“It's funny how just the simple act of answering a day's worth of e-mail will keep the crushing inevitability of the entropic heat death of the universe at bay for a good half hour to an hour.”
John Scalzi

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

losing hit points and slumping under pressure
Thu 2014-03-06 23:56:01 (single post)

Yesterday was day 2 of using HabitRPG to help improve my dailiness. And I was really, really enthusiastic about it. Mainly I was impressed with the way it reshapes and repurposes that classic gamer urge to "do stuff to get stuff." I have a weakness for doing in-game things to get in-game rewards, resulting in a lot of fun but very little daily productivity. HabitRPG offers those tantalizing in-game rewards in exchange for doing real-life things, resulting in increased daily productivity. This is very cool. It means I'm not just looking forward to finishing each task on my writing list for its own sake and for the sake of getting it over; I'm also looking forward to these accomplishments for the sake of earning experience points and virtual coins.

Well, today I discovered a certain downside of HabitRPG. For me, that is. It's absolutely not a general downside that every user will encounter. It's just my downside, because I am a basket case.

That downside is this: It's yet another way for me to expect perfection of myself and punish myself for failing to achieve it.

You know what that means: Pressure, and freezing up in the face of pressure.

So this morning I woke up and failed to immediately write down what I'd dreamed. No big deal. It happens. But because dream journaling is a thing I try to do every morning, I'd had the bright idea to code it into my HabitRPG task list. (More details than you really need: I made it a Daily when I set up my account, but I changed it to a Habit yesterday.) Which means that I wasn't just disappointed in myself for letting the dream memory slip away. I was also dreading having to admit my failure by clicking that little minus button next to my dream journaling Habit and losing hit points over it.

So what did I do next? I went back to sleep. Because I'd already tangibly failed, so why even try?

Stupid I know. I told you, I'm a basket case about this. But that's how I never got out of bed until 12:30 and didn't actually start writing until 4:00 PM.

The good news is, I did snap out of it in time to start writing at 4:00 PM. I snapped out of it, did a little math, and became suddenly determined to do what I hadn't managed to do since first setting up my HabitRPG account: achieve a 5-hour writing day.

Tonight was a scrimmage night. It would be very close. But it was possible. It just meant getting back to work immediately after scrimmage and keeping at it until midnight or a little bit thereafter.

Which is why this blog post comes to you from the Old Chicago in Longmont. I know me, see. I know that if I drive home from derby with all the best intentions, they will nevertheless evaporate the moment collapsing in bed looks like an option. So I decided that collapsing in bed simply wouldn't be an option.

And now it is midnight and my timesheet shows a total of five hours for today. Take that, evildoers! I have achieved a perfect day!

Next up: Driving home without falling asleep on the road. Also the more difficult challenge of falling asleep in bed despite all the coffee I just put into my system. (Arrrrgh.)

experience points and muttering about ash trees
Wed 2014-03-05 23:34:07 (single post)
  • 3,400 wds. long

OMG it is late and I am tired and there was derby and now there has been beer. And now I'm supposed to blog about my day? Arrrgh. OK. Let's see.

  1. Roofing continues! Woke up early to show a worker the one tiny leak I suffered during last night rain shower. Worker was perplexed, as roofing has proceeded past the point where leaks should not happen. (They saw the weather forcast and they got it to that point on purpose.) Got a phone call from same worker later assuring me that it should definitely not happen again. (Apparently chimneys are tricky things to roof around.)
  2. There is so much work to do with "Impact of Snowflakes" and I can't put it off any more with mechanical process things like "Oh, I'm still just compiling my workshop critiques into a single document." There is so much more story that needs to be put into this story. Arrrgh. Spent some time adding to the critiqued draft bright red comments in which I muttered to myself about very important things, like, whose idea is this trip to Vail anyway, and where exactly are Katie and Josh when they call the narrator, and how much did Josh's Dad know about how things were going to turn out anyway?
  3. By the way, the narrator has a name now. It's Ashley. This is meant to be a terribly witty allusion to the World Tree, which is an Ash. Why the hell should the World Tree be an ash, anyway? You want a tree that's already among the biggest land organisms on the planet, you want an aspen. Aspen groves are like freakin' fungi covering humongous square footage below ground. The only land organism bigger than an aspen grove, in fact, is a fungus. Or something like that. Close enough. But no, Snorri Sturluson apparently decided Yggdrasil was an ash, so an ash tree is what we get.
  4. Also by the way, those striking purple trees in autumn, here in Boulder? Ash trees, apparently. Autumn Purple Ash trees, to be painfully literal about it. (This is not what Yggdrasil looks like in my mind, but then they are only one of several kinds of ash tree in the world.)
  5. Day two of using HabitRPG (thanks to Jim C. Hines for turning me on to it). Still didn't complete all my dailies, mainly because "if you can't do a lot, do a little" isn't enough to achieve my ambitious daily goal of actually achieving five hours of writing. (Today's going to come up to only about 3. Not going into detail on that.) But I did everything else on my list, so I get all sorts of gold and XP and only lose maybe one or two hit points overnight.
  6. One of my HabitRPG to-do items was "Take care of travel fare to New Orleans for high school reunion." This I have done. It earned me 37 XP, some amount of gold or other, and, most importantly, peace of mind. Now I just have to get through the March 29th Season Opener roller derby bout with all my limbs intact so I can enjoy the trip.
  7. Tickets here, if you're interested.

