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

June 11, 2014

Rejection is progress.

Filed under: wordsmithery,workin for the man — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 11:25 pm

The reality of having to search for a job is starting to sink in, although thankfully not for the usual reasons of starvation and incipient eviction. (Don’t worry, we’re fine on that score).

The slow grind of hunting, writing cover letters, wrestling with sometimes not all that well-designed web forms, finding artistic ways to address selection criteria to disguise the fact you’re using the same example three different ways – and waiting for the flood of impersonal rejections to come flowing back to you. Canberra’s apparently in a hiring slump – go figure – so my expectations are wound down so hard I’m apt to break a spring.

My writing career’s following a similar trajectory, at least at the moment. Today one of my stories was rejected, which is not at all unusual and in the normal course of events would not have been a big deal. It just happened to be a case where I had a lot of faith that that story in particular would hit its mark. Not this time though. I have not received any feedback yet (though I expect I will – the anthology editors have been really positive and encouraging throughout the submission period) so I don’t know whether it was close or whether I was way off base. In a practical sense it doesn’t matter, though I’ll be curious whether the editors perceived flaws that I might have overlooked.

I responded to the disappointment in the only sensible way I can think of, which was to send it straight back out to another market. So it didn’t win its dream home? Tough. There’s probably a home for it somewhere (and if not, I’ll post here for Marco to read – eventually.

Back on the employment thread, I’ve already been rejected for a couple of jobs that would have fit in ideally with my current plans. Assuming that the apprenticeship thing is not viable (as it appears at the moment, though I haven’t given up by any means) then I want to get just enough part-time work to pay the bills while I write and build up my editing skills.

Since today’s fiction rejection demonstrates (to nobody’s surprise) that it’s not quite time to give up having a day job – even if I did give up one specific day job – the next best thing is to keep to the plan and play the long game of plugging away. Short stories, long stories, that novel series I’m still building up a piece at a time. Keeping at it, day after day (or more accurately, night after night) until I have enough pieces in play that something finally clicks into place.

Same with the job applications. Keep sending them out, keep watching them come back either on fire or snuffed out, until eventually one doesn’t.

There’s something about all this that smells suspiciously like it might build character. I hate it when that happens.

 

Oh, but in case it sounds like a had a complete bummer of a day with no redeeming features whatsoever? I went and saw X-Men: Days of Future Past as well. It was terrific, even if they nerfed Kitty Pryde’s role from the original story. Still worth it.

May 31, 2014

Nominal liberty

Filed under: news of the day,political sniping — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 10:30 am

How do I sum up my freedom from the shackles of paid employment, entering its fifth day as of this morning?

Eh, not that exciting. Basically it’s been one errand after another, crammed with as much writing as I’ve been able to get away with. The closest I’ve come to impersonating a gentleman of leisure was having a longish cafe lunch with Chris, a CSfG writing compadre. (Here’s his website, where I am quoted!).

On the job hunting front I have been cold calling a lot of builders to sound out some apprenticeship prospects. As I suspected, not much is happening on that front, although not quite for the reasons I anticipated. I had thought being in my mid-forties would be the biggest impediment to being offered an apprentice job in a physically demanding field. According to the few meaty conversations I’ve had, that’s not a huge barrier to entry. Instead the main problem appears to be that nobody in town is taking on any apprentices at all. the local building industry has been in a slump for going on eighteen months now, and with massive public service layoffs in the offing, the prospects of a sudden housing boom in the ACT are somewhere between slim and quite-the-opposite-of-boom.

So, I’ll continue to work my leads next week, but preparations to activate Plan B are already well underway. (Plan B basically involves a school-hours office job and the pursuit of a few other goals which I will go into later).

I keep wondering when the fact that I am, for the first time in twenty years, not an employee of the Commonwealth Government will hit me. It’s not that it doesn’t feel real to have walked away from it all – it doesn’t feel like anything. I suppose that means that I really had so little investment in what I’ve been doing over the past few months that I’d already walked away, and the only material change was not having to put on a suit and tie and hang around in an office all day.

