November 27, 2014

NotNaNo Day 27 – Isn’t editing supposed to take words away?

Filed under: news of the day,Uncategorized,wordsmithery — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 11:46 pm

I just came off a two hour editing stint on Third Violin, which has cleared out all the first draft dross and filled in all the connective tissue to make the story work (I hope). I seem to have been less successful than I hoped I would be at reducing the word count. Before the editing pass it was 4700 words and I was hoping to cut it back below 4500 or even lower.

Instead, it’s now almost dead-on 5000 words. Uh, whut?

So I’ll definitely be doing at least one more pass on that to whittle away at the extremities. I ought to be at least able to knock off the ten percent or so I just added. Maybe.

In other news I am now bitterly regretting my self-imposed rule about not counting editing as new words, because it’s just gone eleven pm. I’m going to kick in a writing sprint and get back to you in just a minute or thirty.


So, yeah, I wrote the opening of a rather fervent council meeting, invented some architecture and cultural structures, and introduced a couple of supporting characters in thirty-five minutes. Things started to speed up towards the end when I started writing dialogue, but now I’m sleepy so it will have to wait.

Tally: 360

New fiction words for the month: 13, 380

“Countess Tessa Strickland,” Soffatt announced, stiff and formal.

 The introduction was unnecessary. The four men and two women assembled were intimately acquainted with Earl Strickland’s wife. Some of them knew her from childhood.

NotNaNo Day 26 – Editing is the hard kind of writing

Filed under: fictionchunk,news of the day,Uncategorized,wordsmithery — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 12:34 am

I spend most of my spare time today editing the back half of Third Violin, rewriting about two-thirds of 2000 words.

I find editing incredibly difficult work. My mind still resists it. “No, don’t change that clunky run-on sentence with four adverbs and two tenses!” my brain shouts. “It’s prefect!” [1]

Even knowing there are passages that contribute little or nothing to the character development, the themes or the advancement of the plot, I still struggle to wield the word-cleaver. It’s not just that I overvalue every pristine textual pearl I’ve scattered through the manuscript, though for sure I suffer from an undue attachment to my own blathering style. It’s the concern that I might cut away good flesh along with the necrotic zombie-stained garbage. Worse still, that I might do that and then not notice, creating some sort of story-ruining, reader-offending vacuum in the heart of the piece that sucks so hard joy itself cannot escape.

And what about that witty exchange of dialogue, or this insightful narration, or that evocative description is too clever, two original, too brilliant to lose? Well, those bits are gold, aren’t they? I mean, sure, it’s gold that’s sort of dull brown and not so much metallic as nutty and smellier than gold usually is and oh my god my story is full of excrement, isn’t it?

What I’m saying is that editing confirms all my worst suspicions about how much of a derivative, cheating hack I am. Better to not edit at all than to confront an awful truth, right?


Okay, fine. Mutter, mutter. Tomorrow I’ll go back and explode the first page and a half of the story, reinsert the one or two bits of essential information, and then pretend like I wrote a much tighter story in the first place.

(But that’s tomorrow. Tonight I’ve done a good job, dammit, and I deserve some play time. So I am going to start writing a new fantasy short story which I outlined some time ago. Its codename will be The Countess until I come up with something better. The tally will refer to that new story, because I’m not counting editing in my ‘new words’ totals, even if the editing involves substantial rewrites as they it did today).

Tally: 350

New fiction words for the month: 13,020

This is how the new story starts:

Soffatt was waiting on the rain-soaked dock, guttering lantern in hand, as the Countess’ punt emerged from the mist. 

She kneeled at the fore, still and composed; the veteran poleman behind her did not need to compensate for her weight. Charcoal, her falcon, sunk his talons deep into the shoulder of whaleskin slick-jacket. The bird turned its head one way and the other, watching the punt’s master and Soffatt in the same smooth movement.


[1] sic

November 25, 2014

NotNaNo Day 25 – Flash fictioning

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 11:44 pm

On another day when I truly could not be stuffed getting into my existing projects, I eventually gave up and just searched the web for a writing prompt and hacked out a few hundred words of flash fiction. I amused myself by writing a dialogue-only exchange, which was a fun diversion from a day of pretty unpleasant news events. I think I need to deal with this is two concrete ways – first of all, I think I’ll have to completely ban myself from social media during the day. Today was unusual for a variety of reasons, but I let myself get angry about stuff I can’t control or even meaningfully contribute towards resolving, which is unhealthy. I may think of a way to channel some righteous fury into my writing, but on the whole I think it’s more sensible to go on a Twitter holiday at least until the evenings.

