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

May 10, 2014

Tick tick tick

I know this blog looks neglected lately, but that’s just not the case. Why, I delete several hundred spam messages practically every day. (Seriously, what is up with that? Somebody out there in Russian or Lithuania is under the very mistaken impression that I can help them shift metric shitloads of what I presume are knockoffs of brand-name sunglasses, handbags and antidepressants. Boy, have they ever come to the wrong place).


As I continue to cruise gently towards  graceful exit from the APS, with the first intention to make a complete career change, weird doors have begun to open. On Thursday I went to my first job interview in years (or decades, if you make the reasonable assertion that within-public-service promotion interviews are a different beast). Since it was a job I had absolutely no knowledge of thirty hours earlier, in a field in which I have plenty of experience but almost no emotional investment, for a government department that I have never considered working for, it was a pretty cushy interview.

I think I crushed it – whether I get the job will probably depend more on whether they have money than whether they have interest in my services (although there would be more hoops to jump through to actually land the position). Not feeling that anything important is at stake is a great help in calming interview nerves, that’s for sure. If nothing else, that interview has given me a bit of confidence that I should not feel intimidated by the next one. And the fact that the opportunity emerged unbidden from the ether has given me at least a little confidence that I needn’t be discouraged by early failures, because something will probably come up.


I’m still ignoring the novel in favour of getting a few short stories under my belt. I finished a strange, literally-episodic little piece about high school ghost hunters last week, and this week I am drafting a story that has been percolating for about three years. I’ve rededicated myself to the idea that a writing streak keeps me at my most productive, that is, making sure that I achieve a minimum word count absolutely every day. The actual minimum I’ve set myself is 400 words, which is usually in the vicinity of an hour’s work and normally not difficult to achieve. Most sessions I crank out a little more than that, and so far on the current streak of 14 days (not counting today) I’m averaging a shade under 700 words. I’m pretty happy with that.

The other thing that I am trying now is writing from outlines. Instead of using a dot-point “this happens, then this happens, then this happens, then explosions, then The End” methods, I am trying a method that I got from listening to the guys at the Self-Publishing Podcast. They call it writing story beats, which involves (at least as I’ve interpreted it) writing the story out in a shorthand summary fashion, noting the plot and setting elements and describing the characters’ emotional arcs, scene by scene. Outlining, in other words, but by telling myself the story rather than trying to develop an architectural design.

The main advantage of this approach is that it helps (far more than a sterile dot-point plan) to identify where the slack or boring bits of the story might be. It makes fixing those much easier than doing a structural edit after the fact – 100 words of outline is a lot easier to fix than two chapters of misconceived fiction. And because it’s a relatively easy commitment to write two or three pages of outline, I don’t feel any anxiety about ideas that aren’t working yet. I can just put them on hold and turn my attention to something else, tinkering with the outline when I get a new idea or figure out a fix to a problem.

So far it’s working. Whenever I sit down for a writing session I can glance at the story beats and know exactly what I have to write. That helps me to cut through my usual procrastination rituals and get straight to writing. Writing the story beats out beforehand satisfies my inclination as a pantser/discovery writer, by letting me explore the idea and tell the story without committing to five or ten or ninety thousand words first. At the same time, a loosely sketched-out outline with which I have told the story to myself leaves plenty of room for discovering the tone and the characters and the smaller nuances of the piece. It seems to hit the right balance for me.

It’s a method I aim to experiment with more. I have a rough idea for a three-novel science fiction adventure that I plan to develop using story beats. Unless I have another idea that jumps the queue in the meantime, I’ll probably make that the next project in the pipeline, starting with developing the characters and figuring out the story beats, and then (if and when I have the energy) seeing how long it takes to turn that into an actual story.

…probably a long time though.

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