“It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous.”
Robert Benchley

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

collecting data and assembling furniture
Thu 2018-05-10 22:06:47 (single post)
  • 2,211 wds. long

So... let's not talk about yesterday. Well, OK, let's; it's a very short story. The story is this: Brand-new epiphanic schedule reversals can only do so much when you're so bone-weary from the previous evening's off-skates workout that you can't get out of bed. (Seriously. How do my teammates do all those things and still go to work the next morning like functional adults?) It's fine--I did a little of most everything on the list. But it was an uncomfortably late start.

Today was much better. It was pretty much perfect. Well, except for that part where I totally forgot I had a 4:45 appointment in Longmont. I was hip deep in polishing tomorrow's Friday Fictionette offering when the 4:15 reminder went off. This is why I make myself reminders. Other than that, things were awesome. I have logged another great day's worth of evidence supporting the new schedule theory, and it isn't even 6:00 yet. (I've begun this blog post from the bar of the Outback Steakhouse next door to the building that houses Cafe of Life, where my 4:45 appointment was. I expect I'll be finishing it later tonight, after scrimmage, though.)

This morning I was bubbling with ideas for today's short story revision session. I wound up taking those ideas on a short walk around the block, talking myself through them out loud and getting weird looks from neighbors. Then I sat down and spat out notes about those thoughts all over the story draft. (This would be another example of learning from self-observation: having learned that I work best by alternating periods of writing with periods of thinking about writing, I'm now deliberately scheduling time for the walking-around-thinking phase of the cycle. I'm counting it on my timesheet, too. YOU CAN'T STOP ME.)

During the contest I wrote it for, "Survival, After" got some feedback along the lines that maybe we need to see what life was like before. This is a fantasy story, so we can't just assume mundane here-and-now reality before the apocalyptic event. Also, in order to make the story an actual story and not just a verbose outline of a story, I need to give the protagonist a real, tangible life that got interrupted by the apocalyptic goings-on. They need to have memories that mean something to them and add emotional and thematic content to the story. Those are two problems in search of the same solution, which I began implementing today.

It's a little like architecture, or maybe like assembling prefab furniture according to blueprints I'm writing as I go along. Insert tab A into slot B. Assemble boards and nail them together just so. Open bag labeled COMPACT FLASHBACKS and affix contents to the story where indicated.

strike that. reverse it.
Wed 2018-05-09 00:07:13 (single post)
  • 1,722 wds. long
  • 1,097 wds. long

I HAD AN EPIPHANY YESTERDAY. About the extreme difficulty of getting to the short story revision part of the day. About my entire work-flow. ABOUT HOW TO FIX IT.

First up in the equation is time.

I write more efficiently and productively in the mornings. That's just a given. The long day is still ahead of me, I'm awake, I've just had my first mug of tea and done all the morning-wake-up things, maybe I've had a little walk around the block, I'm ready.

I do not do so well in the afternoons. I have a hard time circling back around to the writing after a couple hours not writing--whether it's making lunch or going out and getting it, doing household chores or running errands, or even just having a well-deserved play break. Two o'clock comes round and everything about me says "noooooo." Sometimes I wind up just crashing from sudden fatigue. The afternoon shift quite often doesn't happen.

And then there's tasks.

It's easy to get my "daily gottas" under way. They are rote, they are mechanical, they have the inertia of habit behind them. The stakes where they are concerned is low. Fictionettes are not guaranteed to be sparkling undying literature, and freewriting is no-holds-barred crappy-as-you-want-it idea generation. It is play.

It's so much harder to jump into the revision process. The stakes are off the charts. Making things perfect becomes my job, and it is a scary job.

There you have it. We have two times of day, one that lends itself more effortlessly, more energetically, to the writing than does the other. We also have two types of writing tasks, one that is much easier, brings lower stress, and feels more fun than does the other.

So.

Here's where I *facepalm* forever:

I have been pairing up the unfriendly time of day with the more difficult writing task. WHY. WHY AM I STUPID. Why would I do that to myself? Why would I take a hard thing and make it harder? That is not a nice thing to do to myself! That is not what we call reasonable expectations! Seriously, this is basic self-observation, writing efficiency, Rachel-Aaron-2K-to-10K stuff: Gather data, find out how you work best, and then work that way! Do not attempt to work in a less-than-best way! That way lies less-than-best work. Sheesh.

So! In the name of getting out of my own way already, today I tried reversing the workflow.

For my morning shift: Submission Procedures and Short Story Revision.

