“Times of great failure or times of great success, the problem is the same (how do you keep going?) and the solution is the same: You write the next thing.”
Neil Gaiman

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

the demons of doubt are multilingual
Tue 2014-07-22 23:26:53 (single post)
  • 6,883 wds. long

In terms of story revision, today was solid. The read-through edit on the draft in progress finally reached the point where I'd left off drafting before, and I feel a lot more able to finish the draft. Mainly I'm trying to get that last phone call right, along with Ashley's reaction to it. Also, I know a lot more about this story's peculiar apocalypse than I did when I wrote previous drafts. Full sized short stories are different from flash. In a 566-word short-short that's focused more on relationship dynamics than actual worldbuilding, I can get away with not really knowing why the sidewalks melted. In a 5,000-word short story that's focused very specifically on the main characters' roles in the Snowpocalypse, I kind of have to know what those roles are.

I still need to work on the timing. There's no good reason why the last scene needs to take place two days after the scene before it. Again, there's just no leeway for a lull in the action after the OMG moment.

So. One of the thoughts from yesterday's blog post stuck with me. The one about how there are few greater joys than increasing your competence in an activity you love, but how the photo-negative image of that joy is the creeping existential dread that you'll never excel at the activity you love after all. And how the intensities of both the joy and the fear are directly proportional to how much you enjoy or even identify with that activity.

Yesterday I was rambling on about that fear and that joy with regards to roller derby. But this is not primarily a roller derby blog. This is a writing blog. I am a writer. Roller derby may have taken over my life, but writing is my life.

Oddly, that paired joy and fear do not play as blatant a role in my relationship with writing.

I think it's because writing is a lot more... nebulous? Intangible? ...than roller derby is. I can observe with certainty my ability to skate backwards or to positionally block from a sideways stance, and compare my current ability to do these things with my ability last year or the year before. Observing my own improvement in writing is a less sure thing. While I can say that this year I'm sitting down to the keyboard more often, finishing more stories, and making more sales, I can only take it as an item of faith that what comes out of my keyboard when I do sit down is better now than it was in the past. And it's not so much the religious tenet sort of faith as it is the mathematical axiom sort. A + A = 2A. More writing + more reading = better writing.

(No, more sales doesn't necessarily mean better writing. More sales has a lot more to do with submitting more stories more often and to more markets. The axis of saleability is on a separate graph from the axis of quality. Besides, editors aren't just looking for well-written and interesting but also "a good fit with our publication," which you can drive yourself mad trying to plot on a chart.)

So I don't experience so much the joy of watching my skills improve, as I do the satisfaction of watching myself get serious about this "I want to be a writer when I grow up!" thing, treat writing like my day job, and go to work every scheduled workday.

As for the fear/dread/doubt question... no, I don't find myself doubting that I can do this writing thing. Writing is one of those things that I know I can do well. I've proved it to myself over the years. It isn't something like a physical sport where I fight with my body's agility, strength, and reaction time. It's more like... oh, like singing. It's something that to some extent comes naturally to me, something that I've done all my life and have witnessed myself do well at. I've received enough positive feedback on it to be confident I'm not deluding myself here. But unlike singing, writing isn't subject to sudden attacks of stage fright or forgetting the tune/words/harmony/etc. It's not a performance. It's more like architecture. You don't let anyone into the house until you're pretty sure the walls and roof are solid. (And you try not to take it personally if someone notices a windowsill is sagging.)

So, no, it's not my ability to do writing well that I find myself doubting. No. Weirdly, what I angst over is whether I will do it.

Doesn't that sound silly? To be afraid of something that I have total control over preventing from happening? It's as silly as being afraid of the dark while having my hand on the light switch.

And yet that's the shape of my doubt. I fear failing myself. If writing is my life (hyperbole, but a useful one), my fear is getting to the end of that life without having written (and published) the stories I lived to write.

Which I suppose makes my regular workday writing schedule a way of keeping that fear at bay. It's a way of reassuring myself that I've done what I can, today, to prevent an unhappy ending to my story.

That's all I can reasonably ask of myself: That I do, indeed, go to work every scheduled work day. That I don't stand afraid in the dark when I have the power to turn on the light.

Today, I turned on that light.

Tomorrow, I intend to install a brighter light bulb.

a drabble where you can read it; also, revising away some story problems
Fri 2014-07-18 00:20:24 (single post)

I'm pleased to announce that as of today you can read my drabble, "Priesthood Has Its Privileges," on SpeckLit. The other drabble that SpeckLit acquired will appear on the site in September, so stay tuned for that announcement then.

