“When I write stories I am like someone who is in her own country, walking along streets that she has known since she was a child, between walls and trees that are hers.”
Natalie Goldberg

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

The Friday Fictionette Round-up for February 2021
Tue 2021-04-20 23:21:57 (single post)

Today isn't happening. There comes a time when I have to admit that today, as a productive writing work day, isn't happening. That time probably should have been somewhat sooner than ten-thirty at night, but here we are. But I said I was gonna do the Friday Fictionette round-up for February 2021, drat it all, and I'm gonna. So here we go.

February 5, 2021: "The Talk of the Town" (ebook, audio) In which one might say, "Be careful what you wish for," but really, how was he to know? "Perhaps something can be arranged. It's been a mammoth's age since I've attended a really good party."

February 12, 2021: "Out of His Heart, There Grew a Rose" (ebook, audio) In which the brambly variants growing on top of a couple of graves is the beginning and not the end of the story. Thorn had suffered all his life from a sense that the world was broken.

February 19, 2021: "Stranger at the Gates" (ebook, audio) In which we show hospitality and question local traditions. She couldn't just leave him to be the next ritual victim.

February 26, 2021: "What Came Out of the Forest" (ebook, audio) In which we reap the benefits of another spring thaw. "The wood's never sent us aught of harm before."

"Stranger at the Gates" is the Fictionette Freebie for February 2021, so you can download it in whatever format you like for free.

So the reason today didn't happen--it's not really a good enough reason, but it's the only reason I've got--is that the day started off with a physical therapy appointment that left me exhausted enough to go back to bed, where I stayed for entirely too long. After that, I never found the momentum to get back up to speed. I'm not happy about that and would like to do better.

However, I did contribute to bunny-proofing the bedroom sufficiently to let Holland be a little more free-range. He's been zooming around all this unaccustomed new space and poking his nose into strange corners. Imagine, if you will, a rabbit sticking his nose into a corner that's full of cobwebs. Imagine the state of his whiskers. Now imagine him cleaning those whiskers off with his front paws. Adorable.

I really want to tempt him up on top the bed with me. I have treats for him and everything. I don't expect him to make the jump from the floor, although I'm sure he's capable of it. Instead, I've moved his three-story cardboard house right up against the foot of the bed. All he has to do is climb up onto the top of the cardboard house and hop over to the bed from there. But the most he's done so far is stick his head up over the parapet, look at me, then sink down again. Ah, well. He'll get there eventually.

Here's hoping that tomorrow happens. It ought to. I can't see why it shouldn't.

looking for empowerment in an out-of-control world
Thu 2021-03-25 21:56:41 (single post)

So, my brain's a mess. It's a mess for a lot of reasons. At least one of them has made the national news--though I am fortunate to be only indirectly affected, which is to say, I live in Boulder, so it hit close to home, but I wasn't in or near the store at the time, and the only person who was there with whom I am acquainted got out unharmed. (Physically, at least. "Shaken up" doesn't begin to describe their state of mind.) So... I've been able to slowly piece my brain back together over the course of the week, enough to at least pretend to be an adult.

Part the brain-mess is more personal; I've had several medical appointments this week and they haven't yielded the uniform lack of news I'd been expected. There were several small unpleasant surprises I won't go into here. There was also one big discovery that has simultaneously shaken my concept of self and also explains quite a lot, which is this: my hips are out to get me. They have been plotting against me all my life, but the signs of their scheming only became impossible to ignore this week. (Honestly, the thing where my adductors were screaming at the end of roller derby practice late in 2019 was probably related. But I was led to believe by an unfortunately dismissive physical therapist that I just needed to do more leg lifts.)

Anyway. You know how we say "temporarily able-bodied"? Yeah, well, the end of that temporary period is suddenly looking a lot more real and tangible. It's still a ways off, but to keep it that way as much as possible I've got a new prescription to pick up and a new series of physical therapy to begin. (Not with the unfortunately dismissive PT, thank you very much. I want someone who'll take my aspirations to remain competitively athletic seriously, and not tell me, "Well, you are getting older, you have to realize it's normal to start losing some of your physical ability and mobility range..." The orthopedist I saw yesterday was very much not about that; nor, he assured me, are any of the PTs at the center he referred me to. He also told me to stop calling myself "an older athlete.")