  • I submitted "Soup Witch" to a new market. A big one! Big enough that I've never submitted to them before, but always thought, "No, this isn't good enough for them." But, hey, DON'T SELF-REJECT, we have people to do that for you, they're called editors. (I kid. Except I don't.) Anyway, they happily take second publication rights, they don't seem to care where the first rights were used up, and they specifically publish for a younger audience. IT'S PERFECT.
  • I reread the Cast of Wonders submission guidelines for Banned Books Week and this time my eyes snagged on the bolded words new stories only. They in fact they don't want reprints for this particular call. Whoops. (In my defense, I don't think I'd looked at the guidelines on Submittable before, but only at the very brief guidelines at the CoW website. So. I guess I will not be emergency-editing "Making Friends" for them after all.
  • Upon not finding anything in my searchable manuscript list that's unpublished, less than 3,000 words, and in any way to do with libraries, I resigned myself to returning to the rewrite of "Survival, After." Which is fine. Honestly, I feel like I was using EMERGENCY DEADLINE REVISION DISTRACTION as a way of avoiding it, because it's hard. All revisions are hard.
  • So I worked on the bit in "Survival, After" about the singing beef jerky. (It gets its own scene in this longer version.)

For my afternoon shift: Freewriting and Fictionette Prep

  • Freewriting. Yay! For a writing prompt, I turned to InspiroBot, who gave me this creepy beauty. Be strong! Don't die!
  • Fictionette. Drafting is coming right along. It's too long, but that's OK; Tuesday is early days. I've already condensed two characters' functions into a single character, always a welcome development when writing flash fiction.

And for my lunch break, I...

  • Did some household financial chores.
  • Played about an hour of Spiral Knights!
  • Then spent an extra couple hours avoiding getting back to work.

So the rearranged schedule is not a panacea. But! It helped. I did not at last look at the disapproving clock and decide there was no point trying to fit a meaningful session of (difficult, impossible, nebulous, ill-defined) short story revision into the hour and a half remaining before I had to get ready for derby. Instead, I thought, OK, 25 minutes for freewriting and another, oh, 45 minutes for fictionettes. Golden! And off I went. I damn near made myself late for derby because I was not going to put down the fictionette draft until I'd soundly defeated the possessed Villager and taken their stash of Dust and Wood (4TW brings all the motivation), but I did it.

One day does not constitute a sufficient body of evidence, but it'll do for proof of concept. Let's see how well it works tomorrow.

a tent door closes, a submissions window opens
Thu 2018-05-03 14:00:26 (single post)
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  • 1,722 wds. long

The April 2018 edition of Camp NaNoWriMo is over. Toward my goal of 40 revision hours, I got about 10.75. Toward my story submission goal of getting all five Weekend Warrior contest entries revised and submitted, I got a whopping zero. I started one revision but still have not finished it. Still, I did revise and submit something else along the way! So. Not ideal, but toward my meta-goal of "have a healthier daily workflow that regularly moves my commercial publication goals along" goes, it's a dang good start.

I've had to put "Survival, After" on hold again, though. Cast of Wonders has reopened for submissions! But not for general submissions, so I can't simply resubmit "The Soup Witch's Funeral Dinner" there (my one completed revision and submission in April) as the folks at Podcastle suggested doing. I ought to have submitted it during their most recent general submission period. I could have done! Podcastle sent me the rejection letter with that suggestion the day before the April 15 deadline, and then by the morning of deadline day I had received the rejection letter from Cast of Wonders for the story I'd had on slush with them at the time. So I could have submitted it without it being a simultaneous or multiple submission! I had about half a day's window to get it in. But I didn't get moving until late that night, however, at which time I discovered that they reckon end-of-day according to Eastern Time Zone hours.

Alas.

Cast of Wonders's next general submission window is probably going to be August 15. That's kind of a long way off, so I'll be looking for some place I can resub "Soup Witch" in the meantime. It would have to accept Patreon reprints of about a thousand words in length that either read a little young or a little like a fairy tale. There must be somewhere, right? Quick! To the Submission Grinder!

Meanwhile, here's what the current Cast of Wonders submissions window is about (in case you want to play along at home). They're preparing for Banned Books Week by inviting submissions appropriate to the theme of libraries. So I've dug through the Friday Fictionette archives for a potential reprint more likely to fit the bill: "Making Friends," in which a lonely orphan child, having learned the pros and cons of friendship from reading through her guardian's carefully curated library, tries to put those lessons to work.

It is not going to be simple. On reread, I'm struck by what a mess it is. The beginning rambles. The ending abruptly cuts things off just before the two main characters can meaningfully interact. It is not made clear what the protagonist's situation actually is. Also the role of the Duchess's library could be heightened just a bit, just to give the story a clearer connection to the theme, but only once I've cleaned up the major malfunctions.