One thing I am starting to feel, for which I am grateful, is the receding background sense of simmering fury that comes with being part of a government machine that I feel (strongly) is on the wrong track. I’m specifically talking about the international development program, which I think has taken a badly retrogressive step under the current government. But really, I don’t think they are doing one damn thing that works to the betterment of the Australian people, so to single out their butchery of one particular agency is probably just making it personal. Seriously, fuck those guys.

But, the point is, I’m beginning to enjoy the overwhelming sense of relief of not constantly feeling that I am a part of what I consider to be the active undermining of everything I value about my community. It’s pleasant to not be reminded every moment of the day that things are getting worse. The next step, I suppose, is to find ways to contribute more to making things better.

 

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).

Jobstuff

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.

Writingstuff

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.

April 27, 2014

The sea beneath my feet and an open horizon

Filed under: workin for the man — Tags: — lexifab @ 10:56 pm

The news I’ve been waiting for has arrived. My career as a public servant officially has an end date, which I believe to be the 26th of May. (I want to say I’m certain about the timing, but the redundancy letter was ambiguously worded, to say the least.)

As the formal interpretation about how public servants are required to conduct themselves in online spaces has changed of late, tightening the degree to which one might express criticism or a contrary position to that of the government of the day, I will for the moment confine myself to the observation that I am looking forward to seeking new opportunities.

In a broader sense, I am relieved and terrified. The work I have been doing has not quite reached an all-time low in terms of job satisfaction, but it’s been headed in that direction. So I’m glad that the end is in sight. I will be walking away with a sense of accomplishment, albeit perhaps an uneven one. What I won’t have are regrets for unmet achievements. I never had serious intentions to pursue my career any further than I already have. Frankly I’ve been treading water since before the kids were born – not coasting, but also not feeling any motivation to exceed expectations either.

If I’m honest, I’m just taking up space that someone hungrier and more energetic could be making much better use of. Or they would be, if my position were not being permanently dissolved. Good luck to my theoretical-if-not-actual successor, whoever they may turn out to be. They’ll need it.

In the meantime, I have a Plan A, which involves a radical and possibly quite risky change of career doing something for which I have no formal qualifications and unknown but quite likely poor prospects. If it works out I will be broke, working long, tiring hours and am likely to be exposed to near-lethal doses of talkback radio. On the other hand I will also not be writing reports and policies that nobody will ever read or act upon, so there’s that.

I also have a Plan B, which is a bit on the underdeveloped side and may involve getting certified to pour cappuccinos or asking which pump the customer filled up at.

At least I can hold out for the possibility that whatever comes next will be something that does not bore me absolutely rigid from one end of the day to the other. Right?

 

March 14, 2014

Snippets

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.

February 24, 2014

In-betweening

Filed under: news of the day,Uncategorized,wordsmithery,workin for the man — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 4:22 pm

I’ve been a little quiet lately because things have changed at work. Instead of my previous employment as full-time layabout with literally no responsibilities, I have moved to a new office and team and have started what is effectively a new job (though with nominally the same old tasks). It would be fair to say that the adjustment process is ongoing, not least because I am still waiting on financial advice as to whether I can afford to quit and do something else with my life. I am anxious for a change and ready to move on, but at the same time I’m conscious that if I can’t make the numbers work, I need to stay where I am. The Canberra job market is becoming actively hostile to the archetype of “the Commonwealth public servant found excess to requirements”.

We just bought a new-to-us car: a 2009 Nissan Maxima. Ordinarily that might be a cause for celebration but in this case the imminent self-destruction of our old car forced our hand at a moment when we could have done without a big expense. Which is, I know, the story of everyone’s life. Still, it would be easier to make big, important life decisions without being feeling like our finances are holding a gun to our heads. Well, never mind, moving on.

