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

January 27, 2015

Dithering in January

Filed under: administraviata,wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 1:54 pm

This hasn’t exactly been the month for covering myself in glory, writing-wise. I’ve written almost nothing – about one-and-two-thirds short stories, adding up to perhaps five or six thousand words. More than I had when I started the month, certainly, but a long way short of my starry-eyed projections from the end of November. Come to think of it, December was a bit of a wash as well.

Certainly there have been valid distractions – we’ve renovated an entire bedroom, the kids have been at home more, there have been festive season commitments and bits of travel, and as of the middle of the month, I’ve gone back to work.

Even so, it’s a bit disappointing. I was hoping to make January a month of deck-clearing. I wanted to polish up a couple of old story drafts, knock out a couple of new ones, and have a clean plate for diving into a new novel attempt from the start of February. But with a bunch of admin jobs still hanging over my head and gathering an odium of stagnation about them, I’m skeptical that I can really hit the ground running come Sunday the first.

So be it. I’m making lists and ticking them off, and at some point I’ll have stripped off enough of these other obligations that I can feel free to focus on the words.

Until then – more dithering. Early in February I will set myself some goals for the year, but until then I’ll concentrate on getting my jungle of distractions under control.

Pass the defoliant.

January 7, 2015

Late breaking news – not a winner

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

To my not very great surprise, the winners of the Writers of the Future quarter finals have been announced. To save you from clicking on the potentially heartbreaking link, my name is notably absent from the list.

Not to worry. As I noted to a couple of well-wishers today, the momentary disappointment of not getting picked was more than dispelled by the possibility that Tim Powers (one of the listed judges) might have read something I wrote. All right, it seems the odds are better than even that he didn’t like it, but I reiterate: Tim Freaking Powers!

(Also on the list of judges was Nnedi Okorafor, whose alien-invasion-in-Lagos novel Lagoon I read and enjoyed just last week, and a bunch of little-known emerging writers by the names of Silverberg, Niven, Pournelle and Card, who I’m sure will become popular in years to come.)

I didn’t win. Don’t care. I still have a *serious* case of fanboy giddiness.

January 5, 2015

Quarter finalist

I’m rather excited that my story “Mnemo’s Memory” [1] has been selected as a quarter finalist for the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future competition. My name appears in this press release and everything! My gleefully science-ignoring adventurous yarn of airships, steam automatons and an evil villain with an Antarctic lair will be, at the very least, read and critiqued by a luminary of the field. (Seriously, the Big Names associated with WotF are people whose work I’ve been reading across the last thirty years. I am dead-set thrilled that someone like Tim freakin’ Powers or Larry freakin’ Niven might read my work). And that’s before you look at the prize of a week-long intensive writing workshop in Los Angeles with a host of said luminaries, followed by a gala award ceremony to pick the overall winner. Not bad. My friend and CSFG colleague Shauna O’Meara was a finalist in 2013 and blogged about it at length.

Like the quarter-finals at the Olympics, only the top three of eight stories go through to the finals, while everyone else goes back to the drawing board to try again next time. Mind you in this case “next time” is pretty much straight away, since they run these competitions every three months. Anyone who has yet to make three professional sales (defined as a minimum payment of 6c per word) is eligible to enter. That definitely includes me.

Does my little story have the legs to make it all the way to the finals? Eh, I dunno. I’d like to think so, but I’ve written and learned quite a lot since I penned that one over two years ago. I think I could do even better now. Even if it doesn’t make it, I’m still happy. This is a definite signal that I’m moving in the direction I want.

 

[1] …which is a title I have *never once* typed correctly the first time, which is probably a lesson of some sort.

January 3, 2015

Late exit to 2014

I’ve been away up the coast for a week, so I missed the usual barrage of blog posts summarising my 2014. Just because I’m late doesn’t mean I’m not going to do it though.

Just to note, this is mainly for my benefit, holding myself to account for my plans for the year, as articulated way back in January in this subtly-named post.

