“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

Cover art incorporates and modifies vector images from Pixabay.
look it's a thing it's a very late thing but it's a thing
Thu 2019-06-27 23:34:13 (single post)
  • 1,200 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,129 words (if poetry, lines) long

Hark! An overdue Friday Fictionette rises over yon horizon. It's "Love in the Time of Lizard People," nominally the release for June 14, and it has a little to do with the trustworthiness of telepathic aliens but a lot more to do with the trustworthiness of your bar buddy. Patrons at the $1 level can download the ebook in any of several formats. Patrons at the $3 level can download the audiobook too.

I'm-a work on the June 21 release tomorrow, but, knowing me and Fridays, it's more realistic to expect it out Saturday evening. After that I'm going to try for June 28 by no later than Monday. PROMISES PROMISES.

In other news, did you know that an interactive fiction piece about a portal-hopping protagonist need not have all, or indeed any, of its choices be about which portal to hop through? I am just figuring this out. Having figured this out, I am now having a surprisingly enjoyable time with the rewrite.

i distract you with poetry and sanctioned violence
Fri 2019-06-21 22:23:54 (single post)
  • 45 words (if poetry, lines) long

So have I posted the Friday Fictionettes that were due last week and today? No. No, I have not. They will not be appearing tonight. Fridays suck, this week has sucked, I suck. It's true. But hey! Let me distract you with the Summer Solstice 2019 issue of Eternal Haunted Summer! I think if you read the table of contents you will see a familiar name.

If you're local to the Boulder, Colorado area, I could also distract you with roller derby. We're playing the teams from Fort Collins and from Cincinnati tomorrow in a round robin tournament of full sanctioned games. $15 gets you in all day. Come check it out, it'll be a fun time! Also we owe our Cincinnati visitors just as much love as they showed us when we visited them last year. That means we need a great big noisy crowd. Don't you want to be part of a great big noisy crowd? I think you do.

If you're there, make sure to say hi--I'll be the one with the long braid, the upside-down fleur-de-lis on my leggings, and the tall hand-knit green and purple stockings that make everyone say, "Aren't you hot in those things?" (Friend, I'm hot in everything. It's a gift.) Also the great big 504 on my back and arm-bands, which might be the more significant giveaway.

My intentions at this point are to do my Saturday AINC reading tonight and be in bed by midnight. Tomorrow's gonna be a long day, what with skating in two games in the evening, helping to set up the track in the morning, and trying my darnedest to get some writing in--including on the overdue Fictionettes--in between. So I'll sign off here and get to it.

See you tomorrow or just as soon as possible thereafter!

still hard even when it's a different kind of hard
Tue 2019-06-18 23:36:02 (single post)
  • 1,200 words (if poetry, lines) long

Let's talk interactive fiction. Do I know what I'm talking about when I talk about interactive fiction? Hell, no. But I'm trying to learn, because there's a story I've been wanting to submit to Sub-Q for, like, ever, and they're open to submissions right now until July 15.

Sub-Q publish interactive fiction, which is a form of storytelling which allows the readers' choices to alter the reader's experience of the story. Think of the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books--but also think of text-based games like Zork and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Or just go read some of what Sub-Q have available. They're more experts than me. They publish the stuff; I'm just beginning to think about writing it.

What I've got is a piece of flash fiction in which the main character goes on a journey, one of both geography and identity. It's been submitted a few times, but never received anything more than form rejections. Now that I'm looking at it with a mind to overhaul it into an interactive format, I'm starting to see why.

The thing's a travelogue, maybe a travel diary, but it's not a story.

It's also in second person point of view, which is a hard sell most places. But I don't think that's its worst problem, if problem it is. The main problem is, the protagonist isn't shown making important choices. Which means the protagonist is lacking somewhat in agency.

