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

September 28, 2011

Getting there, getting there

Filed under: wordsmithery — lexifab @ 1:28 am

Three chapters down now (with one quick scene to add to Chapter Two to set up Chapter Four). I’m still not managing to break the 1000 word mark in a given session, most of which this week have started after 10 pm and continued until I can’t keep my eyes open any more. I am managing to pump out a steady 500-600 words most days. It’s those pesky little gap days that are slowing things down though.

At this rate the first draft of the novel ought to be done by the end of January, barring rapid acceleration. I’ll believe that when I see it mind you. I’d prefer to have it done by Xmas though. I wonder if a looming deadline will have any beneficial effects?


What’s your current work-in-progress? C’mon, share!

September 20, 2011

Reviews – Comics and eBooks

Filed under: reviewage,Uncategorized — lexifab @ 8:48 pm

I’ve read some stuff in the last week, which is about the only field of personal endeavour in which I’ve advanced in that time. Here’s what I thought about some of that, including a couple of books and a handful of new comics (long, but chunked):


September 19, 2011

Rating: unimpressive

Filed under: wombat,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 11:43 pm

Two hours of poring over finicky tax spreadsheets tonight have zapped whatever enthusiasm I had for writing. But dammit, between getting everything tidied up at work and nursing a sick baby girl at home, last week was a major backward step. To make up for it tonight I’m going to knuckle down and make sure I get something down before I pass out.

Not that I usually need an excuse, but one thing that’s absolutely guaranteed to kill any productivity (for me) is a sick kid. The Wombat has spent the last week so stuffed up that she’s awake for half the night, and screaming for at least part of it. Few things bugger up a night’s sleep more comprehensively than being woken up by a screaming baby. I don’t know how J.K. Rowling managed it (although some of her tortured prose might offer the odd clue).

So this Monday’s entry serves no purpose other than to mark time and remind me that I should be writing. Which is what I am going to go to do in just a minute. First some housekeeping:

826 – Words written on the Project Bushwalk. Not that you would know it from that substellar performance, but Scrivener is proving so far to be the right tool for this job. I like the structural support it provides and the ease of dropping character and place notes in off at the side without derailing momentum by opening up another file. Obviously I could also do these things with a piece of paper, but I like it when the technology not only doesn’t get in the way, but actually gets out and helps to push. In terms of the story itself, I have gotten a decent amount of thinking done about my characters, what they want and what they might do to get it. My middle and ending are still slightly murky, but I am gradually honing them into shape. I daresay any plans I make will not long survive the actual writing process, though, so I’m not too worried about that. The productivity rate is the real concern at this point.

14,300 – Daily average number of steps taken. I had a bit more succes on the exercise front. Over the course of the 111-day Global Corporate Challenge pedometer-fetishism exercise, I averaged about 12,300 steps a day. Since then I’ve increased that rate. I think I’ll aim for keeping the average over 13,500 for the month. That shouldn’t be too hard. I’m at home with the baby Wombat until the start of November – and while she will certainly voice strong objections to my sitting down at a laptop and hammering out a few hundred words two or three times a day, she quite likes getting out and about for a walk. So it’s looking good for the exercise and wait-and-see for the writing. But I think I can probably do better than my current average of less than 300 words a day.

Let’s see about that.

Edit: A shade over 500 words before the eyelids started getting too heavy to see through. Acceptable if I can keep it up for the rest of the week. But I have just realised that the scene I’m writing needs a better defined conflict, which means that many of those words will have to go. But that’s a problem for Later!

September 11, 2011

Third time’s the charm

Filed under: geekery,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 2:04 am

I’ve started a third draft of my short story, referred heretoafter as Project Bushwalk (after a central element of the previous two drafts which has now been completely excised from the narrative). Tonight’s writing session got a thousand words down. That was a little slow. I think I was still trying too hard to get every word right, but in effect this is a new first draft, since there’s only a limited amount of the text from the previous versions that I can reuse. I know what the story is about now.

(It strikes me that this is not an especially efficient writing technique. Nonetheless, this iteration feels like it has a natural momentum that was missing from the first two passes. I’ll take what I can get).

I decided that since I am working from an outline for this story [1] I would finally crack open the beta copy of Scrivener that has been sitting on my hard drive for a few months now.[2] Scrivener’s a document management tool which allows for quick cutting between different parts of a long written work (such as a thesis, script or novel), simple reordering of chapters/scenes and cross-referencing to notes, picture files (useful for checking maps, for example) and other research.

