“The trick with science fiction is not to prove that something--a machine, a technology, a history, a new way of being--would be possible. It's to temporarily convince us that it already exists.”
Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

here is some paint and a brush and also a corner
Mon 2014-08-11 23:33:22 (single post)

You know who's been missing from this blog parade of Patreon accounts? My husband, that's who. He's the first person I heard about Patreon from, and his insights have been key in helping me understand how it all works and how, arguably, it should work--but I haven't even bothered to link you to his page on Patreon yet.

That is a serious oversight that must be corrected immediately. Thus: John LeBoeuf-Little is creating games!

This is probably why I overlooked him last week. I was doing Google searches for short story site:patreon.com and also following links from fellow Codexians' blogs--basically, I was only looking at what other writers are doing with Patreon. In my defense, the internet is vast; if one doesn't narrow one's search terms, one drowns in the results. I narrowed mine to "people doing stuff like what I'm thinking of doing," but I forgot that there are different axes of similarity.

Anyway. What John's doing with his Patreon account combines many elements of what we've seen before: Extra content offered at certain funding milestones, influence over creative direction offered to supporters, physical gifts mailed to a limited number of Patrons at the highest pledge tier. (I note here the reminder that "I'll mail you something" can be more complicated or expensive depending on where "you" is, in John's caution that "If you're international... you'll definitely be getting something very flat and very light.")

What I find interesting here though is the variation one can bring to the per-creation pledge scheme. Thinking back to Clarkesworld, I find in their use of the per-creation rather than per-month structure an echo of the traditional magazine subscription offer, something like "At $12 per year, you pay only $3 per issue instead of the newsstand price of $4.99." It's a different way of thinking about the monetary support. And although a pledge of $3 per issue has the same effect on a Patron's budget as a pledge of $3 per month (Clarkesworld publishes new issues monthly), it creates a slightly different creator-audience relationship--at least in the participants' minds. Which, arguably, is where a relationship is defined.

To put it another way: Think of a charity race. Why do we pledge a certain amount of cents per mile rather than a lump sum? It's not like there's any question of how many miles the runner will run. The race course is predefined. Maybe the cents-per-mile structure gives supporters a sense of vicarious participation, like they're running the race alongside of the runner they're supporting. Maybe it's because thinking of it that way makes it feel as though the charity doesn't get the donation until the runner finishes the race, giving supporters double the reason to cheer at the finish line. The emotional connection to Clarkesworld's monthly issues may be similar: Each new edition is like that moment when the runner crosses the finish line, an event for which each contribution acts as celebration and applause.

But of course the pragmatic effect of the per-creation pledge structure is to make support more like a purchase, in that the Patrons don't pay until they receive an item. That's not a factor in the case of Clarkesworld, which has been coming out every month without fail for over seven years now. But it's definitely a factor when you're a game designer who also has a demanding day job, a big trip to Gen Con coming up, and also a house that's about to get its interior rebuilt. (I may have mentioned. The reconstruction project started this morning. Tonight's blog post comes to you from a hotel in Louisville with relatively reasonable extended stay rates.) When you know your schedule is unpredictable and stressy, it's wise to avoid overcommitting. John has exercised this wisdom both by using the per-creation pledge model and by explicitly stating that new creations will only be made available once per month at the maximum, and more likely much less frequently than that.

By the way, aren't those avocado-skin boats lovely?

Anyway, this wise caution on John's part makes me wonder whether I'm in danger of overcommitting myself. True, I'm not going to Gen Con, and I'm not currently beholden to anyone else's paycheck or timeclock. But I do have roller derby. I'm skating in a home bout on August 30th. And I've recently rejoined the league's committee system as a member of the committee that's responsible for making that bout happen. Also, did I mention the house construction situation? And the way John stressing out stresses me out, and me stressing out stresses him out, and so on around the merry-go-round?

So how can I consider promising Patrons three or four short-shorts a month, or an audio release once a month, or that things will come out of my typewriter and into anyone's physical mailbox?

I think in this case the difference is that I don't have a day job--or, rather, that writing is my day job. Which is rather the reason I'm setting up a Patreon account in the first place. The potential for regular monthly paychecks, however small, reinforces the day job mindset. Also, the creations I plan to share (ooh, she's actually "planning" now!) will arise naturally from actually doing my day job. The bulk of the work required, that of writing the very short story-like thing, is already getting done four or more times a week. All that remains is to convert one of the resulting very short story-like objects each week into, essentially, a blog post. And then I need only convert one of those four monthly posts into a five-minute audio recording. And then it would only take maybe two hours once a month to make a few typewritten copies for mailing. And then...

