in which we reestablish communications with a winter edition pandemic variant status update
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!
the turning of the year brings more poetry to your ereader
- 14 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 22 words (if poetry, lines) long
I've spent most of October running as fast as I could to stay only marginally behind, which is why blogging didn't happen. Blogging is kinda low priority. Except I really shouldn't let more time pass before announcing this:
"Reasonable Accommodations", my sonnet about a were-deer in corporate hell, will be included in the Winter 2021 issue of Departure Mirror Quarterly. Look for it in January!
Departure Mirror Quarterly is a brand-new magazine of speculative fiction and poetry. Its content is meant to reflect the belief that, in the words of editor Arthur Robert Tracy IV, science fiction and fantasy "is a genre that transports us out of our reality while giving us a medium to reflect on our reality and to consider what can and should change. It’s both a departure from and a mirror on reality. It's a Departure Mirror."
I am honored that they considered my poem a good fit with that philosophy.
The first issue, Fall 2020, is live and available in three ebook formats (PDF, EPUB, MOBI). You can download it for free from this page here. Its table of contents is sparkling with gems, some bittersweet, some uplifting, all well worth your time, eyeballs, and brain-space. And do spread the word! Even in the best of times, brand new publications live or die by word of mouth, and COVID-19 has put its thumb on the "die" side of pretty much every scale (except maybe for Zoom futures, if Zoom futures are a thing). So download yourself a copy and tell all your SF-loving friends to do the same!
Meanwhile, I see by the editor's blog that Dreams & Nightmares #116 (the issue that includes my poem "The Ascent of Inanna") has been printed and subscriber copies have hit the mail. If you are not a subscriber, you might consider becoming one. A six-issue subscription is $25 to North American addresses and $30 elsewhere, and a lifetime subscription is $90 wherever you are.
In other news, I am still two weeks behind on the Friday Fictionette schedule, so there will be no October round-up just yet. I will be scrambling to catch up for the foreseeable future. That notwithstanding, I do plan to participate in National Novel Writing Month, after my fashion; but more on that in another post. Good night!
shilling for September
- 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.
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.
only bummer is no one gives you an I VOTED sticker
So here's a thing we did this past weekend: We voted.
John and I have had the pleasure of living in two different states that conduct their elections primarily by mail: Oregon, and now Colorado. The way it works is, if you're a registered voter, you get one. You don't have to ask. You don't have to sign up for it. You don't have to jump through any hoops. Be registered to vote when October rolls around, and a ballot shows up in your mailbox about three weeks before election day.
In the Before Times, when people fearlessly gathered in public knowing they risked no more than catching a cold, we had a tradition. We'd take our ballots out to BeauJo's for delicious Colorado Style Pizza. (After the Boulder location closed, we went to the one in Longmont, or found a different restaurant closer to home. As long as it had wifi and electrical outlets, it was golden.) We'd arrive, place our food orders, then break out the laptops. Once we'd filled out our ballots to our satisfaction and sealed them in their envelopes according to the instructions, we high-fived and then settled down to a celebratory video game marathon. Eventually we'd roll out of there, full and happy and tired and proud of ourselves, and head home--making one quick stop at the Boulder County Clerk & Recorder Office to deposit our ballots in the drop-box. And that's how Chez LeBoeuf-Little votes in Colorado, give or take a pandemic.
The routine was pretty much the same this election, with two important differences:
- We didn't let the ballots sit around for a week before voting them. We turned those suckers around overnight.
- And we voted them at the kitchen table over delivery from Curry 'n' Kebob.
That's it. That's the story. We voted, and you should too. The end.
on becoming a little wonder
And now, a more cheerful post: My story, "The Soup Witch's Funeral Dinner," is live at Cast of Wonders!
It's one half of Episode 431, "Little Wonders 27 - Old Ladies". The other half of the episode is C. M. DiGirolamo's "Grandma Geraldine Sees a Dragon," a story that alternates effortlessly between the comic and the numinous. I enjoyed it very much. And I was surprised to see this was her Cast of Wonders debut, too; I was sure I recognized her name. A quick internet search jogged my memory: I'd read her excellent and moving "Monster-Killer" at Daily Science Fiction.
I'm so pleased and proud about this publication! Adam Pracht does a gorgeous job narrating my story, unhurried and understated and matter-of-fact, the better to sneak that punch to your heart in at the end. I'm envious of how he manages to get through the last line--I can't get through the last line. I tried. I had to pause and take several deep breaths and I still choked up. (It's sort of embarrassing.) (What's also embarrassing is how wordy that earlier version at Patreon is. Ouch.)
Host Katherine Inskip has lovely things to say about my story. I'm still blushing.
