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

January 9, 2014

Brief update on the novel

Filed under: wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 10:25 am

Streak is at 7 days, and I’ve added about 400 words to the manuscript, taking this draft past the 80,000 mark (I now estimate it will be over 110,000 words in draft, with about 25,000 or so needed to be hacked out later).

I know wordcount reports come across as either tedious boasts or desperate pleas for attention and encouragement (so, you know, sorry for that). The important bit for me is that I think I’ve got the sense of the story back and, more importantly, the desire to tell it. It’s still wretched writing with far too much exposition, flat dialogue and a complete absence of interesting action, but at least it’s getting out. The rest is fixable.

What are you up to?

January 6, 2014

Momentuming the streaky chain

Filed under: fitter/happier,wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 4:29 pm

I have goals.

I am easily distracted from those goals. Apart from being married, having kids and being tired all the time, I’m also prone to addiction to television series, I’m an avid consumer of social media, I have still not shed my youthful predisposition for playing video games for many hours at a time, and I have a to-read pile that would exceed a storey in height if most of the items in it were not digital. If my tabletop gaming hadn’t tapered off to a mere trickle during the year it would have continued to be a major non-writing interest.

So, like a lot of writers, I have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to deciding what I would rather be doing than writing. It’s not as if the above list is exhaustive.

Lately – by which I mean, since about last July or so – other things that aren’t writing have been winning the battle for my free time. I’ve read a crapton of books (shallowly, for the most part), played out a few of the games in my collection, knocked off the odd season or two of TV favourites and spent way too much time trawling through Twitter.

Since July or so, my writing productivity on my draft novel dropped from 200-300 words a day (peaking at over 500 words a day in May) to less than 50 words a day by September and more or less nothing between October and the end of the year. The decline coincided with the worst of the lethargy that led to my sleep apnoea diagnosis, but it would be disingenuous to put the sharp downward slide to zero wordage down to a health-inspired break.

What really happened was that I lost my streak. I’d been writing continuously – not necessarily every day, but often enough to hit satisfactory weekly targets – for eight or so months straight. When I hit the wall and lost that uninterrupted run for about three or four weeks, getting started again seemed impossible. I had established an expectation of my own output (I won’t talk about quality here, just word count) that I couldn’t possibly achieve on nights when keeping my eyes open much past 9 pm was out of the question.

Rather than settle for a lesser word count (an option that in retrospect I think may just not have occurred to me) I fled the novel altogether. I told myself that I needed to think about the ending (lie). I told myself that I needed to think about the critiques comments I’d received in September (true but not relevant to finishing the draft). I told myself I didn’t know where the scene I was in the middle of writing was going (true but not very difficult to solve).

Basically I told myself whatever I needed to hear to excuse myself. Then I played Just Cause 2 for a bunch of weeks.

(I also started my treatment for sleep apnoea, which is not irrelevant, but was not the primary obstacle to my writing productivity for the entirety of the fallow period. I’m feeling much better now, by the way).

And to be a bit fair on myself, I wasn’t completely idle during that period. I wrote two 5000+ word stories during that time, one of which went through three rounds of edits in order to get it in its best possible shape before a submission deadline. Both are pretty solid pieces, I think – or will be with a bit more polishing. I’m proud of having written them, but they do represent my failure to meet my primary writing goal for the year.

And now it’s a new year, and while I don’t really do resolutions as such, it seems like a good time to set some goals for the coming year. Finishing the novel remains at the top of the list, but I now recognise that this piece, at least, is a marathon and not a sprint. I can’t sustain late night writing stints, especially not over a protracted period. That’s likely to remain true for the foreseeable future. So I need to have more modest goals for now.

At the same time, I need to build some momentum. I know from past experience that once I am in the habit of regular writing, with a set routine (“sit down, review output of previous session, review notes, start typing”) the words and ideas tend to flow easily. I also know that that is a rhythm that I need to build up to. It’s not my natural starting point.