Anyway, so, this week has been a mess and my brain has been a mess. Just as I started piecing my thoughts back together and wrestling myself through the motions, I had the ortho consult Wednesday and got super despondent about this whole deteriorating hips thing. Today's been OK. Slow, but OK. Still, it was important to remember that "write every day" isn't an ironclad rule, and for many of us isn't even a healthy aspiration.

My brain is also spattered with guilt over having submitted nothing whatsoever to Nightmare Magazine. After that defiant declaration last week, too! (That's the problem with keeping an actually writing blog for the sake of accountability. Sometimes I tell the world "I will do X!" and then I have to come back and tell the world, "I, er, didn't do X after all.")

I'd like to say it was because I looked soberly at my progress thus far and said to myself, "Self, if you're going to submit something to the Big Leagues, you need to be happy with where it's at, and you ain't happy about where these two pieces are at yet." I probably would have come to that conclusion, had I sat down to work on them Saturday. But I did not. I sat down to work on them Sunday afternoon instead, and discovered the point was moot because the submission period had closed at 12:01 AM.

Lesson learned: If you're going to work right up to the moment of deadline, it's vitally important to know when that moment is.

And, well, that's pretty much all I came here to say. This week has sucked on every level, and I am not feeling very accomplished. BUT. I have gotten some writing accomplished this week. It's not nothing. I am going to focus on that.

Also I have my first physical therapy appointment tomorrow morning bright and early, and that's almost sure to cheer me up. I mean, injuries both acute and chronic suck, but having an active role to play in the healing (or, in this case, the slowing of the inevitable deterioration) can feel remarkably empowering. So I'm looking forward to that.

the work goes slowly but nevertheless it goes
Thu 2021-03-18 21:11:51 (single post)
  • 2,810 words (if poetry, lines) long

Food content in today's blog post is going to be minimal because I'm in the middle of revisions, and revisions are hard, and I'm going to whine about that.

Also there isn't much to say about the food, beyond that 1. if you're going to substitute oysters for shrimp in this recipe, you probably need to account for the oysters being rather smaller than your average prawn to begin with and then shrinking as you fry them. Which is not to say they weren't delicious. I would happily eat a meal of nothing but those oysters in that fry prep and sauce, noodles optional. But that would be rather labor intensive what with the shucking and all, and I have kimchi plans for the rest of these oysters.

AND ALSO 2. if you are going to put the oyster brine into the dish, you have to subtract an equivalent amount of liquid from the recipe, or else you get a slightly soupier result. Unless you just cook it longer, in which case you might end up with overcooked noodles. One or the other. (Next time I think I'd sub the brine for the 2 tbl water in the cornstarch slurry.)

It was tasty, though. I ate it all. And that's all I have to say about that.

So. Revisions! I'm simultaneously revising two things, a poem and a short story, both of which I want to submit to Nightmare Magazine before their current open submission window closes on Sunday. And the work is going remarkably slowly.

In the case of the poem, it's mainly that I've got an image I am telling a very short story about in verse... and that's pretty much all I know. The rest is the problem of UNLIMITED CHOICE, and I'm having the darndest time deciding anything concrete. So I keep throwing words and phrases at the page, hoping that something will stick. There's a lot of uncertainty here. Today's session felt a bit more successful to the extent that I reduced the amount of uncertainty more than in previous sessions. Hooray. But sometimes poems come easily and sometimes they just suck, and this poem is definitely not an example of the former.

As for the story--ye gods, this story. It's got a major pacing problem. The tension tightens and tightens like a good horror story do, and then all of a sudden we end up at the end without having hit the anticipated turning-point-of-no-return. I've suspected it will take a new scene to fix it, but without any clue what that scene will look like or where it should go. So I've been putting that decision off, or, to put it more generously, laying the groundwork for making that decision, by doing line-level edits to the rest of the story. And it's working! I have a much better idea of what the new scene will look like! It will look like several new scenes.

Did I mention this thing needs to be submitted by Sunday? Argh.

