PDA

View Full Version : Don't quit your...


pina la nina
08-13-2004, 01:05 AM
Did anybody read Sunday's NY Times Book Review?

The last page was an essay complaining about how rarely novelists include realistic work situations or communicate anything positive about workplaces/careers.

The author supposed this was due to most writers having day jobs (or night jobs - maybe I should call it a "bill-paying job") that they resent. Her theory was that the writer would rather be writing and so suffers through other work and doesn't have the aspirations and affections around their workplace that most other people have.

Question for yous guys: if you have another job, other than being a novelist, do you enjoy it? Is it fulfilling? And crucially...
Do you write about it/ fictionalize it? How does it influence your writing?

pepperlandgirl
08-13-2004, 01:17 AM
I go to school full time and work as a tutor part time. Sometimes I resent school because I don't have time to write, but I never resent the time I spend tutoring. They need my help and I love to help them.

pina la nina
08-13-2004, 01:26 AM
And as I presently am at work, I'll answer my own question.

I am crazy about my job. I'm a research technician in a genetics lab. Over time it's become extremely fulfilling, perhaps due to my age and perhaps due to my growing skills/understanding of the science. Having good people to work with and share ideas is also key. I've often thought that should I hit some sort of jackpot that would enable me to write/be a mom full-time I couldn't quit my job. I need to keep this part of me rooted in the outside world and stimulated by the fascinating people and concepts I work with.

The novel I'm editing now involves a previous workplace, but I'm eager to include details of my current one in my next book, as I think one of my characters will do a similar kind of work as I do. In fiction, I rarely read about real scientists, which seems odd to me. I'm biased of course, but I think there's a lot of humor, fascinating characters and ideas in this sort of workplace, as well as intense rivalries, competition all sorts of fodder for a fun book.

I also have snippets of short works that take place in a fast-food place I worked at as a teen. Talk about characters. My co-workers there taught me the meaning of the word "story."

maestrowork
08-13-2004, 02:14 AM
(this space is left blank intentionally)

Yeshanu
08-13-2004, 06:27 AM
Question for yous guys: if you have another job, other than being a novelist, do you enjoy it? Is it fulfilling?

I'm a student, I'm a pastor, I'm a mother, and I'm a writer. I love all four aspects of my life.

I write fantasy, but any book is about people and their trials and tribulations...

Everything I learn from any one area of my life tends to impact whatever goes on in all the other areas.

Pina, I don't know what kinds of books your NY Times reviewer actually reads, but for a book reviewer, he seems to have a very narrow focus...

Maybe he's projecting, because he hates his own day job. He certainly isn't accurately reporting on my reality.

pianoman5
08-13-2004, 06:47 AM
I've just finished (10th draft) of my comic/satirical novel, which is set largely in 'The Office' and is, I think, realistic, if not especially positive. There are positive aspects to it, but the negative side makes for much better conflict.

When I began, I thought it was fertile territory to explore as I figured that most readers have worked in an office at some stage in their careers and might enjoy identifying with the environment. Also, I only found a handful of books that use offices extensively as a setting so it was relatively untrodden ground. My main theme is the issue of work/life balance, and how the current corporate environment screws up so many people and their families, spitting them out when it suits them.

But when I mentioned the setting to friends, they were universally underwhelmed.

"What will you write about?' one asked. "The great tea trolley disaster of 1962?"

Trying not to be discouraged I pressed on, lifting the stakes with big money, high level corporate/political corruption, and an attempted murder. But I'm still nervous, because the very mention of the word 'office' seems to make people yawn.

There, I said the dreaded word(s). Are you?

I was encouraged by the great success of the BBC TV comedy series called "The Office", but it remains to be seen whether the market is ready for a novel.

I suspect that so many people find their day jobs tedious, or at least something they'd prefer not to have to do, that when they read they want to be transported to another world, not taken back to a humdrum one - witness the popularity of SF/F.

But I hope I'm wrong.

Irene Keyes
08-13-2004, 06:52 AM
Quote from pina la nina:
"Her theory was that the writer would rather be writing and so suffers through other work and doesn't have the aspirations and affections around their workplace that most other people have."

In what dimension does she live? I worked in the cubicle jungle for many years, and I failed to run into anyone who had "aspirations and affections around their workplace." Well, maybe aspiration, but certainly no affection. A winning number on a giant lottery pool would have cleared that place out.

I'm not really addressing the issue here, but I got stuck on this part. Disliking the old day job certainly isn't specific to writers. And there are TWO writers just on this thread who love their day job!

Irene Keyes
08-13-2004, 07:02 AM
pianoman,
I posted before I saw your reply.