Second of all I really need a tangible project. From tonight’s meandering it’s clear that unless I sit down to accomplish a specific task about which I am crystal clear from the outset, I’m probably going to faff about until I’ve wasted half my writing time. That means it is probably time to stop mucking about with the current draft of Serpentine Precipice and start again with the tighter outline. I’ve let myself write bloated quagmires of scenes that go nowhere slowly up until now, which is exactly not what I wanted to do with that project. So back to the drawing board. I’ll keep all the world building I’ve done so far, recycle most of the existing characters and I’ll keep the opening scenes – but I will rewrite everything else in the service of a tighter plot.

Tally: 390 words

New fiction words for the month: 12,670

From today’s flash fiction:

“Well, when society is restored, people who know how to build machines and recall lost knowledge will be hailed as kings.”

“You don’t know how to build things. You have no useful knowledge.”

“I’ve memorised the Periodic Table and I can name the 100 greatest inventions in history.”

“I weep for the tribe that flocks to you for answers. Pass the ammunition.”

NotNaNo Days 21-24 – The wheels are wobbly but they still turn

Filed under: news of the day,Uncategorized,wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 12:04 am

I’m in full editing mode at the moment, so while I am still hitting my absolute dead-minimum writing targets, the blogging has suffered a little.

I should clarify that “full editing mode” means, in practice, that I have printed out a copy of Third Violin and am drawing all over it. I more or less know what I have to fix from the first draft, but my concentration span when I try to focus on it line by line has been…not good. I am slowly building a rhythm, I think. I hope so. Third Violin has a deadline of sorts, since I wrote it for a specific market that closes on the 30th of November. I am reasonably confident I’ll have it in good shape by then.

Over on the new-words front, I am adding new scenes to the dog’s breakfast of Serpentine Precipice. I’m still poking at the setting, adding new ideas and chopping off old pieces. I had a breakthrough this afternoon about what it is my protagonists wants to achieve. Character motivations FTW! Until now all I knew was that he was not especially invested in the job he’s been given to do. Now I know what direction his moral compass is pointed, and why he seems to keep wandering off-course from the plot. It’ll be a tricky job to marry his secret motivations up with the plot as it stands. If it comes down to a question of plot versus character, the plot can look forward to a rocket-propelled jettisoning.

Tally: 420 + 250 + 250 + 620 = 1540

Total new fiction words for the month: 10,740 + 1540 = 12, 280 (on track to make an acceptable, if not inspiring, 15,000 words for November)

“Swagger, bluster and a full purse will get you far in life, it’s true, but they will not lay open every door in your path. And we both know you lack one or two of those characteristics these days.”


November 20, 2014

NatNaNo Day 20 – Just touching base

I’m a bit on the tired side tonight, so my writing stint was short. Perfunctory even. 400 words in about 20 minutes so I could just go to bed.

Tomorrow the pest control guy is coming, so I have a lot of last-minute packing and lugging to do, after which I had to keep a four year old amused out of the house. If the weather’s not as hot as it was today, that will mean a visit to a park or the zoo. If it is hot, the pool or the library – and she won’t be amused for very long at the library, though it will be an opportunity for me to order in a couple of books I’ve been meaning to read – Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon (alien first-contact story set in Lagos) and God’s War by Kameron Hurley (bloodthirsty science fantasy with bug-based magic).

Oh, and I probably have a job lined up soon, so I guess that’s good. I’ll miss moping around the house though. Better make the most of it while I can.

So without further ado:

Tally: 400 words

Total fiction words for the month: 10, 740

“You’re back from exile less than a week and already you’re bringing grief to that poor woman. It’s not enough you had to marry her? Do you have to make her life miserable as well?”