I console myself with the indisputable fact that I have managed to find time and energy for revision sessions four whole days in a row. Four! And each of those sessions has brought non-trivial improvements to the story. So while it's easy to think I've spent all this week circling around the real problem without actually landing--because I'm a writer, right, and writers are by and large very good at talking smack about ourselves, and devaluing our own accomplishments, and catastrophizing about what we perceive as our failures--in truth, I really have been making progress.

But progress is happening so slowly.

Look, I'm going to submit something by Sunday, OK? One poem, one story. But I might keep revising them afterward, right? Because odds are they're going to get rejected so I can submit them again. That's not self-smack-talk! That's just sheer numeric probability, given how prestigious the market is, how few open slots they've got, and the skill and talent and artistry of the authors competing for those slots. Hell, even if I am fortunate enough to make a sale here, there will likely be a revisions phase. So basically, what I'm saying is, deadlines happen but the work continues.

For how long? Until I've decided it's enough, dang it. At which point, back to the reprint rewrite. Woo.

there's such a thing as overdoing it
Wed 2021-03-10 12:57:17 (single post)
  • 6,000 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 2,540 words (if poetry, lines) long

Ha. So remember that "long and deeply satisfying skating session" last week? Well, it turns out that when I kick my own butt skating for three hours straight, including over less than hospitable terrain (the sidewalks! OMG, the sidewalks on the east side of 28th Street! Whyyyyy?), and then the very next day I take part in an exceedingly ambitious 40-minute HIIT workshop that's heavy on the same muscles I wore out skating the day before, the result is several days of being pretty much good for nothing but whining.

I have been a little more cautious in my daily workout since.

I mean, I'm still trying to have a daily workout. That has been my goal for March. A year of no roller derby has meant fewer hours of physical activity per week, and lower-quality exercise when I do exercise because I'm not a particularly strict self-coach. My endurance has suffered, and so has my strength, both in terms of both ability and muscle mass/definition. I am a pathetic noodle during the league's Thursday night Zoom workouts. I've put on weight, and though weight is a number that never meant much to me before, it says something when that number's the highest it's ever been in my adult life. (I've never paid much attention to BMI either, except to note that it, like one's credit score, is a metric that is notorious for being misused, with malice aforethought, to make people's lives measurably worse. But realizing that my current BMI might qualify me for the COVID vaccine a little earlier than I had hitherto expected is just weird.) And my blood pressure, which metric does mean quite a lot to me, has been up a titch. So! Daily exercise is my current goal.

Yesterday's exercise was going to be skating, but I left it for too late, and now it's going to be snowing through the weekend. Yuck. So yesterday's exercise was an extremely modest amount of squats, sit-ups, crunches, knee-lifts, and leg-lifts. Like, fifteen minutes, all told. Not an impressive session. Enough to say there was a non-zero amount of exercise in the day, which is the main thing. Today will be similar. Then tomorrow, being a Thursday, will kick my butt again, but because I won't come to Thursday's workout with a pre-kicked butt, I should be functional the next day.

Which is all very much the long way of saying "No, I haven't gotten back to the revision of 'Lambing Season' yet, sorry." I'm going to put that sucker to the side for now, though, because I would very much like to have a horror original to send to Nightmare Magazine when it opens to all demographics for the week of the 14th. And I know just the story. I think I can get it revised in time, but I need to start today.

(Oh, look! They'll take poetry that week, too!)

Meanwhile, I promised you a recipe. Or a method. Or a something involving chicken, mushrooms, asparagus, and cream. Here, then, is that something.

Step One: Read this. Then put it away. We're not so much following a recipe as improvising on an idea. This recipe is the idea. Also preheat the oven to 350.

Step Two: The big cast-iron pan. Bacon in little chunks. Medium heat until greasy.

Step Three: Chicken breasts, liberally coated on both sides in LOTS of fresh ground pepper (seriously, this makes the dish) and a little salt, on top of the bacon. While they sear, sliced onions and mushrooms on top of that. Eventually, when that first side has cooked enough, flip the chicken, let the other side cook a bit. Then slice it into slices. Introduce those slices more thoroughly to the onions and mushrooms and also the heat.