Those are the high points of my day. But the best bit is happening in just a few minutes: I'm going to go to sleep. Yay, sleep! It knits up the ravelled sleeve of care, it is balm for droopy minds and bruised bodies, and it even comes (perchance) with in-flight movies. I am greatly in favor of sleep.

In which winning at life is measured in XP and hit points. Also, muttering
Wed 2014-03-05 23:34:00 (single post)
  • 3,400 wds. long

OMG it is late and I am tired and there was derby and now there has been beer. And now I'm supposed to blog about my day? Arrrgh. OK. Let's see.

  1. Roofing continues! Woke up early to show a worker the one tiny leak I suffered last night. Worker was perplexed, as roofing as proceeded past the point where leaks should not happen. Got a phone call from same worker later assuring me that it should definitely not happen again. (Apparently chimneys are tricky things to roof around.)
  2. There is so much work to do with "Impact of Snowflakes" and I can't put it off any more with mechanical process things like "Oh, I'm still just compiling my workshop critiques into a single document." There is so much more story that needs to be put into this story. Arrrgh. Spent some time adding to the critiqued draft bright red comments in which I muttered to myself about very important things, like, whose idea is this trip to Vail anyway, and where exactly are Katie and Josh when they call the narrator, and how much did Josh's Dad know about how things were going to turn out anyway?
  3. By the way, the narrator has a name now. It's Ashley. This is meant to be a terribly witty allusion to the World Tree, which is an Ash. Why the hell should the World Tree be an ash, anyway? You want a tree that's already among the biggest land organisms on the planet, you want an aspen. Aspen groves are like freakin' fungi covering humongous square footage below ground. The only land organism bigger than an aspen grove, in fact, is a fungus. But no, Snorri Sturluson apparently decided Yggdrasil was an ash, so an ash tree is what we get.
  4. Also by the way, those striking purple trees in autumn, here in Boulder? Ash trees, apparently. Autumn Purple Ash trees, to be painfully literal about it. (This is not what Yggdrasil looks like in my mind, but then they are only one of several kinds of ash tree in the world.)
  5. Day two of using HabitRPG (thanks to Jim C. Hines for turning me on to it). Still didn't complete all my dailies, mainly because "if you can't do a lot, do a little" isn't enough to achieve my ambitious daily goal of actually achieving five hours of writing. (Today's going to come up to only about 3. Not going into detail on that.) But I did everything else on my list, so I get all sorts of gold and XP and only lose maybe one or two hit points overnight.
  6. One of my HabitRPG to-do items was "Take care of travel fare to New Orleans for high school reunion." This I have done. It earned me 37 XP, some amount of gold or other, and, most importantly, peace of mind. Now I just have to get through the March 29th Season Opener roller derby bout with all my limbs intact so I can enjoy the trip.
  7. Those are the high points of my day. But the best bit is happening in just a few minutes: I'm going to go to sleep. Yay, sleep! It knits up the ravelled sleeve of care, and it even comes with in-flight movies. I am greatly in favor of sleep.

well in that case nevermind
Wed 2014-02-19 21:34:42 (single post)
  • 3,400 wds. long

So that color-coded comment woe I mentioned yesterday? Because I aspire to be a good Scrivener citizen, I report bugs. And so I find things out.

Apparently it's the Scrivener for Windows manual that is at fault, not Scrivener for Windows itself. It should not have made me promises it could not keep.

