“Some days you battle yourself and other monsters. Some days you just make soup.”
Patricia McKillip

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

the cure for the imperfection blues
Mon 2014-03-17 23:54:58 (single post)
  • 3,329 words (if poetry, lines) long

A little while ago, I found that my use of Habit RPG was exacerbating the imperfection blues. Improvising upon them, you might say. Writing new verses. Singing them incessantly. Giving me, in fact, an earworm.

The imperfection blues is that self-defeating feeling that if you can't be perfect then why even try at all? If you were to give them lyrics and sing them over a three-chord progression, they might go something like this:

I got so much stuff to do today. But I can't get past thing one.
Oh lord, I got stuff to do today. And I can't get past thing one.
I done failed at thing number one, so I know I ain't gonna get nothing done.

But today, oddly enough, Habit RPG cured those blues. Temporary cure? Permanent? I don't know and I don't care. It got me through the day.

The cure for the imperfection blues might be lyricized like this:

So sometimes you can't do it all
And that can make you sad.
But I bet you can still do this!
So it ain't all that bad.

This bit of hopeful doggerel, like so many other song lyrics and most Emily Dickinson poems, employs common meter and thus may be sung to the tune of "Amazing Grace." Sorry about that.

The real-world application of this was to realize I could still do my morning pages even though it was nine o'clock at night. I could still earn the right to check the little checkbox and get rewards for my little 8-bit avatar. And then I could go ahead and submit the phantom phone story to WOMEN DESTROY FANTASY! and check off that box (and get rewarded for it). And then I could check off the "1 hour of writing" sub-item under the "5 hours of writing" daily item and thus minimize the overnight hit point loss.

By rewarding me in-game for doing individual tasks, Habit RPG encourages me to appreciate my accomplishments, however small, and not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And even though there are days when I can't seem to summon any emotional buy-in for that appreciation, the game mechanic serves as a sort of "fake it 'til you make it" device.

It's really kind of genius, this game.

And now I'm going to check off the "post to 'actually writing blog'" item. Maybe I'll get a random drop! I hope it's cotton candy. My pet wolf cub is hungry!

march's overflowing plate of doom
Fri 2014-03-14 23:45:28 (single post)
  • 1,699 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 3,400 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 3,329 words (if poetry, lines) long

OK, so I mentioned in a previous post that "My plate is already full to overflowing for the month of March." Tomorrow is when that plate's contents start slopping over onto the carpet, making a huge mess under the dining room table, and generally becoming impossible to ignore.

Tomorrow is March 15, which is when the two-week (ish) submissions periods for Women Destroy Fantasy! and Women Destroy Horror! begin. Those periods end on March 31. I've got my submission for Fantasy! ready to go: the phantom phone story currently titled "It's For You" was declined by the last place I sent it to, so it's available and ready to hit the slush. But my hopeful for Horror!, the snow apocalypse in June story currently titled "The Impact of Snowflakes," is in the process of revision and is really digging its heels in about it.

Also this past week has been depressingly unproductive. Put it this way: I've lost an embarrassing amount of hit points over on Habit RPG. Today's especially gonna hurt; I spent most of the day running around trying to figure out how to make the best of bad skates while my good skates are unusable thanks to broken plates and the new plates don't arrive until Monday. Also cleaning bearings. Very old-school bearings, with solid cases and no way to expose the interior. Very filthy old-school bearings. Oh, roller derby, you eat up so much of my life, with your constant demands for time, attention, energy, and functional equipment.

And that's before we talk about yet another submissions period I want to get in on. I should very much like to send my funny snow-glue apocalypse story, currently titled "Anything For A Laugh," to Unidentified Funny Objects #3 before their March 31 deadline. And I haven't even begun the revision process on that sucker. I have a rough intuitive sense that it will be less harrowing than that required by "The Impact of Snowflakes," but I'm not optimistic about the accuracy of this non-observation.

(A friend who critiqued both "Snowflakes" and "Laugh," noticing the similarity in theme, asked me, "What's up with you and snow?" Without missing a beat, I answered, "I don't like it." Which is roughly true. But I had entirely failed to notice that I was building a sort of track record with snow apocalypses.)

