Pandemic Productivity Recovery Plan

I swear someday I'm going to make posts here other than the personal bit from my writer's newsletter again. I was thinking about the importance of journaling for me again, and how difficult it is for me to keep memories without it. Of course, I keep saying this. But hey! It could happen! Not today, though.

Thoughts in Passing
For the first time in almost a year, I am alone in my house on an ordinary day. My spouse is working on-site today, and the kids are at in-person school. It is HEAVEN. And I am trying to figure out where to start digging myself out from the mound of all the projects that I have neglected. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I have played the "getting back into the groove" game before, after recovering from injuries and surgeries and newborns. I'm guessing a lot of people will emerge from the pandemic and need to work on recovering their productivity and getting back into writing. If you've been able to keep writing and keep on top of your projects during this time, that's GREAT. You should be proud. If you haven't been able to, well, maybe me sharing my process will help. WARNING: extreme productivity geeking-out below, feel free to skip!
Step 1 is simply figuring out where I'm at. This step will take a while.
I tend to use my email as a to-do dumping ground. I use "action needed-writing" and "action urgent" email tags to flag these to-dos. That's not enough organization to really keep on top of things, although it does make it easier to find them. List organization isn't quite enough either. This is where the spreadsheet comes in. You knew there'd be a spreadsheet, right?
It's pretty simple. The Type column is how I prioritize my tasks. Paying gigs come first, followed by things I've promised to other people (I'm careful not to take on too many of these), and everything else is intuitively sorted by the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. There is a number at the beginning of each Type label so that I can sort the tasks in order, first by Type and then by Deadline.
If you are a natural-born procrastinator like me, this is a good time to pay attention to what you've been procrastinating on the hardest. Often it falls in that critical "Action Important & Non-Urgent" category.
I also add significant writing projects that have deadlines. I enjoy writing for a particular submission call, so that is where a lot of these deadlines come from initially. This is not the place to track all my various manuscripts in different stages of writing and editing and submitting (again, unless deadlines apply). I track those elsewhere. Scheduling blocked time for writing/editing outside of this task spreadsheet is essential.
One final productivity note! As I go through my email "to-dos," I try to apply the 2-minute principle. If it would take me 2 minutes to do, it doesn't go on the list. It gets done then.
Next month, I'll talk about scheduling and how getting things done is going. I have 288 "action-needed - writing" emails in my inbox, so wish me luck!

(Do you have a writing question? Send it to me, either by replying to this email or by using the comment form on my website, and it may get answered in the next newsletter.)
What I've been up to lately, writing-wise:

After Dinner Conversations has produced a podcast discussing the ethics and free will implications of "In Their Image." This is just so cool! If you are philosophically inclined, you can listen to at or on your favorite podcast catcher.

My final reminder is that awards nomination season is wrapping up. If you are eligible to nominate, I am very fond of my small bittersweet story about love in the time of extinction, "The Dinosaur's Valentine." It's available to read at Daily Science Fiction or to listen to at Centropic Oracle.

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Point A to Point B etc. from the newsletter

Thoughts in Passing
I recently saw a writer posting in distress. They had taken their work to a critique group, where they learned that they wrote with a lot of "filler movement." What does that mean? It means the bits that happen between the action. Opening and closing doors. Walking across a room. Getting out of a car. Traveling somewhere. Getting out a bowl to pour cereal in. Picking up the phone. Opening an envelope. Turning on the lights. Turning on a computer. Unlocking a phone. Getting dressed in the morning.
You get the idea. All of these things can be written as plot-critical, but they usually aren't. And that's okay.

This distressed writer asked how they could stop writing these extraneous bits. I can't answer that question, because I do it too. I often find that I can't move a character from Point A to Point B without writing how they moved there. My visual storytelling brain can't handle it. Otherwise, I might as well have them popping in and out of existence.
In short stories, there's less room for that. But hey, that's what editing is for! Sometimes? You just have to write through something, even if you know you'll take it out in editing. And that's okay!

(Do you have a writing question? Send it to me, either by replying to this email or by using the comment form on my website, and it may get answered in the next newsletter.)
What I've been up to lately, writing-wise:

Oof. Not much this month, aside from my regular #vss365 writing exercises. I have a lot in edits, and a lot of general writing-related administrivia to catch up on. Next month (in 17 days!) my kids start going back to in-person school (for however long that lasts). I have so much stuff that supervising distance learning shoved to the back burner, in writing and in general household management and in other life stuff, that I don't even know where to begin. We've been in distance learning for 10 months here, since mid-March 2020. I start by making lists of things to catch up on, I guess.


