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

March 30, 2016

Home again

Filed under: family,fitter/happier,news of the day — lexifab @ 8:33 pm

We’re back home after four days’ break in the Hunter Valley. The highlights were probably spending an hour have a leisurely wine tasting while the kids played with Leo the resident winery dog at Pokolbin Estate and taking a camel ride across the dunes in Anna Bay on our way home this morning (was a bit out of our way, but worth the detour).

It was very pleasant to have a solid few days of real break time. We had next to no internet or mobile coverage (thanks Vodafone) so about the most wired thing I managed to do was play a few rounds of Words with Friends. Other than that, it was all about chilling with the kids playing tennis or splashing about in the pool, drinking wine and reading.

I did mean to write. Honestly I did. I took my notebook and everything. But in the end I decided I was better off just trying to get some distance from my creeping anxiety about procrastination and just relax. It seems to have worked (a few choice bottles of plonk may not have hurt either). I’m back in a much more positive frame of mind. There’s still an enormous amount of stuff to do, but it feels less unmanageable than it did last week.

Right. Things to do. Let’s get to it.

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.

November 17, 2015

Bogong moths

Filed under: fitter/happier,news of the day — Tags: — lexifab @ 1:15 pm

A few minutes ago I took a second glance out at the leaves blowing past the lunchroom window and realised that what the air was really full of was bogong moths. Every spring they migrate in vast numbers south along the ranges and back to the Southern Alps. Their flight path takes them straight through Canberra, where they spend a couple of days flitting about national monuments and banging into lights, along with their more regrettable habits of splatting into windscreens and getting devoured in vast numbers by all the fruit bats living in Commonwealth Park.

They are Canberra’s equivalent of the first swallows of spring or that groundhog in Pennsylvania, marking a moment in the turn of the year that you could set a watch by. (It wouldn’t be a very reliable watch, but good enough if you’re in a position of having to depend on natural cues for your timekeeping).

Everything feels very transitory for me at the moment. A brief period of marking time and gathering strength for the next big push. I’m getting ready to dive back into heavy writing. I’m looking forward to doing a lot of house painting and other renovation work. I’m starting to get back into a regular exercise routine.

No doubt part of it is just down to the turn of the weather. I don’t complain much about how cold Canberra gets in the winter (which generally last until at least September) but on the other hand I don’t defiantly rage against its chill embrace by taking long runs in the frozen hours either. As a result I’ve gained weight over the winter – probably in the order of five or six kilos, though I don’t track it closely enough to know for sure. Coming into spring, I’ve been lethargic, uninspired and able to plumb unfathomable depth of procrastination towards just about everything. I think I’ve also been a bit sick, though not with anything acute enough to prompt a visit to the doctor.

Everyone else in the house has had at least one bout of colds, flu or worse (this winter/spring season has including one dose of whooping cough and a perforated eardrum amongst several maladies) and while I think I dodged the worse of it, I’ve definitely been run down to the point of near-complete apathy.

Either way, I can feel myself coming through it now. Summer holidays are coming up. The days are warmer. There’s cricket on the telly. Energy levels are on the rise again. The ideas are starting to flow.

Time to get flapping.

April 12, 2015

Progress report – The streak is dead. Long live the streak.

Filed under: fitter/happier,wordsmithery — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 12:12 pm

My writing streak is broken. I didn’t write a word over the Easter long weekend.

I don’t regret that one bit. I had a lovely relaxing weekend in the company of good friends and loud children, eating ridiculously delicious food and playing games. I finished reading a book that I liked and admired (Andrea K Höst’s The Pyramids of London – review incoming).

Then on Wednesday I had my very first ever migraine, which was – well, let’s just say that I know a few chronic migraine sufferers and I have a newfound respect for their ability to function at all. It’s five days after my attack and I still feel like warmed-over garbage.

However, that’s by the wayside (I hope). It seems a good time to review where I’m at with the novel, now that I’ve completed a distinct block of work.

Up until the 2nd of April, the A Flash of Black Wings manuscript was sitting on 31500 words or so. I’ve managed another couple of quick sessions since then that have dragged it up to nearly 33K. The writing streak that produced that wordcount took place over 43 days, at an average of 730-odd words per day.

I’m fairly satisfied with that as an overall result, although I am conscious that I can easily produce about 400 words in a half-hour block, which points to the fact that I am not exactly putting in stellar hours to get the project finished. I try not to beat myself up about the numbers, but the time could definitely stand to do some work.

What have I learned so far?

1) Working from a loose outline definitely helps to improve my productivity. Even though I am continuously stopping to think about how the characters should respond to situations, to make up some new bit of setting detail to dress a scene and to craft halfway decent dialogue, it helps to know where I have to start and end with a chapter.

