“Thank you, God. My character is all built up now. You can stop.”
Debra Doyle

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

My *Thunk* Is Dwarfed By National *Thunk*
Tue 2008-11-04 21:47:01 (single post)
  • 21,286 words (if poetry, lines) long

Me at 6:30 (ish): *Thunk.*

The United States of America at 9:00 (ish): *THUNK!*

Congratulations, President Elect Barack Obama.

(One day, people will ask, "Where were you when they called the election for the first black President of the United States of America?" And I will say, "Watching Indecision 2008 on Comedy Central." That's right. Colbert was blathering, and Stewart made the announcement, and what's-his-bucket came out from backstage bawling and wearing no pants.")

(What? Look, it'll be on YouTube. You look it up.)

Regrets In the Home Stretch
Tue 2008-11-04 12:36:13 (single post)
  • 15,859 words (if poetry, lines) long

It may not look like it from the word count, but I'm in the home stretch. I know where every one of those 4000-ish words left to write goes; it's mainly going to be a matter of writing down the facts already in my head and the citations for where I learned them.

In having finished this project late, I've gotten three days behind on the NaNoWriMo novel. But that's not my biggest regret. My biggest regret is having left myself no time to volunteer in this, an incredibly historic election year for the U.S.A. I didn't campaign for Obama, I didn't make GOTV calls, and I wasn't even able to work as an election judge between this and other obligations that kept me from attending the training sessions. I feel like a total bum.

I'm doing this much: I'm hosting an election results party for some friends. After everyone gets off work, they'll come over here to watch the news and tune their laptops to various liveblogging events. I'll be cooking stuff from our CSA-overloaded fridge - I'm thinking colchannon and stuffed acorn squash. And, if Nate Silver's election predictions are correct, I will finally have occasion to make Schadenfreude Pie.

(Why, yes, that was an unprompted suggestion in the Google search bar.)

All right, back to the grind. See you after the *thunk*. At which point I'm breaking out the Scotch. And yes, if you know me and you're within easy traveling distance of me, you're totally invited. But if you didn't vote, your role tonight will be piņata.

Arrgh! I Give!
Mon 2008-11-03 01:47:52 (single post)
  • 11,897 words (if poetry, lines) long

Stupid all-nighters. I hate all-nighters. Tell you what - it's about three hours until dawn. Dawn is when I get my second wind. If I go to sleep now and wake up three hours later, I'll have fast-forwarded to my second wind, and it'll be a heftier wind what with having gotten a couple of REM cycles of sleep. Clever me!

(Grumbles something about the whole Monday morning delivery thing getting less and less morning-like. Kicks self. Zonks.)

Finishing One Project (very soon now, promise!) And Starting Another
Sun 2008-11-02 16:36:34 (single post)
  • 1,728 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 8,702 words (if poetry, lines) long

(See, there, I nearly did that "disappearing in a puff of shame" thing again.)

It's November 2nd. What's your word count? Yes indeed, it's that time of year: National Novel Writing Month! And we had a huge handful of local and not-so-local participants come over for the traditional all-nighter kick-off party. Great conversation! Great food! And, starting at midnight, great productivity! I don't think any participants who attended left having written anything less than 1200 words.

This was, of course, why I knew I'd get nothing whatsoever done on the StyleCareer.com project on Friday. After I got home from work (for the last time), I had a lot of cleaning up and prep cooking to do. Then people came over, and it was no use thinking about anything but NaNoWriMo.

It was Samhain, by the way. John and I celebrated Samhain by filling out our ballots together over dinner. Symbolic, that. Out with the old, in with the new! Our contribution to turning over a new leaf for the new year!

So I did in fact reach and slightly surpass my daily 1667 for Day 1. Then, after everyone went home and I puttered around the vast Internets for a while, I went to bed. At 5:00 AM.

Saturday I got nothing at all done towards anything at all. I slept and read and slept and read. I went to a NaNoWriMo write-in, and did nothing more than smile, hand out stickers, and try to stay awake. We call this "all-nighter recovery."

