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

December 22, 2015

The year in narrow, blinkered retrospect

It’s been a big year for all sorts of stuff, but I’m not going to go into it. Instead, this is my obligatory look back at the goals I set at the start of the year. How did I go and what does that suggest for the future?

Short stories

The promise: I said I was going to maintain my stock of short stories available for submission at a steady level of ten, writing a new one whenever I took one out of circulation through either an acceptance or by retiring a story that had exhausted every viable market.

The reality: Definitively a failure in terms of productivity. In fact after writing my goals in February I did not finish a single short story all year, though I tinkered with a story (crappy working title “Unacceptable Losses”) all year and have left it floundering with probably about three hundred words to go for months now. In theory I could finish it tonight. I probably won’t though.

My stock of available stories went down thanks to three acceptances during the year. None of them have come out yet, though I was able to announce that “Seven Excerpts from Season One” will appear in the At the Edge anthology from Paper Road Press next year.

Acceptances are delightful, of course (all were paying markets) and absolutely what I’m striving for, but I did feel I let myself down a bit by not sticking to the plan of writing new material.

Oh, and I did recently receive notification that I placed highly (a “silver highly commended”) in the most recent round of the Writers of the Future contest. Which is not my best ever result but is still in the front-of-the-peloton zone.

silverhmbadge

Novel

The promise: Write a complete 80,000 word manuscript by the end of July without becoming a gibbering wreck.

The reality: Well, the July deadline came and went without great fanfare. Moreover as at the time of writing I have neither finished the manuscript nor reached the 80,000 word mark. But as I have about 500 words to get to the latter and maybe as little as two thousand words to wrap the whole thing up, I’m going to call this a mismatch between realistic scheduling and sustainable momentum rather than an outright failure. As I am now on holidays for a month, I predict I will at least get this one over the line before the end of 2016. Win!

(And is it any good? Well, no, it’s pretty rambly and largely incoherent. I have a mass of notes on what to fix, and it’s a good bet that the editing process will take at least as long as the first draft did, if not much, much longer. But it’s still nice to be within arm’s reach of the first critical milestone).

Community activity

The promise: Be a good treasurer, write a treasurer manual

The reality: Well, the manual is not finished yet and could do with a bit of dedicated attention for a couple of days, but on the whole I have acquitted myself well in this regard. I’ve been a committee member who gets shit done, and the books all balanced at the end of the year. I don’t tend to be a natural organiser or leader, and basically I find trying to get people to do things or get one the same page as each among the most demanding and draining activities I can imagine. But I can make a spreadsheet make sense, and I can make things happen in the background as long I don’t have to wrangle more than one or two people, so I’ll take this one as an accomplishment.

All the same, I will probably retire from my post at the next AGM, because I will feel I’ve done my bit at that time. Ditto with helping on the Conflux organising committee.

Blogging

The promise: Build a new author website so that I can phase this one out.

The reality: This is 90% done. I haven’t launched it yet, but it is live. Feel free to go look for it (it’s not that hard) but if you do happen to stumble across it, don’t bother subscribing to anything. I’m procrastinating on setting up mail accounts and the newsletter software. It will probably happen in the next couple of weeks.  (It’s not remotely fancy BTW. It’s a functional site with boring author information that I can point potential publishers and clients to if necessary). I haven’t yet sat down to work out a clear plan for what to do with the site beyond that, but it will probably revolve around building on my friendships within the writing community. Hit me up if you’re doing a blog tour, I guess.

The other stuff

Collaboration: Did not happen. The novel ate my year completely. I’m still toying with various ideas for projects but this is one area that would demand focus and attention. At the moment I just can’t even make that sort of promise to myself, so it would hardly be fair to drag someone else down.

Serialised fiction: I made a few plans and outlined some projects that would suit a serialised format, but again, haven’t kicked any of them off yet. There’s one in particular that’s burning a hole in the back of my skull, but it will certainly have to take a back seat to all the short stories I’ve spent the year thinking about but not writing.

