“When writing doesn't work, the writer is assumed to be the guilty party.”
Teresa Nielsen Hayden

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

"Saturday was the longest day I ever lived..."
Tue 2011-05-24 21:55:40 (single post)

It started out in Nebraska, for one thing. I was riding the California Zephyr from Chicago to Denver, and it crossed the state line sometime around 5:00 AM or so. I'm not sure if I was awake for that. I know I woke up several times through the night to see the moon, just past full, shining in on me. Then the sun was rising and my seatmate said, "It was 6:15 a moment ago; now it's 5:30." "Oh," I said, rubbing my eyes, "we must have crossed into Colorado."

I put on my shoes, went downstairs to replace my morning breath with minty toothpaste breath, and went back one car in search of means to replace that with coffee breath. The lounge car had just opened for service and the line stretched up the stairs and halfway through the sightseer deck, so I put off coffee 'til later. Open up laptop and write story now.

I was on tap for story critique for my twice-monthly Wednesday group. It would have met tomorrow, but since not enough RSVPs were received it got canceled. But I didn't know that would happen, so I was slightly panicking. I wanted to email that story the moment I got home. I didn't have much time.

That's the thing with new stories. I can work them over in my head as much as I'd like, but they don't really come out until they come out. Of course, the sooner I start writing the first scene, the sooner I'll know how the second scene goes, and so forth, but I swear I wrote and rewrote the first scene several times and had no clue. Really, the story wasn't actually there to be written the way it ought to be written until I realized that the beginning catalyst and the climax mechanism, if related, would make each other less contrived and the story more efficient. And that didn't happen until sometime Thursday.

Would it have happened sooner if I'd spent more time thinking about it sooner? I don't know. The person I was Thursday is not identical to the person I was Wednesday, or the week before. Maybe the person I was the week before couldn't have figured out what the person I was Friday afternoon on the train needed to know to start churning out scene after scene at last.

Because that's mainly what I did Friday on the train. I also knitted a good deal of sock, read the first chapter of Orphans of Chaos (a free Tor.com download for the site's registered beta users from a couple years ago), and wrote up an article for Demand Studios using web pages I'd Scrapbooked earlier for research. But mainly I wrote the story's first real draft.

Writing a story draft when I only have some 24 hours to do it in is panic-inducing. Every scene I get done, I can't help but think how many more scenes I have to go; and every scene I've written seems to require that the story be at least one scene longer than I'd originally planned. I kept checking my word count and despairing at the realization that it was already 2500 words, already 4000 words.

This, unfortunately, makes for a first draft whose pace gets more and more rushed as the story goes on. But I'm not allowed to fix it just yet. I already mailed it out for critique. It really bugs me when someone responds to comments on his or her story with "Oh, don't worry about that, I've fixed that since, it's totally different now." Might as well just add "Those hours you spent in good faith critiquing my story? Totally wasted. Sorry 'bout that!" I don't know if that bugs other people as much as it bugs me, but I'm not going to do that to anyone else. So I'm not allowed to reread or edit this story until after June 8, which is when my critique was rescheduled for.

So the train arrived and I got home thanks to my terribly sick husband, who peeled himself out of bed long enough to drive down to the Table Mesa Park 'n Ride where the regional bus dropped me off. He went back to bed with my profuse thanks. And I hit the desk to finish writing this dang story.

And I emailed it off.

And promptly regretted it.

It's really pathetic how all it takes to make me insecure about my writing is for me to put it in front of other peoples' eyes. I just have to remind myself that this is how I felt after emailing an early draft of "First Breath," too -- and you know how well that went. (Really well. The anthology it's in will be on bookstore shelves come September 13. I have the PDF of the proof copy right here on my personal hard drive. With a table of contents with my name in them. And Ellen Datlow reports that the galleys are going to Book Expo with her for autograph events scheduled for tomorrow and Thursday. I didn't know galleys went to autographing events. People will see them! People in public! Can I stop hyperventilating now?) Which is not to say this new story is going to be all that and a bag of chips, of course, but it does help remind me that my insecurity isn't an accurate reflection of reality.

So. Story draft done and emailed out. After which, I and five friends drove down to NoNo's Cafe and ate rather a lot of crawfish. Then there were cats to feed, ice cream to purchase, and several episodes of Doctor Who to watch. Also the new My Little Pony cartoons, which, in the capable hands of Lauren Faust (Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Powerpuff Girls), are rather more fun than Hasbro's first go-round.

Conveniently, the world did not go all to pieces at 6:00 PM, so there was nothing stopping us watching cartoons until we were falling-down sleepy.

And that's what I did Sunday.

But oh hey wait not done yet! So. I have this really good friend from high school, right, he actually reads my blog and stuff, he says to me over lunch in Metairie last week, "So when do we get to see more chapters?" And he's right -- I should be posting excerpts more often. So here's the first few paragraphs of my brand new short story draft, which is provisionally titled "The Interfaith Intercessional Fellowship Meets Saturdays at Seven," and is very likely still full of The Suck but hey, it's down in writing now. Ya gotta start somewhere.

Janice Claire joined the cult because, having nothing else to do with her Saturday night, she had no good way to tell Madeline no.

Not that she hadn't tried. "But I don't really believe in prayer," she'd said. "I mean, I hope like anything for the best, but -- I'm not very religious," she finished uncomfortably.

"Oh, that's OK. A lot of people in the group don't pray." Not that Madeline had said please come join our cult. What she'd actually suggested was that Janice Claire accompany her to her prayer group. "It's OK to just hope. Just knowing you're there -- you've given me so much support already, I don't know what I'd do without you."

Not for the first time Janice Claire regretted having opened her mouth. "So much support" had in fact consisted of her mumbling something sympathetic early last week when Madeline had checked her daughter into room 301, bed B. It seemed to be the thing to do. The twelve-year-old had been in and out of consciousness since then, mostly out. No diagnosis had yet surfaced. Janice Claire hadn't been the only one in the records department to express sympathies, but Madeline responded with such an urgently grateful look that she knew it was Uncle Morris's barbecue ribs all over again. Really, she'd known better. Talking to people only got her in trouble. That was precisely why Janice Claire preferred to spend her Saturday evenings in bed with a book.

Ta-da! And that excerpt includes the correction of a major typo that made it out to everyone in the group on Saturday. Dammit. Well. HEY GROUP! Just sort of mentally insert Madeline's name in the sentence that doesn't parse. Where it goes "but responded with," like that. (Sheesh.) Also, it occurs to me that I meant to rename the uncle at some point because naming antagonists after actual real family members sort of sends the wrong message. (I'm sorry! It was automatic! I was in Don't Think Just Write mode! I was visualizing the usual Weilbaecher Family Thanksgiving Dinner, and the name of the annual host of the festivities just dropped in there along with the floor plan of his kitchen! I didn't mean nothing by it! I also didn't mean anything by it!)

And I'm going to stop thinking about this now, OK?

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