“Thus, in a real sense, I am constantly writing autobiography, but I have to turn it into fiction in order to give it credibility.”
Katherine Paterson

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Null Update, Day 2
Mon 2009-06-15 07:53:48 (single post)

Because Twitter sucks as a medium for Getting The Whole Story.

Day 1, by the way, was spent in barely holding ourselves together. So this is Day 2. And here's the story. It has nothing to do with writing, by the way, except possibly why it may be hard to get much of it done this week.

John and I spent much of yesterday at the Estes Park Wool Market. When we left at 9:00 AM, both cats were fine. When we got home around 4:00 PM, Uno was wandering around like normal but Null was in a terrible state. He was lying on his left side, limp, unresponsive, and clearly having difficulty breathing. It was regular but sounded painful, and made a rasping noise like a purr gone wrong.

Predictive chaos and panic ensue. For future reference, if you keep pets, go to the phone book or internet right now and find the number of the emergency vet nearest you. Put that number in your cell phone. Or tack it up on the wall. Whatever. Make sure it is easily found. Because let me tell you, the phone book is not easy to use while you're conscious of your beloved animal apparently fighting for his life. The brain just shuts down. The name of the emergency clinic goes right out of the head. Go. Do it now. This blog will wait.

Done? Good. Continuing now.

Five minutes later John was walking in at the Boulder Emergency Pet Clinic, bearing Null on the cushion of the armchair on which we found him, while I was finding a parking space. Within a minute after that, they had the poor kitty on oxygen therapy and were running all the likely diagnostics. Meanwhile we were frantically cataloguing the contents of our home, wondering if he'd ingested toxins, chewed on a plant, got strangled, what?

Periodically the doctor would come in and tell us what they'd found now. Vitals good, aside from difficulties breathing. Blood-work normal except for raised levels of an enzyme associated with blunt trauma to the kidney. Oh, by the way, did you know he's blind? No "menace response" (he didn't startle at sudden hand motions very near his face). Pupils dilated, but symmetrical, thank goodness.

Finally the X-rays came out. The right lung looked dented. There's no other way to put it. And the indentation corresponded with about four ribs that weren't lying correctly at all.

This is the point at which everyone on Twitter goes, "How the hell did he break ribs? Why was he blind?" and I tweet over and over, "We don't know. We don't know. We weren't home when it happened." But here's my theory.

Null and Uno "get into it" a lot--one will pick a fight with the other, and they'll chase each other around the house, wrestle, yowl, etc. Typically Uno will get tired of it first. Null, however, will persist, being stubborn and dumb. The typical end of the episode is Uno jumping up onto the kitchen counter, the bedroom dresser, the entertainment center, or another raised surface, often knocking down breakables in the process. (On one memorable occasion he attempted to leap into the glassware cabinet in the kitchen which I'd unfortunately left open.) Null will sometimes try to follow him. If he succeeds, he'll usually be convinced to jump down again in a hurry. But with Uno snapping at his front paws as he tries to scramble up, he'll more often just fall backwards down onto the floor again.

Imagine that happening with, say, the coffee table breaking Null's fall, so that his head thwacked the glass and the edge of the table bashed him in the ribs.

The really heartbreaking thing is imagining him dragging himself, blinded and in pain, to the comfort of his armchair.

So he stayed at the emergency clinic all night, super-oxygenated and doped up on pain-killers. Periodic calls revealed he was becoming more alert, aware, and comfortable as the evening progressed, but he still hadn't regained his sight.

The clinic we chose (due to its proximity and having brought Uno there once for an eye injury) only keeps nights and weekend hours, so we knew we'd have to return in the morning to check him out and either bring him home or transfer him to a conventional vet. (This would be why I'm late getting to the farm this morning.) Well, when we got there, they told us he was much improved. He was walking around, complaining, trying to "ooze" off the exam table, all the normal Null-bit stuff. He was breathing normally, none of that alarming open-mouthed raspy stuff. They told us he'd been purring, in that dumb, touching way that he does, sitting around and purring at mere continuity of existence. And just to top it off, he could see again!

They brought him out to us in one of their carriers. He was pacing inside, yowling now and again, clearly wanting out. When we pet him, he head-butted our hands. His pupils were still alarmingly huge, but not so much as before. No lingering effects of head trauma either. In short, he was acting like himself. Except he wasn't yowling very often, and during his ride over to Alpine Vet Clinic, where he will spend the day being weaned off the oxygen therapy and being closely observed, he stared out the windows of the car, clearly more curious than scared. We suspect that's a combination of him being to some extent conscience of having temporarily lost his sight and regained it, so that he was enjoying the heck out of just having vision; and being high as a kite on pain-killers.

