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

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

but questions only lead to more questions and also a higher wordcount
Thu 2018-05-24 23:19:26 (single post)
  • 3,496 wds. long

Hi. I'm in a hotel in Loveland right now. I'm doing the derby thing this weekend. It is a tournament called Mayhem; details here. (Sorry, it's a Facebook event page, I don't think they have a regular web page about it.) We play at 2:15 PM tomorrow against the team from Colorado Springs. Our schedule for the rest of the weekend depends on whether we win or lose that first game. The latest bracket and schedule is... hard to find, actually, but it's in a Google Drive pdf that's viewable by anyone who has the link, so, here's the link.

So as you might expect, this complicates my Friday. My whole week has been complicated. But I have been good! I have been prioritizing the ongoing revision of "Survival, After" rather than doing just "the easy stuff" and sticking a fork in the rest of the day. So I actually have progress to report.

Progress has been... rather daunting.

As I've said before, I'm already daunted, disappointed, alarmed, something like that, by the story's refusal to remain a flash fiction story, and by its insistence on needing more than just a quick polish before sending it off to potential publishers. But I had become somewhat resigned to it. I gave in. I began indicating section breaks and expanding the resulting sections into full-blown individual scenes. I watched the word count rise and I shrugged and said, "So be it." I even got excited that I might have a brand new full-length story by the end of this process!

Then I took a look at the world-building and things really started blowing up.

Heh. That's almost literal, given how the story starts. As of last week, the draft began, "Within an hour of the bombs falling..." The original prompt had to do with immigrants and refugees, so my character was a refugee fleeing a war zone. Thus, bombs. Only bombs and war means territories and nations and policies and I just can't. Whatever it takes to arrange fictional wartime politics, I just don't got. I'm sorry. So, no. No one is dropping bombs on the protagonist's city.

So what does that mean? It means unexplained uncanny phenomena, of course! Again. I mean, it's basically "The Day the Sidewalks Melted" except survivable (and not flash fiction). Because that's what I do. Apparently I write stories about the real world turning quite suddenly into a science-fantasy world, and how everyday people cope with that. It's OK. If I'm a one-trick pony, there are worse tricks to have.

And so but anyway the point is, the story's beginning just keeps getting longer. Look, if you say "bombs," the reader can kind of imagine what that's like. Things go boom. Stuff gets smashed. People get smashed too. The fallout effects may be fantastical, but the initial concussive impact is can pretty much go without saying. Right? Well, delete the bombs and nothing goes without saying. How does the surreal effect happen? What does it look and sound and smell like? What do we know, what don't we know, and what can we hope to find out? QUESTIONS.

I also decided the protagonist can't just be a bystander when the cars at the traffic light go feral. The protagonist is in one of those cars. Which means the protagonist has no idea how widespread this is until they run home to reassure their family: hey, the thing you are no doubt staring horrified at on the morning news? I survived that. So I have to actually write the scene where the protagonist discovers what happened to their family's house. And I have to decide what happened to their family's house, because since it's not bombs I can't just refer to "the rubble that was my parents' garage" and leave it at that. And, damn, did I actually originally have the protagonist just fleeing the area without finding out for sure whether their family is OK? That's cold, y'all. That's super cold. The protagonist has to dig through the rubble. They have to go back to their brother's school and try to find him. They can't just leave without making sure.

So now I'm writing even more new material. For a story that started out 750 words long.

I'm in this weird back-and-forth between feeling really awesome about watching this story take shape, and getting all white-knuckled anxious WHEN WILL THIS BE DONE PLEASE?! Like, I would like to write other things in my life. Other short stories. Maybe even a novel! Could I not spend the entire rest of my career on this one used-to-be-flash story? Because right now it feels like this is my life now.

Anyway. Today I did not prioritize short story revision because tomorrow is Friday, and, having prioritized the short story revision all week, I had not made even a little bit of progress on this week's Friday Fictionette offering until today. And that sucker needs a lot of revision between today, because the hot mess I have babbled out isn't presentable. Also it is too long. It is almost 3000 words of not even a little bit presentable. So... I am hoping to be on time with it tomorrow, but tomorrow is Bout Day 1 of 3. Adjust your expectations accordingly and I shall try to do the same.

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)
  • 1,097 wds. long
  • 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.

and sometimes food, and maybe a movie or play
Wed 2018-04-25 23:06:22 (single post)
  • 1,722 wds. long

I'm still working on the same story. The same 750-word flash fiction piece that I was just going to give a brief spit-and-polish revision before submitting to, oh, I dunno, Flash Fiction Online. Well. It's not flash anymore and I'm still working on it.