My solution is to set a modest minimum daily word count (starting at 400 words, which is achievable in under an hour even when I’m having a very rough writing day). I’m going to focus not on producing huge blocks of words, but on hitting my target every single day. I’m going to play up to my gaming instincts and try for unbroken streaks of writing days. The knowledge that if I miss a day I will have to reset the clock should be enough to motivate me to effort when I might otherwise decide to vegetate in front of the telly. (It worked last night).

The other rules I have set for myself are:

1) Until I finish the current draft of the novel, the first 400 words have to be novel writing. I am allowed to work on other projects as well, but only after I’ve hit my daily target of advancing towards a finished draft.

2) If I know that a prior commitment is going to prevent my writing on a given day, then I am allowed to bank up that day’s word count ahead of time (i.e. dedicate some prior days’ writing sessions to accumulating the expected deficit). No retrospective allocation allowed – I can’t declare after the fact that back on Monday I wrote 1000 words so on Tuesday I can take the night off. That breaks the streak – but I can say on Monday that I will write an extra 1000 words, knowing that I am going out to the movies on Tuesday night.

3) As soon as I break the streak I have to declare it here, so as to keep myself honest (and for later reference, when I get around to analysing whether this experiment has been of any benefit whatsoever to my writing…)

Progress to date: I started on the second, and haven’t hit my word count for today (yet). So far my streak is a run of four consecutive writing days.

 

November 11, 2013

TMoRP Day 15 – Sales!

Over the past few days, the family and I did the Canberra Thing of going down to the coast for the weekend. This is a Thing, you understand, that I have done maybe twice in fiften years of living here. It was raining and windy most of the time, which was not so much fun for our two small children, but – really, at the same time the Philippines were being pulverised by a super-typhoon, so I’m not complaining.

I therefore missed three days of posts. This Month of Relentless Positivity is going to elapse across at least two months at this rate. And I’m much too tired to work out whether that was an appropriate sentence structure or not, so sorry to everyone with a vulnerability to toxic grammar. But let’s leave those weakling who rolled up their superhero character with cursed dice and march onward, ever onward!

I returned home to the welcome news that a short story I have submitted to over a dozen markets over the course of the past year has been accepted for publication. (Provisionally. With certain caveats. The whole deal could still fall through if certain conditions wholly beyond my power to influence do not come to pass).

Better still, the market pays professional rates. (If all goes well).

I am (cautiously) over the moon with this news! While I haven’t exactly been frustrated that I couldn’t find a taker for this particular story, which certain readers will know as “the Twitter one”, I was beginning to suspect that I had run out of places that would both find it suitable for their needs and also pay me something for it. I hadn’t quite reached the point where I was going to set some deadline for giving up on submitting it, but I imagine that it would only have taken a few more rejections before I was sending it out for “exposure” rather than compensation.

And you know, I would have seen that a shame, since I am trying to build a writing career here, step by step. While I still have a day job (ahem) the money itself isn’t important, but acknowledgment in the form of people willing to part with their own money in order to have something I made is – for the moment at least – the way I have chosen to keep score.

I would make some sort of extended gaming metaphor about achievement-hunting, but nobody needs to hear it.

Anyway, as my sophomore sale, this represents another milestone on the road. It’s one step further away from my more or less lifelong state of “going to be a writer one day” to, you know, being a writer. And it’s a bit of an ego boost that will be easy to funnel into writing the next story, polishing the next draft or submitting the next finished piece.

So, hooray for sales. Or, if you prefer, hooray for life-goals, slightly incremented.

October 29, 2013

TMoRP Day 11 – Writing Part 2

Filed under: wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 4:25 pm

I made it. Just.

For various reasons I couldn’t sit down to start writing until 8 pm. I started pretty slowly, hammering together a couple of pretty clunky scenes that established a couple of characters and a whole bunch of world building. This is pretty typical of what passes for my method: exploration of setting and character through typing.