So he'll probably come home tonight around 5 or 5:30, and I'll stay home and watch him carefully, and he'll need to be isolated from Uno and kept from jumping up into high places for about 6 weeks. Which will be a pain in the butt, but obviously totally worth it.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Thanks to everyone for their concern and caring and thoughts and prayers and magical energy and etc. We love you all.

Writing As Work, Writing As Play
Fri 2009-06-12 14:51:23 (single post)

Went to my usual bimonthly writing group Wednesday, and, as sometimes happens when there's no manuscript for critique in a given classtime, the conversation turned from commenting on each other's in-class writing to sharing with each other our writing processes. Specifically, the question was, "Where are you in your writing?"

I both love and hate that question. Love, because I love talking shop. I love talking about myself--why, yes, I've got a bit of an ego, how can you tell?--and I love getting together with other writers and attempting to put our experiences into words. Verbalizing my inner world requires a certain introspective clarity; in trying to find the words, I am forced to look more closely at mental realities I've been taking for granted. It's a process that results in knowing myself better. Which, yay!

But I hate that question, too, mainly because, if I'm going to be truthful, I have to give an answer beginning with, "Still difficult. Writing more now, but every single freakin' day it's a struggle to get past the resistances and fears and feelings of inadequacy that I call WRITER'S BLOCK. Every. Single. Day."

So I started there. But in continuing, I shared with my colleagues the current thing that's been working well for me (for certain definitions of "well"). "I've been letting myself consider writing to be play," I said, "so as to escape the downward spiral of guilt I've been flailing around in for years."

One of my friends said, "It's just the opposite with me. I have to tell myself that writing is my job, or it won't get done."

I am, of course, paraphrasing. But the conversation made me think about that balance between work and play that I think needs to be struck.

So. Writing as play. I've spent far too much time stuck in the idea of "OK, I quit my day job. I owe it to myself and my husband to GET STUFF DONE! Must work! Must turn out new short stories! Must get published! WHAT THE HELL I DIDN'T GET ANY WRITING DONE YESTERDAY I AM WASTING EVERYONE'S TIME I'M A BAD PERSON I SUUUUUUCK."

(The above has been dramatized for your entertainment.)

Obviously there's a problem with that. Well, not for everyone. For me, anyway. My reaction to obligation and guilt is less to get the thing done and more to hide away from the thing, because the thing, whatever it is, gets associated with Reasons To Conclude I'm A Bad Person. Also, the more I don't do, the more there is to do, the more impossible it seems to do. So. I've had ample opportunity to watch myself flail between the twin ouchies of "if you don't do it you're a waste of oxygen" and "you have to do it ALL, today, or yesterday for preference."

Which leads to the changes in my routine, methods, and attitude I've been attempting to effect lately. First, instead of Writing As Obligation, there's Writing As Play-On-The-Page. And second, instead of Get It All Done NOW, there's Just Take A Nibble.

But at the same time, I recognize that, as my friend put it, writing is my job now. It's how I want to make money. It's how I want to spend my working day. I can't just play; I have to produce. There's only so far "I'll take care of the quantity and the Gods will take care of the quality" goes before I realize I do have to get some quality out there if I want to be published.

So it's a balancing act. It's got to be play enough that I want to do it. But it's got to be work enough that I do do it, daily, with the aim of finished drafts I can submit to paying markets.

Recognizing that, I'm not so much changing my current approach as I am my perception of it. I'm working on Writing Is Play, No Pressure because until recently I've had too much weight in the Writing Is My Job half of the scale. It'll be time to shift my focus only when the scales shift.

But in the meantime I can probably risk injecting some direction into my daily "playtime". That means two things: Knowing what finishable, potentially submittable project to work on tomorrow, and knowing which, say, two hours of the day (or so) will be devoted to working on it. Having that in mind the night before allows me to wake up with a sense of purpose, a structure within which to Get Things Done. I'm a very Type-A creature; I thrive on structure.

Doesn't mean I did a good job today, mind. But yesterday I was fairly productive: got to the end of this week's rough draft (never mind that it was last week's rough draft, and that of the week before... anyway, about that, more later), and even uploaded an article to eHow (about what? Three guesses). Go me! {{pats self on back}} But then I woke up today, and dragged about the house until my first externally-enforced obligation. Gah.

Well. I knew consistency was once of my Areas Where Improvement Is Needed.

So. To summarize: A possible balancing point is to consider writing play, but impose a structure of What and When upon it in order to get work done. How well will this work? Find out next time, when I babble some more! Maybe.

Fri 2009-06-05 08:01:20 (single post)

Of course I meant the Natchez, not the Creole Queen. It's the Natchez has the steam-powered calliope on top.