Step Four: Now what? You want to boil some pasta, but your chicken onion mushroom mess is taking up the burner you want to use! Guess you'd better just shove that whole cast iron pan into the oven along with the crawfish bread. (The crawfish bread was why we preheated the oven in the first place.) Problem solved! Now boil up that pasta.

Step Five: While the pasta's cooking, check on the pan in the oven. Add some cream to the liquid being released from the mushrooms. It'll look a bit like cream of mushroom soup. That's fine. Let it boil down. When convenient, return the pan to the stovetop and the heat to medium-high. Add more cream if you want. It's sort of a balancing act between "is it thick enough" (no? cook it longer) and "is it creamy enough" (no? add cream). The flow chart also includes "can you wait any longer?" (no? eat it).

We are not worrying about the chicken. The chicken isn't getting overcooked or dry in this mess. The chicken is getting braised.

Step Six: So the sauce is the right consistency, the pasta is waiting to be introduced to it, you're ready to eat. BUT WAIT! There's asparagus! Toss it into the sauce and leave it on the heat only as much longer as it takes to get the asparagus cooked to your taste. Then: remove from heat, sprinkle with parmesan, and toss it all about so the parmesan gets melty.

And now it's done. Serve it over that pasta. Eat it all. Lick the bowl. And save a little bread to mop up the pan. The sauce is really tasty.

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.

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!

in which we reestablish communications with a winter edition pandemic variant status update
Wed 2020-12-16 19:45:35 (single post)

Hello, neglected blog! I haven't posted to you since, what, early November? And we've still got a pandemic on. Even with a vaccine just around the corner, we're gonna be in pandemic mode for a while. So let's talk a little about how this whole pandemic thing has changed winter in Chez LeBoeuf-Little.

The big change is, we don't get to host our annual Winter Solstice All-Night Open House & Yule Log Vigil. Which admittedly isn't the blow felt by, say, Average American Household not getting to hold Extended Family Christmas. But it's still a shame. I like cooking metric tons of seasonal food and then getting surprised by who winds up coming over at three in the morning. I like sharing my eclectic Pagan traditions with my friends and neighbors. I would have enjoyed the heck out of introducing Holland to our guests (although Holland may not have enjoyed it; he can be skittish around new people.) It's a sad thing. But it's a necessary thing. I accept the necessary sad thing.

And it's not like I can't fix myself midwinter pie, tomato-orange soup, and a pitcher of the world's best egg nog ("world's best" because my friend's recipe is amazing, not because I'm particularly good at making egg nog). But there'll be no one but me in the house to consume them (none of the above are to John's taste), so I'll have to make somewhat less than a metric ton.

On that note, there won't be a fruitcake this year. That, too, seemed like a lot of food to make for only myself to eat. Usually about half the cake gets sliced up and mailed to friends and family around the country and a couple outside the country, but again, pandemic. I'm just not sure about the wisdom of producing foodstuffs with my unverified and unprofessional bare hands to be sent out into the world for others to eat at this particular juncture. Maybe I'm overthinking it; there are no known cases of anyone catching the novel coronavirus via food. But wouldn't it suck to be the first? More realistically, shopping for bulk dried fruits and nuts is kind of fraught right now. Whole Foods shut down its bulk food zone and replaced it with an Amazon Prime delivery staging area. Lucky's North reopened their bulk aisle, and they made gloves and hand sanitizer available to shoppers in that aisle, and no one uses them but me. Possibly an exaggeration, but after the third time cheerfully chirping at a random fellow customer, "Oh, they want us to use gloves! They're over there," I get this strong impression.

So. No fruitcake. No party. But hey, no superspreader behavior, either, so ultimately it's a win.

One nice change was that John was able to come with me to Avon this year. Usually he can't; it would mean time off from work, and generally he's used up most of his vacation time with gaming conventions by now. But this year 1. no gaming conventions, and 2. he's working from home every day. So there was no reason he couldn't work out of our room at the Sheraton Mountain Vista.

