“I find having a mortgage to be a great motivator to keep on working.”
Mo Willems

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Bonus! Sunrise.
Fri 2006-02-10 06:20:00 (single post)
  • 51,101 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 12.50 hrs. revised

I'm all clever. I have turned my laptop into an alarm clock. In fact, it is a writing alarm clock (an actually writing alarm clock) because in addition to "Time to wake up!", it says, "Time to write! Show up at the page, you lazy bum!"

Premise The First: Once I associate a given handful of environmental elements with writing--a lit candle, the Blue Man Group: Audio CD--those elements will cause me to get into a writing mood.

My computer does this every morning at 6:00 AM so long as I have left the computer in "Standby" mode.

Premise The Second: If I write at the same time every day, the practice will form a habit. Also, designating that hour as writing time protects a place for writing in my day.

So here's how this works: First, create a playlist in Windows Media Player. Next, create a scheduled task in Windows. The Scheduled Tasks Wizard will prompt you for program to run (Windows Media Player) and a time (Daily, 6:00 AM). When you finish with the Wizard, check the box that says something like "take me to this task's advanced properties" and tweak it. Under the "Task" tab, append the name of your playlist to the end of the command in the "Run" field. (Mine looks like this: C:\PROGRA~1\WINDOW~2\wmplayer.exe /prefetch:1 "c:\documents and settings\niki\my documents\my music\Instrumentals To Write By.wpl".) Check "Enabled" and uncheck "Run only if logged on." Under the "Settings" tab, check "wake computer to run this task." There you go. Put the computer on Standby last thing before bed, make sure the volume is up, and rest easy. If you're using a desktop, you might even be able to leave the computer on Hibernate, and it'll magically wake up anyway. Something to do with the BIOS. Most laptops don't have this capability, unfortunately.

(Note that in Windows XP, scheduled tasks only run if you provide a username and password. If you don't want a password on your login, then create a new profile, give it a password, and run the scheduled tasks under its aegis. If you don't want to do that, I mean if you really want only one profile on the computer which logs itself on automatically, here's what you do. Create a password for that proile. Then, Start->Run->"control userpasswords2". Uncheck "Users must enter a name and password to use this computer." Select your profile from the list. Hit "OK". You will be prompted to enter your new password. From this point on, your computer will log on automatically even though there's a password on the profile.)

This is how I got an hour done on the novel even before leaving the house for my 8:00 AM volunteer reading session. Ta-da!

Premise the Third: If I do some writing first thing in the morning, I won't resent all the rest of the things I have to do with my day. You know, for taking up time I could of used writing. 'Cause, see, I already wrote some for the day.

You have no idea how good that felt. Best damn sunrise I'd seen all winter.

Note to self: Really, let's make a habit of this.

On Upsy-Downsy Professions
Thu 2006-02-09 18:44:36 (single post)
  • 51,030 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 11.50 hrs. revised

Yesterday, I was in gloom. Gloom! I was absolutely certain that This Book Would Not Be. I was midway through working on that first scene, with Babba and Diane (sounds like a John Cougar Mellencamp song), and I found myself just throwing words at the wall and watching none of them stick. I couldn't seem to gracefully or convincingly convey how the bad-ass cool chick turns into a wide-eyed child again in the old homeless woman's presence, or why, and I couldn't figure out exactly why Babba decides to give the talisman to her out of all the teenage girls in Boulder, or how to reconcile contradictory bits of Babba's personal history with the unicorn, or, or, or--gaaahhhhh! I suck! I suck like a great big sucky thing!

Today, however, I finished rewriting the scene. And it ended totally differently from in the first draft. It revealed less, it was more visceral, it got a little creepy, and it got me just totally, totally happy. I was once more convinced that I could write! Yes! Yes I could! And this book will not suck all the quartz out of great granite boulders, no, it will instead rock those granite boulders like they've never been rocked before.

No, I am not actually bipolar. But thank you for your concern.

I told my husband about this phenomenon, and he, doubtless thinking of a friend of ours, said, "Like stripping."

I kinda went blink-blink while I processed that, and eventually said, "I guess so, yeah. Or like any field of expertise."

It's true. Whether you write or paint or program or dance nude for a living, the bad days can make you feel incompetent and depressed, low in the self-esteem department, prompting you to question your life choices, your attractiveness, your very status as human. And the good days can make you say, "I can so do this. I am a total writing genius," or "Damn, I'm one hot chica."

Right now, as far as I'm concerned, I am one hot chica escritora.