Well. I could "and then" myself into a real corner.

Again, it's wise not to overcommit. More and more, my thought is to only offer a couple of things at launch (i.e. on September 1), then evaluate the work load and interest level several months down the road to see if there's even potential demand for another monthly task, let alone room in my working month to add one.

Less haste, more speed, as a certain tortoise once told a certain little girl. Therein lies wisdom.

maybe i could even try that wax seal thing again
Sat 2014-08-09 00:29:22 (single post)
  • 5,975 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 6,779 words (if poetry, lines) long

Short story updates and more Patreon goodness! Short story updates first, because they're short.

First: "Impact of Snowflakes" is not yet done, drat and blast. However, I hope to fix that Monday. Monday is usually Farm Day, but next week I am obliged to stay home from the farm and meet the construction techs at my door and give them a key and then run away and hide in a hotel room in Louisville until construction is over. ("Loo-iss-ville" because this is Colorado, not Kentucky. I was oddly unable to convince the Marriott reservationist of this. Not that I haven't made place-name pronunciation mistakes of my own, but when corrected by a local I don't tend to come right back and try to correct them the way this reservationist did me.) So once I'm safely stowed in my temporary home, along with any last-minute objects and plants that need to be rescued from the construction zone, I can hopefully devote hours and hours and hours to finishing the damn story. All the hours the story requires to get DONE.

Second: "Caroline's Wake" will, regrettably, not appear in the Athena's Daughters II table of contents. Alas. After a suitable period of mourning (i.e. one day), it has been sent out again into the world, having first been relieved of some of its typos. (O the typo-embarrassment. O the facepalm. All die.)

And that's that. Now, on to the fun stuff: Sandra Tayler is creating books and a blog!

Sandra Tayler is the author of the children's books Hold on to Your Horses and The Strength of Wild Horses, the blog "One Cobble at a Time," and the Cobble Stones compilation volumes. (She's also another fellow Codexian. Yes, there is a theme here.) If you like stuff like that, funds from Patreon help her create more stuff like that. Therefore you should support her on Patreon.

Tayler is using the monthly pledge structure, and she's defined two pledge levels. Patrons at the $1/month level get access to Patron-only material, "which will include sneak peeks, coupon codes, and other fun things." Patrons at the $2.50/month level get, in addition to Patron-only material, a hand-signed thank you card once a year.

Very simple, engagingly personal. Also, tangible. I love the idea of mailing things, really mailing things that you can hold in your hand. From about third grade through the middle of college, I always had pen-pals. Some of them I met on the then-fledgling internet, with whom I exchanged cassette tapes because those could not be sent by email. (This was way before it got easy to exchange MP3s.) Some were people I met at summer camp before email was readily available. Some of them were people I saw every day in school, but with whom I nevertheless cherished this additional and poignantly intimate communication channel. When I sent them letters, I would practice my best handwriting, use pens of different colors, and draw things in the margins. I put Rush lyrics on the backs of the envelopes. I doodled more weird things in the corners of the front of the envelope. I even experimented with wax seals, although I'm sure they mostly cracked off by the time the envelopes reached their destination.

The age of electronic communications is wonderfully convenient and freeing. I'm glad to be a freelance author in a time when most professional markets take submissions via email or even via web form; it's a tremendous savings on postage and time. But when the only things I put in the actual physical mailbox are utility bills, something seems lost.

See also: Catherynne M. Valente's Omikuji Project. For five years (2008-2012), Valente mailed short stories to her subscribers every month. "Real paper, wax seal, with a little note about life and work and the weather in Maine, signed by her," as Kellen Sparver says in his Patreon-launching blog post. How cool is that?

Could I do something like that? I think, perhaps, yes, at least on a small scale. Also, I have this typewriter.

I've begun actually putting together my Patreon page, filling out the blanks, defining the milestones in terms of what X amount of money pays for, defining the pledge tiers in terms of what Patrons will get. Nothing's in stone yet--the stuff I put into the page today may be totally rewritten tomorrow--but I'm having fun with the possibilities.