During tomorrow's annotations type-in (which will be the last, as I have five copies full of feedback from five workshop members), I'll just need to go into the Appearance options and change the default color to whatever color I want to use for Critter D. Probably blue.

Now my short story revision process involves significantly less right-clicking. Huzzah!

back in high school and it's ok
Thu 2014-02-06 23:41:28 (single post)

This week an errant internet discussion reminded me that I have Ursula K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft on my bookshelf and have not yet read it nor worked through it. This struck me as unfortunate, an oversight to be corrected straightaway.

When I got to the first exercise, I remembered why I bounced off of it previously. LeGuin takes writers through the basic building blocks of the craft; accordingly, the exercises are themselves fairly basic. Here's the very first exercise:

Being Gorgeous: Write a paragraph to a page (150-300 words) of narrative that's meant to be read aloud. Use onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, rhythmic effects, made-up words or names, dialect--any kind of sound-effect you like--but NOT rhyme or meter.

I think my past reaction to this sort of thing was, "Please. I'm not in high school anymore."

Which I admit sounds pretty darn arrogant of me. In my defense, I suspect a non-trivial portion of that response was my old adversary, Resistance-To-Writing, in disguise and looking for any excuse to keep me and the blank page apart.

To whatever extent arrogance and resistance played a part, and in which proportion each had a hand, this week I'm making amends. Tuesday I darn well sat down with "Being Gorgeous" and my 25-minute timer and I wrote the beginnings of a really silly ghost story. Wednesday, I fed the next exercise to my freewriting session--a paragraph of 150-350 words without any punctuation--and the results were a sort of eerie musing on the breakneck pace of the unrequited striving that is the human condition.

Now, 150-350 words isn't going to take 25 minutes to write, not even if I think hard about each sentence. So after I'd done the exercise, I considered the questions and thoughts LeGuin follows up the exercises with and babbled about them on the page. And--what do you know?--by doing this faithfully, by genuinely engaging in the exercise, by not deciding ahead of time that I was way beyond this stuff--I came to some unexpected understandings of my process and my relationship to the elements I was obliged to use.

The punctuation-free exercise brought me to these observations:

  • Take away my syntactical pauses, and my tendency will be to try to write as fast as I can! I had to dial that back a bit so I could think about what I was creating.
  • Next my tendency was to try to express my having run out of ideas by means of a stop or a pause. To break out of that, I had to think up some words that lent themselves to forward motion rather than to pausing, and to pushing the idea to its next possible permutation.
  • "Words that lend themselves to forward motion" in practice meant choosing words that complete or continue a clause begun by the previous couple words, such that rather than having a string of clauses clumsily glued together by conjunctions, I was trying for a series of overlapping clauses.
  • The piece began in first person plural ("Then we started..."), but the moment an imperative snuck in ("quick quick jump up higher and higher and reach a bit more just a bit"), I naturally slipped into second person singular ("and you know you'll never get there but you're incapable of ceasing...."). It's a good thing I seem to be able to get away with second person narratives, because it seems to be one of my default storytelling modes.

So these are the thoughts I start having when I give myself permission to just go back to high school already, what are you afraid of, scared you might learn something? Jeez.

PS. In Scrivener, these Daily Idea files got the label "Exercise," because that's what they were and that's how this works.

more scrivenings and some non-scrivenings
Wed 2014-02-05 23:27:53 (single post)

Q: So with all my praise of Scrivener FOR EVERYTHING, FOREVER AND EVER, why am I still composing blog posts in EditPlus?

A: Because I've got EditPlus set up with keyboard shortcuts and macros for HTML, that's why. Why type out a link tag with a new window attribute over and over again when I can just highlight the link text, click CTRL-A, paste in the URL, then click CTRL-1 to add target="_blank" in the appropriate spot?

That said, I would love to be able to keep all my blog posts for, say, Puzzle Pirates Examiner, inside a single Scrivener project. That would be very organized. Now, I know Scrivener lets you reassign preferred keyboard shortcuts to a huge list of commands, but does it have a built-in way to create keyboard macros? That would be keen.

Meanwhile, today I took another walk through all the files in my Daily Ideas project (which goes all the way back to 2009 but thankfully doesn't contain one file for every day since) and assigned labels to them. Most of them are vignettes written to a writing prompt, and as such are labeled "prompt". The ones that used my actual dreams as prompts got labeled "dream", because that's a valuable distinction for me. Any of the above that came out looking like surprisingly well-developed for its origins might have gotten labeled "drafting". On the other extreme, files where I mainly just talked to myself on the page about problems with my current WIP got labeled "brainstorming." There were probably more labels; I was getting punchy by the time I got back to mid-2011.