Even if I maybe did just call myself overheated writing desk.

Speaking of Miss Snark, We Have Things That Make Your Nose Explode
Wed 2006-02-08 21:15:08 (single post)
  • 50,844 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 10.50 hrs. revised

Yes, I already quoted this on Metroblogging Denver. Yes, I do tend to go on and on about things that are funny. Yes, this is another example of me reading other people's flamewars for kicks and grins. But OMG this is good.

So we have a follow-up to Miss Snark's "When To Quit" post. It's an example of the sort of doomsayer I've been railing about here. Only this guy's line is, apparently, that anyone who writes but isn't seeking publication really ought to just stop wasting their energy on such a pointless endeavor. Her Snarkiness, of course, trods him firmly beneath her famed stiletto heels.

Oh, but that wasn't enough. Intrepid Snarklings had to go read this bozo's blog. Mr. "If it Ain't Gonna Be Published Why Bother" has a self-published book of his very own, and a blog subtitled "a novel in progress." That blog, apparently, gives one little doubt as to his book's commercial viability, or, more to the point, lack thereof. Each entry consists of one sentence, perhaps two, each of which earnestly vying for the title of Longest Sentence In The World. A reader might be prompted to reflect on the other meaning of "sentence," and how appropriate it is that both meanings fall under the same word, for reading the run-ons to be found at the bozo's blog is certainly a punitive procedure.

Or, as these comments demonstrate, one might be prompted to think other things:

I'll say he's talented! In scrolling through his blog, I think I saw two periods. Those are some of the longest ass sentences I've seen since me Joyce and Faulkner readin' days. Yikes!
I read some of his stuff.

Congrats, Mark!! To judge by the singular lack of periods in your narrative you're PREGNANT!

For what it's worth, if you pinch your nose real hard and keep your mouth shut, it prevents your outburst of laughter from escaping your head and disturbing your neighbors and/or supervisors. I found this very useful when reading through these comments on a night bus with people sleeping all around me. It made my nose feel like it was going to explode, but the explosion was silent.

This has absolutely nothing to do with my writing beyond the fact that in reading blog archives I was rewarding myself for a successful hour on the novel while simultaneously procrastinating the next round of attack upon the current work-for-hire project. Which goes swimmingly, by the way. I am still on the aforementioned sanity-saving schedule, and should be able to go to the goth club with everyone Sunday night guilt-free.

On Predicting The Future
Tue 2006-02-07 14:23:53 (single post)
  • 50,722 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 9.50 hrs. revised

Yes, first time hitting the novel since the wee hours of Friday night. What do I have to say for myself? Thththbbbp. "Thththbbbp" is what I've got to say for myself. What are you going to do about it, that's what I'd like to know. You don't feel you could love me but....

Eh, whatever.

Today's task: Rewrite the first real scene of the novel, in which Diane skips school, runs into Babba, and gets given the talisman. You know? It's kind of fun. I feel like I'm actually getting to make them real characters now. First draft, the arcs of the various characters' developments weren't exactly in place. All I had were echoes from their future possible perfections ringie-dinging around on the page. I get to listen for those echoes now and try to justify them. So Diane is a lot more surly in this first scene and a lot less ambivalent about hanging around with Mitch. She's irritated and she's dying for a smoke. And Babba actually has more of a consistent voice, too. I actually know who she is and where she's been this time around. In 1802, for example, she was in Tattingstone.

So I'm not done with that scene, not hardly nearly yet, but I have Other Things need working on tonight if I'm going to stay on a schedule that'll keep me from pulling some miserable all-nighters this weekend. Hurray for being on schedule!

Meanwhile, here. Have a link. Therein you'll find Miss Snark, the literary agent, addressing the question, "When should I just give up on this whole writing thing?"

When you're standing at the Pearly Gates and St. Peter is busy discussing his novel with Miss Snark.
Damn good answer. Look, we all know that there are some of us out there who will never make it. Ninety-something percent of everything is crap, and eighty-someodd percent of those producing said crap will never produce anything more than crap.

Some like to harp on this fact more than others. You'll find them on writing-related forums all over the Internet. They can often be heard pointing out signs by which one will know that one is destined to be a life-long crap producer. "Look, real writers write because they have to. If that doesn't describe you, no amount of X Words Per Day tricks will make you a writer." "If you find it so hard, maybe you ought to be doing something else." I can only presume that such doomsayers are themselves struggling or even published writers who feel threatened by the army of would-be writers hurling themselves bodily from catapults at the great stone wall standing between would-be and did-become. The doomsayers must want to discourage them from continuing the assault, out of fear that they might become competition. "Look, just stop. You'll never be a writer. Go do something easier, like law school."

