inasmuch as it concerns Spit and Polish:
Contortions performed upon that endless search for perfection.
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.
in which the author has temporary favorites among her progeny
- 2,266 wds. long
- 2,691 wds. long
Today's topic is The Short Story Development Queue Workflow, also known as "I said I'd work on the new story, but there was this other story screaming for attention..."
This is also about the unintended consequences of holding myself to a daily half-hour Submissions Procedures session.
It's very simple. During Tuesday's session, I decided which market I wanted to submit a story to next. That's usually the only real question. The question of which story is typically very easy to determine. I look at which stories have been submitted before and are A) still not published, and B) not currently in somebody's slush pile. I pick the one of these that is C) the best fit for the market, and I submit it.
The problem is when the story that satisfies all three requirements also D) needs a lot of work before it gets submitted anywhere new. This is what I figured out during Wednesday's session.
So, "Stand By for Your Assignment" last went out to visit with the editors of the late, lamented Crossed Genres Magazine for their themed issue, "Anticipation." Themed issues come with submission deadlines; submission deadlines inevitably correlate with me finishing things in a big goddamn hurry and, as a result, probably sending them a smidge before they're really ready for prime time.
Which is to say, despite having seen the inside of a slush pile before, this story needs a lot of work before it may be allowed to see the inside of another one.
And I'm not talking about a line-level edit. No. Although that's one of the things it needs. No, what it also needs is cohesiveness of theme. It's got two elements in it that could work really well together: the female protagonist is bearing up under the double-barreled assault of familial expectations and corporate microagressions, and she is undergoing increasingly frequent experiences of a disturbing nature that may be hallucinations or may be genuine invasions of her world by the weird. But the story as it stands doesn't actually tie them together. They're just both in there, the latter as plot and the former as background. And in narrative, as in science, correlation does not equal causation. Narrative can go a long way on correlation alone, but in this story, I think, not far enough. So I need to rearrange some things to make them work together deliberately rather than by accident. And then there are the line-by-line infelicities that need to be cleared up...
And that's why, during today's Submissions Proceedures and Fiction Development sessions, I didn't do my assigned homework (the one about Ellen and the man who was a tree). It's because I did other homework (beginning to revise "Stand By..."). I hope I get credit for the other homework, at least.
In other news! That vaguely parental-like guilt that a writer might feel, where all the attention you spend on one of your "babies" is attention you're not spending on the other "baby" and oh my Gods I am a bad "mother" because I am failing to love all my "babies" equally...? Yeah, that's a thing.
plonkdectomy and depurpling
- 1,792 wds. long
Today all I have to report is that yes, I did manage to submit "Down Wind" to the market with the January 15 deadline on its current submission window. I have done little else of use today, but, darn it, I did that.
It's weird. While there were still some three weeks to go, my thoughts on that story were along the lines of "it sucks it sucks there's too much to fix I can't fix it all I can't even begin to fix it" and I had to calm myself down. But this week, with the deadline looming, I caught myself thinking, "You know, it doesn't actually need that much work. It just needs a once-over and a read-aloud."
The truth was somewhere in between. It took me only about an hour today to finish it up, but the edits weren't all just sentence-sounds-better tweaks. Some edits were ruthless deletions because that sentence isn't adding anything to the story, and that other one is just a rehash of something that's already made clear here. On the print-out, there's a big slash-mark over half a paragraph in the first scene, with a note in the margin saying "Angst! Woe! Cut." One has to trust that the angst and woe will come across without the author plonking the reader on the head with an angst-and-woe stick.
Now I have to figure out what to do next. I have ever so many ideas for new stories from doing my daily freewriting--but I also have a few more stories to dig out of revision hell. We'll see which project successfully auditions for my attention next week.
And over the weekend... all the things I didn't do this week (ahem ahem late fictionette). That's the plan, anyway. Without something big like a roller derby bout to beat me up on Saturday, I should have no problems, right? All I've got is six hours of practice on Sunday. No big deal, right? Riiiiiight.
the fragility of afternoon writing time
- 1,904 wds. long
I've finally realized: On roller derby evenings, my afternoon shift is really fragile. Yesterday I lost it because of a sudden attack of the sleepies that, honestly, I should have just pushed through--writing, like skating, makes me feel better, if only I can exert myself to beat the inertia. Today? Doctor's appointment. Which always takes longer than expected on both sides of the scheduled appointment time, especially if you're chasing down a prescription and some equipment afterwards that turn out to be out of stock. So then you go make groceries instead. And then it's already 4:00 and you planned to leave for derby at 5:30 and you really, really need some downtime in between...
The doctor's appointment was interesting. Seems around this time last year, out of seemingly nowhere, I started exhibiting freakishly high blood pressure on a consistent basis. Like, Stage 2 Hypertension high. I kept hoping it was just a hiccup and things would return to normal, but after Tuesday morning's dentist appointment got me a reading of something-or-other over 104, I made an appointment to discuss it with a doctor.
The long and the short of it is, I'm going to have to start taking blood pressure medication at the ripe old age of 39. Seriously. Despite my exceedingly active, moderate-drinking, non-smoking lifestyle, my perfectly acceptable blood cholesterol and thyroid numbers, and goodness knows I've never really had cause to worry about my weight despite what the BMI says ("Top 10 Reasons Why the BMI Is Bogus," NPR.org)--well, just goes to show, you can do most everything right and still draw an unlucky lottery ticket. But that's a lesson I should already have learned from my experience with leukemia at age 11, right?
But there's a silver lining here! When I mentioned "self-diagnosed Raynuad's Disease" to the doctor (and we discussed that a little bit, like how often does it happen, how severe is it, etc.), she brightened up and said, "One of the blood pressure medications I could prescribe you also happen to treat Raynaud's! What do you think?" I think it's a low priority, but if it's that easy to roll the two issues into a single solution, hey, let's do it. I could sure do with fewer 7-finger days in the winter, that's for sure.
Anyway, after some deep conversation with the doctor, an EKG reading (also perfectly normal), instructions to make an appointment for an echocardiogram just to make sure, I left the doctor's office at about 2:45 and pointed my car toward my usual pharmacy. Only to find the medication wasn't actually in stock yet--"Come back tomorrow after 1:00 PM"--and neither was an automatic arm-band style blood pressure monitor of an approved brand--"You might just have to try the Safeways and the Walgreens and that"--and so I lost another 45 minutes of afternoon shift to futile attempts to run these doctor's-orders errands. And then, like I said, I went to the grocery.
I'm glad I decided to rest and eat dinner rather than work and snack, though, because roller derby practice consisted of a special clinic led by a D1-level skater and then a scrimmage that beat us all up some good. Also last night's squat workout came back to haunt me. I'm sore and tired and this hot bath with epsom salts plus optional beer is really awesome.
Again, I'll get a little bit of work in on the short story. Just not the two hours I wanted to log. Last night, after posting to the blog, I spent about a half hour just reading through it--which means I didn't just read through it, but instead tweaked sentences here and there. Weird thing about my revision avoidance issues: if I can only convince myself to open up the manuscript and "just start reading," I'll find myself unable to resist doing at least a little revision. So tonight I suppose I'll pick up where I left off.
And tomorrow I have nowhere to be in the evening, except maybe in a holiday party on Puzzle Pirates.