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

November 17, 2015

Bogong moths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to get flapping.

July 13, 2015

Progress report – Bad ideas abound

In retrospect I should have realised that aiming to finish my novel in July would be a terrible idea. That’s the time of the year when I have to manage my abnormally complex tax affairs. Work’s never busier than around the end of financial year. There’s school holidays. I’m the treasurer of a club with non-trivial membership and assets. And – oh shit, I completely forgot that the Ashes are being played in the UK at relatively viewable times of the evening.

Thinking about that now, and making the observation – obvious with hindsight – that I tend to approach complex jobs (like writing a novel) with a foot-dragging air of desperate procrastination, I probably could have planned this better. As I should have expected, I’ve left myself with a fifteen to twenty-thousand word sprint to complete in the next two-and-change weeks.

That would be challenging enough, but on top of that the process of writing the novel has (also predictably) caused me to depart from my original outline in fairly significant ways. So now instead of racing towards the finish line on a well-mapped track with safety rails, I’m rallying about in the dark with dodgy headlights and a drunk navigator. I could still cross the finish line on time, but it’s difficult to see how it might happen on purpose.

Still, it is do-able, and I have something that at least resembles a plan. I will allocate at least part of every day – typically lunchtimes – to rebuilding the outline. That will help to make sure that when I sit down to write each session, I won’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about what the  scene will be about etc. And because the act of writing invariably steers me off-course with respect to the outline, I need to make sure that the re-outlining process occurs as regularly (or almost so) as the writing sessions themselves.

Currently I am writing at a rate of about 5000 words a week (on the novel). To get to where I want to be that number will have to rise to about 8000 a week.

I can do that.

 

In other news

I am currently reading Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty for a couple of reasons: one, because the library sent me a recommendation to do so; two, because I know enough about economics to know what an economic illiterate I am and I do like to have a better grasp of why the world works as it does; and three, because I have let my non-fiction reading skills atrophy over the last few years and this looks like a serious workout in that respect. So far I am following it pretty well – Piketty takes the time to explain his terms and then remind the reader what they meant, but otherwise does not refrain from diving into fairly complex matters. It also helps that I am at least passingly familiar with the last three hundred years of European history, so I understand the basic context that he is examining. I’ll get back with a proper book report after I’m finished.

I know eight chords on the tenor ukelele now. Not all of them are single-finger chords. (Two of them are). While I can feel myself making good progress, I haven’t advanced to the point of trying to work out how to play an actual song yet. STILL I am being a musician again for the first time in more than ten years. Assuming it continues to feel good, at some point I will promote myself to learning to play the bass guitar (ie an instrument that does not sound terrible to play).

I devoted four late nights to the cricketing debacle in Cardiff last week (and would have thrown last night’s sleep into the mix as well had the Australian capitulation not be so complete). Even though the prospects are grim of a reversal of fortunes for the Lord’s Test starting on Thursday, I will be doing to same again this week. I fear that if even the lumbering doldrums displayed by the likes of Watson and Haddin cannot break my addiction to watching cricket, then my condition must be both acute and incurable.

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.

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.

April 12, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have I learned so far?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

March 20, 2015

Progress report – A month of novelling

Filed under: wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 11:40 am

So today marks four weeks since I started work on my novel. Things are going pretty well so far – I passed the 20,000 word mark a couple of days ago, averaging a touch over 700 words a day. I’ve written every day, a minimum of 500 words. Only once in all that time have I achieved four figues in a single writing day, and I’m pretty sure (without having my spreadsheet to hand) that I managed that on a weekend across about three writing sessions. Mostly the writing does not start until after the kids are in bed, so 8:30 pm at the earliest. I’d love to be a first-thing-in-the-morning writer, but it would probably require getting up at 4:30 or so to fit in with the rest of the house’s schedule, and I can’t bring myself to start down that road just yet.

Once again, the writing streak is working for me. I’ve written every day, without fail. Last night, I procrastinated and dithered until well past the point where it became silly (it was very hot and stuffy in Canberra and I was really feeling it), but fear and disdain for breaking my writing streak meant that I eventually sat down and cranked out the words. I wrote exactly 500 words of story, as well as some notes for my next writing session.

Often I need to remind myself that it actually feels good to write once I get started. I’m a dreadful procrastinator (I may have discussed this at length in the past). I’ll make cups of tea, pay bills, burn CDs – anything to get out of starting work. If you see me tweeting up a storm of an evening, you can be pretty confident that I’m sitting in front of the computer with a Scrivener tab open (and pushed to the back).