In interactive fiction, eventually, at some point, you invite the reader to make choices. And they have to be meaningful choices. They have to have consequences that the reader can guess at before they choose. They can't just be Bastian going through the House of a Thousand Doors in the latter half of The Neverending Story, choosing between a wicker door or a wood one, a red one or a green one, based on nothing more than gut sense that this material is more associated with the person he's looking for than that one. It's got to be more like, you know the green door will bring you to meet Atreyu, but you also know that the meeting and what follows will not be all rainbows and roses, so if you're having second thoughts maybe you should take the red door and go become writer-in-residence at the Silver City Library. Except that's not all going to be rainbows and roses either, so--which brand of interesting dilemma do you wish to explore, reader?

It's an apt metaphor. The protagonist in my story moves through a thousand doors of their own--through portals from one world to another, each more alien than the last. But in the original story, none of the portals matter. You see a portal, you go through it. As long as it takes you further away from your previous life, it's fine by you. And that's no way to write a story, interactive or otherwise. The protagonist has got to have the opportunity to make meaningful choices.

So today's story revision time was taken up with reading the current draft and identifying opportunities for meaningful choice. Also identifying other potentially interactive moments, like, say, the ability to click on a mention of the protagonist's backpack and get a list of its contents, maybe see how they change throughout the story. Click on mention of the watch and get some backstory about the person who gave it to the protagonist. That sort of thing.

It's daunting. It's daunting because I always had this idea that the story didn't need much more than a quick polish, an easy fix. But now I see that even if it stays traditional prose, it still needs no less than a full overhaul and a significant chunk of brand-new content, because protagonists need the opportunity to make meaningful choices. Otherwise they can hardly be said to protag, can they?

In short: Revising stories is still hard, y'all.

confessions of an epicurean nature
Thu 2019-06-13 23:42:21 (single post)
  • 10 words (if poetry, lines) long

So I'm in the bath right now. This is the sort of thing you find out about me when you read my blog. Sometimes, when I'm too cold, too tired, too reluctant or too neurotic--tonight it's the "too tired" case because of roller derby scrimmage--in order to write anything at all, I need a tub full of hot water and a selection of cold beverages. (Tonight it's a mango Waterloo and an Abita "Andygator".) As this is a habit of many years, I've perfected the process. I have a pressboard plank that sits across the tub and acts as my desk. On that desk are a wireless keyboard, a wireless mouse, and my drink de jour (de nuit?). My laptop sits on a tall stool near enough that I can read it without squinting. Oddly, no candles or beauty concoctions are involved. Sometimes a cup or two of Epsom salts, because derby, but that's it.

And eventually I do the damn writing. Something about sweating my brain out my ears in water that's just as hot as I can stand shakes something loose. Also, after so many years, the association is well and truly built up; I might as well use it.

Today was a good Doing All The Things day. Yesterday was not. Yesterday I was running on too little sleep and too many errands. Today went a lot better:

  • I revised a very short poem and sent it somewhere that particularly likes short things (compressed things, in fact). (It is not actually 10 words long. It is 10 lines long. I still need to write the if/then case into the manuscript stat box so that it says "lines" instead of "words" if the manuscript is a poem.)
  • During my freewriting session, thanks to the Writer Igniter prompt generator, I got very invested in a retelling of the folk tale known as Aarne-Thompson type 706 ("The Armless Maiden") involving an apprentice tattoo artist. It's going in the revisions queue, which means one day this millennium I might actually finish it.
  • I didn't finish the draft of this week's Friday Fictionette, but I finally figured out how to finish it.
  • I typed up the first page of the second of the November Fictionette Artifacts I want to put in the mail by the end of the week.
  • And I did this blog post. Ta-da.

Obligatory running submissions tally in handy tabulated form (copied from the source of the handy PHP page I wrote to pull up these stats from my database):

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun 2019
Submissions: 0 0 3 10 23 10 46
Rejections: 1 0 0 3 13 10 27
Acceptances: 0 0 0 0 0 1 1

Aren't you glad you asked?

piece of childhood reclaimed or something like that
Tue 2019-06-11 23:41:28 (single post)
  • 55 words (if poetry, lines) long

I've been writing poems again. It feels good.

