A Bit of Self-Examination Upon Finishing A Story
- 5,541 words (if poetry, lines) long
Saturday morning I finally finished a complete draft of this story and emailed it to my writing group. Well, not so much Saturday morning as Saturday afternoon. It was 12:30. It was laaaaaate. I had promised to distribute it Wednesday, October 15th. I'd thought, "Tuesday's my nothing-but-writing day! Tuesday I'll finish it for sure!"
Yyyyeah right. Since when have I managed to do anything more productive with a Tuesday than sleep until noon (unless I went to the rock-climbing gym with John for 8:30 or so, and went back to sleep when I got home), crawl out of bed to do maybe half-an-hour of work of some sort, then crawl back into bed all disproportionately pleased with myself and feeling due a break? Yeah. Tuesday the 14th went much like that, only, no half-hour of work. And then, y'know, Wednesday through Friday were Wednesday through Friday. Full of stuff and things.
For what it's work, very soon the rest of the week will look like Tuesday. October 31st will be my last day on the clock at my part-time job. I'm gonna be an honest-to-garsh full-time writer finally. I mean, being a full-time writer was my plan back when I quit my full-time corporate web design job back in April 2004, but soon after I did that, the director of the non-profit I volunteer for asked me if I could spare ten to twenty hours a week to come in and fix their web page and do other miscellaneous tasks. And here I am four and a half years later. You'd think I wouldn't have any trouble staying productive on my own terms when I only work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday--and volunteer Thursdays at a local farm--and continue volunteering some four hours a week for the non-profit that is now also my employer--but by the time I bike home from the office I'm feeling like I ought to be allowed some play-time. And by the time I finish playing, it's bedtime. Apparently my self-discipline and time management skills are a bit more, say, non-existent than I like to admit.
So, starting November 1st, I'm a free agent again. Which is good news for for me on the NaNoWriMo front; I will have more time to go to write-ins and to organize stuff. However, Nov. 1 comes too late to help me out with current projects, so I need to dig up some self-discipline from somewhere or other and get things done. (About that, more later.)
Anyway. I finished this story Saturday. It has this is common with its origins: there's still a magically manipulative sweater involved. However, it's no longer set in and around a New Age store in north-west Denver. Its antagonist is no longer an individually acting eccentric employee. Instead, it's set in a fictitious community it unincorporated Adams County, east of Brighton. The antagonist is the central figure and namesake of the not-quite-town, and the whole town is in on her schemes. Which is to say, the magic involved in the sweater happens to be part and parcel of the community's way of life. And the protagonist walks right in thinking nothing's out of the ordinary. Think Wicker Man, only without the outsider's investigative motive. Think, if I've done this right, Shadows Over Insmouth.
Only I probably haven't done it right yet, which is why I volunteered it for Wednesday's critique session. Aside from one email bounce due to the recipient's mailbox being full, email did what email should and now several people whom I see twice a month and respect quite a lot will be reading it. Cringe! Nervousness and fright! I mean, given the last-minute nature of this story's composition, it's rather rough. It's probably a bit rushed at the end, even though the end came about a lot more organically and easily than I feared it would back when laying down scenes felt like a fractally infinite task. It's probably got copy-paste errors you could blow up a fictional neighborhood with.
And then there's knowing that I haven't exactly been the most gentle contributor to my writing group. I have been prone to Thinking Myself Right when commenting, rather than humbly offering "if it were my story I would" suggestions and "this might be just me, but" observations. And, being the prickly and temper-prone creature that I am, I've been guilty of causing a bit of... well, social tension. Which is the nice way of saying I've been kind of a bitch lately. I'm not proud of it. And I'm not under any illusion that people are going to be any kinder to me than I've been to them--not that I think anyone would be deliberately unkind out of some impulse towards vigilante justice; just that my effect on the tone of this group's discussions has not been for the better. I have to live in the environment I've helped create. So. Having given others a hard time, I don't expect to be given a particularly easy time myself. So I'm living on a steady diet of stomach lining and belated good intentions at the moment.