I'm thinking of launching the page on September 1.

activate the program and run behind the scenes
Wed 2014-08-06 23:04:35 (single post)
  • 6,779 words (if poetry, lines) long

Got a good hour in on the story today, despite my Wednesday exploding with a certain percentage of leftover Tuesday. But in between boxing things up and talking to insurance agents, I did manage to check in with "Snowflakes." Sad thing is, I've gone back to the beginning again. It still doesn't feel like wasted effort--I'm smoothing out more lumps and seeding a bit more foreshadowing--but I'm so sick of not having finished!

My main difficulty with the ending is how to portray Ashley's emotional reaction to The Big Reveal. It's tricky. First she gets news to which the natural reaction should be shock and grief. A breath later, she gets a revelation that provokes righteous indignant anger. This is a complex moment which is hard to faithfully render. It's too easy to let one thing overwhelm the other. If the anger overwhelms the grief, she looks callous. But the grief and shock can't overwhelm the anger, either. That was a huge problem with the previous draft: She was pretty much robbed of her agency, both in the present and retroactively over the course of her entire life, and she was fine with this. That's not her. What's more, that's not any character I ever want to write--especially, for obviously reasons, when they're women.

I'm leaning towards a partial solution of having the anger not so much overwhelm the grief and shock as redirect them. But finding the words is tricky.

Another change I'm making is that, unlike in the previous draft, where Josh tells her, "I chose you" (Ew. No), in this draft he says, "I recognized you." Which will additionally help to keep readers from attributing too much of the story to Josh's choices, I hope. There was a lot of confusion expressed on this account in critiques of the previous draft.

Gah. One reason I keep this blog is, I like sharing peeks behind the scenes. But it's tricky with short stories. There's "a backstage pass" and then there's "total spoiler before it's even in print! Nice going, stupid." Novels run the same risk, I suppose, but they have bigger backstages. You've got more room to explore, examine the costumes and the props, without prematurely running into a dramatic reveal or important plot twist.

Speaking of novels and peeks behind the scenes, here's another of my Codex colleagues on Patreon: William Hertling is creating science fiction novels.

William Hertling is the author of the Singularity series, comprising Avogadro Corp., A.I. Apocalypse, and The Last Firewall. He is currently at work on the fourth book in the series as well as an entirely separate stand-alone novel. He's using Patreon via the per-month model in order to raise funds towards the cost of producing a novel, like copyediting, cover design, layout, proof-reading, and also writing the darn thing.

I'm intrigued by the way Hertling fits the whole "backstage pass" idea into his pledge tiers rewards. The exclusive material offered as a thank-you to Patrons who pledge $1.50 a month (I was wrong--apparently pledges needn't be in whole dollar amounts) includes the occasional bonus unused scene, or bits of worldbuilding that never made it onto the page (I assume that's what "descriptions of future technology" means). That's really neat.

I would love to do something like that. But, again, it strikes me as easier to do with a larger work, be it a novel or a series of shorts in a shared world. When I'm working more persistently on Iron Wheels I could totally see myself creating bonus material out of all the thousands of words I spend talking to myself on the page about exactly how my Land of Faerie works, about other changeling/baby swaps and other jobs that Old Mack has been assigned over the centuries. But there's less potential for that when what I'm working on is a 6,000-word short about a summer solstice snowpocalypse. What little I can do in that arena, I already do right here at tiresome length, free for the world to read. See above. Still, it's something to think about.

Something else to think about: Should at least twenty Patrons pledge at the $10/month level, Hertling's gift to those Patrons will be a special bonus book, just for them, full of surprises. Maybe an anthology of short fiction, maybe a parallel work to the Singularity novels taking place in an alternate universe or featuring an alternate ending. "Whatever the final form," he writes, "it will be fun and unique, handcrafted for my biggest supporters as a thank you."

Now, when John and I talked about Patreon and its possibilities the other day, he put a lot of emphasis on using it to help create and deepen a connection between the creator and the supporters. "If, as an artist, all you're doing is selling a product," he said, "you're wasting your time. You should be building a relationship." This strikes me as exactly the sort of thing he was talking about. I'd love to be able to do something like that. Not, perhaps, to the scale of an entire book, considering how slow I am at putting out the ones I already want to write. But certainly something shorter might be possible. Flash fiction written to prompts of supporters' choosing, maybe. Again, stuff for me to think about.

