“I don't take much notice of critics, except when they praise me extravagantly.”
Philip Pullman

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Acceptance Letters! They Make Writers Happy!
Mon 2010-05-03 20:45:05 (single post)
  • 2,850 words (if poetry, lines) long

"First Breath" has sold. To a professional market, even. Which is a first for me. (Come to think of it, Ideomancer was my first semi-pro sale of fiction this decade. Damn, 2010 rocks!)

On the one hand, this means that the ongoing worldbuilding discussion with my friend is unlikely to result in a significant revision. On the other hand, that's totally OK and I know she'll understand.

This weekend: Floating on euphoria, squeeing to my nearest and dearest, having an extremely short attention span because squee!

Tonight: Angsting over writing the requested bio. What the hell does anyone put in those things? I mean, when they can't say "is the best-selling author of this, that and the other novel."

Tomorrow: Working on the next thing, because there is always a next thing.

And I'm not sure the Ant thing will be the next thing, because if there's something I've learned from this experience, it's this: Write at the intersection of passion and fear. That story that won't get out of your head, that you're kind of ashamed to let anyone else see? That's the one. Get to it.

Bonus points if it came to you in a dream.

I am thinking of another story that matches that description. And, while there's something to be said for the comic relief of something like that Ant thing, that other story does match the description. Which means now it won't get out of my head.

But tomorrow I get to see a bunch of writer-type friends downtown for my usual Tuesday Lunchtime At Atlas thing, and I will probably squee at them a bit more before settling down to writing the next thing. Also! I have a new laptop! It isn't falling apart, and its CD/DVD-ROM works, and it doesn't crash when I unplug it! Tomorrow is totally going to be show-and-tell day.

Inside the Story Factory
Tue 2010-04-06 21:29:11 (single post)
  • 1,312 words (if poetry, lines) long

Remember yesterday's overwrought, overstretched metaphor? "So it's like a seedling nursery, right? Only it's in suspended animation." It's exactly like that, actually.

So I do the Twitter thing. My blog posts broadcast there via RSS, and I get downright tweet-headed when I'm on a train or at a convention. And sometimes I tweet the "Story Idea du Jour"--for example, this.

The Story Idea du Jour comes directly out of this daily routine I'm working on, where I sit down with the task of writing something new, something so brand-new that I don't even know what it's going to be until it's done. It is very self-reassuring to come up with a shiny new story idea daily. It reaffirms the known but hard-to-keep-hold-of fact that story ideas don't run out. Truly they don't. Ideas are not only a dime a dozen, they're growing on trees. And the more I force myself to come up with new ones, the easier it is to come up with new ones.

"Coming up with ideas" isn't quite right. I'm coming up with ideas all the time without even trying. I'd wager tomorrow's breakfast that we all do. The trick is recognizing them as ideas and not reflexively rejecting them. Morning Pages are also good for fomenting the habit of recognition and breaking the habit of rejection: Keep the pen moving. Don't stop for three pages. Recognize each thought and transcribe it. Don't audition your thoughts against some "worth writing about" yardstick. Write them all down. So with story ideas. What's in your head right now this second? That right there, yes, that, that's a story idea. Pay it some attention. Play with it.

When I started my 25-minute timer, I was also timing some cupcakes in the oven. (We had a cupcake-designing party for April Fool's Day. We had some icing left over. How do you use up leftover icing? You make more cupcakes.) 25 minutes to freewrite on some idea or other; 25 minutes to bake cupcakes. Isn't it great how these things work out? But in any case, after beating together flour and sugar and milk and shortening and so on, after pouring out batter into little paper cups inside the six spaces on a muffin tin, my head was full of cupcake. In fact, what my head kept saying was, "The little cupcake that could."

Isn't that awesome? "The Little Cupcake That Could." That's awesome. But--what the crap is it about?

Twenty-five minutes later, it was about some esoteric ingredient masquerading as extra flour, bought at a questionable shop that happened to be convenient on the way home from a particularly hassled day at work, that got baked into cupcakes, that got served at a ten-year-old's birthday party, that changed the lives of the birthday party attendants forever. Years later, something terrible happens to one of them, and this brings the whole group together, and they have to find out what has been done to them and what it means in their lives now and what choices it puts before them all too soon.

Those little cupcakes? They could.