The Daily Story Idea
Tue 2009-06-02 20:58:07 (single post)

I used to do this in college, every morning:

The exercise I set myself was to write something which filled exactly one page in WordPerfect and had a beginning, middle, and an end. Then I'd revise it just enough to meet the arbitrary length requirement. Most of these vignettes came to about 700 words long. They took about a half-hour to finish (for these standards of "finish"). At the end of the year I'd print them all out and bind them into a chapbook. I'm really proud of those chapbooks.
But, as with all good writing exercises, it's not primarily about having a home-bound chapbook to reread later and say, "See, I used to write some good stuff." The real benefit of a daily process is the process.

I think part of the reason I go through dry spells occasionally is I lose faith in myself, in the process, in writing itself. Sometimes it's more specific than that: Losing faith in my ability to improve a piece of writing, feeling that I've "lost my ear" and can't revise a story without somehow breaking it. Or losing faith in abundance, losing sight of the truth that you can't use it up. That last is what the Daily Story Idea is about.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you that writer's block doesn't exist. It does. I suffer from it constantly. It requires consistent, relentless effort to push through it every day. Rewarding effort, but effort nonetheless. But there's a lot of misconceptions, I think, about what writer's block actually is. It's not lack of ideas or unwillingness to do the work. It isn't sitting around waiting for the Muse to visit. It's not "not feeling like it today." It can cause all of these things, but those things are symptoms. The cause is something else entirely.

The cause is fear.

Irrational, unhappy fear. Frustrating fear. Shameful fear, because there's no shortage of self-proclaimed gurus out there proclaiming that "If you were really a writer, this wouldn't be a problem."

Writer's block isn't about being abandoned by the Muse or running out of inspiration. But it can take the form of a paralyzing, perfectionist fear that convinces you that ideas you're coming up with aren't good enough, worthy enough, imbued with enough potential to be the Next Great Internationally Acclaimed Novel.

Work through the fear, and there are story ideas all around, more than you can ever use in a lifetime. ("The Louisiana Steam Equipment Company. That is totally begging for a steampunk alternate universe story set in New Orleans.")

Writer's block isn't about being unable to turn an idea into a new story. But it can be a fear of failure that paralyzes you from even making the attempt, so that you sit and look at that one sentence you've typed out, and you go blank.

Let yourself play through the fear, and suddenly stories come with ease, spinning out of the barest hint of the idea like Rapunzel spinning a gold thread from the humble piles of chaff at her feet. ("In the steampunk alternate universe version of New Orleans, the same steam that voices the calliope on top Creole Queen would power a clockwork construct that played the calliope. And you'd bring that construct to the Steam Equipment Company for repairs. But it would be sentient, like one of the Girl Genius clanks, and it would in fact be the main character of the story, and...")

So I'm doing this Daily Story Idea for all those reasons. I'm reminding myself that one new story idea every day is easy; ideas are an inexhaustible resource. And instead of just writing down a sentence or two and considering myself done, I'm trying to hold myself to few minutes of playing around with that idea. It's a reassuring thing to look back over the last month and see that I can come up with the bare bones of a new story, poem, or novel every day, and indeed I have.

And though the chapbooks back in college weren't the point, they were nice to have. Just as it's nice to have a month's worth of potential stories sitting on my hard drive. I can look at them and say, "Check out all the stuff I could work on this week!" After all, the next commitment I made was to produce a complete rough draft of something every week, and any of these little weekday vignettes could be a head start on next week's assignment.

So that's what that's all about.

Real-world Applications Of "The Artist's Way"
Mon 2009-06-01 20:53:50 (single post)

I may have mentioned the loveliness that is Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way... oh, maybe a hundred times by now. As it happens, I finished my most recent journey through the 12-week course described there just last month. And on May 4, I began adhering to my "Creativity Contract"--a written declaration that Cameron encourages artists to customize, sign, and stick to for the next 90 days. So here's how that's going.

The "Creativity Contract" starts out with a commitment to continue using the tools introduced in Week One: the daily Morning Pages and the weekly Artist's Date.

Morning Pages are three long-hand pages scribbled without excess thought or planning; just dump the contents of your brain onto the page. Preferably, they take place first thing in the morning. Failing that, they should take place at some point during the daily awake period. The author Kit Whitfield has a great essay on why this is useful, here. (She mentioned Morning Pages in passing at a blog we both frequent, and I pestered her to talk about it more. She is most obliging.)