Please go check it out, and make sure check out other recent episodes as well! Cast of Wonders has long been a favorite podcast of mine, and I'm beyond thrilled to get to be part of their line-up.
my heart has joined the thousand
I've been putting off writing this post. Partly that's because I didn't want my first post in two weeks to be a total downer. But mostly because I know I'm going to cry while writing it, and I'm tired of crying.
Gemma passed away last week, and it hurts.
The course of oral meds and sub-q fluids slowed but did not reverse her trend of losing weight. Or maybe it wasn't the treatment that slowed her rate of weight loss but rather the fact that she just didn't have that much left to lose. She was positively skeletal when she went in Wednesday morning for a cecal transplant. (That's basically an enema made out of healthy cecotropes from a donor rabbit.) Gemma tolerated the process really well. Everything that went in stayed in. We entertained hopes that she would benefit from the healthy bacterial culture and the nutritional content of the donor cecotropes, and that with subsequent transplants over the next week or more we might turn things around. But I guess it was just too late.
I hung out with her all the rest of the day in the living room, watching her eat hay and amble around, cheerful and curious as always. But then, around 4:45 PM, she began subsiding, as though falling asleep sitting up. She'd sink a little ways, then take a step to recover her stance, then sink some more. I took her temperature: it was low.
I put her on a towel-covered electric heating pad, where she sprawled in an awkward froggie posture, back legs splayed, unable even to hold her head up. Then I called the vet. They said to keep her warm through the night, continue with her medication and fluids as scheduled, and they'd see her first thing in the morning. In case she needed care more urgently, they made sure I had the number of the nearest emergency vet hospital that (very importantly) knew their way around rabbits. That would be the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at CSU, up in Fort Collins, an hour's drive away.
Not being an emergency clinic themselves, there was nothing more they could do. Even if they had been able to see her after hours, she wouldn't have made it there in time. It would have taken us half an hour to get there. We realized she was dead not a mile into the drive to CSU; she may have already been dead by the time we got in the car at all.
We made the decision to keep going and bring her body to CSU. I'm glad we did. They were able to perform a necropsy that confirmed her regular vet's diagnosis to be correct and her treatment to have been appropriate. The death of a pet brings so much guilt and regret, so much self-recrimination, so much painful second-guessing. It was consoling to learn that yes, we were doing all the things we should have done for the condition she was in, and we gave her the best chance of recovery she could possibly have had.
I am immensely grateful to the Colorado House Rabbit Society's post-adoption "bunny tune-up" class, and would recommend it to any prospective rabbit household. A rabbit's health is too potentially volatile to rely solely on annual check-ups, so the idea is to check them out thoroughly at home once every two months in order to establish a baseline and to stand a better chance recognizing crises while it's early enough to act on them. Some items on the checklist are easy, like checking if their poop looks healthy. Some are more daunting, like taking their temperature. There's also some maintenance they taught us how to perform: clipping claws, cleaning out their scent folds, etc. And all of this after like an hour of nothing but "Here's how you pick up a bunny when they are facing you. Here is how you pick up a bunny when they are facing away from you. Now you try. Do it again. You MUST get comfortable doing this, even if they don't like it." It was absolutely thanks to their instruction that we were keeping tabs on Gemma's weight and other symptoms, and therefore knew to get the vet involved as early as we did. I will probably never stop regretting that we didn't get the vet involved earlier, but I do know that we did a lot better than we might have done, had we not had such good training.
She was the absolute sweetest of bunns. Possibly because she had required vet intervention frequently over the course of her nineteen months of life, she was extremely amenable to being held and handled. She enjoyed sitting on my lap while I watched TV. On her very last night, as I was stalking Holland for donor cecotropes, she started coming over to me from across the room, "weeping angels" style. (For those of you not familiar with that particular Doctor Who monster, that means I'd look away, then look back and see that she was slightly closer to me than last time I looked.) I called to her, "Come here, Gemma," and made kissy noises and patted the floor, and she bounded over. It was a very low-energy bounding, but she gave it all the bound she had to give. I gave her a treat, let her "high-five" my palm with her nose, and then she cuddled up next to my leg.
I had expected to enjoy such closeness with her for at least a couple more years. I feel cheated.
Holland, by the way, never did produce cecotropes for me. After sitting by his habitat until nearly three in the morning, darting in to interrupt him the moment his nose dipped toward his belly, I came to the conclusion that he produces only the one kind of dropping, to all appearances a normal fecal dropping, some of which he will eat. And it's not like he sorts through them as though some were edible and some weren't. More than once, after shooing him off the latest batch of pellets and examining them to my satisfaction, I'd offer them back to him one by one, in whatever order, and he would eat them. "Holland apparently hasn't read the script," the vet said. "Some rabbits don't." The donor cecotropes used in Gemma's transplant were provided by the Colorado House Rabbit Society, courtesy of their medical staff and residents of their Bunny Barn.
