“Ladies. Has it ever occurred to you that fairy tales aren't easy on the feet?”
Kelly Link

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Cover art incorporates and modifies glacier and dinosaur images from Pixabay
a strange but workable (for now) definition of On Time
Fri 2021-02-26 22:38:27 (single post)
  • 946 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,073 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,115 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,120 words (if poetry, lines) long

Not so much whining today, as it turns out. What was that I said about external systems of structure and accountability? Today's external accountability mechanisms were my Boulder Food Rescue shift and my various curbside shopping errands, for getting me out of bed on time; and Cat Rambo's afternoon co-writing session, for getting me back to work by 2 PM rather than collapsing into a nap that would eat up the rest of my productive day.

(And what with having been up from early (for me) and not napped, maybe I'll sleep better tonight.)

Because today went so well, I can give you the January 2021 Friday Fictionette Round-up on time, which is to say, no more than the same month I've been late for quite a few months now. Huzzah!

January 1: "My Sister Draws Things" (ebook, audio) In which sisters have each other's backs, and imagination is queen.

January 8: "What the Desert Dreams" (ebook, audio) In which creation and destruction walk hand in hand, no matter what any nearby creator gods have to say about it.

January 15: "How It Begins" (ebook, audio) In which pet sphinxes are a comfort to a lonely old woman.

January 22: "What Is Not Prohibited" (ebook, audio) In which we are not the first nor yet the cleverest to question the three laws of robotics.

The Fictionette Freebie for January 2021 is "My Sister Draws Things", so you can download and enjoy that one regardless of whether you're a paid subscriber.

Also, dinner tonight is pasta with sausage and cream, only I used penne instead of shells, ground breakfast sausage instead of sweet Italian, and a whole lot of fennel seeds, hot pepper flakes, white and pink peppercorns, and nutmeg.

And that is all.

whining my way toward a better way of ordering my day
Thu 2021-02-25 22:35:54 (single post)

Today's post is going to be a whining post. Be warned now. Or be happy, I dunno. I get a lot of comfort out of reading the whining of experienced and successful writers; it tells me that even they have off-days with avoidance issues and difficulty getting the butt in the chair. Which means my having days or even weeks like that doesn't mean I'll never be an experienced and successful writer myself. Indeed, I am now a somewhat experienced writer who is at least more successful than she was two years ago, so you may wish to take my whining in that spirit yourself.

Here is the whine: lately I've been having trouble getting up on time to make the morning co-writing session, or indeed getting any writing done in the morning at all. The lure of hot tea and a Morning Pages session with a backdrop of Rewarded Play usage points, it seems, can't compete with the temptation of staying in bed just a little longer, especially now that I've actually reached a state of solid sleep and technicolor dreams (which I often don't reach nearly as soon as I ought). So I wind up failing to drag my butt to the home office until something like noon.

This is a problem in so many ways.

It throws me off my routine, for one thing. You'd think it wouldn't matter--that no matter what time I get up, all I have to do is hit START on the established process. But no. The later I get up, the more slowly I move through the next steps, and the more time I lose.

And by then I've already lost the prime morning hours when writing comes more easily. Rachel Aaron, in her book 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, talks about the importance of figuring out when and where you're most productive--she is all about tracking your data and looking for patterns--and it turns out I am most productive in the morning at my desk in the home office. It also turns out I am the laziest night owl ever to attempt to pose as a morning bird.

So now I'm relying on the afternoon to get my writing started at all, which is never a safe bet. And I'll be relying on the evening to finish up the day's tasks. And that's even more of a problem, because by evening time I'm tired, I'd rather play, and, pandemic notwithstanding, I might just have something scheduled for the evening. Tonight, for example, was BCB Workout night. Whipsie Daisy led us in yoga, which was awesome! Convincing myself to complete the last items on my to-do list after I'd worn myself out with surprisingly difficult balance-and-strength poses was less awesome. And I've still got a half hour of reading to record for AINC before I sleep.

Eventually I wind up with this dilemma: fail to get certain things done, or stay up late getting them done? Staying up late is going to happen anyway, it turns out, which then makes getting up on time the next morning more difficult. And so the cycle is complete, the snake is biting its own tail, the downward spiral continues another round down the turning screw, etc., etc.,

All of which is quite sad and also pathetic. But there is one more stupidity hiding in this morass of foolishness, and that has to do with how I find myself approaching the afternoon co-writing session.

The afternoon co-writing session is great. (I may have mentioned.) It may in fact be a write-saver. For as long as I've separated my writing day into the Morning Shift and the Afternoon Shift, I've found it extremely difficult to come off of lunch break and get started on the Afternoon Shift. Knowing that I damn well have to get started right at 2:00 PM because that's when the co-writing session starts--that's been fantastic motivation.