I've mostly managed to do them every day in May. The "mostly" refers pretty much to the week before I left for Chicago; travel planning tends to hit me hard. Missing morning pages should not be an occasion for self-recrimination, giving up on the whole Creativity Contract idea ("I missed once! Now it's broken! Forever!" ...no), or attempting to make it up by doing twice as many pages tomorrow. At most, I look back and try to determine how/why I didn't manage to get my three pages done, and use that as a signpost for making time for it tomorrow.

On a related note, I try not to say to myself, "Let this be a lesson! Never do X!" but rather, "Let's take this as a signpost against doing X in future." Being kind to oneself is a big lesson in The Artist's Way, and I find I get a lot more work done if I'm not constantly fighting self-inflicted guilt.

The Artist's Date is an amount of time--half an hour, two hours, maybe even a whole day--dedicated toward pampering one's inner child/inner artist/sense of play. It serves the function of making oneself feel loved and happy. At the same time, it helps replenish the well from which one draws inspiration. Sometimes I walk into a stationary store and make a purchase or just enjoy looking at all the pretty paper. Sometimes I go to the library, pick an interest, and visit that section of the non-fiction stacks. Sometimes I just give myself half a day to play Puzzle Pirates without guilt.

I... think I've done this? Every week? Maybe? I have always, throughout my adult life, tended toward giving myself whatever I'm craving. My problem has been feeling guilty for it because I'm procrastinating with it, spending too much money, not spending enough time with various other people because I'm busy doing my own thing, etc. Guilt again! See a pattern? And since rejourneying through The Artist's Way, I've found it hard to say, "Yes, I did my Artist's Date," because I didn't have the specific intent of "doing an Artist's Date" when I did the thing that qualifies as one. Bwah. Well, right now, I'm having that aforementioned Chicago and New Orleans trip, which I think qualifies as a two-week-long Artist's Date. The only real challenge is not feeling guilty for having indulged in it, and not feeling like I'm Wasting My Precious Vacation Time by not doing Worthwhile Enough Things with it. (For crying out loud - guilt again!) My mantra for this week is, "The way I spent my day made me happy. That is enough."

After that, the Creativity Contract prompts the artist to create specific goals for creative output. These are mine:

  • Every weekday, a new story idea - no matter how slight, no matter how stupid.
  • Every week, a new rough draft of something, no matter how short, no matter how rough.
  • Every month, a new submission to a paying market.
So far so good, within reasonable expectations that do not include among them "perfection." But about this, more tomorrow; this has been a fairly long-winded blog entry and I should probably end it here.
"N.O. Woman Tells of 60 Years of Visions"
Thu 2009-05-28 14:01:38 (single post)
  • 3,891 words (if poetry, lines) long

Bares Her Life Secret To Members Of Dr. John Fletcher's Psychology Class. Says She Has Communicated With Spirits Of Other World Since She Was Five Years Old. Relates Her Shades Of Roosevelt, Gen. Grant, Mark Twain, Robert Ingersoll and Others Visited Her. Declares T. R. Urged Her To Inform World Of Her Experiences. She Was Once Governess To A Prince, She Says.
The Williams Research Center is a quiet place of loveliness, from the front desk where the docent greets you and hands you the guest book to sign, to the beautfully-made lockers where things not allowed upstairs may stay securely for no extra charge, to the Acadian History exhibit with maps, paintings, and a glassed-in copy of Longfellow's Evangeline. And all of this is before you actually get into the records room.

The New Orleans Item-Tribune was a merging of the Morning Tribune and the Item, which I understand to have happened after my target date of January 19, 1930; but January 19 was a Sunday, and perhaps Sundays were different. In any case, once I had the JAN 1930 microfilm in the machine, I found that the heading on each page was indeed The Item-Tribune. I read, or skimmed, the January 19 edition from cover to cover.

It is very hard not to get distracted, browsing old newspapers of your home town. Everything is fascinating. Everything is recognizable. But the language of each story is almost fairy-tale alien, and I'm not just talking about the inevitable racist and xenophobic attitudes hard-wired into crime reports and population statistics. The details chosen to add color to a story, the adverbs and adjectives sprinkled over the top, the very choice of story material, these all reveal a very different world. I want to learn all about that world, because it gave birth by slow progressions to my world. I want to take the entire newspaper home with me and love it and hug it and give it cookies.

In any case, I thought I'd found something on the very first page, where a tenant's sudden death by, it is assumed, poison, is reported. The landlady heard him screaming in his room and called the ambulance. But the mention of this date in Gumbo Ya-Ya was supposed to be not another death, but "an account of this amazing instance of spectral assistance in making a financial success of a boarding house." So. Keep looking.

I think I struck gold on almost the last page of the January 19 edition, which was devoted in the main to the story whose headline I've titled this blog entry with. The woman in the story is "a 69-year-old French woman, who has lived in New Orleans for the past 10 years," and lives at 1429 St. Charles Avenue. Her name is Madame Marie Teresa Guizonnier. She "feels she is ready to tell about ... a strange double existence that she has kept secret for seven decades."

