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

September 15, 2015

At the Edge anthology coming in 2016

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 2:53 pm

The news of the past day is leaving me with an acute case of advanced schadenfreude, so I’m not going to address it today. Instead I’ll turn to even happier (on a personal level) events.

One lovely bit of news that I’ve been sitting on for quite a while is that I have a new story coming out next year. The story is called “Seven Excerpts from Season One” and will appear in the 2016 anthology At the Edge from Paper Road Press in New Zealand. I won’t say too much about the story other than to vaguely describe it as my “Youtube high school ghost hunters” piece.

This planet has lovely sunsets. Mind the flying stingray monsters.

This planet has lovely sunsets. Mind the flying stingray monsters.

Quite apart from the sheer delight of getting accepted for publication, I am very excited to be sharing a table of contents again with my Brisbane writer-buddies Jodi Cleghorn and Tom Dullemond, who both also have work coming out (sooner or later) in The Lane of Unusual Traders. I love their stuff and can’t wait to read what they’ve done.

I’ll share more about At the Edge as information comes out. In the meantime, I plan to spend quite a lot of time admiring the lovely cover art from Wellington artist Emma Weakley.

 

July 6, 2015

Progress report – June was a stumbling block

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 3:57 pm

A quick update on the novel – progress was slow. I added about 10,000 words altogether for the entire month of June to the novel manuscript. By contrast, in the less-than-a-week since then, I’ve added about 5000 words. So it’s been a bit of a drag and a trample, but I feel like it won’t be impossible to climb back up on the horse.

I also finished a new short story – or rather an old one that I’ve been kicking back and forth for more than a year, drafting and redrafting. With the benefit of a couple of weeks’ distance, I’m quite proud of the story. I think it definitely represents a leveling up of my short story craft. I’m still well short of what I expect professional-quality writing to look like, but I’m confident that I’m inching closer to it.

As we’ve passed the halfway point for the year – which by the way, where the hell did those months go? – I decided to look in on the various writing goals I set for myself back in January and see how I’m going:

Short stories – I said I wanted to have ten stories in circulation. I currently have nine, though one is perilously close to retirement. I’m going to stay focused on getting the current draft of the novel completed as my first priority, but after that I intend to churn through a few of the short story ideas I’ve been putting together in the meantime. I thought back in January that the short story goal was a little unambitious. I’ll revise what I think is a more challenging goal after the novel draft is done.

Novel – The goal was to have an 80K novel written by the end of July. Right now the manuscript is a tad shy of 60,ooo words and I have 25 days to get to the goal. To be honest, I doubt I will quite make it, but if not I won’t be so far away that I end up disappointed in myself. A bit less than a thousand words a day is certainly doable, but it’s right near the upper end of my current productivity rates, so I am not going to beat myself up with unrealistic expectations.

Especially not when I have reached a point where I no longer know quite where this draft is going to end. I’ve gone off the reservation a bit in terms of my outline, and stuff is now happening that appears nowhere in my planning. I’ve yet to figure out whether I need to correct course and get back to what I was aiming at, or run with the new direction. I suspect the answer will be somewhere in the middle wearing a “Fix it in rewrites!” T-shirt. We’ll see.

Community stuff – I have to write a CSFG treasurer manual. I still haven’t done it, but to be honest it’s not that big a task. Now that the end of financial year has arrived, the first order of business is settling the accounts and getting them audited (well, that will be the second order of business after I do my own family taxes, which are a hefty job of work in themselves). I have a bit of a deadline around some upcoming holidays, so I will probably need to cram a lot of this into a short space of time. All the more reason to get the novel draft finished. But the auditing process will fill in a lot of the gaps in my knowledge on being a treasurer, so I expect to be in a good mental space for instruction manual writing as part of that.

Blogging – I am building the new writer website. It’s not done yet. I don’t regard it as a huge priority, what with having no particular work to promote, but the job hasn’t fallen off the list.

 

So that’s not too bad. I’m tracking pretty well against some admittedly modest goals, with some bursts of productivity needed in the near future. I can do that.

June 25, 2015

Progress report – Little to no progress to report

Filed under: geekery,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , , — lexifab @ 1:27 pm

In a shameless attempt to make sure that the entire month of June doesn’t pass without a blog entry, I will crank out a short progress report which only lightly touches on the status of the novel manuscript.