A lot of the early files turned out to be only a sentence or so. This is because when I started the project, it wasn't so much about daily timed writing as it is now. I started doing it because I wanted to remind myself that ideas aren't scarce. I'd prove it to myself by coming up with a new one every day. So many of the early files are just that: a story idea, jotted down as it occurred to me, without much development.

Many of these, along with longer pieces that struck me as something I'd like to come back to soon, I marked with the status "To Do". I created a search results collection based on that status. Now, when I'm not sure what to write today and the Prompt Pile is empty, I can take a look at the things in that collection, pull one out, and start to make it into the story it deserves to be.

So, yes, Scrivener continues to be really darn useful. But I suppose I've got to admit that it can't do everything.

A selection of binders demonstrating Scrivener's versatility
scrivenings everywhere
Tue 2014-02-04 23:13:07 (single post)
  • 51,730 wds. long

Have I mentioned Scrivener yet? I think I maybe have. Have I mentioned that I've gotten addicted to it, fast and hard like a fall off a hundred-foot cliff? No? Let's talk about that. At length.

(I have a handful of topics waiting for a day when the day's work doesn't lend itself much to blogging. That's how it is. Some days, it's all triumphant teapots and contest submissions; others, it's just the daily slog. The daily slog is itself a triumphant thing--showing up on the page every workday is beyond price--but it doesn't in and of itself make for entertaining reportage. So today, instead of anything precisely about today, you get the Scrivener post I've been meaning to write for a little while now.)

The experience of using Scrivener is surprisingly dissimilar to that of using yWriter. And while yWriter has a bunch of cool features, I found I didn't really avail myself of the ones that made it unique. Oh, I made character lists for my novels, entered deadlines into the project settings, occasionally used the daily word target report, but then I'd forget those features existed for months at a time. Mainly I used yWriter to create and edit related files which I organized into a project structure.

That's the feature that Scrivener excels at. Put that together with all the different ways you can then interact with those files, and you've got a compelling argument for never composing in any other text-editing program again.

("Says the author who's composing her blog post in EditPlus 3.31." Hush.)

Thing is, I'm using it for everything now. Almost everything. Because it's so damn flexible. In yWriter, you put scenes (RTF files) inside chapters (a nominal folder), and that was it. But in Scrivener you can do almost anything you like.

A blank project has three default items in its "Binder" (the file/folder system in the left-hand sidebar) which you may rename but not delete: the uberfolder "Draft," where the files that make up your manuscript will go; the resource folder "Research," where you can store your supporting documents; and the circular file otherwise known as "Trash". Inside the first two you can store files and folders in a sort of directory-tree style formation, with almost no restrictions on how you do it. You can put files inside folders, and folders inside folders; but you can also put folders inside files, and files inside files. And all of these, files and folders alike, are basically RTF documents that you edit within Scrivener's basic RTF editor.

You can edit each file separately, just as you would in yWriter. Or you can view a group of files as though they were a single continuous document ("scrivenings mode"), and edit them from that view. Or you can define a group of documents as a "collection", so that you'll deal with just the files that meet a certain criteria (scenes from a particular character's point of view, scenes that take place in Miami, documents that contain the word "quintessence") and temporarily hide all the others.

Then, you can add all sorts of meta-data and notes and toggles and things to each file. This is like but unlike yWriter in the sort of blanks it gives you to fill in and what you can do with that data once you've put it there. In Scrivener, each file is additionally represented by an index card with the file's title (the same title you see on the file in the Binder) and a synopsis displayed thereon. Then you can add document-specific notes, keywords, meta-data, even photos and other reference material. This is useful, among other things, for looking at a group of index cards together in "corkboard" view, or for searching for all files marked by a particular meta-data label.

And THEN when you're ready to produce your manuscript, Scrivener has a powerful "compile" feature that takes a customizable list of documents from the binder (the default being all the contents of the "Drafts" folder) and uses them as a blueprint to create a standard manuscript, a PDF, an ebook, a Microsoft Word file, or whatever it is you need, applying formatting of your specification to the raw data.

So. What am I using it for?

