It’s the first Friday of the month! It’s Quill Time!
Most authors have other jobs besides writing—and that includes being a full-time parent (which is hard work!). Along the route we’ve picked up various sorts of education, training or experience. We thought it might be interesting to discuss how our other jobs or experiences influence our writing. Does it make it easier? Harder?
Author of Oathtaker
Like most writers, I also have another “life.” I practice law. For the most part, my legal background is a benefit to writing. Admittedly, however, there is at least one downside to it . . . .
As an attorney, I am accustomed to looking for the holes in things. Why didn’t the character just do this obvious thing? Oh, I see. The story would be over. In that case, I need to identify why that did not happen, and I need my reader to know that I considered the option and disposed of it.
I am also continually aware of whether the pieces of something fit together cohesively and logically. Would that person really do/say that? Why not this other thing? Particularly for writing fantasy, these skills are essential. A fantasy tale may be outrageous—but it has to be “believable.” Finally, the writer may not use magic just to get out of a tough spot. He has to weave the “rules” into the story along the way.
Here is an example of a “hole” I found in my work. Dixon, one of the main characters, is a prisoner. Someone placed a band on his arm to cut off his magic. The protagonist, Mara, arrives unexpectedly. They share critical information. Mara then disappears when a visitor unexpectedly interrupts them. The problem? Well, the “rules” provided that Mara was the only person who could have removed the band (who would have done so). Why didn’t Dixon just ask her to remove it? I labored over how to solve the dilemma. If she removed the band, much of the story—including critical portions—would be moot. In the end, the “fix” was simple. Right after Mara disappears, Dixon notices the band on his arm. He cries: “Blast! I should have thought to have her remove this!” In light of what had just transpired, it was not altogether surprising that he did not think of this earlier. Thus, I “closed the hole” with a single line. Readers would have wondered about this if I had not done so. Further, the fact that Dixon forgot to tell Mara about the band became key to a later scene . . . .
As to internal consistency, I originally wrote that Basha had magic power to heal. Yet she was the only one with access to Dixon while he was held prisoner. Had she healed him, she would have helped him to escape. I had to “write out” her ability to heal so that the remainder of the story would work.
As to not using magic because it is merely convenient, I had a scene where Mara needed to have a particular magic power—the ability to move things by thought. I could not just spring the power on my readers out of the blue. So I gave Mara this power earlier in the story. In the end, I laid some groundwork that might be important in the future. . . .
In Oathtaker, the laws regarding the transition of power are opposite the normal laws of descent. My legal training was helpful here because those laws are far more sophisticated than one might think. What if one member left survivors? What if he left survivors but did not release his power to them? What if no member left survivors or did not release his power to them? It got complicated, but it was interesting to turn some old rules upside down.
As I mentioned, a legal mind can also be a downside to writing. Specifically, we attorneys like to be “oh-so-very-clear” about things so that others may not claim misunderstanding later. Thus, for example, when two different words have two somewhat different meanings, we may use them both so that it is not supposed that we meant the precise meaning of the one, but not the other. Thus, due to my legal training, my biggest editing challenges are —in cutting!
I had to consider what my definition of job was to answer this question. People ask me what I do. In the years before I had the self-confidence to call myself an author, I told them, “I’m a mother.” It was a title I could reach for before I understood that it was part of who I was, not a job that I did.
The inevitable response: “So you’re a stay at home mom,” implying that was my “job.”
My reaction to that was, “Are moms only moms when they stay at home? I’m confused…”
But the answer to that is really “No.” While being a mom is hard work, it was never my “job.” Loving my family and being a mom was never a job. Perhaps that explains why so many women who work very hard making a home for their children get upset when people say they don’t work. Maybe they don’t have a paying “job” but baby, they work!
To my way of thinking, a day job is something people go to, suffer the drudgery of, but get paid to endure. At the end of the day they do their level best to walk away from the “job.” I see it far more clearly now. It is what we do at the end of the school day to earn some cash. It’s what we do during and after college *before* we get to do the “real work” that we want to do. I believe everyone has something they were born to do. Sometimes, “jobs” become work. Sometimes “jobs” introduce us to our calling and that’s what I mean when I say “real work.” I base this on my faith bias, my belief that the Bible, one of my favorite books, is actually God’s word. In scripture, *Work* is a Creation Mandate, a gift of God before the fall of man. It is not part of the curse that comes after man’s fall; it is the joy of mankind using his abilities to his fullest that God calls work. The “work” of writing has always been with me. It is every day, all the time work. Like loving my family, it does not stop when the sun goes down.
A few months ago, our financial situation had me brushing up my resume. We have three kids in college. My husband and I discussed the possibility that I may need to get a “job.” I would very much rather work at something I love than have a “job” because I’ve been there before; going to a job to earn money to pay for food and rent. I know the ins and outs of working for someone else. Some jobs I had, I could not endure. Some, however, became work I enjoyed. Work I could do to make others successful and happy, too. Believe it or not, my “job” at a well known department/grocery store became work that delighted me and engaged me—but that was because of the people I worked with and the environment my bosses created. Even then, though, during my breaks and lunches, I was writing. Writing is my creation mandated work and I love it. This time around, I added author to my resume and I had such joy doing that! I could even list years when I worked at my writing. Talk about “job satisfaction”!
