“Follow your dreams”, that’s the spirit of the times for young people leaving school and those who are re-thinking their careers. I was lucky to grow up in a home where the general consensus was not to follow a career path that pays well, but to follow a career that sits well with me. For me, almost any career in the arts would sit well, partly because I don’t have the aptitude to do a nine-to-five office job and partly because I don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything if I haven’t created something new. This doesn’t mean that I look down on everyone else for being able to do these jobs, just don’t expect me to understand the complexities of their day at the office.
I tend to think of office jobs in a fairly linear fashion. This is how they look in my mind: You go to the office. You work at completing your work for today. You go to lunch. You come back to the office. You finish your work. You go home. You relax and forget about the office until tomorrow morning. You get up and do it all over again.
Wanting to be a writer
For a writer I imagine a completely different task-management-plan: You get up when you’re ready to. You don’t go to the office, but rather grab your computer and get back into bed. You read a few blog-posts and articles before getting coffee and settling down to work.
You realize that you need to do some research before writing the next passage, so you head to Google. You get more coffee.
You haven’t read a book in like, three days, so you do that, since it’s anyway too warm/cold/noisy/quiet/emotionally draining etc. to write. You get some coffee.
You attempt to write something, but get distracted by something you wrote three months ago and didn’t finish yet. You attempt to finish it, just to find out why you had stopped in the first place: the story wasn’t going anywhere. Still, you spent time writing that, so you end up not deleting it, just in case the idea does turn out to be WML (Worth Millions Later). You get some coffee, for inspiration.
You still haven’t written anything all day, so you buckle down and put down a header:
You look at it and muse about what meanings or expectations people will gleam from it when they see it on the cover of your debut novel. You Google the word, just to make sure it’s as bad-ass as you hope. It is. Then you do an in-depth search about all the ways in which a person could commit murder using Anthrax. You see dollar-signs about your head. This book is going to sell millions!
You attempt a basic story outline:
Wally Silberman is an ordinary guy, working a nine-to-five office job. His life is uncomplicated until he accidentally overhears plans of an illegal weapons-exchange while having lunch at the local coffee shop. The next day he finds an envelope with anthrax on his desk at work.
OK. You think this is sufficient to build a story on.
You type “Chapter One – An ordinary man” and then go to get some more coffee.
When you come back to your computer you don’t like the idea, probably because there’s not much to hold on to or like there.
You write a new idea:
After his lab-assistant wife dies in a chemical accident caused by a lack of safety precautions, Hal Osprey has nothing left to lose. He is intent on getting revenge and he means to show the company just how flawed their safety is.
OK. This seems like something!
You type “Chapter One – Chemistry” and get up to get some more coffee. It’s the only way you’ll stay awake, because when you come up with anything remotely close to a full-fledged idea at two thirty in the morning, you had better keep going.
When you return you start considering the broader outline of this story: what company were Hal and his wife working for, what were they creating and what went wrong in the lab? Why did the wife die and not Hal? Wait a minute – isn’t that the exact plot in Spiderman 3?
You find your copy of Spiderman 3 and watch the whole thing through. Apparently not. Never mind.
What could have prevented Mrs. Osprey’s death? Was she perhaps pregnant with their first child? Is that why revenge is so important to him? Is Hal a good name for a scientist? Where does the story take place and why there rather than somewhere else? What kind of habits does Hal have? How does he mean to exact his revenge?
You look at all these questions and begin to realize there will be a learning curve, or at least space for a lot of research. For one thing, you don’t know anything about science, scientists or Anthrax. Also, you’ll obviously have to build a chapter by chapter outline for this one, since you can’t really foresee where it’s going and you don’t want to end up giving up on it like the one you ended up not deleting earlier in the day.
You decide, since it’s late and you’re probably too tired to figure out the mechanics of this idea, to go to bed and start again fresh tomorrow.
The next day you get up, fully intending to write at least one chapter, but during your morning coffee someone rings the doorbell. Strange, you think, you don’t have any friends, why would anyone be ringing the doorbell?
A police officer is twirling his hat, which should rather have stayed on his head to hide that hideous hair-day.
“Good morning, officer. What can I do for you this morning?” you ask in your most polite voice.
The police officer doesn’t seem interested in anything you have to say, simply introduces himself via a badge before telling you that you are to come downtown with him.
“Whatever for?” you ask, no longer polite.
“You Googled Anthrax. You are now considered a person of interest.”
“By whom?” you ask, very proud of your correct use of grammar.
He has said as much as he was willing to and is now giving you the grandmother-glare, secretly hoping you will understand that it means you should drop everything, close the door behind you and come downtown with him.
You do so, though not because you particularly want to.
After hours of interrogation and explaining that you are a writer despite not having been published, you are let go.
Warned by intuition not to pursue the subject, you set down to start writing something else. You silently mourn the loss of an idea which could potentially have sold millions.
Being a writer
You go to your office. You decide what you are going to write and start writing it. You work through lunch because you want to at least finish a draft of Chapter One. You finish your work well before dinner, which gives you time to do chores, fetch the kids from school, cook dinner, help with homework, make a costume for the Halloween dance and catch up with blogs and Facebook. After dinner you put the kids to bed, call your mom for her birthday and finish reading the book you started last night, all the while jotting down things you liked about the manuscript and good ideas you have. Your mind is constantly processing ideas which will help you overcome some hurdles during your workday tomorrow. You go to bed having come up with the solution to some particularly annoying problems and having written them down. The last thought you have before falling asleep is that you’re confident your book will be done by the end of term, in time for the family vacation. You hope at least one person will like it. If you’re lucky, your book will get picked up.