Next week is a whole new week. This is what I keep telling myself. And it's true! The sun'll come up tomorrow, and all that. Nevertheless, the fact remains that there aren't a lot of whole new weeks left March.

So now you know what I'll be working on next week. And why the whole "doom" thing above. Although it must be said, everything's better with doom. Or chainsaws. It depends on your aesthetic.

stuff of mine that you can read right now this second
Thu 2014-03-13 23:35:24 (single post)
  • 6,000 words (if poetry, lines) long

We interrupt this week of (non)productivity reports to bring you more news from the realms of publication, those fabled fields to which we make far too few visits and to which we always strive to arrive with more frequency. That news is this:

You can now buy and download the e-book version of NAMELESS Digest Issue #3, in which appears my story "Lambing Season". If you like physical copies, especially great big hefty ones that look more like an anthology than a magazine, you can buy that here.

One- and two-year subscriptions are also available. People who produce magazines love it when people subscribe.

Editor Jason V Brock, accompanied by a Liz (a Lizard of Some Distinction), will give you a five-minute video tour of the table of contents. I watched the video last night at the kitchen table where John and I were working. John looked up from his computer and made happy-hands gestures when Jason namechecked me.

(Just so's y'all know, though, it really is actually "Luh-BUFF". At conventions, I hand out little home-printed business cards that say "It ryhmes with 'I write stuff'". That tends to get a chuckle, and also to be memorable.)

If you're interested in a very wide range of what might be considered "horror", head on over and get yourself a copy. As for me, I'm watching my mail like the proverbial hawk, because there will be a contributor copy in the box any day now. And with it a contributor's check. This will be my second sale ever to a professional-rate market; finally having the print and spendable evidence of it in my hands will go a long way towards reassuring me that my first such sale wasn't a fluke.

the day that wasn't.
Wed 2014-03-12 22:15:07 (single post)

Writing did not happen today.

You know what did happen? TAX PREPARATION.

So now you know.

the hoped-for thing occurs in the space one makes for it
Tue 2014-03-11 21:59:51 (single post)
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I have good news! I have sold a story! For publication! Where you can see it--or, at least, hear it! Not yet, but soon!

That's the short story. Now, clear the way, 'cause here comes the long version.

This year I set out to be a more reliably productive writer. I set myself daily goals both in terms of a checklist of particular writing projects and hours spent writing at all. Thus far, at least overall, I've succeeded.

Now, success for a working writer can be tricky to measure. The stuff that's visible to people who aren't me tends to be beyond my control. Getting a story published, for instance, requires the cooperation of an editor who wants to pay me for the rights to print my story. And then there's the matter of my improvement as a writer, which is totally within my control but, to a large extent, not really mine to judge. Not reliably, anyway. Not objectively. So I have to measure my success in terms of those things I can both control and objectively measure: time spent writing, projects in which I make tangible progress, pieces finished and ready to send out into the world.

One of the items that's on my daily checklist and which counts towards hours spent on the clock is submissions procedures--activities surrounding what might be termed the "business end" of this gig. Sending a piece to a market, for instance, or logging a market's response to the submission. Rediscovering something of mine published during college and considering whether it has reprint potential, and, if so, where at. Something along those lines needs to happen every day.

This has resulted in greater success than I've enjoyed for some years now in terms of a particular objective metric: the number of individual pieces of short fiction that are out on submission, i.e. in slush, a.k.a. marked "Pending Response" over at the Submissions Grinder, at a single time. At one point that number was seven. That's small beans compared with some writers, but for me it's personal high.

The amount of stories I currently have out on submission is a number I can control. The amount of stories I have sold for publication is not. But these two numbers are not without causal connection. Even the most cynical writer must agree that your chances at publication go up based on your frequency of manuscript submissions--well, assuming a certain base-level quality of manuscript, of course, and a certain amount of common sense in deciding where to submit what.

Which is taking the long way around to announcing that, attributable at least in part to being determined this year to increase the number and frequency of my manuscript submissions, I've made my first sale of 2014. My sad, sisterly science fiction short-short story "Other Theories of Relativity" will be read aloud during an upcoming episode of Tina Connolly's podcast Toasted Cake.