And then, after 25 minutes, I click "Save and Exit." I forget all about it (except maybe to tweet it, or blog about it briefly) and I move on to another task. I've done my job for the day, as far as the cupcakes are concerned. I've planted a seed in the nursery. You don't sit there watching the ground covering a seed, waiting for it to sprout. You water it and put it somewhere warm and sunny and then you leave it alone.

One day I will look through my file full of Story Ideas du Jour, and the cupcake one will go ping! I'll print it up, make notes, and type a brand new draft about those nefarious cupcakes and those hapless ten-year-olds (and the hapless 20-somethings they became). It'll become the novel or screenplay it was meant to be.

But not today. Today, I'm still working on a story that got planted back in June of last year, that I selected out of the nursery late last week. The one about giant sentient Ants and a rather progressive barista learning how to talk to each other and turn a profit at the same time.

Or something like that.

It's a work in progress.

20-day-old broccoli seedlings
The weaker one gets snipped.
More Farm Metaphors For Writing: Thinning Seedlings
Mon 2010-04-05 21:37:46 (single post)

The broccoli were planted on March 17. Some twenty days later, they're getting their first real leaves. It's time to thin the seedlings.

Typically they're planted two per cell. Seedlings like to germinate in company. But they like to leaf out in private, so at this point we go through the trays and snip, snip, snip, leaving one sprout per cell. The remaining seedling flourishes, gladly filling out the freed-up space, and will be all the healthier when it's time to transplant them to the field.

This morning, I mostly just put the culled sprouts in a compost bucket. Some of them I ate. Broccoli sprouts are sharp and tasty, and the variety seen here is insanely nutritious. But last year, later in the season when we were thinning tomatoes, I saved six of the plants, pulling them out carefully rather than snipping their stems at the surface. I brought them home in small plastic pots filled with good Abbo soil mix, and I planted them in the self-watering bins on the balcony. And I enjoyed actual home-grown tomatoes for probably the first time since moving to Colorado.

Thinning seedlings could be seen as another (yet another) metaphor for writing. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but not every one of them turns into a story. You pick the one you can develop fully, leaving the others by the wayside. The more brain you spend on the one with potential, the better you do by it; whereas if you tried to give all your ideas equal attention and grow them all, they'll probably never get beyond that spindly, skeletal phase.

But unlike in farming, ideas you don't develop don't get snipped and tossed onto the compost. Well, they compost, yes, but that's where the metaphor breaks down; actual literal compost is composed of dead organic matter, where as composting ideas are very much alive, or perhaps pre-born. Anyway, the ideas that don't get developed now might come back with greater urgency and potential at a later date, having done some growing on their own when you weren't really looking at them. So it's less like this morning's broccoli culling and more like last year's tomato salvaging. Except the idea that gets transplanted is the one you choose, rather than the one you pass by.

Imagine if you could sort of put all your seed starts in stasis. Just, zap! all those 200 cells of broccoli go into suspended animation. Then you inspect them, each one of them, and you say, "That one. That one right there has potential." You gently uproot it and transplant it into its own cell, and then you hit the RESUME button. It grows and thrives and flowers. You enjoy a fantastic broccoli stir-fry. Then you go back to the seedlings in stasis and choose another.

It would be a terribly inefficient way to produce broccoli, unless I suppose you did this with three acre-long rows of broccoli at a time. But it's a pretty good way to write stories.

French onion soup, and the spoon with which I hope to conquer it.
How To Eat French Onion Soup
Fri 2010-04-02 21:59:59 (single post)
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  • 1,312 words (if poetry, lines) long

Writing metaphors! They're not just for breakfast anymore! In fact, they're what's for dinner. Also lunch for the next three days, because we cook in quantity.

So on Wednesday John and I had our first Cooking Date of the year. We made French onion soup and insalata caprese. It was all a spectacular success, and, as implied above, I've had leftovers to eat every day since then.

Today at lunch I sat down with a freshly broiled toast-and-cheese top on a rewarmed crock of our awesome soup, and, apropos of nothing extraordinary, I finally figured out how to eat the dang stuff.

Pause. Rewind. Replay a Wednesday night in Metairie, Louisiana circa 1988. Maybe it was a Sunday, I don't know. Once a week, or maybe just once a month--memory is hazy here--a group of neighborhood ladies got together to sing barbershop harmony. They had hopes of founding a brand-new Sweet Adelines chapter. Mom met with them and brought me along, and this was when I first got pegged as a baritone. (Yes: I was a Type A at the age of 12.) But where I'm going with this trip down memory lane is down the road from the neighborhood home in which we rehearsed to the local Ruby Tuesdays for late night appetizers. Where I always, always, always ordered the French onion soup.

