Tag Archives: Boss

This seems doable, but arbitrary.

writing-towards-a-word-countSince my pseudo-New Year’s resolution to actually write this year, I have stayed tightly focused on only a few projects:

Short stories all.

Novel and non-fiction book ideas have floated into the window, settled on my desk and sneezed twice, at which point I squeezed them into my hard drive in some fashion or other.

They remain unstructured, unrefined, and most of all, incomplete.

I should finish one.

And it’s been said that without milestones and deadlines, a project will never be finished. What’s the deadline? What are the milestones?

I asked my grandboss (that’s “boss’ boss”) who used to work at the Times what he thought good deadlines for a novelist would be. As he began to answer, I had to cut him off:

No, no, not deadlines for a novelist whose job is being a novelist. Deadlines for someone with a completely unrelated day job. Someon like…and of course we’re just speaking hypothetically, because I love this company and would never leave…me.

He didn’t know. His wife didn’t know. Everything from “take your time even if you only write a page/year” to “spend every free waking moment writing” seems equally viable good advice on the subject.

I think a reasonable deadline in my case would be the end of 2009. I started off the year with the purpose to write more; this would fulfill that purpose. And it doesn’t give you the cramped-lack-of-quality produced by NaNoMo, where the goal is to finish the novel within a month. Yikes.

So today I did some rusty math. (Footnote: Any math performed by me is rusty; I’m a words man.) To finish a 100,000 word novel, which is a relatively short novel (but I’m aiming for a tighter style than my wordier compatriots anyway), I would have to write 500 words a day.

That’s not a lot. 500 words is about 2 pages double-spaced. I’ve written articles here which were three and four times that length without too much effort.

I immediately thought: HA! I can do this!

…or can I?

A novel is more than a loose collection of words. Writing stream-of-consciousness non-fiction (hereafter to be referred to as either “blogging” or “crap”) is far easier than serious fiction.

Before I know which scene to write next, I have to know the characters, the circumstances, the upcoming events, the past events. I have to reread what came before, I have to visualize what comes after. This means researching, outlining, brainstorming, and in general a lot of activities which are equally part of the writing process, but don’t add to the word count.

Nevertheless, 500 words/day seems like a reasonable goal. To help relieve pressure for all the outlining, I could try to write non-chronologically for me, which has always been a barrier I’d like to overcome. Whatever scene I want to write that day, that’s the scene I write.

Will it work? I have no idea. Will it produce quality fiction? I have no idea. Will it result in publication? I have no idea.

Will it put words on a page?


The tragedy of civilized progress

Post-apocalyptic New YorkEvery morning, I wake up, get into a stale metal box and travel down a concrete corridor at high speed, at the risk of injury and death, in order to get someplace I have no desire to be.

There I stay for (usually) nine to ten hours a day before coming home. At home, I have two or three hours before bed, where I repeat the whole process again from scratch.

I don’t have children yet, but I cannot help but wonder what would be the point of having children if I will forever have so little time to spend with them?

I am not alone in these circumstances; my wife does the very same thing. So do my mom and dad.

So does my boss. And so does his boss. So it isn’t even a matter of hierarchy; climbing the corporate ladder won’t net me any more freedom.

Nor is their any hope in sight of ever living any other way. “Retirement” is largely based on faith in government funds which quite frankly cannot afford to support my generation or those who are schedule to retire before my generation without even further increasing the cost to me to do so.

Every morning, I stare at the bumper of the car in front of me, and silently I ask the human race:

“Is this progress?”

Consider the following figures, taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/40-hour_work_week#Annual_hours_over_eight_centuries:

13th century Adult male peasant, UK 1620 hours
14th century Casual laborer, UK 1440 hours
Middle Ages English worker 2309 hours
1400-1600 Farmer-miner, adult male, UK 1980 hours
1840 Average worker, UK 3105-3588 hours
1850 Average worker, U.S. 3150-3650 hours
1987 Average worker, U.S. 1949 hours

In the 1980s, the average American worker had to work 500 more hours per year than his European ancestors did 600 years ago. And I have to assume that it was actually easier for the blacksmith or wagonwright or farmer in the 14th century to stop what he was doing and go visit his child or wife in the middle of the day than it is for us to do the same.

What progress have we made?