Full newsletter:

(Note to self: put "make new website" on that list.)
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Merry Christmas, 2020

Phil & Abra Staffin Wiebe

& Cassius & Theia

Dear Friends and Family,


Well, this is one hell of a year to try and write a Christmas letter in, isn't it? The pandemic, the Uprising (we live only a few blocks from George Floyd Square), distance learning and working from home, and that's without even getting into the politics of 2020. So much has happened, yet at the same time so little. To quote the Doctor, time is "a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff," and it has never seemed more wobbly.


Phil is still working for Suez Water, but now he is mostly working from home. He has refitted the basement to be his work office, using the ping-pong table as his desk, an old TV as his second monitor, and a rug from India to cushion the icy cold of the tile floor in our unheated basement. He also has an excellent foot-warmer in the form of our black lab dog, Hawk. A few days a month, he has to go in to work to run experiments on the machines, but mostly his life is virtual meetings and data. And driving back and forth to the school to pick up supplies and assignments for the kids, and our weekly school lunch boxes. Thanks to those school lunch boxes, we have enough frozen apples and carrots for the next five years!


Abra had surgery to remove her gallbladder this summer. She'd been trying and failing to use a restricted diet to manage the pain episodes, so once the ban on elective surgeries was lifted, she did the thing. Not losing hours to unpredictable pain episodes is a definite improvement! The other major change in her life is her attempt to switch from being a night owl to a morning lark. Before everyone wakes up is the only time she has to work on writing, so she's been trying to switch her schedule to wake up at 5 or 6 AM. Y'all, this does NOT come naturally! She's been enjoying attending virtual conferences and writing talks that wouldn't have been available before.


Abra has also been supervising the kids' distance learning since they were sent home this spring. It's a full-time process, from the moment they wake up until 5 or 6 PM. It's rough. There is crying and screaming and hitting and biting and running and hiding. Not every day, of course, but too often. We cannot WAIT for the vaccine roll-out. And our kids are some of the ones doing the best in their classes!


Cassius is 9 years old now. He has recently made the strategic decision that pajama pants are the best pants for the whole day. Hard to disagree! He is thriving in advanced math and has started learning piano. He loves all things game-related and is currently obsessed with Minecraft and Terraria. He also loves to read and to play imagination games with his sister.


Theia turned 7 before Thanksgiving. She had a gold- and Trolls-themed birthday decorations all over the house, and she enjoyed a birthday Zoom call and card shower. She loves all animals and insects and the weird in-between critters. Her list of desired pets: bearded dragon, chinchilla, hermit crab, kitten, spider, ant farm, owl, bat, unicorn. Her current goal is to be a zookeeper when she grows up--or maybe an opera singer. She loves everything pink, cute, and unicorn- or fairy-related. She also likes to help Mom cook.


At least in this, the Year of Our Pandemic and Distance Learning, we are all still here (no, literally here, all trapped in one house 24/7). Whatever circumstances you find yourself in, we wish you a 2021 worth celebrating!


With love,


Phil & Abra

& Cassius & Theia

Halloween pic
Christmas tree harvest

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End-of-Year Writing Newsletter Stuff

Merry Christmas and happy holidays! My family celebrated the Longest Night yesterday. If you haven't sat in a dark room and read by candlelight recently, I recommend it. Very soothing! Even if you live with someone who insists on watching the football game at the same time...
For writers, with the holidays and the end of the year also comes award nomination season and the "Best of" collections.
Every writer who gets something published this year should make an awards eligibility post. It might sound like a big scary deal, but it really isn't. Make sure it says "awards eligibility post" and "2020." Then list the things you've had published this year, by category (short story, novelette, novella, novel) along with a link to read them. Bonus points for a quick, one-sentence description that might make a casual reader decide they want to read them! If they're behind a paywall, mention it.
Beyond that, the Bram Stoker Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award all require that works be submitted to be considered. The Nebula Award does not allow self-nomination, but it does allow you to submit your work for consideration to the SFWA readers/nominators.
Most "Best of" anthologies require you to submit your work that was published this year. By the way, many publication contracts give an exception to any exclusivity rules for the "Best of" anthologies! Due dates on these vary. Don't miss this chance! If you have something published this year that fits the requirements, submit it!

(There's a list of such things with due dates on the website version of this.)

What I've been up to lately, writing-wise:
My short story, "In Their Image," has been released as a stand-alone ebook by After Dinner Conversation. Religion, and the desire to find purpose, and often paramount to culture. In this work of philosophical short fiction, a priest from earth is sent to another planet to continue the mission work of her predecessor, only to discover the unsettling reason mission work has never succeeded there. This story, like all After Dinner Conversation stories, has suggested discussion questions at the end. Read: In Their Image: After Dinner Conversation Series

Since I was just talking about award season, I should add that "In Their Image" is not eligible for 2020 awards.