And I always made a mess trying to get through that toast-and-cheese lid. And Mom and all the other grown-ups enjoyed great and gentle amusement at my exasperated expense.

It's not simple! A spoon isn't sharp enough to get through that thick swiss cheese. And even if it was, the toast is floating; you can't very well slice it with a knife and fork. There's no leverage. Best I managed to do was poke at the edges of the cheese until I had a hole through which to sip the broth down to a less perilous surface level, such that mangling the toast and cheese no longer caused catastrophic overflow.

Even John asked the question when we sat down to dinner: "Now how do I eat this?" "I have no idea," I told him. "You just muddle through and make a mess. It's why I put the soup crocks on plates."

But today at lunch, I got it. If you just let the soup crock sit, all patient-like, until all components are cool enough to eat without burning your mouth, the soup will have soaked into the toast and softened it up. Then you can push... not too hard... very very gently... at the cheese-topped toast with the edge of your spoon, until it gives way. The cheese will try to glue it together, but once the bread breaks, the cheese will stretch thin and you can bite through it when you eat the broken-off bite of bread.

After that, everything's much easier.

So this was my discovery. And I thought, "That's another metaphor for writing, isn't it?" (Yes. I know. Everything's a metaphor for writing. Shut up, I'm making a point, it's an effin' marvelous point, it's bloody brilliant. Because I say so. Hush.) Of course I thought that. I was in the middle of my writing day, and I was trying to figure out how to get my mental spoon through the thick cheese topping that was keeping me from going deeper than babble draft into anything.

The plan was to spend a good hour moving an unfinished short story closer to submission-ready. Only I didn't know which one. "First Breath" was done and out the door (though it may yet see further revisions pending an ongoing conversation a colleague and I are having about its worldbuilding details). "Lambing Season" also hit the slush again yesterday. A number of stories are in the post-critique "almost perfect, but not quite" stage, but none felt... permeable, if you know what I mean. None felt accessible. I spent half an hour going through my files, looking for some half-baked idea from a freewriting exercise that might spark itself into a full-blown story. Nothing went ping.

Finally I latched onto a "scene" from the Daily Story Idea yWriter file. It had to do with sentient, human-sized Ants coexisting with humans. One of them goes into a coffee shop and orders a cappuccino. As story ideas go, this one was light and fluffy and funny and nothing at all like "First Breath," and it amused me to read it. I had no idea what to do with it, though. I didn't even know what to call it. ("The Ants Go Marching Latte-ward, Hurrah" is very much not a working title. It's an "I have to call this something and I mustn't take it too seriously this early in the game" sort of for-now title.) I set the timer for another half hour and attempted to figure it out where this thing was going.

I pasted that ridiculous excuse for a working title at the top and printed out the not-yet-a-story. Then I read it again, letting its broth soak in and soften things up. Then I got out a pen and began making notes as tentative as the spoon's assault on the toast-and-cheese. "Barista shouldn't be too enlightened; anti-Ant prejudice shouldn't all be big bad boss's." "Would Ant use mandibles for speech? How would Ants speak?" "What barista thinks but doesn't say parallels what Ant doesn't say but telegraphs with her antennae." Several of those notes put together became a solid story development idea, like a nice big bite of toast that lets you finally get your spoon into the soup. And after that, everything becomes much simpler.

Really, everything about writing that looks scary and impossible tends to seem less so once you take that first nibble. But then, isn't that the case for most scary and impossible tasks?

Sifting soil at Abbondanza Organic Seeds and Produce
Sifting Soil
Mon 2010-03-22 20:43:29 (single post)

Today, pedaling away from Abbondanza around 12:45 PM, I had my usual rush of energy and good intentions. Having done a solid four-hour set of physical work in the greenhouse, and seeing the blueness of the sky and the long hours left in the day, I was full of plans. I would have lunch at Oskar Blues in Longmont, as seems to be my new post-farm routine. I would do my morning pages. I would blog. I would knock out a couple of articles for Demand Studios. I would then log onto the Sage ocean and host a cutter pillage from Lincoln to Morannon Island.

Stuff! I would do stuff! None of this going home and crapping out for the whole damn day. Stuff would Get Done! By me!