Novels. Scrivener was created to aid authors in the task of cobbling together novels. My first Scrivener project would be the rewrite of my 2013 NaNoWriMo draft, the YA faerie romance involving roller derby. Going off an online colleague's recommendation, I downloaded a Snowflake Method template for Scrivener and began snowflaking the hell out of Iron Wheels therein. (Funny how I need a 50,000-word draft before I can answer questions like "What's this character's general motivation? What is their goal?")

So far, this means I'm mainly interacting with a "Tasks" folder which contains a file for each of the 10 steps of the snowflake method. The instructions for each step are in the file's Document Notes for easy reference, and I follow the instructions in the editor for each file itself.

I've also started filling up the Research folder with helpful items, like a list of those rules of junior roller derby under the WFTDA which differ from the adult rules. I expect I'll soon be creating files in the Resources folder with notes about the Upper Court, Lower Court, Outer Court, and the Field. Also notes about the human town that Rage's high school is in.

I look forward to finally typing revisions from the yWriter project from November into the Scrivener project as files in the Drafts folder.

Short stories. On another Codexian's recommendation, I downloaded Jamie Todd Rubin's SFWA Short Fiction template so I could see how useful Scrivener might be for editing short stories. It's way useful. The Drafts folder (renamed "Short Story") contains not just a folder with the story itself in it--separate files for separate scenes or a single file for the whole story--but also a first page header file with your contact info and an automatically populated word count field (rounded to the nearest hundred). When you compile, this results in a document in standard manuscript format with a perfect page one.

That's super cool. Cooler still is what I'm doing with the template's "Critiques" folder: one file for every draft, each draft littered with notes toward its revision. When a story undergoes peer critique, I add each critic's comments to the draft as linked notes--a feature similar to that of the comments feature in MS Word--which are color-coded to distinguish between different critics' contributions.

Then, when I'm ready to type in the new draft, I split the editor and put the annotated draft below the split and the brand new draft above, making it easy to reference once while creating the other.

Daily exercises. I'd created a yWriter project called "Daily Idea," for my daily freewriting exercises. Each day's exercise was a scene file whose title reflected the day I wrote it and a short phrase describing the resulting vignette. They lived inside "chapters" named for the appropriate month. The first month of every new year got tagged as "begins a new section," which was expressed through boldface.

I transferred these over to Scrivener, dragging batches of RTF files from Windows Explorer over into a month folder that lived inside a year folder that lived inside the "Daily Ideas" uberfolder. The date of the exercise became the file's title, just like in yWriter, and the descriptive phrase went in the synopsis field on the index card. Anything I'd put in yWriter's description field for that file/scene, I copied into Document Notes.

Here's the fun part: As I brought these files over, any writing which I recognized as being part of the groundwork for an actual story got labeled with that story's title as a keyword. Now I can create a collection based on the results of a keyword search and easily find all these materials to help me draft or revise that story.

Lastly, there's the Prompt Pile folder, where I put blank untitled files whose synopses are those writing prompts that occur to me at odd times. If I should get to freewriting time and have no idea what to write, I'll drag one of those files out of Prompt Pile and into the current month's folder.

Content Writing Articles. This is just getting silly. But that DMS article I turned in yesterday? I wrote it in Scrivener too.

DMS articles are organized by sections. Generally there's a 50 to 75 word introduction, then there's three to five separate sections of text. I used to write these articles in EditPlus, starting each section with a TITLE ALL IN CAPS followed by a blank line. When it was time to paste this stuff into the DMS editor interface, there'd be a lot of tiresome scrolling and searching and clicking and highlighting by hand and trying not to grab the empty line after or before the text. I kept all the articles as separate text files in a Windows directory.

Now I have a Scrivener project for DMS articles. Each article is a file in the Drafts uberfolder, and that file acts as a folder in that it contains one file for each section of the article. Now, to copy a given section and paste it into the online editor, I simply click on the section file in the binder, then press CTRL-A to highlight the whole thing. Then I change its font from courier to arial for a final proofread before CTRL-Aing again, CTRL-Cing, and CTRL-Ving into the DMS editor interface.

The other nice thing about separating the sections into their own files is the way it reinforces the "bite at a time" approach to a dreaded task. Like I said, I have a mental block about DMS articles. But if I can convince the dreading part of my brain that "Look, all you have to do today is this little section here, just 75 words, that's not so hard," it's not as difficult to get myself to sit down and write those 75 words. Scrivener's file structure makes it easier to get that message through to my recalcitrant brain.