A drabble is a work of fiction that is exactly 100 words long. They are compact and easy to digest, a nutritious part of your daily breakfast. Bookmark SpeckLit to add a new drabble to your diet every other day.

I'm less than pleased to announce that today I was... not as respectful, shall we say, as one should be, of the sharpness of the edge of the scissors blade I was cleaning off. The result is merely a flesh-wound, but there is nothing "merely" about that when it's across your index fingertip and you're trying to type. You ever heard a typo referred to as a "fat finger" incident? Bandaged fingertips are literal fat fingers, hitting two keys where one will do and generally wrecking one's wpms.

Thankfully, this flesh-wound came after a solid session of story revision today. It was solid not only as measured by the formula "butt + chair x time," but also from the standpoint of story problems solved, or at least brought closer to solved. To wit:

1) Raise the stakes. The story has an "OMG shit just got real" moment about halfway through, but I think the draft my friends read suffered from a bit of stall-out after that. The narrator gets home from encountering the "OMG" moment--and almost immediately forgets about it, or at least stops mentioning it, while she listens to some voice mail from her chatty and insufficiently worried friend. So with this revision I'm trying to keep the tension high by correcting both of those oversights. If I've done my job right, I've corrected them both in a single edit to do with what's in the phone message and how the narrator reacts to it.

Wow. That paragraph is a great example of why talking about writing is sometimes not the greatest idea. Trying to discuss a particular edit in generalities rather than specific detail results in hella confusion cum circumlocution. Well, I'm-a leave it up there, let it fend for itself, 'cause I know what I mean, and one day, publishers willing and the markets don't flop, you will too.

2) Everyone's got a story. There is a character in this story more talked about than talking, and it finally occurred to me I have to give him something to do. He's away in a ski resort with the chatty friend, which is to say, they're in what's basically a fancy hotel suite. I visualize it as a kitchen/living room, a bedroom, and a bathroom. That's it. Yet the chatty friend manages to leave our narrator phone messages that this other character in the room is not overhearing. How did I solve that problem in recent drafts? Well, apparently I had him taking a lot of naps. This... is not ideal. He is not meant to be the Amazing Hibernating Man. So with this draft I tried to figure out, well, what does he do while they're in the resort? Especially considering the special role he plays in the development of the plot? And how can I then reveal what he's doing such that it lays groundwork for later revelations?

So now he spends a lot of time sitting on the balcony out in the snow, oblivious to the cold, staring out into the storm. Which doesn't sound like much of an improvement, but in my head there is a reason. I just have to figure out how to make that reason more clear.

This blog post has been brought to you by a somewhat out of date bottle of New-Skin (R) Antiseptic Liquid Bandage. Protects small cuts without all that bandaged fingertip awkwardness! I think I'll go put on a second coat now. And buy a new, not-out-of-date bottle tomorrow.

revision versus avoidance behaviors; also karaoke and a surprise DNS outage
Thu 2014-07-10 23:59:59 (single post)
  • 6,515 wds. long

Tonight I'm writing this from Hurricane's Sports Bar in Metairie, on Vets not far from Bonnabel. My brother tends bar most nights there, so hanging out at the bar means hanging out with him, which is nice. Hurricane's is on Facebook. You may like them if you're so inclined. I quite like them myself, and not just because my brother likes to cover my beers.

It took me a minute to figure out what their event schedule for the weekend was, because rather than hosting an itemized calendar or using FB's event pages interface, they simply take a photo of their calendar and make it their cover image. Once I figured that out, I saw that Thursdays were "Rock the Mic: Live Band Karaoke," and I thought, huh, that's different, and also I like karaoke. I should go. And so I did. And it was joyous. They had one of my standby tunes in their list, and they played it, and I sang it, and they sang backup, and a good time was had by all. It was unlike any karaoke experience I have ever had, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Rock the Mic is also on Facebook, and you may like them if you are so inclined. I like them.

This afternoon I took my short story revision time to the CC's coffee house on Vets at Division. (I had unearthed a decade-old gift card for use there. Alas, its balance turned out to be zero.) I am trying to be virtuous despite being "on vacation," so I am continuing to push my dogged way through the lumps in the draft-in-progress. There are, however, moments when I ask myself, am I actually doing a revision here, or am I just pushing prepositions around in a bid to avoid finishing the damn thing? This is a thing we are sometimes prone to: getting stuck in the mid-book or halfway through a story, and going back to the beginning and endlessly tweaking rather than pushing through the stuckness. I worry that I'm doing that...