Then, halfway down my pint of One Nut Brown and two pages into my three, I ran out of steam. The sleepies caught up with me. I finished my pages, paid my check, and fell asleep on the bus somewhere between 63rd and 34th Streets. Once home, I had just enough energy to feed the cats and take a shower. Then I pretty much crapped out for the rest of the day, right on schedule.

And that's why I give myself Mondays off from writing.

But I'm awake now, and here's a nice blog post for you. Let's fill it with overwrought metaphor, shall we? The topic for today: Sifting Soil.

Planting seeds was the order for the day, as it had been all week. They were working on brassicas as I came in, with plans to move to celery next. So our job was to prepare more planting flats. We filled a good 70 flats with sifted soil mix, then brought them to the table to press them down to whatever planting depth was required. Now, celery seeds are itty-bitty, so two of the three varieties being planted wanted a scant 1/8" planting depth. The third variety was pelleted, which is to say that each tiny celery seed is encased in a pinhead-sized ball of clay to make it feasible for use in a certain kind of seed-planting machine. Pellets being bigger, they need more like a 3/16" planting depth. Or so.

So with all those flats, we needed a lot of soil mix. And the pile of sifted mix was getting low. So we sifted more.

Several weeks ago, we'd sifted compost through a screen to get all the clumps and rocks out. This compost was mixed with the other things previously mentioned--vermiculite, manure, organic fertilizer, stuff--and the resulting mix needed to be sifted through a finer screen before it could be used for greenhouse planting. That's what we did today. The finer screen, a sturdy mesh in a wooden frame about the width of an air-hockey table but somewhat shorter, was propped up upon four big upside-down trash cans. We shoveled soil mix on top. Then, gloves on hands, we scrubbed the soil through the screen. Scrub, scrub, scrub! And underneath the screen a faerie-dust drifting of soil accumulated, faster than you'd think, into a great soft pile. Eventually nothing would be left on top of the screen but a bunch of pebbles and clumps the size of rabbit droppings. We tipped those onto the ground for later clean up, shoveled more dirt onto the screen, and repeated the process.

Soil is the basic building block for gardening. For creativity, there's a sort of soil that has to be sifted too. Our life experiences, our hot buttons and emotional triggers, our personal tastes in art, and the catalog of sensation that defines physical existence--these are the raw material. We sift through it constantly, artists being introspective types, and we make preliminary creations out of it all: journal entries, rough sketches, all the five-finger exercises of our craft. Then we mix it up, sift it some more, toss out the clumps and the pebbles that would make it hard for a seed to grow, and we take what's left and we plant things in it so that works of art might grow out of that lovingly prepared soil.

Sometimes I find myself unable to switch mental channels while something unhappy, some frustrating chapter of my life or maybe an infuriating conversation I didn't come out of well, is re-running itself on the back of my eyelids. The instinct is to try to push the thought away. I'll unconsciously start humming to drown out the sound of my thoughts. But it's futile; the re-run has to run its course. If I deny it now, it'll crop back up tomorrow when I'm trying to enjoy a mindless but fun activity. And it won't go away until... shoot, I don't know. It doesn't go away until it goes away. And until it does go away, it's on infinite repeat.

Maybe it would help to imagine the re-runs as simply another iteration of sifting the soil. Maybe each time it's a finer mesh screen, and another layer of blockages and impurities will be scrubbed away. The anger blunts, the guilt recedes, and insights remain behind. Maybe eventually the re-runs of that particular incident will stop, having left me with a fine drift of faerie-dust in the greenhouse of my brain, ready for me to plant a new crop of dreams in.

Or maybe not. Maybe it's just the same old obsessive brooding that doesn't help anyone. But having a metaphor to view the phenomenon through, even an overwrought metaphor, well, that should make the next re-run season less boring and painful.

Too Euphoric? Just Add BLIZZARD
Fri 2010-03-19 13:56:59 (single post)
  • 2,832 words (if poetry, lines) long

No, that would not be the Dairy Queen ice cream treat. That would be the sort of all-day blizzard that dumps a foot of snow on Boulder and turns any day into a "why bother?" sort of day.

I was feeling fairly chipper, otherwise. More than chipper, in fact. Yesterday, I finally sat down with my much-marked-up copy of "First Breath" and completed work on a thorough revision. The result was 150 words longer, one character shorter, a bit more focused in, and hopefully less confusing at the end. The other result was me tripping along in a euphoric haze of "See? See? I'm a writer! I did writerly things, like writing!"