I used write poems a lot when I was in school. I mean, elementary school. When I was wee. Maybe that was the problem--as I got older, I associated the writing of poems with the production of the specific caliber of poem I wrote when I was just learning how to do creative writing at all. So maybe I got more embarrassed about it as I got older. Maybe I never felt confident in my sense of what made a poem good. But I could always tell when one of my poems was bad. I'd read it and cringe; that was how I knew.

But at least in high school and thereabouts I had teachers and other students giving me feedback. I had other people giving me the feedback I couldn't give myself, which is to say, they told me if they thought it was good. (I will always treasure the time a teacher told me, "Your poems almost always have that moment toward the end that makes me gasp." Not primarily because it was a high compliment--it was!--but because she had put her finger on something that makes a reader like a poem. She gave me a yardstick I could use. I learned to look for those "gasp" moments after that, though as always it's harder to give them to myself than to get them from others' poems.)

After I got more exclusively into short fiction workshops, I got out of the habit of writing poetry.

It may also be true that when I no longer had a regular writing workshop, I temporarily got out of the habit of writing short fiction.

I'm making headway getting back into both habits now. I'm dedicating a little time every workday to coaxing a manuscript toward publishable shape. And I dedicate one freewriting session every week specifically to poetry. I've been using the weekly poetry prompts on the Poets & Writers blog when they come out on Tuesdays, and I'm responding to them in verse. Maybe bad verse, I don't know. Maybe I'm choosing my line breaks in a sophomoric manner or falling back on cliched metaphors. Maybe there isn't enough sensory data to captivate a reader. Maybe the themes are preachy. But I don't know--that's the point. If I don't feel like I have a grasp on what makes a poem good, maybe I should be less self-assured in my sense of what makes a poems bad. Or at least, one of my poems. I generally know whether I like someone else's poem, and why.

Obviously I should be reading more poetry, too.

I'm certainly thinking in poetry a lot more now since I've dedicated Tuesday freewriting to verse. It'll sneak into my other freewriting days, too, right in there amidst the prose and the babble and the streams of consciousness along the lines of "I don't like this prompt and I don't know what I'm going to write but here are the thoughts I'm having right now."

And between yesterday and today I wrote a brand new poem. And I submitted it to a paying market. And that market turned right around and rejected it in under two hours flat. Which means I have a brand new poem that has already made a complete two-way trip to slush and back, and I can send it out again.

It feels good.

Meanwhile, I just got paid for the poem that got accepted last week. I'm told that means it will go live sometime next week. I'll be sure to let y'all know when that happens.

(Obligatory submissions tally: Submissions in June, 8; in 2019, 44. Rejections in June, 9; in 2019, 26.)

Cover art incorporates and modifies image by Pun Kaset on Pixabay
the struggle is real (more real on some days than others)
Mon 2019-06-10 23:59:09 (single post)
  • 1,011 words (if poetry, lines) long

OK so I didn't Do All The Things on Friday. And that was disappointing. Having found a strategy that worked for three days running, it was discouraging to just fail on the fourth day. And it was a day when, supposedly, I had all the time in the world... but not, as it turns out, all the energy.

Fridays are when I bike my Boulder Food Rescue shift, and of late the bike ride's been long and the food donation on the trailer has been plentiful. By the time I get home, I'm generally on the verge of falling over. This is why the very reasonable plan I'd drawn up that morning while fresh out of bed and sipping my first mug of tea became absolutely untenable by lunchtime. So it became a matter of prioritization. I submitted a story, because I am not breaking that streak, and I produced the Friday Fictionette due on that day, because I'm going to release those on schedule from here on out no matter what. Having gotten those things done, I just forgave myself the rest of my to-do list.

(Speaking of which, the Friday Fictionette for June 7 is "Lord Alchemist's Harvest," in which magpies are both a blessing and a curse. Patrons at the $1 level can download the ebook in their preferred format (pdf, epub, mobi, and/or html); Patrons at the $3 level and above also have access to the audiobook. Non-Patrons are invited to follow the feed in order to be alerted when the monthly Fictionette Freebie is released and when the Monday Muse posts go up. The Monday Muse is where I share the writing prompt associated with that week's Fictionette so y'all can play along at home, should you feel moved to do so.)