NotNaNo Day 19 – Adrift with options

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 12:20 am

The pest control company cancelled their visit, throwing out my schedule completely. I was left in the odd position of having plenty of time to write and not having a specific writing project. Serpentine Precipice, being the only one of my works in progress that does not have a complete draft, would seem to have been the obvious choice. But it’s become a slow-moving, unwieldy, going-nowhere mess. I like the general tenor of it, and I don’t really want to throw any more of the 10,000 or so words that I’ve written on it out – but some of it has to go.

I decided the best use of at least some of my time was to put on the brakes and prepare a rough outline of the story. I still want SP to be novella-length rather than a full-blown novel. To sharpen the focus, I’ve pulled out some of the characters and ideas that had made their way into the draft-so-far. Not a big deal, as I want to be able to write more stories with these characters and settings, so I can save stuff for a sequel. Narrowing the scope will make for a leaner, faster-moving story, which is all to the good.

I’m not going to outline in too much detail, as I still want this to be my fun project that I make up as I go along, but as usual I’ve discovered that if I don’t have some structure to work from, I end up throwing a kitchen-sinkload of characters, place names and random quasi-historical references in and completely bogging down my story. And since I am still not a great editor, I’d like the first draft to be as clean as possible.

Most of the afternoon was spent configuring a new desktop PC, with all the attendant woes of transferring files. I discovered that in Windows 8.1  Microsoft have deliberately borked their formerly useful file transfer applications. Instead of hitting a couple of buttons to transfer settings and files easily across the network, as modern life has taught me to expect, I have to copy things to and then from an external hard drive. Like our pre-millennial ancestors must have done in the times before recorded history. Primitive!

Anyway, I got things settled down enough to manage a late night writing sprint, rounding out a Serpentine Precipice scene that I started yesterday.

Interesting side note – since I started writing this story, I have not managed to type either of the words ‘serpentine’ or ‘precipice’ correctly the first time. There’s a very good chance I will change the name before I am finished working on this project, just to avoid having to type and retype those words.

Tally: 460

New fiction words for the month: 10,340

I may have poked out my tongue at him. I can’t be expected to remember every act of discourtesy I am called upon to impart.

November 18, 2014

NotNaNo Day 18 – Bloodless

Filed under: fitter/happier,news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: — lexifab @ 10:37 pm

I had two jobs today – give blood and tidy up for the visit tomorrow from the pest exterminators, who will hopefully rid us of our cloth-eating moths.

The first involved drinking a lot of water, lying down for two hours with a needle in my arm and spending the rest of the day in a mildly euphoric state. I donate platelets, which involves taking blood out, spinning out the plasma, doing something resembling fractionation to it, and then injecting everything except a bagful of important-looking yellow stuff back into me. The good news is that I get uninterrupted reading time and a nice milkshake halfway through. The bad news is that my kindle bricked itself about two minutes before I went in, which led to a moment of vast, uncomprehending horror as I contemplated lying there with nothing good to read. Then it worked again, with no more explanation for its recovery than for its failure. The universe is testing me and as ever I am found wanting.

The second great labour involved packing almost every item of clothing and manchester in the house into black plastic bags. The theory is that while the guy is spraying our ratty, literally moth-eaten carpets and cupboards for moths and their eggs, I will put all the bagged clothes outside in the sun. The elevated temperature, which I would guess will get to 50+ degrees inside the bags, is supposed to kill off any eggs laid in the clothing (the moths too, one supposes). Rough treatment if you’re a moth, but maybe not worse than being poisoned by a guy with a mask and a pump spray? I dunno. Tomorrow’s not looking good for the moths of the house.

Anyway, after all that I got the bare minimum of writing work done. I’ve just knocked off another world building scene for Serpentine Precipice. This one poked at some of the religious customs and beliefs of my setting. Massively over-written, as usual – I’m explaining this world to myself as I go, so the eventual editing process is going to have to be severe if not ruthless in order to turn this whole thing back into a story. I’ll write it first and worry about that later, though.

I also started editing Third Violin, but only the opening page so far. This draft is under 4000 words, but I already know I need to expand some scenes to include more characterisation and dialogue, more descriptions and various missing plot elements. So it will come out a bit bigger by the end of this rewrite. After that, I’ll start cutting stuff. This is my highly efficient editing method.