...right up until my slow pass through the draft brings me a perfect opportunity to plant a little foreshadowing, based on something I just figured out about how the story needs to end. Then I stop worrying, because obviously revision is getting done here.

Up with foreshadowing! Down with worrying! I like giving myself reasons to stop worrying.

And now, a deep sigh for the frailties of internet. The internet went down at the bar, so I ran along home to upload this, but the internet was down there too, and also for my parents' desktop computer. "DNS server cannot be reached." Ain't no amount of rebooting the router going to fix it when Cox Cable appears to have DNS trouble. I really need to commit some alternate DNS addresses to memory for times like this.

(Oddly, popping in Google's DNS addresses didn't help, nor did it hurt the next morning when service had resumed. I wonder if yet something else was going on. Cox is not saying.)

In any case, this post won't get uploaded until Friday, but it will be backdated for Thursday, just to be confusing. Also I shall be restoring my HabitRPG streaks because I did all the things, I just couldn't click on all the things. Phooey.

from the slim and hypothetical wedge of wifi between trains
Tue 2014-07-08 14:21:24 (single post)
  • 6,344 wds. long

If I get this posted, it'll be from Chicago, but I'm not certain I'll be able to upload it at all.

I had been planning to spend my layover time in the library, uploading work, downloading more work, recording my Wednesday show for AINC. I'd been planning to skate to the library, in fact, having taken a few minutes while still on the train to put my outdoor wheels on my skates.

But the train's almost four hours behind schedule. It only left Ottumwa, Iowa just before 1 PM. At this rate, we might not arrive in Chicago before 7:00. I'll probably still manage to board the City of New Orleans for 8 PM as planned, but the likelihood for pratical internet time between trains is decreasing by the hour.

Still, here's a blog post. I remain optimistic.

It's been so many weeks since I left off revising "The Impact of Snowflakes" that I couldn't remember where I'd left off. So I spent a few minutes rereading the version in progress. It's rough, y'all. It's lumpy and awkward and overwritten and wordy. I suppose it addresses the problems unearthed by the last round of critique, but there's new text-level problems like woah.

Which is OK, I guess. Once I get to the end of the version in progress, I can print it out and fill its margin with performative scribbles that will hopefully restore it to a state of approximate gracefulness.

But first I have to get to the end of the version in progress. And that's going to be a trick, considering that I left off right around where I'd placed a mental marker saying NEW AND IMPROVED ENDING BEGINS HERE.

New and improved ending. Right. OK. This is a thing that's going to happen.

Any minute now.

Here we go.

and i say this as a fan of Concrete Blonde
Tue 2014-07-01 23:59:00 (single post)
  • 5,984 wds. long

Well, that took longer than expected. "What took longer than expected?" Oh, everything. But it's OK. I got the story submitted just under the wire--or if not just under the wire, than within a minute of the wire. Look, if they refuse to read it because it came in at 00:00 on July 2 rather than 23:59 on July 1, well, there's other markets.

And the story has cleaned up mighty fine.

(I just checked my email. My submission has neither bounced nor triggered an automatic reply. OK then.)

Have I mentioned that writing this story has resulted in me having this song stuck in my head? For weeks? I finally dug up the album so I could play it and exorcise the earworm. Unh-uh. That's not how it works. At least, not if you're me. No, now I have the whole album stuck in my head, one song after another.

It's a pretty good album, though.

In which we avail ourselves of all the options
Fri 2014-06-27 19:31:24 (single post)
  • 6,291 wds. long

Today it's back to the print-out and the scribbling. Just the scribbling for now--no need for a rush job. The call for submissions ends July 1, Tuesday as it turns out, so I can finish up the revision Tuesday morning and email it then.

See, it's not that I'm putting things off until the last minute. It's that I'm taking advantage of all the time that remains. That sounds plausible, doesn't it?

Things I need to fix in the current draft include...

  1. Overuse of the words "sudden" and "suddenly." There are other ways to communicate this adverbial property. Try a few.
  2. Overuse of throat-clearing constructions: "begins to," "manages to," "allows [her/him]self to." Make each instance justify its existence, then cut it out anyway until each only happens once in the story.
  3. Dilution of key plot elements and themes.

That last is tricky. I was looking for opportunities to make it more clear that the object in the wooden box is actually, literally Caroline's heart, because this is a thing that needs to be known throughout the story rather than alluded to obliquely until revealed dramatically. So of course I started noticing the word "heart" popping up everywhere. Hearts breaking, the heart of the matter, heart-stopping shocks. Too many heart metaphors, too many metaphorical references to Demi's heart, and I run the risk of diluting the actual plot element I'm trying to work with. So I crossed them out when I found them and scribbled alternate phrasings.