Um. Hi, y'all! I love y'all bunches! I promise to be good! (Please don't kill me.)
However frank and even merciless Wednesday's critique turns out to be, I think I'm going to need it. My head is an echo chamber, and when I last turned in a story (cf. "Turnips"), I was careless. The manuscript still had the blank template page header, for goodness's sake! It said "LeBoeuf / TITLE" in every upper-left-hand corner. And I mean, literally, "TITLE". Dammit. When Ellen Datlow lamented that so many manuscript submissions she had received revealed a lack of concern for manuscript submission format, she may well have been talking about me (if, that is, Nick Mamatas actually did think my story worth passing on to her, which I doubt). Beyond that, the story had stupidity in it, structural stupidity as well as line-by-line dumbness. Which is not to diminish the awesome assistance of my friend from VPX who did read it and gave me some great feedback on it, and then took the time to read the rewrite and confirm whether I'd fixed what he'd pointed out before as broken. Without his time and effort, the story would have sucked harder. It would have sucked great big granite boulders until the feldspar was striated. However, there's still a great deal of work to do. I printed out that story a couple weeks ago and began marking it up, and by the time I got to page five I understood that revisions wouldn't be a matter of a quick hour's gloss. Oh no. They'd begun to look like a good couple of afternoons' worth of work.
Which I would have taken care of by now. Really! Except, well, this story. Which I am sure will also get marked up thickly before the week is out. Or at least before the end of the month. Maybe. I hope. In any case, this story I have no illusions that is ready for prime time.
Is It THE END Yet?
- 3,868 words (if poetry, lines) long
I hate that I didn't begin putting this story down on paper (electronically) until so late. I hate that I couldn't seem to get started on it for so long. The time spent composting seems to have helped, because the story has gone in an entirely different direction than I originally thought and this is certainly a change for the better. See? Better title already! But the late start means a late finish, because unlike some stories I've written, this one feels ... quantum?
No. The other word.
Every scene is not one scene closer to the end, because it reveals something else that has to happen before I reach the end. Look closer at one detail and many more details are revealed. It's turtles all the damn way down. Or sheep, really. It's sheep all the way down.
It feels like I'm building a goddamned house. Isn't it time to put the roof on yet? No! No it is not! And what's more, you forgot the insulation in this wall and the plumbing over here so you're going to have to tear down the drywall again. Dammit!
The result will be a better story. I have faith in this. But meanwhile the process of writing it seems endless. And I'm tired.
Hey, you! You little wide-eyed naive so-n-so who was all like "But writing's never really work, is it? Not if you really love it?" Remember? And I was all like, "Uh, yes, yes it is, actually," and she was all like, "I'm sorry you feel that way, maybe writing isn't really your calling"? Prepare for mental psychic slap-across-the-face number 417! You are my anti-muse and I hope your ears are burning!
I bet you pasted a little "lol" at the end of your post, too. Dingbat.
Another Trite Observation
Me, circa June 2001:
Write faster than you can whine!And yes, you may quote me on that. Especially when telling me off for whining too much.
It Came From The Archives
- 857 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 500 words (if poetry, lines) long
There are, admittedly, worse ways a writer can put off finishing and submitting a work in progress than by creating new works in progress. I mean, it's not like I totally wasted the day. Still, it is another day that I haven't resubmitted "Surfeit" anywhere. Ah, well.
But! New fiction!
It came out of a homework prompt from my writing group: Find something unfinished in your writing archives, something that you started long ago that never went anywhere, and rework it into a finished piece. (Or something that could feasibly become a finished piece.) I'm already doing that with the demonic sweater story. But that story's not finished, and I wanted to share with the class something that was. So I started going through my daily writing scraps from 2001 and lit upon three brief vignettes that caught my eye:
The conversation wound down to a full stop, words replaced with dinner-time noises in an otherwise-silence awkward and shamed. There was nothing left to say. Fifteen mouths, fifteen sets of silverware strove to fill the space with sounds, but the sounds were still a quality of silence.