But today, while I was considering the day's schedule, I found myself reasoning thusly: "Oh, dear. Once again I'll be pulling my first shift of the day during afternoon co-writing. When it's my turn to share with the group what I'm working on, do I really want to say, 'freewriting and fictionette' again? Maybe I should reverse the order of operations. It'll sound a lot more impressive to say 'I'm working on a brand new poem which I think I'll be able to submit tonight.'"

Now, there are valid reasons to reverse my usual order of operations. But wanting to sound more impressive to my co-writing colleagues isn't one of them.

(This, by the way, would be reason #375 that Morning Pages are good for me. I'm more likely to catch my really specious reasoning and correct it if I take the time to consciously discover it lurking in my brain.)

So, yeah. This failure to get out of bed on time is a problem. I have some ideas out of which I might cobble a solution, but those will be the subject of a different blog post.

A different blog post also full of whining.

You have been warned.

not too proud to need to hack my own brain
Wed 2021-02-24 23:45:22 (single post)

I actually feel good about posting to the actually writing blog today, because today I actually wrote. I got stuff done! I submitted a whole bunch of things! I wrote a whole bunch of words! I wrote down this morning's dreams, which were 1500 words of detail right there. I hit every item on today's timesheet, and that's not an everyday occurrence! ("It's OK, to-do lists are aspirational" is my latest affirmation.)

On top of all the good writing stuff that went on today, John and I succeeded in finishing off Holland's bi-monthly "bunny tune-up" checklist (which is not aspirational but obligatory). This involved John holding him while I cleaned out his scent folds, and, I tell you what, Holland is not nearly as cooperative as the bunny in this instructional video. Holland bore a bit of a grudge for, like, a whole hour, but after that he was back to bounding around the living room and nudging my ankle for treats.

I'm almost feeling too good. I'm a little suspicious of the feeling. So how about I sabotage it by making a shameful confession? Yeah, that sounds about right.

Well, OK, let's put this a bit more positively. Since I'm feeling so good, I've got a bit of resilience stored up, so now's a good time to confess to something that would normally make me feel a little ashamed of myself. Irrationally, I will add. Without provocation. But it's so easy to get down on oneself about so many things that, when you really get right down to it, don't matter in the least. Right, writers? Y'all know what I'm talking about here. But I've stored up a lot of Good Feels today, so let's reveal some of the shameful underbelly of the beast we call Niki's Process.

First, though, let's provide some context. As a writer, I live or die--well, write or don't write--by my mind-hacks. That's enough of a confession right there. As a Baby Writer, I heard enough Wise Elders proclaiming that if you need mind-hacks, you are obviously not a "real" writer. Real writers write because they just! can't! not! If it's ever hard to get started, if you ever find yourself in the throes of avoidance or so-called writer's block, such that you need to trick yourself to get the writing done--well, the Wise Elders said, that's a sign you should give up and go do something easier, like web programming or accountancy.

Thankfully, I've gotten very good at calling bullshit on that particular bit of gatekeeping nonsense. I suspect such Wise Elders as being akin to that Twitter Pundit who tweeted (and then de-tweeted) the following crock-o-feces: "HARSH WRITING ADVICE: Your writer friends are also your competition. Sorry." I'm happy to say that a bunch of my writer acquaintances, colleagues, and, yes, friends, pounced on this ill-informed bit of hogwash and turned it into fun and games, and also actual good advice.

Point is, I think it must be the sort of writer who sees other writers as primarily their competition who also thinks it must be a good thing to expose Baby Writers in their infancy. Y'know, so as to have fewer writers competing with them for eyeballs and dollars.

So! It is therefore decided: Mind-hacks are fine. Whatever it takes to get you writing and, hopefully, feeling good about yourself, hey, an it harm none, do what ye will.

Mur Lafferty talks about mind-hacks in her podcast I Should Be Writing. In Season 17, Episode 13, around about timestamp 7:25, she warms to the subject...

"There are lots and lots of tricks that you can do to fool your head into thinking it's enjoying itself.... The thing I'm learning about habits, and making new habits that you may not want to do, is, attach it to something you do like."

Which is great advice. She talks about eating an M&M candy for every 200 words, or how one of her listeners might use a visit to their horse as incentive to get some edits done. Heck, I did a thing today that's right along those lines--I got myself and my squad of Pikmin poised to descend to the next level of Hole of Heroes that I hadn't visited yet, then hit pause, telling myself, "You get to continue after you've done your freewriting and your Friday Fictionette work for the day." And so I did!

But there's another "attach it to something you do like" trick I do, darn near daily, which feels less defensible. I, er...

*ahem*

...I use Rewarded Play to earn Barnes & Nobles gift cards. And I use that as an incentive to do my Morning Pages.

Argh. It's so stupid! Just when I get less cringey about admitting that I do Morning Pages (from reading too many Wise Elder Writers poo-poo'ing The Artist's Way as so much woo, I suppose), now I get to confess that I have a hard time making myself do them sometimes (at which confession the Wise Elders pounce: "A-ha, that's because you know deep down that it's a stupid waste of time!" No, you jerk, it's because Morning Pages force me to confront the contents of my brain, and my brain is not always a happy place), and that I get around this by indulging in a petty exercise of "Yay I got free stuff I could have just paid for because it's not like we're not well-off enough to buy books."