And the doomsayers can just bloody well shut up, right? Because yes some would-be writers will never reach the land of did-become. Some will never get published. Some will never even finish a single story.

But you know what? It ain't our place to say who that'll be.

It's said that where there's life, there's hope. That goes for just about anything you might want to aim your life at. No amount of crap you produce today, fellow writer, can indicate for sure that you won't start spinning straw into gold tomorrow. Or the tomorrow after that. Or in thirty years. The only way to succeed is to keep trying, and the only positive indication of utter failure is to stop trying.

And even then, you might start trying again next week.

So fie upon doomsayers. You'll give up when you're dead. Until then, for as long as you love it, keep writing.

I May Have Exaggerated.
Fri 2006-02-03 00:00:50 (single post)
  • 50,439 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 8.50 hrs. revised

Well, maybe not Hell. Maybe just a little bit of Purgatory. And not so much "breaking loose" as "sidling over surreptitiously and hanging about all evening."

All I got done tonight was rewriting the the rewriting of the very first scene, the opening piece of the framing device in which Grandma Lenner announces that she's going to tell a story. In which all the cousins and one of the parents is introduced. In which all sorts of statements about age and who's whose kid are made, using numbers and names I grabbed out of the air on November 1, 2004.

I do believe I spent forty-five minutes just hammering out a family tree.

How old each person is now... how old each of Diane's daughters were when their father died... how old they were at the time of each grandchild's birth... an explanation of each daughter's love life and why one of them apparently had her first child at age sixteen...

That's a bunch of math. And not the easy sort of math, like checkbooks and restaurant tips. No. The hard sort of math where you have to keep about eight or ten random numbers floating around in your head at all times.

And then there's family tree issues of the rough draft variety, such as why the heck I had two children named Bryne listening to Grandma's story, and whose child she was, and whether Grandma's daughter Sherri actually existed or ought to be conflated with the middle daughter, skeptic Giselle.

And why the hell so many characters in this book have names that start with "D."

My head hurts. I'm going to bed now.

Tomorrow, All Hell Breaks Loose. Watch This Space For Developments.
Thu 2006-02-02 00:12:13 (single post)
  • 50,304 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 7.00 hrs. revised

All right.

It took me the full hour to get there, but the read-through is now done.

The end is pretty complete. It's got themes and the ends of plot arcs and characters having changed for the better and everything. It has bits that make my eyes prickle up and my pen right "Yes!!!"

Now, all I have to do is provide the rest of the story that leads up to it.

Yeesh.

Tomorrow's session will have to begin with taking notes on my notes, so I can figure out what to do first. Daunting task. Maybe it'll be easiest to start with writing whole new scenes from scratch that my notes indicate I need to write. Or maybe just take the notes one item at a time, taking each item through the whole novel as needed. One thing I know: I can't just turn back to page one and start a type in. I need to turn the novel into its component building blocks and shuffle the reshaped blocks around.

Yes, I know this entry sounds a lot like yesterday's. That's because I'm still terrified.

*Sigh*

Meanwhile, I'm boring people to death over at Metroblogging Denver. Come look! It's fun!

More Nanosymptoms
Tue 2006-01-31 22:46:10 (single post)
  • 50,304 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 6.00 hrs. revised

So the read-through is practically over. And the last quarter of the book is, like, totally fragmented. Reads like an outline. I know exactly what I was thinking about when I wrote it: "Oh crap! It's week 4 and I only have 35,000 words! And I don't know how to get to the scene I want to write! Crap! I'll just splotch it down on the page without any run-up..." It reads like something between an outline and a "scenes from" abridgement.

There's also the scenes that by their very existence imply something that ought to have gone before but failed to, what with me not having thought of them until week 4. I keep making notes like, "Good description of Mitch & co. on p 190. Need more throughout." "Too far in to be the first time we see this mannerism." "Did she really? Figure this out."

Yeah. I am not looking forward to finishing with the read-through. I'm going to have to fix all this mess.

And the sad thing is, it looks about ten times less painful to fix than either of the two NaNoWriMo novels that went before.

We really do get better at this. But what "better" means is never quite as much as we'd like it to.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the 'net....
Mon 2006-01-30 21:50:31 (single post)
  • 50,304 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 5.00 hrs. revised

Lookie me! I'm a Metroblogger!

