yesterday and it's still snowing today. WTF, sky? You have the worst dandruff. It's all freezing cold and it clogs up my windshield. It also clogs up my brain. I watch it out the window and all I want to do is curl up in bed and go back to sleep.

I didn't even want to go out in it at all but apparently I made today MMLocal Pick-Up Day for myself, so off I went. Their Boulder base for share pick-ups this time around is the Avery Tap-House, so at least I got to order a beer while I was there. And also devour the most amazing pork belly small plate.

And now there are 24 jars of various delicious and wholesome things in my house. Two of those jars are only half-full now, because you can count on me to yield to temptation where food is concerned, pretty much every time. The holiday beets and the bread-and-butter zuke pickles were just there, taunting me; they were all, "Oh, too bad you're full from dinner, because we are yummy..." and I was like, "Too right you are! Get in my mouth." So.

Meanwhile I continue to have trouble setting words to page on Iron Wheels. Rewrites and me, right? Gahhh. This is why the word count is now set to 0, rather than 51K and change. Because zero is how many words I have logged on this rewrite.

See, I have four characters in that first scene whose interests/motivations/goals/story-arcs need to be moved or at least hinted at, and I do have good ideas about how to do that, but they are ideas that will be expressed mid-scene. Meanwhile the first words of the scene escape me. I just know that the moment I start writing it, it will all be wrong. Argh.

So my freewriting these last few days has comprised attempts at approaching the story by way of worldbuilding and backstory. Which probably doesn't help, but it lets me feel like I'm doing something worthwhile.

Coming tomorrow: Me effin' well sitting down and doing it. Damn it. Even if the snow does persist in coming down. Which it will.

go team go
Wed 2014-11-05 23:19:15 (single post)
  • 51,730 wds. long

Every day, every work day, presents another face-off between the warring factions of Stuff To Do and Not Enough Time. Yesterday, the latter won, and it was a depressing wipe-out. Today, a decisive victory went to the former. Which is to say: Today I got to prove to myself that, yes, all the different things I have to do can coexist in a single day.

Well, that may be a little optimistic. To be precise: home improvement projects (paint-stripping and sanding closet doors--we're down to the sanding now, folks) coexisted with a well-rounded writing day (morning pages, freewriting, fictionette prep, novel work, Examiner blogging, this-here blogging). And on a Wednesday, too, which is when I record an hour-long reading of employment ads for the Audio Information Network of Colorado. Also there was a not insignificant period of time spent on Puzzle Pirates, mostly during the AINC reading and the paint-stripping.

Notably, my day did not include roller derby practice, and I bowed out of my usual Wednesday night trivia outing. The only "out" I went was to the craft store to reward myself for getting the doors from the paint-stripping stage to the sanding stage. (Aida cloth and DMC embroidery floss. I'm going to finally cross-stitch that "Hurricane Chart, Cajun Style.") Well, and to the restaurant next door for chicken korma and an hour's writing. So. Many things can coexist in a single day, but not, alas, everything. I suppose that's why we gave ourselves seven different days in a week.

About that novel work: I have decided, between yesterday's "we'll see" and today, that I'm constitutionally unable to just sit back and not participate in NaNoWriMo. I don't think I could look myself in the mirror on December 1 if I didn't give November by best novel-writing shot. Besides, I started off this year with the idea that every work day should include some short fiction and some novel work. I might as well try to get back to that.

However, I'm still at a total of zero words. My editor brain knows I'm trying to write a second draft of Iron Wheels rather than a first draft of something new. It won't let me just start typing away. It's got a point; I don't want to repeat the aimless, unstructured journey of the 2013 draft. Since I couldn't bring myself to just blart out rough draft, I instead blarted out thoughts on characters and plot. I especially had some thoughts about Katie's dad and his school board politics, and how these sort of disappeared from the 2013 draft. I'd like to give Mr. Greenbriar a significant role in this draft, maybe bring him face to face with the Faerie Queen and have them argue over who gets Katie. (Spoiler: It's Katie who gets Katie. That's what "growing up" means.)

Maybe tomorrow I'll manage to lay down some "real" words... depending, of course, on which team wins the battle over Thursday. I suspect it's going to be a very close contest.