So now I'm sacrificing NaNoWriMo Day 2 in order to finish up the StyleCareer.com project. My editor granted me an extension, and I am not going to ask for another one. I'm still feeling terrible at how little I got done on Thursday. How does one go into the Denver Public Library with the intention of working, but in fact end up reading web comic archives for four hours? I kept thinking to myself, "Just another few minutes. Then I'll start." And, "I really should start. Why am I not starting?" Click. Click. Not to over-dramatize my particular indulgence in the doldrums, but it's these sorts of shameful, stupid afternoons that bring me closest to possibly understanding what it's like to live with depression.

I thought hard about finishing the project via an all-nighter Thursday, but not only would that result in a much too rushed product, but then I'd be in terrible shape for the planned all-nighter Friday. Of course, now I may be looking at an all-nighter tonight, but that's not nearly as bad. I slept a lot yesterday, and I have nowhere to be tomorrow. Nothing scheduled. Hell, I can be a nocturnal writer now, if I want. I'm a free woman!

So that's the status report. There will quite likely be another one in the wee hours.

Enough about that. It's NaNoWriMo, did I mention? This year, for the first time, I have no idea what I'm writing. Nearly none. I'm out of ready-made novel plots! How did this happen? This past year has been a terrible one for ideas--I've let myself get out the habit of producing them. Been trying to fix that lately, though. Been going on writing dates with a friend, forcing myself to stay in the notebook or word processor just a little longer than I think I can. One Monday morning a few weeks back, I started a character sketch describing a man I saw exiting the bagel shop, and the character turned into one of two guys on a road trip, on the run from a mysterious, scary, supernatural something or other that was tracking them across the country. So that's where my Day 1 words went: imagining how that story might have started. Hopefully, the Muse will be kind, and She'll keep feeding me enough of the story each day so that I'll reach the end of it by November 30.

RESEARCH: Ur Doin It Wrong
Wed 2008-10-29 13:58:38 (single post)
  • 5,231 words (if poetry, lines) long

I am ashamed that yesterday, despite my 9K intentions, was a 3K day. The first 1K happened well-nigh immediately, and then the next 2K happened from about 8:00 and 10:00 PM.

In my defense, here's some of the things that happened in between:

  • Got some necessary paperwork signed
  • Load o' laundry washed and hung to dry
  • Handed off some NaNoWriMo stickers to the Colorado::Boulder region's unofficial Longmont-area co-ML
  • Broke the bolt securing my bike seat
  • Got said bolt replaced
  • Cooked dinner
  • Washed dishes
  • Researched industry data points relevant to my current project
  • Brought in load o' laundry

The thing that took the most time? The research. Duh.

Obviously I can't talk about this stuff in detail. But let me at least make some notes about the process.

Research in the Imperative. In other words, "Do this, do that, et voila, you're done." A how-to document. These are easy. All I have to do is learn how to do a thing, then describe how to do the thing. I can write a how-to without much trouble. The portions of these freelance projects that are how-to are fairly easy and quick (although this is clearly a relative term when we're talking documents exceeding 15K words). I've also been doing a bunch of how-to at the office as I prepare my co-workers for doing the tasks I did for the past 4 years that I've worked here. They're tedious, they involve constantly cropping screenshots in MS Word, but they don't require hours of research before writing.

And then there's research in the indicative. Research where I have to define terms or process industry statistics, and convert this into informative prose that hangs together and moves towards some sort of point. Defining terms isn't so bad, but statistics? Hoo boy. Not only is it tricky to get the Internet to cough up these data points without my spending money I don't have on professional reports, but then... well, it's just data. Percentages and stuff. It needs to be synthesized into some sort of story before I can begin writing. And, with the very rare exception pertaining to election years, I have this innate response to numeric data which approximates boredom.

So I end up spending hours searching, reading, searching more, reading more, and occasionally making a false start on the writing. Then erasing the writing. Then reading more. And while reading, feeling this helpless and desperate sort of "how the heck am I going to use this data? Can I use this? I can't use this. Ooh! I can use this paragraph--only, how? Crud I have no time to be reading this! Crud I'm sick of reading this! Cruuuuddddd!"

