“I'm all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let's start with typewriters.”
Frank Lloyd Wright

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Cover art incorporates and modifies image by GLady (Pixabay)
a list of things which are not excuses followed by a list of things which are good things
Tue 2019-07-23 23:58:18 (single post)
  • 1,299 words (if poetry, lines) long

Last week was eventful. Not the good kind of eventful, either. I had a headlight to get replaced on a car, a sudden flood of water from the ceiling to investigate, and, most worrisome of all, a computer that wouldn't power on. It all pretty much hit last weekend and overshadowed the week. Not that these things are precisely what made last week so dire in terms of productivity, but it can't have helped, you know?

In any case, the headlight was easily taken care of. The mysterious leak less so, as it involved coordinating with my upstairs neighbor; thankfully, the maintenance crew who responded to the emergency call took point on that. As for the computer...

Well, it's amazing how much I was able to get done, or at least could have gotten done, despite not having up-to-date backups of my Scrivener files available. These days I mostly do my composing and editing on 4thewords, which meant all my current projects were accessible as long as I could remember my 4thewords password. Which I could. And so many of the places I submit stories to use online submission management systems (Submittable, Hey Publisher, Submission Manager) that I never had trouble keeping up with my daily submissions; I just logged onto whichever system I'd submitted a given manuscript through last and downloaded a copy. I had recent enough versions of many useful things on the two Asus laptops that were my previous two workspaces before this Dell. And I was able to keep up with email via the webmail options my domain host offers.

Which is not to say I didn't breathe a huge honking sigh of relief when, after the Dell onsite technician installed the replacement motherboard not 6 days after the power-on failure (always spring for the extended warranty if you can afford it; Dell's is particularly good), the computer booted up to windows and demonstrated that all my data was sound. And you can bet I initiated better backup habits that very night. (Did you know Mega.nz offers 50 gigs cloud storage on just their free account?)

It turns out I could have accessed and backed up my data at any time. I assumed that my hard drive would be buried under intricate layers of machinery, but no, it is surfaced for customer access just like the battery is. I could have yanked it out and slipped it into a usb shell that I already possess and ported my entire life back onto the old Asus machine that became my workstation during that week. Well. Now I know, should a similar calamity befall me in the future.

(And it might. I seem to average one computer crisis per year. I'm kinda death to laptops. Again, spring for the extended warranty every time you can afford it--it is so worth it. I know mine's got me covered through December 2021 or thereabouts.)

However. During that time I kept up with my daily submission procedures and nothing else. Failed to do my short story revisions. Got another week behind on Fictionettes, Just kinda sucked in general. It was like my own personal physical/mental/emotional system wouldn't power up any more than my Dell would.

But the first two days of this new week have been a lot better. Like, oodles of percents better. And I have good things to report! To wit:

The Friday Fictionette that was due July 5 is finally out. It's "A Practical Guide to Your Magical Hero Destiny" (ebook, audio), which is an ironic title because you don't actually get an instruction manual for that kind of thing ha ha ha are you kidding? I'm hard at work on the July 12 release as we speak, with hopes of getting entirely caught up by sometime this weekend.

Since I last blogged, I've received notification that two more of my submissions have survived the first slush-culling and have been "bumped" to a secondary round of consideration. Both of them are currently unpublished drabbles, or 100-word short stories, which I had considered long shots unlikely to find favor at any market. You just never know.

And I'm going to suggest that you go ahead and subscribe to The Epitaph, the newsletter of the Denver Horror Collective, for no particular reason other than that you are clearly a fan of Denver-area horror writers, right? Or at least one particular writer who resides in the Denver area and writes things that might be classified as horror? Anyway, it's only monthly, so it won't fill up your inbox like some newsletters I might mention. And you may be intrigued by what shows up there.

And that's the news for now. With any luck I'll manage to post more tomorrow.

bam, just like that
Sat 2019-03-30 20:36:09 (single post)

And now everything's working again. No more broken bits. Bam.

I'm not even sure the actual code had anything to do with it. I only changed one "mysql_connect" to "mysqli_connect", and I think I actually changed it back. Which isn't to say I shouldn't move all the code over to the new standard, mind you--deprecated code won't be supported forever--but I seriously don't think that was the problem.