Because reasons, that’s why.

Status of the novel manuscript – It’s still going, albeit slowly. I’ve stalled a bit at the 50,000 word mark, having reached the point where the decision not to do any serious worldbuilding before I started has run aground on the lack of world. Er, so to speak. The external world, being little-defined, is exerting a sad lack of pressure on my isolated team of characters, which means I’m filling out an awful lot of word count with exposition and somewhat artificial interpersonal conflict. I have a suspicion that whole chapters in this area may disappear in the editing process. But not until after I finish the draft, dammit!

Short stories – Out of frustration with the slow progress on the novel, I’ve gone back to a couple of short stories to finish them off. “Burn the Future”, my “Hogwarts versus Aliens” story (not my description, but embarrassingly apt when someone proposed it) is now done and off on submission. “Unacceptable Losses” (aka “Golems versus Werewolves”, which *is* my shorthand description) was part-written in March when I dropped everything to start work on the novel. It has about another 1000 words left to be written, so I figured I would just knock them off as fast as possible so I can get to editing the piece.

Rejectomancy – So with the submission of BtF yesterday, I’m up to 31 submissions for the year with zero (I counted twice) acceptances. Ho hum. A couple of the pieces are on second readings at their respective venues, so they may well be in with a chance. And I have had some very encouraging “Good but not right for us” – type rejection letters, which is better than nothing.

One piece which has now gone out 21 times altogether is pretty much on its last possible sub, in that I’ve really just run out of markets to try to sell a 9000-word fantasy story to.  If it gets rejected again, which I’m expecting, I’ll reluctantly retire it and plonk it up here so everyone can point and laugh and wonder what got into me. Or I’ll add another seventy thousand words to it and convert it to a novel, maybe.

 

And in other news, I saw Inside Out, the new Pixar movie yesterday, about which I have two observations:

1) I reckon I learned more about neurosychology in that ninety minutes than I got in an entire year of first-year Psych at uni; and

2) I do a lot of quiet sobbing in Pixar movies.

It’s good. You should go sob – I mean, see it.

May 11, 2015

Progress Report – The sticky middle

Filed under: Uncategorized,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 12:18 pm

I’m a writer. I am, really.

Only, I’ve barely written a word in the last fortnight. Since Easter weekend – a month ago – I’ve written maybe five thousand words on A Flash of Black Wings. But really, if I were to look at my spreadsheet, I would probably be forced to acknowledge that it’s not even that much.

I put the intial problem down to bad timing. The expected disruption over Easter coincided with the part of my outline that has the vaguest plot points (“there’s an attack by mysterious people”, “our heroes go from here to there, encountering difficulties”). Up until that point in the writing process, I had a pretty firm idea of what was going on, even as my plot-as-written was becoming more complicated than the outline-as-planned.

Then I had to make some decisions. Uh oh. Decisions are NOT my strong point. I am an Olympic-level indecisionist.

I’m stalled on a plot point, being roughly “how do I move the characters from their current predicament through an exciting and essential action scene to the next phase of the story without completely breaking my own suspension of disbelief?” I need them to be somewhere else, but I’ve trapped them in a situation that it makes no sense to escape.

Agh. Structure is hard.

The solution, as far as I can see through the fog of self-doubt, is to just hammer out the scenes I need. Regardless of whether the scenes are justified by or even follow logically from what’s gone before, I need a complete draft. Once I’m finished, I will have something to edit.

That’s the lesson that this novel is teaching me all over again – finish the thing first, edit the thing later. Don’t edit it while you’re writing it.

My own process baffles me sometimes. A big part of the whinging I do on this blog is just trying to figure out how my own brain works and why I keep getting in my own way. And hopefully using the latest insights as a launchpad for resketching my internal road map (to mix my metaphors into a grotesque and unpalatable word-gruel).

So, a plan:

1) Keep writing. I need to get my streak back, because the write-every-day model is one that clealrly works for me. But on the other hand I also need to lower my expectations of my own productivity. When I was at full flight, I was writing an average of 750 words a day. Until I get back into the habit of daily writing, I should accept that 400-500 (a bit over a half-hour’s work for me, typically) is more reasonable.