I'm just tickled all rose-hued about it. I've never had a story of mine podcast before. I've never had a story of mine read aloud to the public by anyone other than myself. I'm excited and also, truth by told, kind of scared about it. There is no rational reason for being scared about it, but I am, a little. It's related to the same mild terror I experience from the time a send a story out to be workshopped right up until the moment I get the critiques back. And, just like I do after I've heard all the critiques, I know I'll feel all glowy and happy after I've finally heard the podcast with my story in it. So I guess what I'm mainly looking forward to is that moment after hearing it for the first time.

I'm also excited because this is my first sale of a Weekend Warrior (WW) story. WW is one of the annual contests hosted in the private online writers' community Codex (which you should check out--if you qualify, if you even think you qualify, do not hesitate to apply, because Codex is awesome). The contest lasts for five weeks. Each Friday, a handful of prompts is posted. You spend the weekend writing a short story from one of those prompts. It must be no longer than 750 words. Winners are determined by averaging all of the contest participants' ratings of each others' stories. Participants also give mini-critiques of each story. (Participation is anonymous until The Big Reveal after the contest is over.)

Between the half-formed stories that came from noodling around on the prompts and the actual stories I ended up submitting, there's a wealth of material from my participation in WW 2012. "Other Theories of Relativity" and, in a roundabout way, "When the Bottom Dropped Out of the Soul Market" are the only pieces from that supply that I have submitted anywhere. (On the same day Tina got back to me offering to buy "Other Theories," I also got the form rejection from the Flash Fiction Chronicles contest for "Soul Market"--not one of the finalists, alas.) There is a hell of a lot more story potential waiting for me in that same pocket of my hard drive. All I have to do is dig it up, revise it, polish it, and send it out.

I hope to have happy reports along those lines later on in the year. Later in the year. My plate is already full to overflowing for the month of March. About that, more later. Probably tomorrow.

but setting up the dominoes is haaaaaaard
Fri 2014-03-07 22:56:28 (single post)
  • 3,400 words (if poetry, lines) long

I've been avoiding my short story rewrite of late. That is because short story rewrites tend to terrify me. They loom like giants, towering with the hugeness of the work to be done. But at the same time, they are nebulous, ill-defined. You can't stick a sword in 'em anymore than you can in a cloud. You can't see through 'em, either. Basically, it's a huge mass of blinding, suffocating fog.

My emotional reaction tends to go something like this: "Oh, Gods, there is so much work to do to make this story into a real and functioning story, and I don't have a clue what that work is going to look like, how do I even start?"

As always, the only way out is through. Through the fog, through the cloud, out to the other side. It's rough going, but if you keep putting one foot in front of the other you get somewhere. It might not be the final somewhere, but it will at least be a somewhere from which you can aim yourself at the next somewhere.

I know this stuff. But it's very easy to forget that I know it when I'm facing an impenetrable fog giant.

Yesterday, happily, I was forced to rediscover it.

You know how writers talk about setting a timer for a period during which you can either stare at the page or type on it, one or the other? And eventually you do the latter because the former is boring? That's kind of the position I put myself in last night. I sat myself down in that restaurant booth, and I told myself, "You don't leave here until you've completed your day's writing. Yes, that means revising 'Snowflakes'." And I opened the project file, and I read and reread and re-reread the first scene and all the notes accompanying it, and eventually that got boring, so I started typing just to give myself something else to read.

By the end of the night, the fog had begun to coalesce into a recognizable shape. Instead of just sitting there wibbling, I was asking myself, "How do I get this scene to convey all this information (which I've listed in this handy linked note over here) without making things awkward and clunky?"

I didn't have answers yet, but at least I finally had an answerable question.

My job today was to try to answer that question. I think I might even have done so. But again, it required me to stop simply dreading it and just effin' do it.

If I can only convince myself to sit down and stick my eyeballs on the story that needs revising, revising becomes... well, not easy, definitely not easy. It becomes, I suppose, inevitable. Kind of like if you just push the little train to the top of that first hill, it becomes inevitable that it'll travel through the rest of the roller coaster ride. Like that, only not all at once. Bit by bit, each day. But it's the same principle. You only have to make the decision to knock over the first domino. The rest happens more or less on its own. At least, it does if you've set the dominoes up correctly. If you haven't, at least now you can see what needs fixing.

