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

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

and then again
Thu 2014-05-22 22:45:30 (single post)

And then there are the days when you do everything right and you still can't do anything right. You get up on time and off to a good start but you can't seem to take advantage of it because you just feel incurably tired and grumpy and incapable, and everything looks more worthwhile than the work at hand. And even roller derby scrimmage leaves you feeling dispirited and unhappy with yourself for all the things you could have done right but didn't.

I swear, I think that good days only galvanize that little saboteur in my head. "Oh, you think you're a worthwhile human being who can actually get things done? CHALLENGE ACCEPTED."

Well, little saboteur, you may have won round two, but this game will go to best out of three, and I'm on to you. You and me, pistols at dawn.

Or at least at 8:00 AM.

maybe it really is that simple
Wed 2014-05-21 23:05:53 (single post)

Today I am all about libraries. I have one book checked out from the Boulder Public Library (Riggs, Ransom, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children), several from the Longmont Public Library (including the Riggs sequel, Hollow City), a couple of paperbacks bought for 50 cents each off the Longmont "Friends of the Library" book sale shelf (Cornelia Funke's Inkheart and Tamora Pierce's Magic Steps), and three more books I'm requesting holds for so I can pick them up at the brand new NoBo (North Boulder) Corner Library and hopefully read them in time to cast an informed vote for the Best Novel Hugo (the Stross, Leckie, and Grant. No, I have no interest in Larry "Sad Puppy" Correia or The Wheel Of Time: A Novel In 14 Parts. But thanks for asking!).

Me and libraries. We're like this, y'all. I wuv me some library.

I also get writing done at libraries, it would appear. And also at lunch. And also early enough in the morning that I'm still squinting. And sometimes even late at night after derby, in between mouthfuls of "hey, this is carbs too, right? So it's OK if I eat it? How about this?" (Did you know that a suggested serving of Haribo "Happy Cola" contains 3 grams of protein and 30 grams carbohydrates? That totally makes it a derby recovery snack.)

I am not sure exactly how today went better than yesterday in terms of Getting The Work Done, or honestly why I'm sure it did go better than yesterday. Seems like I did about the same amount of writing tasks and had the same amount of interruptions keeping me from them. But I feel a lot better about today than yesterday.

I'm not sure the answer is roller derby, since I was feeling pretty good about the day well before I went to practice. But it didn't hurt. Had a fantastic last team practice before the bout (y'all are gonna come watch us play Saturday, right?). We did a ton of drills that reminded us of all the awesome and absurdly effective tools that we've got in our toolbox. Also, it was New Recruit Night. Knowing that a handful of potential new derby skaters on the couches in the corner were watching us practice, it kind of put me in happy cheerful show-off mode. I want those gals to go home saying, "I got to watch the Bombshells practice! It was amazing! I want to learn how to do all the fantastic things they were doing!"

Definitely, roller derby helped. And going to Longmont early to visit the library, check out books, and write for another hour, that helped too. Also the bit about not having the painting project hanging over my head all day, that was nice.

But I think what really set the tone was--surprise!--getting up on time. Last night's hypothesis was, "In case of not enough time, add hours." So I did. I added about two of 'em. I got out of bed when John did (he has a daily 8:30 AM telemeeting with his geographically diverse coworkers) rather than sleeping in. And dang if I didn't use those hours for all sorts of shit. Grocery run, McGuckin's (hardware and housewares) run, going out to lunch with John and taking our time in leisurely conversation before settling down to our respective work-a-day tasks, taking my Wednesday volunteer reading at an unhurried pace and playing Puzzle Pirates while I recorded it... And, um, writing. I think I really will hit the 5-hour mark today. It's amazing how adding two more hours in the morning can add stretch to the whole day!

Note to self: Sleeping late is almost never as rewarding as adding two more hours to my morning is. Can we do more of this? I want to do more of this.

This bit right here? This is the hardest bit.
the purpose of tuesday
Tue 2014-05-20 21:59:00 (single post)
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Tonight there was progress towards our goal to Paint All The Unpainted Bits. We completed what conceivably was and will be the most difficult part of the project, ever: The Nexus.

That's what I'm going to call it. It's that squarish piece of the house, three of whose walls are doors into bedrooms or the bathroom, and whose fourth side is partially enclosed by the short end of the living room closet. Where that wall ends is the opening into the living room. In most homes, the passageway that functions as a place to keep all the bedroom doors would be called a "hallway." In this home, it's just not big enough. So I'm going to call it The Nexus.

Because it is a Nexus and not a hallway, there is not a lot of room between the various doors. Masking off the doorjambs was a titchy business. Painting in between the doorjambs was even titchier, especially when we got down to the floor. This is what made it the most difficult, nastiest, least enjoyable part of the house painting project.