I intend to keep highlighting Patreon pages this week as a sort of show-and-tell, sharing my discoveries as I explore and get excited about what's already being done. I hope you will visit their pages and consider supporting these authors. That would be cool. They're friends of mine, after all, so I want to see them do well. But, more importantly to y'all-out-there, they write some pretty amazing stuff that more people ought to read. I hope you'll take a look-see and then, if you like what you see, get your friends to take a look as well.

some positive uses for the Anvil of Guilt
Tue 2014-08-05 23:59:13 (single post)
  • 7,164 words (if poetry, lines) long

My goal for this week is to finish "The Impact of Snowflakes." Not necessarily finish-and-submit, but finish. Finish the new ending, for the love of little orange cheez-its! Stop circling in and just land this sorry lawn-mower of a plane!

And today I made absolutely no progress toward that goal. Today I was running errands both in person and on the telephone, most of them to do with the catastrophe-related restorations on our home that will start Monday the 11th. These errands stole most of my morning time, and, indirectly, by way of exhausting me utterly, most of my afternoon too. Essentially, the less said about weeding the garden, the better.

But I remain optimistic. Tomorrow is a whole new day. So are Thursday and Friday. With their help, I feel sure I'll get where I want to go.

Meanwhile, I am have been giving more thought to this Patreon-enabled short story subscription service I've been brainstorming. I've also been having a look around at what other authors are doing with their Patreon pages. I'd like to share a few of them with you this week.

Thus: Kellan Sparver is creating short stories and fiction.

Kellan Sparver is a colleague of mine whom I met via Codex, an online community of neo-pro genre writers. He's just launched his page recently. What he's doing with it highlights one of Patreon's patronage models, that of pledging a certain amount of money per creation. It works like this: You pledge, say, five dollars per story. Then, when he posts a story--for example, the SF short "Hitchhiker"--you're automatically charged for it at the end of the month. (Note: Patreon allows you to specify a maximum monthly amount--a budget, if you will--to protect you in case of sudden and expected prolificness on the part of the creators you're supporting. Details here, under "For Patrons.")

The pledge form is pre-filled with a suggested amount of $3 per story, but you are welcome to pledge as much or as little as you like, in, I think, whole dollar amounts. (Currently it looks like Sparver's Patrons are pledging an average of $5 per story.) Below that, Sparver defines a couple of "milestone goals" to give Patrons a bit of context. Should the total of all pledges reach $25 per story, he'll be earning an equivalent amount to what he would if he sold each piece to a "token" or "for the love" market. Should he reach $200 per story, that's like selling a 3500-word story for pro rates, as defined by SFWA as 6 cents per word.

Another example of per-creation pledges is the Patreon page of Clarkesworld Magazine. As an alternative to subscribing at a fixed rate, you can pledge your preferred amount per issue. Clarkesworld pledges in return to include extra stories in each issue depending on having reached certain milestone goals. Clarkesworld's page also defines several tiers of individual support that will earn Patrons rewards both tangible and intangible--access to downloadable electronic copies of the magazine, having print copies mailed to you, having your name included in the annual anthology's list of "Clarkesworld Citizens."

For me, the upside to the per-creation model is not tying myself to a production schedule. If something went terribly wrong for me one month, I wouldn't have the added stress of knowing that I was failing to give my supporters the stories they'd paid for. No story means no one gets charged. Simple. (Although John would probably say that's the wrong way to think about this. "Patreon isn't about selling a product," he told me the other day. "It's about giving people a way to support your art, and thanking them for that support.") But the upside is also a downside--it wouldn't hold me to a production schedule. Not that a production schedule is impossible on the per-creation model--again, see Clarkesworld. But I'm not sure I trust myself to stick to a schedule without hanging the Anvil of Guilt over my head.

Anyway, thoughts are still coming and going. These are some of them. There will be more thoughts tomorrow.

the banality of If This Goes On
Mon 2014-08-04 23:45:52 (single post)

Each week's farm work has a lesson to impart. Today's lesson was about maintenance, the importance of, for use in taking control of one's future or at least exerting control over the shape thereof. In other words, weeding.

We spent all morning in the herb garden. The goal was to harvest a bunch of variations of thyme and also the winter savory, but first a lot of weeding was needed. And it's amazing how the weeds just take over. You think you're keeping up with them, but suddenly they bolt, and now you've got a four-foot ragweed stalk shooting up out of the center of your mother-of-thyme like it thinks it belongs there.

