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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Learning to be a ‘Real’ Writer: Part 1


Yeah, I know, right? You’all thought I was already a writer. Well, so did I, but I was a writer who had to have a day job, who wasn’t allowed to devote herself to being a writer full-time and so I never felt quite real. See, and that’s wrong. Because I was a writer. I wrote with the idea of making a living from it, but I came to realise that I also wrote with the knowledge that I would never be allowed to go full time, that making a living from it was a long way away, even unlikely, and then that wasn’t true any more.
In the last six months, I’ve had to come to grips with some fairly major changes, both to things I thought I knew, and to personal circumstances, and that hasn’t been easy. For one thing, I lost my job.
Actually, I was forced to choose between accepting having working conditions withheld and keeping my job, or completing the degree I had started with the permission and encouragement of my boss. “We not only support this kind of thing,” he’d said, “but we encourage it.” Well, what happened? Because he sure as shit didn’t say a word when his subordinate—yes, subordinate and a new manager to boot—decided to deny me access to working conditions that would allow me to continue my studies, the studies the boss had given me permission to begin, and which I was successfully working around my employment.
The new supervisor decided I had to choose, and I was very fortunate that my husband decided to support me so that I could stop working at that poisonous place and complete my degree. Now, when we made that decision, I had coped with four years of this kind of bullying—and worse, and I did not understand why it was happening.
I was hitting my deadlines ahead of time (yes, even studying full time), my customers were happy, I met my colleague’s needs, my work was above the standard expected, and I was exceeding expectations… and I didn’t realise that this was a problem, that I was too low in the food chain to be doing what I was doing and be allowed to get away with it. I didn’t even realise that by doing my job well, I was seen as a threat to the career paths of not just my direct supervisors, but by the next rank of managers above them – even when I was going for different areas to where they were located.
You see, I had been raised to believe that if you did a good job, your superiors would appreciate that and that your contribution would be recognised and valued. I believed in looking after my team mates, even if that meant sometimes putting their interests ahead of my own. I didn’t know that not only was that not valued, but that it was seen as a weakness, a signal that you could be attacked with impunity. Hell, I even believed in the supervisor’s responsibility for helping you progress in your career, all in accordance with the training and doctrine of the organisation I worked for. I thought cooperation and mutual support was all part of being in a team.
Unfortunately, I forgot that I was surrounded by humans, and that, in the real world, those who are seen to be potentially more effective than their superiors or colleagues are to be kept in their place and out of the competition, that favourites exist and that one’s ability to do, is not as important as one’s ability to be liked. Well, it took me four years, but I learned – and it nearly broke me, especially as I have come to accept that I will never be ‘liked’. I’m not hated, but I won’t ever be ‘liked’ in the way that counts in a human herd. It’s not personal; I’m just too different, and I can’t change it, or hide it. And, believe me, I’ve tried both.
So, when my husband said I didn’t have to return to work—ever—and I could make a go of my writing, I found that hard to believe. We’d spent so long needing to have a double income that I’d gotten used to the impossibility of writing full time. And now it’s real, and it’s something many writers would kill for, something I thought I would once kill for, and I’m afraid to take that step and really go for it. And that’s just dumb.
So, now, I have to actually step out onto that thin platform of what I believe in, and I have to do, and that’s not as easy as it sounds. I’ve discovered I’m not quite ready to walk away from the path I was following, but that I can move along both for a little longer while I decide. It’s a hard thing to do, because I *did* want what lies at the other end of the study path, but I’ve also wanted to write for a living for a very long time. Unfortunately, I know the writing can be worked on at a slower pace, that the other path will provide experience and knowledge I can use in my writing, and I’m not ready to let that go. I also don’t like leaving things unfinished, including this degree, and that is a bigger element than I’d like.
So, with this in mind, I’ve taken to observing what other successful, more experienced writers are doing and I’m comparing how they go about things with how I go about things. Not because I want to copy them, because that won’t work. Everything I’ve read makes that very clear.
What works for one writer, will not work for another. Instead, I’m looking and listening and learning. And that means reworking my priorities, reworking how I see myself, and reworking how I go about things, and it’s not as easy as I think it should be, so bear with me as I learn to be a ‘real’ writer in the way being a ‘real’ writer works for me.
First step—learning to produce words on a regular and reliable basis: because I don’t, not yet. I try and bend my writing to the other demands in my life. I tend to let it slide in the face of those demands. It has always come last, and been the first thing to be dropped when things get tight. And that can no longer be. If I am going to make a living from my writing, I have to put it closer to the top. Family is important. Fitness and study are also important. These must be balanced. At the beginning of July 2015, I started to work on that in earnest.
Second step—publishing what I produce. Not as easy as it sounds. I need to write, but I have to acknowledge that writing is pointless unless it is published. Because I have decided to take an independent path, that means I have to make time for formatting, editing, cover creation and uploading. That’s all part of the decision that, as long as publishers try to buy rights and have ‘for the life of the copyright’ in their contracts, and as long as they don’t guarantee to keep in print the work they purchase, or utilise all the rights they purchase in a timely fashion, then I can’t contract with them. It’s my work. It has to be available and selling for me to make a living.
Third step—establishing a publishing schedule that I can stick to. Right now, I have no idea of what I can and can’t do, or the time-frame it takes to do it in. I am still recovering physically, mentally and emotionally from the last few years, and now that I have realised that, I realise I have to give myself room to heal. I also have a lot of odds and ends to tidy up. I am giving myself until the end of 2015 to sort out a light schedule, and I’ll rework the kinks from there.
Rules going forward?
  • Write more.
  • Write frequently.
  • Finish what I write.
  • Publish what I write in the best condition possible.
  • Improve in my craft.
  • Improve in my business.
  • Develop professionally as a writer.
I’ll let you know how it goes.

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