That evening I relaxed with a long-overdue reread of Margaret Mahy's The Tricksters. Its teenage protagonist is a secret writer, and the story she's writing becomes the vessel for a ghost to embody itself. And... huh. I only realized the overlap between that and "First Breath" just now. Ghost-like creatures needing an external vessel to embody themselves in, I mean. Neat. But last night, what kept catching my attention was the way Mahy's treatment of the magic inherent in the creative act of writing made me even more happy with having seriously written that morning.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that when you write a first draft, you're not stuck with it. You can go back and change it, make it better, make the story grow closer to being the reason you wrote it in the first place. I know this; you know this. Anyone who thinks half a moment knows this. But for me sometimes it takes actually engaging in a serious rewrite to know it, know in the bones and blood and gut and in the happy place. It's the difference between knowing you're capable of something, and then actually doing that something and reveling viscerally in your own capability. (This would be why writing is like rock climbing.)

So: Rawr! I rock! But there's nothing like a morning-after full of so much snow and wind that we can't even take out the trash to remind me not to get carried away in my euphoria. "Yes, very good. You rocked yesterday. But it's today now. Write the next thing."


Planting leeks by automation.
Three varieties of leek, 33 trays total, freshly planted and watered.
Mondays at the Farm
Mon 2010-03-15 13:19:51 (single post)

A friend of mine wanted to know what it is precisely that I do at Abbondanza. The quick answer is, "Not nearly enough," and probably would be even if I volunteered there every day instead of one morning a week and didn't feel guilty giving the farmers an extra job to do, namely, assigning me tasks and making sure I don't screw them up along with the farm's chances at a successful harvest. But it's not a useful answer. Therefore, I blog.

Writing five days a week gives me a two-day weekend, which I take on Sunday and Monday. Sunday because social stuff tends to get planned then. Mondays because of the farm. I'm a wimp, and after the bus/bike commute and the actual work done, I tend to have no brain. Sometimes I in fact have no consciousness--but that's more of a middle-of-summer thing. During March, the workload is a little less physical and leaves me a little less wiped.

The pace is just as hectic, maybe even more so. March means scrambling to get ready to plant.

My first Monday in 2010 was two weeks ago. There were some miscellaneous clean-up chores needed doing around the greenhouse, where planting would happen, and in the barn, where squash and onions stored from the fall needed sorting and rotating. There were beans to be sorted--there are always beans to be sorted, which means picking out ones that are moldy, cracked, or simply not the right variety. Then we worked on soil.

Soil is important. You can't just dig up dirt from the ground, shove it in planting trays, and call it good. And you can't buy all the potting mix for a season on a shoestring budget. Farming means shoestring budget, unless you're Monsanto I guess, in which case, eff off. (Hey, when you google "Monsanto," one of the first suggestions is "Monsanto evil." That tells you a little something about their public image, I think.) So before you can plant seeds in little trays, you have to make your soil mix. At Abbondanza, this appears to involve homemade compost, a cow manure mix, vermiculite to keep it breathing, and another bag of fertilizer that had fish on the label. The remaining hours of my March 1 were spent sifting the compost through a big screen that had been propped up at about a 45-degree angle. Compost was shoveled through it, and what didn't go through was stomped on to break up the clumps and then shoveled through it again. What didn't go through then got put aside for use as tree mulch or similar.

That was just while I was there. A lot more mixing and sifting would happen before the finished soil mix would be ready for use.

The following week (last week) was spent cleaning trays. Again, if you're on a shoestring budget, you reuse as much as you can. I would reckon that, during my few hours on site, we cleaned about 400 trays, some being 200-cell planting trays and others flat trays to give the cell trays something to sit on without breaking. These trays were set out on screen tables, hosed down, brushed off, hosed some more, turned over, brushed some more, and hosed some more. Then stacked in stacks of 10, sorted by cell size (deep or shallow), and put away. It was a cold morning, so our fingers all ached after the first batch. But then the sun really started coming up, and it felt nice to be working in the wet. I am grateful they had extra rain gear and rubber overalls I could borrow.

This week, actual planting happened. Which will explain the bizarre contraption in the photo included here.