She began to keep track of when they came and went. "I knew I could look up the schedules easily, in the books, on the Internet, but somehow keeping track myself (keeping track of the tracks) made the trains more mine.What came out of ransacking my archives was a short-short about a terribly OCD housewife who finds her perfectly controlled life unfulfilling, who longs for unexpected and unfamiliar experiences that she can't control. Who sits through a dinner date in which nothing said means anything. And who may or may not hop a boxcar at the end of the story.
"One day, I left the house at midnight, walked to the tracks, and leapt for the next open car.
"I nearly didn't make it. I would have died under the wheels had someone not grabbed my hand and pulled me into the car. A superhuman effort. I felt so stupid -- who did I think I was, Xena? Lara Croft? I'm just a dumb woman who didn't even go to college and couldn't even have babies properly. I crochet afghans in front of the TV all day, then I make dinner at 5 to be ready for my husband when he comes home at 6. On Sundays I make us both breakfast. Why did I think I could vault onto a speeding train?
"We talked a long time, that man and I. I'm not even sure he really exists, to tell you the truth. Not here. He says he's a tourist."
But she's not the same woman as actually gets on the train in the 2001 scrap. That scrap has more stories hiding in it. It was suggested, among my writing group, that there is a series of interrelated stories about train travel and train-hopping implied by this old piece of nothing much. "I'm not even sure he exists... He says he's a tourist" is a phrase that won't get out of my head now.
And there was a third, unrelated (for now) piece of story sitting in that old file:
Below, the lights of the city going down like candles into water. Ffft. One by twos by hundreds sinking into a pond of darkness. Two meals later, all hell would certainly break loose.I'm more intrigued there by the imagery of candles overtaken by flood than I am by the nod toward the old adage about civilization being only about two meals away from anarchy. I can see the image now, visible from the window on a train as the train takes a character out of her doomed old world and into a new one.
Oh, and, hey - new freelance deadline warning! Don't worry, this one's not 'til October 31 and I've already got a jump on it, as you can see. 500 words down, 19,500 words and a whole lot more research to go...
Huh. Actually Writing. How About That? I'm Gonna Burble Now.
- 3,133 words (if poetry, lines) long
Several actual solid hours of fiction production this morning. About time. I was supposed to have a story emailed to my writing group, like, two days ago; as of now it's still just a collection of very rough scenes. And its critique is of necessity being put off for some time--the group only meets twice a month, after all. But I sat down and I wrote those scenes, dammit. From about 7:30 AM until 9:15 AM or so. At Joe's Espresso, which is the bestest place within walking distance to write at, in the morning.
Whaddaya know? I feel like a writer! Again! I like this feeling. Gee, think I should maybe do this more often?
I've recently babbled a bit about the odd habit-forming nature of guilt. I got that today. Late afternoon, playing Puzzle Pirates (like you do), I found myself suffering from a constant niggling feeling that "I should be doing something productive. There's something I should be doing that I'm putting off. I'm being bad, playing like this, when I should be working." And while that is quite true about, say, cleaning the kitchen or doing the household financials, it's not quite true about writing. I wrote, dammit. From about 7:30 AM etc. etc. etc.
It occurred to me that maybe it's not just that day after day of guilty procrastination forms a habit out of feeling guilty. It might also be that--could it be that?--I like writing. On a deep, fundamental, unconscious level. That "I should be writing" feeling? That's the aforesaid Deep Fundamental Unconscious pushing me towards an activity it finds delightful.
I like that possibility a lot better than the "Superego Weilding The Whip" hypothesis.
Maybe I should aim that impulse at "A Surfeit of Turnips," which, after all my bold words last month, is still hogging the couch, sneezing at the TV, and tossing used Kleenex on the floor. (This has something to do with my not having blogged here since then.) Maybe tomorrow. It's not like it needs that much work before being sent out again. Like, half an hour. That's all I need. I need to do it! Pronto! Stet! And ASAP!