(I need an editor, badly)

Fortified by about five cups of tea, I typed until 11:30. Then I realised that I was only on about 1600 words (I think slooooowly when I am breaking a story in my head) and that I hadn’t even hit the standard daily NaNoWriMo mark of 1667 words. So I kept going for another 40 minutes and got to 1750. By 12:30, I couldn’t stay awake any longer.

At 4:15, one of the kids (I can’t even remember which one now) came into the bedroom and demanded to sleep with Mum and Dad. I duly ensconsed [him or her] under the sheets and dragged my sorry arse upstairs to my laptop. Yes, at 4:30 in the morning.

I wrote for two hours, took a couple of hours off for breakfast because I foolishly promised that I would make pikelets, then I dropped a couple of espresso shots down my throat and kept going. My deadline was midday, when the group was due to meet at a cafe to discuss how we went. Fiona took the car to the shops for emergency lunch ingredients, so I overran by a couple of minutes as I frantically hammered out the last few paragraphs.

At 12:05, I slammed the lid of my laptop shut, with about four sentences left to write. I jumped in the car and dashed to the meeting…

…which, it turns out, was really scheduled for 12:30, affording me a comfortable twenty minutes to order a beer and knock out the last hundred words or so. Mission accomplished! Short story (5450 words) completed in 24-ish hours!

Dramatic, right?

I haven’t looked it over yet, but I know it’s rough. I rushed the ending, and I’m still not sure I didn’t cop out with the ending I chose. I took too long to introduce a key antagonist character and her reaction to the climax was under-developed. I soft-pedalled my subplot. I had huge chunks of exposition breaking up the dialogue. A lot of scenes are just two people talking (in between huge chunks of exposition). I have a feeling one character might have changed sex partway through the story. Another one – a female character, I am ashamed to note – contributes nothing to the story that could not have been accomplished by an sexy lamp. (I KNOW!)

But –

it’s a complete story. It’s the bones and some of the more useful sinew of a pretty good story, I think. I can fix the structural issues. I can add a scene to justify the ending and another to strengthen it. I know how to turn the sexy lamp back into a thematically relevant character with a personality. I can deal with the gender-swapping character one way or another (it has *just* occurred to me that it’s something I could turn into a feature, although maybe it might make more sense to keep that for a different story).

In short, if I do another big slab of work, I can turn ‘finished’ into ‘good’. That’s a pretty good feeling.

October 26, 2013

TMoRP Day 10 – Writing!

Today’s scintilla of positivity will be brief and a complete cheat, but for a good reason. I’m participating in a 24-hour short story challenge, courtesy of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild. A dozen or so of us met this morning. We used cards and dice to sketch out suggestions of characters and situations, drew from a hat one or two of George Polti’s 36 Dramatic Situations, and grabbed a variety of coffee table books on travel and natural wonders to provide setting inspirations.

I won’t go into the elements I drew (it will take too long) but I only had too noodle about with them for a few minutes before what I think is a coherent plot took shape. I will disclose that the picture from which I drew inspiration was of Mount Fuji, and my story will be set at the foot of a large, snowy mountain with religious significance.

The group will meet again for lunch at 12 tomorrow, by which time we are to have a complete story. I don’t have a good sense of how big this one will be, but I think I’ll be pushing it. As usual I’ve come up with a story that includes more elements than I can reasonably accommodate in the time allotted. I’m terrific with deadlines, I am.

Alright, I’m going dark again. With good luck I will hammer this out tonight and only have to do light edits in the morning in order to knock it into coherent shape. With rather more typical luck, I will cobble together a hasty ending at ten to twelve tomorrow. Either way, this is going to be my sole attempt at a NaNoWriMo-like writing effort this year (burst rather than sustained, obviously), so I plan to make the most of it.

I’ll be fine if I can type it as fast as this post came out. I’ll let you know how it went tomorrow. Here’s hoping.

October 17, 2013

The (Delayed) Month of Relentless Positivity

I’m back. It’s been more than a month since my last blog update, in which I hilariously bemoaned my somnolent rate of updating.

Unintentional irony having served its purpose, I’m back, following job upheavals, timely holidays, a convention and a writing deadline. All of which made for a pretty busy month while I’m also battling with a nagging sleep disorder.