I think there's a market for a book such as yours, especially a satire. There are a lot of readers who like to see themselves and their environment reflected in what they read, especially if it helps them laugh at or deal with the pain of their own situation. (Office Space is one of my favorite movies, and I never miss reading Dilbert).

pianoman5
08-13-2004, 07:51 AM
Thanks, Irene, for your words of encouragement.

I've just read the article <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/08/books/review/08MILLERL.html" target="_new">NYTimeslink</a> and found some more solace in the reviewer's final speculation that the workplace "seems a fine place to look for the novel's next great motor." (substituting for adultery and death)

I've always wondered why work has seemed to occupy such a small place in the canon of novels. After all, many people spend more of their waking hours doing it than anything else, and often identify with it strongly. The only conclusion I've been able to draw was that most published writers have not had substantial careers outside of their writing, and only have experience of menial fill-in jobs, or teaching.

Publishers please note: rights to my novel "What roses?" may be secured for a surprisingly modest seven figure advance, as your vanguard piece for the new wave of modern and highly successful novels.

Yeshanu
08-13-2004, 08:10 AM
pianoman,

Publishers please note: rights to my novel "What roses?" may be secured for a surprisingly modest seven figure advance, as your vanguard piece for the new wave of modern and highly successful novels.

:rofl

I've always wondered why work has seemed to occupy such a small place in the canon of novels. After all, many people spend more of their waking hours doing it than anything else, and often identify with it strongly.

True, but most people's work is predictable and repetitive, even if it isn't boring, and most people want it to be that way...

So novels about the average person's working lives won't sell unless something unusual happens. For instance, I've seen a few novels/memoirs about teachers who have taught unusual kids or in unusual circumstances, but no matter how much a regular classroom teacher loves her job, a novel about day-to-day life in the classroom isn't going to sell.

As for Dilbert -- :snoopy

I think Dilbert works because it takes the truth and stretches it far enough so that it's parody, but not so far that the average cube farm inmate can't recognize his own working environment. I think such parody could be written about any working environment, but Dilbert does better than most simply because there are millions of office workers out there to read it...

Jamesaritchie
08-13-2004, 12:34 PM
It seems to be pretty common to me for many writers to use their workplace or occupation in their writing. Common as dirt.

But let's get real. If you're workign in a cubicle, or have a job at the local burger place, just how many times can you use something like that in fiction? You can always writer a nine to five movie, but not all writing lends itself to the workplace, and not all workplaces lends themselves easily to writng.

Besides, while some people love their jobs, I'd guess the vast majority of people out their hold the job they do becaus ethey need money to live. It's a fantasy to think most people have affectation for theirs jobs or workplaces.

pianoman5
08-13-2004, 01:28 PM
<blockquote><strong><em>Quote:</em></strong><hr>It's a fantasy to think most people have affection for their jobs or workplaces<hr></blockquote>.

I don't agree, James. It's true, your average burger flipper almost certainly wants to be somewhere else, and most sane people would quit if they won the lottery, but I know dozens of people who love their work (including myself, at various times) and I know a lot that have kept on working long after they didn't have to.

For those who are doing something worthwhile, or think they are, work constitutes a major component of their psychic identity, and without which they're often lost souls. The last survey I saw (here in Australia) showed that around 80% of all people were either satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs.

evelinaburney
08-13-2004, 03:35 PM
Hmmm, I'm really quite jealous of pina, having a job you really identify with that fulfills you. I've always felt stifled/bored/condescended to/frustrated...Current job is not so bad, but still. If someone would pay me to spend all day writing fiction, I would do it in an instant. I would not spend one second missing the cube farm or its inmates.

But I don't tend to write much about my various jobs. That would be truly boring and repetitive.

Now *if*, however, it is true that writers tend toward negative portrayals of the workplace, maybe it's because writing about a happy, satisfied bunch of people is just boring. Whether they are in an office, on a farm, or sitting on a bus. You need conflict to have a good story, right? And the workplace is as good a site for conflict as any.

Just my opinion. What do you guys think?

veingloree
08-13-2004, 04:17 PM
I am very attached to my job, but have trouble seeing a publisher going for a book that positively portrayed animal experimentation. Sure, it might challenge some beliefs and stereotypes, but who would print it?

maestrowork
08-13-2004, 07:05 PM
James, why is it a fantasy? Many people I know DO love their jobs. There're always something about anything (even as a professional writer) that we don't like about our jobs, but in general, I'd say many people do like what they do. I did -- I'd go back to my job (I miss many things about it) if I didn't have these other goals I want to accomplish. Perhaps in a few years if I don't succeed in what I want to do now, I'll go back.

It's a great thing when you do what you love and love what you do. Nowadays people have many choices. Well, maybe not all the time, but people do have many options and choices and it's up to us to define what we want and how to get it. Life is too short.