I'm still evaluating whether Doing All The Things On A Friday is simply an advanced goal toward which I am making baby steps by at least accomplishing the do-or-die goals described above, or whether I need to just give in and accept that Fridays need a shorter to-do list.

Whatever the answer, I need to give myself space to figure that out rather than constantly excoriating myself for not doing enough. It's like what I and the other trainers were saying to our brand new Phase 2 skaters tonight, "You're learning new things, and you'll make mistakes. That hasn't changed. But now, since you're entering the full contact stage of your derby training, you're going to make those mistakes while deliberately crashing into each other. It may be awkward. It will definitely be painful. Please resolve to forgive each other for that, and also to forgive yourself."

Good advice! But it's always easier to give advice than to take it, though. I'm going to have to give myself space to screw up at that, too. At taking my own advice, I mean. To forgive myself for screwing up, is the advice I'm talking about.

Real quick before I sign off, here's the running submissions and rejections totals.

Submissions: in May, 23; in June, 7; in 2019, 43.
Rejections: in May: 13, in June: 5, in 2019, 22.

78 more rejections to make 100 in 2019! Also I Did All The Things today. So there.

add-on benefits of a daily manuscript submission practice
Thu 2019-06-06 23:18:41 (single post)

Today is Day Three of Doing All the Things On Time. More importantly, it's Day 37 (counting weekdays only) of Submitting a Manuscript Every Weekday. And besides that one acceptance (so far) and the accelerated progress toward my goal of 100 rejections in 2019 (I'm up to 20 now! Woot!), there've been some unexpected add-on benefits.

First, I am no longer avoiding my email. I have been horrible about email for a while now. Which is awkward, considering, oh, bills to pay, league business to take care of, friends looking for cat sitters this weekend who don't need to hear a month later, "Oh, I'm sorry, I just found your email..." But the thing about daily submissions is, I gotta check daily to see if there are responses to submissions. Which means not only checking email regularly but also cleaning out the spam folder regularly too, just in case. Also, I use Thunderbird's calendar function to keep track of when submission windows open and close, creating events with reminders that go off and tell me things like "Escape Pod opens to submissions in 15 days, start revising that flash story up to their minimum word count," stuff like that. And those reminders won't pop up if Thunderbird isn't running. So.

(By the way, have you met Escape Pod? They're the science fiction wing of the Escape Artists podcast network. There's also Podcastle (fantasy), Pseudopod (horror), and Cast of Wonders (young adult, all genres). From a listener perspective, they constantly publish well-produced episodes of absolutely fantastic fiction. From a writer perspective, they pay pro rates for both original and reprint fiction. But they have very definite submission windows. Hence my Thunderbird event reminders.)

I'm still not exactly wonderful about this email thing; the temptation is to check the author email inbox (the one associated with this domain here) and just ignore the email for regular personal business and household stuff (the ones associated with littlebull.com). But I am trying not to do that, OK? At least I'm opening Thunderbird regularly.

Secondly, I have reconnected with my online writer community. I'm in there reading the market reports, reporting my submissions, logging my rejections, and crowing my non-rejections. And, since I am no longer avoiding that community because of that nagging sense of guilt that comes with knowing everyone's submitting things and writing things and getting published WHAT ABOUT YOU, NIKI, WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING LATELY, HUH? ...I'm hanging out in other parts of the forum in my free time, too, just having conversations with other writers about A. writing stuff, B. non-writing stuff, and C. everything else. Not to mention participating in their contests! Because I'm not failing to read the announcements until it's too late to enter!

Lastly, I'm getting all my daily shit done. I mean, this week's drive to Do All the Things On Time each day didn't begin this week. It began with the daily submissions goal. Because you don't just go from zero to 100% overnight. Well, I don't. It's been baby steps all the way. First, make sure to submit something every day. Next, find a way to submit something every day without sacrificing time to actually write--get at least one of the rest of the writing tasks in, OK? Friday Fictionettes if nothing else, since they're on a schedule? Freewriting too if you can manage it? All right, now can we add in a story revision session? We're running out of stuff to submit, here!