(Not that I’m grumbling, mind you. I have been using a CPAP machine for a couple of weeks now and have moved through the unpleasant but typical “wake up in the middle of the night horrified to discover a plastic octopus eating my face” phase of acquaintance. Pretty soon I expect to enter the “feel refreshed after a full night’s sleep” treatment phase, which will be worth all of the creepy cephalod-wrestling dreams).

ANYWAY. We have a tradition here at Lexifabricographer (est. 2012). A little thing I like to call

The Month of Relentless Positivity

in which October, traditionally thought of as the second most boring month of the year (after August, obviously), becomes instead a clarion call for forced cheer and mandatory goodwill. For one shining month of the year, I solemnly undertake to write at least one blog entry a day highlighting something good and pure and wonderful in the world, squeeing with unabashed delight and inviting my (dozen-plus!) readers to join the celebratory revels.

As this entry will go up on the 17th of October, it would not be unreasonable for the judges to disqualify me on a foot fault. I didn’t so much overstep my mark as soar on wings of silk and caffeine far beyond the shackles of  my mark’s gravity well.

I have a solution.

The Month of Relentless Positivity begins today! Starting today, and continuing until at least the 16th of November, I’m putting up a post every day. Every day I will spotlight something cool, something I love, something at which I would like to direct some eyeballs (even if it’s a very small number of mostly disinterested eyeballs).

(I might keep going until the 24th of November, when the Doctor Who 50th anniversary episode screens).

In the meantime, between all that, I plan to resume work on my 75%-ish complete novel, write a couple of properly short stories (less than 2500 words, say), catch up on several months worth of tax work, throw myself into the crazed vortex of the Canberra writing community and generally be, like, super-positive.

Let’s go.

August 6, 2013

You had one job to do

Filed under: geekery,news of the day,property magnatism — Tags: , , , , — lexifab @ 2:57 pm

This is the 600th post on this iteration of Lexifabricographer [1]. For reasons I am not well equipped to examine at the moment, I have had this idea that I should mark the occasion with a special post. Yes, despite the fact that this could not possibly be a more meaningless milestone. All week I’ve been trying to think of a suitably worthy discussion topic. Each time I’ve failed, then gone off and found something else to do.

Obviously, what I should be doing is a classic Lexifab post of context-free observations and underdeveloped comments about two or three unrelated topics that occur to me as I type them. because everyone loves those, don’t they?

(Well, they might, but until I do a few and then examine the new analytical tools, how will I know?)

The Next of the Doctors

So they announced that <spoiler>Peter Capaldi</spoiler> will be taking the part of the twelfth-or-thirteenth Doctor when Matt Smith departs at the end of the year. So, the Doctor will continue to be a white bloke for the next three to five years. Once again my desperately unrealistic hopes of a Helen Mirren, Chiwetel Ejiofor or Sophie Okenedo Doctor will have to be shelved, as such hopes ever are. I find that this time around I am too tired of making the argument for a female Doctor, much less the surely-not-all-that-controversial possibility of casting a non-white actor, to even bother engaging in the discussion much.

That said, I like Peter Capaldi very much as an actor and I am sure he will be just as marvellous in the role as everyone else who ever got the job. He has an expressive face with the capacity to do both “angry” and “concerned” and his comic timing appears sound. What’s of more interest – and I have to say concern – is whether the hyper-fluid, breathless and often incoherent storytelling that has marked the Moffatt era so far, will continue after Matt Smith’s departure. That style of drama has its positive points but seems to favour being clever over being smart a little too often for my tastes. [2]

If it were me – and let us be honest it never will or should be me in charge of Doctor Who – I’d take the opportunity of casting a slightly less spritely-appearing actor (Capaldi is 55, which is OMG as old as William Hartnell was when he took the role) to extend the metaphor into the meta a bit. I think it would make a nice change to enjoy a period of slightly less rushed and deliberately confusing storytelling, where the exploration of character has a bit of space to happen naturally in amongst the exploding space-skyscrapers and timey-wimey shenanigans.