Holland is obviously affected by Gemma's loss. He spent the first few days after her death being a little bit quieter, a tad more more nervous around sudden noises or changes in his environment (I ran the blender Sunday night, I am a monster), a touch more reluctant to leave his habitat and somewhat slower to rev up to his usual zooming and binking routine. He was always casually intimate with Gemma, grooming her frequently, nosing up under her chin to flop comfortably at her side. On Gemma's last day, after a night and a morning separated from her, he demonstrated how happy he was to have her back by binking around her in tight, light-speed circles, at times propelling himself off the actual wall. (Gemma more or less ignored him and ate her hay.) Most bunnies benefit from being pair-bonded, and Holland is clearly no exception. So yes, eventually we will adopt a new roommate for him. But pair-bonding bunnies is non-trivial, and we're just not ready to start the process. All I can say for sure is, it'll be "eventually soonish."
That's all. That's plenty, actually. There's writing news, but it can wait for tomorrow. For now, I just want to give Gemma a little memorial space. She was loved. She was a good bunn. She'll be missed.
post nubila ph...ictionette
- 1,105 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,307 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,142 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,145 words (if poetry, lines) long
Ahoy! Well. It's been a week. We've had a slow-moving bunny crisis which we only realized was a crisis this weekend. Gemma had been steadily losing weight all month, but at first we weren't tracking it closely, and then we thought it would get better--I mean, bunn's got an appetite like a raging bonfire!--and next thing we know she's down some 600 grams since August 5 and it's really time to get the vet involved.
Today she saw the doctor and the doctor said... no more bunnies jumping on the bed! ...no. He said, "The password is... mega cecum." Well, words to that effect, anyway. Basically, she's genetically inclined toward this particular category of GI disorder in which the cecum doesn't do what it should, which is bad. She'll probably need treatment of some sort for this all her life. For this week, we've got oral meds and subcutaneous fluids to give her, and if that's successful in "jump-starting" her cecum and helping her get back up to a healthy weight, I assume we'll then talk long-term maintenance.
Anyway, I didn't think I'd be back to administering sub-q to a pet so soon after Uno and Null's end-of-life care, but she takes it like a champ. Honestly, I'm just grateful it's Gemma and not Holland. Holland is a nightmare patient. Holland barely tolerates being picked up. Holland is a work in progress. Please may the universe not bestow any high-maintenance medical situations on him until that work has progressed quite a ways.
On a happier note, we had a dear long-distance friend spending last week in the Boulder area. There was much rejoicing. Also homemade pizza and beer and video games and coworking and actual hugs.
(Speaking of homemade pizza: Homemade eggplant parmesan pizza. It's easy. You take everything you'd normally put into eggplant parmesan, plus maybe that egg-and-ricotta mixture that goes so well in lasagna--basically my eggplant parmesan is a lasagna that substitutes breaded baked eggplant disks for pasta--but instead of layering it in a casserole dish you put one layer of it on a pizza crust. It's good.)
Excuses, excuses. Well. Better late than never: Here's the promised Friday Fictionette Round-up for August 2020.
The Fictionette Freebie for August 2020 is "On Dirkmere." You can click on over and access it in any of the several formats I've posted it in. The other three are available according to the usual rewards tier structure: $1/month for the ebook (html, PDF, epub, and/or mobi) and $3/month for the audiobook (mp3).
Next time: Probably back to whining about the novel, I think. You've been warned.
reporting from the personal writerly bright side of 2020
- 22 words (if poetry, lines) long
Happy September all! I have a couple of things made out of words coming out where you can see/hear them this month, and I thought I should let you know.
"The Soup Witch's Funeral Dinner" - Cast of Wonders: This story, originally a Friday Fictionette, was accepted and contracted for reprint back in January. This immediately helped guaranteed that, whatever happened, my 2020 was going to have a bright side. This past weekend, I received word that the story is with its narrator and is slated for publication in a September episode.
Cast of Wonders is the leading voice in young adult speculative fiction, podcasting a new episode every week. Most recently they have been serializing "The Curious Case of Miss Clementine Nimowitz (and her Exceedingly Tiny Dog)", written by Alex Acks and narrated by Sandra Espinoza. It's up to Part 5. Part 1 is here. Go check it out!
