“Times of great failure or times of great success, the problem is the same (how do you keep going?) and the solution is the same: You write the next thing.”
Neil Gaiman

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

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.

no. it won't be enough. do it anyway.
Thu 2020-06-18 01:31:52 (single post)

OK, so, political thoughts I've been having. It starts with an anecdote about my Mom. And it's not a particularly positive anecdote, so I should probably start with the acknowledgement that in many ways, she was a wonderful person. But people are complicated, and there's a thing she did that wasn't so great.

When I was a teenager, I levied my share of teenager complaints against Mom. As teenagers do. And, because I was a teenager, some of those complaints were bullshit, reflecting nothing more than the muddled mess of heightened emotion and solipsism that teenagers can be prone to. But, because I was also an intelligent young adult who was rapidly acquiring tools for critical thinking and was very aware of the world around me, some of those complaints were spot on.

My Mom had the same stock reaction to all complaints. "Yes, you're right. I'm a horrible mother." These words would be followed by a smug grin as she turned her back on me. Sometimes, if I protested, she'd repeat those words louder (to drown me out) and smile even more widely and twice as smugly. The main implication was clear: any complaints I had were by definition illegitimate, because I was the one making them, because I was making them about her. The only appropriate reaction, she thought, was to ridicule my complaints as absurd on their face using this kind of hyperbolic reductio ad absurdum. "Yes, you're right. I'm a terrible parent. There's the phone; go ahead and call Child Protective Services."

But there was another implication behind this response. "The fact that you are complaining about me means you think I'm a horrible parent. And you will always think I'm a horrible parent, no matter what I do. Therefore I am not going to bother trying to convince you otherwise."

I suspect Mom was always anxious about whether she was being a good mother, so this knee-jerk dismissal of any criticism from me was in some part misguided self-defense. Misguided, because I wasn't the one calling her a horrible parent. The fact that I had a criticism or complaint didn't mean I thought she was a terrible person or a bad mother. It just meant I thought she'd done or said something fucked up and please don't, OK? (Or it meant that I thought it was terribly unfair that she wouldn't let me borrow the car to drive myself to the French Quarter, or that she'd forbidden me to take a job as a pizza delivery driver. Like I said, I was a teenager.)

(To be clear, I know she was anxious about whether she was a good mother. In those months after she'd lost a lot of her vocabulary and cognitive function but was still living at home and able to hold conversations, that's one of the last questions she asked me: "Was I a good mother?" The part I can only suspect, but can't ever know for sure, is that her habit of dismissing my complaints with ridicule stemmed from that anxiety.)

So keep that anecdote in mind while I seemingly change the subject.

Not long ago, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America issued a statement in response to George Floyd's murder, in solidarity with the protests, and in support of #BlackLivesMatter. In that statement, signed unanimously by SFWA's Board of Directors, the organization acknowledged the need to act, admitted their responsibility for having been part of the problem, and outlined a list of first step actions they were committing to immediately.

Now, those first step actions were primarily financial in nature. To me, that scanned. A similar conversation had been going on in the roller derby community, wherein skaters of color were pointing out that the sport's cost of entry was a disproportionately greater barrier to them than to white skaters simply because poverty and race are so inextricably linked. So roller derby leagues began talking about things they could do to address this.

And these were just first steps. Meanwhile, SFWA's statement included a list of educational resources for those looking for ways to help and a list of organizations to support with one's time, money, energy, and signal-boosting power. They ended with a further call to action, and with a link to the organization's email address so readers could share further how-to-help suggestions.

As a SFWA member, I was feeling kinda proud. My organization was being proactive and trying to help! They were fighting the good fight! And I, with my drop-in-the-bucket membership fees, was a small part of that! Yay!

Not long after, I read this response on twitter:

Jennifer Marie Brissett @jennbrissett Jun 4 How about dealing with the fact that several of SWFA approved magazines STILL have 0% black writers in them -- an issue brought to your attention YEARS ago by myself and others and the #BlackSpecFic Reports? Black ppl don't want your charity. We want equal and fair treatment.

And this is why I wanted you to keep that anecdote about Mom in the back of your mind. Because this is where I have personally witnessed a bunch of white people doing kind of the same thing she did.

Maybe it's because they're genuinely anxious about whether they're being good allies, and people are hardly at their best when they act out of their insecurities. Or maybe it's because they never really were allies in good faith anyway, and they're pouncing on an opportunity to let themselves off the hook. For whatever reason, this is where they throw up their hands and say things like, "See? It doesn't matter what we do! It's never good enough! Why should we even try?"