LISTEN TO ME I SOUND LIKE A CRANKY OLD MAN GET OFF MY TIME-LAWN YOU DANGED KIDS WITH YOUR HOVER-MOTORBIKES AND YOUR SPARKLY TIME-STREAMS

Deadlines whoosh by

I still haven’t finished my novel manuscript. July was almost a complete washout, thanks to sleepiness and, I’ll be honest, a solid spoonful of disenchantment with both the story and my ability to tell it. In the last week or so some of the wind has returned to my sails and the manuscript-so-far, while undoubtedly riddled with structural defects and rookie errors, doesn’t look all that bad. I’ll put a fair chunk of the blame on the tiredness for that one.

My novel critiquing group is owed a finished manuscript in eight days. They’re not going to get one. Even if I took the next week off work I doubt I could get to the finish line on that one. Lucky for me, they’ve all been extraordinarily patient and have generously agreed to read whatever I have done at that point. It would have been good to be able to hand over something with THE END typed on the last page. I’m disappointed that I didn’t make it (and sometime soon I’ll need to take a much closer look at everything from my approach to outlining, my writing session discipline and the reasonableness of my self-expectations to see where improvements can be made in future).

But the crit group have been ruthless in their dissection of each others’ work over the course of this year. Weak characters, inconsistent settings and rambling plots have been unearthed in even the most polished of manuscripts. (Not by me, I might add – I fear I was among the softer, less helpful critics in the group. Most of the time I couldn’t spot an error in plot logic even if you explained it slowly with flowcharts). They are going to have a field day with mine – but the crucial part is that they will probably identify problems that I don’t already know about. And they might very well come up with ideas that are better than mine.

So I have one week to go through what I’ve written so far and at least fix all the typos so they don’t have to deal with those…

Tax time

Back in real life, however, what I have to spend the rest of this week and probably some part of the weekend doing is getting my tax documents and spreadsheets together. While we have highly paid accountants to work out the intricate tax details of our investment property empire (such as it is), we can’t really afford to just throw all our receipts at them and let them do all the work. Which means that around this time every year I have to pull together a ten-page spreadsheet of itemised income and expenditure statements, together with the usual huge bundles of invoices, bank statements and income summaries.

So far the only fun thing about preparing this  year’s spreadsheet has been adding a line item in my income statement for income from writing. First step on the long and probably neverending journey to a professional career in writing! If nothing else, it gives me a target to aim at for next year.

 

 

[1] The previous iteration still exists, mostly unlinked-to, like a confused and irritable ghost meandering about the halls of an orange-hued gothic manor. Do not attempt to engage it, for its ill-focused ennui is both parasitic and contagious, a bit like all the comment spam that has nestled in it for warmth and nutrients.

[2] That said, I found more to like than dislike in the eight stories of Season 7B than in any previous stretch of the Twelfth Doctor run, even though those very qualities have been wound up to Ramming Speed.

May 28, 2013

More shilling! Next at Smashwords

A very quick one: the CSfG Next anthology is now available for purchase from Smashwords for the utterly reasonable $4.99 US.

Obviously I recommend it, but then I would, wouldn’t I? I like to think of it this way – for five bucks you get a completely readable, diligently proofread story by me, along with more than twenty separate opportunities to scrub that story from your brain.

What’s not to like?

May 21, 2013

The viscous middle and the lure of the shiny

Filed under: fitter/happier,news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 12:55 pm

I’ve been not-blogging for some time now while I wrestle with my novel manuscript. It’s a hard slog that is chewing up a lot of brain power and time, neither of which I’m finding available in abundance.

I am now well and truly into the trench warfare stage of the writing process, mired down in an intractable internal debate about where I want the story to go and how I’m going to get there. Every time I feel like I’ve taken a step forward, with a fun scene or a halfway-ingenious plot twist [1], I get bogged down. How do I make the characters’ decisions seem convincing? How can I make some plot-essential development compelling? How do I write my way out of the corners I am stuck in? How do I live with knowing that a good third of what I’ve written so far definitely has to get chopped out?