It has always struck me as particularly unfair that the crop you want always seems to grow slower than the weeds you don't want. Thyme is a ground cover, right? In addition to being an herb? And lemon balm is a species of mint, which is known for getting out of control. And yet, if you leave the crop bed to its own devices, you will eventually find your mint, thyme and savory drowning in bindweed and thistle and lamb's-quarter and ragweed and ouch did I mention the thistle? Yes, well, I only mention it because a pile of it is what I sat in just now.

So before we got to harvesting, we had to pull up or slice out a bunch of weeds.

Then there was harvesting itself, which is also a lesson in how important it is to deliberately maintain. Best practice with leafy herbs is to keep them from flowering just as long as you can, forcing the plant to put all its energy and growth and aromatic oils into its leaves. Once the plant starts blossoming, seed-time can't be far behind, and before you know it the leaves have diminished markedly in flavor. Also, if you don't cut them back often, herbs like thyme and savory start changing from soft green sprigs to stiff woody stems that don't make for a high-quality harvest. So there's that.

We made up for a lot of lost time today and harvested a heck of a lot of thyme. And I brought home a few flowering sprigs of savory for that corn chowder I intend to cook any day now.

My daily routine is a lot like that, too--without deliberate maintenance, the stuff I want (good habits) tends to drown under the stuff I don't want (bad habits). Working with HabitRPG has been a big help, but even when I click my way to a perfect day there are loopholes to slither out of. Like, yes, I did my Morning Pages even on a Monday, but did I do it right when I woke up, or did I snooze away my before-farm time and leave it hanging over my afternoon? Yes, I checked voice mail on the land line today, good for me, but did I do it as part of my arrival home, or did I only remember to do when I saw that the corresponding HabitRPG "Daily" task was still not checked off? When I put in my five hours writing on a work day, did it go towards meaningful progress on my career goals or was it just busywork? Did I get right to my daily writing tasks, or did I putter around, reading forums and blogs, playing jigsaw sudoku and Puzzle Pirates, until finally, late in the afternoon, I finally and grudgingly gave in to basic arithmetic, recognizing that if I didn't start now it would be chronologically impossible to clock five hours for the day?

Well. As for today, damn straight I did my Pages before I went to the farm. And when I got the call that I wouldn't be needed until 45 minutes later than usual, I did my CTC29 too.

That's what I call daily weed-pulling!

Still, I'm sure that by tomorrow they'll be making a vigorous comeback. Hopefully I'll be up to the task of knocking them back again.

wait hold on you mean i have make decisions
Fri 2014-08-01 23:36:29 (single post)

Not to leave you hanging, but there isn't a whole lot more information than there was yesterday, because I am indecisive and stuff. But here's what I've got so far--

Wait. Drat. I keep getting interrupted mid-blog by the sound of what is undoubtedly yet another instance of Bat In The Belfry. Er, mansard. Soffit? It's pattering about up there, so it's only a matter of time before it comes swooping out into the still-attic-like office. That's what happened last night, anyway, and also several weeks ago. We basically waited for it to get tired, then we waited for it to come out from its hiding place in the baseboard heater, then we trapped it against the wall in a big plastic soup bin with which we tipped it out the window.

Well, I've got the soup bin ready.

Don't worry. It won't be forever. In a little more than a week, the house is getting all its interior repairs. We will have whole ceilings again. After that, we'll be able to ignore the sounds of bats in the soffit because at least then we'll know they won't be able to get into the living spaces of the house. They'll just keep us up nights pattering around amidst the joists, that's all.

Right. Where was I? Information. I have very little of that. What I've got are thoughts.

The first thought was, "I'd like to do something like this." This being Bruce Holland Rogers's subscription service, Short-Short Stories. For $10 per year, subscribers get three short stories a month emailed to them. They're very short, most of them between 500 and 1500 words long, unpredictable in genre, sometimes oddly unclassifiable. Apparently he has about 1,000 subscribers and most of them do renew each year. That's a nice deal for everyone: 36 new stories for each subscriber every year, and, if that subscriber number holds steady, a respectable side income of $10,000 (ish) for the author.

Obviously I like money. I'd like to make more of it by writing. I joke about being a full-time writer on the spousal subsidy grant, but I'd like to rely on the spousal subsidy somewhat less than I do. But there's also a handful of intangible benefits going on here that I'm interested in. The author is writing and completing way more stories than I do in a year. This is no doubt helped along by 1) knowing he's got an audience waiting to read them, and 2) knowing that the audience has already paid for the product. That mutually beneficial relationship between expectant audience and productive writer is something I'd like to explore.