Which led to noticing other dilutions. Like, an unnecessary reference to Diana the Huntress, muddying the waters in which I want the Demeter/Persephone theme to shine clear. Like too many gun-related turns of phrase that aren't consciously put there to echo the gunshot that kicked off the plot. And then there's mentions of fire/heat/warmth/flames, which need to point clearly at either the literal fire in the hearth and the *ahem* fire down below, and not get thrown in every time the English language tries to build a fire metaphor. And now I'm looking askance at the multiple incidences of breaking glass...

It's possible I'm taking this "don't dilute stuff" thing a little too far. (Maybe both incidences of breaking glass can point profitably at each other.) Argh.

Good thing I've got all weekend. Well, not really--I've got the roller derby bout on Saturday and the WFTDA reassessments on Sunday. And Monday-farm-day doesn't generally make a good work day.


Good thing I've still got Tuesday morning.

In which we take a step back from the trees, thus to view the forest
Thu 2014-06-26 23:47:49 (single post)
  • 6,291 wds. long

Oh hey there. Blog white-outs are fun, aren't they? Apparently my code isn't quite PHP 5.4 ready, so I've scrolled things back to PHP 5.3 for now. If you can read this, it probably worked. (It's also possible that you're a visitor from far in the future, that being when I'll likely next have the time and patience to try to update my blog code. How are things? Who's president, and have we got flying cars yet?)

I got some feedback on my story today, and it got me thinking not just about this story but also about my writing tendencies in general. That's the best kind of feedback--the kind that doesn't just address the work at hand but also makes me a better writer. Or at least provides me with the opportunity to become a better writer. If I fail to avail myself of that opportunity, it isn't the critiquer's fault. He tried!

The thought goes something like this.

There's a "rule" in writing speculative fiction--and I use scare-quotes advisedly here--that you can get away with one, and only one, impossible thing. Two things and you lose the reader's suspension of disbelief. Now, this is a ridiculously simplistic "rule," but, like most "rules' of writing, it points in the direction of a truth: You have to earn and keep the reader's trust. The reader will trust you when you give them impossible things to believe if, and only if, you continue to be trustworthy when it comes to things they actually have experience with. Your characters have to behave like real people. Your portrait of a real life city needs to ring true for someone who's been there or lives there. Your portrayal of specialized areas of knowledge--guns, archery, horses, astronomy, whatever--needs to withstand at least a cursory fact-check. Basically, "this is a fantasy novel" can account for the flight of dragons that strafes Shreveport, Louisiana, but it can't account for the dragons having set aflame the county clerk & recorder's office in that town (given that Louisiana doesn't have counties), nor the crescent moon on the eastern horizon as the sun sets over the destruction (given that a crescent moon rises around dawn). And if you then have your main characters stand there looking up information about dragons on their smartphones when there are people trapped in the burning building across the street, either you've just lost your reader's patience and good will entirely, or you're one of the authors of the Left Behind novels. Neither is a situation worth celebrating.

Anyway. "You get one impossible thing." And I think there is another "rule" in the same vein, which goes like this: "You get one dramatic reveal."

Again, simplistic, but it points in a direction I apparently need to aim my mind. Because I seem to err on the side of the coy and the subtle these days, understating all the unusual or fantastical things that are going on in the story. This is possibly because my point-of-view character knows all those things quite well, and so it would be out of character for them to narrate about them too explicitly. Still, the result is undesirable. If everything is held close to the chest and revealed only subtly or at the end of the story, the reader has no certainty to stand on.

So I sort of have to decide which one of my unusual facts is the one to be revealed only at the climax of the story. The rest should be stated in a more up-front way, thus to do the work of world-building, scene-setting, and attention-grabbing.

As with the other rule, "one" is a simplistic way to put it. Sometimes "one" means "this handful of things that are all related." The main gist is, the reader has to be able to cling to something in order to make it to the end for the dramatic reveal. That is why not everything can be the dramatic reveal. Choose your dramatic reveal carefully, and put everything else in service to getting the reader there.

And now I am going to lose consciousness in 0.2 seconds, because I am that tired. Zonk

In which we investigate other baskets suitable for egg storage
Wed 2014-06-25 15:38:13 (single post)
  • 6,291 wds. long

And yet more biking! This is getting to be a regular habit. It helps that today was Bike to Work Day. It was a warm ride from home to downtown, but I stopped frequently to sample the snacks and drinks offered at the various breakfast stations. Now if I can just avoid getting rained on while I bike home, I'll be in good shape... to go to roller derby tonight and really work out.