I do agree that many writers write about their day jobs or variations of them. I guess it falls into the category of "write what you know." I tried to write something I didn't know (and had to do research on) or something that was different than my job. For example, in my novel, none of my characters work in my field. As a matter of fact, the protagonist is independently weahthy. I think there's something liberating about writing about characters and settings that are so unlike something you're used to.

pina la nina
08-13-2004, 08:36 PM
Just to clarify - the word "affection" is mine, as I was paraphrasing (and can't link to the NYTimes here, sorry!) She was trying, I think, to communicate that for many of not most, work is a positive not a negative in their lives. I characterized it as affection because I see it that way - sort of like extended family, there's a lot of emotions there, good and bad, but most people don't detest their entire families (or workplaces), although some do. Affection, like "fond" being a word that to me accepts the foibles and doesn't gloss over them.

My guess was that few write about work because of that "write what you know" thing and that when describing jobs that they have never held, writers have to be careful. And being cautious means, for some, omitting meaningful details, not capturing the quirky positives (it's easier to describe the sucky things about work - right? All unhappy jobs are unhappy alike? The obnoxious boss/coworkers/customers, the politics, sucking up to smarmy boss-types, the stress, etc...)

It seems to me like many of the careers that are described in books are ones that most people have contact with: doctors, teachers, lawyers. Or are fantasy jobs: cowboy, magician, president, evil scientist. And is it just me but do a HUGE amount of literary novels have characters that are writers? Or college english professors?

HollyB
08-13-2004, 08:50 PM
My take on the NYTBR article was that the author was pointing out that the infidelity has become so commonplace that it can no longer serve as "the great motor of the novel.''

She suggested work could take over, but the drama of most people's work is meagre -- a "so what" proposition. It just doesn't have the drama, the complex mix of emotions (love/jealousy/lust/betrayal) elicited by infidelity. (She pointed out Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace, about a chambermaid, but that was about a imprisoned chambermaid who murdered her employer, not about work at all!).

SFEley
08-13-2004, 09:03 PM
veingloree wrote:
I am very attached to my job, but have trouble seeing a publisher going for a book that positively portrayed animal experimentation. Sure, it might challenge some beliefs and stereotypes, but who would print it?
It depends. What would the story be?


Have Fun,
- Steve Eley

ChunkyC
08-13-2004, 10:48 PM
The last page was an essay complaining about how rarely novelists include realistic work situations or communicate anything positive about workplaces/careers.
I think the reason authors do this is because readers want something extraordinary in fiction. If you write a realistic depiction of an ordinary day as a dishwasher, it would be a pretty boring read. I'm not saying anything negative about the value of the work a dishwasher does (hell, I was one), but unless something unusual happens, which by definition would be outside the normal work experience of a dishwasher, such a novel would be a complete snore.

reph
08-14-2004, 12:50 AM
Writing about a job you haven't done requires research so you'll get the details right. I think that's why there are so many stories about writers. You don't have to interview anyone to find out what objects your character might have in his or her workspace.

"Girl with a Pearl Earring" is sort of about work.

maestrowork
08-14-2004, 06:54 AM
Good writers almost always do research, especially in mytery/detective or courtroom/newsroom/whatever-room drama. Sometimes they follow, say, police offers around just to get it right...

veingloree
08-14-2004, 03:58 PM
Research is great, but nothing beats those little true anecdotes. I had in mind writing about a burnt out clinical psychologist who become an animal behaviour researcher. It is a world I live in, but objectively *very* perculiar. The only thing is that I haven't settled on a good plot, just a few murder mystery ideas.

pianoman5
08-14-2004, 07:04 PM
The point the reviewer, Laura Miller, was making, I think, is that work is playing an increasingly important part in (some) people's emotional lives, and deserves serious fictional exploration alongside or in place of our past preoccupations.

It's hard to dispute her assertion that the transformative power of passion grips us less nowadays than in the 19th century and before, when material considerations dominated the nuptial arrangements of the chattering classes.

The 20th century brought us a surfeit of death, which lingers on. A typical night's TV viewing is likely to show us several corpses. Ho hum.

I'm sure she's not suggesting that trivial vignettes from mundane employment make great sustaining material for the broad canvas of a novel, although they do provide plenty for the shorter form of situation comedy.

No, the point is that, at their best, work environments provide a complex mix of stimulation, goal-achievement, conflict, ambition, greed, fun, jealousy, betrayal, hubris, loyalty, pressure, meaning, disappointment, purpose, suspense, camaraderie etc, as well as steamy passion worthy of any bodice-ripper. I've certainly experienced the whole lot of them, sometimes all in one day.

There is scope for exploring these grander themes, and I for one am encouraged to continue doing so.

For those of you who find that work is a boundless expanse of tedium and predictability I can only say - poor you. Change your job. Life's far too short to put up with that s**t.