2) Having an outline is no protection against meandering. I still write a lot of unnecessary fluff. In the middle of scenes I have often found, as mentioned above, that I need to make up some detail in order to give a scene a sense of place or to address some plot point or give context to a line of dialogue. I usually respond to this by writing a paragraph or two of info-dump setting material that has no useful function in the scene I’m writing. It’s stuff that’s necessary for me to understand my own world and characters, but it drags the hell out of the scene in play. In the editing phase I’m going to be needing to lift a lot of chunks of text like this out and either discard them or find a more appropriate home for them. I guess I could address a lot of this by doing better planning up front, but that’s a lesson for the next book, not this one.

3) Having an outline is no protection against rampant imagination. One of the big complaints you hear a lot from born pantsers (like me) is that writing the whole story out ahead of time kills the creative process. That knowing where the story is going and how it will end takes all the fun out of the journey. That was one of the things I was quietly experimenting with on this project – whether working from a detailed outline would leave me feeling bored or uninspired.

It turns out that during the writing process an entire new plot thread has emerged which completely changes the context of the characters and the situation. This plot thread was not in any way a part of the original outline. It just came out as part of giving a minor character a bit of background depth, and evolved into a core part of the situation. It’s too compelling not to use, even though it ramps up the complexity of the story in ways I haven’t quite figured out how to deal with yet.

4) Outlining is an iterative process. With the new plotline insinuating itself into my otherwise simple survival-chase romp adventure, I probably have to go back to my outline and do some more work to figure out how it all fits together now. I am tempted to run with the change in direction for a little while to see where it’s heading, but there’s a danger of chasing the new plot down a rabbit hole and having to throw away large chunks of work (which I am utterly loathe to do). So I think that for the next week my aim will be to complete the scenes I am writing now, and take a fresh pass through the outline to rework the structure and see whether it will survive the invasion of the alien plot [1].


[1] Plot does not contain actual aliens, depending on your definition.

February 2, 2015

February made me shiver

Filed under: fitter/happier,wordsmithery — Tags: — lexifab @ 5:23 pm

By now I should have a plan.

I mean, I keep feeling like I should have a plan, but the idea of sitting down and plotting out a plan is giving me chills. I already know that I work better to deadlines. Surely the smart thing to do is set myself some deadlines and then stick to them?

Except no, because I can’t quite bring myself to sit down and make a plan.

Making plans is just asking for trouble really. Anything could happen to throw my carefully-crafted schemes into utter disarray. Who am I, thinking I can impose order on an essentially chaotic universe?

Or if it’s not an essentially chaotic universe, what then? “If you want to make God laugh,” said Woody Allen, “tell him your plans.” Hmm, actually I’m not sure I care to take advice from a ghastly old child abuser. Neither of them.

Still, just because I have a plan, doesn’t mean I have to stick by it through hell and high water, does it? I could just make myself a rough guide. A mudmap. A fritzy GPS with a “near enough is good enough” approach to software updates. I could sketch out a skeleton scheme and make changes as circumstances prescribe. Stay loose. Stay flexible. Keep skating and don’t look back.

…oh hell. I need a plan, don’t I?



November 18, 2014

NotNaNo Day 18 – Bloodless

Filed under: fitter/happier,news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: — lexifab @ 10:37 pm

I had two jobs today – give blood and tidy up for the visit tomorrow from the pest exterminators, who will hopefully rid us of our cloth-eating moths.

The first involved drinking a lot of water, lying down for two hours with a needle in my arm and spending the rest of the day in a mildly euphoric state. I donate platelets, which involves taking blood out, spinning out the plasma, doing something resembling fractionation to it, and then injecting everything except a bagful of important-looking yellow stuff back into me. The good news is that I get uninterrupted reading time and a nice milkshake halfway through. The bad news is that my kindle bricked itself about two minutes before I went in, which led to a moment of vast, uncomprehending horror as I contemplated lying there with nothing good to read. Then it worked again, with no more explanation for its recovery than for its failure. The universe is testing me and as ever I am found wanting.

The second great labour involved packing almost every item of clothing and manchester in the house into black plastic bags. The theory is that while the guy is spraying our ratty, literally moth-eaten carpets and cupboards for moths and their eggs, I will put all the bagged clothes outside in the sun. The elevated temperature, which I would guess will get to 50+ degrees inside the bags, is supposed to kill off any eggs laid in the clothing (the moths too, one supposes). Rough treatment if you’re a moth, but maybe not worse than being poisoned by a guy with a mask and a pump spray? I dunno. Tomorrow’s not looking good for the moths of the house.

Anyway, after all that I got the bare minimum of writing work done. I’ve just knocked off another world building scene for Serpentine Precipice. This one poked at some of the religious customs and beliefs of my setting. Massively over-written, as usual – I’m explaining this world to myself as I go, so the eventual editing process is going to have to be severe if not ruthless in order to turn this whole thing back into a story. I’ll write it first and worry about that later, though.

I also started editing Third Violin, but only the opening page so far. This draft is under 4000 words, but I already know I need to expand some scenes to include more characterisation and dialogue, more descriptions and various missing plot elements. So it will come out a bit bigger by the end of this rewrite. After that, I’ll start cutting stuff. This is my highly efficient editing method.