I began writing novels at sixteen. Up until that time, the government required attendance at public school. The positive side of public school: angst for writing. Oh yeah. From sixteen to eighteen, I wrote the Great American Science Fiction Novel. Unfortunately, it was fueled by my obsession with Star Trek, my desire to BE Captain Kirk and was 700 pages long. An epic tale, impossible to sell to anyone because of a little thing called “copyrights,” never mind that it was fan-fiction (a word I didn’t know at the time).
After that, I wrote eight original stories in the years from then until now. Each one a novel, each one as yet unpublished because I received one quite wonderful rejection slip in the mail and was so surprised at the kindness and wording that I now believe I became baffled as to what to do next. While baffled, I had babies—three of them. Though I kept writing, for that was the natural thing for me to do, I never quite managed to send out anymore work or find an agent.
As my children grew to adults, I spent less time on novels and more in online forums. It was a fast, easy and satisfying way to work at writing. The audience reaction I garnered gave instant satisfaction, but it was a distraction more than anything. In 2004 I met she-who-would-be my writing partner and we discovered the promised land of e-book publishing. She’s worked very hard at her short stories and novel. I’ve produced a single short story and a collection of poetry. A novel is my shiny new goal. I cannot tell you how excited I am; there are no words for it!
As a mother, I performed a host of “jobs” many mothers do: Seamstress, Chef, Chauffeur, Financial Manager, Purchasing Agent, Laundress, Sanitation Engineer, Guidance Counselor, Psychologist, Mechanic and Maintenance Authority, Painter, Carpenter, Builder and Chief Medical Officer to name a few. (Maybe I should add those to my resume?) While I’ve done many jobs, I like to say that I don’t have “a job.” What I have is work I love, a family I adore, and every aspect of what I do in one affects the other both positively and negatively at times. All, I believe, working together for the good of one who loves God and is called to a purpose by her Creator according to his plan.
Hmmm, how does my day job affect my writing? At this point in my life I am fortunate to be able to claim writing as my day job. My husband and I are empty-nesters, though we still have one daughter taking up space. We see her about as much as we see her siblings who don’t live at home. It’s pretty quiet around here now!
Most of my growing up was done away from the city, so I spent a lot of time on my own, mostly with books. My mom used to take me and my younger sister to the library, and we read stacks and stacks of books. I briefly romanticized about being a poet, but my poetry pretty much stinks, and I would rather have written it than read it. Some wonderful teachers in high school encouraged my writing—and I wrote a lot, though as a shy, awkward introvert, I kept most of it to myself.
After high school I got a job in a florist shop, then trained to become a solder technician at a high-tech communications company. Such different jobs! Such different people! Then I moved to the city, got a job at a book store, married, and started a family. With four little ones to guide, teach, cuddle and clean up after, my writing mostly fell to the wayside. Not completely, though! There is a photo of me sitting at an old Apple IIe computer with a screaming baby in my lap. Needless to say, screaming and writing didn’t work well together, and the squeaky wheels get oiled. I eventually got up the nerve to send some of my shorter works out, and I have a modest stack of rejection letters. I was thrilled when Marion Zimmer Bradley took the time to personally comment about a story—except her comments suggested that she hadn’t even read the piece!
I was blessed to be a Domestic Engineer for most of the kids-at-home time. What a fantastic, hands-on way to observe human development and interaction, eh? My husband and I managed apartments for a couple of years, and that was quite an eye-opening experience for me, not just for the “labor” involved, but about people we interacted with. I didn’t much enjoy the job at the time, but now I look back and laugh at the wonderful, bizarre, wildly divergent personalities and incidents we lived through, including a kidnapping, a hilarious Mutt-and-Jeff-looking couple, a single mom who posed for life drawing at the university and tried to hit on my husband, the couple who lived upstairs who inadvertently introduced me to Vangelis via their very nice stereo, and the fellow who lived downstairs and slept through setting his apartment on fire. (Not to fear, he was rescued unharmed by the intrepid firemen!) Fuel for my writing? You betcha. A job at the toy store introduced me to “the doll lady” (which was a little creepy, but sad). A commission to sew gowns—with a broken thumb!—for the ladies in a choir acquainted me with a lovely, warm gathering of mother hens. Working on family history turned up a few corkers and some humbling, inspirational, educational life stories. Church attendance and callings have kept me aware—and appreciative—of the Master’s hand in all we are and all we do. It exposes another glimmering facet of our existence and gives depth to the struggles and achievements we each go through.
All of these events have pulled me away from my writing to some degree, but at the same time they’ve enriched it, given me a broader perspective of people, and provided ideas for events and “human interest.” Frankly, I couldn’t write what I do without them.
(chalkboard image from decoratemylife.com)