"The Ascent of Inanna" - Dreams and Nightmares: Originally a flash fiction story entered in a Codex contest in early 2020, then whittled down to its heart and soul and reimagined as a poem. D&N accepted it back in April and scheduled it for their September 2020 issue. And now it is September 2020!
Dreams & Nightmares is a long-running print magazine of speculative poetry and flash fiction. You can buy single issue (I obviously recommend the one for September 2020) or subscribe. Subscriptions are available in two flavors: six-issue and lifetime. Lifetime sounds like a bit of a gamble until you figure that A. it's only $90 and B. the magazine's been printing issues since January 1986. The landing page of the magazine's website is a blog whereon the editor posts something tiny every day. Usually it's a tiny poem. Sometimes it's a tiny something else.
The numbers! Publishing even a small amount of stuff is largely a numbers game. Which isn't to say it's not also a matter of craft and quality. Just, the more manuscripts of craft and quality that one submits, the more chance of a manuscript happening to cross the desk of an editor inclined to purchase publication rights. Here are my numbers for 2020 so far, including a few submissions and rejections already logged for September:
Next time: the August 2020 Friday Fictionette round-up.
whining intensifies but so does determination
- 50,347 words (if poetry, lines) long
Hi. It's been another week. Almost two. And I'm still having trouble keeping the novel on my radar. This certainly has to do with all the time management problems I strategized about last post, but only in part. There's another problem larger than all of those combined.
The self-appointed gurus of writing with their demoralizing pronunciations that pass for "advice" like to say that no real writer would have trouble finding time to write. If you want to write, they say, you darn well make time, and if you don't, well, you must not want to write that badly, huh? And despite the utter toxicity and privilege behind that so-called advice, I must grudgingly admit that in this very particular case, it's applicable. I don't want to work on the novel. When I think about the novel, I do not get excited. I fill with dread and embarrassment instead. So, no, I don't go out of my way to make time for it, and I often forget even to put it on my daily timesheet.
And for once it's not just the usual miasmic avoidance dread that afflicts almost every project I work on at some point or another. No, this is very specific avoidance dread. It comes into play for a very specific reason. That being, this novel sucks.
No, it really does. I'm not just suffering from revision pessimism when I say this. No. This novel draft is really, really terrible. And it's not just because I spat it out during National Novel Writing Month. I've got plenty of NaNoWriMo drafts from over more than a decade of participation, so I've got some basis for comparison here.
The main problem is, the main character is unlikeable. No, this isn't just widespread social misogyny speaking. She's actually kind of horrible. She does and says and thinks horrible things off-hand, and it's got nothing to do with how I envisioned her character or what I was trying to do with her character arc. There are so many places where my margin notes say "Stop that. That's obnoxious." and "Gah, I hate it when people do this in real life, why is Gwen doing it?" I think mainly I was just trying to log my daily 1,667, and I guess I got a bunch of wordcount out of letting her indulge in whatever behavior enraged me the most about certain people I had the misfortune to encounter repeatedly that month? (Note to self and others: Being a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison does not oblige you to endure bullying and bigotry at your write-ins in the name of Being a Gracious Host.) So the more I examined the 2006 draft, the more I realized what a jerk my protagonist was, and the less time I wanted to spend in her company. Thus I find myself avoiding the novel now.
So that's the big problem. There are others, none of them particularly daunting on their own. It's set in New York City but the people behave like they live in a stereotypical rural small town. Fine. I can fix that. There are so many ways I can fix that. I have no more idea how the story ends than I did in 2006, but that's fine. That's a story drafting issue, not a revision issue. Story drafting is my favorite part of this writing gig. The motivations driving two of the major side characters are implausible, to say the least. Cool. I'll brainstorm on it. Brainstorming is fun.
These are all fixable things! And they should be fun to fix. But during the read-through, the combination of the plot's aimlessness and the protagonist's horribleness rather dampened my enthusiasm. So I've been avoiding the whole shebang.
I mentioned other drafts. Maybe I just chose the wrong draft to spend time with? Maybe I should pick up one that I'm more excited for, one that's objectively less terrible? Maybe... but revision pessimism is still a thing, even if it isn't the only thing. I'm dreadfully afraid that whatever novel draft I pick up with the intent of Finally Finishing a Novel, time spent examining it will leave me similarly unenthused.
So this is the novel I'm going to work on, despite my misgivings. The Bookwyrm's Hoard. And I'm going to work on it by pretending I'm not revising an existing draft at all. The existing draft is just a 50,000-word outline, a collection of story ideas, a place from which I can start writing a brand new story. A story that happens to share mostly the same characters, setting, and premise, but a new story nonetheless.
And new story ideas are where I'm a superstar!
dear dev team i have found a bug in the spacetime continuum there is not enough of it
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.