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

January 21, 2014

Post-interview crash

Filed under: news of the day,workin for the man — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 3:28 pm

Yesterday I went to my first job interview in six years. At least I think that’s what it was.

Following up on the idea that I should eschew money, free time and a healthy back and knees free of crippling muscular pain, I talked yesterday to a pimping agency that places apprentices with relevent companies (builders and tradies, in the case of my preferred vocation).

To say that it’s been a while since I did an interview for a private sector job is a bit of an understatement. It’s been at least twenty years, and that’s far enough back that specific details of how I got previous jobs are hazy, if not wholly reconstructed from lost data. The thing is, I can’t remember the process being so…chatty.

The employer – let’s call her M because it’s her initial – is the sole ACT agent for a company headquartered in Sydney. So, I dunno, maybe she doesn’t get to talk to many people face to face (or at least not many people who are not 17 years old and looking for a sparky’s ticket).

But, man, that was some chat. The state of the ACT economy, the state of the public service, the state of the local trades industry, Canberra’s variable weather (equipment-meltingly hot except when it’s brain-freezingly cold), the complexities of work health and safety laws versus the rude simplicity of not getting killed on the job, the dizzying array of TAFE courses available… On occasions it strayed close to the business of becoming an employee [1] but mostly it just seemed to be an exercise in me impressing upon her that I was serious about wanting to be a (very) mature-age chippie.

M did her best to put me off the whole idea. The hours will be long. The pay will be minimal. The work will be back-breaking and exhausting. For the first six to twelve months I will be a burden and a liability for the foreman and everyone around me, all of whom will likely be fifteen to twenty years younger than me.

I’ll admit that the hours are going to be the biggest obstruction. It will be hard to coordinate doing my part to help with the kids if I have to be on-site at seven in the morning and won’t finish my work day until after school finishes. And I’ll probably lose most of my Saturdays. And, and, and…

In the end I’m not sure if I’m put off or not. If it were just me, I think I could stomach the financial hit. I know I could grunt out the physical stress, once I got past the body horror of being confronted with the fact that I no longer have the strength and stamina of an eighteen (even the structurally unprepossessing eighteen year old that I used to be).

M was not one to close the door without opening a dim and possibly dangerous secret passage though. She suggested some other options I hadn’t considered that move me towards my goal, more in line with my prior experience and less bodily demanding. I’m not sure if they’re really what I want to do – the hands-on part of carpentry is the aspect of my plans that has the most appeal – but she’s given me a lot to think about.

As we shook hands and thanked each other for our time, I did wonder whether I was under serious consideration or not. I know that I didn’t come away with that familiar, dreaded sensation of having botched the interview and made a laughing stock of myself. On the other hand, I didn’t walk out contemplating an offer either. I didn’t expect to. I didn’t know what to expect.

It was fun though. It looks as though the years have smoothed off some of the spiky bits I’ve always experienced with job interviews. And by ‘spiky bits’ I mean of course ‘utter, shaking terror’. I reckon I might be willing to do it again.

What I will do next is still an academic question. Until my current employer decides whether it wants me or not (or at least until my employer gets around to telling me what it wants) I won’t consider taking another job. But it sure would be nice to have something lined up just in case.

The search continues…

[1] One such moment was when M quietly mentioned the salary range for first-year apprentices, which is roughly one-half of what I get paid at the moment. That’s actually a bit better than I was expecting, but of course it also comes with a forty hour week and regular somewhat-mandatory overtime.

January 16, 2014

Goals for 2014

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 4:38 pm

The Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSfG) gathered last night for its first 2014 meeting. After we finished discussing the upcoming business of the year [1], we got on to the discussing of setting our writing goals for the year.

Honestly, I wasn’t going to do it. I had every intention skipping the whole New Year’s resolution thing. Instead of making a collection of half-baked promises that I am in the habit of failing to deliver on, surely it would be better to just knuckle down and produce whatever I could.

Then yesterday I read this essay on what is happening to someone who procrastinates a lot. Someone like me. I have to say I found the essay so eerily descriptive of my state of mind (especially the stuff about the dark playground and self-reinforcing cycles of shame) that I almost couldn’t finish reading it. Which was nuts of me, but there you are.

I highly recommend that essay, whether or not you’re a procrastinator. Someone who is will find it full of useful observations on what you’re doing to yourself and what you can do about it. People who are not procrastinators will learn that it’s completely understandable but utterly useless to offer the advice “Just sit down and do it”.

