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.
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.
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.
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.