I think the problem had to do with a change in how passwords were handled, and also with my database user account somehow losing privileges on the Writing database (but not on the Journal database? weird). After going into the control panel and changing the password and re-granting the privileges, EVERYTHING WORKED.

Three months this blog was broken because I couldn't even and THAT'S all it took to fix everthing? WELL THEN.

You may expect regular blogging to resume Monday. Probably there will be a recap of my trip to New Orleans, I dunno. I haven't blogged regularly in three months, I'm sure I'll come up with something.

i seem to have a web page again
Sat 2019-03-30 13:50:16 (single post)

This just in: I am successfully drawing info from the database again.

I finally, finally, after three honking months, sat down to reteach myself PHP/MySQL code via the w3schools.com tutorial. Apparently a huge portion of the code I used to create all my websites got deprecated in 2012. Apparently the version of PHP to which my ISP updated itself to in December stopped supporting that deprecated code. Which meant everything went BOOM and also "Access Denied."

So, OK. First thing I do is, I create myself a Hello World page and I set about connecting to the database using the 2019-approved code extension. I can't connect. I get "Access Denied" on my fresh new code too. Wut.

So OK. I go back into my cpanel and just, I dunno, change the database user's gods-damned database password. Cpanel tells me, "Make the password stronger! Let me generate one for you!" I say OK. Fine. Password generated. Password strength approved. Password changed.

And damn if suddenly I don't get a working web page again.

I mean, OK, some things are still not working. You might notice the attracting "SELECT command denied to user blah blah table 'manuscripts' blah blah" at the top of the page. BUT I DON'T CARE IT'S PROGRESS.

So. BRB, digging into the code to find out why that particular database call is failing. Because I can blog now, but I'd also like to be able to update my submissions database, and that's hard to do is table 'manuscripts' is inaccessible.

This has been your incomprehensible and boring technological update on the state of the actual writing blog. Stay tuned for hopefully making all those error messages go away.

reporting from the unexpectedly lengthened road
Mon 2019-03-18 22:00:00 (single post)

The train station in Raton, New Mexico is little more than a tiny waiting room cared for by dedicated WWII veterans who really, really, really want to help you with your luggage. (Honestly, the gentleman offering to take my suitcase looked like he could easily fit in it, at which point I could then bench press the whole ensemble.) However, there is this little gift shop across the street ("The Rat Pack"?) where the staff will happily stow your bags in the back room so you can enjoy beautiful downtown Raton while waiting for your train. I have, accordingly, been enjoying this comfy, friendly cafe and its delicious lunch fare.

Outside, the weather has cycled from sunny to light flurries of snow to sunny again. I hear there will be eight to ten inches of snow tonight, but by then I'll be well on my way to Chicago and my connection with Train 59, the southbound City of New Orleans. And the weather in New Orleans for the next few days is forecast to be perfect skating and biking weather. Also great weather for parade-watching.

What with the actually writing blog still being down (didn't find time this past week to poke at it, unfortunately), I've been turning the Monday Muse into something of a blog substitute. So this week's Monday Muse contains, in addition to the writing prompt associated with March 22nd's Friday Fictionette, the story of why I'm in Raton and not, as originally planned, in Denver Union Station waiting for the arrival of the eastbound California Zephyr. The tl;dr version is "blame climate change."

And that's about all I've got to report today.

Day 7: Late into Ottumwa means more time to write
Wed 2018-11-07 16:55:46 (single post)

Track shenanigans gave us delays on either side of the Ottumwa, Iowa station. I'm not sure precisely what that does to our estimated arrival into Chicago, but I know they're anticipating it'll be later than 4:00 PM because some passengers trying to make a connection for that time have been rerouted to another train later in the afternoon.

My connection isn't until 8:00 PM, so I have the luxury of viewing this delay as an opportunity for more writing time. It does mean less layover time at the station, though. So I'll be finishing this blog post on the train, getting it all ready to upload the moment I find myself an internet connection. Since I'm riding coach this time, I won't find that connection in the Metropolitan Lounge. I'll probably wind up instead at the little bar in the upper level of the station. I remember that as being a pleasant place, cozy if not spacious, not too dominated by TVs, and with a bartender who actually asked my permission first when a man down the bar declared his intent to cover the cost of my drink. These things are all pluses, though I doubt I'll be able to count on minimal TV interference the day after election day. (Yes, I care about the results; I just want to be in control of how I take in that information.)