The good news is, with a maximum word count of 3,000, I've got all sorts of room in which to let the story unfold. The bad news is, once again, I'm going to need to generate new draft. It'll probably take me right up until the May 15 deadline to finish.

Well, if it does, at least this time I know not to leave it until ten o'clock at night.

lather rinse whine repeat
Thu 2018-04-05 00:33:42 (single post)
  • 727 wds. long

I have been slowly working my way through the revision of "Survival, After." It was under 750 words when I first wrote it; it had to be, given the constraints of the contest I wrote it for. Now it just has to be whatever length it needs to be in order to succeed at what it wants to do. Turns out it needs to be longer than it was; no surprises there. New scenes need to be created. Existing scenes need to be fleshed out more, their implications teased out. New rough draft needs to be written. And that's not fair! This teeny tiny short-short story was supposed to only need a quick once-over before it was ready to submit somewhere! I don't want to write new rough draft! New rough draft will itself need to be rewritten! Where does it end?

Fiction is frickin' fractal.

Today I wound up working on something different. Yesterday, during the submissions procedures portion of my work day, I discovered that a market I want to submit to is in the middle of a submission call for themed fiction under 1,000 words. And this market is not only reprint friendly--reprint encouraging, in fact--but it's also Patreon reprint friendly. I think "The Soup Witch's Funeral" might fit the theme pretty well, but I'll have to trim it down to two-thirds of its length first. I got a start on doing that today. Looks like when I get through this first pass it'll have gone from 1550 to maybe 1250, and I think I can do a second pass to tighten it up the rest of the way tomorrow. Then I'll be able to submit it.

And then I'll go back to writing brand new rough draft for the "Survival, After" rewrite. And rewriting the new material. And whining about it.

Cover art incorporates and modifies fireworks photo by Flickr user Alli (CC BY 2.0) - click through for fictionette excerpt with link to original photo
and by here i mean now
Mon 2018-04-02 18:12:17 (single post)
  • 1,330 wds. long

As April begins, seeing as how I haven't really blogged regularly for about a month, it seems like we're due a little "here's where we're at" post. And by "we" I mean me. Here's where me's at.

Me's at a good place with Friday Fictionettes. I'm really, really happy I had a fifth Friday last month. The final fictionette for March ("Party Time," excerpt, ebook, audiobook--it's about doing the time warp again and again and again) came out late, oh so late, but I still did manage to get an early start on the April 6 release. I did all my meebling and morfling over "what the hell am I going to write" last week, which is how I was able to write a concrete outline for the story today rather than, say, Thursday or even Friday. Dear future self: It is best not to need several days of meebling and morfling just to draft a fictionette, please and thank you. Please arrange for an improvement in the weekly process. This may involve morning freewriting sessions which involve less babble and more actual narrative. Consider it, OK?

The end-of-month stuff is almost done. Today I released the Fictionette Freebie for March ("The Soup Witch's Funeral Dinner," HTML, ebook, audiobook, and you can read it on 4thewords, too if you've got an account there) everywhere but Wattpad; I'll catch up to Wattpad on Friday. I'll illustrate and mail out the February Artifacts tomorrow, then get right on the March Artifacts so they actually get mailed in April too. I think that's it.

April is one of the months during which Camp NaNoWriMo takes place. I've never participated before, but due to some gentle peer pressure over on 4TW (people inviting people to cabins! Untu arriving in space-faring pirate ships! New quests and monsters specifically to do with Camp NaNoWriMo!) I'm participating now. The Camp NaNoWriMo webpage explicitly encourages a certain amount of flexibility beyond what's preached in November. Forget the whole "NaNo Rebels" thing: If you're not working on a novel, or not working on a new novel, or have an alternate goal based on a different number of words or a number of something else entirely, you're not a rebel, you're just a participant.

So I'm a participant whose goals are...

  • 40 hours short story production: drafting, revising, submitting.
  • Healthier workday habits: 2 hours on short story production (a full "afternoon shift") every workday.
  • All 5 new flash (from Weekend Warrior) revised and tossed into the slush!
  • A whole bunch of resubmissions without fear or shame or self-rejection!

The "healthier workday habits" is the important thing here--it makes the rest possible. Unfortunately, today, my first workday of April, has not really comprised a stellar start. I overslept my alarm and then sort of used that as an excuse not to get to work until noon. That always makes getting a full workday in before evening activities (and I do have evening activities planned) rather tricky. aIn fact, I still haven't done my two hours today. I suppose I will do the bulk of them when I come home tonight. (It's possible. Tonight's evening activities are neither long nor derby-related. They should not entirely kill my remaining productive energy.)