I’m on the final stretch of my revision of the Sawl novel. I’ve given myself until the end of the month to get to The End, though in practise I might also give myself until the end of the weekend as well. At that point it still own’t be done, nor even close to it. I have structural problems all over the place (too many exposition scenes, too much slow introspection, not enough setup for action scenes, too much information withheld until the last third of the book, and at least one major character who dies in entirely the wrong place in the narrative, to name most of the big issues). Once I’m finished the draft I will put it away again for a month or so, to work on a couple of short stories and to flesh out an outline for the next longer project. then – I promise myself – it’ll be back to Nyssa and Rachel for a manuscript cleanup, for however long *that* takes.

I won’t say this book is taking forever but I will say that I look forward to refining my process.

February 6, 2014

Update: The Barossa, Shakespeare and writing

It’s another day at work with nothing to do while my job and I continue to be ground to a fine powder by the Machinery of Government arrangements. I’ve stood in front of glaciers that get along at a quicker clip than these bloody processes. So apologies to any Australian taxpayers out there, but this one’s on your dollar.

Fiona and I spend the Invasion Day long weekend in the Barossa Valley, north of Adelaide, touring about the vineyards and generally ignoring the rest of the world unless it pertained to a small selection of sporting events. As a side note, the Tour Down Under is quite the popular topic in South Australia around this time of the year. Luckily we arrived the day after the race had moved on from the Barossa itself.

The Barossa, it turns out, wasn’t particulary our favourite wine district to visit – that was probably the Margaret River in Western australia, although bits of New Zealand and Tasmania give it a run for its money. In fairness to the Barossa though, we were visiting just after one heatwave and just before another one, in the middle of one of the hottest summers anyone there can remember. So it was looking a bit dry and sorry for itself – excluding all the rich, well-watered grape vines, of course.

It did turn out, no surpise, that the Barossa is a good place to pick up some quality plonk though. Shiraz is the local speciality, with rieslings popular in the nearby Eden Valley. All very good, but we also picked up some excellent roses and…why am I even telling you this? If you come over to my place we can drink some. Otherwise I don’t have the wine vocabulary to describe what we drank, and if you wanted to read about wine you’d go and get James Halliday’s latest, probably.

(Actually if you do want to read about wine I can recommend The Wine Wankers blog, which is not at all up itself and has meta-tags like “humorous wine images” and “horse piss”)

One of the highlights of the trip was seeing The Essential Theatre Company’s touring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Seppeltsfield Winery. It’s a very entertaining interpretation of one of the more fun Shakespeare plays, especially over a few glasses of red. They’re touring about the country (to vineyards, chiefly) for the next few months – check the itinerary and if you happen to be in their vicinity I can highly recommend it. Their Puck alone is worth the price of admission (as should always be the case with Midsummer…). Oh, if you’re in the Canberra region they will be at Flint in the Vines at Shaw Estate this coming weekend (Saturday 8 February) – you probably just about have time to get tickets!

On the writing front, I am closing in on my target of completing my novel manuscript by the end of February as planned. My writing streak of 400+ words is at 35 unbroken days now, and I’m averaging about 520 words a day. When I’m done, I am going to have to return to the drawing board again and review the structure of the novel – the start is too slow, the plot spends a lot of time up some blind alleys and too much of the action is delayed until late in the book. But the meat is there, so all I need to do is trim fat and rearrange some of the bones. Whether that results in fatal trauma to the story remains to be seen.

Yesterday I slapped another couple of scenes onto the short story I’m working on, which means that I think it’s done. I’ll put it away and work on something else for a week or so, then dig it out and see whether it still flows as it’s meant to. If I’m happy then, off it goes for submission somewhere.

In the meantime I’m working on a short story for this excellent little project – Unfettered by Tiny Owl Workshop – which will be an anthology of short stories inspired by a collection of beautiful, quirky illustrations by Terry Whidborne. Some lovely stuff there, and I am trying to work up a concept for each illustration before I decide which one I’ll write (I may write more than one).