Today's NaNoWriMo Rebel Report features a long-winded rumination on my writing routine and certain related anxieties. You have been warned.

Morning Pages: Got to them somewhat reluctantly. Didn't sleep well, despite the unusual fortune of an underpopulated coach car in which everyone got a pair of seats to themselves. Small as I am, I still get sore legs from curling up in that space, and a sore neck from having yet to find the proper pillow substitute. I think something in the zipper pocket of my jacket was stabbing me in the shoulder. I had to go to the bathroom constantly. Then, of course, there was the station stop at Omaha at 3:30 AM. Getting woken up in Omaha is inevitable; people get on, the conductor helps them find seats, sometimes there's mystery luggage whose owner needs to be found. You know. But being kept up after Omaha was entirely unnecessary. Sadly, it happens all the time. There's always some group of men (and it's always men) who decide that, hey, they're awake, they might as well enjoy themselves, and if they're enjoying themselves, surely everyone else in the car must be enjoying themselves too. What do you mean, it's four in the morning and everyone around us is trying to sleep? Well, accommodating them is hardly our responsibility.

Between that and the way headphones seem to have fallen out of fashion among smartphone-enabled multimedia consumers, I am in full Old Lady Shaking Her Cane At The Clouds And Yelling About Kids These Days mode.

In any case, once I heard the cafe attendant in the lounge car announce he was open and serving, I made my bleary way over for a cup of coffee and set up my mobile office at a table upstairs.

A large portion of my Morning Pages was occupied with justifying my writing routine to imaginary critics. This is because my brain kind of sucks sometimes. It produced a scenario in which a stranger comes up to me in the lounge car and says, "Morning Pages, huh? You know they don't work, right?" and then harangues me when I don't simply stop writing on his say-so. Next thing I know, I'm having long drawn-out arguments in my head with this phantasm. That is no way to spend one's writing day.

Here's what I figure. I have a lot of voices implanted in my head (or "those damn tapes," as I've heard the phenomenon called) by various critics throughout my life, parents and friends and online acquaintances and strangers, all of whom were of the opinion that at no time and on no subject could I possibly know what I was talking about. Then you have the communities of writers I've passed through, every single one of which had its share of self-proclaimed experts whose response to other writers' enthusiasm was to try to wither it right up. The result is me constantly questioning my own damn writing process.

I remember, once upon a time in 2004, crowing happily on misc.writing about how my husband and I had decided together that I could quit my day job and write full time, and I was burbling excitedly about how I'd spend my work days now that I finally got a whole day to work in--

And I got so many condescending responses, like,

"Congratulations. You have been given the gift of time. Don't waste it."

"Well, with all those 'morning pages' and 'writing practice' sessions and meditations and whatnot, when will you actually get a chance to write?"

That shit has stuck in my head ever since. So now that I'm using NaNoWriMo 2018 to challenge myself to complete all my writing tasks each day, and I'm moreover blogging about it where anyone, including the really condescending self-proclaimed writing experts, can see, well of course I'm feeling obliged to preemptively justify myself to someone who will inevitably come along and tell me UR DOIN IT RONG. Envisioning that hypothetical scenario is how the internal tape recordings externalize themselves. Thus I waste brain cycles arguing with imaginary people's unsolicited opinions.

So. Having ruminated on that for three pages of longhand, I've come to the conclusion that I don't have to argue. Should someone actually be rude enough to ask me, "Why are you doing that?" I can just say, "Because I choose to." I can also choose to tell them, "Go away," or even to ignore them completely.

OK, then. So mote it be. Onward.

Freewriting: Most Wednesdays I get my writing prompt from the Magic Realism Bot. However, being on a train with no internet access trumps the Wednesday writing prompt routine. The being-on-a-train-without-wifi writing prompt is generally "I am looking at..." This tends to develop into a storyline of some sort. That storyline will typically involve a train. Go figure.

Friday Fictionettes: As usually happens when I board the eastbound California Zephyr, I got remarkably sleepy around eight o'clock. It's the expected effect of a day spent stressing about getting out the door on time, then spent in the crowded Denver Union Station with constant back-burner worrying about "What if I lose track of time and forget to go trackside for boarding time?" Once I actually board, the stress lifts, I relax, and my body decides it must now be bedtime.