I suppose it's not that weird. Some people like gambling in casinos; I like doing stupid clicky things to earn gift cards. I have a Swagbucks account, too. It's a meta-game, OK? It is possible this is an offshoot of the benign family tradition of Ha Ha I'm Clever I Got Away With Something. I don't know. But then you add Rewarded Play's daily streak bonus, and BOOM, you're just playing into my obsessive completist side that begins instinctively to treat making the daily 5K points as an obligation. Like, gotta do my Morning Pages, gotta do my freewriting, gotta make 5,000 points on Rewarded Play.

So at some point I got into the habit of running the app during Morning Pages. I start up one of the rewarded apps, set the timer on my flip-phone for 4 minutes, then scribble in my notebook until the timer goes off. Pause the scribbling. Close the app. Confirm that Rewarded Play awarded me my daily usage points. Then start the next app up and another 4-minute timer.

Lather, rinse, repeat until three pages of longhand scribbling are done.

The whole process sort of soothes that one particular set of brain weasels that's like MUST! ALWAYS! BE! MULTITASKING! Which, fair. Four minutes multiplied by twenty-three apps equals a lot of time; if I can get some of it done at the same as another must-do-daily thing, well, cool! And despite it being such a mechanical, brainless, non-essential task, it still results in a vague sense of accomplishment...

Which could be dangerous, actually. Non-essential playtime tasks that result in a sense of accomplishment run a real risk of checking off the mental "I got stuff done today!" to-do list. Like little cuckoo nestlings, they can eat up all the sense of urgency and obligation that ought to have pushed me to do my writing. But that's the other good reason for attaching fun things to the (hopefully also fun but not always) writing things. If I don't do the playtime thing before the writing thing, then I don't risk getting my daily done of sense-o-accomplishment exclusively off the playtime things.

So I wake up, and I don't wanna get out of bed, and I definitely don't wanna do Morning Pages. "But if you start Morning Pages, you get to start the Rewarded Play daily usage points too," Smart Me wheedles. "Also, you get your cup of tea. You want that cup of tea, don't you?"

Lazy Me allows as how yes, now that Smart Me mentions it, a cup of tea sounds very, very nice right now. A cup of tea might even make up for this whole worthless getting out of bed shinola.

"Splendid," says Smart Me. "Let's get to it."

And so we do.

stealth foodie blog strikes again: mardi gras edition
Tue 2021-02-16 22:52:54 (single post)

Welp, all that crowing about the Zoom co-writing structure-and-motivation for the day, and what happens? I utterly fail this week to 1. get to bed on time, 2. get up on time, 3. make the morning co-writing session. Alas! Counterpoint: A. "This week" refers to two whole days, let's not panic here; B. I've still gotten a metric ton of stuff done, because after the afternoon co-writing session ends there's still a lot of afternoon and evening left. So it's all cool.

But that is not what I came to blog about. I came to blog about winning at dinner. Yes, again. I get very excited about this sort of thing. This is nominally a blog about actually writing, but it is also a stealth foodie blog. (You're welcome.)

A friend of mine tweeted approvingly about this recipe here, Caramelized Shallot Pasta, and I got all interested. I mean, I like anchovies. I like pasta. I like absolutely everything about what I see here. Let's try it.

What follows are step-by-step instructions to wind up with precisely, or more or less, what I wound up with for dinner on Lundi Gras (and lots of leftovers for Mardi Gras).

One. About three business days before you want to do this, maybe five days if catastrophic winter storms are forecast for the weekend, order you a 3-pack of crawfish bread. Yes, it's expensive, but if you can budget for it once a year, I say go for it. Mardi Gras is a great time of year for this, but so is your birthday, or in fact any of your 364 unbirthdays. (Obviously you should only do this if crawfish, cheese, and bread of the gluten variety are things you eat. And if you like spicy things. This is a spicy thing.)

Two. About two and a half hours before you want to eat, start you thawing a loaf of the crawfish bread, if crawfish bread you are doing. I only allowed two hours, and it wasn't quite enough. Also, start defrosting a pound of boneless chicken breasts.

Three. Go get that pasta recipe and follow Steps 1 through 3, ending with the bit where you squirrel away half of the resulting paste for future enjoyment. I did not use a dutch oven, but rather my largest cast-iron pan. That turned out to be pretty much ideal.

Around now is a good time to preheat the oven to 350 F.