I've also been convinced, for the sake of reading others' friends-only blog entries, to join LiveJournal. Don't look for a hell of a lot of blogging from me there, though. I mean, I'm here instead. And at Denver Metblogs, for when I have nothing to say about writing but plenty to say about my locale.

(I also have a Blogger account, for the sake of mouthing off in the comments sections of others' blogs, but I haven't set up a blog there. I may do, just for the sake of putting up that same "Redirection" post as I've got at LJ.)

So. To everyone coming here from those two places (I'm being optimistic about that), Hi there!

Today: Another hour of birds-eye read-through on what I like to call "the unicorn novel." I had forgotten how hella cool the scene in which Diane burns Danny's note rather than give it to her teacher is. "You want it, huh? Well, take it!" And how heartachey is the scene in which she finally comes to him as the unicorn. But there are oh-so-many theme-ish threads to tie through them and into them. My Gods I've got a job ahead of me. I keep taking notes on the page and in WordPerfect, and I have no idea how I'll make use of them when I'm done the read-through. I mean, it'll be just a mess of "Oh, yeah, and another thing..." Maybe I'll have to take notes on the notes first, organize them into scenes on index cards, shuffle them about. Something like that.

I am convinced that this is going to be a good book, though. Depending on how I count (Completed drafts only, or completed drafts plus the ongoing whenever-I-come-up-with-a-scene Stormsinger Saga), it's either my third or my fourth, so theoretically that means it's quite possibly potentially publishable, right? It's not the manuscript that Hemingway recommended tossing into the ocean, right? I'm determined that this is going to be a good book, because, dammit, I care.

Um. So there!

On The Banality Of Evil
Sun 2006-01-29 08:31:35 (single post)
  • 50,304 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 4.00 hrs. revised

It probably says something unflattering about me that one of my passtimes is reading ancient USENET flame wars. I can say that thus far I have not actually given in to temptation and posted responses to five-year-old posts. But it's been a near thing.

[Begin anecdote] ##Trust me, this is going somewhere.

There was this post at the AbsoluteWrite.com forums which I can't seem to find anymore, sorry, but it linked to this thread here. (Don't click the link! It will eat your soul!) The "discussion" has an all star cast and one very clueless, rude would-be author suffering from Golden Word syndrome. (Don't be tempted!) It probably wouldn't have been nearly as long a thread as it became were it not for a spectacularly stunning exchange between the would-be author and one of the shining stars in that all-star cast. She gave his awful novel excerpt a detailed critique, lovely in its thoroughness and more generous than he deserved. He dismissed it as petty. She said she was therefore puzzled as to what he expected in a critique. His response? "If you've ever written a real book... you'd know. :)"

(Yes, that was a smiley on the end there. As in, "I've just been breathtakingly rude but don't take offense because I tacked a smiley onto the end of it!")

They say that on the Internet no one can hear you scream, but even over that distance of five years I could hear the distinct sound of a convention full of authors' and editors' jaws dropping.

(But really, don't read it! There but for your forebearance will go weeks of your productive life!)

So shortly after that happened, another star in that cast picked up the gauntlet and began a new thread in which he gave this would-be author's excerpt an even more detailed page-by-page critique. For which everyone else in the thread was grateful, except of course for the one person who had been specifically asked to killfile it. He didn't, so there was more juicy flamage, With The Result That...

[End anecdote]

[Do getToThePoint]

##Told you this was going somewhere!

...he found himself used as the example in a fascinating discussion about the banality of evil.

While reading Gene's latest excesses, with increasing horror, I also noted quietly that this is an interesting way to introduce a villain into a trusting community. The back of my head considered that, as there aren't many vicious pathological liars around in most people's lives, thanks be, I may be reading other people's versions of Gene Steinberg as Dark Lord for years to come.
Because that's what writers do. Unpleasant experiences become grist for the mill. Never meddle in the affairs of wordsmiths, for you are entertaining and model well as fictional evil.

The discussion that followed held examples of real live evil, which is rarely as flashy as Darth Vador or flamboyant as The Joker. Real pathological evil is hard to recognize, because most of us tell ourselves it doesn't exist, certainly not in our circle of friends. Pathologically evil people take advantage of our tendency to assume motives of goodwill in all. How many times have I myself quoted the Author's Creed For Creating Three-Dimensional Antagonists: "No one is the villain in their autobiography"?