"Theodore Roosevelt has come and spoken to me. He has appeared in my room as I sat at my sewing; he has looked over my shoulder at the newspaper clippings and read them with me. He has told me things about the universe beyond that I think will startle the world," she says.

"Houdini has stepped down to tell me of the unhappy time he is having adjusting himself in the spirit government. General Grant, always on his horse, has come riding from the clouds to encourage me in my messages with the spirits...."

Madame Guizonnier, a college-educated native of Alsace-Lorraine, first encountered spirits at the age of five. The description of her first visitation is reminiscent of Coraline's time behind the Other Mother's mirror. Seems she was punished for some transgression by being locked in a "chamber under the stairs."
"Suddenly I saw little girls sitting around me and holding dolls in their arms.

I spoke to them and they answered. Soon I was able to carry on connected conversations with them, and I began to welcome the 'punishment' of being sent into the dark room. Later I could see the same children walking about the halls--even in daylight, and I talked with them too.

Trying to link this up to the ghost story related in Gumbo Ya-Ya, however, is problematic. Here is the story's sole mention of Mark Twain:
Mark Twain appears to her from time to time in a bed in which he continues to write, she says. He lies on his side and as he talks of his spiritual existence, he makes notes on paper placed on a little table beside his resting place.
And as for "making a financial success of a boarding house," there is no mention in the story at all. In fact, her occupations are listed as "a nurse, a teacher, a governess to a Rumanian prince, a business woman, and a dressmaker." The occupation of landlady is mentioned not at all, though "business woman" might cover it. "Dressmaker" appears to be the current profession she practices at the time of the newspaper story, an occupation taken up to help her through a financial decline during her time in New York.

She moved to New Orleans in 1919 following the death of her husband, and was compelled to stay by her ghostly visitors.

"I did not intend to stay here when I first arrived. I have no further interest in the city. But whenever I attempt to leave, I find they will not let me. They demand that I continue to communicate with them."
It's probable that the authors of Gumbo Ya-Ya conflated Madam Guizonnier's story with that of someone else, creating one narrative from a patchwork of dubious historical accounts. But I have time to read through a year and some of the newspaper every morning for the next week. And whatever I do find, there's story in it.

Hey, at least now my character has a name!

Quick Update From NOLA
Wed 2009-05-27 21:56:56 (single post)
  • 3,891 words (if poetry, lines) long

Now we'll see whether anyone reads my blog I don't know about. Because I'm rather guilty of telling nobody in the area--including, with one exception, family--that my next stop after Chicago would be New Orleans.

Yes. Sneaky stealth French Quarter stay. John and I had a week with Interval International to use up, and John was out of vacation days, so it was up to me. I plugged a likely looking week into The Quarter House and called it an extended writing retreat. (It just happened to line up well with the annual Chicago crawfish outing.) Also a preview homecoming, given that I'm hell-bent on moving back to New Orleans someday, at least part-time. I mean, it's home, dangit. I ought to spend more time actually living there.

So why haven't I told anyone about it? Because... well, a week and a half can go by really quick if it fills up with visiting obligations and other unforeseen restrictions. And I just want this week and a half to myself, right? I'm allowed, right? Right?

So. If I get a phone call tomorrow afternoon with disappointed family members scolding me for this (or even saying "hey, it's all right, enjoy your vacation, just promise to visit next time"), that will be an interesting and possibly scary way to find out that Mom and Dad (or friends of theirs, or other family members) are reading my blog. If they are, I must beg them not to get mad at my brother, who mixed me this lovely, lovely Bloody Mary I am drinking. I swore him to secrecy on pain of pain. Blame me, not him! I'm the older one, right? I'm a bad influence, clearly!

OK, well, you can blame him for any typos. He mixes a non-trivially strong Bloody Mary. Vodka makes me insanely uncoordinated as far as fine motor control goes. I'm fixing the fat-finger fuxxups as I go, but I may miss a few.

Don't worry, gross motor control should remain trouble-free. This is important. I'm on my bike. Woo, Riverbend to French Quarter. Woo, past midnight.

This update is not turning out to be so quick. On with it.

1) Got here. Pleasant train ride. Interesting scenery, among which I will count the guy who was shouting at everyone who would listen that "They Blew The [17th Street Canal] Levee!!!" because "They" wanted to shut down the Lower Ninth Ward and needed a Cat. 5 Hurricane for cover. I think this particular theory has been around since before Camille, actually. Most of the times I hear it, it's attached to, I dunno, a canal with less proximity to multi-million-dollar neighborhoods like Lakeview. But whatever. He says he heard a BOOM, and Gods know there's nothing but dynamite can cause a boom, right? Like I said - interesting scenery on my train.