So that's where I'm at: kind of between dominoes three and four, wondering what it will take to get dominoes five, six, seven & etc. to follow. Hopefully my backbrain will be able to munch away at things over the weekend so that they'll flow more smoothly on Monday.

losing hit points and slumping under pressure
Thu 2014-03-06 23:56:01 (single post)

Yesterday was day 2 of using HabitRPG to help improve my dailiness. And I was really, really enthusiastic about it. Mainly I was impressed with the way it reshapes and repurposes that classic gamer urge to "do stuff to get stuff." I have a weakness for doing in-game things to get in-game rewards, resulting in a lot of fun but very little daily productivity. HabitRPG offers those tantalizing in-game rewards in exchange for doing real-life things, resulting in increased daily productivity. This is very cool. It means I'm not just looking forward to finishing each task on my writing list for its own sake and for the sake of getting it over; I'm also looking forward to these accomplishments for the sake of earning experience points and virtual coins.

Well, today I discovered a certain downside of HabitRPG. For me, that is. It's absolutely not a general downside that every user will encounter. It's just my downside, because I am a basket case.

That downside is this: It's yet another way for me to expect perfection of myself and punish myself for failing to achieve it.

You know what that means: Pressure, and freezing up in the face of pressure.

So this morning I woke up and failed to immediately write down what I'd dreamed. No big deal. It happens. But because dream journaling is a thing I try to do every morning, I'd had the bright idea to code it into my HabitRPG task list. (More details than you really need: I made it a Daily when I set up my account, but I changed it to a Habit yesterday.) Which means that I wasn't just disappointed in myself for letting the dream memory slip away. I was also dreading having to admit my failure by clicking that little minus button next to my dream journaling Habit and losing hit points over it.

So what did I do next? I went back to sleep. Because I'd already tangibly failed, so why even try?

Stupid I know. I told you, I'm a basket case about this. But that's how I never got out of bed until 12:30 and didn't actually start writing until 4:00 PM.

The good news is, I did snap out of it in time to start writing at 4:00 PM. I snapped out of it, did a little math, and became suddenly determined to do what I hadn't managed to do since first setting up my HabitRPG account: achieve a 5-hour writing day.

Tonight was a scrimmage night. It would be very close. But it was possible. It just meant getting back to work immediately after scrimmage and keeping at it until midnight or a little bit thereafter.

Which is why this blog post comes to you from the Old Chicago in Longmont. I know me, see. I know that if I drive home from derby with all the best intentions, they will nevertheless evaporate the moment collapsing in bed looks like an option. So I decided that collapsing in bed simply wouldn't be an option.

And now it is midnight and my timesheet shows a total of five hours for today. Take that, evildoers! I have achieved a perfect day!

Next up: Driving home without falling asleep on the road. Also the more difficult challenge of falling asleep in bed despite all the coffee I just put into my system. (Arrrrgh.)

experience points and muttering about ash trees
Wed 2014-03-05 23:34:07 (single post)
  • 3,400 words (if poetry, lines) long

OMG it is late and I am tired and there was derby and now there has been beer. And now I'm supposed to blog about my day? Arrrgh. OK. Let's see.

  1. Roofing continues! Woke up early to show a worker the one tiny leak I suffered during last night rain shower. Worker was perplexed, as roofing has proceeded past the point where leaks should not happen. (They saw the weather forcast and they got it to that point on purpose.) Got a phone call from same worker later assuring me that it should definitely not happen again. (Apparently chimneys are tricky things to roof around.)
  2. There is so much work to do with "Impact of Snowflakes" and I can't put it off any more with mechanical process things like "Oh, I'm still just compiling my workshop critiques into a single document." There is so much more story that needs to be put into this story. Arrrgh. Spent some time adding to the critiqued draft bright red comments in which I muttered to myself about very important things, like, whose idea is this trip to Vail anyway, and where exactly are Katie and Josh when they call the narrator, and how much did Josh's Dad know about how things were going to turn out anyway?
  3. By the way, the narrator has a name now. It's Ashley. This is meant to be a terribly witty allusion to the World Tree, which is an Ash. Why the hell should the World Tree be an ash, anyway? You want a tree that's already among the biggest land organisms on the planet, you want an aspen. Aspen groves are like freakin' fungi covering humongous square footage below ground. The only land organism bigger than an aspen grove, in fact, is a fungus. Or something like that. Close enough. But no, Snorri Sturluson apparently decided Yggdrasil was an ash, so an ash tree is what we get.
  4. Also by the way, those striking purple trees in autumn, here in Boulder? Ash trees, apparently. Autumn Purple Ash trees, to be painfully literal about it. (This is not what Yggdrasil looks like in my mind, but then they are only one of several kinds of ash tree in the world.)
  5. Day two of using HabitRPG (thanks to Jim C. Hines for turning me on to it). Still didn't complete all my dailies, mainly because "if you can't do a lot, do a little" isn't enough to achieve my ambitious daily goal of actually achieving five hours of writing. (Today's going to come up to only about 3. Not going into detail on that.) But I did everything else on my list, so I get all sorts of gold and XP and only lose maybe one or two hit points overnight.
  6. One of my HabitRPG to-do items was "Take care of travel fare to New Orleans for high school reunion." This I have done. It earned me 37 XP, some amount of gold or other, and, most importantly, peace of mind. Now I just have to get through the March 29th Season Opener roller derby bout with all my limbs intact so I can enjoy the trip.
  7. Tickets here, if you're interested.

