Fiction Writing: Not Your Normal Day Job

If you work at a typical desk job and want to write fiction at night, be prepared. The two occupations are not at all alike. But what if your day job suddenly got altered to be more like fiction writing? Let’s find out what that would be like.

You wake up at whatever time you like; you’re now setting your own hours. There’s no commute. You telework every day. No one sees you working, or checks on your progress. There are no meetings, no boring chats by the coffee machine, and no lunches with clients. Knock off early every day if you want; nobody cares how long you work.

Sounds like a dream job, right? There’s a down side.

Sitting at your computer, you produce your first work product of the day. (What’s the product? I don’t know; we’re talking about your current day job.) You e-mail it to your boss and wait. A few hours later, your boss e-mails you back to say the product didn’t suit her needs. She says she can’t accept it.

You’re stunned. She’s rejected your work. How can she do that? You know this job well and have worked at it for years. You e-mail her back asking what sort of product she needs, and asking what’s specifically wrong with the one you sent. She answers that she’s looking for really compelling products the customer will like. Moreover, she receives too many product submissions to list the deficiencies with each one; she only has time to accept or reject.

Her e-mail concludes on a positive and unexpected note, wishing you well with the product, adding that you can submit to any other department head in the company. That’s weird, you think. It’s as if, all of a sudden, you have more than one boss.

With some trepidation, you submit the work product to another department head. An hour later, he responds, thanking you but also saying it doesn’t suit his needs. You’re disappointed, but not shocked. By now, you’re catching on to the new company procedure and you simply submit your product to a different department head.

During the next two weeks, you submit it to every department head and all of them reject your product. Some take less than an hour to respond, but others take days. While waiting on them, you’ve been able to do other stuff around the house, watch some movies, and hit the bar scene on a few nights. The rejections distress you, though; things never used to be that way.

Ah, well, at least it’s payday, finally. Checking your bank account, you’re stunned to discover there’s been no money deposited to your account. You call the Pay Department, and the representative explains you had no products accepted during the pay period, so there’s no pay. The company is no longer on a salary system; they pay you only for accepted products, and calculate the amount based on customer purchases.

Hanging up the phone, you have a “We’re not in Kansas anymore” moment. In this new system, you realize you’ll have to churn out products fast, keep circulating them, and hope a few get accepted and that customers like them.

E-mailing a few friendly co-workers, you discover most are in the same boat, with zero pay. Word has it that one employee tripled her monthly income, but was told that was no guarantee of future earnings.

Welcome, fellow worker, to the fiction writing biz, where success is rare, and determined in part by how well you learn your craft and whether a fickle public likes your stories. You can complain the system’s unfair or rigged, but whining probably won’t make you feel better, and sure won’t change anything.

Fortunately, day jobs aren’t set up like the writing business. Still, writing makes a highly enjoyable hobby for most authors. Among them is—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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The Trick Is…

Remember the TV show ‘Cosmos?’ No, not the new one starring Neil deGrasse Tyson (though I enjoyed that too). I mean the original Cosmos, starring Carl Sagan. There’s a brief part of one episode that’s stuck in my mind for all the decades since that show first aired.

CosmosTCYou can see the episode here and the part I recalled is from time 41:45 to 42:30.

In the clip, Carl Sagan is standing in a library. He says, if you read one book a week, over a normal human lifespan you can read only a few thousand books. (50 books per year times 70 years would be 3500 books.) He then paces off a distance across some library shelves to indicate that many books.

After remarking on how that’s only a tenth of a percent of the content of a library, he then says, “The trick is to know which books to read.”

That’s it. No follow-up. He goes on to discuss other things.220px-Sagan_planetary_orbits2

Thanks, Dr. Sagan, for clearing up that mystery of the universe.

How about telling us which books? Is there a list somewhere? Don’t just leave us with “the trick is…” without solving it for us!

Okay, okay. I do really like Carl Sagan, and loved the show. And I get what he was saying. His main message is that our lives are too short to permit soaking up all of human knowledge. As you choose books to read, go in with the understanding that you ain’t gonna read ‘em all.