In many cases, what's going on is, these white people are looking for that One Neat Trick to end racism, so that they can perform that trick, pat themselves on the back, cash in their ally chips, and go back to Not Thinking About It. (You will recall that Not Thinking About It is one of the privileges of being white.) So they are asking Black people to all get together and make up their minds about what that One Neat Trick is. And then, when different Black people have different answers, these would-be allies want to know which Black people to listen to. Who's right? Who's wrong? Who's got the One Right Trick and who can be safely ignored?

That's no way to be an ally.

Brisset isn't wrong. If SFWA sponsors Nebula Convention registrations for Black writers and donates to the Carl Brandon Society, but doesn't leverage their influence in the industry hard for greater Black inclusion in SFF publishing (not to mention equal payment!), then they're ignoring a huge part of the good that's in their power to do.

On the other hand, SFWA isn't wrong to take those financial first steps. Racial economic disparity is a very real problem. And the Black writers who are pointing out that very real problem--along with skaters of color in the roller derby version of this conversation--aren't wrong either.

But it would be wrong to mistake the economic symptoms for the whole of the disease. It would be wrong to think that once you've thrown money at the problem, the problem's solved. And it would be wrong to stop with monetary solutions when you have it in your power to do so much more.

Here's the thing: People of color are not a monolith. No one color demographic is a monolith, either. At any given time, different individuals will each face a different subset of that hydra-headed beast that is systemic racism. So they won't all have the same answer to "How can I help?"

And that beast is old. It's older than the U.S. and it's got its paws all over the nation's history and it's still got a hand in writing the nation's future. It came over with the smallpox blankets, and it came over with the slave traders. It staffed desks at Ellis Island, where it sliced people's hair off, made them throw away precious possessions, and fucked up their names. It "reeducated" Native kids. It wielded whips and firehoses and attack dogs and nooses. It's doing it still. It's throwing children into cages without benefit of soap, toothbrush, or face mask, and it's deporting those children's parents. It's shooting Black men for such heinous crimes as carrying a bag of Skittles or being found sleeping in a car.

It's been doing all these things and more for centuries. It's still at it. Where do white people get off thinking they can stop it cold with One Neat Trick, preferably performed in fifteen minutes or less?

Look. Y'all. You're partly right. Whatever you do, it won't be enough. That is because the problem is bigger and older than you. No one individual will slay the beast alone; no one entity can subdue it over the course of a single lifetime. And that's no reason to throw up your hands and storm off in a huff--that's precisely why doing whatever you can matters. What's important is not being the hero that single-handedly slays the beast (my, how we white folks love to center ourselves in the narrative! How angry we get when the story's not about us!) but contributing whatever you've got to the fight that eventually takes the beast down. And you contribute not, pace me several paragraphs ago, to puff yourself up with pride over having fought, but to hasten the day the beast goes down, because that is the priority.

Let's bring science fiction back into it with one more metaphor. You know about generation ships? A large community takes off on an interstellar journey of hundreds, maybe thousands of years. Space is big, and we don't go so fast. The people who board the ship on Earth will be many generations dead by the time the journey ends. But do any of them throw a fit for that reason and declare the journey not worth making? They do not. They celebrate the future arrival of their descendants, and they do whatever's in their power to make sure it happens. While they live and work as members of both a community and a starship's crew, they do their part to keep that ship on course.

Unless I am very much surprised, none of us, not me writing this post in June 2020 nor you reading it, will get to live in a post-racist society. There's light-years still to go. But while we crew this ship of Earth, we can contribute the level best we've got to keep its vector of travel bending toward justice, so that some generation to follow ours can reach that destination.

So, yeah. Do what you can to help. Listen to the people you're trying to help, because they're the authorities on whether you're actually helping. Realize different people will be focused on different parts of the problem, and none of them are necessarily wrong. Accept criticism with good grace. Accept that even if you do everything "right," it won't be "enough." Do it anyway.

...And that's what I've been thinking about these past couple weeks.

because silence is not a solution
Thu 2020-06-04 14:46:41 (single post)

I'm sorry. I've been part of the problem.

I've been angry--furious--but feeling so helpless because it's like every goddamn week someone gets murdered by the police for the "crime" of existing in public while black and people rightly protesting this are being met with excessive police force and there are white assholes destroying shit under cover of the protests because while it is a FACT that "a riot is the language of the unheard" (thank you MLK) it's so goddamn easy for malign actors to coopt riot conditions to do shit like burn down bookstores and then yell "but antifa did it" and, what the hell, does anyone really need me to explain why I'm feeling angry and helpless? Seriously?