1)b. No free wi-fi in the W, and I refuse to pay when any number of fine establishments like Z'otz and Bruno's will give me what I want. Also the Royal Cafe, if I'm not feeling all that "woo" about biking to the Riverbend and I'd rather just walk about 4 blocks instead.

2) Nibbled at the short story WIP. Really, only nibbled. And not until I got into town and was having dinner at this little Vietnamese place two doors down from Camillia Grill. My nibbling gave me an ending, and it gave me an unforeseen backstory complication. I'm so proud of my little 650-word story! It's developing a back-story!

3) Will probably do more nibbling tomorrow, as well as a visit to the Williams Research Center for microfiche reading to buttress the verisimilitude of "A Surfeit of Turnips" (which will probably get a new title before it goes out again). Hey, when Gumbo Ya-Ya tantalizingly mentions a 1930 story in the New Orleans Item Tribune referencing the most bizarre ghost story I have ever heard, who am I to resist?

4) Will probably have lunch here (via both Neilhimself and docbrite).

And that's it for now. Laters!

13 Ways Of Looking At... Procrastination
Mon 2009-05-25 20:32:20 (single post)
  • 120 words (if poetry, lines) long

So there's this One-Minute Weird Tales thing, which I may have mentioned before. At this time, there's just one on the site. Weird Tales would like there to be more, so, they're encouraging submissions. So I wrote a little something... oh, Tuesday. I think. Yeah. Tuesday.

I just submitted it today.

Why so long? Because I couldn't decide on a freaking title, that's why! Gah. But then, in a story 120 words long, the title comprises a non-trivial percentage of the text, right? Deserves a bit of thought, right? Possible not six days of thought, though. In any case, I stopped whiffling, and it's on it's way now. Go me.

In other news, I've started pulling another story idea out of the Demonbox and potentially into the light of other people's eyeballs. Kicking and screaming. See, I'm in Chicago. It's Monday night. Monday night in Chicago means Twilight Tales Open Mic! Or, as it turned out, Twilight Tales Mini-Workshop. I wanted to bring something short to share and get critiqued, just in case there was room on the schedule. So I spent much of today trying to decide which half-baked idea might profitably go back into the oven. And then, once I decided, I spent half the afternoon getting around to the blackbirds-leaving-the-wire moment of "OK, all right, time to get to work! Really!"

So I ended up leaving myself only 30 minutes to get a real draft done--as opposed to the "babble draft" that was sitting on my hard drive, containing characters with no excuse for being in the story beyond the fact that they were in front of my eyes when I wrote it. I mean, this two-year-old draft had "I Am A Writing Exercise!" written all over it. You read it, you can almost hear Natalie Goldberg's voice saying "What are you looking at? Fifteen minutes. Go." And this was not getting turned into something presentable in 30 minutes.

Which was fine. On the one hand, the event was well attended, and the last person due a turn in the hot seat ended up postponing until next time. No one was hurting for me not offering up more that my opinions on others' writing. (As to that: Gods, I'm a mouth. Sorry.) And on the other hand, the simple act of getting started on the draft was beneficial in and of itself. Now I have something else to work on during my multi-city writing retreat.

A bit about the "getting started." This came up on the Absolute Write forums: Someone started a thread called "How do you motivate yourself to write?" Someone who, much like me (more frequently than I like to admit), has a work in progress but has a hard time making themselves sit down and work on progressing it. And the thread turned into a real treasure house of strategies for beating writer's block. Writers being a varied bunch, the suggestions offered were wildly divergent. So... read it. If one trick doesn't work for you, another will. Some depend on guilt and duty, others on excitement and play. Others depend on psychology, hypnosis, mood-altering of the non-drug-related kind. Some mix and match!

My main contribution was about the "getting started" thing that I keep mentioning but not really going into. My issue is, once I get the right momentum going, it sustains itself. The trick is generating that momentum in the first place. I've got, like, rubber in my butt and springs in my ALT-TAB fingers--I sit down, I get up again; I open up my word processor of choice, I ALT-TAB away to some blog or other. What finally works is to identify the first bite of any given task: Reading the critiques. Fixing the teeny-tiny nit-picky stuff in the draft. Describing the one scene. Printing out the babble draft and scribbling notes on it. Something, some small nibble like that--it "tricks" me into entering the room where the story is, and being in that room at all will result in story happening. For five hours, if need be.

(I have to admit that being away from constant Internet access does help.)

So I'm all started now. With any luck (and discipline), I'll manage to continue the momentum tomorrow evening on the train. We Shall See.