So last night's session was brief, about ten minutes of mere brainstorm-babbling. Today's session was better; a full twenty-five minutes spent writing a draft that successfully, if clumsily, incorporated all the brainstormed elements into a narrative flow with a beginning, middle, and end. Tomorrow I expect I'll be able to refine it into what's going to go up Friday.

Short Story Editing: Also because of the "stressful day is done and I'm going to bed" effect, Tuesday's session was less productive than I'd have liked. Which isn't to say it wasn't productive at all. I chose one of the questions I'd need to answer in the expanded version of the story, and I explored a possible answer to that question via some 500 words in the protagonist's point of view.

I'll hit today's session on the City of New Orleans train as it departs Chicago.

Submission Procedures: Not sure what I'll do today, but I trust I'll figure it out in Chicago Union Station once I can access my writing database and various submission guidelines online. Will let you know tomorrow how that went.

Blogging: I appear to have done that now.

NANOWRIMO SELF-CHALLENGE PROGRESS SO FAR: Assuming I do hit the short story editing and submission procedures tonight as promised, that's 100% success through the first full week of the month. Go me!

Tomorrow's blog post won't be until late. I'll be hustling straight from the train station to the line-up site for the PARADE held by Big Easy Rollergirls to celebrate WFTDA Champs in New Orleans, so while I might write the blog post on the train, I ain't getting a chance to upload it until pretty much bedtime. A very late bedtime. So. See you after the first funtimes of the weekend!

i know i know just let me farm another 800 stone bricks ok
Wed 2018-10-10 22:30:25 (single post)

OK, so. Confession time. I'm addicted to smartphone app games, and I don't even have a smartphone.

What I have is a laptop running the Android simulator Bluestacks. I installed it several years ago when John showed me the game he was playing at the time, Two Dots, and I got hooked hard. Then I found out there wasn't a version for regular computers. This struck me as a great injustice. Surely every game on the smartphone had a regular computer version too, didn't it? Why not?

So, Bluestacks. It's come along way since then, through two full version numbers and into much better compatibility with more or less anything I try to run on it. And, to my chagrin, it's commercialized itself a lot more thoroughly. It's always had a for-fee mode, where you pay to get rid of the advertisements. It used to randomly play app trailers at me; no longer. Now it mostly contents itself with manifesting an icon of their Featured App of the Day in among my installed apps list.

But it's still got enough going on to get me into trouble.

It's got a metagame. It's got--whatever it's calling itself these days, what is it? Pika Land? Bluestacks World? In Bluestacks World, it runs periodic events where you enter a prize drawing by playing this or that app for ten minutes. Generally this is easy to ignore. I'm interested in none of the games, and I'm interested in almost none of the prizes. (It's a beautiful desk chair, ergonomic as hell, but entirely incompatible with my office environment.) So. Great! I'm safe! Except one day, the featured app was Two Dots. And, hey, great, I already play Two Dots, why not?

Why not, indeed. See, that's how they get you. It goes like this: The event that was running the time, "Deities of Egypt", asked you to play Featured App of the Day for ten minutes in order to open a divine scroll, summon the God or Goddess within, and, incidentally, get entered into the day's prize drawing. Well, now I've opened the Day 1 scroll. I've summoned Bast. Hooray! Guess I might as well participate in each of the following days, right? Just to see? Shame to give it up when I've gotten off to such a great start, right?

I am a filthy, rotten completist. Also a perfectionist and mildly obsessive. I did the Day 2 thing. And Day 3. And so forth. And I meant--I really meant!--to just leave the featured app running unattended for ten minutes while I did other things. Like, y'know, write. Except, a couple of those games, I clicked on. Just to see. And I found them oddly compelling. And I wound up playing them a whole lot. Dammit.

Guns of Glory had me addicted for two or three weeks before I got free. It's a resource-management kingdom-builder thing. It's also multi-player. I swore I wouldn't get involved in the multiplayer side of things. I'd restrict myself to upgrading my military tents and farms and stuff and not join an alliance. Not! Except then I saw an exchange on global chat (which appears impossible to disable) that went something like this:

"Alguien quiere unirse con nuestra alianza? Hay muchas ventajas en hacerlo."
"ENGLISH PLEASE"

And I was all like, "Screw your 'English please!' This is an international game! Deal with it! Just for that, I am going to join their alliance!"