Back up a step. First, we had to fill those cleaned planting-cell trays with soil mix, which isn't as straightforward as it sounds. You don't want the soil compacted too badly, and after all that sifting and mixing the soil is fine enough to get compacted if you just give it a heavy look. Best practice goes something like this:

  1. Lay out trays on the ground. Well, on a board. On some tarp.
  2. Gently shovel soil over the trays. Use a forward-back motion to distribute it more evenly.
  3. Use shovel tip to spread excess over cells that haven't been filled.
  4. Use a 2-by-4 to scrape excess off.
  5. Lift tray up an inch or two and drop it sharply. This causes the soil to settle.
  6. Top off gently with more soil. Scrape excess away.
The next step is to compress the soil in these trays just enough to leave a quarter inch of head room. To do this, we used stacks of old trays, body weight, and eyes for perfectionism.

Finally the trays were ready for seeding. The machine pictured here, the one that looks like a sewing machine with multiple personalities and a can-do attitude, does that. It was made in 1982, did you know that? And they still make the parts. It's like a 1970s-era Cessna or something. Abbondanza recently bought more needles for it. The needles are hollow, like blunt hypodermics. They come in different sizes depending on what size seeds you're using. The row of needles dip into a tray of seeds, grabbing one each (or two if things aren't adjusted perfectly) by the power of suction. Then the needle arm rotates to drop the seeds down a row of funnels. The funnels channel the seeds onto the cells of the planting tray below. Then you move the tray forward so that the funnels are lined up over the next row of cells in time for the whole process to repeat. Supposedly you can get a part that causes the machine to advance the tray automatically, but this not being present the tray was advanced by dint of a careful and patient farmer.

After a tray is seeded, more soil is sifted on top and tamped down. Then it's tagged and laid out for watering. What you see here are three varieties of leeks being put to bed.

And that, friends, is the sort of stuff I do on one of my days off from writing.

But but but tell me what you REALLY think...
Thu 2010-03-11 17:44:55 (single post)
  • 2,680 words (if poetry, lines) long

Thing about nervousness in the face of a story critique is, I don't ever get over it. All I do is get used to suffering it. So last week I told myself, "So what, you're nervous? So what else is new? Send the thing." Then I found out that while the nervousness never gets better, it damn well can get worse. There's "I wrote a story and other people are reading it" nervous, and then there's "I wrote a story that's sort of transgressive and psychosexual and may reflect badly on the state of my sanity" nervous.

An additional large part of my nervousness came from not really knowing what I'd written. I spent two hours last Saturday doing a type-in revision of the story, after which I simply spell-checked it and sent it out. After which my only clear memories of the story were all the things that were potentially bad. Predictably, this was followed by a bout of "Oh my Gods what have I done?" panic.

According to my critique group, I wrote a damn fine story that steers just shy enough of purple prose ("it's more lavender, really") to have some stunningly poetic moments and breaks a lot of conventional rules and gets away with almost all of them.

OK then. *pauses to blush and grin uncontrollably*

The "almost" is where the difficulty of revising it will come from, because I think what I'm trying to do there is worthwhile but needs to be done in a gentler way. In any case, the negative parts of the peer review were all the right kinds of negatives. My story has grown-up problems. Now I gotta be a grown-up and fix them, the sooner to send the story out into the wide world.

Today, however, I am being a lump. I work 5 days a week, and I am deciding this week to trade my Thursday for my Sunday. I drove John to the airport today, after sharing breakfast and several bouldering problems with him. Though it's hard to find anything to complain about in a day that started with rock climbing and green chile, I am now unexpectedly tired. And being all alone on Sunday means a good block of time to write then. So tonight I'm doing nothing much productive.

I've been rereading old blog entries since last night. And laughing at them. I don't know if I'm just a vain nut or what, but damn I've written some funny things in these pages.

(I'm sort of snorting soft drinks through my nose over these two.)

And I'm contemplating the new crafting puzzle at Puzzle Pirates. Weaving. I'm still not entirely sure whether I like it. The physics of it are satisfying, but the animations are a little slow. In any case, I may be doing that for a while tonight. Also, my Sage Ocean pirate Nensieuisge ("Nancy Whiskey") bought an Emerald Class Sloop and really needs to take it a-pilly. So that's what I've got on for the night.

Then tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday, there will be work.

From Typewriter To WordPerfect
Sat 2010-03-06 12:34:56 (single post)
  • 2,680 words (if poetry, lines) long

For two days running now I've rolled out of bed and up to the desk for two hours' solid fiction work. And I've learned at least two things about this process, thing which were true both this morning and yesterday and thus are likely to remain true going forward:

  1. It is the best way to start a day EVAR.
  2. By the time I'm done, I reek.
So. Hurray for early morning writing and hot water and soap!