(Boy, this entry fits under a lot of categories. Also, I'm sure we can dig out 9 other ways of looking at procrastination and make a nifty pastiche reeeeal easy. "A writer and a story / Are one. / A writer and a story and an hour of Puzzle Pirates / Are one." You can probably fill in the rest.)

Tussa silk and Lily Spindle
Trains: My Favorite Mobile Writing Retreat
Sat 2009-05-23 21:15:48 (single post)
  • 3,400 words (if poetry, lines) long

Hello from Chicago, a surprisingly bike-friendly city! And hello from Wrigleyville--as bike rides go, not as far from Union Station as I feared. Seriously, other than the last 5 blocks of my ride, which were residential so meh, there wasn't an inch of route that wasn't marked with bike lanes or with "Shared Lane / Yield to Bikes" signs. How did Google know? I told it "Union Station to Sheffield House Hotel," it showed me a route including the interstate, I told it "No, walking" because I am neither a car nor a bus, and it gave me this. You might note that the second appearance of Milwaukee Road involves going the wrong way on a one-way street; well, on that one-way street, there are bike lanes going in both directions. That's how good it is.

As for Sheffield House Hotel... Put it this way; it's no Hilton. But it's reasonably clean, tolerably functional, cheap, and in the target neighborhood.

And as for biking, go me. I checked my bike on the train for the first time. I feel like I spent the entire week before my trip getting ready for that: buying tools, practicing removing or rearranging pieces of my bike, getting surprised by the need for new tires or the suddenly broken seat adjustment nut, & etc. But it was time well spent. When I got to Denver Union Station, it took me under 15 minutes to have the basket off, handebars lowered and turned, pedals removed, and the bike into the $15 box. They even let me stow my tool bag in the box, which Amtrak's web page says absolutely is not to be done.

Picking the bike up in Chicago was slightly more cryptic; you sort of just have to know that bikes won't come up to the baggage carousel, but that you have to go down to the basement in the hard hat area to claim 'em and put 'em together. And given that you're not going to ride away carrying that box, at least not as is, maybe you're resigned to buying a new one each time you check; maybe you talk to someone working in baggage retrieval and they agree to hold onto it for you. Maybe you stomp it into a flat 3" x 2" square and hope it'll reconstitute. Be creative.

But all of this is by-the-by. What I really wanted to blog about was how Amtrak is totally my favorite mobile writing retreat like ever. Which you knew, if you know me. But this trip totally rocked for writing.

It didn't look like it at first. The train ride started out... crowded. I mean, even for Memorial Day weekend. Crowded. Which is good; more people riding the rails means more likelihood of service expansion. But it also meant that they had trouble seating us all. Seriously, the train was rolling for a good 5 minutes before a crew member found me a home for the night. But that's OK; I never doubted they would. Amtrak wasn't my problem. No, we reserve that honor for Gripey McBickerson, father traveling with small son, who wasn't gonna let some Amtrak crew member tell him to wait in line like the other customers. Noooo.

Really, this is classic. Indulge me for a bit. You know that destructive nonsense about "the customer is always right"? Ever notice how customers who really believe it, bless their pointed little shoes, seem to think that they, themselves, are always more right than the other customers? In Whiny McSidlesneeze's case, he and his son were oh so much more important than the other, oh, 20 families including small children also waiting to board. He must be seated right now! Screw waiting in line like everyone else, seat him and his kid first! Before all the paired seats are taken! Such that he and his son end up at opposite ends of the train! Because Amtrak crew members can't possibly be adept at gently shuffling passengers around to ensure children remain safely with their parents!

I'm not going to go into the whole saga of Kvetching McSullenpants and his four year old son. Not here. It's not the point. Besides, the poor kid is clearly going to be embarrassed enough by his father as the years roll by; I shouldn't add to it. No no no no. The point is, when one of the coach passengers is obnoxious, suddenly no matter where you're sitting, it seems like you're bumping into them. And Mr. Whingiewoe Carp-n-Moan continued to be obnoxious after this point. He seemed quite sure that the rest of us would find his constant barrage of cynical, sarcastic commentary entertaining. And retold the saga of how some crew member tried to bully him around to one and all. And practically encouraged his kid to repeat the crew member's name with him, that they may remember it forever, that he might someday soon, any minute now, sic five lawyers on him for, y'know, not treating him like the special snowflake shooting star that he so clearly was.

And so on, and so forth, and this is my writing environment? But but but I must finish my rewrite before Chicago!

And yet things were wonderful.