Four. This is where the multitasking starts. I got the pasta started in the usual stainless steel pot on the front burner on the left. I returned the cast-iron pan to the front burner on the right, removed the anchovy-shallot-tomato paste to a plate (to which I added another big teaspoon of hot pepper flakes because YOLO), and started the now empty-ish pan going over medium-high. Into the goodness remaining from the pan's previous activities I tossed two diced tomatoes as a sort of deglazing agent and also the chicken breasts. Salt and pepper on the chicken breasts to your taste; if you're me, that's a few twists on a salt grinder and about a tablespoon of black peppercorns rough-ground in a mortar and pestle. Pan fry the chicken until it is almost but not quite done through, slicing it up into strips whenever convenient.

Somewhere around here is when you shove the crawfish bread into the oven.

Five. Pick up again with Step 4 of the pasta recipe: Add the cup of pasta water, the very al dente pasta, and the anchovy-shallot-tomato paste to chicken and tomatoes in the pan, and let 'em thicken and coat just like the directions say. The chicken will finish cooking during this stage; so will the pasta. Follow through with Step 5 and the garlic-parsley mixture. By the time all this is done, the crawfish bread should also be fully heated, though you may still have to wait for it to cool a few minutes so you're not slicing into lava.

Plate it all up, optionally serving with a bottle of Abita's Mardi Gras Bock or other favorite carbonated beverage. Either resist the urge to have seconds or resign yourself to groaning and gently rolling uselessly around the house for the rest of the night.

And that is the process that led to this picture I tweeted. You're welcome!

virtual external systems of structure and accountability
Thu 2021-02-11 23:14:35 (single post)

My social life is entirely on Zoom. Increasingly, my working life, too. It's not a bad thing, honestly.

I just got finished about an hour ago with the Boulder County Bombers Thursday night Zoom workout. Sometimes skaters will bring their own workout to share, other times they'll find an official video from this or that trainer. Either way, we get to see each other and sweat together and turn our bodies into wet noodles of exhaustion with only each other as witnesses. Tonight, we ventured way back to 2009, the very early days of the modern roller derby era for Roller Derby Workout with The Heart Attacks (link goes to YouTube trailer, which contains an outdated link; try this Etsy page instead).

It was... very dated. A lot more Jazzercize than punk. Not a tattoo to be seen, nor much variation in body type or skin color. The patter assumes only she/her pronouns in the audience, and yet the camera angles demonstrate a dedication to the hetero male gaze. Like, yep, that sure is a close-up of a woman's buttocks in very short shorts, isn't it? And not really in a "Check out how strong and toned your bum can be!" way, either. (Maybe it was actually meant for the queer female gaze on the sly? Maybe that was how they got queerness past the censors, so to speak.)

But at the same time, it was a damn good workout. It was a roller derby workout, targeting all the roller derby muscle groups. Lots of core, abs, hams, quads, glutes. Lots of squats, leg-lifts, and derby stance. Lots of "I don't think I could have held a one-legged squat this long during the height of my derby career, let alone one year into the pandemic!" moments. I may just order a copy of that DVD for my own library so I can memorize the exercises for the next time I get to lead a Phase 1 class.

So that was tonight's workout. Now I am recovering in a hot bath with a beer and a bowl of chole, the spicy garbanzo dish included in this fantastic cooking presentation. And I'm writing this blog post, because writing in the bath is what I do, some evenings.

Usually I'm writing at the desk in the second bedroom, which we've kitted out into an office. And more and more lately I'm writing during Zoom co-writing sessions.

It turns out, I really need structure in my day in order to have any kind of time management. Best is if I can replicate the routine of Going To Work. For a little while, years ago, I had a membership to a co-working space in downtown Boulder so that I had to Go To The Office. But it turned out I had little to no tolerance for other people in my workspace. I couldn't tune out conversations and other people's music, not even if I used headphones. So I went back to slouching across the house over to the home office instead. And I can make that work, but it's difficult to force myself to adhere to a schedule when it seems like it hardly matters if I don't.

Then, not long ago--maybe a little before the pandemic? I think?--I discovered Cat Rambo's Patreon; and from there, their Discord community; and from there, their Zoom co-writing sessions. These are great. Everyone says hi, shares a little about what they're working on, then mutes their microphones and works for 30 minutes. At the end of 30 minutes, everyone says how they're coming along, and then they go right back to it. In all, it's three 30-minute sessions dedicated to whatever on your agenda needs it, helped along by a little mutual accountability and leavened with a touch of socializing.

That. That there. That is my Office. On an ideal day, I will wake up in time to do my morning pages, then have breakfast and do all the morning routines, then log onto the morning co-writing session for 9:30 AM Mountain Time. It ends around 11:15 or so. I take a lunch break, do some household chores, maybe do a little cross-stitching by the sunny south-facing window or play video games. There's another co-writing session at 2:00 PM Mountain Time, and by the time that ends, the majority of my work for the day is done! It's magical.

And then, on Sunday afternoons, SFWA hosts a co-writing session too! This is something that started with their online Nebula Conference last year and just continued. Each week a different author or editor hosts. It follows a similar pattern to Rambo's sessions, but the break-time check-in and socializing between their two 45-minute work periods happens in Zoom break-out rooms, in groups of five or six people. Sunday afternoon SFWA writing dates were how four out of five of my Weekend Warrior stories got written. (The one where I missed the writing date was just harder, that's all.)

