Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

March 30, 2011

A blog mostly about writing. Oh joy.

Filed under: friends,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 1:28 pm

I still have a cold. My head aches, I’m kind of snotty, the dizziness is becoming a thing unto itself and I’ve just been carrying the baby Wombat about for an hour trying to settle her so my shoulder hurts like hell. Waah. Fair warning that I have absolutely no intention of editing this entry to either get what I shall laughingly refer to as  my facts straight, not will I make any attempt to impose cohesive structure on it. Instead I am going to exorcise a bunch of random botherations that have been intriguing and/or vexing me lately. Let the ramblage commence.

My writing

I’ve been doing some lately, primarily the Lost reviews but also some other bits and pieces on the side. The purpose has been mainly to rebuild the habit by investing time in just sitting down and hammering out something in which I have no serious investment. The good thing (for me) about the reviews is that I really can’t get blocked or frustrated with it. I know what’s coming next – duh, it’s the next episode – so all I have to do is commit the time to watch the episode and think about it for a little while, and then I can usually spray out a thousand words or so of commentary. The analytical side of things is coming along a little more slowly but that’s part of the purpose of the exercise as well. I presume that I will get better at it as I go.

What I don’t want to do is what I’ve done countless times in the past. Get all excited for a project that I think will be worth pursuing, either because it’s intellectually stimulating or conceivably saleable, only to have it fall apart because ill-discipline and circumstance put up roadblocks that I then don’t have the stamina to overcome. I’ve got I don’t know how many half-dead stories languishing in various parts of my electronic space [1] which began in bursts of creative energy only to sputter out when I lost my rythmn and couldn’t resummon whatever it was that compelled me to write it in the first place.I have a problem with finishing stuff. That’s the problem that I’m working on.

Andrew makes a good point that announcing one’s projects in public will eventually rob you of that creative energy, and I’m sure that in the main that’s true, but that’s not the problem I have. I tend to work better when I have the sense hanging over me that I may not be meeting someone else’s expectations. That I owe them something that I have yet to deliver. In truth I know that writing to please someone else is ultimately a doomed enterprise. Whatever their real expectations may be, they are not the same as yours. So what I do is assign a sense of obligation – “This is something that I think Clam would like to read” – and I sort of trick myself into feeling like I’ve made a promise to them. Sometimes I even discuss it with the person in question, but as often not the audience for a particular piece is either wholly ignorant of it or is actually just a fictitious construct, amalgamated from the half-imagined preferences of several friends or acquaintances. Whomever or whatever seems to suit the material will do. I motivate myself with a web of virtual obligations that have little to no bearing on reality. It occasionally occurs to me to wonder whether anyone else thinks this way, but I shy away from any hints that I might be a bit odd.

(I kind of strayed away from where I was going with that, but it’s a useful thing to have recognised about my writing style. That will be one of those probably-unhelpful tendencies that I need to find constructive strategies to deal with. Add that one to the list.)

The point I had intended to get to before ducking down that particular back country track was that as usual I have several ideas for writing projects that have been percolating away for a while to which I am unusually wedded. I don’t want to repeat my pattern of starting something cool and then dropping the ball when my puff runs out. Like a marathon runner, if I’m going to start the damn things then I would rather be the kind of person who will see them through to the finish. That means that I have to take a critical step back and look at myself in the mirror.

“Self,” I will say, “you’re a fucking disgrace. You’re lazy and unfit.” Yeah, I need the tough love. “You need to tighten up, get your breathing right, and be able to take more than ten steps in a row without getting a fucking cramp.”

Wow, I sure am mean, but I guess I’m also kind of right.

So that’s what the Lost reviews are all about. I’m starting slowly with some exercise to build myself back up to an acceptable level of fitness, to sort out my total lack of pace and rythmn and to toughen up my resistance to the fear of failure and disappointment. Only then will I start in on my projects, once I’m sure that I have the guts and the technique to push through the pain/frustration barriers and keep going until I cross the finish line. (At which point I will abandon the running metaphor with as little grace as I think I can get away with).

Other people’s writing

I hadn’t intended to blather about myself up there for quite as long as all that, but if blogs are not fed fat chunks of sopping bloody ego I am sure they whimper and starve. Anyway, I did have some other things I wanted to talk about.

My friend Andrea is a writer. A proper writer i.e. one that doesn’t actually stop writing for months or years at a time. A long time ago she emailed me a copy of her manuscript “The Silence of Medair” to comment on. I rather think that I let her down on that point and that whatever input I did offer was probably thin if it existed at all [2] but her ego is not as fragile as mine and she pressed on with it, submitting it as an unsolicited manuscript to an (unnamed) publisher. This links to her appalling account of the subsequent ten whole years that her novel sat in the publisher’s slush pile.

It’s almost unbelievable. The poverty of professionalism, the dysfunctional process control, the agonising span of time involved is incredible. Moreover, Andrea’s patience with the process – I presume grounded in a sensible unwillingness to alienate a potential publisher or to gain a poor reputation within the industry – must surely exceed the minimum standards for canonisation. Good on her for eventually drawing a line under the whole sordid tale and withdrawing the novel on the tenth anniversary of its submission. More power to her for deciding to publish it for herself [3]. I heartily endorse “The Silence of Medair”. Go and check out the sample chapter and see if it’s your thing. If it is, go and buy it like I’m just about to.