Shared world: No. Sensing a theme here? Though in fact I am contemplating ideas for contributing to an existing shared world. Nothing has gelled yet on that, but my contribution would just be a short story or two.

Comic script: See collaboration above.

 

That list doesn’t make for pretty reading, but I’m probably being too harsh on myself. This nearly-done draft novel has taken about nine months, which is an improvement over the thirteen months (twice over) that my previous novel attempt sucked up. Pre-plotting has certainly sped up that process, although one of the many lessons I’ve learned about that is that I could certainly stand to do more preparation next time. I’m reluctantly forced to admit that I am a better writer when I have a clear picture of what I’m going to write, and I suspect that a scene-by-scene breakdown would not go at all astray the next time I try this.

I’ll do a proper “Goals for 2016” post at some point in the near future, but I already know I have a couple of clear goals: write a bunch of short stories, edit the novel, and plan its sequels. In the margins I think I’ll build on one of my serial fiction ideas as the fun side project, but I’m cautious about holding myself to any kind of target on that. This writing biz seems to take a lot more time than I ever think it’s going to.

 

Right. I have a icy cup of creaming soda, a Pandora station tuned to 80’s alternative rock, and five thousand words or so to write in the next nine days.

I can do this.

December 14, 2015

The end of the year

Filed under: fitter/happier,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 4:39 pm

Bloody hell, it’s the middle of December already?

The last few weeks have been outstanding examples of that weird time distortion effect where you have million things to do, and you’re always busy doing them, but the holidays still haven’t arrived yet and when oh god when are you even going to get to slow down and relax?

Maybe that’s just me. Probably not though. I’m seeing a lot of weary-stressed faces around the place.

End of year anxiety is a real thing for me and I guess probably most people. I’m one of those people who measure their lives by the next holiday, or afternoon off, or commitment-free weekend. I don’t lose myself in my day job (I barely comprehend what that would even be like for people whose day job is not “hang out at the waterslide” or “read all these books and tell us when you would like a cup of tea”), so breaks away from the office are much-coveted preciouses which the filthy hobbitses can pry from my cold dead hands.

This year, happily, the anxiety in question is just expressing itself as being really bloody tired all the time, which is inconvenient but a hell of a lot better than being a grumpy stress-head. Where it does hurt is in rebuilding my writing habits. It’s pretty hard to get much momentum if you sit down to write at 8 pm (when the kids go to bed) and you’re nodding off by 9.

Still, my efforts to get something new on paper every day are paying dividends – I’m feeling my way back into the novel, I’m starting to find it easier to figure out what I have to write next, and I’m getting a clearer picture of the (revised) ending I’m working towards. I don’t know why it surprises me every time, but it turns out that the more time I spend thinking about a problem, the clearer the solution tends to become.

So for the next two weeks, my goal is to get the novel draft across the line. I have a nominal word count target of 85,000 words, and I’m somewhere about the 78,000 mark right now. So it’s very achievable, with a bit of concerted effort (especially since it matters less that I make the target than that I get to a point I can attached the words “The End” to).

This is also the time of the year to look back over the goals I set for myself (not to mention the revised ones) and see how I went – what was too ambitious, what was not ambitious enough, and where I lost focus or should never have tried to focus in the first place. I’ll get to that in a couple of weeks, I think, after I wrap up the day job for the year and get through the seasonal festivities (and the first day or so of the Boxing Day cricket test, not that it promises to be a very exciting one).

Season’s greetings, folks.

December 7, 2015

The building of habits

I write best when I write frequently.  I’ve figured that much out about my process [1].

The last few months writing have been like extracting hen’s teeth from an angry wolverine – painful and pointless. I’ve committed maybe a couple of thousand words of new text to paper in about four months. It’s been my longest fallow period since I started taking writing seriously again. (Not, I might add, my longest fallow period ever, for which see the years 1990 to 2002 or so). Certainly it was flat compared to the preceding 18 months though.