I also recently was introduced to Patreon, "bringing patronage back to the 21st century." It's a way for creators to find funding, and audiences to support creators in a more ongoing way than via one-time Kickstarter/IndieGoGo campaigns. Its interface looks perfect for doing something like what Rogers is doing, but with potential for different levels of support receiving different levels of product. Except not exactly product. Patreon's emphasis is not monetizing products, but rather on enabling a mutually beneficial relationship between audience and creator. See above.

I was bouncing some ideas about this off of John--that was the extent of my researching the project today--and he suggested that I produce a certain amount of short fiction to post for free, and that supporters via Patreon could get them ahead of schedule. Other ideas I've been noodling on include taking those same stories and recording an audio version of them, or a decent ebook that exposes more of my daily process, or...

"But who wants to see my daily process? I mean, me. Not Neil Gaiman or George R. R. Martin, but little old me. How is that worth money to anyone?"

"You'd be surprised."

I don't know exactly what I'm going to do quite yet. But I do know this: What with all my daily freewriting, I've got oodles more raw material on my hard-drive than I could turn into salable fiction at my current rate of production, and certainly more than anyone but me will ever read at my current rate of commercial publication. This idea I have that every ounce of my writing, no matter how rough and incomplete, needs to be protected jealously from "wasting" its first rights just in case I'll come back to it and develop it into a story that will see print in Asimov's or F&SF or something... well, it's based in truth but I think I take it too far. And so I do less with my writing than I could.

Instead, I could be developing some of those daily vignettes and thought-experiments into short fiction, prose-poems, odd unclassifiables, things that, while not viable in most professional slush piles due to their form or format, might still be worth putting in front of other people's eyeballs. It would be a good practice, releasing these small things on a schedule, and, hey, y'all might enjoy reading 'em.

So that's where my head is at, right at this moment.

Meanwhile, I'm one day into the Conquer the Craft in 29 Days challenge (it's apparently not too late to join!), which will require me to do my daily freewriting on an actually daily schedule. Y'know, as opposed to just Tuesdays through Fridays. Which means more raw material to throw at this subscription-style relationship-with-audience-building project I'm noodling on. Hooray!

I expect I'll spend most of August figuring out what I want to do and what kind of schedule I can keep to. As I have more thoughts, I may end up floating 'em by you. If you have thoughts, well, I don't have comments enabled on this blog (I don't in fact have any mechanism for comments programmed on this blog, if you want to be precise), but I do read Twitter at-replies and Facebook comments. And there's always good old email.

And I think I will go ahead and set up that Patreon page, just so I can explore the interface, and see what other authors are doing with it.

(That bat never did come down out of the soffit. Hopefully it went back outside via whatever hole it used to come in.)

who left this mess at the end of my july
Thu 2014-07-31 23:59:08 (single post)
  • 7,164 words (if poetry, lines) long

Apologies for the radio silence. It's been a month-end sort of week. There's been stuff. Hugo-nominated stuff to read and vote on, a friend moving to Boulder to help unpack, late night celebrations of said friend having arrived in Boulder and of getting successfully unpacked and moved in, needing to pack up our own stuff in advance of some heavy-duty kicking-us-out-of-the-house-for-a-week renovations, and, OK, well, the July Seal o' Piracy to earn on all the production oceans and Ice too because I'm a total nerd.

However, I have been working away like a beaver on the short story. I'm still having a stupid time with the ending, but I'm happy to report that one of the interim scenes got heavily overhauled to make room in it for things that should make the ending more possible to write. So there's that.

Also I have decided where I'm going to send it when it's done. Hint: The deadline is August 15. So this thing is getting done by then, OK?

(OK.)

Meanwhile, the end of July means the beginning of August. I have allowed some good writerly friends to talk me into doing this nonsense over here over the month of August, and now I'm rather looking forward to it. At the very least, I will not lack for Daily Idea writing prompts.

Speaking of the Daily Idea/freewriting portion of my routine, I'm researching the viability of a Project. At this point, it can only be described as subscription-based along some regular time line or other, possibly Patreon-enabled, and hopefully more feasible than my track record on dailiness thus far would indicate.