And I've been thinking, "I'm a writer, I should goddamn write something, what else am I here for?" But then I think, "I'm a fucking privileged well-off cis white woman, who am I to speak?" And then I think, "Well, leverage the shit out of your privilege and SAY SOMETHING," and then I think, "What the fuck can I say that doesn't sound like cheap token virtue-signalling performative hashtag so-called allyship?"

And so the anger turns inward and the helplessness overwhelms and it turns out my natural instinct is to turtle down. Just hide away in my own petty personal triumphs and tragedies, keep my mouth shut on anything substantial, and wait for the storm to pass.

And, wow, isn't that a big ol' sign of my white privilege all blindingly strobing neon? "I'm overwhelmed, so I won't think about it." White privilege is what allows me to go through life only thinking about issues facing people of color when I choose to, when I'm strong enough to, when I feel it would be useful. POC don't get to choose not to think about it, any more than I get to choose not to think about issues facing women. You don't get to choose not to think about the issues you're living. The world tends to shove those issues down your throat at every opportunity.

And it turns out that while anti-racism can't begin and end with a hashtag, and performative allyship is deadly, silence isn't any better.

Here's a thing--here is a huge stonking hypocritical thing:

I've recently been dealing with an emotional upset regarding a small online gaming community I've been part of. The member who said something misogynist and then doubled down when called on it was only the inciting incident, upsetting enough in the moment but not in itself the thing that's caused me to go on hiatus from that group's activities. No, the sustaining emotional upset came from the way the rest of the community handled it. A few community members moved very quickly into Missing Stair Defense mode--oh, I know them personally, they don't mean anything by it, they're going through some personal stuff, I promise this is totally unlike them--and that's a huge red flag. An individual asshole can stop being an asshole, or they can leave the community; but a community with a pattern of Asshole Advocacy has a serious problem with how it enacts community.

But worse than the Asshole Advocacy is the utter silence with which the whole group initially responded to my protest. Me, out loud in voice chat: "Hey, I'm not comfortable with [person] tossing misogynist slurs around casually like that." Them: CRICKETS. The Asshole Advocacy only came after I pushed back by repeating myself into the deafening silence--and that wasn't easy, let me tell you. And that's the major reason I continue to be on hiatus from that group despite certain members reaching out to me and telling me they've talked to the offender who feels super bad about it and promises it won't happen again. Because silence like that tells a body, "They don't have your back. You can't trust them. It will happen again, and this is how they will respond."

Yeah, so. Flash forward to today. Me, checking in with another social group's online communications hub for the first time in about a week. And reading post after post of people, primarily POC, saying, "I'm out, y'all. I've been waiting for someone to say something about George Floyd and the protests and #blacklivesmatter, but the silence has been deafening and I no longer feel safe here."

I'm ashamed. I'm a goddamned hypocrite and I'm ashamed.

So I'm not going to be silent anymore. Maybe I feel helpless and overwhelmed, but I can't let that be a reason to stay silent, when other people maybe also feel even more helpless and overwhelmed and also in fear of their lives. I've been proceeding from the somewhat unconscious assumption that these are issues affecting other communities, not mine; events happening in other states, not the one I live in; stuff going on outside my door, which I can close and lock while I hunker down inside the house and ignore the world. And I need to stop doing that. I needed to stop doing that yesterday, or more like two weeks ago.

I still don't know what, effectively, I should say, what I can do, but I'm going to move forward with the intent to fucking learn. Seek, learn, implement. There are quiet things a person can do: donate money to activist organizations, write Postcards to Voters, send letters to government officials. There a personal things a person can do: check in with friends who are directly affected, offer help.

And there are public things a person can do, like write a blog post like this one, admitting fault and asserting the intent to get better. Yeah, maybe it's still a species of performative allyship and hashtag activism, maybe it makes me look like yet another self-centered white person exercising my guilt and making it all about me. I don't know. I have to risk that, because silence is worse. Silence tells my friends that I don't have their backs and they can't trust me. Speaking, I might fuck up, but if I fuck up, at least I can learn from the fuck-up and do better.

#BlackLivesMatter is very easy to say, and yes, a lot of (predominately white) people consider their job done once they've said it. But it's even easier not to say it at all. Activism can't end there, sure. But it's a place to start.