And so I did. And I went into the game's settings and changed my language to Spanish, and forced myself despite my embarrassment to converse in Spanish with the other alliance members. I felt very virtuous about this. I wasn't just wasting time on a clicky game--I was taking advantage of a great opportunity to practice my second language in a real-life situation! Yay! Brava, chica. Meanwhile, a whole new part of the game I'd written off as off-limits, because I'd planned not to do the multiplayer thing, was now accessible, and it was fun and rewarding.

It was also more demanding. Everyone else probably looked in on their estates every time their smartphone gave them a notification about whatever. I felt obliged to log in more often throughout the day so as to be a good alliance member.

And then, one day, another alliance declared war on our alliance. I logged on and my castle was on fire. My troops were all in the hospital--in shifts, because hospitals have a limited capacity depending on how far you've upgraded them--and healing them was using up all the food and wood I'd had earmarked for structural upgrades. No sooner had I recovered and built up more reserves than another attack came in. Basically, they were using us as a resource farm. It made the game a lot less fun and rewarding.

And then, one day, I logged in and discovered that my alliance's leader had stepped down from his position and made me the new leader in his place. And nobody had heard from him since.

I gave him the leadership crown right back, apologized for the confusion to whoever happened to be reading alliance chat at that time, and then I logged off. And uninstalled the app. With prejudice.

So that was my brief foray into kingdom-building resource-management multiplayer clicky-games. Well and good. No harm done, right? Except, before the death throes of my brief love affair with Guns of Glory had ceased, I had yielded to temptation in the matter of Merge Dragons.

Here we go.

Merge Dragons does pretty much what it says in the name. You merge three dragons of the same type, you get one dragon of the next level up. (Or you merge five to get two. This is important.) You get dragons by merging eggs. You get eggs by, among other methods, completing levels, during which you merge all sorts of things into other things. Meanwhile, your dragons flit about the landscape, harvesting stuff from the objects you've merged and occasionally spitting fire at what emerges. There's a vague story involving a quest to heal the much-beleagured land of Dragonia of the blight laid upon it by the evil zomblins (zombie goblins, don't think too hard about), but it's not really the point. The point is, DRAGONS. And GETTING ALL THE THINGS. And DISCOVERING ALL THE MERGE CHAINS. And completing all the random goals, like "merge 5 seeds of the prism flower," which involves fending your dragons off from your slow accumulation of necromancer grass tufts so that they don't prematurely harvest them into seeds which will turn themselves into prism sprouts before you can accumulate the five you need to merge, and also you have to do that sixteen times to achieve the goal. This is how I find myself attempting to basically tire all my dragons out, like fractious toddlers, by distracting them with rocks they can harvest for stone bricks.

Oh, and there are events. Events! In which you have three days to work your way through a very, very large level, healing as much of its land as possible and maximizing its resources to earn points to get special trophy dragons and prize objects to take back to your Dragon Camp. I may have left Bluestacks running for the entire 72-hour period so that my dragons could harvest everything while I was at scrimmage or asleep. Whatever. I'm not proud of this.

Thankfully, there is only so much you can play at a time without spending money. Each new level costs a certain amount of "chalices" to play; you generate one chalice every hour; you can only hold seven chalices at a time. When you don't have enough chalices, all you can do is hang out in Dragon Camp, where each dragon eventually runs out of actions and has to go to sleep for a bit.

But, still, it's amazing how much time one can waste clicking around even a moderately advanced Dragon Camp, even when all one's dragons are asleep. There are processes that continue in their absence. Seeds blow in on the breeze. Rain clouds spawn. Bushes spit out mushroom caps. There are two entirely separate merge chains for mushrooms, do you realize? It seems unnecessary. Oh, and if you progress through all the levels of mushrooms (of either type), or bushes, or prism flowers, or whatever, you might unearth A WONDER OF THE DRAGON WORLD. Exciting! I merged some high-level bushes and unearthed RUINS OF THE SKY PALACE. (Oh, hey, did I just generate a fourth chalice? Great! Time to play the next level!)