The difference was, I let myself have days off from writing – days that turned into weeks and months and would probably have lapsed into years if I didn’t do something. And luckily something came along that helped: a few weeks ago I read this article by Mary Robinette Kowal linking writer’s block to depression. Go read it, it’s a good article.

Now don’t get me wrong – I didn’t and don’t think I was suffering from depression. I am pretty sure I know what that feels like, thanks to several years of undiagnosed sleep apnoea and a sleep debt that could have put a fair-sized dent in a herd of elephants. Maybe I was a clinical case and maybe I wasn’t, but I got a clear enough glimpse of the real thing to know its general shape. But the article did give me a none-too-gentle slap across the face, woke me up and made me ask myself: “Is there something wrong?”

Even though I wasn’t writing much if at all, the idea that I had writer’s block never quite occurred to me until I read the article. And yet MKR’s list of typical expressions of writer’s block – the tiredness, the procrastination, the busywork and the general faffing about – were a straight checklist of all the avoidance behaviours I’ve been steadily accumulating since I stopped writing. That was back around the start of August.

I realised the obvious at once, which is that I had lost all momentum. I need momentum as a writer. I need to feel like I’m building steadily, getting faster and sharper and…you get the idea. When I don’t have that momentum, the gravity’s a killer. When I have to pick myself up and get going after coming to a dead stop, I feel like Jon Snow at the foot of the Wall, wondering how in the hell I’m going to get over the top, knowing there’s an army of ice zombies at my back.

I may have carried that analogy too far. Or maybe not far enough. It’s more like I’m the ice zombie, but in that case I’m not sure how to work the Wall into this and anyway never mind that right now.

MKR’s article also included several elements of what I hope will be the solution to freezing up mid-shamble (Stop that!)

First – Mary’s article mentions Habitica, a very basic roleplaying web app that effectively gamifies habit-building behaviour. Down at its core, Habitica’s core gameplay is building checklists and then ticking things off. Boring and artificial as that sounds – and is! – it’s an idea that works very well for me. I’m someone that responds strongly to making lists of things to do and then methodically ticking them off. To put it another way, an unfinished list of even trivial importance is a source of anxiety to me. So a game that rewards me for checking stuff off and sits there glowing judgmentally redly when I don’t is an embarrassingly effective brain hacking tool.

As a bonus, slavish adherence to checklists also encourages me to make sure I get all the other work around the house done as fast as possible.

Second – I’m back to exercising. I have a fairly light workout routine that mostly works the abdominal core. It only takes a few minutes and I can easily do it a couple of times a day. Supplemented with walks of thirty-plus minutes, which I manage a few times a week, I have a decent basis for at least building a bit of strength and endurance, if not necessarily shedding the winter kilos. It’s a tone-up, not a crash course in muscle building and cardio bullshit. Keeping it tight.

Third – At my height, I was writing 750 or more words per day. When I stopped, that dropped to not much more than a couple of hundred words on the few days I could manage anything at all. In the months when I was blocked, I would berate myself for not coming even close to what I knew to be an achievable target. But what I’d forgotten is that it took me months of gradually acceleration to get to that pace. It was deeply unrealistic of me to expect that I could just tool up to top speed without starting in first gear again. I’d stall, and be surprised and disappointed in myself, instead of acknowledging that stalling is the only outcome I should have expected.

So I’m giving myself a break – 100 words a day. I know that as I ease myself back into the habit of daily writing, I’ll start cranking out more. But I’ll start with the consistency, because I know that it works for me.

Fourth – I’m playing musical instruments. I have access to ukuleles and a bass guitar. I’m teaching myself how to play them using fingering charts and Youtube videos. It’s surprisingly fulfilling, even if my fingers hurt very much at the moment.

So that’s me. That’s my summer planned out. I’m getting my words back, I’m going to finish this damn first draft of the novel, and I’m going to replenish my short story stocks. And I’m going to be able to play along to the Gorillaz’ “Feelgood Inc”, even if it costs me a finger or two.

 

[1] I promise not to describe it as a process again, at least not until I finish my MFA and the lobotomy bandages have been removed.

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