Using the data provided by the United State Bureau of Labor Statistics, Erik Rauch has estimated productivity to have increased by nearly 400 percent. Says, Rauch:

“… if productivity means anything at all, a worker should be able to earn the same standard of living as a 1950 worker in only 11 hours per week.”

I must ask us, as a community, as a country, as a society:


We dash madly from project to project, from home to job and back again, taking classes before work, after work, at work, and what is all of this meant to accomplish?

At best, we’re going in circles. At worst, we’re going backwards. Our standards of living have improved, but the time we have per day, per month, per year to enjoy those standards has decreased.

Once upon a time, a father could support his wife and children with his work alone. At least the mother had time to spend with her children, even if she was also responsible for educating them. Now my wife and I must both work just to sustain ourselves — we couldn’t realistically support children at our current income.

When will our many inventions and increased production net any kind of universal payoff in the ability to enjoy all the niceties we’ve invented over the years? And how can this possibly come to pass?

Just writing is easy. But Actual Writing is hard.

Overwhelmed?So, the blog began as a little extra work to keep me in the practice of writing. Also a way for me and my readers (aka friends) to keep on top of my work, progress, and writing career. (Even though the most lively discussions are, predictably, a little off topic.)

Things have changed.

The overall feeling of having an audience has been trans-formative for me. The best thing I can compare it to is that if you’re at work and conversing with a buddy, you might talk about anything that comes to mind. If you’re in that same conversation and suddenly your boss walks by, you may or may not change your topic or tone, but you’re likely to be a little more self-conscious. (Even if your direct supervisor doesn’t make you feel this way, chances are there is someone who does. Regional manager. Vice president. Auditor. Whomever.)

This makes me want to present the best of myself, especially in the focus for the site: My fiction. The various political commentaries are just an exercise…stretching my descriptive muscles, as it were.

To that end, writing has slowly but inexorably taken over the cracks in my life. It used to be that I would play video games or other forms of recreation for most of the evening/weekend, and then fit a little writing into the bored cracks between other activities.

Now the reverse is true.

I listen to podcasts on writing on the way to work and back. When I’m doing mindless data entry, I listen to podcasts on writing while I’m at work. And when I’m not learning from these podcasts, I’m mentally critiquing them — still literary exercise.

Now I even listen to podcasts about writing at home, because it’s as close as I can get to having professional writers in the comfort of my own home giving a constant stream of advice.

Sometimes I’m writing. Sometimes I’m formatting a work for submission. Sometimes I’m buying supplies. Sometimes I’m working on the website.

Sometimes I’m planning what to write. I spent about two hours this evening just working on an outline for a novel — and bear in mind, this is a novel for which the first 10,000 words have already been written — not a new concept.

When I started, the blog was extra work to get me to write at least a little bit every day.

Now, blogging is where I turn when I need a break from writing fiction.

Oh, how far we’ve come in just two months.

I hope this trend continues indefinitely. But more-so I hope it is reflected in the scope and quality of my work.

A buddy told me at work today that until I’m reporting earned income on my taxes, I’m still an amateur writer. This was partly good natured ribbing, and partly his excuse for why he hadn’t read any of my stories even though I explicitly printed one out and handed it to him…I think over a week ago. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think he realizes how seriously I take this — and that’s understandable. I’ve certainly met my fair share of wannabe writers whose work makes me think, “Are you kidding?” I personally cringe whenever someone says, “Will you read this? I wrote it!” so I can hardly blame others for setting those pages aside.

But even if he was totally kidding, there’s some truth to what he said, and it only inspires me to drive harder to reach that magic benchmark of publication. Will it be this year? Next year? Ten years from now? My next submission? God only knows, but I won’t stop until it happens, until the work sells, until the first movie contract, until the first blockbuster, until I make so much money writing that far beyond having a regular day job, writing is my job, and not only that, I’m so good at it that I no longer write because I have to…I write because I want to.

That’s negative reinforcement. I also get it from www.101reasonstostopwriting.com.

Positive reinforcement comes when Mr. Snuggles posts that a scene is my cleanest yet, when my brother-in-law who I never even expected to check the blog tells me he gets my RSS feed, and he and his girlfriend have real feedback on my latest story. When Elizabeth comments on one of my rants and I know she’s still reading even though I probably drive her nuts.

Slowly but surely, writing is becoming as much of a constant obsession as online gaming ever was. Keep pushing me in that direction, I beg you.

Now I must return to that outline and consider adding another scene to Second Chances.

Break’s over.