Anyway, about the new fiction: It's the demonic sweater one. Only, this past weekend I finally figured out what's up with that sweater. It's not, strictly, demonic. It's possessive. It's all very bad destructive magic, but it's not in the service of beings from Hell or The Outer Dark. It's just because Mrs. Shemf needs someone to watch the sheep, OK? Is that so very wrong? (Yes. Yes, it is.)
In other news, and just to strengthen my position has having done my writing for the day, dammit, there was writing in the 7:00 AM to 7:30 AM half-hour, too. But instead of fiction production, it was random stream-of-consciousness being hand-scribbled for the space of three notebook pages, as recommended by Julia Cameron in her workbook The Artist's Way. I used to do her "morning pages" exercise, along with or alternately with timed "writing practice" vignettes a la Natalie Goldberg, daily. Religiously. And literally religiously, from time to time, as an offering to the Muse Calliope and other figures in my ecclectic Pagan pantheon. And somewhere along the way I got out of the habit. Then, yesterday, I read this most excellent blog post by Kit Whitfield...
However, the fact remains: I really can't handle a pen. When I turned eighteen I spent a year studying cooking and had to take a lot of lecture notes, which changed my handwriting from joined-up to printed under the pressure of needing legible notes, and now I have a fairly disjointed scrawl. The pen slips and slides all over the page, disobliging me in every direction; I just don't understand how some people manage to control it. In Middlemarch, George Eliot remarks that 'the end of Mr Brooke's pen was a thinking organ'; the end of my pen is making continual escape attempts.Followed by several screenfuls of thoughtful meditation on the differences between the writing voices of pen and computer. All of which is really, really worth the reading.
Does this have an effect on my writing? I've been wondering about that. I write three 'morning pages' every day, as recommended by Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg, and those are done by hand; it's an extremely useful exercise, and while it generally produces ramblings about how I need to get the door fixed, with occasional bursts of insight into how to solve plot problems or personal revelations, the fact that it's done by hand is helpful. There's something informal about writing by hand that loosens you up.
In the past I used to write difficult scenes by hand, feeling that this would give them more emotional tone. Since taking to writing morning pages, I do that less; I feel that the three pages of handwriting loosen me up enough....
I was tickled to find my own experienced echoed by Real Published Authors, as I always am. In this case, it's both of these "loosening up" effects of pen on paper that I recognize. The "morning pages" excercise skims the scum off the top my brain--all the mundane, broody, day-planning, or just dumb words I have to get through before I can start writing actual stories. (Handwritten pages to rid the brain of such things is also nice last thing at night; it makes it easier for me to sleep and more likely that I'll dream interesting dreams rather than the one where I'm feeding the cats and can't find the Nupro supplements or whatever.) And when I'm having a hard time getting a story started--when I can't seem to find the "wedge" I need to open the cracks and let myself in--the pen and notebook sometimes help me find that way in.
In any case, I started with that this morning. And boy did my hand hurt after three pages! Not for nothing did Natalie Goldberg say of her years of writing practice that they had made her hand strong. I don't have Writing Down The Bones close at hand at the moment (I'm at the Boulder IHOP; my books are at home), but I believe in it she says she can put her fist straight through an aluminum school locker door: "My fourth grade students believe me when I tell them this, because they know it's true. My fifth grade students are more skeptical. I have to show them." That bit stuck with me hard enough that I borrowed it for the climax of a story--which you haven't read unless you're that one college teacher I submitted it to for my exam grade back in 1995--whose main character in fact had to write, as a biological necessity, copious amounts every month, and who ends up stopping a punch with her writing hand and breaking a few finger-bones in the process. Um. The other guy's bones. Not hers.