I tweaked the story a little more today (yes, after refreshing my memory concerning "The Red-Head Song"--Bobbie Mae might now be plausibly considered to be singing it to meter, if not on key). Mostly I'm just poking at it. A weekend away from it has not created sufficient distance across which to look at it with fresh eyes, alas, but at least I'm catching the odd clunky turn of phrase.

It's OK though. The heavy lifting happened in the previous weeks. All I really ask right now is that what I submit on Friday be a better manuscript than what I've got Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. I think that's reasonable.

I've begun expanding my day-to-day content writing options again. I mean, the ones that actually pay something vaguely reasonable. I have a lot of fun with Examiner, but "fun" is mostly all it is. I'd like to be able to make at least a little regular and reliable income, fiction sales being neither. So. Demand Media Studios, where in the past I've been able to earn between $15 and $30 for a 500-word article, is oddly devoid of titles in my approved channel at this moment, so there goes that idea. I'm investigating what it would take to apply for another. In the meantime, there's Textbroker, which doesn't pay a hell of a lot but is easy--most of its clients want blog posts written around random phrases they got off Quora.

If I exerted a little more effort I could probably find freelance assignments that pay better and might even be a credit to my byline, but I'm wary of putting too much focus in that direction. I'm very protective of my fiction-writing time right now. Getting to the point of actually finishing and submitting stories regularly, and staying there, has taken no small amount of effort. I'm not eager to make it harder on myself. (On that note--the space glue apocalypse story came back from its latest outing, bearing a form rejection letter. I shooed it out the door again.)

So... that's the state of the Niki, I guess. Um. How are you?

select all, copy, paste, send
Fri 2014-06-20 23:45:13 (single post)
  • 6,270 wds. long

So, this story. This story that I began trying to write seriously since at least midway through 2011. This story that began with a dream from some undocumented time long before that, at least as early as May 2004. (At least, that's the date on the story's oldest draft.) This story that has been through multiple false starts and aborted attempts over the years to achieve a publishable revision of that original dream-scribble. This Gods-damned story.

It's finally finished.

That is, a respectable draft of sufficient quality to put before other readers' eyes--in this case, a small handful of friends who have been kind enough to volunteer to read it--is finished and has been sent off for their critique.

I will probably have another "Oh my Gods it's finally done!" moment when I finish the (probably post-critique) draft and submit the story to a market, mind you. (And that will probably be next week.) But just getting it to this point is huge. Once a story reaches the critique-ready stage, anything is possible.

(Just shut up about all the stories that have been through one or more critiques and still haven't reached the submittable stage. I'm getting to those, OK?)

So, huzzah and hallelujah! Io evohe and stuff! And also thunk. (That's the sound of me falling over in triumphant exhaustion. But you knew that.)

See you after the weekend.

keyboard shortcuts of my better nature
Thu 2014-06-19 22:24:47 (single post)
  • 6,222 wds. long

The revision is going pretty well. I'm actually enjoying it. Shock! Apparently, once I have a print-out with scribbles on it, I lose that aimless and panicky feeling of Oh crap now what do I do and I just start following the instructions on the page. Doesn't matter that I'm the one who wrote the instructions. I just follow them. It's like magic. "Rephrase this as a statement." You mean like this? This is what you mean. "Make his voice more casual, distinct from that of the narrator." Sure thing, yup. "Simplify stage blocking in this passage." OK. "Omit this bit; it's redundant." Zap

I guess the workaround for my revisophobia is just that simple. Print it out and I can't help scribbling on it; scribble on it and I can't help doing what the scribbles say. That just leaves the first problem: Getting me to sit down to a revision session in the first place. I have no simple magic solutions to that one, although starting the timer on Focusbooster helps. Timer's running--better get to work.

I'm pleased that this draft is going to wrap up soon. An even more perfect market for the story than Sword & Sorceress has turned up, that being the sequel to an anthology I was bummed to have missed the first time around, that being Athena's Daughters II. The deadline for the submissions call is July 1. The maximum word count is 6,000, which conveniently aligns with my intention to reduce the story's word count by about ten percent.

And while I can't reasonably expect any of my critique friends to have time to read it--I mean, I can ask, but this is super short notice to request a critique--I can make the story the best I can, submit it, and either apply the results of friends' critiques to a revision before its next outing should the story get rejected, or to a post-acceptance edit should the story get accepted. In any case, the story will be A. better than it was, and B. finished. And it's about time.