It's true. I cling to my faith that the Creed is true. However, do not underestimate an antagonist's ability to reframe their villainy in their internal narrative. In real life, it isn't always helpful to tell yourself that they just want the best for everyone and are misguided as to what the best is. They may actually want the worst for you--but are convinced that desiring the worst for you is reasonable.

Not going to go into details about it, not going to name names, but... my husband and I are recently on the rebound from someone who fits the description. And the sad thing is, that someone probably has legitimate historical reasons for being broken in her particular ways. But she absolutely did not want the best for anyone; she merely was convinced that some of us were evil and out to get her and needed to be destroyed. Once you finally realize--and it can take a long time to realize--that this person expects her friends to make her the center of their lives, prioritized higher than preexisting friendships, than family, than marriage; and that her more obnoxious behavior, far from being unconscious, comprises active attempts to break up those preexisting relationships by which she feels threatened; that wrecks every pattern you have for interaction. You can no longer assume goodwill as a motive. You can no longer take for granted a beneficient common ground.

The point here is not "poor pitiful me, I have seen Evil." The point here is, realistic evil--or a damn good facsimile thereof--comes in all different flavors. A villain needn't be a misguided philanthropist or a self-described benevolent dictator to be three-dimensional. Sometimes the villain has an unjustified persecution complex, or an overdeveloped sense of vigilante-ism. And whatever the flavor, it's valuable to recognize a villain when it shows up in your life. Not just because you're better off wasting less time and energy on people like that (really; the self-defense mechanisms by which we manage them in our lives can be actively bad for the soul), but also because once you recognize it, you, for certain writerly values of the word "you," can use it.

'Cause when you're a writer, and you find yourself losing at the games of life, that's your consolation prize.

So I've got bad guys in The Golden Bridle. I've got a high school clique leader who's downright nasty. I've got the protagonist's boyfriend who uses the protagonist in all the worst ways. I've even got the protagonist herself, who starts off the novel in her guise as Bad-Ass Cool Chick, a guise she's build out of self-defense over the years. None of these people are motivated by wanting the best for everyone. They want the best for themselves, and they treat others poorly, and they rationalize their poor treatment of others as being the only way to give themselves the best, which of course they're convinced they deserve.

And when I stopped to think about it, I realize that many of the examples raised in the USENET thread I'm linking you to here, as well as the example I mention from my own life, they've got threads of behavior and rationalization that make sense in the context of my bad guys. And I thought, damn. These people are so right.

So I'm passing on the link as a public service to writers everywhere. Enjoy.

But don't, for the love of the Gods, read that first thread. Or, if you do, limit yourself to the "Cooking for Writers Who Forget To Eat" subthread. Recipes are very cool. And the posts where people invent whole fictional accountings for the rude would-be writer's mental state, that's kind of interesting and heart-warming. And--

[do slapSelfSilly]

Look, it's not worth it!

I Get Phone Calls.
Sat 2006-01-28 21:00:37 (single post)
  • 50,304 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 3.00 hrs. revised

Quick shout-out going to Keith and Deric in Chicago, Illinois, who rang me up this afternoon on my cell phone and said not much more than, "Can we speak to Nicole? Hi, this is Keith. Deric is on the line, too," before hanging up on me. Hi y'all! Call back anytime y'all have more to say.

At last count, I have two contacts in the Chicago area. One's a gal I met there at World Horror Con '02, and I owe her email. Or she owes me email. I forget. The other's one of my bestest oldest childhood friends; she and her husband moved there after Katrina wrecked their brand-new New Orleans area home. Neither of these good people are named Keith or Deric. But I have known folks by those names, and for all I know, they could be in Chicago now. So, hey, you guys? If I should have recognized you, sorry I didn't!

(In the interest of accuracy, the call came from a 312 area code, which is Chicago, but the callers might have been elsewhere. That's the magic of cell phones.)

Meanwhile, I note that the NaNoPubYe.org goal for Month Three is 30 hours of editing, or one hour per day. As you've probably guessed, that's not going to happen before January is over. However, what with my plans to submit The Golden Bridle to Delacorte, there isn't a lot of other editor/agent researching necessary at this stage, so Month Four can be mainly a Month Three extension. Well, OK, it wouldn't hurt to research up a Plan B list, sure, just so I know where I'll be going afterwards on the off-chance that Delacorte doesn't heap glowing accolades upon my head, but it's not as urgent as it would be if I hadn't any idea of what Plan A was, I think.

OK, OK, I'm just justifying my being behind schedule. Fine. I admit it. Happy?!

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