Tally: 430

Total fiction words for the month: 9880

Tomaz was one of those penitent types who felt abject, vertiginous terror was a necessary catalyst for a full and detailed cataloguing of one’s regrettable behaviours.

November 17, 2014

NotNaNo Day 17 – Third Violin – Check!

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 11:20 pm

I finished the first draft of Third Violin tonight. I didn’t want to. I’m tired, so I would have been content to knock out three or hour hundred words to satisfy the streak before calling it a night. But after getting a rejection this morning for an older piece and checking through my records, I realised that I started writing Third Violin for a specific market, one that closes at the end of the month. Having a deadline to work to helped sharpen my focus a little (tea also helped).

The draft is rough. Sandpaper rough. Rubbing-sandy-shark-fins-over-three-day-stubble rough. I think I have the tone of the ending right, but now I have to go back and set up all the personalities and relationships that the ending is supposed to pay off. It won’t be easy, but I think I know what I’m doing with it.

I’ve been wrong before, of course.

Either way, it’s a satisfying feeling to draw a line under a piece and call it finished, if only finished-for-now. I might try to do the same for Incidental tomorrow, and then concentrate on spending a few days editing both.

Tally: 980 words

Total fiction world count for November: 9450 (it’s not looking too bad for my nominal target of 15,000 words for the month)

Everyone’s eyes turned toward me. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel something break inside me when that happened. On the contrary, I wanted it. Until it was satisfied in that moment, I never realised the strength of my curiosity about why people craved the soloist’s spotlight.

(Even though it’s somewhat tortuous and needs a complete rewrite, I’m extremely happy with this paragraph. I didn’t really understand my protagonist until the moment I wrote it.)

November 16, 2014

NotNaNo Days 14-16 – A Weekend’s Work

Three very busy days and evenings in a row could have crash-tackled my writing streak. Last night came close, as I blearily tried to focus on my screen at something like eleven o’clock after a slightly boozy dinner party. The only way I could concentrate at all was to plonk myself with an iPad in front of the end of The Fellowship of the Ring on TV and write during the ad breaks. It worked surprisingly well – usually distractions like that punch a hole straight through my writing sessions, but the familiarity of the material seemed to help me kick the lethargy aside for small sprints. I didn’t write much, and I haven’t read back over it so see if it was remotely usable, but it was productive nonetheless.

Big ups to Elizabeth from Earl Grey Editing, who is reading along with the November experiment. Since we’ve passed the halfway mark, I guess I can declare the experiment a provisional success. I’ve written every day so far in November, and through the fiction word count has dipped down to the low 200’s a couple of times, overall I’ve added over 8000 words to my tally. I don’t doubt that I will finish Incidental and Third Violin before the end of the month and probably start on a new story into the bargain. Serpentine Precipice is growing and growing, but I still don’t have a sense of its final size so I can’t predict when I will be done with it. It’s coming along nicely.

Even though I am not doing NaNoWriMo numbers – by the NaNo count I should be at nearly 30000 words by now – I am very happy to writing every day. And I’ve found the blogging – interminable and tedious as it is – to be an important motivating factor. Even if nobody were reading (hi again Elizabeth!) it really helps to know that I keep myself accountable to myself by diarising my progress. There’s been at least two nights where I dragged myself to the chair because I didn’t want to have to admit I’d broken my chain.

Tonight was one of those. So yay, the system works!

Tally: 230 (Friday) + 250 (Saturday) + 470 (Sunday)

Total fiction word count for the month: 8470

“These sheets are hand-written,” said Tommy, shaking his copy like a cocktail mixer. “Who’s the composer?”

“The piece is a gift of the muse,” replied Warren, smiling like Tommy had complimented him on his shoes or something.

“Does that mean you wrote it?”

November 13, 2014

NotNaNo Day 13 – Truncated

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 10:50 pm

I’m dog tired and crashing, so just the stats tonight. I will try to make it up with an actual post about something tomorrow.

Tally: 540 words (on Third Violin)

Total word count for the month: 7520

Kostya waved a lot and danced a bit, playing up to the louts in the audience, who were probably high school kids who were told they had to be there. His moves threw off his timing on a couple of occasions, but the orchestra knew the material well by that time. We mostly ignored his baton and stayed with Tommy’s timpani and we made it through to the intermission without a problem.

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