Sunday, October 27, 2013

Five Things I've Learned from Working That Make My Writing Life Easier

I worked in the real world for over 35 years before I retired, traveled, and then finally decided to get serious about the writing I'd only dabbled in to that point. Working in the real world is hard, especially when you work for big companies with lots of people. If you work as a supervisor or manager, the challenges grow.

Here are five things I learned over the years that helped me survive writing and get traditionally published.

1.  Patience

Everything takes time in real world work. Projects suffer from delays, a flu epidemic hits during a critical period in the annual financial cycle, personality clashes halt production. It's a never-ending series of glitches. Stress can even cause some workers to have migraines, take more sick days, and have nervous breakdowns.

Everything takes a really long time in the world of traditional publishing. We submit our work for years before we find an agent or editor who accepts our work. Then there's a long wait between signing a contract, a little flurry of activity doing edits, the bio, and the book flap copy, then another long wait until the book launch. If we don't learn patience and how to overcome stress, we can't make it as writers.

2.  Perseverance

No matter how many of those real world glitches interfere with the schedule, employees must hang tough. The "show" must go on. Without perseverance, a company will go out of business.

I read in this morning's newspaper magazine that Danielle Steele got her first book published, but then wrote several more before her seventh was finally accepted and her career took off. I've had two published, but I've actually written six novels. With any luck, one of them will actually make it into print in 2014. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Meanwhile, I'm working on changes and revisions to two of the manuscripts and starting a new first draft for NaNoWriMo 2013. I won't quit as long as I'm able to string words together coherently. We can't give up. Ever.

3.  Teamwork

It's not hard to see that teamwork is necessary in real world work, especially in large companies with a great diversity of personalities, work ethic, and job requirements. Playing (and working) well with others will get us customers and/or promotions. Not playing well with others can get us fired.

But writing? It's a solitary existence, right? Well, not really. Maybe we do the writing part alone, but once we've found an entryway to the world of traditional publishing, we might be working with an agent, we'll definitely work with an editor or two, the art department, maybe a publicist or marketing expert, bookstore personnel, our social media and blogging contacts, and, most of all, potential readers. We better know how to play nice.

4. How to listen

Whether a worker bee or a manager, we need to pay attention during training, meetings, planning sessions, personnel reviews, or any other attempt to communicate. Talking less and listening more makes us seem sympathetic and interesting because we show interest in the other person/people and what they're saying.

In the world of traditional publishing, every communication is a learning opportunity. If we learn to listen (or read carefully) and ask intelligent questions, we'll sign better contracts, write a better novel next time, and do a better job of promoting the next book.

5.  How to focus

Project deadlines, tax form due dates, and end of month financial reports are powerful teachers in real world jobs. The ability to focus on the task at hand and set other interests and chores aside is critical to getting a project done accurately and on time.

Is it any different with writing? Not at all. I'm not always to good at focusing on a day to day basis, but I've found a writing retreat, even one I've scheduled to do at home, or NaNoWriMo forces me to make a schedule, log my word count, and get the job done. If we receive a book contract, we'll have deadlines for edits and author material submissions, and they better get done on time.

The moral of this story? If you're now trying to be a writer or want to be a writer someday but you have to work in the real world at a real job, pay attention to what you're learning that will help you in your writing journey. There's a hidden payoff to real world work.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Those all apply to the writing world big time. Lots of teamwork before the book is finished as well - critique partners and test readers play a big role.

Patricia Stoltey said...

You're so right, Alex. I have an outstanding critique group and that's the team that keeps me on track.

Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Yes, yes and yes!! Those are all critically important to the writing life. I think it's really important to find ways to all of those things. I think the hardest thing is to remember that when you write, that's a career, just like any profession is. It's worth it to apply the same discipline and planning and so on.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I never thought about it like that. Going to work every day is another thing I learned from my time as a teacher and work while you're there.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi Margot -- The biggest challenge for me was patience. I got it in the workplace, but somehow I expected the writing life to be easier with fewer deadlines and delays. It just isn't so.

Good point, Susan. I was a bit of a workaholic, though, and that's not always a good thing. Nowadays, I'm learning about the value of the siesta. :D

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Patricia, thank you for sharing these excellent tips on writing. Patience and Perseverance is what I need most. The moral of your story tells me that I ought to synergise my job and my writing, to the extent possible, and not treat them separately.

Kim Van Sickler said...

Yep. All so true. Especially need heaps of patience and perseverance!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Prashant, it's such a temptation to give up before we really get started because it takes such a long time for most of us to learn to write well and to find a publisher. Think of it in terms of the Olympic gymnast or the classical ballerina and the years and years of hard work and practice. Writers need to work that hard too.

Hi Kim. Patience is more difficult in this fast-paced world than it used to be when I was young. With short attention spans and high energy, young people have a hard time taking it slow and staying in the moment (the writing moment, of course). Learning meditation helps.

Arlee Bird said...

These points are all on target for anyone who eyes writing as a career potential or a serious endeavor. I need to improve my focus, but maybe because I was almost always in management in my "real jobs" I got so used to delegating, organizing work, and making sure things were done on time that I'm more of a multi-tasking overview guy than a focuser. Yeah, I guess I'll use that excuse for now, but it's not a good one.

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Anonymous said...

You may appear unromantic as you demystify writing, reducing it to "work." But in the end, writing is a tough, skill-based profession that requires all of the workplace lessons listed in the blog and more. Patience, perseverance and cooperation apply any job, whether cleaning a kitchen or chasing the Holy Grail with a processor.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Lee, I was a manager too, but there was so much going on all the time that I dared not indulge in scattered attention to any situation. I had to learn to focus on one thing at a time instead of the popular "multi-tasking" which I failed at miserably.

Hi Dark Silo Press! Getting over that view of writing as romantic and learning to treat it like a job may help a writer move from occasional publication (or not at all ) to a long-term well-paying career. It took me awhile to understand that.

Rini K said...

Pat, great perspective! And thanks for the reminder that I am, right now, preparing for my writing career ... :)

PS: and I am doing Nano again this year too

Patricia Stoltey said...

Good for you, Rini. NaNo is a great way to get back on track for a long cozy winter of serious writing. At least, that's what I'm hoping for.

Dean K Miller said...

I'm not sure how my list would compare to yours...26 years of government service has taught me something...I'm sure of it...but exactly what that

I'll just use your wisdom for now. Heck, even I can keep track of 5 things!

Patricia Stoltey said...

LOL, Dean. The way I heard it, we can stop at the first draft and call it good enough for government work. But that's probably not a good lesson for the aspiring novelist. :D

Julie Luek said...

This is a great list of well-learned lessons, I'm sure. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Now. to reread that list. You know my focus lately!

Patricia Stoltey said...

LOL, Julie. It happens when you get old(er).

LD Masterson said...

I agree with all five. My personal weakness is focus.

Doralynn Kennedy said...

I'm so glad I don't have to work in the real world anymore!

I wanted to come thank you for the kind comments you left on Alex's blog about my trailer for Spiders! Thank you for taking the time to come watch that! I found the voice talent at fiverr. Five bucks for a 30 second radio spot is hard to beat!

Patricia Stoltey said...

LD, focus is hard, especially these days when we have so many interesting ways to waste time on the Internet. :D

Hi Doralynn -- you're so welcome. The trailer truly is well done, and it sounds like you found a treasure at a bargain price. Well done.