Those are the high points of my day. But the best bit is happening in just a few minutes: I'm going to go to sleep. Yay, sleep! It knits up the ravelled sleeve of care, it is balm for droopy minds and bruised bodies, and it even comes (perchance) with in-flight movies. I am greatly in favor of sleep.

In which winning at life is measured in XP and hit points. Also, muttering
Wed 2014-03-05 23:34:00 (single post)
  • 3,400 words (if poetry, lines) long

OMG it is late and I am tired and there was derby and now there has been beer. And now I'm supposed to blog about my day? Arrrgh. OK. Let's see.

  1. Roofing continues! Woke up early to show a worker the one tiny leak I suffered last night. Worker was perplexed, as roofing as proceeded past the point where leaks should not happen. Got a phone call from same worker later assuring me that it should definitely not happen again. (Apparently chimneys are tricky things to roof around.)
  2. There is so much work to do with "Impact of Snowflakes" and I can't put it off any more with mechanical process things like "Oh, I'm still just compiling my workshop critiques into a single document." There is so much more story that needs to be put into this story. Arrrgh. Spent some time adding to the critiqued draft bright red comments in which I muttered to myself about very important things, like, whose idea is this trip to Vail anyway, and where exactly are Katie and Josh when they call the narrator, and how much did Josh's Dad know about how things were going to turn out anyway?
  3. By the way, the narrator has a name now. It's Ashley. This is meant to be a terribly witty allusion to the World Tree, which is an Ash. Why the hell should the World Tree be an ash, anyway? You want a tree that's already among the biggest land organisms on the planet, you want an aspen. Aspen groves are like freakin' fungi covering humongous square footage below ground. The only land organism bigger than an aspen grove, in fact, is a fungus. But no, Snorri Sturluson apparently decided Yggdrasil was an ash, so an ash tree is what we get.
  4. Also by the way, those striking purple trees in autumn, here in Boulder? Ash trees, apparently. Autumn Purple Ash trees, to be painfully literal about it. (This is not what Yggdrasil looks like in my mind, but then they are only one of several kinds of ash tree in the world.)
  5. Day two of using HabitRPG (thanks to Jim C. Hines for turning me on to it). Still didn't complete all my dailies, mainly because "if you can't do a lot, do a little" isn't enough to achieve my ambitious daily goal of actually achieving five hours of writing. (Today's going to come up to only about 3. Not going into detail on that.) But I did everything else on my list, so I get all sorts of gold and XP and only lose maybe one or two hit points overnight.
  6. One of my HabitRPG to-do items was "Take care of travel fare to New Orleans for high school reunion." This I have done. It earned me 37 XP, some amount of gold or other, and, most importantly, peace of mind. Now I just have to get through the March 29th Season Opener roller derby bout with all my limbs intact so I can enjoy the trip.
  7. Those are the high points of my day. But the best bit is happening in just a few minutes: I'm going to go to sleep. Yay, sleep! It knits up the ravelled sleeve of care, and it even comes with in-flight movies. I am greatly in favor of sleep.

one thing continues to follow another despite all requests to the contrary
Tue 2014-03-04 21:59:33 (single post)

I had such high hopes for today. Too high, perhaps. My intent was to prioritize two household tasks that were long overdue, and then jump back into the writing.

