Lexifabricographer

December 21, 2014

Contemplating my trunk

Filed under: wordsmithery — Tags: , , , , , , , — lexifab @ 9:17 pm

I’ve hit a new and unwelcome writing milestone: one of my stories appears to be unsellable.

I want to be a paid author. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my goals as a short story writer – learn the craft, improve my skills, become a recognisable name outside my immediate personal circles and eventually cultivate a reputation that results in editors commissioning work from me.

Money isn’t one of my specific benchmarks. I don’t expect to make a living from writing just short stories (the best short story writers in the genre can’t do that, and I’m not arrogant enough to believe that I will ever compete on the level of someone like Ken Liu or Kaaron Warren or Ramsay Campbell or insert-your-favourite-short-story-writer-here).

That said, the quality of the markets that accept my work will provide a rough guide to how I’m doing on that path, and in terms of professional recognition and industry credibility, the better-paying the market, the more confident I can feel that I’m getting it right. So when I submit my (finished, polished) work for publication, I start with the professional markets and work my way down.

There are a lot of markets for fiction. A *lot*. Dozens or maybe hundreds. At the top of the heap are the established print magazines, major online periodicals and anthologies by the top editors in the business – everything from Asimov’s and F&SF to newer places like Tor.com, Clarkesworld Magazine and (locally) Aurealis. These are the targets I’m aiming at, the ones that attract and solicit professional writers with loyal readerships and broad name recognition.

Yeah, I’m not there yet. Maybe I never will be. It’s still a good light to navigate by.

Below that are the semi-pro markets. Semi-pro is generally defined by lower per-word rates of pay (i.e. less than six US cents per word, the SFWA-recognised minimum standard rate) but still with strong name recognition and well-regarded editors. Below those are the token markets, which offer minor payments for first-publication rights, and below that are the non-paying markets, which – well, if I wanted to write for “the exposure”, I really would just slap stuff up on Wattpad and/or my blog.

On my positive days, I reckon I am writing at or near a semi-professional rate. I know I’ve got more work to do to get there with any degree of reliability – my stories miss more often than they hit. But I’ve proven to myself that I can do it, so it only remains to show the rest of the world.

Which brings me to the story in question. I’m very proud of the piece. Perhaps inordinately so. I wrote the first draft as part of a CSFG 24-hour short story challenge, taking a collection of random prompts and translating them into a tale of strange pilgrims, opportunistic inn-keepers and the implosion of a group of friends. The story solidified over a couple of additional editing passes, and eventually I decided I couldn’t make it any better.

So I sent it out to market.

When I was drafting it, I had a specific market in mind – high-end professional online magazine publishing second-world fantasy – and that’s where I submitted it first. They didn’t take it. Mildly disappointing, but not a huge surprise. I sent it out again, picking another website with similar tastes. Another rejection. And so on, and suchlike, all year.

This week I sent the story out for the twentieth time. On the one hand, I regard this as a good sign that I am persevering appropriately. It’s not easy to get an acceptance, and an editor might reject a good story for reasons that have nothing to do with its quality (length, voice, similarity in theme or structure to another piece in that month’s issue, etc). You can’t win without the lottery ticket, and you’ve got to roll with the rejections and you’ve got to develop a thick skin. I’ve probably missed a few hoary old standards, but those are the main ones.

On the other hand, it’s becoming apparent that the story isn’t as good as I think it is. It may well be nearly that good – several of the more personalised responses indicated that it was enjoyable but “not a good fit” or “not what we’re looking for” – but that’s not the same thing as “too good to refuse”.

Over the past fourteen months I’ve pushed it out to every pro and semi-pro market with guidelines that match the piece (it’s second-world or “not-Earth” fantasy, it’s on the longish side of what most publishers are looking for at over 7000 words, and it has mildly adult situations that exclude it from certain markets).

Now I’m down to the markets offering token payments (like ten or twenty bucks, or a contributor copy, or a free e-subscription) and – look, I know it sounds snobbish, but the question I’m asking myself is, is it worth selling my work to a publication that I probably would personally not read?

Am I better off retiring the story from circulation, and either dumping it in a folder of shame on Dropbox – the modern equivalent of dropping the manuscript in a trunk in the attic, never to be seen again in my lifetime – or putting it up on a “free stories” page on my website? Bearing in mind that I have every intention anyway of posting up any stories that I’ve sold, once their online publication rights revert to me?