Checking the checklist:

1) Finish the current draft of the novel: Done. Man, it feels like such a long time ago that I even thought about my novel (well, not strictly true, since I thought about it today during the fourteen-hour drive back from northern NSW [1]). I finished up the full-rewrite draft of the novel (working title Ms Cole’s Arrangements) a couple of days into March, then immediately put it on the back burner. Two full drafts through, I still can’t work out whether it should be one novel, two novels, or a novel and two novellas; the shape of the story just defeats me every time I try to think about it. I’m quite sure there’s a decent yarn in there, but I honestly don’t know if I can hang it on a framework that will make it readable. I know I have to go back to it sooner or later, but I don’t mind admitting that I’m still intimidated by it. I met my word count goal, but I didn’t really knock over the target.

2) Write 10 publishable short stories: Partial credit. “Should be a doddle”, I said. Ho ho ho. I sort of achieved this goal and sort of not. I got 7 stories polished to the point where I was happy to start sending them out for submission (identified by truncated titles here): Feast, Dogs, Hat Trick, Season One, Teahouse, Lighthouse, Violin. Pleasingly, one of them – The Teahouse of Serendipitous Unions – sold to the professional market it was written for. However, a sale isn’t the benchmark here, completion is.

I also wrote complete drafts of School Hall and Incidental, both of which I have yet to finish revising (soon!), I wrote about 10,000 words all up on multiple versions of Serpentine Precipice and The Countess, though neither is yet complete. I wrote about fifteen incomplete flash fiction pieces i.e. ideas that I couldn’t work out how to turn into an actual story i.e. they don’t count here. And on the morning of the 31st of December I wrote the first half of a mildly comic crime story which I will finish later tonight or tomorrow morning.

So that’s seven that fit the criteria, two more that would have were I a more diligent editor, two major dead ends which might still lead somewhere later, and a start on the new year. Not a clean landing, but I tried a lot of different things and I’m happy with the overall results.

3) Submit 25 times: Done and then some. Between the couple of existing stories and the new material, I made a total of 45 submissions (and resubmissions) in 2014. Of those, *one* was accepted for publication. I learned yesterday afternoon that another one (written last year) has been shortlisted for a competition, so that one is in with a chance. Everything else is in the hands of the gods (defined here as “bored slush readers and overworked/underpaid magazine editors”). This business is a slow grind, people. I won’t be happy until I have at least 10 stories in circulation. Preferably more. In terms of diligence and application to the grind of reading and complying with submission guidelines and finding new ways to write the same damn cover letter over and over again, I did what I set out to do.

4) Non-specific target markets: To do. I wrote a few pieces this year with specific markets in mind. Teahouse hit the mark, but Lighthouse didn’t and the jury is still out on Violin. I mentioned on Facebook that the Australia-based Ticonderoga themed anthologies are becoming my white whale – I write to them, with some of my best work, and haven’t yet broken through. I haven’t even tried to get into Cosmos yet (because I haven’t written any science fiction this year, but also because I know what it takes to make it and I’m not there yet). In terms of international markets, I will probably still be trying to get into Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Clarkesworld, in particular, in five years time. I’m not going to stop trying though.

 

2014 could have been better in a lot of ways, but in terms of my writing I achieved close enough to everything I set out to. In retrospect I probably set the bar a little too low and then didn’t really push myself very hard. Over the course of the year I worked up outlines for several novels, any one of which I might reasonably have had a stab at writing. In all honesty I’m not confident of my ability to write to a novel length – my attempts to date have been unsatisfying, but in ways where I haven’t felt like I’ve learned something useful. I feel like I should take that ignorance as a challenge and learn-by-doing and then learn-by-doing-again. But I have yet to make the mental leap to convince myself that a failed attempt is not a waste of time or misapplied effort. Right now it seems like an awful lot of work to write a novel only to confirm that I don’t know how to write a novel

But then again I made the conscious decision at the start of the year to focus on short stories. And I’m proud of the work that I’ve done, which certainly includes some of the best stories I’ve ever written. Over the course of the year and across the various projects I’ve completed, I’ve had a distinct feeling of gradually but decisively leveling up my skill. Definitely not misapplied effort, even if individual stories never find the readership that I think (in my egotistical heart) they deserve.

I think that at least for the first couple of months of 2015 short stories are where I’ll continue to put my energy. I want to get a few more under my belt before I decide whether to change tack and try for a novel. But that’s a post for another day.

 

[1] Sorry Clam, there was absolutely no time for a surprise visit. One of these days though!

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