So eventually, after the train's gotten as far as Commerce City, us last two end-of-the-line single stragglers are led to seats two cars down. And we settle in. And I take me, myself, and my computer, along with recently critiqued copies of "The Impact of Snowflakes," into the Cafe Car... where I discover, to my delight, that it's the sort with two outlets at every cafe table and two more at ever cluster of sightseer-style chairs. This is not to be taken for granted! On the California Zephyr, one never knows what the outlet situation will be in coach or in the lounge. By Summer 2011, all Superliners should have outlets at every seat (offical word from Amtrak rep), but until then, I tend to squee a bit when I see outlets. So I happily ensconce myself and read through my friends' comments. Then I sort of just sit there, composting it all in my head, and playing with the Mardi Gras silk that Avedan gave me for my birthday (depicted here with Birdseye Maple "Lily Spindle" purchased at the new downtown Boulder shop Gypsy Wool). It spins up pretty.

So that was last night. This morning I woke up as we pulled into Omaha, about 6:20 AM or so (a bit behind schedule), and went into the wake-up routine: teeth brushing and coffee drinking and Morning Pages scribbling. And then a little more spinning. And then--"OK, no more procrastination! Must have this done by 3:00!"--sitting at another Cafe Car table to revise "Snowflakes" over the next... five hours, I think. Great leaping Gods and Goddess. Five freakin' hours.

(Mr. Sweetiepie and son showed up a lot, but they were Not Allowed to spoil the happy writerly buzz. Headphones are good. So is Determinedly Enjoying The View or Doggedly Staring Into The Computer Screen. Still, allowed myself a small amount of schadenfreude when overhearing dad admonishing tantruming son, "Hey now, no drama." Because goodness knows Kvetchy McMutterscoff never caused any drama.)

So as it turned out, I had not brought my Canon BJ-10sx with me in vain. I plugged in the printer upstairs in the lounge car and finished printing out that story about 45 minutes before arriving in Chicago. Then into the Priority International envelope it went, ready to be toted up to the nearest U.S. P.S. customer service lobby!

First thing I did in Chicago, other than retrieve and reconstitute my bike, was stick that story in the mail Priority International. Because I have a March 31 deadline I'd like to beat, thanks! I'll let you know how it goes.

So it's later and I'm hanging around the Sheffield House Hotel lobby, posting this. And on the one hand, I'm feeling like, way to go me! Today, I Was A Writer! Good job! You have Accomplished and now you may go play. Which I did. I biked over to Blue Bayou and said hi to my brother--who was not, in my opinion, nearly surprised enough to see me riding my bike in Chicago. He just said, "Hey, you're a little late, aren't you?" Meh. I'll do the crawfish thing tomorrow. Today I was just saying hi. And then I went over to North Clark to a Japanese restaurant I'd noticed on my way up from the station: All You Can Eat Sushi. That appears to be the actual name of the place. I ate there. Now, I hurt.

But on the other hand - and this is weird, I think - I'm feeling both addicted to stress and addicted to the happy. The stress is, "Oh my Gods I have to get this stuff DONE today," and the gut level of it isn't necessarily affected by having actually got the stuff done. I have to keep reminding myself that I did my assignment, really, I can relax now!

And then there's the happy. I like Feeling Like A Writer! I should do it again! I should spend another four hours revising something so I can pop it in the mail so I can get that feeling again!

Seeing as how it's eleven o'clock at night, I've been up since six, and I didn't sleep very soundly last night, those 'nother four hours are at the very least not going to happen right now. But watch this space for developments; a much shorter version of it may happen tomorrow or Monday.

P.S. I'm on Twitter now, Gods help me. Click the link if hearing me jabber interests you; I'm doing a good bit of it since I'm traveling. Meanwhile, my uber-rss should start feeding to Twitter via TwitterFeed. Let's see what happens when I post this...

Higglety Pigglety, Hexasyllabic'ly
Sun 2009-05-10 16:37:34 (single post)

John and I are fond of double dactyls. They're our favorite form of doggerel, and certainly more exacting than limericks. We got to talking about them while riding the train home from Winter Park yesterday. And talking about them leads, as day leads to night, to composing them.

Or failing at composing them, as they may be more exacting than we realized. According to Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who cites a 1967 text called Jiggery Pokery, you don't just have to have a nonsense phrase in the first line and a hexasyllabic word in the sixth--you've also got to have somebody's name for the second line, too. So maybe we're disqualified on a technicality (except for John's most awesome contribution on the topics of feminism, oral pleasure, and a friend of ours from Gen Con... but that's another story that will be told at another time). But this was fun to put together anyway:

Flippity flappity
Swallows are swifting
And swooping around
Where you've stopped at a light

Turning on wing-tips, they
Dive-bomb your windshield in
Balletic flight.

Your turn!