I recommend always starting with the worst part of any particular task. I painting the tiny, detail-oriented, brain-melting bits that required the little hand brush first. That way I could finish on the high note of "Yayyyyy! Free of corners! No more fiddly bits! Paint roller! Wheeeeee!" Always try to finish on a high note. If nothing else, it makes it easier to bring oneself to start the next similar project.

As for writing... well. I started with such good intentions! And then somehow my half-hour email break turned into hours of taking care of every piece of household administration and maintenance imaginable.

Around 2:00 I finally broke away for lunch, over which I managed about 40 minutes working on "Caroline's Wake." Those 40 minutes were spent converting the first scene from past tense to present tense, then whittling away at the first two scenes with a meticulousness that, even in the midst of doing it, I recognized as avoidance behavior. Editing existing draft in order to avoid writing more first draft. I suppose I rationalized it as "I'll continue working on this after lunch." But I did not. Other things snapped up my attention and monopolized my sense of obligation.

Moral of the story? There are several:

  1. Get up earlier so that there's time in a day to absorb set-backs like these.
  2. Set a timer when email-and-housework break begins. Go back to writing when the timer goes off. If tasks remain, rejoice! Take a second email-and-housework break later. Time it, too.
  3. Sometimes the purpose of Tuesday is simply to teach lessons by which Wednesday may profit.

Also, that 40-minute revision was by no means wasted time. It was a damn fine revision. I expect when I finally start drafting the third scene (tomorrow! For reals!), it will be all the better for having a more solid first and second scene to emerge from.

may the fork be with you
Mon 2014-05-19 23:55:56 (single post)

Today's farm work involved pitchforks.

Pitchforks are tall and rather heavy. They are slightly unwieldy if you're not used to them and/or if one of your wrists is going through a phase of is-it-or-is-it-not-sprained.

Pitchforks are also very sharp at the end that's worryingly close to your toes. Pitchforks mean we are not farming barefoot today.

Similar to last time, we were working with a bed to be planted. But last time we were working the earth in preparation for the tractor to come through. This time, we were post-tractor but pre-planting. So it was less about going deep to partially break things up and more about staying shallow and breaking things up very thoroughly.

The farmer came by and corrected our technique. "It doesn't need to be that deep. Just use the fork, see? Use the fork." He jabbed half the fork's length into the earth at a 45-degree angle, twisted it a little, and then stabbed a few more times until there were no big clumps left. Then he handed the fork back to me. I swiftly came to the conclusion that the farmer has a back of iron and arms of steel. Just use the fork. Ha.

But, you know, if I have to drive the fork with my foot because I have insufficient upper body strength to imitate the farmer precisely, well, that just means my foot is never under the tines when I take a stab at things. This is a feature. However, that twisting motion? That is why my left wrist is having sprained-type thoughts now. Ow.

Sometimes it's best to find your own way to do things. As long as you arrive at the desired goal, hey, that's cool, right?

That's about all I've got for a farm-to-writing metaphor today. That, and I guess also reiterating how very satisfying it is to look back on the results of finished work. We started at the east end of the bed; when we reached the west end and looked along its length and saw how lush and soft and ready for planting that bed looked, we felt entirely justified in heading up to the office for lunch.

I've heard people speak disparagingly of writers who are happier with "having written" than with "writing." And I think such people are unmitigated puritans. Because, oddly enough, I'm also happier with "having turned a bed by hand with a pitchfork" than I am with "turning a bed by hand with a pitchfork." It's this weird thing about work--it's work, isn't it? It's worth doing, sure, and when the work is writing it includes unexpected moments of delight, certainly, and I don't tend to sprain my wrist doing it. But there's no denying that it's so much more uncomplicatedly satisfying to look back on a finished work and say, "I did that."

avoidance! it's what's for dinner (too bad i'm not hungry)
Fri 2014-05-16 23:55:30 (single post)
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For the second time I've missed a Sword and Sorceress submissions deadline. It's already 11:30 as I begin writing this blog post. There is no way I'm finishing the story and preparing it for submission in under half an hour.

I just left it too late, is all.

For one thing, I left almost the entirety of the second scene and the rest of the story after for today. That was pretty dubious from the start. Then I woke up with a headache, and that headache refused to shift itself all day. I didn't really feel able to work on it until the headache finally faded around 7:30 or 8:00 tonight. That was what sealed my defeat.

Nevertheless, I sat down to work on it, thinking, "Hey, it's still possible! And even if it isn't, it'll be time well spent." And it was time well spent. I just wish I'd spent the time last Tuesday.

I can get really pathological about deadlines. The closer they get, the less time I have to finish, the more resistance builds up around the project, making it even harder to use what time remains. It's not that illogical, really--it's just that the project gets scarier the closer the deadline gets, so I panic, and in my panic I avoid the project really hard.