Yes, I knitted that. And I'm going to wear it.
putting that fictionette in the end zone after the two-minute warning
Fri 2014-10-17 23:04:49 (single post)

I've been running late all day, and I'm beginning to question whether writing can coexist with home improvement projects. And cooking. And having a social life. Also eating and sleeping... Whatever. Here is a Friday Fictionette! If you are a Saints fan, it is just for you. I have not finished all of the uploading procedure just yet, but I've at least put the new creation up on Patreon and the teaser excerpt here. The excerpt is not up on Wattpad just yet, partially because, like I said, I'm late, but mainly because Wattpad itself is currently inaccessible, i.e. "over capacity."

Anyway, I wanted to blog while it was still, y'know, today.

Like the Author's Note says, this fictionette began with the prompt sentence, "A man and a woman arguing over whose fault it was the Saints lost this week." Because Saints fans, like devoted football fans everywhere, have their game day rituals which they invest with disproportionate importance in a "ha ha only serious" kind of way. I do it too. For one thing, I haven't worn my Saints scarf (pictured here) on a single game-viewing outing this season, and it shows. I will not only wear it to Harpo's this Sunday, but also to our Sunday morning trail skate. We'll see if it works.

The raw timed writing session output sounded like I was just making fun of my poor characters. I hope that the revision portrays them in a fonder light. I also wanted to make it clearer that this is a world where fans' actions really can affect the outcome of the game. The only question is, which actions? Which game day rituals work, and which are placebos? There's a lot of room in the gray areas for my characters to argue.

Anyway, there it is. The excerpt and cover art notes will hit the Patreon activity stream shortly. Have a great weekend, y'all! WHO DAT!

look i have some yummy cheese for you
Tue 2014-10-07 23:03:41 (single post)
  • 5,300 wds. long

This week my major task is to revise "Caroline's Wake" so that I can resubmit it. Today, I have made a start.

Now, me and revisions typically don't get along. Not like me and first drafts do. First drafts are great! They're fun. They involve discovery and imagination and "what if...?" and "Oh, I know!" and a lot of happy babbling until THE END. Importantly, there is no pressure. Pressure is on vacation during the first draft. But it comes back to the office when it's time to revise. Oh, hi there, pressure! Welcome back! Wait, what? What are you saying? Now I have to get it right?

And then I run away.

Really, I do. For me, the first step in any revision process is a period of avoidance behavior fueled by pure terror. The second step is sidling up to the project and cautiously, carefully opening the file. The third step is crucial: I have to fool my terrified Rodent Brain into thinking "I'm not revising yet, so I'm safe." Only once I've successfully lured Rodent Brain out from hiding can I actually start the revision. Lately that means importing the critiqued draft into the story's Scrivener file then manually typing in all the critique notes. This is a mechanical enough process to assuage Rodent Brain's fears, but because it involves a close reading of the draft and the notes, it jump starts Perfectionist Brain. And once Perfectionist Brain gets started, whoa. You just get out of her way, because she's coming through and there ain't nothing gonna stop her.

This time around, the critter notes were in MS Word's "Track Changes" and "Comments" features. If you import such a document into Scrivener, all the margin comments become inline comments. That's fine; I just convert all inline comments to linked comments. There's a command for that. What's less convenient is that all the tracked changes turn into plain text. Additions aren't highlighted, and deletions are quietly reinserted as though never deleted at all. Thus I was obliged to pull up the MS Word and Scrivener documents side-by-side, find each tracked deletion or addition in the one, and manually strike it out or mark it as an inline annotation on the other.

You might think this frustrating, disappointing, or annoying. Maybe a combination of all three? You would be wrong! As it turns out, this was ideal for my purposes. It forced a word-by-word, line-by line rereading that engaged Perfectionist Brain so hard that I couldn't stop thinking about the story for the rest of the night.

No joke. I was at roller derby practice doing Hundred Lap Hell, and I could barely keep count because Perfectionist Brain was trying to figure out how to reincorporate this or that deleted bit without bogging down the pacing. And that, Best Beloved, is why Fleur de Beast was so slow to finish clockwise quarter-century numero uno. She kept count on her fingers, and she kept forgetting to flip the digit as she crossed the pivot line because maybe the conversation from the first scene can be held in real time rather than in flashback, maybe have Demi drift off to a window where she can stare out at the snow and try to ignore all the people, didn't an early draft start out that way?