So that is my current time management plan. I've found an external system of structure and accountability, and it's great. It's not going to be everyone's deal--everyone's process is different, and no one's wrong so long as the writing gets writ--but if it sounds like something that might help you, then you can...

  • Join Cat Rambo's Patreon at any tier
  • Register for the virtual 2020 Nebula Conference and enjoy all its year-round programming

And those are my current thoughts on time management.

dear dev team i have found a bug in the spacetime continuum there is not enough of it
Thu 2020-08-13 13:08:31 (single post)

So! As promised: WHINING. Well, wittering. Thinking out loud in public about what's working, what isn't, and what I might do about it. Thanks for being my sounding board.

As I said Tuesday, I'm trying to make August another novel-progress month. How much progress did I make on the novel during that first week in August? None. Zero, zilch, zip. And even on the days when I did make progress, that progress consisted of five minutes smashing the keyboard about how much the first draft sucks.

It turns out, time is finite.

Trust me, I have complained to the management about this. Loudly. However, the bug remains outstanding and I don't think it's even on the development team's priority list. So I'm trying to come up with strategies for working around this limitation.

STRATEGY #1: Put It On the Daily To-Do List.

I have a LibreOffice Calc spreadsheet I add a page to every weekday morning. The basic template lists all the usual writing tasks I want to get done daily. Then there's space to add any other to-do items like meetings, events, volunteer shifts, derby practice sessions, household chores, etc.

Since specificity in planning makes me more likely to follow through, I'll write a brief description: "Freewriting: 3 random words and Inspirobot." "Fictionette: Please finally finish the Aug 14 draft!!!" I'll clock in and clock out so as to have a record of how much time everything took. After the task is completed, I'll jot a brief note in the Outcome column about how it went.

Great! So let's put "New Novel Draft" in the description for the "Revision" line item. Great! Except "Revision," after "Blogging," tends to be item most likely to fall off my schedule when things don't go to plan. Where's your novel progress plans then, Niki?

Basically, the Daily To-Do List is a strategy for planning. It is not a strategy for dealing with failure cases. No, for that we have...

STRATEGY #2: Start Where I Left Off

At the end of the day, every task that didn't happen gets a big NOPE in the Outcome column, boldfaced and maybe even highlighted in red the better to shame myself instantly see what needs to be prioritized the next day. And the next day I paste those rows right onto the top of the new day's timesheet. The timesheet template now starts with a Leftover Items block specifically for this purpose.

So far it's working. When Monday's submissions procedures session went epic so that I never got to my planned short story revisions, I started Tuesday morning off with those revisions. When those revisions gobbled up more time than expected so that I never got to my daily Freewriting and Fictionette block, I made sure those came first on Wednesday. And when I didn't have time to finish this blog post on Wednesday, I continued it first thing today.

Great! Now no missed task will languish for longer than a day. Plus I'm starting to get a realistic idea of how my expectations match up to reality. Things always take longer than I expect. Also they take more energy. It'll be a rare day when the Leftover Items block on my timesheet stays blank. Maybe I can't actually fit every single task into every single day. Maybe I need a better plan.

STRATEGY #3: Put It On The Weekly To-Do List

Some things are daily things: Morning Pages as daily mental hygiene, freewriting as a warm-up exercise and story idea generator, a little progress on the next Friday Fictionette every day so I don't fall behind. But some things can stand to be done only one day a week.

This year, I moved my submission activities from a daily to a weekly routine. I'd do that, and only that, on Monday afternoons. Why Mondays? Well, for one thing, Monday isn't a derby night, so I'd have time and energy to spare. (These days, thanks to the pandemic, no night is derby night, but I still try to skate or exercise when I would have had derby practice.) Also Mondays conveniently happens to be the one day a week when Strange Horizons is open to submissions.

I wasn't sure it would work. I worried that it was a form of putting all my eggs in one basket, and possibly not a big enough basket. But I told myself it was an experiment. If the experiment failed, at least I'd have gathered data.

It's turned out wildly successful. I feel comfortable taking all the time I need without any pressure to rush through to the next item, because there is no other item. And since Monday is the only day reserved for submissions, I might as well submit everything I can. This past Monday, I subbed five things (including a short story to Strange Horizons). Then I gave myself time to putter around the internet doing market research and considering what I'd submit next week.

So the basket is definitely big enough. And if the basket gets wrecked, Strategy #2 means I can catch the eggs in Tuesday's basket, so to speak. And if rescheduling submissions procedures for Tuesday means some daily thing doesn't get done, well, again, see Strategy #2.

Theoretically, I should be able to wedge a weekly novel-writing/revising session into my week. I've got four afternoons left in which I try to hit revisions; three of them can be for short stories and poetry, and one can be reserved for the novel in progress, right?