The good news is, I've finished the second scene, the one with all the moving pieces and bit-part characters. I probably need to go over it again and smear a light glaze of "other people in the room" over the top of it, just to more convincingly texture it as a crowded party setting. And I probably need to massage the pacing a little, give more of an impression of the hours passing until the scene culminates at drunk-o-clock. (These are more reasons why a story shouldn't still be in incomplete rough draft form on deadline day.) But the basic building blocks of the scene are all there, and it reads fairly smoothly.

Getting it even this far is an accomplishment that did not at all look feasible last night or this morning. It's amazing how suddenly the writing looks possible when you just sit down and make yourself start writing, isn't it? *shakes head, sighs, feels stupid*

The next scene is easy. There are only two people in it, and despite it representing the emotional climax of the piece, the actual action is minimal. The real challenge is in making the dialogue natural and not clunky, given the job it's going to have to do, the things that have to get said and reacted to. But since dialogue is typically something I find easy and fun, it'll probably be OK.

I should not find myself avoiding it, is what I'm saying.

So I can't submit it to Sword and Sorceress 29. But I can think of several places it might be a good fit for, and I'm looking forward to sending it to one of them.

Meanwhile, I get a weekend.

i am processing my junk folder, it's a thing i do
Thu 2014-05-15 23:54:39 (single post)
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Spam! What's it good for? Character name generation! In my Junk folder during tonight's ritual scanning for false positives before deletion:

Hedwig Sorenson (who wants to share some diabetes healing secrets)
Janice Bauer (who wants me to give my lungs a fighting chance and try e-cigs)
Jennifer Rodman (ditto--look, people, I don't even smoke)
Kurt Rambis (a cash offer? for me? darling, you shouldn't have)
Kyle St. John (who thinks my family might be disappointed when they find out... something)
Mike Ward (China is dumping their gold fast! You have to! See why!)

When I try to think up character names, if I don't have something already predisposing me in a particular direction (like, say, "Caroline" as an oblique phonetic nod to "Kore"), sometimes my brain just cycles through the same five or six suggestions. The contents of my junk folder are not subject to the limits of that cycle. Honestly, I would never have thought up the last names St. John or Rambis without external prompting. Maybe that's what I'll name the very nice lady at the wake who knew Caroline the last time she was day-care-attending age.

What I really miss is when Baysian filtering was kinda sorta the new big thing in anti-spam manuevers, and spammers were embedding their links in a wall of random, computer-generated text to try to avoid matching the filter's patterns. This resulted in surprisingly good freewriting prompts. I used to keep a file of the best ones, but then I deleted it under the assumption that the next day's email would infallibly bring more. Sadly, this no longer seems to be the case.

But we'll always have Hedwig Sorenson and her encyclopedia of diabetes healing secrets, I suppose. Someday it will be possible to name a character in an English-language short story "Hedwig" without putting everyone in mind of owls, right?

these are things that would have happened anyway
Wed 2014-05-14 22:42:23 (single post)
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Once upon a long, long time ago, like... oh, say, 1992? Anyway, I wrote a story. And no, you cannot read it, because it was embarrassingly full of the Mary Sue.

Surely you've met the Mary Sue? Oh, Mary Sue is wonderful! She's perfect! She's sexy and adorable and everyone loves her. And yet they can never really know her, not truly, not in all her mystical, magical splendor. She is not from this world, you see, she was always destined to leave it and go home again...

In short, it was one of those stories that teenagers write about the storybook character they kind of sort of wish they could be. And also nobody understands them.

Hey, I have a lot of compassion for Teenage Me. But at the same time, I have to admit, she was not immune to the allure of the cuckoo child story: "Their parents are not their parents. Their lives are not their lives. They are princesses. Lost princesses from distant lands. And one day, the King and Queen, their real parents, will take them back to their land, and then they'll be happy for ever and ever."

But, being a teenager, I lacked sufficient awareness to prevent me from showing this story to Mom. This story in which a much misunderstood woman went back to her real home and her real parents. I kind of wish I could go back in time and slap myself. "Hey! Hey, you! You do not put this story in front of your adoptive parents. What exactly are they going to think you think of them, huh?"

But, happily, Mom didn't pick up on the vibe of "You're not my REAL mommy!" Or if she did, she never mentioned it. No, what stuck with her was the very dramatic conclusion of the story in which the protagonist's return to her home world also had something to do with Lake Pontchartrain leaping its levee boundaries and flooding the city.

Something like the following year or maybe the year after that, New Orleans had a particularly nasty brush with Maybe This One's Gonna Be the Big One. There was a heck of a lot of flash flooding. (This was at least ten years before Hurricane Katrina.) And Mom said to me, only half joking, "Niki, you write things and they come true! Stop it!"

Well. About that.