So that's the story. I am trapped in Dragonia. There is no exit in sight. Do not send help. Stay away, far away. For the love of little yellow dandelions and all that is good in the world, not to mention your productivity in general, also your loved ones' expectations that they continue to see your face from time to time, save yourselves.

whether it's an excuse or an explanation depends on the night
Tue 2018-04-03 23:52:51 (single post)
  • 4,600 words (if poetry, lines) long

OMG lookit me I'm writing after derby. Help.

I go back and forth on whether I can usefully get stuff done after derby. When I started this post during the last half hour before practice, I was thinking, this whole "can't work after derby, sorry" thing is just an excuse. But at that time I hadn't had derby yet. It's easy to plan to be virtuous when I haven't had three hours of skating hard, hitting and getting hit, attempting to perform strategy while metaphorical bricks are being thrown at me, and then doing a whole bunch of off-skates conditioning hell. Now that I have done those things, I'm feeling less gung-ho about writing, or in fact doing anything other than collapsing into bed. But I had a Perfect Day on Habitica yesterday--a day where I completed and checked off all my Dailies--and I'm damn well going to make today a Perfect Day, too. So I'm doing writing stuff after derby. Gods help me.

In addition to finishing this blog post, I also committed to doing my submissions procedures. Submission procedures isn't just one of my Habitica Dailies, and thus required for a Perfect Day, it's also hours I count toward my Camp NaNoWriMo goal! Any work done on drafting, revising, or submitting short stories counts. (I'd already done today's short story revision work, which was also a Daily I needed to check off. I only worked on it for about a half hour, but that counts.) But the thought of attempting to put together a submission late at night on a post-derby brain is kind of scary. I mean, post-derby brain is capable of all sorts of ridiculous mistakes. Post-derby brain has trouble telling black from white and counting to five, y'all. How am I going to rely on it to scrupulously follow submission guidelines, remember which editors I'm emailing, and attach the right file?

Theoretically, this can be easy and even mindless. Take that same manuscript file that went out last time, attach it to an email going to the new place (or upload it via their submission form, whatever), and off you go. Theoretically. But that's before you consider that some markets require blind submissions, so you have to scrub your identifying information off the page headers. And some editors prefer real italics and some prefer you use underlines in place of italics. Some editors really, really hate the Courier font, so you probably better change that to Times New Roman or Verdana or whatever it is they like. (Or maybe you hate Courier, but the market you're considering is all MONOSPACE OR DIE. Everyone's a potential casualty in the font wars.) So it's in the author's best interest to read the submission guidelines carefully and make whatever adjustments they require.

But before I get into all that, I have to know which story I'm sending out and where I'm sending it to. And that's really hard for post-derby brain to figure out, especially when pre-derby brain kind of had no idea either.

Thank goodness for the Submissions Grinder. It's a free-to-use submissions-tracking system built on top of a truly enormous market database. The whole thing is a labor of love and community service by Diabolical Plots and David Steffen, and I don't know what I would do without it. Poor post-derby brain Niki can just log in, click "Manage Pieces," and scroll down the list, and say to her self, "Oh, 'Caroline's Wake' isn't currently out in slush, is it? It should be. It's one of my best stories. I should submit it somewhere." Then I can click on the corresponding "Run Search" link to pull up a market search form already filled out with the stats for this particular story, and easily get a list of markets which accept submissions of that length, in that genre, and which I have not submitted this story to before. (That last is important. I got that last bit wrong once recently and it was so embarrassing. The rejection letter was very kind. They said they remembered the story and how much they admired it the first time they read it, but they would really like to see something else by me, pretty please.)

Anyway, that's what I did when I got home from derby. And while I didn't actually find a place to submit that story, I found a place I could submit it just as soon as they reopened to general submissions. In the meantime, they are reading for a very particular theme and format, for which one of my other stories might be a perfect fit, only first I need to trim it down to about two thirds its current length.

Which I will attempt to do tomorrow because, having fulfilled my duty vis--vis blogging and submissions procedures, collapsing in bed is imminent. Me and my sore, beat-up, worn-out body wish you a good night.

watching the time as it passes in tomato-sized chunks
Tue 2018-03-06 17:41:41 (single post)

4thewords.com has made a huge difference in my productivity as far as word count goes, but I seem to have let it diminish my productivity in terms of time. Measuring my writing in terms of monster battles is not of universal utility. It's amazing how I can log two successful monster battles a day of babble-draft on the current Friday Fictionette and still not have a coherent story ready on time. Meanwhile, if I don't pay attention to time spent on writing tasks and, more to the point, time spent getting around to the next writing task, it's very easy to look back on the day and wonder where all the hours went.