Except when a short story wants revising, there's usually a sense of urgency about it. Submission windows close. Contests have deadlines. My critique group is on a schedule. If I get to the revision item on my timesheet at all--and, again, I don't have a good track record on this--I tend to want to use that time to prep a manuscript for imminent submission.

What I need to do is clear the decks.

STRATEGY #4: Pick A Novel Writing Month

I got the idea from NaNoWriMo and Camp Nano: Pick a month and devote it to the novel. It doesn't have to be the same month as those national events. It just has to be is a month where I schlep stories out on Mondays and otherwise ignore them.

August was supposed to be that month. I'd just written a handful of new things for submission in June and July! I knew where I wanted to send them when they came back! Except... one of them came back and I wanted to revise it, since I'd done a rush job of writing it in the first place. Another came back from my critique group and I really want to hit it before my sense of what needs to change fades. Short story urgency strikes again!

I may just have to pick another month. Or, at the very least...

STRATEGY #5: If You Can't Do A Lot, Do A Little

...reduce my expectations. Maybe five minutes a day thinking aloud on the page is acceptable. For August, anyway.

So that's me thinking about my novel-related scheduling problems. There are other problems related to the novel, but we shall talk about them another day.

Cover art incorporates and modifies image by Circe Denyer (Public Domain Pictures.net)
last month's friday fictionette links and also novel difficulties
Tue 2020-08-11 16:23:31 (single post)
  • 947 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,079 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,362 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,153 words (if poetry, lines) long

Oh, hello again. I fell off the blogging wagon for a bit. Let me clamber back on with this quick round-up of the Friday Fictionettes for July 2020:

  • July 3: "Your SmartFurnace Needs Love Too" (ebook | audio) In a world where large household appliances are sentient, maintenance technicians have to be psychologists.
  • July 10: "Swallowed Up" (ebook | audio) It's not the afterlife. It's a village-wide case of mistaken identity.
  • July 17: "One Hell of a Guy" (ebook | audio) Guys like this are precisely why we need a functional Total Perspective Vortex.
  • July 24: "Lost: One Memory" (ebook | audio) When the wind blows your memories away, where do they go? And how do you get them back?

The Fictionette Freebie for July 2020 is "Swallowed Up." Its links will take you to the complete story in your preferred format. The other links will take you to locked Patreon posts inviting you to pledge a monthly buck or three. (Unless, that is, you've already become a Patreon, in which case, thank you!)

July had a fifth Friday in it. I was hoping to use that extra week to get ahead of schedule again. I had decided to make August another month dedicated to advancing a novel draft toward a publishable or at least submittable state, and being ahead of the Friday Fictionette schedule would have helped with that. Alas, due to a combination of REASONS I did not upload the August 7 release until 1:00 AM on August 8. So much for getting ahead of schedule.

Attempts at novel progress go on regardless, but it's difficult. And it's not just because of the failure to establish a healthy advance upload buffer for the Friday Fictionette Project. Which is not to say that scheduling has nothing to do with it. It's got a lot to do with it. So does the content and quality of the first draft, which leads to despair. Also pathological avoidance. I have a whole bunch of THOUGHTS on the subject, which I will dribble out over the course of several blog posts. Starting tomorrow.

So. Now you know what you're in for. LET THE WHINING COMMENCE!

odds and ends on a Monday afternoon
Mon 2020-07-20 18:39:57 (single post)

So I finished a new story and submitted it last week. It's an expansion on the 500-word story I submitted to Escape Pod's flash fiction contest a couple months ago. At its new 1,300-word length, there's a bit more room to flesh out the characters, the setting, and the resolution. I really like it now and I'm feeling an unwise amount of hope regarding its chances. If that hope founders, ah well. I know precisely where the next two places I'm going to send it will be.

Thanks to this July push to include a revision session in every work day, I proceeded at a somewhat healthier pace than I did during production of the previous story. Because of that, and probably also because this story was only about a quarter of the previous story's length, it was a fairly stress-free procedure. There were still a good two hours of last-minute revision on deadline day, but 1) that's within the bounds of a normal revision session, and 2) it really was revision, and not a race to write the last two thirds of the story from scratch.

And then I did one more copyediting read-through, this one aloud to catch typos and misplaced modifiers and other awkward things, and totally choked up during the last two paragraphs. With the story having unexpectedly passed the "made its own author cry" test, I felt pretty good about sending it out.


One pleasant side-effect of all this social distancing, partial isolation, and public activity shut-down is that in addition to not having contracted COVID-19 (cross fingers, knock on wood, turn three times and curse and spit on the ground), I haven't suffered a cold or flu since well before things got real. And sure, it's summer now, but since when has that stopped me from developing sniffles and coughing and post-nasal drip?