These days I find myself writing a lot of stories about snow. And they are not happy winter wonderland stories. There's the one about the midsummer week snowstorm that turns out to precursor Ragnarok. There's the one about the snow-glue disaster from outer space. And now there's "Caroline's Wake," a reimagining of the myth of Demeter and Persephone, in which of course the death of the Persephone character ushers in a particularly vicious snowstorm.

You might think it's an obsession or something. But, look, I live in Colorado right now. It snows here.


And I can hear my mother saying, "Stop writing about things that come true!"

If I still had that overinflated teenage opinion of myself, I might get worried about this sort of thing. But, really, think about it--if there's a writer out there who's making things happen by writing about it (and I have a novel that I drafted about that, by the way), why would it be me? Why wouldn't it be a much better writer, someone much farther along their path to greatness, someone who's got lots of stuff published and a shelf full of awards? Why, to be precise, didn't Connie Willis usher in the snowpocalypse with her novella "Just Like the Ones We Used to Know"? That would have been just fine. Her snowpocalypse was temporary, lasting just long enough to catalyze a sense of, depending on the character, wonder or forgiveness or love rekindled.

Guess what? Connie Willis is in Colorado too! Where, as I mentioned, it snows.

Writers are not unaware of the world around them. When they live places where hurricanes and flooding are a yearly danger, they think about floodtastrophes. When they live where the winter gets snowy and they don't like it much, thank you, they write about snowpocalypses. And if it snows in May in Boulder or flash-floods in August in Metairie, well, are you surprised? We all know that stuff happens. We know it's a hazard of our territory. It's on our minds.

And stuff that's on writers' minds tends to show up in writers' fiction. That's pretty much it.

So if it snows again in two weeks DON'T BLAME ME, OK?! I'm not predicting, I'm just complaining.

the art of knowing the things you already know
Tue 2014-05-13 22:49:27 (single post)
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OK, so, that feeling? That awful "I have no idea how to write the next scene" feeling? The one that doesn't get better even after hours of preparatory freewriting? That feeling is not a valid reason not to write the next scene.

In fact, that feeling is a clear signal that it's time to write the next scene.

Seriously, feeling like "I don't know how to write it" doesn't get better by not writing. It doesn't turn into certainty and optimism just by thinking about the scene some more. It's a sign that I've hit the end of the usefulness of thinking, and I need to put words on the page to find out what the words are.

One of these days, I'll start remembering that right from the start. And the sooner the better. Because this painful process that involves several weeks of "I don't know how to write the next bit" followed by a day where I finally take a stab at writing it and arrive at epiphany thereby, well, it could stand to lose a few weeks off the front.

In other news, jigsaw sudoku is evil and should not be contemplated until after the work day is over.

how to kick off the week with that glowing, accomplished feeling
Mon 2014-05-12 21:09:35 (single post)

You might think a freakish May snow storm would preclude much farm work. This is not the case. We just moved the farm work inside. Seedling thinning continued from last week, only the thinning party (or thinning bee, if you will) took place inside the greenhouse, where it was hot enough to make me regret my extra layers of clothing.

Plants I worked with today: Lettuce, fennel, marjoram, sage, several varieties of tobacco, and, very briefly, more peppers.

My favorite of the above was the fennel. Some people hate all things licorice-flavored; I love them. Fennel, anise, ouzo, absinthe, black jelly beans and Jujyfruits, Good & Plenty, Allsorts, salted, even Twizzlers if you must. Thinning fennel was like kicking back with a freshly opened bag of Haribo licorice wheels. Every third or fourth stalk that I snipped went into my mouth.

Eventually, later on this summer, the fennel will be all grown up and harvested and ready to eat. At that time, my favorite thing is to quarter the stalks, salt them and pepper them, sautee them in butter, and coat them in Parmesan cheese. Goes well with potatoes or a really flavorful rice.

I did not come home and nap. I came home and got stuff done. I did all my household accounting chores as well as a few more tasks that have been languishing. I even popped the bearings out of my outdoor wheels and cleaned them. I should have done that Saturday evening immediately after all that skate-dancing around at the New Brew Fest and, more to the point, walking through wet grass between the dance floor and the Boulder County Bombers promotional booth. Hopefully the three-day wait won't result in noticeable rust spots.

And now, having been virtuously productive all afternoon, I'm just hanging out at home having a relaxing evening. I have a lot of work to do tomorrow, writing-wise, but I'll worry about that when tomorrow gets here.

everybody's workin' for the weekend
Fri 2014-05-09 22:45:21 (single post)
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You know what I just realized? About March 16? It's in one week. And I'm still stuck freewriting my way into the scene with the titular wake. Like, "Who's there, what sounds do you hear, what stories are they telling about the deceased? 25 minutes. Go."

I may end up having to put in some Saturday hours.