So I'm speaking. And I'm sorry.

This blog isn't going to stop being my actually writing blog, primarily concerned with those personal and petty triumphs and travails to do with one woman's writing life. I also reserve the right to squee about fountain pens, geek out over video games and books and TV shows, and whine about first world problems. But this blog is going to stop totally avoiding matters of substance, because that's no way to live.

Friends: Stay safe out there. Or don't. Take big risks in the name of justice. Know that I love you. And I've got your back.

if you need permission you have my permission
Mon 2020-06-01 17:16:32 (single post)

I have a thing to say. Kind of a manifesto. Mostly it's something I wanted to say in reply to someone else on Twitter, only I do not have the energy or free time to pursue a Twitter feud, and also 280 characters is insufficient.

But. By way of preamble, let me recommend you a Patreon creator to follow. My colleague Jason Sanford, a prolific writer of short speculative fiction, follows the SF publishing world closely and shares his findings in a regular newsletter, the Genre Grapevine. Those posts are free to the public, but they represent a huge outlay of effort and energy on his part, so if you find them useful, it'd be keen of you to send him a few bucks each month.

The Genre Grapevine covers a wide breadth of items, from the super-serious and important to the humorous yet arguably just as important. What I'm reacting to here falls into the latter category. In the most recent newsletter, there's a link to a tweet highlighting an egregious and highly facepalm-worthy specimen of Men Writing Woman badly. In case you have any trouble reading the text in the photo, or you'd just prefer not to click through to the original tweet, I quote the relevant excerpt here. (There will be a brief pause afterward, in which I will attempt to clean the slime off my keyboard. You're welcome.)

...cuffed, strangled with a bathrobe belt. A troubled young woman walking toward the abyss of destruction. She had had beautiful breasts as well.

Aomame mourned the deaths of these two friends deeply. It saddened her to think that these women were forever gone from the world. And she mourned their lovely breasts--breasts that had vanished without a trace.

This is an excerpt from 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. It is not a parody. Judging by some of the links tweeted in reply, it's also not the only book in which his female characters are totally, unrealistically, and laughably obsessed with breasts.

But I am not here to critique Murakami's novels. I have not read Murakami's novels; nor do I plan to. I am here, instead, to critique a very specific phenomenon that occurs in connection to negative critiques of novels. Let me pull a couple tweets out of the reply thread for you to give an example of what I mean...

@CodaReadsalot (10:21 AM May 27) This book is on my “to read” shelf and I am concerned now. I have not read any of his work because it struck me that he does not understand women at all. This is not helping.

@RobinCorrigan84 (12:52 PM May 27) How will you ever know, if you don't read any of his work?

My instinctive response, which I valiantly refrained from posting on Twitter, is this: I won't know. I will go on in ignorance. And somehow I will survive. Mostly by reading books I actually enjoy.

Here's the deal: There are a lot of books in this world. There are more books than you can read in your lifetime. Every book you choose to read represents a book you won't get to read. Ever.

So why should anyone other than you get to choose how you spend your finite reading time?

You get to make that decision, based on whatever the hell you want. You can decide, if you want, never to read another book by an author whose last name ends in a Y. Or even an F! (I'll be sad, but I will support your decision, because it is yours.) You can certainly decide not to read a book based on an excerpt such as the above. However out of context that excerpt might be, it exists! In that book! If you would rather take the time you would have spent reading that book, and instead read a book in which such excerpts do not exist--books by men who don't insert weirdly male-gaze-a-licious boob-fetishization into their female characters' inner narratives--you can do that! The world does not lack for such books! Nor indeed does it lack for books written by women! You could so easily spend an entire reading career never reading a single book with an "also she mourned their boobs" moment. It's easy!

It's your life. You only get so many hours on this Earth. Regarding those you spend reading for pleasure, you have the unilateral right to decide which books are worthy of those hours, and which are not. No other human being on this planet has the right to browbeat you into reading something you don't enjoy by mealy-mouthing some smarm about "what a shame to deprive yourself of such a work of genius for no better reason than petty identity politics" or other high-handed nonsense. If you need a counter argument, here's mine: What a shame to deprive yourself of books you might enjoy, because you spent that time instead reading works you didn't enjoy out of some sense of duty toward someone else's literary opinions?

I mean, this is why I'm not wasting time getting into fights with smarmy, mealy-mouthed, high-handed bullies on Twitter. Also not wasting my time reading Murakami's novels. And if by doing so I am depriving myself of an important experience, that's OK. I'll be over here having other important experiences, thanks.