"The Dinosaur's Valentine," a story about love in a time of extinction, is my only award-eligible short story for 2020. I'm very proud of my tiny little story that could! It's available to read at Daily Science Fiction or to listen to at Centropic Oracle.

Full writing newsletter is here:

...This was the part where I realized I only had ONE short story published this year. Most of my effort was novel-related. And, well, keeping my head above water -related.

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Reading, Writing, and Dinosaur's Valentine now in audio!

Welp, I "won" the severely abbreviated version of NaNoWriMo that I attempted. Woo! Among the things I let slide was putting the personal bit from my last market newsletter up here. So here it is!

Does reading nonfiction make you a better fiction writer? This question came up in a writing group I'm a member of. The standard answer for SFF writers is that reading history makes you a better fantasy writer, and reading science (including anthropology) makes you a better science fiction writer.

I'd go farther and say that reading widely, especially things that are different from the type of thing that you write, will make you a better writer. Of course, you also need to read things similar to what you write so that you don't find yourself reinventing the wheel. This might sound like I'm saying, "Read anything!"

Well. Yes. Read anything.

But also, pay attention to what you are already reading, and balance it by reading something else. Do you read a lot of SF? Read fantasy. Do you read a lot of fantasy and SF? Read a thriller or a romance. Do you read a lot of fiction? Read non-fiction. Do you read a lot of books by women? Read books by male authors. Do you read a lot of white American authors? Read something from a different culture. Do you read a lot of so-called "disposable" urban fantasy or paranormal romance books? Read something that won an award. Do you only read award-winners? Read something with five stars on Amazon and no awards.

Next year, I plan on intentionally widening my reading list by intentionally limiting my options.

(Do you have a writing question? Send it to me, either by replying to this email or by using the comment form on my website, and it may get answered in the next newsletter.)

What I've been up to lately, writing-wise:

I've been trying to do a severely shortened version of NaNoWriMo, and boy, even hitting that wordcount goal has been a huge challenge. I wince every time I look at my wordcount chart, but I'm not giving up! Wait, what do you mean we only have nine more days?!?

My bittersweet little SF story about love and what we leave behind us is now available in audio! Listen to it here:

Originally posted at on

Waking Up Early + Steampunk Event

I am not a morning person. I am SO NOT a morning person. But my goal is to get myself to that magical 5 AM wake-up-and-write that I've heard about. I'm not there yet. If you are trying to make the same transition, here are a few things that are helping me:
1. Gradual change. I set my alarm 15 minutes earlier. When I manage to wake up and stay up, three times, I adjust the alarm again.
2. Vitamin D + happy light as soon as I sit at my desk with my mug of tea.
3. Feeding the cats first thing, so they encourage me to get out of bed! I fear that this is not reversible.
4. Getting excited about what I'm going to do the next morning, before I go to sleep. It's a lot easier to wake up when you want to do something.
I have hopes that the end of daylight savings time will get me all the way to my goal.

(Do you have a writing question? Send it to me, either by replying to this email or by using the comment form on my website, and it may get answered in the next newsletter.)

What I've been up to lately, writing-wise:
I have an event coming up! If you like steampunk--swashbuckling steampunk adventure, Weird West steampunk, post-apocalyptic steampunk, or steampunk mystery--you'll like it. Come listen to me and three other authors read from their steampunk novels and then discuss steampunk. Bring your questions! Registration link:

(This is the personal bit from my markets newsletter--the whole thing can be found here:

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CONvergence Reading and Other Virtual Convention Bits.

I have been attending so many virtual SFF conventions lately (right now I'm listening to a panel about contemporary Gothic fiction), and tomorrow I'll be sharing a reading with @LydaMorehouse (Does tagging even work on Dreamwidth? I'm out of practice. Let's find out.) and Pat Harrigan! And I just got my market list update out.

From the newsletter...

Thoughts in Passing

All these suddenly-online science fiction and fantasy conventions are a wonderful opportunity! But as a friend said to me today, the pro ("There's so much!") is also the con ("There's so much!"). I haven't found a good comprehensive, continually updated list of current virtual conventions yet. The closest is the Locus list: . It's a good list of conventions, but I advise clicking through to see what the convention is doing currently. Several conventions listed as canceled are doing something virtual instead. For example, this weekend I'm enjoying NASFic online:

(Do you have a writing question? Send it to me, either by replying to this email or by using the comment form on my website, and it may get answered in the next newsletter.)