I haven’t delved too deeply into its functionality yet – once I figured out the basics I was more keen to drop in the outline and then start some real writing – but it looks like it will be quite a useful tool. I quite like that you can look at an overview page and see various chapters and/or scenes watermarked with a big red ‘To Do’ stamp – and then as you write them they graduate through ‘First draft’ to ‘Revised draft’, ‘Final draft’ and ‘Done’. I can see that building a nice sense of accomplishment. [3] I also like that it has several different format modes, including one for film scripts, which are something I experiment with on occasion.

It may well turn out that Scrivener will prove more of a distracting toy than a useful tool, in which case I will ditch it without a backward glance. It’s also in beta, which means that there is a risk of it losing writing to data instability. However it can’t be any worse that when I have sometimes worked in Google Documents over a patchy internet connection, which has the all-too-often-realised protential to cost me large chunks of work. Still, while it remains reliable I will give it a fair shakedown test and see what it can do for me.

Onwards to more Project Bushwalk!

Oh, no, wait – it’s one in the morning. Onwards, instead, to bed!


[1] As opposed to my usual approach of just typing until some satisfactory number of interesting things have happened.

[2] Demonstrating the procrastinatory folly of resorting to the use of gimmicks designed to assist artistic endeavours, that version of Scrivener was months out of date and I had to install a completely new version. As it turned out I didn’t need to spend more than 20 minutes futzing with software installations. I took that as the Muses letting me off with a caution.

[3] As an aside I can see how various of Scrivener’s organisational functions would be particularly useful if and when I have another go at my NaNoWriMo effort from (gulp) eight years ago, which suffered from many structural problems [4]. Before anyone gets excited, I won’t be doing that any time soon.

[4] Not to mention an excess of wholly unloveable characters, which was intentional but, on reflection, not too smart.

September 5, 2011

August Progress Score

Filed under: wordsmithery — lexifab @ 12:06 am

In my ongoing attempts to build writing stamina, I’m tracking my word count for various projects on a spreadsheet. Because for a public servant, nothing measures progress like a good set of baseline data. Metrics FTW! Am I right? Hellzyeah!

Between blog entries, fiction writing and reviews, most of which makes its way up here to Lexifabricographer, I seem to be averaging about 10,000 words a month of new material. That doesn’t sound like much, but the fact is that the vast majority of it is written after 10 pm, when I am not exactly brimming with insight or genius. (Sometimes beer, rarely genius). Most nights I’m pretty satisfied if I can punch out a block of 500 words or so before the last of my neurons chuck in the towel. I got it over 800 words a couple of nights last week, but those nights are rare.

The problem for my fiction output is that more than half of my wordcount since April has been the 40,000 words or so of Lost reviews. On the one hand, I’m pretty happy that I can literally pound out nearly 10,000 words a month if I make a concerted effort. That was at least part of the point of doing the reviews in the first place. But on the other hand, the Lost reviews require comparitively little intellectual effort beyond coming up with new ways to belittle Jack’s ego. I have not been able to match that pace with more original work. Not even close.

So I seem to able to work reasonably quickly when I know what I’m going to be writing, and no so much when I am just tootling along and looking at the scenery. No real surprise there. I find that if I already know what a scene is going to be about and how the characters are going to behave, it’s a pretty straightforward exercise to get that down on paper.

It’s a pity that that flies in the face of my preference for just writing whatever comes into my head. But it’s becoming clear to me that I can’t work particularly quickly when I’m trying to be creative. On top of that, trying to be creative in the middle of the night is a bit of a mug’s game, at least where I’m concerned. I’m much brighter first thing in the mornings.

With the heroic impartiality of a born fence-sitter, I’ve decided I’m going to work to a hybrid model. At the start of a project, I’ll just freestyle it, writing whatever seems to suit and not worrying too much about whether it makes any sense or not. When that’s gone as far as it can, I’ll stop and do some plotting, outlining, character sketching and whatever other little bits of construction might be needed, including a chapter breakdown if that seems necessary. Then I’ll start again on the real first draft.

(What I haven’t done in any of this is discount the work I complete on these draft zero stories, even though I don’t expect to keep much of what I’ve done. The exploration method – writing to see where the story goes and what it is – is still writing, even if it doesn’t end up in or even bear much resemblance to the finished work. It would be nice if I never had to change anything substantially from the first draft, but I no longer carry the conviction of my youth that my first drafts are anything but pure unvarnished dross)

That’s pretty much what I’ve done for the couple of pieces I am working on now – both of them short stories that have outgrown their original concepts. What I need to do next is outline both and pick the one that seems closer to being a whole concept. Then focus on that until it’s done.

It’s just occurred to me that the advantage of doing more upfront outlining work is that I can squeeze that sort of work into small gaps of opportunity in the mornings, whereas writing needs blocks of uninterrupted time that just don’t happen to me until after dinner most days. What that means, though, is that I should be doing the main creative work – the plotting, the mapping of characters and story elements and conflicts – when my brain is best suited to it. Which is to say, when it has a fresh double shot of morning caffeine running through it.