The other night I had hit a wall so badly that I figuratively reworked Raymond Chandler’s famous writing advice: (paraphrasing) “If you don’t know what happens next, have two guys with guns come through the door”. The scene I wrote in accordance with that principle dropped a side character into a pivotal scene so that I could explore the scene from the outside. It was a lot of fun to write, and helped unblock a few gunked-up plot pipes, but it probably won’t survive to the final manuscript.

I’m discovering that my writing method appears to be to over-write in the hopes that future edits can pare everything back by about 25%. That feels like an impractical waste of time, but this far into the project I am not sure I can change my work methods. something for the post-draft review, perhaps.

The other thing I am discovering, which comes as no particular surprise, is that I am desperate to write some short stories instead of perservering with the novel. There’s not surprise there – short stories (at least the ones I write) tend to depend on fewer ideas, they’re less complex by virtue of having fewer moving parts (characters, locations, scenes etc) and they take less time to draft. They’re easier, is what I’m saying. I know from experience that I can finish a short, whereas with a novel-length work that confidence is at best theoretical [2].

There’s also the sense that with short stories, I can feel like I am making tangible progress toward my goals as a writer by finishing and submitting a few for publication.[3] In my ideal world, I would have at least three, if not five, short stories out for submission at any given time, and others in preparation in the event that one of them was accepted somewhere. While I think it’s just as important to me to develop my ability to craft a novel, it’s a much slower and more frustrating process than the comparitively immediate gratification of placing a short story (which includes posting it up here and getting feedback from someone who read it all the way to the end…).

Yes, this is petulant whining. I know that. “But it’s haaaaaard!” is something my five year old says (a lot). Sorry for boring you lot with it but I do find posts like this a necessary evil. Calling myself on my lazy, work-avoiding bullshit is part of my process for getting stuff done. Feel free to ignore these posts and hopefully sooner or later I will get back to boring you with my opinions about Lost.

I’ve made finishing the novel a goal for this year and I have a deadline to work to (my critiquing circle is expecting a finished draft at the start of July). I will perservere. I will march on through the harsh weather of fatigued self-confidence, undermotivated characters and unintelligible plot convolutions. I will deliver a manuscript that has THE END typed on the last page, even if I know it is imperfect. I will get there.

It’s just that, right at the moment, it would be a hell of a lot easier to be doing almost anything else.

[1] For certain values of “ingenious” which are probably not shared in th common vernacular.

[2] I don’t count Bard Wars, my 2003 NaNoWriMo piece, in part because it was written in very different and now-impossible circumstances and in part because I never did go back and do the hard work of knocking it into a reasonable shape, which is what I am doing with this work.

[3] Clam, I am still pulling together a response to your anti-professionalism essay. I’ll get there soon.

April 29, 2013

Conflux 9/NatCon 52 – The Wrap-up

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 4:34 pm

I’m still coming down from the unrelenting funfest of four consecutive days of congoing preceded by ten or so days’ travel with small children. And by “I’m still coming down” I mean I am crashing harder than a laptop in a blender. So hard that my analogies make no sense whatsoever.

The 52nd Australian National Science Fiction Convention, attached this year to the Canberra Conflux 9 con, was held over the Anzac Day extra-long weekend. By world standards it was, I’m sure, pretty small peanuts, but for me it was an overwhelming celebration of Australia’s wonderful and vibrant speculative fiction community.

Too much happened for me to summarise in one post, so I’m going to do a series of short posts to hit all my personal highlights, from the launch of the Next anthology, the fun and informative program of panels (some of which included me due to my extensive qualification of having agreed to be on panels), the new books I snaffled, the Ditmar awards and various other things as I they come to mind. The blogs will be necessarily short because, having lost a fortnight of productivity to travel and con-going, I’m massively behind schedule on both writing my novel and critiquing someone else’s. [1]

[1] Don’t worry Leife – I’ll get there!

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