I mean, to be fair, first I had to get to the point where I was actually putting in time on it every workday. Despite my lofty Camp NaNoWriMo goal, or perhaps because of it--because of the pressure such a goal created--I didn't manage to get any short story revision time in most days, let alone two hours every workday. I talked about that a little bit last blog post, which was... gosh, almost a week ago. Blogging's been a victim of the same mess of pressure and unreasonable expectations. I mean, here's the truth: I'm not going to go from "zero hours most days" to "two hours every day" without some sort of transition period, like "some non-zero number of minutes most days."

That's about where we're at this week. Yesterday, an hour and a half. Today, an hour. Monday, a little less than an hour. Some non-zero number of minutes.

Turns out the story needed its ending completely revised. To support that ending, the scenes needed a little fleshing out, both to improve pacing and to allow the themes involved to seed themselves more naturally through the plot. Next thing I know, the scenes are getting quite a bit longer, long enough to be worth separating into discrete text sections. And now the thing's more than 1700 words long, and instead of Flash Fiction Online I'm thinking Shimmer. I think it's gonna be really Shimmery.

But here's the other problem with two hours: Unless I have two-hours worth of stuff that I know how to fix, I can't. I can't go two hours. It's not a matter of stamina; it's a matter of creative process. An hour, an hour and a half in, I hit a wall.

Oh, you doubt me? You think I don't know what a wall looks like? This is what a wall looks like: Me, changing a sentence into two sentences, then, five minutes later, changing it back to one sentence with two independent clauses joined by a semicolon. Occasionally I will take a prepositional phrase and move it to the other end of the sentence. Then I will move it back.

Now, sometimes that sort of useless copyeditorial wittering means the story's done and you should just send it out already. That is not what is going on. How do I know? I know because the scene's still broken. Like, there are two different versions of this or that paragraph because I'm in the middle of moving text around for better flow. Only now I don't know how to fix the segues. It's messy. And my brain is just sliding off the problem like a jammer on 94-durometer wheels sliding out of Turn 2 at Mayday Mayhem. (Have you seen that track? Polished cement. Slick as never-you-mind. I plan to bring my 84s that were grooved aftermarket and I'm still nervous.)

That wall, I have learned, means that it's time to take a break. Stop writing for a bit and go do something else. Best if the something else is partially mindless, like taking a walk or cooking a meal or even re-reading a too-familiar book. It's got to take my conscious mind off the writing problem but leave room for things to simmer on the back-burner. Or maybe I should just go on with the rest of my day and plan to come back to the revision tomorrow.

That's what happened yesterday. I got to an hour and a half and knew I couldn't make two hours. I put it away. I went to derby. (Derby was very much not mindless. SO MANY THINGS TO LEARN, omg.) I played Spiral Knights a bit. I went to sleep. Then, this afternoon, I took a short walk just before getting back to the revision--and damn if some interesting things didn't just jump right into my head.

Well, I wrote them down, of course!

I hit a similar wall when I'm specifically trying to think about a writing problem. I discovered this when I was in Cincinnati for our bout back in February. Day of the bout, I decided to walk somewhere for lunch and cogitate on that week's Friday Fictionette, which, like many this year, was running late into the weekend. It was running late because I didn't know how to make it work. So I figured, I'd take the fifteen minute walk to figure it out in my head, then I'd take lunchtime to implement whatever I figured out.

Halfway through my walk--you guessed it--I hit a wall. That kind of wall looks like this: My brain, running over about half a scene, arriving at some insight or other, and then repeating from start. Over and over again.

But! When I sat down to write, I implemented that one insight... then discovered another insight on my way there. And another. Turns out I had to take the thought to the page before I could proceed to the next thought. There in fact wouldn't be a next thought until I switched from thinking to writing. So I wrote down the next thought, and the next. Then I ran out of thoughts and didn't find the next one until I was walking back to the hotel.

That's my creative process. Write, hit a wall, put it away. Think about it, hit a wall, proceed to the page. And repeat.

This may also be why I'm complete rubbish at pulling all-nighters, and why even on completely unscheduled days I can't whip out a complete new draft from scratch. I need time for this write-wander-think-write cycle to iterate. Time, and sleep. (But not too much at all. Is really all I want.)

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.

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