I think I must be doing this wrong.

Certainly it doesn't help to be ALT-Tabbing between the web page and my project every two sentences, viewing every sentence I read through the filter of "Can I use this?" The key, apparently, is to simply allot myself a few unpressured hours during which I have permission to be fascinated with what I'm reading, and the narrative will just sort of create itself in my head during this time. I am sure that given a good two weeks or more 'til deadline, I can relax enough to convince myself that I love statistical data. Yum, Bureau of Labor Statistics! Excellent, the U.S. Census! Feed me trade publications because I am hungry!

Obviously a conclusion I should have come to about two weeks ago. Oh well. However, there is this: the hardest 3K of the project is done. Also, I seem to have underestimated how much time I'd have to work on things today. Which is good, because I've done 15K in a day, but I don't like it much.

In Which I Come Clean About This Procrastination Thing
Tue 2008-10-28 08:07:50 (single post)
  • 2,000 words (if poetry, lines) long

Today is not a sleep-until-noon Tuesday. It can't be. Not with 18,000 words to go and four days to do it in.

At times like these, one might ask oneself, "Well, how did I get here?" And one might thereafter find oneself with Talking Heads songs stuck in the brain. And no good answer. I mean, this happens every single time I have a deadline ("same as it ever was... same as it ever was..."), and it gets worse every time.

When fledgling writers consider out loud the possibility of quitting their 9 to 5 jobs to pursue the dream full time, they often receive financial advise. "Don't do it unless you have six months/a year/three years worth of income saved up," say the gurus. "Don't do it unless you're married to someone with a paycheck." (I was. I am. I'm lucky.) It's more rare that the advice they get concerns time management. At least, I didn't get that kind of advice. I had to find out for myself what happens when I have all day, every day, to write.

You know what happens? I don't write. I lie back and I think, "I have all day!" And I sleep late and putter around and play games and read blogs and nap with my nose in books and take long soaks in the tub, and suddenly I don't have all day anymore. Ditto when deadline's still a month off. "I have all month!"

Today, happily, I woke up going, "I have all day - I should be able to knock off 10,000 words easily," and I stayed awake. Fired up the computer. Decided on a work and reward cycle that might keep me going all day (2,000 words, fifteen minutes of Puzzle Pirates, another 2,000 words, etc). Started the work part of that cycle. Started going over my notes. Started writing.

So what am I doing taking time off to blog? I dunno. Confessing, maybe. Usually, when I get to this point in a procrastinated project, I disappear from view, ashamed, and I don't resurface until I can proudly tell the world "Thunk!" (Which, of course, means, "I'm done! Finally! Yay! Gonna collapse now.") And I suppose I'm interested this time in keeping a record. I mean, there's my word count. Here's my statement of intent. Let's come back at the end of the day and see how the day played out.

After today I pretty much have Thursday. Friday's my deadline. And both Friday and Wednesday will be spent at the office until 3 PM and then in full-blown NaNoWriMo prep mode (a meet-up Wednesday night and the kick-off party Friday night). So it comes domn to two more-than-full-time days. Can't afford to do the usual Tuesday "I've got all day!" thing.

So that's where I'm at. I would say, "hopefully I will be at a better place tonight," except "hopefully" is the wrong word entirely. "With luck" is also wrong, for the same reason. As usual, the solution to not having written is to write. Neither hope nor luck enter the equation. So we'll say this:

Workfully, I'll be halfway out of the hole in another twelve hours or so.

A Bit of Self-Examination Upon Finishing A Story
Mon 2008-10-20 08:58:18 (single post)
  • 3,891 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 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?
Fri 2008-10-17 10:16:53 (single post)
  • 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
Fri 2008-09-26 10:44:32 (single post)

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
Wed 2008-09-24 21:07:14 (single post)
  • 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.

"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."

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.

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...