Well. That was very nearly-information free. There may be more information tomorrow. Stay tuned.

that fine line between good days and bad
Fri 2014-07-25 23:06:59 (single post)
  • 6,939 words (if poetry, lines) long

In terms of time spent writing, yesterday was pretty much non-existent. Today was only about an hour better. (Context: I aim for five hours a day Tuesday through Friday.)

Despite the low time clock report, today feels better. Its emotional weight rests more lightly upon the psyche. I can think of two reasons for that; there may be others.

First reason is, it was better even if it wasn't much better. Half an hour's work on the short story is better than none at all, even if that half hour was mostly me staring at the final scene, typing out a sentence, and then erasing it again. And then re-writing the sentence at the end of the fifth scene. And then staring at the screen, trying to decide whether the flashback at the end of the fifth scene really belongs there or closer to the end of the story. What I'm saying is, it didn't feel like progress at all. However, it was process, and I take it as an item of faith that the process itself is an element of progress. You gotta show up on the page, right?

The other half-hour was my daily freewriting. (Allegedly daily; it didn't happen yesterday either.) My most recent freewriting has been to prompts I came up with Tuesday, when I tasked myself with generating a list of magic realism style concepts which involve mismatched categories. The inspiration was rereading Karin Tidbeck's short story collection Jagannath, which is wonderful and strange, full of elegant nightmares and emotionally resonant weirdness galore. It opens with a story whose theme, I think, is to do with miscommunication and projection, but whose explicit text is about a man who falls in love with an airship and briefly rooms with a woman who is pursuing a love affair with a steam engine. This is what I mean by mismatched categories. Another of her stories expresses the universal angst of parents watching their children become their own unexpected selves, but does so through the textual medium of a woman creating a homunculus in a jam jar. Reading Tidbeck's fiction is like a jolt of electricity to the brain's inspiration center. It makes me want to dream up weird stuff of my own.

So I did. Some of the mismatched category prompts I came up with were: Doors in people's chests which opened upon the heart; a bicycle that hatches out of an egg; buildings as public transportation vehicles; a harp hung up on a wall. The last one isn't exactly a mismatched category situation--musical instruments do often get hung up on the wall--but in my head it was the grisly harp from a particular well-known ballad, years and years after the story takes place, when it begins to "play alone" once more for reasons TBD. After noodling around on the idea today (and trying to determine those reasons), I slapped the "To Do" label on it in Scrivener because I think I'm on to something here.

So it wasn't just that an hour of writing was better than none. It was also that a day on which I come up with a brand new story idea is better than a day on which I don't.

Second reason? It's kind of silly, but, here it is: Yesterday, I mostly poked around listlessly at the internet, thinking, "I really ought to write," until I ran out of time in which to make it happen. Today, by contrast, I very definitively thought, "I ought to get back to the writing, but, dammit, I'm going to play some Puzzle Pirates." And I did.

The moral of the story is this: If you're going to procrastinate, do it deliberately and have fun with it. Otherwise, you might as well get to work.

Hey, look! A blog post. Something else I did today but not yesterday. Third reason!

the dragons of the i-25
Wed 2014-07-23 23:37:30 (single post)
  • 6,883 words (if poetry, lines) long

They are invisible, but horribly bulky. They have presence. They press in on both sides of the interstate, making every driver feel oddly constricted, such that they slow to a crawl and bottleneck the entire highway from Aurora to Thornton. Soon, the entire population of Denver is waiting in the queue. We are talking about traffic so slow that the swallows are perching on the roofs of the trucks as they inch along north and west. Have you ever seen a yellow-bellied swallow hitch a ride on top of a corporate van on the interstate? Well, now I have.

This is the only explanation I've got for why it took me more than two hours to get from Denver International Airport to Longmont. I mean, yes, rush hour traffic, a bad time of the day to take I-70 to I-270 to I-25, but I have never seen it this bad before. So the explanation I'm going with is dragons.

I eventually got to practice and got geared up. About 45 minutes late, but I got there. I very nearly gave up and went home, but I kept telling myself, "You know how much putting on skates cheers you up. Go on. You'll feel better for it." And I do. I really do. Although I also feel extremely tired.

Still managed to take some time to work on the story. I still haven't finished the final scene, but at least I'm not doing yet another revision pass on the whole damn thing. Instead, it's more like, I turn the scene over and over in my head, try to hear the dialogue and pin down the last questions of cosmology, and in doing so I'll stumble upon some element or other that can be cleared up, inserted, or reassembled elsewhere in the story such that the final scene--whatever it turns out to be--will work better. So I feel like I'm slowly spiraling in, getting a better fix on my destination with each turn around the point. When I finally land this plane, it will be awesome.