Right, so I should probably start trying to get to bed before midnight a bit more often. Like, say, now.

September 4, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge – Revenge

Filed under: fictionchunk,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 1:55 am

Over at the bubbling, writhing word-pit known as terribleminds.com, Chuck Wendig does weekly fiction writing challenges, for anyone who feels like playing. This week, the subject is revenge, with a 100-word limit. Even I can remain focused and committed for a span of 100 words…and here they are (I cheated a bit and didn’t count the title).

His Chance will Come Again

“He’s breaking his conditioning!” Sister Cheryl’s beatific monotone cracked with panic. “Jesus fuck, does anyone remember his trigger word?”

Brother Zachariah – well, Constable Zach Barnes again, I guess – shook his head clear for the first time in months and snarled with comprehension. “You’re going to pay for this, Padre.”

I drew the .38 from the doubled fold in my sash. In their musclebound haste for the door, Brothers Fergus and Weasel knocked the piece from my hand. Cheryl screamed.

As meaty cop hands closed around my throat, I uttered my benediction. “This is the worst fucking cult ever.”

Review – “The Silence of Medair” by Andrea K. Höst

Filed under: reviewage,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 1:18 am

Medair an Rynstar has to be counted among the least fortunate heroes in all fantasy fiction. After a small error of judgment on the eve of an epic triumph over an overwhelming enemy, she is robbed of the chance to save her beloved Empire. Thrust into a homeland transformed by the hated invaders, she wants nothing more than to hide away in exile and nurse her grief. But after she escapes an unexplained kidnapping attempt, she finds herself in the service of her most reviled enemy. Now she is forced to choose between her oath of loyalty to a dead emperor and the realities of her new world.

Medair is an unusual fantasy heroine. She is a strong woman of conviction without a place in the world, a diplomat left with nobody to speak for and an unremarkable mage in possession of the magical equivalent of a tactical nuke, a weapon too powerful to be of any use. Her decisions – to keep secrets and serve nobody – draw her back to the centre of world affairs, the last place she wants to be.

Andrea Höst’s evocative prose paints rich landscapes, whether she is dealing with her sumptuous world of world-breaking magic, the tenuous social fabric of a conquered empire or the inner torment of Medair herself. And it is with her compelling and complex protagonist that Höst’s work excels: Medair is a complex and compelling protagonist. She is guarded and resourceful, clever and insightful, secretive and tenacious. She is loyal to her values yet unable to completely surrender to justified hatred for her enemies and wearied by a cruel misfortune which carries with it more than a hint of predestination.

The Silence of Medair is on the one hand stirring and emotional high fantasy, with the requisite invasions by sorceror-armies, magical shenanigans, political intrigues and scenes of apocalyptic destruction. But it is also a tense emotional drama, a subtle and elegant romance, a haunting meditation on survivor guilt and a frank exploration of the political and emotional underpinnings of racism. It’s a lot to live up to, but Höst handles it with aplomb. I can’t recommend it enough.

What’s more, it ends on a cracking cliffhanger. I’m glad the sequel’s out already. Both are available from Amazon (in paperback or electronic format) and Smashwords.

September 2, 2011

Review – “Hotel Flamingo” by Patrick O’Duffy

Filed under: reviewage,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 12:10 am

For a weekly writing exercise cranked out through a blog, Hotel Flamingo is a terrific work. Comprising twenty-two short-short vignettes about a host of loners, losers, monsters and quite a few janitorial workers whose strange paths intersect at the eponymous hotel, this is a creepy and imaginative piece of weird urban fantasy.

Tracing a hurried, almost desperate path from one haunted, ruined or just plain odd character to the next, these interconnected anecdotes recall the oppressive weirdness of Johnathon Tweet’s Over The Edge roleplaying game or Grant Morrison’s groundbreaking surrealist run on the Doom Patrol comic. The Hotel Flamingo would not be remotely out of place in either work, which I hope comes across as the high praise intended.

Author Patrick O’Duffy has a breezy, assured narrative voice that’s as effective describing a character’s crushing loneliness, his deranged inspirations and her existential befuddlement as it is at suggesting the horrific alien architecture lurking just behind the curtains (most of the time) in the story. That he has also constructed an intricate and complex tale from just a few slivers of detail is remarkable. If I have one complaint, it’s that this collection is too easy to consume in a single serving, and I have an appetite for more. I don’t imagine that O’Duffy intends to revisit this setting, but I would happily accept another fat slice of Flamingo.

At $2.99 from the Amazon Kindle store or Smashwords, I’d call this good value too. If you have one o’ these new-fangled e-readermajigs, consider this my gold-star recommendation of the week.

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