Anyway, yes. Hand hurts! (No bones broken, though.) And my handwriting--ye Gods, it sucks! But it was surprisingly easier to move into fiction-production mode after doing those three pages, and a lot easier to keep at the fiction for two solid hours, than I've found writing to be in a very long time. I recommend 'em, morning pages.
(I also recommend the rest of Kit Whitfield's blog. Deep literary insight some days, hilarious conversations with her cat on other days. What's not to like?)
Ain't No Rumpelstiltskin
Well, and I did go spin yarn. For several hours. I now have all three singles of my Cloud City "Primrose" (some dyed merino I picked up at the wool market) all spun and ready to ply. (If you're on Ravelry, I'm NicoleJLeBoeuf and it's in my Stash. Link will probably only work if you're logged in.)
These several hours at the spinning wheel did wonders for unwinding my naturally high-strung temperment, but did not work any weird supernatural charm on certain anthology editors. I mean, not that I expected it to--I'm superstitious, sure, but not that superstitious--but it didn't. "A Surfeit of Turnips" will not grace the pages of the Haunted Legends collection. Ah well.
So I'll give the story a gentle once-over (I can't believe I turned it in with "momento" where "memento" should have been! also, some lumps remain) and then send it Right Back Out Again.
You know the adage: "Never let a manuscript sleep over!" Because, I swear, you let 'em sleep over, they take over the couch, throw trash in the floor, and, before you work up the guts to evict them, they've burned cigarette holes in the carpet and uphostery. And you never know when and where you'll find their discarded underclothes a year later. So. Best not to go there.
After that, I think I have a date with some knitting. I mean, fictional knitting. With demons or something. No, of course I didn't mean real-life knitting--the singles aren't even plied yet. Duh. And, unlike the characters in this story I'm thinking of, I always bind off before summoning.
(I know, I know. But I only put that joke here to prevent myself giving in to the temptation to put it in my story.)
Observations on the THUNK phenomenon
I form habits.
I think this is just one of those things that some people are more prone to than others. We're all habit-forming beasts to some extent, but I think some of us form them more easily than others. It may be related to the concept of "an addictive personality"--you know, the tendency to become addicted to chemicals or experiences that others can easily partake of in moderation? Right. I think I form habits just a little bit too readily.
Did you know stress can be a habit? I don't think I'd quite realized it myself.
Today I'm sitting here feeling guilty for not working hard on the project I finished and turned in yesterday. (THUNK.) I've been working on it long enough and stressing out about it long enough that I'm in the habit of stress. It's bizarre.
Clearly, I need to go sit at the spinning wheel and make yarn for an hour. Or play more Puzzle Pirates.
Tomorrow: FICTION! Woot! Or maybe some long-delayed WorldCon blogging. Or maybe both! Crazy talk, that is. CRAZY talk.
Surprising Advice For Writers
DID YOU KNOW?!
The majority of Spell Check accidents happen in the home,* and of those, the bathroom is statistically the most likely place for them. Take special care when using Spell Check in the bathroom!
*No, not in the offices of Publish America. Those would be Spell Check deliberates.
Markets I Should Be Submitting Stories To, Part 1.WIN
I do believe this is my first professional submission in mumble mumble ahem months. Also my first professional fiction submission in somewhat longer. Man, where's my head been? It's been up... something. Obviously.
Anyway, I've now written, rewritten, and submitted a story to the aforementioned Haunted Legends anthology. I used the ghost story that I demonstrate pulling my hair out over here. Briefly, the memory of it popped into my head while I was, I think, half asleep on the bus home after working my weekly 5-hour volunteer shift at the local Community Supported Agriculture-style farm--never underestimate the power of exhaustion to bring back-burner content quite suddenly to the fore apropos of nothing. I spent the next week trying to find that story and/or remember where I'd read it. Once I found it, I started writing.
...Sorta. Actually, I kept procrastinating. "Hey, I've still got 5... no, 4... no, 3 days left until deadline. I'm a genius under deadline. I have time."