That's all I've got. Good night all--Channel LeBoeuf-Little is going off the air until morning.

the demons of doubt are multilingual
Tue 2014-07-22 23:26:53 (single post)
  • 6,883 words (if poetry, lines) long

In terms of story revision, today was solid. The read-through edit on the draft in progress finally reached the point where I'd left off drafting before, and I feel a lot more able to finish the draft. Mainly I'm trying to get that last phone call right, along with Ashley's reaction to it. Also, I know a lot more about this story's peculiar apocalypse than I did when I wrote previous drafts. Full sized short stories are different from flash. In a 566-word short-short that's focused more on relationship dynamics than actual worldbuilding, I can get away with not really knowing why the sidewalks melted. In a 5,000-word short story that's focused very specifically on the main characters' roles in the Snowpocalypse, I kind of have to know what those roles are.

I still need to work on the timing. There's no good reason why the last scene needs to take place two days after the scene before it. Again, there's just no leeway for a lull in the action after the OMG moment.

So. One of the thoughts from yesterday's blog post stuck with me. The one about how there are few greater joys than increasing your competence in an activity you love, but how the photo-negative image of that joy is the creeping existential dread that you'll never excel at the activity you love after all. And how the intensities of both the joy and the fear are directly proportional to how much you enjoy or even identify with that activity.

Yesterday I was rambling on about that fear and that joy with regards to roller derby. But this is not primarily a roller derby blog. This is a writing blog. I am a writer. Roller derby may have taken over my life, but writing is my life.

Oddly, that paired joy and fear do not play as blatant a role in my relationship with writing.

I think it's because writing is a lot more... nebulous? Intangible? ...than roller derby is. I can observe with certainty my ability to skate backwards or to positionally block from a sideways stance, and compare my current ability to do these things with my ability last year or the year before. Observing my own improvement in writing is a less sure thing. While I can say that this year I'm sitting down to the keyboard more often, finishing more stories, and making more sales, I can only take it as an item of faith that what comes out of my keyboard when I do sit down is better now than it was in the past. And it's not so much the religious tenet sort of faith as it is the mathematical axiom sort. A + A = 2A. More writing + more reading = better writing.

(No, more sales doesn't necessarily mean better writing. More sales has a lot more to do with submitting more stories more often and to more markets. The axis of saleability is on a separate graph from the axis of quality. Besides, editors aren't just looking for well-written and interesting but also "a good fit with our publication," which you can drive yourself mad trying to plot on a chart.)

So I don't experience so much the joy of watching my skills improve, as I do the satisfaction of watching myself get serious about this "I want to be a writer when I grow up!" thing, treat writing like my day job, and go to work every scheduled workday.

As for the fear/dread/doubt question... no, I don't find myself doubting that I can do this writing thing. Writing is one of those things that I know I can do well. I've proved it to myself over the years. It isn't something like a physical sport where I fight with my body's agility, strength, and reaction time. It's more like... oh, like singing. It's something that to some extent comes naturally to me, something that I've done all my life and have witnessed myself do well at. I've received enough positive feedback on it to be confident I'm not deluding myself here. But unlike singing, writing isn't subject to sudden attacks of stage fright or forgetting the tune/words/harmony/etc. It's not a performance. It's more like architecture. You don't let anyone into the house until you're pretty sure the walls and roof are solid. (And you try not to take it personally if someone notices a windowsill is sagging.)

So, no, it's not my ability to do writing well that I find myself doubting. No. Weirdly, what I angst over is whether I will do it.

Doesn't that sound silly? To be afraid of something that I have total control over preventing from happening? It's as silly as being afraid of the dark while having my hand on the light switch.

And yet that's the shape of my doubt. I fear failing myself. If writing is my life (hyperbole, but a useful one), my fear is getting to the end of that life without having written (and published) the stories I lived to write.

Which I suppose makes my regular workday writing schedule a way of keeping that fear at bay. It's a way of reassuring myself that I've done what I can, today, to prevent an unhappy ending to my story.

That's all I can reasonably ask of myself: That I do, indeed, go to work every scheduled work day. That I don't stand afraid in the dark when I have the power to turn on the light.

Today, I turned on that light.

Tomorrow, I intend to install a brighter light bulb.

email