I did not expect these tasks to take me until past 2:30 PM.

It wasn't just that "Do the books; pay all bills" is already a large task (which it is). But it was larger than it should be because I'd let some of the bills go overdue. There were more of them than there should be, and none of them could wait. And so this task took 'til past ten, and so you see why I avoid this task on a regular basis. Why, hello there, vicious circle! I am in you, attempting to escape...

Additionally, The Box of The Book (the box where all the papers I'm to deal with when I "do the books" go) had ceased to fit in a box years ago. It's been more of pile the bottom third of which I have not touched since before it outgrew the box. Theoretically this means I should be able to just throw it away and never miss it. But you never know when things like the original kitchen appliance manuals or the amortization schedule might come in handy or, indeed, in vital. So. My optimistic quest has been to stick a chunk of that pile in my clever folded-cardboard inbox hanging off the nails in the wood of that bare wall in the office... and then deal with that chunk until it is gone. Everything dealt with and either filed away or disposed of. So that chunk took a while to deal with, too.

I won't bother to go into the other task on my "immediately after Morning Pages" to-do list. Transferring a mail order prescription to our new provider was easy cheese. It took two phone calls, neither taking longer than five minutes. This was not the task that pushed writing out of the picture.

No, that honor went to the task I did not realize I had to do, the really overdue bill I had forgotten about for maybe three months now: Renewing my car license registration.

I have a vague memory of the bill arriving. I'm pretty sure it's somewhere in the Box of the Book (of Doom). That memory dates back to either late December or early January. It's been sitting quietly in a corner, making no fuss, letting me pretend it's not there, ever since.

And then I looked down at the stickers on my plate while balancing some boxes on my knee to negotiate the trunk latch, and I saw a 1 and a 14, as in my registration expired in January, and I thought, "Oh, shit. Guess I'm going to visit the County Clerk and Recorder building today."

Whose motor vehicle technicians looked me up in their system and said, "Did you know you also are due for emissions testing?" This after the usual fifteen to twenty minute wait to be helped out at Desk 18.

So they gave me a temporary plate to affix to my rear window, for which they charged me about $6.00 on top of the $30.00ish late fee. So I removed my permanent plate and stick it in the trunk, just like they told me to ("An officer might give you trouble for the outdated stickers"). So I drove over to spend a goodly while at emissions testing. So I got my test results (a clean bill of health for my '97 Saturn) and paid my $25.00. So I returned to the County Clerk and Recorder building to wait another twenty or more minutes for number R503 to be helped at Desk 11, so I could now pay about $76.00 for the actual real true permanent (until next year) registration renewal and a shiny new pair of stickers that said 3 and 15.

And so, upward of $130 later, I went home. And it was almost 3:00 PM.

Now, admittedly, an hour of this day was spent having lunch at BRU Handbuilt Ales & Eats right after the first County Clerk/DMV visit. I had a phenomenal bowl of shrimp and grits and a lovely pint of coffee stout (I believe it was called the "Osito Stout," after local coffee roasters Ozo). And I didn't do any writing at all, despite having the chance.

Scratch that--I didn't do any workday writing, but I did write. Embellishing and proofreading the morning's dream recall into something I could post on the LD4all.com forums is absolutely writing. It involves words and the craft of words. It's just not writing that fits on my daily timesheet nor accomplishes my current set of writing goals.

It may well be writing laid up against future goals. I have many reasons for recording my dreams with a thoroughness; among them is that it replenishes the well from which springs story. I believe this, despite any obvious direct connection between the dream in question and the stories I'm currently working on. I believe this even when the dreams aren't handing me new stories on a silver platter. I believe that no writing is ever wasted.

That includes this, by the way.

Tomorrow will be better; that's another belief my ability to get from day to day utterly hinges on. Tomorrow will be better, or if not, the next day for sure. And who knows what I'll dream tomorrow morning?

If nothing else, tomorrow will be better than today simply by virtue of dawning with no overdue bills outstanding.

Overdue library books, now, that's another story. And travel plans that should have been cemented and paid for months ago, there's that too.

Argh.

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