That just leaves my research. Sadly, you can't move or clone the default Research folder, and I don't want to store my article titles, article URLs and copied text all the way over there. So I just put all that in the containing file, the one named after the article itself. I may come up with an even more useful way to store that stuff later. Maybe as a "Research" folder inside the article, which then contains one file per reference document, and each file will have relevant quotes as well as the URL and the title formatted the way DMS likes 'em.

The moral of this story is that Scrivener flexible and highly addictive. It's not just that it's useful for just about any kind of writing that I do. There's also a pure pleasure derived from figuring out how to adapt this tool to each sort of project. It's as though the designer of Scrivener had people like me explicitly in mind: slightly OCD, entirely Type-A, people who get a sense of both puzzle-style entertainment and accomplishment/fulfillment from creating organizational structures and filing things away.

It's actually kind of genius. Scrivener takes a particular kind of procrastination to which I am susceptible, and positions it such that it leads directly to getting actual writing done. Genius.

I'm in awe. More importantly, I'm getting writing done. Which is the whole point of the exercise, isn't it?

Now, see, HERE'S your problem
My $50 Lesson in Electrical Engineering
Fri 2013-02-01 22:26:30 (single post)

Was totally worth it, and cheap at twice the price. But the electricians from Precision didn't want to overcharge me for what was really a stupidly simple operation--"I mean, you've done pretty much everything already, mounted the unit, all that"--plus they told me about a special Fridays! Only! coupon on the website, so... $50 all told.

And when I say "stupidly simple," I don't mean that I was stupid not to figure it out. When it comes to electricity, you gotta respect it, 'cause it ain't going to respect you. Better safe than electrocuted, right? But it turns out they just repurposed a bit of copper wire from the old range hood, used a purple termination cap to connect it safely to the aluminum grounding wire, and then ran the other end of the copper wire to the grounding screw. Piece of cake. And now I know.

Also, now I know one of the light bulbs I picked up yesterday was a dud, so I have that errand to run tomorrow. Oh well. The McGuckins return policy is generous and trusting, and I have a new coupon to use there too.

So now the fan is working (modulo that one light). The circuit breaker is back in the ON position. The lights are back on in the bedroom and kitchen, and random extension cords are no longer cluttering the area. The old range hood is no longer under the table, but in the trash (minus the rest of its copper wire and mysterious hex flanges and grounding tab, which are now in jars in our hardware closet) and the new range hood's box is also no longer under the table, being now in the recycling drop-off.

The stove is back in its alcove under the range hood. For now. Come Tuesday, that sucker is gone and a lovely new model will have taken its place. All four of whose burners will function. Also, how did we go 12 years without a freakin' light in the freakin' oven? Seriously? How old was this stove, that an oven light was not a standard feature? We will have an oven light, come Tuesday. In an oven with a pretty TARDIS-blue interior. And convection action.

Oh my.

Why Writing Is Better Than DIY Home Improvements
Thu 2013-01-31 12:38:44 (single post)

We are in the midst of the Saga of the Range Hood Replacement. No, there are no Vikings in it, but I do think the term "Saga" is justified, because Loki has had his hand in every single step of the project.

Stanza 1: We decide that as long as we're replacing the stove, we might as well replace the dying overhead fan and light. We pick up a new range hood at the Home Depot on our way out from ordering the LG 30" convection oven and glass-top range. We drive home fantasizing about a fan motor that doesn't sound sick-unto-death and an attractive, easy-to-clean stainless steel finish with all the hard-to-clean angles and moving parts tactfully hidden away.

Stanza 1: I contemplate uninstalling the previous range hood. This is initially worrying until I find an instructional video online that makes it all look simple. It even shows me how to make a "screw template" by laying paper along the top of the range hood and poking holes through the places where the screws go. What it doesn't explain about is the wiring. That's is the worrying bit. Well, nothing ventured, right? I turn on the fan and go flip circuit breakers until I find the one that makes the fan shut up. Circuit deactivated! It is noon on Wednesday the 30th.

Stanza 2: The idea of "temporarily" taking the range hood down to see what the wiring connection to the wall looks like was a bad one; the keyhole openings are tiny and I can't get all four mounting screws to poke through at once. And my arms are getting tired. And there's no one home to help. And the door's locked so I can't yell for a neighbor. And my phone's in another room. And my arms are going to fall off. Finally I take the risk of letting the whole thing dangle from its wiring for about 30 seconds while I grab a stool.