Tally: 430

Total fiction words for the month: 9880

Tomaz was one of those penitent types who felt abject, vertiginous terror was a necessary catalyst for a full and detailed cataloguing of one’s regrettable behaviours.

November 9, 2014

NotNaNo Day 8 – Oh great, now I’m sick

Definitely a bit under the weather, at any rate. I have a stuffy head and a sore neck, which aren’t the same symptoms as the Joey’s. So maybe I just spent too much time mowing today. Could be that.

I gave myself most of the evening off and curled up with a cup of hot tea to watch Catching Fire, the second Hunger Games movie. Aside from the creaking, groaning noises coming from the premise, it’s a remarkably tense film, clearly informed by heavier post-apocalyptic/dystopic dramas like Children of Men and any number of zombie epics. But the thing that kept occurring to me throughout the film – apart from the unstartling insight that Jennifer Lawrence is a canny, subtle actor at times – was that PanEm is for all intents and purposes the Galactic Federation from Blake’s 7, only without the spaceships. If you were putting together a remake of B7 these days and it didn’t have the look and feel of the Capital from HG, you’d be leaving money on the table.

The other thought that occurred to me – and again I realise I’m coming to the party late on this one – is that Mockingjay is going to be a tricky project without poor old Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The scenes with him and Donald Sutherland underplaying being sinister at each other are just delightful. I can’t imagine how they could do the finale without his character, but it’ll be a horrible job to follow his act for whoever is cast.

Anyway. after that I worked on Incidental, writing another ending. I may not have to go to six, tonight’s one felt pretty good. Perhaps in keeping with the Hoffman vibe, though, it went way darker than I was anticipating for this story. I’ll see if it still holds up in the cold light of day, but I’m not often inspired to deliver a gut-punch final line. This one has not so much a twist as a pivot, and I got that little hit of “oh this is great” when it came to me (just before I typed it). I’ll still do a couple more versions to see if the other ideas work better but I think this variant is the one to beat.

Tally: 430

Total fiction word count for the month: 4530

He thought he should cry. Without low, slurring strings rising with the lump in his throat, he didn’t know how.

March 28, 2014

The joys of parenthood

Filed under: family,fitter/happier — Tags: , — lexifab @ 10:35 pm

My six year old boy’s sore front teeth turn out to be abscessed and in need of immediate extraction. He needs to go in for day surgery early next week. This will be the second time in six months that he’s been in hospital for surgery under general anaesthetic, so the memories of his last visit will still be fresh.

That’s unfortunate, because none of us have particularly fond memories of that visit. Little guy gets pretty panicky when it comes to needles and anaesthetic. Fair enough too. But it’s also fair to describe his response to situations where blood or injury (or treatment) are involved as ‘jaw-droppingly unhappy’. It’s a fairly stressful situation all round.

On top of that, provided everything goes as it should, he’ll be missing both of his front teeth for the better part of a year – it could be that long before his new ones grow through. I don’t expect it to be too traumatic for him – he’s in Year 1, where half the kids are missing a tooth or two, so it’s not as if he’ll be alone  – but it’s one more thing for him to potentially become anxious about.

His parents are already anxious, of course. We’re trying hard not to show it but I guarantee I won’t complain if this is the last time I have to pay an anaesthetist’s bill this year. Ouch.

March 14, 2014


Filed under: administraviata,fitter/happier — Tags: , , , , , — lexifab @ 10:44 pm
  1. Still no news from work. I’m really quite ready to have a bit more clarity now, thanks.
  2. I’ve been a bit sick this week, probably not unrelated to the previous point.
  3. Since last Lexifab entry I have completed a first draft of a short story for Unfettered, a forthcoming anthology. The first polish needs to remove three hundred words to get it down to the maximum story length, which is going to be painful.
  4. I’ve also received a draft contract for my first pro sale, which hasn’t quite gone through now, and actally may no longer technically be considered a pro sale, at least not for purposes of recognition from SFWA (which as far as I know is the closest thing to an international professional speculative fiction writing association). For my personal purposes, of course it’s a pro sale.
  5. (No, I am not angling for SFWA membership any time in the foreseeable future. Irrespective of its current regeneration crisis, I can’t see that it offers all that much to Australian writers at the moment. But their membership qualifications of three short story sales at pro rates or a book deal make a decent target to aim for nevertheless).
  6. I’ve begun outlining a science fiction adventure trilogy. No part of that sentence aligns with anything I recognise or acknowledge about myself as an writer, and yet it’s true.
  7. I am also writing a story about a serial murderer of house pets, which is on slightly less treacherous literary grounds for me. (That’s not the Unfettered one)
  8. I am feeling a bit guilty – presumably having done myself some tremendous psychological damage in the past, since firmnly repressed – at the lack of reviews I’ve done lately, so I will be throwing myself into that over the next little while. I can’t remember whether I’ve signed up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 yet, but I might as well kick that off tonight.
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