So I've begun using the Pomodoro technique again. And that's making a huge difference in my productivity. Holding myself to four 25-minute sessions separated by breaks of no more than five minutes means I get a lot of work done in two hours. And since two hours isn't such a large percentage of the day, I have plenty of day left after those two hours to deal with household stuff, catch up on email and other communications, cook and eat and clean up after a meal, maybe play some quick video games, and still put in another two-hour writing shift after that.

When last I used this technique with any consistency, I used the app Productivity Challenge Timer. But its toxic attitude really wore me down, not to mention its extremely male-centric design. Eventually I stopped using it. I used Focus Booster instead, but the version I had installed was clunky, and upgrading meant either paying money or limiting myself to twenty "poms" a week. That's less than helpful when I'm trying to get up to eight a day five days a week. So I needed to find a new timer program.

I found Tide.

Tide is very simple. It shows you a peaceful image (it chooses them at random) and plays peaceful sounds (you choose by swiping between the five options) during your work session. At the end of your work session, it flips directly into break mode. At the end of your break, you hit the START button to do it again. After four work sessions, it gives you a long break. All times are adjustable. It has some other features about keeping track of your progress and letting your share it on social media, but I haven't been interested enough to mess with them. I'm mainly here for the session timing. The gentle sights and sounds are a pleasing bonus and a huge improvement over Productivity Challenge Timer's calling me a lazy slob, demoting me for insisting on a reasonable weekly schedule, and asserting that Male Is Default.

(To be fair, screenshots of PCT's latest version appear to indicate that the Man Doing Science in the Projects screen is now a Woman Doing Science. This means PCT currently has at least one non-male illustration of Humans Being Productive. Its attitude, however, has not improved.)

So there we go--one concrete action toward getting all the things done. So far, so good--in addition to doing my daily gottas, I actually spent some time today on a fiction revision and got this blog post done before roller derby practice. I get to play video games tonight! ...if I have any energy left for staying upright after derby, that is. Good luck me!

and then jerk-brain tried to drink up all my rocket-fuel but i said
Thu 2018-01-11 23:56:32 (single post)

There's another side of the Jerk-Brain vs. Gamification battle I didn't talk about yesterday because, frankly, that post had already gone on long enough. That was a post all about what happens after the writing that determines whether I get to actually feel accomplished. (It was also, briefly, a post about fruitcake, because I am a multidimensional being.) This post here is about what happens before the writing that determines whether I wind up writing at all.

It's the question of motivation.

The motivation aspect is a lot simpler than the External Validation Brain-Hack Machine. It's what gets talked about more. Almost every new member of 4thewords mentions it in their introduction post on the forum: "This is giving me so much motivation to write!" Motivation works in opposition to avoidance, the way thrust opposes drag when you're flying a plane. Motivation pushes you toward writing; avoidance pushes you away. It's never a matter of not having motivation; if you want to write, you've got motivation. It's a matter of which force is stronger at any given time.

To be clear, when I say "avoidance" I don't simply mean procrastination. I mean anything that acts to push the writer away from the act of writing. The looming difficulty of finding time and energy after a hard day of work, the inevitable drama of stealing back time and privacy from a demanding and unsympathetic family, the feeling that time spent writing is time stolen from more important pursuits. And yes, the temptation of just one more game of Two Dots. If motivation says "I want to write," avoidance says, "but I can't/won't/shouldn't right now."

Jerk-Brain is very good at strengthening avoidance and whittling down motivation. It says that whatever you're contemplating writing isn't important enough to be a high priority. It says you're selfish for demanding that people leave you alone to do it. It says that freewriting and other forms of writing practice are just busywork, that drafting new stories is your excuse for of abandoning other projects as soon as they get difficult, that the story you want to revise is pretty much awful and unfixable and no one's going to want to read it so why waste your time.

Jerk-Brain tells poisonous lies with lips all stained from drinking up all my rocket fuel to keep me from achieving anything like escape velocity.