Then a fellow Viable Paradise X alumnus got a-hold of me via IM and cackled madly. "Ahahahaha! I have finished my story for Haunted Legends!" He also complained of the loss of objectivity and sanity that come of spending many consecutive hours thrashing about on the printed page.
Oh, it was so on. I admitted to not being... ahem ...quite done yet, and suggested that he email me his story for beta reading; I would email him my story along with comments on his. By the next morning.
Yay! In one fell swoop I got a beta reader and insane pressure to finish the story, like, NAO!
So I did (although only for values of "next morning" that equal noon). And he did. And I rewrote today (after another 5 hours at the farm and a little bit of running around town interviewing people for the currently assigned StyleCareer.com eGuide). And I submitted it.
I really, honestly, at least for right now this moment, am totally unconcerned as to whether the story gets rejected or accepted. Ask me again tomorrow and that will probably have changed.
But right now, today, I am a writer.
Markets I Should Be Submitting Stories To, Part 1
In case you haven't heard about it yet, here's some submissions guidelines we should all be paying close attention to. Please note that I am not affiliated with Haunted Legends in any way except the usual, which is as hopeful author hopefully submitting a story to the editors.
Haunted Legends, to be published by Tor Books, seeks to reinvigorate the genre of "true" regional ghost stories by asking some of today's leading writers to riff on traditional tales from around the world. We don't just want you to retell an old ghost story, but to renovate it so that the story is dark and unsettling all over again.Don't look at me. I only copy/paste this stuff.
Classic tales of the Jersey Devil, the spirits of the Tower of London, ghost lights, and phantom hitchhikers continue to capture the imagination. The Haunted Legends difference is that our contributors will tell the stories in ways they've never been told before.
We pay 6 cents a word, up to 8000 words.
The open-reading period will begin on midnight, EDT of July 15, 2008 and end 11:59p.m., July 31, 2008.
All submissions must be emailed as a RTF file to Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas at email@example.com. Please send no more than one submission. Please send no correspondence, such as queries, to firstname.lastname@example.org either before or after the reading period – all mail sent to the address at any time other than the reading period will be automatically deleted unread.
Note that much of the anthology is full and that a large number of ghost stories, especially those with an American or UK origin, are thus already "taken" by authors who have been personally solicited for work. Your best bet for this anthology is to go far afield – we are especially interested in renovations of traditional ghost stories from Africa, Latin America, and Asia, or in other tales that may not be well-known.
We also want to emphasize that we are interested only in traditional ghost stories made new again by the ingenuity of the writer. We do not want "campfire" versions of old stories, or slavish recitations. Think of new forms, new voices, new themes, new ways of considering these classic tales. Do not send us your trunk stories. It should be as though your version was always occulted within the classic rendition, but never before perceived or acknowledged.
And now, a brief AFAQ (anticipated frequently asked questions):
May I query you with an idea for a ghost story to make sure that it has not already been taken?
No, you may not. If you believe that your idea is already taken, you may wish to research another idea. Indeed, even if the idea has not already been claimed by one of the solicited authors, you may well still face competition from a dozen other variations in the slush. Novelty is your best approach.
Well, what if I query you anyway?
I may decide to give you a misleading answer, or no answer at all.
So how about if I query Ellen Datlow instead? She's the nice one, anyways.
You have misapprehended the situation. Let us put it this way: when was the last time Ellen Datlow had an open-reading period for any of her original anthologies? She doesn't want your queries either.
Can I just make up a ghost story?
No. You have to find an existing one and renovate it in an utterly brilliant fashion.
How will you will be able to tell the difference?
We are obsessive experts and we are friends with even more obsessive experts.
Is this all some kind of cruel joke?
I'd call it the end result of a large number of compromises, all of which were necessary to guarantee any sort of open-reading period.
This is madness! Why does everything have to be so hard all the time? Why are we pitted against one another in these awful competitions, and for crumbs? Crumbs, I tell you, crumbs! As if we were starving rats. I hate you!
Fools! Your despair only makes me stronger!