But the icing on the cake has to be the fact that after all its trials and all her waiting, Andrea’s novel has been recognised in this year’s Aurealis Awards in the category for best fantasy novel. It’s up against works published by large publishers (hmm, well I’m not 100% sure about Orbit, but my sense is that it’s a big player in the F&SF genres). I also note that it’s the only self-published work in any category. Stiff competition, in other words, and the achievement is all the more remarkable given the horror story of its publication. Good luck on the 21st of May, AKH!


Anyway this has taken up more time than I really ought to have been spending at the keyboard so I will leave the other stuff I was going to ramble about for another day. Who wants to talk about what they are writing at the moment?


[1] Which I really need to consolidate and back up, except that administrative busywork is one of the many methods of procrastination to which I am all too ready to resort.

[2] Providing useful feedback is another skill of which I feel a sore lack, so that’s something else I am working on.

[3] I’ve been thinking a lot about the self-publishing field lately, not particularly because I want to join it, but because I’m interested in how open a writer’s options have become. But I kind of feel like I’m lacking some basic grounding in the subject. Because I don’t have an e-reading device like an iPad or a Kindle and because I just can’t read an entire novel from a computer screen [4], I have yet to really participate in or fully come to grips with the changes in the market. But that probably won’t stop me from pontificating on the subject in a future Lexifab entry.

[4] This, by the way, is the reason that it took me so long to get back to Andrea about ‘The Silence of Medair” all those years ago, not to mention why I have several novels by friends of mine backed up in my reading list. I have terrible stamina when it comes to reading long blocks of text from a screen with a landscape layout. I don’t know why – it’s not a vision thing, because I’ve always had this problem and I had 20/20 vision last time I had it checked. I just cannot sustain the concentration when reading in this format. A problem that just doesn’t exist for me with the aforementioned readers.



  1. I’m pretty sure that being an imprint of a major international publisher (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orbit_Books) makes Orbit a large publisher. Also, I read the tale of the Glacier last night with an increasing sense of amused horror without realizing that Andrea was the author (way to put 2 + 2 together Mr the Simno). Props to Andrea for patience & nominations.

    Comment by Das Simonster — March 30, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

  2. Interesting you mention that reading on a screen thing. I remember vividly that I printed out the several Nanowrimo novels that I read, for that same issue.

    Comment by Marco Parigi — March 30, 2011 @ 2:08 pm

  3. Way to go, AKH! 🙂

    And you’re right about that thing Clam would like to read. Where is it? Bring it on!

    Comment by The Former Dr Clam — March 30, 2011 @ 2:33 pm

  4. I gave in a few weeks ago and bought a Kindle (putting aside my moderate distrust of Amazonthegiantcorporation) and it’s switched me almost entirely over to ebooks. Cannot recommend the device itself enough. Eink is nothing like reading on a screen.

    I’m taking a week off writing at the moment (between editing parts 1 and 2 of a trilogy). I’ll be interested to see whether your Lost reviews push you toward the writing you really want to do – it would not work for me, since it would simply be writing I was doing instead of the writing I wanted. But we all have different processes, so good luck with this one! [Managing distractions is the hard part for me. I always had trouble writing when involved in roleplaying games – Amanda was such a good storyteller I’d get caught up in her story instead of mine.]

    Thanks for the congrats! Can’t say I have any hope of winning, but it’s nice to know that the judges liked Medair enough to list it.

    Comment by Andrea — March 30, 2011 @ 5:23 pm

  5. Si – Yeah, I followed that link blind as well. You could have heard my jaw hit the table when I figured out that I knew the novel in question.

    Marco – I could never quite bring myself to use up the paper and ink to print out full-length novels for a single read-through, so I would just keep plodding along reading a bit at a time from the screen. If I had printed TSoM out I probably could have read the pages faster than my old printer could have churned them out…

    Clam – It’s 3-5 years away, which is roughly when, on current progress, I will finish reading your most recent opus. But I think you’ll like it! 🙂

    Andrea – I’ve been coming to the conclusion today that I should start socking some cash away to pick up a Kindle at some point. Unless iPads drop to a truly insulting level of cheapness, that is. The advantage of the Kindle is that I would actually read stuff on that, as opposed to constantly monitoring Twitter and flinging birds at pigs.

    As for the Lost reviews, I’ll keep doing them for as long as they feel useful, but I definitely won’t let them get in the way of writing something more important to me. At some point I expect that I’ll trip over my own schedule, but hopefully only because I’ve had to set it aside for a time to concentrate on something of a higher priority. I know what you mean about the roleplaying games too – I spent the better part of the last two years making sure I didn’t succumb to the (incredibly bad) temptation to novelise my Burning Wheel campaign.

    Comment by lexifab — March 30, 2011 @ 8:08 pm

  6. The inspiration for me me to write comes extremely sporadically, and try as I might, creative fiction escapes me completely as something I can motivate myself to do. Even emotions and imagery are aspects that I have a mental block in writing, even if they are non-fiction. In contrast I admire and do enjoy reading the stuff I don’t ever write about, when I have an actual connection to the writer. I suspect I am not a good sample audience, however for any sort of focus group ideas on popularity or even marketability.

    As far as printing out stuff that I would only read through once, I always felt that I would pass it on to someone else to read, or keep it for future reference.

    Comment by Marco Parigi — April 2, 2011 @ 7:42 pm

  7. […] [checks] Nope, actual research indicates that it is Poland after all. It seems to date back to my long blather about writing from a few weeks ago. Heaven knows what it was about that deeply insightful work of introspective […]

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