So. I was going somewhere with this. I was going to start by describing all the fear and avoidance, the trail of cheese crumbs that lures Rodent Brain out into the open where Perfectionist Brain can pounce, and then I was going to defend all that emotional mess as being entirely reasonable in this profession. Only I've run long enough as it is. Tell you what--let's place a metaphorical thumb right here on the metaphorical page and maybe pick up tomorrow where we left off today. Sound good? Excellent. See you then.

this is the good thing, which is also the terrifying thing
Wed 2014-10-01 23:22:30 (single post)
  • 5,975 wds. long

So I promised "more of that stuff" today, where the stuff under discussion was "happy and hopeful" news. And I got some of that for y'all. But I did less with it today than I wanted to, and that tends to be a drag on the "hopeful" part of the equation.

Let me backtrack and explain.

Remember how I said "Caroline's Wake" sent me a very encouraging postcard from its current slush pile? And then I said it was going to be revised per editorial request? Well, the editor in question didn't just request a revision--the editor in question sent me a detailed critique with copious notes and restructuring suggestions. I am all a-squee! When the editor of a market you'd adore to get published in chooses to spend that much time helping you get a story right, you darn well say thank you and get to work.

Except I am also a creature of terror and avoidance, and I am having my usual reaction to story critiques. Which is to say: "Oh, dear Gods, someone wants to tell me what they think about my story--run away and hide!" And also the one that goes, "O crap, I thought I got the story right, but it's not right, and it will never be right, because if I so much as touch it I'm sure that I'll break it--"

Well, I never denied that I was irrationally insecure.

I have been spending today, and will spend the remainder of this week, trying to quell those neurotic voices in my head so that I can hear myself think. And also trying to drown out those voices by repeating to myself, "The editor thought this story worth spending time on. The editor believes in this story. This story is worth it." And also working up the courage to take those edits in my two clenched fists and use them to revise the heck out of this story, because that's what's got to happen before y'all can read it.

Sometimes I'm a total mess, y'all. I'll own it. But I'm a mess in constant progress. Onward and upward, then.

story production engines firing on all four cylinders
Wed 2014-09-17 23:13:42 (single post)
  • 3,380 wds. long

I finished the exploratory draft of the new story today. It's still got no title, but that's OK. That'll come during revision. More troubling is that it clocks in at 3,380 words. That's more than double the cut-off called for in the submission guidelines. It's even more than double what the draft was at yesterday, when I figured I was about halfway through.

Such an occasion calls for introspection, or at least evaluation. Which is to say: Can this really be cut down to 1,400 words?

The part of my brain arguing for YES points out that there is, as I observed yesterday, a lot of cruft to be culled. Several things get said over and over again and also redundantly, and many things get said that need not be said at all. For instance: It is less important to remark on Rosalind's Sunday exception to her morning routine of reading the entire newspaper, back to front, than it is to mention that she no longer bothers reading the obituaries. It is less important (for the sake of the story, anyway) to voice Elaine's disapproval of the labels "homeless" or "transient," given her permanent residence under a particular tree in the park, than it is to capture the voice of her tree asking her to be its new dryad.

The theory that YES-brain espouses is this: Now that I've met all the characters in this story and gotten to know their backgrounds, I'm well equipped to trim their surrounding exposition down to those few phrases that best crystallize who they are and what's at stake for them.

NO-brain is more pessimistic, as you might expect. There's too much going on here, says NO-brain. This story needs at least 2,500 words for the reader to have any clue what's going on. Don't sell your characters short!

On the other hand, NO-brain is also bringing some optimism to the table. It points out that as easily as this story idea arose from my freewriting sessions, just as easily might another that's more apt for the submissions call. YES-brain concedes the point, but counters that, this being the case, there's no harm in making the revision attempt here. I've made such good progress while still nearly two weeks to deadline remain, that there will be time to pan for more gold in my Daily Idea .scrivx should this story remain stubbornly above the maximum word count. And then I'll have two brand new stories to shop around!

What strikes me here is how very natural it was to go from "The deadline's imminent and I've absolutely nothing to send!" to "Well, what came out of my timed writing sessions lately?" That didn't used to happen as readily. But now that I've begun the Friday Fictionettes offerings, it's happening every week at the very least. Every Friday, I'm looking at the past week's scribblings and deciding which of them I'll polish up, stick some cover art on, and upload to my creation stream during the corresponding week of the following month. It only makes sense that this mental process would fire up in response to the need for new story material in additional contexts.