And last of all, I’ve received notice that my first short story (or rather, the first one I ever submitted for publication anywhere, which spent some 14 months looking for a publisher) will be going to contract in the next week or so. So I might actually be able to use this blog to Announce a Thing! Not yet, but soon, maybe!

January 21, 2014

Post-interview crash

Filed under: news of the day,workin for the man — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 3:28 pm

Yesterday I went to my first job interview in six years. At least I think that’s what it was.

Following up on the idea that I should eschew money, free time and a healthy back and knees free of crippling muscular pain, I talked yesterday to a pimping agency that places apprentices with relevent companies (builders and tradies, in the case of my preferred vocation).

To say that it’s been a while since I did an interview for a private sector job is a bit of an understatement. It’s been at least twenty years, and that’s far enough back that specific details of how I got previous jobs are hazy, if not wholly reconstructed from lost data. The thing is, I can’t remember the process being so…chatty.

The employer – let’s call her M because it’s her initial – is the sole ACT agent for a company headquartered in Sydney. So, I dunno, maybe she doesn’t get to talk to many people face to face (or at least not many people who are not 17 years old and looking for a sparky’s ticket).

But, man, that was some chat. The state of the ACT economy, the state of the public service, the state of the local trades industry, Canberra’s variable weather (equipment-meltingly hot except when it’s brain-freezingly cold), the complexities of work health and safety laws versus the rude simplicity of not getting killed on the job, the dizzying array of TAFE courses available… On occasions it strayed close to the business of becoming an employee [1] but mostly it just seemed to be an exercise in me impressing upon her that I was serious about wanting to be a (very) mature-age chippie.

M did her best to put me off the whole idea. The hours will be long. The pay will be minimal. The work will be back-breaking and exhausting. For the first six to twelve months I will be a burden and a liability for the foreman and everyone around me, all of whom will likely be fifteen to twenty years younger than me.

I’ll admit that the hours are going to be the biggest obstruction. It will be hard to coordinate doing my part to help with the kids if I have to be on-site at seven in the morning and won’t finish my work day until after school finishes. And I’ll probably lose most of my Saturdays. And, and, and…

In the end I’m not sure if I’m put off or not. If it were just me, I think I could stomach the financial hit. I know I could grunt out the physical stress, once I got past the body horror of being confronted with the fact that I no longer have the strength and stamina of an eighteen (even the structurally unprepossessing eighteen year old that I used to be).

M was not one to close the door without opening a dim and possibly dangerous secret passage though. She suggested some other options I hadn’t considered that move me towards my goal, more in line with my prior experience and less bodily demanding. I’m not sure if they’re really what I want to do – the hands-on part of carpentry is the aspect of my plans that has the most appeal – but she’s given me a lot to think about.

As we shook hands and thanked each other for our time, I did wonder whether I was under serious consideration or not. I know that I didn’t come away with that familiar, dreaded sensation of having botched the interview and made a laughing stock of myself. On the other hand, I didn’t walk out contemplating an offer either. I didn’t expect to. I didn’t know what to expect.

It was fun though. It looks as though the years have smoothed off some of the spiky bits I’ve always experienced with job interviews. And by ‘spiky bits’ I mean of course ‘utter, shaking terror’. I reckon I might be willing to do it again.

What I will do next is still an academic question. Until my current employer decides whether it wants me or not (or at least until my employer gets around to telling me what it wants) I won’t consider taking another job. But it sure would be nice to have something lined up just in case.

The search continues…

[1] One such moment was when M quietly mentioned the salary range for first-year apprentices, which is roughly one-half of what I get paid at the moment. That’s actually a bit better than I was expecting, but of course it also comes with a forty hour week and regular somewhat-mandatory overtime.