Undoubtedly this has to do with keeping myself well out of range, as best I can, of everyone else, and--because Boulder County is thankfully a place where mask-wearing and social-distancing compliance is relatively high--everyone else is keeping themselves well out of range of me. Your common cold transmits over similar vectors to the current plague (minus the ability for the virus to survive for days on non-porous surfaces *wibble*), so if you successfully keep yourself safe from the novel coronovirus you're probably safe from the less novel sort. Additionally, during normal times I probably catch colds more frequently than I might otherwise because I play roller derby. If one skater's got something, the rest of the league's going to get it pretty soon. I haven't been smearing my body up against other skaters' bodies since early March. Much as I love my sport, I have to admit it makes a difference.

So aside from the odd recovery day after an insomniac night (more to do with the summer heat in a house with no air conditioning than with pandemic anxiety), I haven't really had to give myself a day off work. I've had a remarkably healthy and productive pandemic, is what I'm saying.


Yesterday I tried out this fava bean hummus recipe in all its complex and high-maintenance glory. You may ask, was it worth it? To which I would reply, MOST ASSUREDLY. Yes, the recipe could stand to be simplified (why bother wringing out as much of the water from the blanched spinach as you can when you're just going to add water back in the blender? Why go out of your way to use a neutral oil to make your lemon zest tincture when you're going to add a quarter cup olive oil to the final product?). Also clarified (wait, in step 3 you blend the fava beans and the spinach together, but in step 5 you fold the spinach puree into the fava been mixture?). Also it could use a reminder that fava beans require a second shucking after you blanch them (unless they actually wanted that tough outer skin on each bean included in the puree? Really?). But the recipe seems pretty forgiving of mild variations, and in any case the results were amazing.

I think I'm going to have a little more right now on the sourdough discard naan I fried up over lunch...

The Fictionette Freebie for June 2020. Cover art incorporates and modifies image by Kelly Sikkema (Unsplash).
the state of the fictionette is actually pretty good
Wed 2020-07-08 17:13:47 (single post)
  • 1,213 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,336 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,098 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,199 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,129 words (if poetry, lines) long

So speaking of that Friday Fictionette project that I have no intention of taking a break from, here's an overdue June Round-up and State of the Fictionette report.

As you know (Bob), the Friday Fictionette project is a short-short story subscription service powered by Patreon. Every first through fourth Friday I release a brand-new, never-before-seen short-story-like object in the range of 850 to 1,200 words, which Patrons get to read (or listen to, depending on their pledge tier) as soon as they are released, and one of which per month everybody gets to read or listen to at the end of the month regardless of whether they subscribe. Here's the round-up of the Fictionettes released in June 2020:

Friday, June 5, 2020: "README.txt" (ebook | audio) In which an AI undertakes to save the world.

Friday, June 12, 2020: "The Innkeeper's Curse" (ebook | audio) In which things are exactly what they seem, and knights are a pain in the butt.

Friday, June 19, 2020: "The Lab Rat" (ebook | audio) In which immortality, in the wrong hands, can be a curse.

Friday, June 26, 2020: "The Piano and Her Boy" (ebook: | audio) In which a child of privilege gains an unusual friend and good influence.

The Fictionette Freebie for June 2020 is "The Piano and Her Boy". You can use the links above to go straight to the format of your choice and check it out.

Fictionette production of late has been remarkably stress-free. I spent the entire month of June two days ahead of schedule. I would have liked to be a week ahead of schedule, but constantly uploading them on Wednesday for scheduled release on Friday provided enough advance time buffer to keep me relaxed about the whole thing. The less deadline panic in my life, the better.

Now, speaking of deadline panic, I lost a day last week when I was pushing everything to the side in order to get that short story written and submitted. Which, because of that two-day buffer, meant I uploaded July 3rd's Fictionette on Thursday rather than Friday. Which is a lot better than during the weekend following. Which only goes to show how awesome having an advance-time buffer is. I hope to upload this week's release on Thursday as well--and then steadily increase that buffer over the next few months until I'm a week ahead.

I might succeed sooner rather than later! July 2020 is a month with a fifth Friday in it, which means a week with no Fictionette due. Maybe this time I'll actually use it to add substantially to the buffer.

Meanwhile, I'm poking at this whole "take a past Fictionette and create a full-length story out of it" thing again. I had a freewriting prompt that reminded me of the otherworldly saurian detectives from last year's "Love in the Time of Lizard People." Turns out, there's another young couple in that town who have their own reasons for not wanting telepathic police to pick through their brains. I could see their story multithreading along with Bob's story and several others around the core incident of the lizards' appearance and the diner's disappearance, and, oh, anyway, it's kind of exciting. I sort of want to hit it right now.

But I have a flash rewrite to get through first, because another submission window I want in on closes on the 15th. Don't worry--I should be done well in time to avoid Emergency Short Story Boot Camp.

And with that, my writing day comes to an end, and I'm off to Longmont for a bit of safe, face-masked, socially distant roller skating. 'Til next post!

stop being so indecisive just pick yer poison already
Thu 2020-07-02 17:27:33 (single post)

My writing process is inconsistent. My writing needs are inconsistent. I'm going to whine about that now.