Yesterday was spent at the typewriter finishing the new story, or the new from-the-head draft of old story, depending on how you want to think about it. Today was spent typing the first revision into WordPerfect 5.1. It changed a lot from the one draft to the next. The first part changed tense and, I hope, became more nuanced; the second part incorporated the worldbuilding that went on in my head while I was busy procrastinating. (While it's true that thinking about writing is not writing, it's also true that none of the time thinking about writing is wasted so long as one does, eventually, write.)

Then I sent it off to my critique group. Hitting the SEND button on that email magically unleashed all the feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing that until now I'd been successfully repressing. "Oh, Gods, talk about purple prose." "Everyone's going to go 'WHAAAAT?' when they get to this part." "Self-indulgent much?" "The use of that word there is a point-of-view problem." "I can't believe I let anyone see this dreck." You know how it goes.

But since the draft is done and it has been emailed out, I get to indulge these feelings. They're negative, sure, but they wash through and over and away. Meanwhile, just relaxing and letting my guard down against those feelings, which I couldn't do before if I wanted to ever finish writing the story, is a relief. Why? Well. There's a character in a book I love who discovers that her magical talent is to suppress magic in her immediate environs; when she arrives in a place with no magic at all, it's like this huge weight lifts off her shoulders. She hadn't realized how draining this involuntary function was until it was able to just stop. It's kind of like that. Negative feelings suck, but constantly patrolling the mental walls against them is exhausting. Until Wednesday, when it's time to listen to what everyone thinks of the story, I get to rest those defense mechanisms.

Which is about all the insight I've got to share this morning. So. Bonus links!

Why my blog
has no comments function

Summary: Because it's hard work. I know my limits, sometimes.

Old Story Now In Print. New Story Now On Typewriter.
Tue 2010-03-02 20:15:33 (single post)
  • 1,070 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 54,629 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 566 words (if poetry, lines) long

Big news: "The Day the Sidewalks Melted" is now live for you to read in Ideomancer volume 9, issue 1. Read it here. And since it won't take you all that much time to read, go read the rest of the free, online magazine while you're at it. The other stories are breathtaking, the poetry likewise, and the reviews illuminating.

And consider donating, since that's how the staff of Ideomancer keep the magazine going and the contributors paid year after year.

Meanwhile, I'm working on a new story, which is news and really oughtn't to be. That is, I ought to be doing it often enough--writing new stories--that it's not newsworthy. But I finally realized, considering the woefully slow progress I've been making on finishing the NaNoWriMo 2009 draft of Melissa's Ghost (I'm afraid John's getting the proof copy for an anniversary present; it wasn't done in time for his birthday), that putting off everything else until I'm done with that job is a recipe for unhappiness.

Recipe for happiness:

  • One story idea that won't let you go.
  • A portable Smith-Corona that's gathering dust.
  • Five minutes reviewing the typewriter's instruction manual.
  • About two and a half hours.
Which got me through the first half of the story. Now I'm having a hard time sitting down to the second half because I'm constantly thinking of ways to fix the first half. Which I'm not allowed to do until I've typed the second half.

It's not actually a new story, but it's such a revision over the first time it showed up that it might as well be. What's it about? Well, in one sense, it's about succubi and how they reproduce. In another, it's about lives of ennui, lives of substance, and profound transformation. It's probably only going to be about 1500 words by the end of the day.

The end of the day will not be later than this weekend. I have promised it to the twice-monthly critique group. No, not the original typewritten draft. It'll get retyped into WordPerfect and revised first. Then emailed.

See, I'm not entirely a luddite here. (I mean, look! Blog post! On the internet!) It's just that sometimes, to recover from a stall, I have to switch from my daily laptop to something a little more "me plus words minus everything else". Sometimes I need to dust off the Ancient Decrepit DOS 6.2 Compaq, hide away from the wifi and from all my fancy editing tools. And sometimes I need to escape the bureaucracy of file names and directory trees and run away to where the paper shows up before the words rather than after, to where each letter has weight and the price of going too fast is a key-jam or the whiteout ribbon.

And sometimes I just need that immediate reward of a bell going "ding!" every time I invent a new ten-word sequence or so. "Go you! Now come up with another ten. Good job! Again!"

Seriously. You should try it. It's refreshing.