2) Rework my outline. This is the job I’ve been putting off and putting off (see indecisiveness above) but I really can’t avoid it. My outline doesn’t work any more and I really don’t think I can end the novel where I was planning to. Too many characters have developed in directions that pull against the ending I’ve been aiming at, and I doubt I can get them back there without breaking them. So I need to redraw the map and see where I’m going (or if I need to kill someone I wasn’t planning to kill)

2) Mix it up. I have that half-edited short story (formerly known as “School Hall”) I was talking about above, plus another one that’s about a thousand words from a complete draft, plus another one that needs a rewrite, plus another one that’s been outlined in detail, not to mention a couple of others that are ready to start writing. Except for the “School Hall” edits, I was pretty determined to put off everything else until I finished my novel draft. But I think now that it would help if I have another project or two in my back pocket, for the (inevitable) times when I get really stuck and/or disillusioned with A Flash of Black wings. It’s bound to happen again, and better that I be working on something that wallowing in self-doubt and indecision for the better part of a month.

And with that, I’ll go back to the draft and hammer that bastard into submission.

February 12, 2015

Writing goals for 2015

Filed under: administraviata,news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , , , , — lexifab @ 9:51 pm

Like the Christmas tree in the living room that we still haven’t taken down, so too are my New Years’ writing resolutions coming through grotesquely late. Or no, wait, let’s pretend these are Chinese New Year resolutions, because those are totally a tradition in my Mediterranean-descended, lapsed Anglican leftie ex-pat Queenslander subculture. Besides, I’m quite fond of goats.

Anyway, this is my now-annual hold-myself-to-account post on my writing goals for the year. This is what I want to achieve at a minimum. Ideally I’ll beat these goals by a wide margin, especially if I get my writing streak back in place.

Short stories

At the moment I have about seven completed stories in circulation, which is to say out for submission to various publishers.

One of my goals last year was to complete ten stories, which was eminently achievable, even if I didn’t quite achieve it. This year, my plans are a little more modest. Because I intend to shift my focus onto novel writing (see below) but want to retain some short story momentum, the plan is to always have at least ten finished stories in circulation.

That means that if I retire one from circulation (like the one that’s out now for its 20th and probably final submission) or if one is actually accepted for publication, I need to get a replacement out there as soon as possible. In practise, that means that step one is to complete the three or four stories I have in rough draft, and then maybe sketch out another one or two in preparation for the next time I need to return the budget to surplus (so to speak).

Of course, the caveat here is that the stories have to be good enough for me to want to send them out under my own name. There’s a minimum standard of quality here that I won’t allow myself to slip below. On the other hand, what I’ll need to watch out for is that I don’t let my natural self-critical inclinations get in the way of getting things finished and out the door. Evidence suggests that I am more than capable of chewing over drafts and procrastinating on edits for months at a time, to the detriment of other, more valuable work. I have to make sure I stay out of my own way.

Short story goals: (i) Get my submittable stories up to ten; (ii) always have ten stories in circulation.

Novels

For me, this is the big one. From the painful experience of couple of fairly attempts in the past, I’ve convinced myself that novel-length stories are not a comfortable fit for me. I’ve had a novel outline worked out in (for me) quite a lot of detail for almost a year now.

In all that time, I’ve come up with every excuse under the sun not to start: “I need to finish these short stories first.” “I don’t know if I can fit it in with my job hunting.” (Yes, seriously, i used that one a lot!) “I don’t really know what’s happened in the middle of the novel.” “Am I really sure my lead character doesn’t have the stupidest name in all literature?” and of course, “I really, really want to watch Breaking Bad before I get spoiled for the ending.” (PS: Still winning on that last one. Please don’t spoil the ending of Breaking Bad for me. I’m more than halfway through now).

In the end, all the excuses are blithering nonsense. I want to be a not-completely-obscure writer, so I need to write what people are reading. Pretty much only Ken Liu and Kelly Link are capable of becoming huge in the science fiction and fantasy genre without writing novels. I am neither, nor do I have the requisite initials of KL. Anyone else who wants to make a mark writes a novel.

So, I’m writing a novel. I think I’m going to start on the first of March, or thereabouts. The goal is to finish it by the end of July, which will require a mildly demanding commitment of 500 words a day. The presence of a detailed outline should help, but we’ll see.