What I've been up to lately, writing-wise:
Preparing to do a reading at one of those virtual cons! Come to this free online event, enjoy some good stories, and see what happens when I discover that I can add video effects to a recorded reading. Did I tempt fate? Maybe. Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

But seriously, I expect this to be a great reading, and the Q&A at the end offers the opportunity for some interesting discussions. Enjoy performances by science fiction, mystery, and fantasy authors as part of CONvergence Online. Free, but registration is required:
And if you're interested in learning more about how to do a reading yourself, consider this Part 1 of "How to Do a Reading." I'm presenting Part 2, a discussion of the nitty-gritty of preparing and performing a reading, in a couple of months.
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Paneer, Lazarus laptop (and caterpillar), and steampunk

Today's good things:

Being told that yes, Seward Co-op does sell paneer, they just hide it really well in the cheese section!! I am Very Excite about this.

Getting my new power cord and having my laptop successfully charge. I was quite worried that the laptop was dead.

Talking with people on my weekly Zoom social call. It helps.

Getting another steampunk author (Michael Merriam) for an upcoming panel.

Good things from previous days:

I started the day out feeling okay, with some energy and enthusiasm.
Free coffee, thanks to a filled punch card.
Theia cuddles.
Cleaning up one corner of Theia's bedroom. That was a BIG chore.
The kids' caterpillar started to move around again. I had honestly thought it was dead.
Phil found out about zoo camp.
Trader Joe's "mini samosas" (not real samosas, but yummy) and homemade lassi (tastes most authentic made with water, not milk)
Reading Accepting the Lance
Picking up House of Shattered Wings from the library.
Getting the free Inventor Camp materials boxes, and being really impressed by them. The kids will be making flying robots!
Planning to do the virtual MIA family day. It feels good to have plans.
Story sale! I sold the reprint rights of "In Their Image" to After-Dinner Conversations


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Naps and Surgery, Thoughts in Passing

Aaaand, the personal bit from my markets newsletter.

Thoughts in Passing
I've been wrangling my two young kids through distance-learning summer school, and it has left me exhausted and drained and uncreative at the end of the school day.
You know what helps?
A nap.
No, seriously. If you are exhausted and having trouble focusing, take a nap. I've found it to be marvelously restorative. When so many of us are dealing with overwhelm, stress, and trauma, a nap can be pretty damn magical.

"Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast.”
- Shakespeare
... The only problem is that then you may be off-sync with the rest of your household. Also (if you are a heavy sleeper like me), waking up from a nap may be challenging. Scheduling the nap to be an hour or less before a can't-miss appointment helps with that. For me, that means setting my alarm to "get up and cook dinner or your children will starve" o'clock. Any optional scheduling for naps will fail horribly for me!

(Do you have a writing question? Send it to me, either by replying to this email or by using the comment form on my website, and it may get answered in the next newsletter.)

What I've been up to lately, writing-wise:
I've been recovering from one of those "elective" surgeries. My miscreant gallbladder has been evicted, and not losing 4+ hours 1-2x/week to pain-so-bad-I-can't-do-anything-but-stream-cooking-shows has been wonderful. Depending on where you are, this might be your window to take care of dental work, elective surgery, optometry, preventive maintenance etc. for the next 6 months. If your region isn't peaking, get it done now. Seriously. (That Twilight Zone broken-glasses episode may have left a permanent impression on my extremely-short-sighted self.)
While recovering from surgery, I caught up on a *lot* of email.


Later note. ...By the way, that whole nap thing? Ha! My household roundly rejected the idea that I get to stay up until 2 AM every day. Harrumph. Harrumph I say.

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Thoughts in Passing, from the newsletter

When you have a lot of unstructured time ... or, on the other side, when you have very little time ... it's easy to say that you'll write sometime. When the time feels right. When you have a moment. When you feel inspired.
If the time hasn't been right for a while, it might be time to make a schedule. Start with a basic list of the absolutely necessary things you have to do in your life. Add writing. Figure out what gets done when, and then give it a try for a week. Adjust as needed. Everything else that is nonessential can get done when the time feels right.

(Do you have a writing question? Send it to me, either by replying to this email or by using the comment form on my website, and it may get answered in the next newsletter.)

What I've been up to lately, writing-wise:
Let's see. I watched TorCon panels. I did critiques and exchanged them for feedback on the beastie-in-progress that I need to edit. I continued to write to the #vss365 prompts. And I figured out that I need to schedule my writing time (see above) now that my kiddos are back in (distance learning) summer school at home, so I kind of know what my schedule is going to look like. Of course, I'm scheduled for gallbladder surgery in about two weeks, so everything's going to need to get readjusted during the recovery period for that. See "adjust as needed" above!

The rest of the market list update:

...So yeah. Surgery in 10 days. Covid test and pre-op physical in 6 days. This is supposed to be a quick, uncomplicated, routine surgery with a quick recovery time, but all surgery has risks. Eeep.

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