So we went. We bundled ourselves into the moving bubble that is our Chevrolet Volt, we wore our masks and used hand sanitizer on our way to check into the hotel, we used sanitizer wipes to extra-special sterilize the luggage cart that hotel staff had probably already sterilized, and we brought enough food from home that we didn't need to visit the grocery but once late in the week. And then we proceeded to work and play more or less like we do at home, in isolation but with a different selection of scenic views.

It was great. We cooked each other meals and also explored our take-out and delivery options. We watched some good TV. We read some good books. I skated around Lake Nottingham a few times because the weather was amazing. Meanwhile, Avedan sent us pictures of Holland being adorable for her. (Avedan apparently does not count as new people. Holland was comfortable enough around her to entertain himself by giving her sass with both barrels. He was glad to see us when we got home, but I suspect he did not miss us.)

"But Niki," I hear you say, "this is the actually writing blog. After a hiatus of more than a month, aren't you going to blog about the actually writing?" Yes! I shall. Writing has been Actually Happening. It's glorious. But about that, more tomorrow. This post is long enough already!

Cover art incorporates and modifies unattributed image from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)
shilling for September
Thu 2020-10-15 22:29:02 (single post)
  • 979 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,357 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,038 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,380 words (if poetry, lines) long

Check it out: it's a Friday Fictionette roundup, two weeks late. Obviously I couldn't post a roundup until all the fictionettes it was rounding up went live; the fourth didn't go live until Monday. In related news, the Friday Fictionette for October 2 will be going live tomorrow. Everything's two weeks late.

I can't entirely blame this on the awful, rotten week in September when Gemma died. I mean, that didn't help. It happened on a Wednesday, and it shut me down entirely until the following week. But I was already a few days behind and scrambling to catch up when it happened. And it turns out that not writing, even for the very best of reasons, is habit-forming.

So here we are.

The good news is, October is a month with a fifth Friday. That's a week when time stands still, at least for fictionette purposes, and I'll have extra time to catch up.

Here, then, is the list of Friday Fictionettes posted in scheduled for September.

Friday, September 4, 2020: "Inherit the Earth" (ebook, audiobook) In which the winners begin to write history.

Friday, September 11, 2020: "A Gryphon Walks Into a Bar" (ebook, audiobook) In which you witness a hero being drawn out of retirement.

Friday, September 18, 2020: "Hardly St. Francis" (ebook, audiobook) In which an unsympathetic character gets told off. This is the Fictionette Freebie for September 2020.

Friday, September 25, 2020: "The Size of the World" (ebook, audiobook) In which we are made to feel small.

Obligatory explanation, for those just tuning in: The Friday Fictionette Project is a Patreon-powered minifiction subscription service. Patrons at the $1/month level get a new short-short story-like object every first through fourth Friday in any of several homebrew ebook editions (html, pdf, epub, mobi); Patrons at the $3/month level also get the joy of having me read it aloud to them while my Dell Inspiron so-called gaming laptop's fan whines in the background. (Audacity's noise reduction filter is miraculous.)

There are a couple tiers after that which involve a physical object in your mailbox, but they are (1) limited edition such that only one more slot remains in each tier, and (2) even more behind schedule than the ebook and audio releases. (I just typed out and illustrated Page 1 of one of the December 2019 Fictionette Artifacts, to be perfectly honest with you. My two Patrons at the $5 level are exceedingly patient, and I appreciate it.)

Meanwhile, one fictionette per month gets released as a Fictionette Freebie;"Hardly St. Francis" is the Fictionette Freebie for September 2020. Also free are the Monday Muse posts, where I share the writing prompt associated with the upcoming fictionette (they all start as freewriting from a prompt) and also some random news from my life, writing and otherwise. (By popular demand, rabbit news predominates.)

So that's the September 2020 Friday Fictionette Roundup. If intrigued, do click through and check it out.

In other news, which I will babble about thoroughly in upcoming posts:

  • I'm taking a Carnegie Center remote writing class, because the pandemic is why we can have nice things;
  • Thinking about writing is too writing, and so are long walks;
  • What with NaNoWriMo coming up, I'll be diving back into the godawful novel draft in an attempt to make it a wee bit less awful, or, failing that, make its awfulness somewhat less godly;
  • Holland continues in good health and is currently licking the sofa cushions.

'Til then.

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!

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