Moreover, there can’t be one right answer to the question of which books to read. There are billions and billions of answers. (Yes, I had to say that.)

But allow me to take up Dr. Sagan’s challenge, and to set up some criteria for selecting books to read, given that you can’t read ‘em all. Here’s my answer to “which books to read:”

  1. Read books you think you’ll enjoy. This is the most important criteria, since if you don’t like reading, you’ll stop. You’ll never come close to reading a book a week for life.
  1. Read some classics, on occasion. They represent the greatest wisdom of the ages, and they have persisted because their value and relevance is timeless.
  1. Read way outside your interest area, on occasion. This helps broaden your knowledge, and you never know when one such book might spark a new passion for you. Try to eventually cover the whole Dewey Decimal System, and all fiction genres.
  1. Read both fiction and non-fiction. You can choose the percentage of each according to your preferences, but I think there’s value in both.
  1. Read books by authors you enjoy, and also give different authors a chance. There’s a strong temptation to keep reading books by the same author. After all, you liked the previous one; chances are you’ll like the next one. That’s fine, but it’s okay to read books by authors who are new to you, every once in a while.
  1. Give each book you select a chance, but don’t be afraid to abandon it. Read past page one; often the value of a book won’t become apparent until later. However, if you’re well into the book and getting nothing out of it, stop and get another. Your lifespan is too limited and there are too many better books for you to slog through reading a bad one.

That’s it, my attempt to respond to Dr. Sagan’s challenge to all of us, to figure out which books to read.   They may not be the best criteria in the cosmos, but they’re good enough for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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November 9, 2014Permalink

Are You Fictional or Real?

Fictional characters differ from real people in interesting and important ways. Thinking you’re one when you’re really the other could have significant and disturbing consequences. Therefore, it’s vital to know which one you are. That’s why, as a public service, I offer the following easy quiz you can take to determine the answer.

Fictional or RealIf you think you’re fictional, but your answers to some of these questions tend to show you’re real, or vice versa, don’t despair. Fictional characters and real people share many characteristics. There’s a large amount of overlap because authors try to depict realistic characters, to some extent. I’ll show you how to score your answers at the end.

And now, the quiz:

1. True or False:  You never say “hello” or “goodbye” when talking on the phone.

2. T or F:  You’ve never said “um” or “er” in conversation.

3. T or F:  You drive either a flashy sports car or an old jalopy.

4. T or F:  You may have been inside bathrooms, but you’ve never actually, shall we say, done a Number 1 or Number 2.

5. T or F:  For you, things seem to go from bad to worse, then suddenly everything turns out okay.

6. T or F:  You have a friend who’s constantly with you and to whom you must explain everything. Either that, or you are a sidekick for someone else.

7. T or F:  Your full name is melodic and memorable, and ether your first name or last name is unusual.

8. T or F:  You are either purely good, or purely evil.

9. T or F:  Your dull, uneventful hours rush by in a blur, but your busy, intense hours pass slowly and meaningfully.

10. T or F:  You’ve long felt a sense of being watched all the time. You’ve had that sense so long you no longer think much about it.

If you answered True to less than six questions, you are a real person. Sorry about that. Real people tend to lead more boring lives than fictional characters. If you thought you were fictional and are just now discovering you are real, I suggest you accept it, get over your disappointment, and learn to fit in.

If you answered True to six or seven questions, this quiz can’t tell you the answer. Observe the people around you and see which behaviors they exhibit. Whichever they are—fictional characters or real people—you are too. The two types don’t seem to mix much.

If you answered True to eight or more questions, you’re a fictional character. If you thought all along you were real and are just now discovering you’re fictional, I’ll offer my congratulations. Your life will rarely be boring. Thousands and maybe millions of real people will thrill to your escapades. Even if your life ends up being short, you’ll be reborn innumerable times and may live forever.

It’s my hope this quiz has been informative and hasn’t caused you any life-changing distress. If it did alter your understanding of reality, I still think it’s better to know than to keep living in ignorance. And, really, where else on the web are you going to get this kind of service? Who else offers this sort of helpful quiz? No one else, but—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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