(For instance, I still haven't read N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy. WHY?! Talk about depriving myself! And I'm still working my way simultaneously through Martha Well's Books of the Raksura AND ALSO her Murderbot Diaries. And Ann Leckie's Provenance is still sitting on the shelf, mocking me. TOO MANY BOOKS TOO LITTLE TIME AAAAAAAGH!)

not that 2020 is done paying off its debt you understand
Tue 2020-01-28 23:54:16 (single post)

Hey, look, it's tomorrow, and I'm dang well writing a blog post. And I'm going to start it off with more maddeningly vague news of a celebratory nature: Today's email included two rejections (one a form and one personal) AND ONE ACCEPTANCE. That's three acceptances in a single month and I'm starting to wonder when the other shoe will drop.

Maybe it already has dropped. I mean, just for example, if you're a Rush fan--and I'm a huge one--January got off to a rocky start, to say the least. (I don't feel I can blog about Neil Peart's passing yet. Maybe not ever. It's too big and sad, and others have said anything I could have said about it much more eloquently.) And if you're a sports fan, you just got some pretty terrible news this weekend about Kobe Bryant. The year 2020 is being totally tactless about how it hands out its good and bad news, just utterly failing to read the room. "Hey, so, don't be mad, but I killed off one of your lifelong heroes. Sorry, kid. Everyone dies eventually. But, hey! I'm making sure you get a ton of stuff published! So... we still cool?"

2020: The year of Really Good Stuff and Really Bad Stuff. Just like every other year in human history, I guess. I hope others affected by the Really Bad Stuff have some Good Stuff of their own to balance things out and make the Bad Stuff easier to bear. Because 2020 owes all of us a goddamn debt, right? Let's make it pay through the nose.

So, OK. This post was supposed to focus on the Good Stuff, so let's do that.

My two big fiction sales in 2019 were reprints, and I was glad of them, but they did leave me wondering if I'd ever write any publishable prose ever again. The flurry of poetry successes isn't to be sneezed at, true! But short stories are where my heart lives, and I began to doubt whether that love was requited. Then came the sales to Daily Science Fiction and Cast of Wonders, which made me do the Happy Dance Incessant! And yet those were pieces written in 2014 and 2018, respectively. What if I just... never wrote anything good again? What if I was doomed to sub and resub the same stable of stories, either placing them or trunking them ("trunking" is filing a story away as unpublishable and not submitting it anywhere anymore), maybe reprinting a few, but never successfully finishing new publishable works again?

(I believe that cognitive behavioral therapy calls this "catastrophizing." I'm kinda prone to it, if you hadn't noticed.)

So, hey, turns out that's not the case. The story that just now today got accepted for publication was written in its entirety during the first week of January. Hm. Well. "First week" is overstating things. I'd say 90% of the drafting and all of the editing was done on deadline day, because me and responsible adult time management are hardly ever in the same room and also not on speaking terms. I stayed home from roller derby practice to finish it, which meant I finished it Under Pain of Regret--I'd have desperately regretted skipping practice and not had a story submission to show for it. But I did finish it, I did submit it, I felt good about it, and I went to bed hardly regretting the lack of skating in the previous 24 hours at all.

And now that story's been accepted, which not only makes me feel that much less guilty about skipping practice that night, but also helps to reassure me that, there, Niki, you see, you can still write new stuff and get it published! Look at you, writing and selling new stuff like a real goddamn writer and everything!

I'm also pretty pleased because one of the hardest things to do is take a story that was specifically written to a particular market's theme and then try to sell it somewhere else. I'm still kind of annoyed with myself for failing to revise that old bringing-potato-salad-to-the-cult-meeting story in time to submit it to Galactic Stew, and that theme was just "spec fic in which food is important." This theme was much more specific. You just know that the editors at all the other markets are going to be like, "Ye Gods, not another story about Kangaroos from Alpha Centauri! Rejections must be going out for the Marsupials in Space anthology. *facepalm*" (Note: My story was not about Kangaroos from Alpha Centauri. If you like the idea of a Marsupials in Space anthology, feel free to Kickstart it yourself, because I don't think it actually exists. Yet.) For this reason the Clarkesworld guidelines list "stories written for someone else's theme anthology or issue" among their hard sells. So I'm rather relieved not to have to worry about a new home for my very specifically themed story at this time.