In effect, should I give up on this one, or keep plugging away until it finally finds a home, no matter how modest or tucked-away? Certain regular correspondents have already expressed opinions (hi Clam!) and those opinions are by no means invalid. At least putting it up on my website allows for the possibility that a few people will read it, which is always gratifying.

The question I struggle with, though, is whether I should be thinking of this as a setback or an inevitable by-product of the submission grind? Or both? Or neither?

I dunno.

What I do know is that right at the moment I am writing a story that is best summed up as “magic robots versus werewolves”, and it is self-evidently the best thing I have ever written.

Or at the very least, the latest.

November 30, 2014

NotNaNo Day 30 – Cross the finish line. Start a new race.

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 11:18 pm

I limped across the line. I needed 330 words to get to my target, and I’ve just rambled out about 375. Good enough, but it won’t be good enough next month.

This has been an interesting experiment and mostly a successful one. The basic goals I set for myself were to keep my writing streak going at a pace of at least 500 words per day, to continue Serpentine Precipice (in the mathematical expectation that I would not complete it, as I’m projecting it will be much more than 15,000 words), to write a short story to a specific themed anthology submission call, to rewrite School Hall and my Nullabor breakdown stories, and to blog about my progress every day.

How did I go?

Well:

  • Writing streak – tick. I continued the writing streak that started before November, writing new first draft fiction every single day. Yay!
  • 500 word a day pace – tick. 30 days times 500 word minimum equals 15,000 words. As of the writing sprint that I just completed, I have 15,040 words in the bank. Target adequately met.
  • Serpentine Precipice – By the time I suspended work on it a week ago, SP was a bit over 11,000 words, constituting most of what I’ve written this month, though i started it before November kicked off.
  • Short story submission – I wrote Third Violin from scratch (about 5000 words), revised it at least four times and sent it off with a hopeful expression on its face this morning.
  • School Hall – Didn’t touch it. Didn’t even think about it.
  • Nullabor breakdown – Likewise, only more so.
  • Blogging – I didn’t get a blog entry in every day, but I didn’t miss too many days. I’m happy with that.

What next?

Serpentine Precipice was shaping up to have a compelling protagonist and an interesting setting, but the plot was rambling and too many characters were wandering on and off-stage without any great consequence. I could see the writing on the wall well before I pulled the plug on that one: it needs to be plotted. I was spending too much of my time colouring in the pretty little bits of world-building and not enough time on establishing what things were happening and why a reader should care about them. I am pretty excited to write it because I don’t let myself play in action-adventure fantasy nearly enough, but the cost of that is that I need a clear picture of where the story is going so that I don’t bog the pace down in unnecessary detail. That is harder for me than it ought to be, which is why I think writing an unsellable novella about a mute half-demon bastard son of a merchant empire is a worthwhile exercise.

I am drafting an outline that drags the focus back down to a manageable level while still leaving room for alley-stabbing fun and cutlass battles aboard burning ships.

School Hall – The first draft was a few good characters in search of a straightforward story. It needs a page-one rewrite. Like SP, it became bloated with probably-unnecessary world detail, but on my previous attempt to edit it I could not for the life of me work out what made it suck. It will benefit from being replotted as well, but so far when I have thought about it at all I haven’t been able to figure out what that plot would look like. Once I know what it’s about, I’ll probably come up with a name for it as well.

Untitled Nullabor breakdown story – I hate abandoning stories but I think this one will end up in the archives. Like School Hall, I can’t quite get it to come together. unlike School Hall, I’m not sure that there’s a strong enough idea to make completing it a worthwhile pursuit.

Blogging – The blogging has been a bit hit and miss. On the one hand, there were definitely days during the month when it served its purpose of keeping me honest. Days when I would not let myself go to bed until I hit my word count and then recorded the result. On the other hand, there was a few days (like today) when I wrote the bare satisfactory minimum before switching over to the blog. On those days, I clearly cost myself some fiction progress just so that I could boast in public about my fiction progress. That’s not so good. In December, as I keep the streak going, I think I will cut back to weekly progress checks in the blog.

The streak – My best streak is 95 days; my current one is 32. I’ll keep going in December, and I’ll try upping the ante to see if I can build my momentum instead of letting myself coast. 600 words a day across 31 days is 18,600, which will be a fine target. I will be starting a new job during the month, I’ll have Xmas and Boxing Day in there, and I’ll be travelling in the last week of the year – so I’m definitely going to have to front-load the bulk of the work into the first week or two.