Anyway – where’s the novel at? I’ve got through four chapters of about 5000 words each and closed out what I think of as the first act (although structurally that might not be quite right). My main character is starting to firm up in my head, and the secondary characters are coming to the fore in lots of intriguing and unexpected ways. An interesting subplot has emerged that was not present in the original outline, one that may need careful management or reining in because it’s probably a bit of a post-apocalyptic YA cliche (and the novel itself is a post-apocalyptic YA story, though not necessarily in the sense that the term is usually used).

A problem is looming in that my primary antagonist is only just coming forward in what is the start of the second act, which is probably too late for her to make the required impact (I’ll know for sure soon, because the next scene I will write is the first confrontation between my POV character and her nemesis-to-be). I suspect that I will need to rewrite the first couple of chapters to establish a couple of characters early, so that when they are off-stage for a few chapters their presence will still be felt. I should have known all this befiore I started, but sometimes strucutral weaknesses only emerge in the construction phase.

(Architecture is not my core competency, obviously).

At some point fairly soon I expect to have to revisit my outline and rework the latter chapters. It’s looking a lot like I’ve distributed the story load a bit unevenly (architecture!) and may have put too much of the action at the start and end. The middle is looking – not boring, exactly, but perhaps the stakes are a little too low and inconsequential considering what comes befoer and after. It’s also possible that the end point I have been working towards is not the right one for this book (which is the first volume in a trilogy).

 

Oh, the the thing I discovered is that I can’t count. 500 words a day for 90 days does not, as it turns out, add up to 75,000 words. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking when I did my first estimates. It’s going to take four months to get this done, not three – although at the current rate of output, it should not be any longer than that.

As long as I don’t break my streak, that is.

July 7, 2014

What I’m working on – July edition

Filed under: wordsmithery,workin for the man — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 10:22 pm

I’m officially looking for work, preferably temporary project work on short-term contracts. To this end I’ve done interviews with job pimps, tightened up my resume, written about thirty cover letters, referees reports and personal profiles, I’ve taken psychological tests [1] and I’ve even taken the soul-destroying, vale-of-tears-walking, misery-inducing, beyond-desperate step of creating a LinkedIn account.

Nothing yet. Okay then.

In the meantime to keep myself from playing video games or binge-watching Breaking Bad and Orphan Black, I’m writing too many things at once. Here’s a list, using super-secret codenames and/or working titles because I am very, very terrible at titles and they are pretty much the last thing I commit to in my writing process:

Wattle Creek Spook Hunters Club Season One is a weird little…um, septych [2] about high schoolers making a ghost hunting Youtube channel, except that it’s turned out a lot weirder than that initial idea. Thanks to my monthly face to face critiquing circle, this one now definitely has a plot. It’s now finished and has been sent off for submission.

Lost Dogs is a creepy horror story about a failed man losing his grip on the social ladder or possibly a redemptive tale about being hunted by a pack of murderous dogs. Probably both. It needs a heavy rewrite, again after the crit group pointed out a few logical flaws and the fact that the protagonist is relentlessly unlikeable. Oops.

Breakdown is about a young man about to strike out on his own and make a life for himself and making the fatal error of allowing his best friend to see him off. I’ve written about half of it and I’m still not sure if I should ditch the pent-up melodrama and rising malevolence in favour of making it more broadly comedic. I’m tending towards the latter, if only because I really don’t attempt humourous writing often enough and i do feel as though it’s something I ought to be better at.

Lighthouse is still in vague outline, but involves a lonely lighthouse keeper, a Government natural historian, ghost sailors and some unusual bones. This one came together in an unusual way, in that I used a writing prompt app on my phone (Story Dice) to generate some images, and then riffed on it until I had the skeleton (ahem) of a story. I’m excited to see whether so artificial a generative process will result in a decent yarn.

The Countess is also just an outline at the moment; a maybe-novella-length story inspired by a great photo of a stern-looking woman in thick Edwardian (I guess) clothing with a falcon on her wrist. Sadly I no longer have the photo – one of my CSFG colleagues brought it along for a talk on using Pinterest for arranging photo references – but the story has moved away from its point of inspiration anyway. It began with a lofty premise about obligation, revenge and abusive exploitation of family but it will likely descend into adventurous escapades, romantic hijinks and possible a touch of political satire if it fits. Oh and there’s a really old, very nasty wizard in it.