OK, so, well, that was a heck of a lot of blog post to write about something I'm not even sharing useful details about yet. Hi. This is my brain. I hope you've enjoyed your visit. MORE LATER. Good night!

ah that new writing group smell
Wed 2019-09-11 22:18:11 (single post)

It would appear I am in a writing group again. An honest-to-gosh manuscript-exchange-and-critique group! We have had ONE MEETING so far and I am EXCITE.

This one came about because a colleague on Codex who is also soon to be a fellow Viable Paradise alum decided they strongly enough wanted a writing group to be willing to do the heavy lifting required to set one up. Which is to say: recruiting for it, organizing it, making executive decisions where necessary, and facilitating more consensual decisions where feasible. Also being willing to play the role of Heavy-handed Moderator should that turn out to be a Thing.

This is the sort of heavy lifting I personally have not had the wherewithal to even consider doing lately, and I'm grateful they took it on. And I'm grateful I was active in one of the online communities where they were recruiting. Because I miss being in a writing group and now I am in one. Hooray!

I haven't been in writing group since, oh, 2011? 2012? Not regularly, in any case. I tried! But mostly all I did was collect a series of less-than-ideal experiences with writing-related MeetUp groups that turned out to be, as the typical rejection letter puts it, not a good fit for our needs at this time.

In one case, the group fizzled soon after our first manuscript exchange. I think we must have had wildly different expectations regarding critiques.

In another, the critique process was, on a purely mechanistic level, and in my not-so-humble opinion, doomed. There were two hours during which some thirty-five members were each to take their turn commenting, at length, on a full-length short story, which the author had read aloud earlier in the meeting. And this was supposed to happen twice in those two hours. Just, how?

In yet another, I was one of the very few speculative fiction authors in a group mostly dedicated to literary fiction, creative non-fiction, and journaling. Complete mismatch of goals, yes, but also complete mismatch of reading protocols, which is guaranteed to get in the way of giving each other helpful critiques.

And then there was that one group where the facilitator brought in all these exciting guest speakers! Authors of popular self-published books! Who gave us really questionable publishing advice and held terribly hostile opinions of "traditional publishing." Y'all, I had not signed up for two hours of correcting misconceptions and defending friends and colleagues in the publishing industry.

(In later years I found out, via the magic of Facebook birthday fundraisers, that the facilitator of one of these not-for-me groups was a confirmed anti-vaxxer. This rather saddened me and confirmed my reluctance to take their advice on anything at all, be it medical, literary, or other.)

This new group is a much better fit. Its founder was deliberate about where they solicited members. We are a group of seven spec-fic neo-pros looking to improve our craft and publish more fiction at paying markets, fully in the spirit of the Viable Paradise Oath. We had our first online meeting via a Discord channel on Tuesday. During that hour and a half, we hashed out critique format, decided on a preliminary schedule, shared our goals, and talked a little shop. I'm looking forward to sharing with them the story I'm currently revising, whenever the draft-in-progress is complete and polished up. In a month, maybe? Hopefully? If the inch or two I moved it along today is not indicative of the next few weeks? Please?

Anyway. Writing group! I am excite.

Cover art incorporates and modifies vector images from Pixabay.
look it's a thing it's a very late thing but it's a thing
Thu 2019-06-27 23:34:13 (single post)
  • 1,200 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,129 words (if poetry, lines) long

Hark! An overdue Friday Fictionette rises over yon horizon. It's "Love in the Time of Lizard People," nominally the release for June 14, and it has a little to do with the trustworthiness of telepathic aliens but a lot more to do with the trustworthiness of your bar buddy. Patrons at the $1 level can download the ebook in any of several formats. Patrons at the $3 level can download the audiobook too.

I'm-a work on the June 21 release tomorrow, but, knowing me and Fridays, it's more realistic to expect it out Saturday evening. After that I'm going to try for June 28 by no later than Monday. PROMISES PROMISES.

In other news, did you know that an interactive fiction piece about a portal-hopping protagonist need not have all, or indeed any, of its choices be about which portal to hop through? I am just figuring this out. Having figured this out, I am now having a surprisingly enjoyable time with the rewrite.

piece of childhood reclaimed or something like that
Tue 2019-06-11 23:41:28 (single post)
  • 55 words (if poetry, lines) long

I've been writing poems again. It feels good.

I used write poems a lot when I was in school. I mean, elementary school. When I was wee. Maybe that was the problem--as I got older, I associated the writing of poems with the production of the specific caliber of poem I wrote when I was just learning how to do creative writing at all. So maybe I got more embarrassed about it as I got older. Maybe I never felt confident in my sense of what made a poem good. But I could always tell when one of my poems was bad. I'd read it and cringe; that was how I knew.