Go go go.

November 29, 2014

NotNaNo Days 28-29 – The end draws close

Filed under: green-ish thumb,news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 11:28 pm

I’m in that delightful state of momentary grace, after a hard day of savagely ripping the garden apart in the hot sun and before my muscles become so sore that I feel like vomiting for hours on end. O, the joys on intermittent bursts of hard labour.

On the plus side, the overgrown pergola in the backyard has been stripped back to a non-vegetative state for the first time since we bought our house, nine years ago. Laid bare, we’ve confirmed our suspicions that it’s both ugly and an odd balance of ramshackle and impervious. The steel frame of the wooden table in its centre has been cemented directly into the concrete slab. It might be possible to cut the legs off and flatten them out with an angle grinder, but I’m coming to the conclusion that a jackhammer will be a quicker and more effective means of cleaning the space up.

(Note that I am talking myself into hiring power tools. This never ends well.)

On the assumption that by tomorrow evening – the end of the month-long write-and-blog experiment – I will be too sore to move, let alone write for extended periods, I decided I’d better put in a slightly longer stint tonight than I have been lately. Two hours of writing produced almost twice the number of words that a normal stint of forty minutes or so would. It doesn’t look like I know how to accelerate. Mind you, a lot of that time was spent transcribing the long list of character names from the last couple of night’s writing into an index so I know who all these people are. That’s done now, so I should be able to stop mucking about with prep work for the next little bit of the story.

The piece I’m writing now has the working title of The Countess. Judging by the 2000 words or so that I’ve cranked out on it so far, I’m guessing it will be a longish short story, maybe over 10,000 words. Then again I seem to be writing in my usual expansive style, dropping in story seeds and extra setting detail, that is peripheral to the story at hand. It’s possible that when I’m done a lot of that world building stuff will turn out to be useless and readily dropped.

Third Violin has been through four rounds of edits and is probably close to being as good as I can make it before the deadline for submission (30 November, in the US). I’ll give it another pass tomorrow, but with no time for a substantial rewrite I will have to hope I don’t stumble across any new problems.

Tally: 450 (Friday) and 840 (Saturday)

New fiction words for the month: 13, 380 + 1290 = 14, 670, which leaves me with a nice gentle jog to the finish line to get to my target of 15,000 for the month. Yay!

The sweeping curve of the filleting knife glinted with a wicked edge. She never allowed any of her tools to dull, but this one, the offering with which Vandolph had proposed, she prized above all.

 

November 27, 2014

NotNaNo Day 27 – Isn’t editing supposed to take words away?

Filed under: news of the day,Uncategorized,wordsmithery — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 11:46 pm

I just came off a two hour editing stint on Third Violin, which has cleared out all the first draft dross and filled in all the connective tissue to make the story work (I hope). I seem to have been less successful than I hoped I would be at reducing the word count. Before the editing pass it was 4700 words and I was hoping to cut it back below 4500 or even lower.

Instead, it’s now almost dead-on 5000 words. Uh, whut?

So I’ll definitely be doing at least one more pass on that to whittle away at the extremities. I ought to be at least able to knock off the ten percent or so I just added. Maybe.

In other news I am now bitterly regretting my self-imposed rule about not counting editing as new words, because it’s just gone eleven pm. I’m going to kick in a writing sprint and get back to you in just a minute or thirty.

[/musak]

So, yeah, I wrote the opening of a rather fervent council meeting, invented some architecture and cultural structures, and introduced a couple of supporting characters in thirty-five minutes. Things started to speed up towards the end when I started writing dialogue, but now I’m sleepy so it will have to wait.

Tally: 360

New fiction words for the month: 13, 380

“Countess Tessa Strickland,” Soffatt announced, stiff and formal.

 The introduction was unnecessary. The four men and two women assembled were intimately acquainted with Earl Strickland’s wife. Some of them knew her from childhood.

NotNaNo Day 26 – Editing is the hard kind of writing

Filed under: fictionchunk,news of the day,Uncategorized,wordsmithery — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 12:34 am

I spend most of my spare time today editing the back half of Third Violin, rewriting about two-thirds of 2000 words.