Colony Ship (which isn’t even its real working title, but I’m keeping this one to myself for the moment) is a three-book possibly-YA science fiction series about the citizens of a generation ship (a large colony ship that will take hundreds of years and multiple generations to reach its destination) who crash on an uncharted world and need to overcome strict social conditioning to survive. (It’s more action-oriented than that makes it sound). I’ve outlined the first novel (though there’s more work to do there) and will continue to enhance and hone the outline until I either have nothing else on my plate or I decide I’ve had enough of short stories for the time being. My goal with that one is to write the first draft as quickly as possible, which means that I’ll need to have it pretty well worked out before I start.

 

So apart from all that, I’m working my way slowly through a manuscript of Doctor Clam’s (nearly there), continue to work towards my goal of completing at least ten short stories in 2014 [3] and at some point I need to come back and re-outline Miss Coles’ Arrangements and have another go at that. (Two unsatisfactory drafts down, X to go). I would also like to sell some stories and see my name on a printed page somewhere, but eh, that’s something I don;t have any real control over (other than submitting often, which I do).

You? What have you got going on?

 

[1] You may be utterly stunned to learn that I am not leadership material. I do, however, rank off the charts on the “Trusted Right-hand Man” axis.

[2] Is that the word for a single piece made of seven separate parts? No? Well it was either that or make a D&D joke about the Rod of Seven Parts, and frankly I couldn’t see how to keep that one G-rated.

[3] The finished count so far is two, with another two in first draft. I have a secondary goal from now on of writing pieces that are shorter than 6000 words, unless they are designed from the outset as novellas or novellettes.

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.

January 16, 2014

Goals for 2014

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 4:38 pm

The Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSfG) gathered last night for its first 2014 meeting. After we finished discussing the upcoming business of the year [1], we got on to the discussing of setting our writing goals for the year.

Honestly, I wasn’t going to do it. I had every intention skipping the whole New Year’s resolution thing. Instead of making a collection of half-baked promises that I am in the habit of failing to deliver on, surely it would be better to just knuckle down and produce whatever I could.

Then yesterday I read this essay on what is happening to someone who procrastinates a lot. Someone like me. I have to say I found the essay so eerily descriptive of my state of mind (especially the stuff about the dark playground and self-reinforcing cycles of shame) that I almost couldn’t finish reading it. Which was nuts of me, but there you are.

I highly recommend that essay, whether or not you’re a procrastinator. Someone who is will find it full of useful observations on what you’re doing to yourself and what you can do about it. People who are not procrastinators will learn that it’s completely understandable but utterly useless to offer the advice “Just sit down and do it”.

Anyway, when I accepted that part of the strategy for fixing the procrastination problem is to set tangible goals broken down by simple, specific steps, I realised that I kind of need the goals to keep me honest.

So, long story short, my writing goals for the year are:

1: finish the current draft of my novel manuscript by the end of February. If I keep to my 400+ words a day writing streak, that should mean I will produce at least 14,000 more words by the 28th of February, which *should* be about what I need to wrap up the draft.

2: write 10 short stories to publishable quality, one a month for the remaining months of the year. In theory that one should be a doddle, in that it usually doesn’t take me that long to write a story once I start. The risk will come in stories that blow out beyond what I am picturing as my standard length of 4000 – 6000 words. I am giving myself leeway to redefine this goal if it turns out that everything I want to write this year is really a novella rather than a short. I won’t know until I start though.

3: submit short stories at least 25 times. At the normal rate of submission/consideration/rejection-or-acceptance, this is about the right rate. By the end of the year I should have a good stockpile of stories, such that even if a few of them are accepted (which I hope they will, obviously), I should have enough coming in and going out again to meet this target.

4: I also have some additional non-specific goals about getting my work into various I-consider-them-prestigious Australian genre short story markets, like a Ticonderoga anthology or Cosmos Magazine. Small steps though.

So there it is. I’ll be pretty happy if I meet these goals, and very happy to exceed them. I anticipate the rest of my life getting in the way of my going far beyond expectations, especially if I have a radical career change soon. But writing is something that can keep me grounded and sane, so it gets a high priority.

Did you crack and set yourself goals?

 

[1] Which didn’t take long, but by the way included the informal notification that the editorial team for the next CSfG anthology has been finalised. If you happen to be someone who might want to make a short story keep your eyes open for the announcement of the theme and the call for submissions. [2]

[2] Also: Conflux, our local speculative fiction convention, will take place over the October long weekend this year. Which is a bit of a problem for me, seeing as that’s the time of year of my wedding anniversary. Since I was at a convention around that time last year, the anniversary had probably better win in 2014…

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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