The novel, by the way, is the first volume in a young adult science fiction trilogy. Yes, one of those – do feel free to groan audibly. So I will be writing (a) a novel which is (b) part of a series with (c) a young adult protagonist in (d) a fairly-hard science fiction setting. Every single one of those is outside my comfort zone. Put them all together and I expect to be either a gibbering wreck or a phoenix ascending on wings of flaming triumph. Possibly somewhere between the two.

Novel goal: Write a first draft of an 80,000-ish word novel by the end of July.

Supplementary goal: Don’t become a gibbering wreck.

Community activity

I like being a member of a writing community. So much so that I’ve volunteered as the Treasurer of the CSFG committee this. Apart from getting my head around the minor complexities of double-entry bookkeeping, one of my less glamorous writing projects for the year will be to prepare a how-to manual for being the club treasurer. Handovers from one committee to the next have traditional been slow, stuttering affairs – I want to do my bit to make the handover to the next poor sap as seamless as possible by giving them a reference.

Okay, it’s pretty boring, but technical writing is still writing, and in the end it might be among the more demonstrably useful things I do this year. Market analytics indicate the potential audience could be as high as one person every two years, which is on a par with the current audience for my fiction. 😉

Treasurer goal: Write the book on being the CSFG Treasurer. Also, do all the treasuring stuff.

I’ve also taken a relatively minor, straightforward job with the Conflux convention organising committee. I’ll be coordinating the dealers’ room, which means organising vendors, setting up tables and probably getting a heap of coffees for people. In reality I’ll probably end up being roped into other tasks, but at this stage my contribution will be low-key. It didn’t occur to me until later that the not-immediately-obvious benefit of this particular job is that I will have an excuse – no, obligation – to introduce myself to as many publishers of science fiction and fantasy fiction as possible.

Blogging

By trivial coincidence, this should be the 700th blog post on Lexifabricographer. That’s a little hard to believe, but I’m prepared to accept the word of my blog dashboard rather than go back and count. My buddy Andrew kicked my first Lexifab blog over to WordPress back in February 2006, which means this one has been going even longer than the old Blogger one.

It’s looking a bit long in the tooth, to be honest. Since I only started using searchable tags at the start of last year, it’s a bit of a pain to find anything specific on this site. well, if there were anything particularly worth searching for, which is not a call I’d make.

Time for a makeover!

Or rather, time to build a completely new website, dedicated to the whole “being an author” thing. I’ll blog my news and writing stuff there, post up free fiction for Marco, and sales portals for anything that I eventually get published (or published myself). Plus I will totally get a swanky author photo, possibly featuring the subject leaning nonchalantly against something and smirking awkwardly.

With the hosts’ permission, I’ll probably keep this site around for family-and-friends blogging. That separation feels important, not particularly because I’ll be hiding anything, but more because I do occasionally feel moved to commit acts of diary. I can see times when that’s probably not what readers of my epic fourteen-novel series about vampire Hussars on the Trans-Siberian railway will be hunting for.

(PS: Someone commission me to write about railway vampires, because I could totally lock that corner of the market).

As part of the push to furnish the new site with some content, I’ll probably be pushing some free content out – flash pieces and drabbles, most likely. I had a mad urge to undertake a Drabble-a-Day challenge (a drabble is a short story of exactly 100 words, by the way) but I’m not going to distract myself with that until I’ve got the story and novel projects well underway.

None of this will happen quickly. I’ll be teaching myself all of the web administration stuff as I go (or more likely cadging favours from friends who already know how to do all this stuff). So far I don’t even have the domain name. Will get to that after the weekend.

Blog goal: Build a new author website like a real grownup might have.

Let’s go, 2015!

Those are my concrete must-haves for 2015. Those are the things I want to have done and locked by the end of the year. I reckon it’s all achievable, though how comfortably so will depend a lot on how readily I overcome my various anxieties relating to long-form fiction, unfamiliar social interactions and systems administration.

In my next post, I’ll go through a shopping list of more esoteric writing goals – stuff I feel like I want to try my hand at, even if I don’t have a specific purpose in mind just yet.

 

 

 

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 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!

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.

 

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