I find editing incredibly difficult work. My mind still resists it. “No, don’t change that clunky run-on sentence with four adverbs and two tenses!” my brain shouts. “It’s prefect!” [1]

Even knowing there are passages that contribute little or nothing to the character development, the themes or the advancement of the plot, I still struggle to wield the word-cleaver. It’s not just that I overvalue every pristine textual pearl I’ve scattered through the manuscript, though for sure I suffer from an undue attachment to my own blathering style. It’s the concern that I might cut away good flesh along with the necrotic zombie-stained garbage. Worse still, that I might do that and then not notice, creating some sort of story-ruining, reader-offending vacuum in the heart of the piece that sucks so hard joy itself cannot escape.

And what about that witty exchange of dialogue, or this insightful narration, or that evocative description is too clever, two original, too brilliant to lose? Well, those bits are gold, aren’t they? I mean, sure, it’s gold that’s sort of dull brown and not so much metallic as nutty and smellier than gold usually is and oh my god my story is full of excrement, isn’t it?

What I’m saying is that editing confirms all my worst suspicions about how much of a derivative, cheating hack I am. Better to not edit at all than to confront an awful truth, right?

Right?

Okay, fine. Mutter, mutter. Tomorrow I’ll go back and explode the first page and a half of the story, reinsert the one or two bits of essential information, and then pretend like I wrote a much tighter story in the first place.

(But that’s tomorrow. Tonight I’ve done a good job, dammit, and I deserve some play time. So I am going to start writing a new fantasy short story which I outlined some time ago. Its codename will be The Countess until I come up with something better. The tally will refer to that new story, because I’m not counting editing in my ‘new words’ totals, even if the editing involves substantial rewrites as they it did today).

Tally: 350

New fiction words for the month: 13,020

This is how the new story starts:

Soffatt was waiting on the rain-soaked dock, guttering lantern in hand, as the Countess’ punt emerged from the mist. 

She kneeled at the fore, still and composed; the veteran poleman behind her did not need to compensate for her weight. Charcoal, her falcon, sunk his talons deep into the shoulder of whaleskin slick-jacket. The bird turned its head one way and the other, watching the punt’s master and Soffatt in the same smooth movement.

 

[1] sic

November 25, 2014

NotNaNo Day 25 – Flash fictioning

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 11:44 pm

On another day when I truly could not be stuffed getting into my existing projects, I eventually gave up and just searched the web for a writing prompt and hacked out a few hundred words of flash fiction. I amused myself by writing a dialogue-only exchange, which was a fun diversion from a day of pretty unpleasant news events. I think I need to deal with this is two concrete ways – first of all, I think I’ll have to completely ban myself from social media during the day. Today was unusual for a variety of reasons, but I let myself get angry about stuff I can’t control or even meaningfully contribute towards resolving, which is unhealthy. I may think of a way to channel some righteous fury into my writing, but on the whole I think it’s more sensible to go on a Twitter holiday at least until the evenings.

Second of all I really need a tangible project. From tonight’s meandering it’s clear that unless I sit down to accomplish a specific task about which I am crystal clear from the outset, I’m probably going to faff about until I’ve wasted half my writing time. That means it is probably time to stop mucking about with the current draft of Serpentine Precipice and start again with the tighter outline. I’ve let myself write bloated quagmires of scenes that go nowhere slowly up until now, which is exactly not what I wanted to do with that project. So back to the drawing board. I’ll keep all the world building I’ve done so far, recycle most of the existing characters and I’ll keep the opening scenes – but I will rewrite everything else in the service of a tighter plot.

Tally: 390 words

New fiction words for the month: 12,670

From today’s flash fiction:

“Well, when society is restored, people who know how to build machines and recall lost knowledge will be hailed as kings.”

“You don’t know how to build things. You have no useful knowledge.”

“I’ve memorised the Periodic Table and I can name the 100 greatest inventions in history.”

“I weep for the tribe that flocks to you for answers. Pass the ammunition.”

NotNaNo Days 21-24 – The wheels are wobbly but they still turn

Filed under: news of the day,Uncategorized,wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 12:04 am

I’m in full editing mode at the moment, so while I am still hitting my absolute dead-minimum writing targets, the blogging has suffered a little.

I should clarify that “full editing mode” means, in practice, that I have printed out a copy of Third Violin and am drawing all over it. I more or less know what I have to fix from the first draft, but my concentration span when I try to focus on it line by line has been…not good. I am slowly building a rhythm, I think. I hope so. Third Violin has a deadline of sorts, since I wrote it for a specific market that closes on the 30th of November. I am reasonably confident I’ll have it in good shape by then.