Stanza 3: While the range hood sits on top of an upturned stool on top of the stove, I discover the wire-shielding panel. It is on the LEFT, which is an important plot point. The screws that hold it in are like the mounting screws that used to hold the range hood up, in that they are neither flat-headed nor Phillips-headed but rather this smooth-headed hex flange thing that probably requires an arcane ratchet forged by dwarves and blessed by the Aesir and ritually cleansed under a full moon conjunct Jupiter. I use the pliers on a Leatherman, which nips my fingers a few times but does the job. The shield comes down, exposing the wires: two white wires paired under a plastic terminator, two black wires ditto, and a thick-gauge wire with no sheathing that's looped under a grounding screw. I detach everything like the fearless bad-ass that I am. Then I wrestle the range hood off the mounting screws and stow that sucker under the table.

Please notice, because this is a plot point too: The wires exit the wall via a ragged hole on the LEFT.

Interlude A: The Leatherman was a bad idea. A crescent wrench works better at brute-force removal of mysterious hex flanges.

Stanza 4: I make a screw template, just like the video said. I tape it up to the cabinet bottom. I unpack the 1/2" mounting screws that came with the new range hood. I go get the electric drill. WHERE IS THE ELECTRIC DRILL?! As it turns out, it's still with the friend we loaned it out to several months ago. Not their fault! We just keep forgetting to reclaim it. Happily, John's over there right now and will bring the drill home just as soon as he's done over there.

Interlude B: It is now dark. You know what else is on the same circuit with the range hood? All the kitchen and dining area lights. Also all the nearby AC outlets. (Our electric drill is not cordless.) Hooray for extension cords and upright lamps.

Stanza 5: The mounting screws that came with the range hood are too short. The manufacturer imagined, not unreasonably, that the range hood would lie flush against the cabinet bottom. The manufacturer did not count upon whoever remodeled our kitchen extending the cabinet border panel facade thing a quarter inch below the cabinet bottom. Sinking the mounting screws deep enough for sturdy support makes it impossible to mount the range hood, because that quarter inch of wood panel is in the way. John and I confirm this by attempting to mount the range hood. One screw head can't get below the metal lip at all, and one of the remaining ones is wobbly. (But at least they're all pretty much in the right place. Yay screw template!) I briefly consider sanding down or hacking off that quarter inch. Then I sigh and resign myself to a McGuckins run in the morning.

Interlude C: You know what else is on the same circuit with the range hood? The entire bedroom. WHYYYYYY.

Stanza 6: It is now the morning of Thursday, January 31. Home from McGuckins, armed with 3/4" mounting screws, I pull out the stove for the (3rd? 4th?) time and position extension cord, upright lamp, and electric drill in convenient places. I set the screws. I mount the range hood on them, which is not difficult because A) standing under is easier than reaching over the stove, B) the new range hood is lighter than the old, and C) the much larger keyhole openings make pinpointing all four screws at once much easier. I can just look through the holes the way I used to look through the hole in a vinyl record to sight it on the turntable spindle. (I discover the rear screws are too far back after all, despite the screw template. I reposition them and remount the range hood.) And then I take the range hood down again in order to thread the 120 volt AC wiring through the hole in the back.

The hole in the back of the new range hood is on the RIGHT. The wire block, also, is in the RIGHT half of the range hood. Clearly the previous installers did not foresee this eventuality, because they cut the wires to a length perfect for attaching to corresponding wires attached to the LEFT of a range hood fan.

The grounding wire is too short.

The grounding wire is too short.

Stanza 7: Having hit my DIY wall and bounced off hard enough to bruise myself, I call up an electrician. The electrician will come tomorrow afternoon (Friday, February 1) to extend the grounding wire and make sure nothing else will go wrong with the range hood installation. Originally, the earliest appointment the receptionist could get me was Thursday, February 7; I allowed myself to be scheduled for that time slot, and made assurances that should I find another electrician who could visit sooner, I'd call back to cancel. Possibly the thought of losing a potential customer to a competitor with a less-busy schedule was enough to inspire someone to pull a magic parcel of time out of their back pocket, because they called me back in under 10 minutes with the offer of Friday the 1st.

Which means only 24 more hours without kitchen and dining room lights, bedroom lights, or bedroom electricity. Or convenient alarm clock, cell phone chargers, lights to read in bed by, plugged-in laptop to play or read on until I'm ready to drop off into sleep. Not to mention 24 more hours wallowing in the mess of an ongoing home improvement project under, on top of, and around the kitchen table. I suppose if I had to wait a whole week, I'd figure out how to safely cap the live wires so I could turn the circuit back on, and I'd do a more complete job of tidying up the project-in-progress. So it wouldn't be horrible. And, really, "horrible" is an exaggeration. It's just bloody damn inconvenient, is all.