Enter gamification. When natural sources of motivation fail, gamification is pouring a gallon of 100% Synthetic Motiviation in the gas tank. In the case of 4thewords, that motivation is generally something like "I still need 300 more words to beat this monster and only 5 minutes to do it in!"

Well, usually it's something less high-pressure, like "I'm on a quest to make a bunch of stone blocks, so I need to defeat a bunch of Grult since they drop raw stone. Then I need to find rope somewhere. I could buy it, but that's hardly satisfying. Guess I've got to go back to Mama Tree and fight a bunch of illi." But today after my fictionette work I got distracted watching Team Colorado's bout against Team Kansas and only remembered belatedly that I was still in a battle with the aforementioned Grult.

So I was all like, "Shit! I'd better get to it! Five minutes! Go!"

And it was like I was running at full-speed and then flying (thrust and lift beat gravity and drag!) while way back behind me on the ground Jerk-Brain was all "But, but, but, I was talking to you, I was saying--" and I wasn't listening anymore because I HAD ALL THE WORDS TO WRITE HURRY HURRY HURRY--

And that's how the bulk of tonight's blog post got done.

all this and hot water too
Tue 2018-01-02 23:55:06 (single post)

OMG you guys. I took a bath today. In my own bathtub. With hot water and everything. And the new furnace is working great. The big open vents in the laundry room, rendered obsolete by the new units, have been capped off, making things a lot warmer on that side of the house. And the new thermostat is really cool too--we spent a little extra to get a 7-day programmable one so that we can differentiate our derby weekdays from our regular weekdays from our Sunday with derby in the morning from our Saturday with nothing scheduled at all.

The systems that support our comfort and energy efficiency are greatly improved. Today was a good day.

(Also, that bath was just as sorely needed as I expected. After so many missed practices due to holidays and/or weather, my body was not ready for all the plow-stops, hockey-stops, and sprints. My adductors, y'all. My adductors are very, very angry with me. My ribs aren't too pleased either, but they're not what's yelling at me every time I sit or stand.)

So. Writing? Yes.

Yesterday I said, a little of each of the things in every workday: drafting, revising, submitting. And while it's true for yesterday and today, it takes a bit of a stretch to see it. Drafting--no problem. The daily gottas take care of that handily. Submissions--more or less OK. Today I mentally paired up a market with an existing story, but the story is at this time a drabble and the market wants flash of about 1,000 words in length. So that will require some rewriting. But it still counts as submission procedures, by golly!

Editing, however... Well, I'm trying to stick to my mantra of "If I can't do a lot, I'll do a little." And what with the eight hours of appliance installation labor going on in my house today, I couldn't really do a lot. That dang brain glitch struck again: I felt paralyzed by being "on call" all day, obliged to remain AVAILABLE while the technicians were working. I worked through it, sure, but it was there to work through. It slowed me down. It especially made difficult the transition from one task to the next.

So I did a little.

In the case of the NaNoWriMo novel, and specifically the task of preparing the first 4,000 words for submission to the 4thewords contest, "editing" has so far only consisted of reading the first few scenes to remind myself what I wrote. What I wrote was a mess. I think when I finally get something concrete done, it won't be editing so much as notes toward editing. I'll go through those first few scenes and just catalog what information is being communicated by the text on the page. Then can I decide what information needs to be communicated and what information does not. Not to mention what information is being communicated redundantly; when I draft with daily word-count targets in mind, I'm not exactly terse. So, once I've done that, I should be able to cut whole swaths of unnecessary gabble, clearing the way for brand new draft.

In the case of this week's fictionette, it, too, got merely reread yesterday. But today--while I was in that lovely hot bath, bliss!--I revised the first half of it substantially. I'm still well on target to release it on time, if not early. Well, I mean, not release it early. But finish it early, and upload it early, and use the SCHEDULE feature so that it will go live on time with no further input from me.

The Fictionette Artifacts for November 2017 went into the mail today; the ones for October went a few days ago. I am all caught up. As long as I send December's on time, which is to say by the end of this week, I will remain all caught up.

So even with a little stretching, I think I can say that, two days into the new year, I am still on point with my New Year's Resolutions, such as they are. Two whole days, y'all! Let's go for three!

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