Greenwolf103
08-15-2004, 03:30 AM
I read this essay and it didn't really seem to me that the reviewer was of this opinion. It seems as though she is pining that not enough workplace stories are being written. I guess she's never read a Patricia Cornwell novel featuring the ME Kay Scarpetta.... :huh

pianoman5 said:

I've always wondered why work has seemed to occupy such a small place in the canon of novels. After all, many people spend more of their waking hours doing it than anything else, and often identify with it strongly.

This is why I've been sure to include scenes of my character at work in my RIP. She is a nurse and her job is important to her, so I made sure there are scenes in this book where stuff happens at her job. I've never been a nurse, but I have been around many of them A LOT of times. I've also done some research to make my character realistic, but most of the scenes are where she experiences conflict with others at her job and not so much as a nurse-at-work.

As for the topic itself, I'm on the opposite end of this spectrum. Writing IS my job. And maybe I haven't yet written a story with a character who is a writer (though I plan to), I wouldn't change it for the world! :grin

Still, I am planning to seek part time employment once my daughter is in school. It's not so much to earn money or get out of the house, but to LIVE LIFE and experience life, interacting with other people, experiencing new things and challenging myself with this demands of a job. It's all fodder for the writing. :grin

cleoauthor
08-15-2004, 04:19 AM
In the novel I'm currently trying to sell, BOOBS OVER HOLLYWOOD, I've drawn extensively from my last job as a writer on a soap opera. There's just so much quirky stuff going on in the TV environment, I believe I'd be a fool not to use it as a backdrop for a story. In fact, I've used a fictional reality show as the backdrop, because those shows seem particularly cheesy and ripe for satire. TV is rich with eccentric and slippery characters, a fast-paced environment. Because the stakes are so darn high, there's plenty of room for conflict. Because I'm writing a satirical novel, people will think I'm making most of the stuff up. Exaggerated perhaps, but certainly rooted in reality. The comments I've received so far is that readers love the TV part of the story. In comparison to it, the rest of it seems too tame. I suspect they're right and will have to go back to the drawing board. Another day perhaps.

Linda

maestrowork
08-15-2004, 04:19 AM
I think partially because unless you're writing about an unusual/exciting job (such as being detectives or doctors or lawyers or jet pilot or President of the United States... ) or that your story happens in a work place (Murder by the Water Cooler, by Gor Sipper), most interesting things usually happen outside of work -- most work places are BORING. :-)

ChunkyC
08-15-2004, 04:49 AM
I have to say, pianoman5, you do make some interesting points. Perhaps there aren't enough 'real life dramas' being produced as opposed to Maestro's 'water cooler murder' type stories where the workplace is merely the location of the extraordinary event.

Can we writers tell an engaging story where the tension and pressure on the protagonist is derived from something other than a mob killer hijacking a cab or a mutant virus threatening to wipe out the entire planet? Many of us have, but pure escapism I believe will always be top dog in the marketplace.

annied
08-15-2004, 07:33 AM
My "job" right now is a tutor/stay at home mom. Some of the students I tutor are writing students, so I don't necessarily get "away" from writing at my bill-paying job. I enjoy helping these kids improve my writing, and it helps me improve as well.
I could use some "exciting" events that happened to me in my teaching career, if I really wanted to, but I choose not to.

Caring for my son gives me some breaks in my writing. I can leave my novel/story/poem for a while and play catch or watch a Wiggles video with him, then come back to it and see it with a fresher perspective. Granted, it means that I have to do some "creative scheduling" to get any writing done, but I don't get "burned out" on doing something I really love. Plus I can get neat ideas for future stories by just watching my son!

Yeah, kinda sappy, but that's how I see it.

Annie:grin

ncq13
08-15-2004, 10:38 AM
I'm a stay-at-home Mom in addition to working as a freelance writer/reviewer and writing novels (my first is due out next year). I LOVE being at home with the kids, although it does on occasion present challenges when a child wants attention and I am on a thread and need to get my thoughts out, or if I'm busting tail to meet a deadline.
I don't think that you can get anymore real (or satisfying) than having a career you love and children, so I'm not quite sure what the reviewer was referring to!
~Kate
katestamour.com (http://katestamour.com)

JimMorcombe
09-03-2004, 09:18 AM
Without any conflict, a book is boring. If your book is set in the work place, then you need to add a bit of conflict in that workplace. Throw in a boss thats always about to fire you, a bitchy but sexy co-worker, etc.

The writer may love his job, but considers the reality to be too mundane to be the basis of a novel.

In "The Man who fought alone" by Stephen Donaldson you actually have two views of the "Private Investigation" business. Both are completely different. One bright, shiny and boring, but it makes money. The other sleazy, dirty but exciting.