I just got my first "Camp Care Package" in my Camp NaNoWriMo inbox this afternoon. These are, it would seem, teeny tiny capsule-sized pep talks. (They're also a hashtag on twitter.) Today's spoke to me in a "great minds think alike" kind of way. An excerpt:

But what happens if you tell yourself that you're only going to write a few sentences rather than skipping a day? Open up the manuscript and start writing, just for a few minutes. You will be shocked at how quickly you are pulled back in...

That's pretty much my "if you can't do a lot, do a little" strategy. It's also the way I coax myself to start a revision session that I Really Don't Want To. Instead of beating myself about the head and shoulders with the need to start the task, I gently, kindly, and patiently "trick" myself into getting started. "OK, fine," I tell myself, "that's all right. It's scary and I understand. So let's not do any revision. Let's instead just reread the manuscript so you can remind yourself what you need to do when you start revising." Inevitably, the simple act of reading will engage my editor brain, and before you know it I'm reaching for the red pen and making notes in the margins.

So... after I publish this blog post, I'll "just reread the manuscript" and remind myself what my next steps are. Then I'll come home from tonight's activity with a better idea of what to do during today's revision session... and a small part of the session probably already logged, too, because of how rereading the manuscript will have pulled me back in.

Cover art incorporates 'a t-res-fossil' by 3weg.nl (CC BY 4.0)
Cover art incorporates and modifies 'Mirepoix' by Matthew Yglesias (CC BY-SA 2.0)
avoidance and its protective coloring in the revision habitat
Tue 2018-03-20 17:30:25 (single post)

So on the 16th I released the Friday Fictionette for March 9th, then yesterday the one for March 16th. Here's a little bit about 'em.

Friday, March 9, 2018: "Tomorrow Belongs to the Dragons" (excerpt, ebook, audio). Dragon skeletons are a dime a dozen, but this one's lodged in a cliff face in Hannah's beachfront neighborhood. So it's special and familiar, all at once. That it makes her irritating friend Mary inexplicably nervous, Hannah considers a bonus.

Friday, March 16, 2018: "The Soup Witch's Funeral Dinner" (excerpt, ebook, audio). Sammy escapes an unexciting future in the family tailoring business by getting himself apprenticed to the soup witch. But the cauldron tells him things he'd really rather not hear.

All of which means I'm at lateness: zero once again, and I hope to stay there, because lateness: zero means I get to do interesting things like continue getting my Weekend Warrior flash fiction ready for commercial submission. Because--shock!--my writing career encompasses more than my Patreon experiment! You know that. I know you know that. Sometimes I need to remind myself, though. It's too easy to feel like doing my daily Fictionette work means I'm done for the day, when in fact I am not.

Except Fictionettes are, more or less, easy; revising fiction for commercial submission is hard. Flash fiction is no exception! Each of these five short-shorts I want to get out the door, they took me a weekend to think up, maybe 2 hours to write, that's it. But when it comes to doing just that "quick revision pass" I think is all each needs, it takes hours and hours and days. I'm not sure how much of that effect comes from me avoiding the difficult crap, and how much comes from the crap genuinely being hard. I suppose you can't separate the one from the other.

There's also a tendency to get bogged down for half an hour in trying to find the perfect first sentence for the next paragraph. Again, there's two factors at work here. There's panic over this being the final draft and therefore it must be perfect therefore not-perfect words cannot stand! And then there's the tendency to allow myself to get bogged down in tetchy details because it keeps me from having to face the bigger picture of the whole damn revision. Unfortunately for me and my avoidance issues, reorienting on the bigger picture is precisely what I need to do in order to drag myself out of the bog of tetchy details. When in doubt about different versions of a sentence, refer back to the purpose this sentence serves in the overall story! Argh.

Avoidance issues and difficulties notwithstanding, I hope by the end of this week to both A. get the March 23rd Friday Fictionette out on time, and B. submit one of my Weekend Warrior flash stories to a paying market. If I also get the Fictionette Artifacts for February in the mail this week, that will be a bonus. And next week is a week with a fifth Friday which means A. getting ahead of schedule, and B. taking a Friday off! Things are looking up and moving forward, is what I'm saying.

(meanwhile my new spiral knights character has all 4-star gear and is starting to venture into tier 3, huzzah, but she really really needs to upgrade her fyrotech alchemizer pretty please soonest--might have to dust off my old 5-star character and go grind for crowns and energy down to the core)

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