Anyway, when I accepted that part of the strategy for fixing the procrastination problem is to set tangible goals broken down by simple, specific steps, I realised that I kind of need the goals to keep me honest.

So, long story short, my writing goals for the year are:

1: finish the current draft of my novel manuscript by the end of February. If I keep to my 400+ words a day writing streak, that should mean I will produce at least 14,000 more words by the 28th of February, which *should* be about what I need to wrap up the draft.

2: write 10 short stories to publishable quality, one a month for the remaining months of the year. In theory that one should be a doddle, in that it usually doesn’t take me that long to write a story once I start. The risk will come in stories that blow out beyond what I am picturing as my standard length of 4000 – 6000 words. I am giving myself leeway to redefine this goal if it turns out that everything I want to write this year is really a novella rather than a short. I won’t know until I start though.

3: submit short stories at least 25 times. At the normal rate of submission/consideration/rejection-or-acceptance, this is about the right rate. By the end of the year I should have a good stockpile of stories, such that even if a few of them are accepted (which I hope they will, obviously), I should have enough coming in and going out again to meet this target.

4: I also have some additional non-specific goals about getting my work into various I-consider-them-prestigious Australian genre short story markets, like a Ticonderoga anthology or Cosmos Magazine. Small steps though.

So there it is. I’ll be pretty happy if I meet these goals, and very happy to exceed them. I anticipate the rest of my life getting in the way of my going far beyond expectations, especially if I have a radical career change soon. But writing is something that can keep me grounded and sane, so it gets a high priority.

Did you crack and set yourself goals?


[1] Which didn’t take long, but by the way included the informal notification that the editorial team for the next CSfG anthology has been finalised. If you happen to be someone who might want to make a short story keep your eyes open for the announcement of the theme and the call for submissions. [2]

[2] Also: Conflux, our local speculative fiction convention, will take place over the October long weekend this year. Which is a bit of a problem for me, seeing as that’s the time of year of my wedding anniversary. Since I was at a convention around that time last year, the anniversary had probably better win in 2014…

January 15, 2014

I just can’t stand all this damnable waiting

Filed under: workin for the man — Tags: , — lexifab @ 12:02 pm

I have to say, without being specific about the operational status of my day job, that I wish I were the sort of person who could live comfortably with myself while writing a novel at my workstation. I’d have opportunities, is all I can say.

(Instead, I am patiently awaiting the outcomes of opaque processes occurring in other parts of the organisation, pending decisions by persons unknown in consultation with undisclosed entities. I’ve been to seances with timelier, livelier outcomes…)

January 13, 2014

Contemplating my mid-life crisis options

Filed under: fitter/happier,news of the day,the renovated life — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 3:45 pm

At the moment my state of employment remains risibly unresolved, despite the several months that have passed since the government decision that changed everything [1]. I don’t have a lot to do, which has given me a lot of time to think about what I might want to do instead.

Number one on the list is, of course, to become a full-time writer. The major flaw in that plan is that I still have not only mortgage on my own house, but also a would-be-crippling debt on a range of investment properties. Gotta have at least some money trickling in. Regular readers will understand why I might not be ready to bet my family’s wellbeing going all-in on artistic productivity that more closely resembles a leaking tap.

So, given that my desire to continue in the public service has begun to wane of late, I’ve started thinking about what else I might like to do with myself. The thing that I keep coming back to is construction work.

I am thinking about starting an apprenticeship as a carpenter. Yes, I am completely serious. Somehow, the thought of four years on minimum wage, labouring in baking heat or murderous cold, hold a greater attraction than running down the clock to retirement in an office. It’s an urge that’s been coming on for a while now.

I’ve got to be honest, it would be a means to an end rather than an ambition in itself. I am certain I could find a great deal of joy and satisfaction in working as part of a team to build something tangible, to deal with crises and solve problems. (That’s where most of the joy in my administrative career has come from, after all). But at some point the dream is to be able to work for myself, with Fiona, as a builder/renovator, taking old things and making them new, or even building houses from scratch. It’s taken most of my life to learn to appreciate how satisfying and fulfilling is can be to make something new that will (hopefully) outlive you.

(It’s possible that having kids has helped with this revelation.)