But I was so proud of myself for taking on the range hood installation project! I felt so competent, so capable! I really, really hate not being able to finish something I started.

And that's one way in which writing is better than DIY home improvements. With writing, I can always finish what I start. Guaranteed. Without fear of electrocuting the household.

Meanwhile, I have mopped up the truly disgusting patch of floor that was hiding under the stove. Because that, at least, I could do something about. When the Home Depot techs get here to deliver our new stove and haul away the old on Tuesday, I will not, at least, be embarrassed by under-stove filthiness.

Things That Got Done Last Week
Tue 2012-08-07 23:34:58 (single post)
  • 2,850 wds. long

So today was kinda worthless on the writing front. This was mostly because Sunday was roller derby from early morning 'til night, and Monday was a pretty awesomely productive but exhausting volunteering-at-the-farm morning, so Tuesday was "I get to sleep in and be worthless guilt-free for once" day.

(You'd think that leaving the farm at lunch and napping in the afternoon would count towards the sleep-in-and-be-worthless-guilt-free requirement. Except the nap in the afternoon is never long enough nor uninterrupted. And it's never guilt-free. I can't entirely forget that the guys who work on the farm as their actual jobs not only start two hours earlier than I do in the mornings, they also don't get the afternoons off. So I'm a lazy wimp who if I really wanted to be helpful would stay until sundown just like everyone else... I never said the voices in my head were helpful or rational, but they're there and they're loud.)

I think that weekends, rather than always occurring on Saturday and Sunday, should be invoked as needed. I'm declaring Tuesday to have been my honorary Saturday.

Meanwhile, last week I Got Stuff Done.

I did indeed submit the one about the space glue snow apocalypse (now with Brand! New! Title!) to The First Line on deadline day. It required a stupid amount of wrestling with Microsoft Word over formatting styles it insisted on applying to my imported WordPerfect 5.1 DOS document. How did it know to apply "Normal (Web)" to all my paragraphs? I do not know. I mean, yes, I composed the story in HTML code and copied the web output into Word, I'll admit to that, but then I saved as WP51, opened it in WP51, and resaved it in WP51. WP51 format doesn't save Word or RTF formatting styles. To my knowledge, WordPerfect doesn't even know about formatting styles until you get into the WYSIWYG versions for Windows and Mac. Version 5.1 is a DOS program. Plus, look -- if you hit F11 to "Reveal Codes," you can see there's absolutely nothing but the usual hard line break plus tab at every new paragraph. Look! This file is clean! So when I then freshly boot up Word to open this WP51 document, how can Word still detect the former presence of HMTL paragraph tags? How? HOW?! THIS IS NOT HOW THINGS ARE SUPPOSED TO WORK!!!

Yeah, I'm a little bitter about this. Also about the way I couldn't change the style of the biography paragraph at the end without changing the style of the entire manuscript. WTF, Word?

Thereafter followed a lot of cursing and brute-forcing and frustration, but eventually everything looked acceptable and I sent the dang thing off. Immediately enough to possibly be an auto-reply, I got an email confirming receipt of my submission. So I guess that was a success.

I also finally got my butt in gear and submitted "First Breath" to a reprint anthology on almost the last day of their reading period. Go me. And frankly I'll be shocked if they accept it. I'm not anywhere near certain that it's a good fit for the anthology, or, if it is a good fit, whether it's good enough.

But I keep reminding myself of two things. First, this is a story that was already published at professional rates. Clearly it's "good enough" for some value of the term. Secondly, even if I'm not certain it's a good fit, I'm not certain that it isn't, which puts the dilemma squarely in the category of Don't Reject Yourself; There Are Editors To Do That For You.

So I sent it.

Next on my plate is "It's For You," a.k.a. the one about the phone that isn't there. My plan is to get that revised over the next few days and submitted over the weekend. Because the next few days are not about sleeping in and being worthless. They are about Getting Stuff Done. DO NOT SCOFF AT MY OPTIMISM BECAUSE IT IS INVINCIBLE.

Stop poking it with pointy sticks! Do not test the invincibility!

NO, REALLY. INVINCIBLE.

(Ouch!)

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