This was one of my sneaky self-improvement goals with Friday Fictionettes. The headliner goals were, firstly, to get more of my stuff out where y'all could read it, and more frequently; and, secondly, to potentially earn a little spare change doing so. But behind the scenes I was also hoping to see some improvement in my larger Story Production Process. I wanted to get in some regular practice making that transition from "just a wisp of an idea that I'm noodling on" to "fully fledged and publishable story." I wanted to see that process go more smoothly and happen more often.

With the current story, I'm seeing evidence that this is happening. And I'm delighted.

rewriting my relationship with deadlines starts now
Mon 2014-09-15 23:08:39 (single post)
  • 0 wds. long
  • 4,400 wds. long

Until about 2 PM today I was under the impression that the deadline on submissions to An Alphabet of Embers, edited by the most excellent Rose Lemberg, was September 15. That is, today. Which misconception gave me two specific thoughts:

First, that it was a darn good thing I'd begun holding myself to a freewriting session every day, and not just every workday. I added it to my HabitRPG dailies and everything. So Saturday, grumbling but dutiful, I did it. For a writing prompt, I recalled a moment earlier in the day when a feather had floated past the window and I'd thought, "What if that was only the first?" Like, what if, just behind that feather, at any moment, there would come a huge cloud of feathers, like ten down pillows' worth, just billowing along from east to west. Why would that be? What would cause a sudden explosion of feathers, and what effect would it have on the neighborhood? So that's what I wrote about for 25 minutes.

As I drifted off to sleep Saturday night, the results of that timed session came back to me and started to sound a lot like a possible story.

Second, I thought that it was also a good thing I'd taken today off from the farm. There was a good chance I'd wake up this morning in Colorado Springs, having spent Sunday afternoon in the Pikes Peak Derby Dames' Cutthroat Derby Tournament, a four-team, three-bout mix-up. Even if we did drive home Sunday night, I anticipated being absolutely wiped and needing to recover. (And yes, indeed, I did.) Which also meant I'd have all today to write this brand-new story and send it along.

But then I checked the call for submissions and saw that the deadline was indeed September 30. And that gave me a couple of thoughts:

First: "Hooray! That means I don't have to work on it today." Monday isn't typically a writing day, see. (Although it is now a freewriting day. Which I did without grumbling.)

Second: "Looks like I'll be postponing 'Hook' until this thing is done, then. Yay! I mean... Darn."

So now I get a chance to work on this whole "relationship with deadlines" thing. Remember that bookmark? The one that says, "It got better from here"? This week I got to make good on that.


a little light comedy with your fictionette
Fri 2014-09-12 23:14:13 (single post)

Another Friday, another fictionette. Read it in its entirety or, if you're not quite ready to chuck a buck at it, read an excerpt on Wattpad or right here.

Despite the aforementioned difficulties, I think I'm getting better at this. Which is to say, getting all the fictionette things revised, posted, and settled still took longer than it should have (I seriously need to simplify the system), but it was my content writing gigs and not my freewriting or my short story revision that paid the price for it. Priorities! I might possibly have a few.

And for a story-like object that had me in fits all week, it didn't turn out all that bad.

Favorite place this week to revise stories: Over a huge steaming bowl of pho at the neighborhood restaurant. I'm told there are better pho restaurants in Boulder, but this is the one I can walk to, and I think it's yummy. The artwork on the walls is kind of creepy, though.

Least favorite place this week to revise stories: On the BV bus, heading from Boulder to Denver, and realizing that the person sitting next to me is actively and unabashedly reading my work in progress over my shoulder. That is in blatant contradiction of public transportation etiquette, y'all. Don't do that shit.

Not counting for the purpose of Amtrak departures and arrivals, I hadn't been down to LoDo in ages. The occasion for this trip was having heard that the Sklar Brothers would be performing at Comedy Works in Larimer Square this weekend, and thinking, "Why not?" So I went. And they were pretty darn funny, so I was glad I did. The opening acts weren't too bad, either. Stand-up comedy can be a bit of a minefield for me, as exemplified by Jackie Kashian's pin-pointedly accurate summary of the jokes that male comedians tell about their wives. When I'm listening to the comedy channel on the radio, and I hear a comedian start in on his wife, or how it was censorship when a venue wouldn't let him use his favorite ethnic/gender/ableist slur, or how violence against women can be perfectly justified, amiright guys, that's my cue to change the channel for a while, because they ain't going nowhere good from there.