The other reason that working outdoors has so much appeal at the moment is that it gets me away from a keyboard. Decades of sitting at a workstation all day have rubbed a bit of the gloss off the idea of further sitting at a computer writing fiction for half the night. But I know that if I’m separated from my writing tools for any significant length of time I start to get twitchy. Spending much of the day not being able to write is likely to make me very hungry indeed to get down everything I’ve been mulling over.

Finally, moving about a lot and lugging great big slabs of lumber ought to be great for toning my rock-hard delts and abs and…um, other muscles. Right, ladies? [2]

At the moment I’m not in a position to make any formal decisions, but I’m doing the research, making appropriate contacts and getting registered with the right organisations. From what I can tell, the slow economy is going to be the main impediment to me finding a place. Group training programs are being cut to the bone and nobody seems to be hiring.

On the other hand, when they do hire, older applicants (see also: white and male, if I were to guess) tend to be favourably considered because they are less likely to turn up late or drunk or just drop out mysteriously. That seems to be a thing among straight-out-of-school apprentices. Being financially stable and relatively fit and healthy seems to be an advantage from what i hear.

I’m at the stage where none of this might happen. Industry jobs are scarce, I may be offered a compelling position by my current employer that is not the wall of gloom and misery I seem to be in line for, or I may not be offered sufficient enticement to quit the service.

On the other hand, another week or two like the last couple, and that might not matter. Pass me a hammer and step back, please.


[1] Specifics elided because I am at least technically still a government employee, although it doesn’t seem like it most days. I intend to remain aloof and professionally distant with regards to the subject right up to the moment that I no longer have to.

[2] The supposed health benefits will presumably expire the first time I contract pneumonia working for a week in late autumn sleet getting the room on a half-finished frame so the boss doesn’t forfeit a completion bonus…

January 9, 2014

Brief update on the novel

Filed under: wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 10:25 am

Streak is at 7 days, and I’ve added about 400 words to the manuscript, taking this draft past the 80,000 mark (I now estimate it will be over 110,000 words in draft, with about 25,000 or so needed to be hacked out later).

I know wordcount reports come across as either tedious boasts or desperate pleas for attention and encouragement (so, you know, sorry for that). The important bit for me is that I think I’ve got the sense of the story back and, more importantly, the desire to tell it. It’s still wretched writing with far too much exposition, flat dialogue and a complete absence of interesting action, but at least it’s getting out. The rest is fixable.

What are you up to?

January 6, 2014

Momentuming the streaky chain

Filed under: fitter/happier,wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 4:29 pm

I have goals.

I am easily distracted from those goals. Apart from being married, having kids and being tired all the time, I’m also prone to addiction to television series, I’m an avid consumer of social media, I have still not shed my youthful predisposition for playing video games for many hours at a time, and I have a to-read pile that would exceed a storey in height if most of the items in it were not digital. If my tabletop gaming hadn’t tapered off to a mere trickle during the year it would have continued to be a major non-writing interest.

So, like a lot of writers, I have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to deciding what I would rather be doing than writing. It’s not as if the above list is exhaustive.

Lately – by which I mean, since about last July or so – other things that aren’t writing have been winning the battle for my free time. I’ve read a crapton of books (shallowly, for the most part), played out a few of the games in my collection, knocked off the odd season or two of TV favourites and spent way too much time trawling through Twitter.

Since July or so, my writing productivity on my draft novel dropped from 200-300 words a day (peaking at over 500 words a day in May) to less than 50 words a day by September and more or less nothing between October and the end of the year. The decline coincided with the worst of the lethargy that led to my sleep apnoea diagnosis, but it would be disingenuous to put the sharp downward slide to zero wordage down to a health-inspired break.

What really happened was that I lost my streak. I’d been writing continuously – not necessarily every day, but often enough to hit satisfactory weekly targets – for eight or so months straight. When I hit the wall and lost that uninterrupted run for about three or four weeks, getting started again seemed impossible. I had established an expectation of my own output (I won’t talk about quality here, just word count) that I couldn’t possibly achieve on nights when keeping my eyes open much past 9 pm was out of the question.

Rather than settle for a lesser word count (an option that in retrospect I think may just not have occurred to me) I fled the novel altogether. I told myself that I needed to think about the ending (lie). I told myself that I needed to think about the critiques comments I’d received in September (true but not relevant to finishing the draft). I told myself I didn’t know where the scene I was in the middle of writing was going (true but not very difficult to solve).

Basically I told myself whatever I needed to hear to excuse myself. Then I played Just Cause 2 for a bunch of weeks.