If I've finally managed to get to the point where I'm reliably submitting something every day and doing all of the rest of the writing tasks too, it's only because I started with this: Submit a manuscript for publication every day.

but why is this only paying off now and not like three years ago
Wed 2019-06-05 20:47:40 (single post)
  • 639 words (if poetry, lines) long

Today I want to talk about short story revision. But first: check it out, two days in a row of successful adulting! That's a surprise. Usually, after a day as successful as yesterday, I crash and burn; the pressure of having to live up to the previous day just does me in. But I seem to have evaded that trap today. Once again, I got everything other than this blog post done by 5:00 PM. And because tonight did not feature any roller derby practice, I finally found myself with time to thoroughly clean that gross covering of several years' dust off the magazine rack in the hall. I've been wanting to do that for months.

But. Story revision! Story revision and creation, actually; the story I'm working doesn't really have a finished draft to revise. It has the babble draft that came out of a freewriting session in a diner in Eagle, Colorado on the night before a roller derby tournament. And that's the trouble, really. I've already done the babble draft, so I have this innate sense that I'm not allowed to babble at it anymore. What I'm supposed to do now is create a draft that is shining and perfect, the story that is everything the babble draft dreams of being. All at once. Right now.

Not going to happen, obviously, but try telling my emotions/instincts/editor-brain/gut that.

This is what I meant yesterday about being unable to drag myself away from the procrastination method du jour when short story revision is the next thing on my to-do list. That nearly happened again today. With Merge Dragons being the procrastination method and everything. The only thing that saved me was knowing I said I'd get started at three, I was supposed to get started at three, it's three-oh-seven already, would I damn well get started already? Also, the next task after that needed to be done by 5:00 PM and would easily take up the full hour and a half I'd alloted it. So please let's not make with the holdups, OK?

Note to self: this particular brain hack has now worked multiple, repeated times on this particular brain. Continue with the hacking, please.

So I got started. But I fully expected to just spend half an hour futzing around with the opening three paragraphs again. I knew, plotwise, what would happen over the course of the story, but how to write those scenes down in a graceful, artistic, and compelling manner, that was a doozy. Hell with it, said I, just write it down any old how. So I did. And in doing so I tripped over a detail I had not hitherto considered, and wound up babbling some 500 words of backstory that turned the work in progress into a very different place.

Obviously all that babble will have to be ruthlessly whittled down--more revising! revising is hard!--but it's made the rough shape of the finished story just a little clearer and future revision sessions just a little less difficult. So that's something.

The thing is--and I keep going back to this point, I know--allowing myself to just put down terrible unreadable babble is a skill I'm learning from the Friday Fictionette project. When the story is due at the end of the week, there's no time to sit there staring at the page under the mistaken impression that if I just think about the story long enough it'll come together perfectly in my head. All I can do is throw words at the wall now and trust that something will stick.

The story I'm working on right now has no particular deadline. True, it's at the head of a very long queue of short stories that need work before they can be submitted to paying markets, so there is pressure to finish it sooner rather than later, but it's all internally applied. So it doesn't have its own supply of anti-procrastination jet fuel. It was sort of strange and wonderful watching it borrow fuel from my Friday Fictionettes practice.

It would appear that I have learned a lot more than I consciously realized from writing four new stories a month for almost five years.

adulting like a boss (is the exception not the rule)
Tue 2019-06-04 23:56:16 (single post)

What I really want to do with tonight's blog post is celebrate finally having completed a workday checklist from bottom to top. All my writing tasks, done, plus a few more household tasks besides. It's been a very long time since I managed that feat. Me and time management haven't been good friends. But today I wrote myself out a schedule, complete with target times for beginning and ending each task, and I kept to that schedule, by golly. Story revision at 10:00, come hell or high water; when the clock says ten, I gotta drop whatever I'm doing and get to it. Come 1:00 PM, as long as I've actually submitted a piece somewhere, I've putzed around enough with whatever I'm putzing around with under the rubric of Submission Procedures. Put it down. Put a bookmark in it for tomorrow. Go pay the bills that are due. Freewriting's scheduled for 3:00 PM, and if I'm not finished eating lunch when 3:00 PM rolls around, then fine, I'll shovel the last bites down my gullet in between sentences.