But at least in high school and thereabouts I had teachers and other students giving me feedback. I had other people giving me the feedback I couldn't give myself, which is to say, they told me if they thought it was good. (I will always treasure the time a teacher told me, "Your poems almost always have that moment toward the end that makes me gasp." Not primarily because it was a high compliment--it was!--but because she had put her finger on something that makes a reader like a poem. She gave me a yardstick I could use. I learned to look for those "gasp" moments after that, though as always it's harder to give them to myself than to get them from others' poems.)

After I got more exclusively into short fiction workshops, I got out of the habit of writing poetry.

It may also be true that when I no longer had a regular writing workshop, I temporarily got out of the habit of writing short fiction.

I'm making headway getting back into both habits now. I'm dedicating a little time every workday to coaxing a manuscript toward publishable shape. And I dedicate one freewriting session every week specifically to poetry. I've been using the weekly poetry prompts on the Poets & Writers blog when they come out on Tuesdays, and I'm responding to them in verse. Maybe bad verse, I don't know. Maybe I'm choosing my line breaks in a sophomoric manner or falling back on cliched metaphors. Maybe there isn't enough sensory data to captivate a reader. Maybe the themes are preachy. But I don't know--that's the point. If I don't feel like I have a grasp on what makes a poem good, maybe I should be less self-assured in my sense of what makes a poems bad. Or at least, one of my poems. I generally know whether I like someone else's poem, and why.

Obviously I should be reading more poetry, too.

I'm certainly thinking in poetry a lot more now since I've dedicated Tuesday freewriting to verse. It'll sneak into my other freewriting days, too, right in there amidst the prose and the babble and the streams of consciousness along the lines of "I don't like this prompt and I don't know what I'm going to write but here are the thoughts I'm having right now."

And between yesterday and today I wrote a brand new poem. And I submitted it to a paying market. And that market turned right around and rejected it in under two hours flat. Which means I have a brand new poem that has already made a complete two-way trip to slush and back, and I can send it out again.

It feels good.

Meanwhile, I just got paid for the poem that got accepted last week. I'm told that means it will go live sometime next week. I'll be sure to let y'all know when that happens.

(Obligatory submissions tally: Submissions in June, 8; in 2019, 44. Rejections in June, 9; in 2019, 26.)

The Friday Fictionette for July 27, 2018 is belatedly available. Cover art incorporates original photography by the author.
the good news is we don't have to go deeper
Mon 2018-07-30 23:07:41 (single post)
  • 740 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 920 words (if poetry, lines) long

Today we're gonna talk about procrastination. Or, rather, avoidance; procrastination is merely a common visible symptom of avoidance, Avoidance that, in my case, leads to further avoidance. Contagious avoidance that infects previously unaffected tasks. Recursive avoidance. Self-referential avoidance. Meta avoidance.

(If you just said "Avoidance inception! We must go deeper!" then you need to go sit in the corner with a dictionary and think about what you've done. The popular Leonardo DiCaprio movie about dreams within dreams within dreams notwithstanding, all "inception" means is "the starting point." Also, when it comes to avoidance, no we must not go deeper. We do not ever want to go deeper. We'd kind of like to surface, please. Soonest. Thank you.)

The avoidance is made up of more avoidance. Hypothetical solutions to the avoidance get bitten by the avoidance bug. Take the task I'm avoiding apart into its component steps, and those steps into baby steps, and there's avoidance attached at every level, all the way down.

Avoidance, my friends, is fractal.

Here is how that works in my brain:

  1. There is a task I am avoiding.
  2. In an attempt to make myself stop avoiding it, I put it first on the day's to-do list. That means I have to do it in order to get to the rest of the day's work.
  3. Stupid monkey brain says, "So if you keep avoiding task number one, then you never have to do tasks two through fourteen, several of which you are also avoiding."

Ah, but I see that dynamic coming a mile away, and I want nothing to do with it. I flip things around! Back to front and upside down! But as it turns out, avoidance is not only recursive and contagious but also transitive and commutative:

  1. There is a task I am avoiding.
  2. In an attempt to salvage the rest of the day, I decide to do all the tasks I'm not avoiding first. That means at least something will get done. And maybe the uplift of "I did a thing!" will help me approach the much-avoided task at last.
  3. Stupid monkey brain says, "So if you don't do all the other tasks, you won't ever have to do the much-avoided task. You just won't ever get to it. The problem simply won't arise."
  4. Bonus: All the other tasks get tainted with the miasma of avoidance clinging to the much-avoided task. Now I have more much-avoided tasks.