(I also started my treatment for sleep apnoea, which is not irrelevant, but was not the primary obstacle to my writing productivity for the entirety of the fallow period. I’m feeling much better now, by the way).

And to be a bit fair on myself, I wasn’t completely idle during that period. I wrote two 5000+ word stories during that time, one of which went through three rounds of edits in order to get it in its best possible shape before a submission deadline. Both are pretty solid pieces, I think – or will be with a bit more polishing. I’m proud of having written them, but they do represent my failure to meet my primary writing goal for the year.

And now it’s a new year, and while I don’t really do resolutions as such, it seems like a good time to set some goals for the coming year. Finishing the novel remains at the top of the list, but I now recognise that this piece, at least, is a marathon and not a sprint. I can’t sustain late night writing stints, especially not over a protracted period. That’s likely to remain true for the foreseeable future. So I need to have more modest goals for now.

At the same time, I need to build some momentum. I know from past experience that once I am in the habit of regular writing, with a set routine (“sit down, review output of previous session, review notes, start typing”) the words and ideas tend to flow easily. I also know that that is a rhythm that I need to build up to. It’s not my natural starting point.

My solution is to set a modest minimum daily word count (starting at 400 words, which is achievable in under an hour even when I’m having a very rough writing day). I’m going to focus not on producing huge blocks of words, but on hitting my target every single day. I’m going to play up to my gaming instincts and try for unbroken streaks of writing days. The knowledge that if I miss a day I will have to reset the clock should be enough to motivate me to effort when I might otherwise decide to vegetate in front of the telly. (It worked last night).

The other rules I have set for myself are:

1) Until I finish the current draft of the novel, the first 400 words have to be novel writing. I am allowed to work on other projects as well, but only after I’ve hit my daily target of advancing towards a finished draft.

2) If I know that a prior commitment is going to prevent my writing on a given day, then I am allowed to bank up that day’s word count ahead of time (i.e. dedicate some prior days’ writing sessions to accumulating the expected deficit). No retrospective allocation allowed – I can’t declare after the fact that back on Monday I wrote 1000 words so on Tuesday I can take the night off. That breaks the streak – but I can say on Monday that I will write an extra 1000 words, knowing that I am going out to the movies on Tuesday night.

3) As soon as I break the streak I have to declare it here, so as to keep myself honest (and for later reference, when I get around to analysing whether this experiment has been of any benefit whatsoever to my writing…)

Progress to date: I started on the second, and haven’t hit my word count for today (yet). So far my streak is a run of four consecutive writing days.


January 2, 2014

Test(-ing my patience)

Filed under: administraviata — lexifab @ 9:18 am

I cannot for the life of me figure out why that last post has comments locked. The purpose of this post is to see whether it was a one-off or an endemic issue.

Edit: Endemic, it seems. WTF is wrong with this thing? Grr.

January 1, 2014

I’m not ready for 2014

Filed under: administraviata,fitter/happier — Tags: — lexifab @ 10:14 pm

Happy New Year (aka “shit, is it that time already?”)

I made a kind-of resolution to get back on the writing wagon after a couple of long breaks (or one long break with some notable interruptions). Now it’s the evening of the first day of the new year, and it’s apparent that I’m not yet ready for that kind of commitment.

My general health has improved but I still tire easily and by the end of a typical day my brain is in a complete fog.Today I painted a wall for a couple of hours and now my arms, legs and back are a mess. I could do with a bit more stamina. And to be able to hold on to a though for more than thirty seconds after eight in the evening.

My state of employment is in flux right now. By the time I have some sense of how it’s going to play out, maybe in a couple of weeks, some potentially better options will have vanished. On the other hand, if I pursue those options, I may be dealing myself out of the running for something that would be riskier but far more satisfying. And I suck at making decisions. No, to be precise, I suck at reconciling myself to live with the decisions I make. I’d be happier if there were one clearly optimal path instead a collection of vague and unsatisfying alternatives. Wouldn’t we all? I hate the waiting game.

2014 should be a year in which I reinvent several important things about myself. I’m a little frustrated with myself for not coming out of the blocks a lot faster.

To share that feeling around, I’m probably going to blog with a high degree of incoherence over the next week or two as I sort some of the stuff in my head out. In particular what I hope to achieve in 2014 with my writing, about which I am (you may be surprised to learn) somewhat undecided.

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