I got it all done, on time and according to schedule. And that despite waking up late after too little sleep then having derby practice in the evening.

Except crowing about that doesn't feel very grown-up. Crowing about it means admitting that this basic adult task of getting my shit done each day has routinely been beyond me. That rather stands as evidence that I don't adult so good, right? Which is embarrassing to admit. Basically, I feel like a high-schooler bragging to her classmates about having successfully used the toilet. In my mind's eye, I see them looking at me funny and saying, "That was kinda TMI, girlfriend," and "Yes, most of us manage that several times a day without comment. Should we be worried about you?"

On the other hand, after days and days and days of late night efforts just to get to eight-five percent; of reaching the end of my ability to even sit upright three hours after travel team practice and at last resigning myself, with mingled relief and shame, to a larger failure than the failure I'd already resigned myself to; of pushing through exhaustion while chanting "Do a little if you can't do a lot, do a little--seriously, just this little bit more, OK?" ...it feels really good to come home from derby and think, "All I have left to do is a blog post, and I don't even have to do that if I don't want to. Everything else, all the hard stuff, is done."

Besides, it's worthwhile to look at the failures, and look at the successes, and look at the differences in my process between the two, and say, "All right, if I want more successes, this is what works."

What works: Getting up on time, more or less. Doing my morning pages immediately, more or less. Not even opening the computer until after morning pages are done. And using that time on the page to scan my day ahead for obstacles, to slot each task awaiting me into precisely delineated windows of time. Then following the plan as much as possible to the letter. Where deviations occur, taking notes. I've made two new columns in my daily time-sheet: "Plan" and "Outcome." Pretty self-explanatory. I fill in the "Plan" column at the beginning of the day, then, as each task is completed, I write my observations about how well I stuck to the plan in the "Outcome" column. Having to actually type out "started freewriting a few minutes late because I wanted to finish up the lunch dishes" or, heavens forfend, "Half an hour late to story revision because I couldn't pull myself away from Merge Dragons, probably because I know story revision is going to be difficult" forces a concrete sense of accountability. And it adds to the data. More data is good! More data about how I function, how I screw up, and how I succeed means a better chance of success next time around.

So, hell with it. I'll admit to my tendency to fail at being an adult. I'll put it right out there, so y'all can see how huge it is that today I actually completed my workday checklist. Go me.

according to plan
Mon 2019-06-03 23:30:29 (single post)

Today I had two submission responses that had arrived over the weekend waiting for me to log them during today's Submissions Procedures session. However, I only got to add one rejection to the year's tally.

That's because I appear to have sold a poem.

When the email came in Sunday night, y'all, I kinda screamed a little. Also I might have bounced up and down in my seat and shaken my fists in the air in a "I don't know what to do with this sudden rush of energy especially not at 11:00 at night but I have to use it somehow so here we go" sort of way. My first acceptance of 2019! And it came... let's see... about 45 days, more or less--33 of which were weekdays, therefore 33 submissions--since the beginning of my weekdaily submitting streak.

IT'S WORKING, Y'ALL. The submit-every-work-day initiative is WORKING.

And then another submission response came in this afternoon, and it was a slush reader at a pro market which accepts Patreon reprints telling me that they liked the Patreon reprint I submitted so well that they'd passed it up to the editor.

The Friday Fictionette thing I was talking about last week? THAT'S STILL WORKING TOO!

And the other day I got a rejection letter from a market that doesn't even send rejection letters. The kind of market that says, "If you haven't heard from us in X amount of days, consider it declined." Even though the story wasn't enough of a fit with what they were looking for, for them to buy it, they went out of their way to tell me that they liked it. That's big, y'all. If you don't live and breathe this gig like I do, it might not be obvious, but, trust me, it's big.

ALL THE THINGS ARE WORKING! *flails and falls over in a faint*

So.... yeah. I'm a happy writer right now. And this is shaping up to be quite the week.

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