I'm happy to report that tonight's show didn't go there. It occasionally went to places from which you could see it, and once or twice it brought out a copy of the map and pointed to key landmarks, but it didn't actually go there, you know? So I left reasonably happy.

Before I left, I randomly ran into a derby skater in the crowd. Well, I assumed she was a skater. She could have been a fan. Anyway, she had on a High City Derby Divas hoodie, so I said hello. I introduced myself by skate name and league and I asked her whether she'd be at the Pikes Peak Derby Dames mix-up on Sunday. I may have been a bit too enthusiastic. I didn't actually say "OMG YOU'RE DERBY I'M DERBY TOO IT'S A SMALL DAMN DERBY WORLD ISN'T IT DERBYYYYYY!!!!!" but mmmmaybe I came across that way? The interaction went all unexpectedly awkward. At least I had enough self-restraint to keep it short.

For a few hours before and a few hours after the show, I worked on the aforementioned Friday Fictionette stuff over at Leela's European Cafe. They're on 15th between Champa and Stout, they're open 24 hours, they have wifi and comfy seating and a nice variety of music, and they serve really tasty hot chocolate. Also beer and cocktails. Heck with coworking--I want to spend my working day at Leela's. Well, sometimes, anyway. Their late night crowd is really interesting.

In conclusion: I should go down to Denver more. There's enjoyable stuff down there.

but fridays are supposed to be not quite ready for prime time
Wed 2014-09-10 22:33:03 (single post)

It's only my second week into this project, but I'm already running into difficulties with Friday Fictionettes. They aren't insurmountable, nor are they unforeseen, but they sure are noticeable. And prompt!

The obvious one is the temptation to spend my entire working day on them. And, well, that might be reasonable if I had oodles of patrons pledging me gob-tons of money. For gob-tons of money I would happily treat Friday Fictionettes like my entire day job. As things stand, however, they are merely one of a number of regular writing tasks on my daily agenda.

To keep them in their place, I've been allotting them only one half-hour per day. Friday's the exception. Friday, all bets are off. (Friday I'm in love! Wait.) Since they gotta go up on Friday, they get to take up all the Friday they need to get publishable. But every other day of the week, they get one pom, one 25-minute session on the timer plus another five to wrap things up.

The other difficulty is related to the first. It's why I find it so tempting to spend all day on them. I'm not spending hours and hours fiddling with the craptastic cover art. No, it's the text itself that's giving me trouble. This week especially I am convinced that the piece I chose for Friday's offering simply sucks.

Yes, I know. I'm doing a fantastic job of selling my product here. "If you pledge me a buck per month, you get to read some really sucky writing!" OK, OK, it's not that bad. But I'm not as fond of this one. When I wrote it back in August, spinning off of four random words from one of Gabriela Pereira's CTC29 prompts, it started off vague, ran off in a non-promising direction, then, by the end of the timed writing session, found itself in the opposite direction from which it was going. And in the process of cleaning it up this week I've discovered a third development that wasn't there last month, and that is not compatible with either of the first two story ideas. So I'm spending my daily half hour in serious revisions.

And the whole point is that these fictionettes are supposed to be raw. Not so raw as to be terrible, not Draft Zero raw--they should definitely be presentable--but they're supposed to be a glimpse at the writer's daily process. They're supposed to resemble the practice from which they sprung. That's why, when I select the fictionette for next month's Week 2, I limit my choices to those timed writing sessions produced within this month's Week 2. If I don't like any of them, tough. Friday Fictionettes are about what happened when I showed up on the page.

That this fictionette isn't quite ready for prime time is supposed to be a feature, is what I'm saying.

Still, every morning that I look at it, it keeps failing the test of "Would I be embarrassed if people read this?" So I keep revising it. What's the worst that can happen? I might wind up with something that's actually good. Something I'll regret not submitting to a professional market. But that's OK. That's the other whole point of this exercise: Story ideas aren't so precious that I can't give a few away. Another one will be coming along tomorrow, after all.

At least this one's craptastic cover art is already finished.

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