January 15, 2014

I just can’t stand all this damnable waiting

Filed under: workin for the man — Tags: , — lexifab @ 12:02 pm

I have to say, without being specific about the operational status of my day job, that I wish I were the sort of person who could live comfortably with myself while writing a novel at my workstation. I’d have opportunities, is all I can say.

(Instead, I am patiently awaiting the outcomes of opaque processes occurring in other parts of the organisation, pending decisions by persons unknown in consultation with undisclosed entities. I’ve been to seances with timelier, livelier outcomes…)

January 13, 2014

Contemplating my mid-life crisis options

Filed under: fitter/happier,news of the day,the renovated life — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 3:45 pm

At the moment my state of employment remains risibly unresolved, despite the several months that have passed since the government decision that changed everything [1]. I don’t have a lot to do, which has given me a lot of time to think about what I might want to do instead.

Number one on the list is, of course, to become a full-time writer. The major flaw in that plan is that I still have not only mortgage on my own house, but also a would-be-crippling debt on a range of investment properties. Gotta have at least some money trickling in. Regular readers will understand why I might not be ready to bet my family’s wellbeing going all-in on artistic productivity that more closely resembles a leaking tap.

So, given that my desire to continue in the public service has begun to wane of late, I’ve started thinking about what else I might like to do with myself. The thing that I keep coming back to is construction work.

I am thinking about starting an apprenticeship as a carpenter. Yes, I am completely serious. Somehow, the thought of four years on minimum wage, labouring in baking heat or murderous cold, hold a greater attraction than running down the clock to retirement in an office. It’s an urge that’s been coming on for a while now.

I’ve got to be honest, it would be a means to an end rather than an ambition in itself. I am certain I could find a great deal of joy and satisfaction in working as part of a team to build something tangible, to deal with crises and solve problems. (That’s where most of the joy in my administrative career has come from, after all). But at some point the dream is to be able to work for myself, with Fiona, as a builder/renovator, taking old things and making them new, or even building houses from scratch. It’s taken most of my life to learn to appreciate how satisfying and fulfilling is can be to make something new that will (hopefully) outlive you.

(It’s possible that having kids has helped with this revelation.)

The other reason that working outdoors has so much appeal at the moment is that it gets me away from a keyboard. Decades of sitting at a workstation all day have rubbed a bit of the gloss off the idea of further sitting at a computer writing fiction for half the night. But I know that if I’m separated from my writing tools for any significant length of time I start to get twitchy. Spending much of the day not being able to write is likely to make me very hungry indeed to get down everything I’ve been mulling over.

Finally, moving about a lot and lugging great big slabs of lumber ought to be great for toning my rock-hard delts and abs and…um, other muscles. Right, ladies? [2]

At the moment I’m not in a position to make any formal decisions, but I’m doing the research, making appropriate contacts and getting registered with the right organisations. From what I can tell, the slow economy is going to be the main impediment to me finding a place. Group training programs are being cut to the bone and nobody seems to be hiring.

On the other hand, when they do hire, older applicants (see also: white and male, if I were to guess) tend to be favourably considered because they are less likely to turn up late or drunk or just drop out mysteriously. That seems to be a thing among straight-out-of-school apprentices. Being financially stable and relatively fit and healthy seems to be an advantage from what i hear.

I’m at the stage where none of this might happen. Industry jobs are scarce, I may be offered a compelling position by my current employer that is not the wall of gloom and misery I seem to be in line for, or I may not be offered sufficient enticement to quit the service.

On the other hand, another week or two like the last couple, and that might not matter. Pass me a hammer and step back, please.

 

[1] Specifics elided because I am at least technically still a government employee, although it doesn’t seem like it most days. I intend to remain aloof and professionally distant with regards to the subject right up to the moment that I no longer have to.

[2] The supposed health benefits will presumably expire the first time I contract pneumonia working for a week in late autumn sleet getting the room on a half-finished frame so the boss doesn’t forfeit a completion bonus…

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