If life were like a sudoku puzzle, the conclusion would be really depressing. See, there's this strategy for solving extremely difficult sudoku called "forcing chains." It can be summarized like so: Find a candidate in a cell and examine the consequences of it being the answer for that cell. Now examine the consequences of it not being the answer for that cell. If in both cases the same result obtains elsewhere in the puzzle, then you can confidently include that result in your solution. For instance, if a 5 in J9 forces E1 not to be a 6, and J9 not being a 5 also forces E1 not to be a 6, then you know that, whatever else may be the case, E1 simply can't be 6.

Likewise, in both the case where I put the much-avoided task first, and the case where I don't put the much-avoided task first, the same result obtains: NOTHING GETS DONE AND I SUCK. Therefore I should just resign myself to nothing getting done. And sucking.

Thank goodness life is not a sudoku puzzle.

PS. I finally uploaded the Friday Fictionette for July 27. It's "Highlights for Creator Gods." Ebook and HTML here, audiobook here. And if I am very good and it doesn't slip my mind, the freebie for July gets announced tomorrow.

PPS. I submitted another story today. I DON'T SUCK.

Cover art incorporates public domain image created by NASA
this fictionette had to make it up as it went along (and takes its waking slow)
Fri 2018-01-19 23:59:59 (single post)
  • 1,337 words (if poetry, lines) long

On time this week, by a hair. "The Education of Baby Rocket" (excerpt for all, ebook and audiobook for Patrons) is now available for your perusal. It's about fear, mostly, but also homesickness, and what exactly we mean by "home" in the first place.

I lost a 4thewords battle for the first time today. Let it be known: Not a single loss until Day 67! Lesson learned: I can do 800 words in half an hour easy if I'm drafting but not when I'm revising. Second lesson learned: No naps with a battle deadline less than two hours out, Mr. Rabbit. That's how Mr. Tortoise beat you, remember? Alternately, don't start a two-hour battle if you think you'll need a nap before you're done.

Speaking of lessons, sometimes I think a writing life primarily consists of learning not so much a long series of lessons over time but rather a small handful of lessons over and over again. This is probably true of life in general, come to think of it. But it's certainly true of writing.

Here's the lesson I had to relearn this week: I don't know what I'm writing until I've written it.

It's less that I forget it and have to relearn it, and more that I keep discovering situations where it's relevant. Still makes me feel stupid, though. Like, "Ohhhh! The swimming pool is wet! Because all water is wet. Dammit, I knew that."

This week, the application was, Because I don't know what I'm writing until I've written it, not knowing what to write isn't a reason not to write. Also, and very importantly, "I don't know what to write" is a perfectly cromulent first sentence to write on a brand new fresh blank page. It helps lube the word-making engine, and I can always erase it later.

It came up while I was working on the Author's Note for "The Education of Baby Rocket." Well. That's rather overstating things. It came up while I was staring at the blank new document upon which I had tasked myself with writing the Author's Note. Staring at a blank page is not conducive to getting the Friday Fictionette released on time, but that's what I was doing: Staring at a blank page and thinking, "I don't know what to write."

Fun fact: Thoughts circle around and chase their own tails, but words written down are done. No amount of thinking "I don't know what to write" was going to get me anywhere. But typing "I don't know what to write" allowed me to move on to another thought, another sentence. It sort of forced me to really observe and acknowledge what I was thinking, you know? Like Morning Pages do. "I don't know what I'm going to write for this, so I'm going to just babble until I figure it out. I'll start by telling myself the story of how the writing prompt turned into the first draft, although that's not enough for an Author's Note by itself because really there's only so many weeks in a row the Author's Note can be 'here's the prompt, and here's how I got from prompt to story idea to first draft to finished story'...."

And off I went for, oh, several paragraphs. Three or four at least. Then something went click. I knew what I was going to write because by then I had already written it. Now I just needed to tidy it up and then delete the bits of babble that wouldn't be part of it. Don't get me wrong; that babble was essential. As in the Buddhist metaphor, it was the little boat that got me across the wide river that had separated blank page from finished draft. But it had done its job. It was no longer needed. I could leave it behind me on the shore and walk away.

As the poet said, "I learn by going where I have to go." As another poet said, "We make it up as we go along." I don't really have much to add to that except to testify that it's true.