Over on the new-words front, I am adding new scenes to the dog’s breakfast of Serpentine Precipice. I’m still poking at the setting, adding new ideas and chopping off old pieces. I had a breakthrough this afternoon about what it is my protagonists wants to achieve. Character motivations FTW! Until now all I knew was that he was not especially invested in the job he’s been given to do. Now I know what direction his moral compass is pointed, and why he seems to keep wandering off-course from the plot. It’ll be a tricky job to marry his secret motivations up with the plot as it stands. If it comes down to a question of plot versus character, the plot can look forward to a rocket-propelled jettisoning.

Tally: 420 + 250 + 250 + 620 = 1540

Total new fiction words for the month: 10,740 + 1540 = 12, 280 (on track to make an acceptable, if not inspiring, 15,000 words for November)

“Swagger, bluster and a full purse will get you far in life, it’s true, but they will not lay open every door in your path. And we both know you lack one or two of those characteristics these days.”

 

November 20, 2014

NatNaNo Day 20 – Just touching base

I’m a bit on the tired side tonight, so my writing stint was short. Perfunctory even. 400 words in about 20 minutes so I could just go to bed.

Tomorrow the pest control guy is coming, so I have a lot of last-minute packing and lugging to do, after which I had to keep a four year old amused out of the house. If the weather’s not as hot as it was today, that will mean a visit to a park or the zoo. If it is hot, the pool or the library – and she won’t be amused for very long at the library, though it will be an opportunity for me to order in a couple of books I’ve been meaning to read – Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon (alien first-contact story set in Lagos) and God’s War by Kameron Hurley (bloodthirsty science fantasy with bug-based magic).

Oh, and I probably have a job lined up soon, so I guess that’s good. I’ll miss moping around the house though. Better make the most of it while I can.

So without further ado:

Tally: 400 words

Total fiction words for the month: 10, 740

“You’re back from exile less than a week and already you’re bringing grief to that poor woman. It’s not enough you had to marry her? Do you have to make her life miserable as well?”

NotNaNo Day 19 – Adrift with options

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 12:20 am

The pest control company cancelled their visit, throwing out my schedule completely. I was left in the odd position of having plenty of time to write and not having a specific writing project. Serpentine Precipice, being the only one of my works in progress that does not have a complete draft, would seem to have been the obvious choice. But it’s become a slow-moving, unwieldy, going-nowhere mess. I like the general tenor of it, and I don’t really want to throw any more of the 10,000 or so words that I’ve written on it out – but some of it has to go.

I decided the best use of at least some of my time was to put on the brakes and prepare a rough outline of the story. I still want SP to be novella-length rather than a full-blown novel. To sharpen the focus, I’ve pulled out some of the characters and ideas that had made their way into the draft-so-far. Not a big deal, as I want to be able to write more stories with these characters and settings, so I can save stuff for a sequel. Narrowing the scope will make for a leaner, faster-moving story, which is all to the good.

I’m not going to outline in too much detail, as I still want this to be my fun project that I make up as I go along, but as usual I’ve discovered that if I don’t have some structure to work from, I end up throwing a kitchen-sinkload of characters, place names and random quasi-historical references in and completely bogging down my story. And since I am still not a great editor, I’d like the first draft to be as clean as possible.

Most of the afternoon was spent configuring a new desktop PC, with all the attendant woes of transferring files. I discovered that in Windows 8.1  Microsoft have deliberately borked their formerly useful file transfer applications. Instead of hitting a couple of buttons to transfer settings and files easily across the network, as modern life has taught me to expect, I have to copy things to and then from an external hard drive. Like our pre-millennial ancestors must have done in the times before recorded history. Primitive!

Anyway, I got things settled down enough to manage a late night writing sprint, rounding out a Serpentine Precipice scene that I started yesterday.

Interesting side note – since I started writing this story, I have not managed to type either of the words ‘serpentine’ or ‘precipice’ correctly the first time. There’s a very good chance I will change the name before I am finished working on this project, just to avoid having to type and retype those words.

Tally: 460

New fiction words for the month: 10,340

I may have poked out my tongue at him. I can’t be expected to remember every act of discourtesy I am called upon to impart.

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.

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