Getting back to Tuesday's lament: I wrote a 5K-word story more or less over 48 hours, submitted it Tuesday afternoon, then crashed hard. On Wednesday, I sort of puttered along at half-speed, getting about half my expected workload done. And if there's one huge takeaway I'm taking away from the experience, it's this: that's not sustainable.

Hence my goal of doing a little revision every day in July.

But I can't get away from how well Emergency Short Story Boot Camp worked. I don't just mean that it got written. I mean, there was an immersive quality to the effort that helped it get written. I lived inside that story all day, watching the characters interact, looking closely at pieces of their world, learning by trial and error the rules, such as they were, of the magic they manipulated. And it was magic for me, too.

It was just stressy as all hell, is all.

I find myself going back and forth between two different writers' blog posts concerning the words-per-day question. I don't really judge my output in terms of words per day, though I do track them; I also track hours spent writing, and I structure my writing day around a list of defined tasks I hope to accomplish or at least make progress on. But words-per-day makes a useful generic shorthand for all the different ways one might quantify the daily writing process. And in terms of words per day, these two blog posts I'm thinking of are talking about very different totals.

The first post is Tobias Buckell's "How Much Should You Write Every Day?" To be clear, that's a question he doesn't actually answer. He's not here to tell you how much you should write every day; rather, he describes how he figured out how much he should write every day, at least at this current point in his life. The answer he came up with was 500 words. Just that. 500 words of fiction every day. Only 500 words. But every day. It's a daily amount that allows for a healthy work-life balance, and, given a long enough run-up time, it's a sustainable pace at which to approach a deadline.

The post really resonated with me. Buckell describes periods during college when he'd binge several multi-thousand-word days and then spend the next couple days utterly collapsed--and I have been there. He describes deadline-oriented sprints followed by utter exhaustion--hoo yes. The slow but steady march of a defined and reasonable daily goal toward a finished project with "no drama" makes so much sense to me.

There's also the benefit of having "percolation time" built into the schedule. I can't just sit down at the desk and type until the story's done. I need nights spent thinking about the story as I fall asleep, long walks talking to myself about the plot, maybe even an hour in the bathtub trying to write the next scene out loud. There was a point Tuesday when, climax scene written and only the denouement left to go, I actively needed a fifteen-minute walk-and-talk session to clarify for myself what that denouement should accomplish, but I didn't have time. The submission portal was going to close in an hour. So I had to do my best hammering it out at the keyboard. The results were acceptable, but I think they suffered for the lack of walk-and-talk. A slow-but-steady pace would have allowed for lots of walk-and-talk, lots of hypnagogic brainstorming, lots of opportunities to dream and wake up and go "a-ha!"

But I'm still worried about this daily sessions in July thing. See, I've tried a similar process before: I spent a month holding myself to a daily 25-minute session of creating/revising/polishing the work in progress. And I succeeded at holding those 25-minute sessions fairly regularly. But I didn't seem to get anywhere. Why?

So here's the second blog post I keep coming back to: Kameron Hurley's "Life on 10,000 Words a Day: How I’m Hacking My Writing Process." She describes not writing a little every day, but rather writing a hell of a lot every Saturday. For her, a daily bite of time isn't conducive to that immersive waking trance she needs for writing novels. But with a dedicated six-hour block scheduled during an ideal time of day and in an ideal environment, she gets shit done.

And that resonates with me, too. It speaks to why 25 minutes a day, or even an hour a day, fails to move the meter on my work in progress. Having the freedom-slash-obligation to spend six hours Tuesday doing nothing but writing that story made the story happen in a way that half an hour a day had not.

Could I work that way on the regular? It sounds kind of thrilling, but also kind of exhausting. I don't typically choose to do just one thing over such a long period of time; the thought rather terrifies me. I'm not sure how much of that is me being hard-wired for multi-tasking, and how much of it is my just never having built up that kind of marathon-runner stamina.

Then there's a practical problem: I have too many things I want to do with my work-week--hell, with my work-day--to feel like such a single-purpose day is a good idea. I'm not willing to sacrifice my daily freewriting sessions; that's my time to get warmed up for the day and come up with story ideas. I don't want to fall behind on the Friday Fictionette project; I most certainly don't want to cancel it. Meanwhile, I have multiple stories in the revision queue at all times and I want to finally publish a gods-damned novel! And then there are all those non-writing obligations that life demands. How do I get everything done?

Tallying it all up: I don't want any one writing task to monopolize my day. I want to spend a little time on each of the things every day. But I don't want to work on a project for so little time at a time that I get nowhere at all. And I definitely don't want to keep putting myself through the last-minute panic production process.

I suspect I'm not going to find the One True Answer. If there is a One True Answer, I suspect it will involve staying flexible about what the One True Answer is for any given day, week, or work in progress.

Writing process! What is it even? Well. I'm working on it. TBD.

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