Welcome to the Historical Fiction Online forums: a friendly place to discuss, review and discover historical fiction.
If this is your first visit, please be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above.
You will have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed.
To start viewing posts, select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below.

The Day Job and the Craft

Got a question/comment about the creative process of writing? Post it here!
User avatar
Richard
Reader
Posts: 96
Joined: February 2009
Location: Albany, NY
Contact:

The Day Job and the Craft

Post by Richard » Thu February 26th, 2009, 2:07 pm

I bet that few if any of the writers here graduated school and immediately sold a best-selling book. We all have, or had, "day jobs" as the jazz men used to call it. Mine has helped my writing, and vice versa. I thought it might be interesting to share those experiences.

I wrote a lot in high school, but I was also into science. Realizing that very few professional writers these days dabble in engineering on the side, I decided to go to engineering school and make that my primary career.

As an engineer I learned how to do research and, once I started patenting, make a living off of intellectual property. My job has taught me how to be very efficient in gathering and synthesizing information from a variety of sources and turning it into a creative product. So, when I sat down to write historical fiction, I already knew how to find the information I needed and use it. Also, living in the corporate world I understand a bit about marketing and what it takes to sell a product. I already have a suit and am quite comfortable in it.

Now the flip side. My business writing has become much more efficient. I often make research proposals to internal and external funding sources. It's just like writing a query letter, only easier since it's more than one page and the recipient always reads the whole thing! Also writing has taught me to be a ruthless editor. Last month my boss gave me an assignment, to put together a very important powerpoint presentation to a big customer. I had to gather the information from about a dozen people and cut the text by about 80% to make a presentation for senior executives in easily digested bullet points. After going through the pain of cutting a 120,000 word first draft to a sub-100k word page-turner, that was easy!

I'm very curious about the experiences of the lawyer-writers, mom-writers, truck driver-writers, doctor-writers, etc. out there in HFO-land.
How did an 800-year-old headless corpse transform Venice from a backwater
into the greatest sea-empire of the early Middle Ages? Find out at,
Image

User avatar
Volgadon
Compulsive Reader
Posts: 654
Joined: September 2008
Location: Israel
Contact:

Post by Volgadon » Thu February 26th, 2009, 2:32 pm

I worked in a cannery (veggies no fish thankfully) for a few months and when I had a spare moment, I would write, but the real advantages were in getting to know people, especially Arabs. That is invaluable, knowing people of differing backgrounds, I mean.
My second job involved getting people to pick up a copy of a magazine in English at a baptismal site on the Jordan River. As it wasn't high season I had a lot of free time. Got a lot of writing and a lot of research accomplished, as well as meeting people from all over the world. Anthropology students would have been in heaven, watching the various rituals. Fascinating stuff, but was laid off a couple of weeks ago. So now I have even more time (bitter laugh).
I am taking a tour guide course next year and that will be invaluable because you have to learn how to bring the past alive!
We have a lot of friends and acquantainces come over on visits so I often show them around, so while not a day job is very helpful.
Last edited by Volgadon on Thu February 26th, 2009, 2:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
boswellbaxter
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 3066
Joined: August 2008
Location: North Carolina
Contact:

Post by boswellbaxter » Thu February 26th, 2009, 2:32 pm

My day job involves summarizing legal cases, and requires me to adhere to strict word limits. Since I can't waste any words, I think it's helped me make my historical fiction more concise. (On the other hand, sometimes I tend to forget I can expand a little.)

I have a law degree, and training as a lawyer is excellent training for writing historical fiction. You're expected to weigh all sides of an issue and to anticipate your opponent's arguments, which helps a great deal in doing research and in creating characters who aren't all good or all bad, but who have shades of gray to them.
Susan Higginbotham
Coming in October: The Woodvilles


http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/
http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/blog/

User avatar
Volgadon
Compulsive Reader
Posts: 654
Joined: September 2008
Location: Israel
Contact:

Post by Volgadon » Thu February 26th, 2009, 5:46 pm

Something else about touring people around is that everybody has different questions, so you begin to look at things in new ways. So how did they lock the doors on those houses, stuff like that.

User avatar
LoveHistory
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 3751
Joined: September 2008
Location: Wisconsin, USA
Contact:

Post by LoveHistory » Fri February 27th, 2009, 8:18 pm

I wrote the bulk of my first novel before my boys' autism was obvious. Life was easier then. My husband was also in much better health.

As for past experience...I had one job waiting tables (and cleaning, and cooking, and washing dishes, and stocking), an extensive singing background, a brother with cancer and subsequent brain-damage, trained dogs, raised pigs, designed evening gowns, squabbled with siblings, did some theater, and read a lot. Plus I payed attention when my parents were talking to me, so I picked up a lot that most kids might have ignored.

Never finished college, though I did enjoy it.

My writing now consits mainly of adding a few paragraphs now and then. Most of my time is taken up with family, but my hyperactive brain continues plotting in the midst of sweeping, and helping with homework.

User avatar
EC2
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 3661
Joined: August 2008
Location: Nottingham UK
Contact:

Post by EC2 » Fri February 27th, 2009, 10:40 pm

My first conscious memory of telling myself a story with a beginning, middle and end was at 3 years old. I made up stories and told them to myself verbally throughout my childhood and teens and wrote my first novel when I was 15 - a 500 page historical set in the Holy Land. I decided that I was going to do this for a living and applied myself. In the meantime I left school, worked in shops, filled supermarket shelves, got married, had kids, but all the time kept plugging away at the writing. To me it was as natural as breathing. I'd always told stories and I was determined to get there.
I was filling shelves at night in a supermarket to make ends meet when I got the call from a literary agent to whom I'd send the first three chapters and a synopsis of my latest effort. Since then, it has become my full time career. It took me 17 years to get there and even longer to actually earn a decent living from it. It's a very precarious industry with far too much product chasing far too few publishing slots and no guarantee of income or stability!
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

User avatar
LoveHistory
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 3751
Joined: September 2008
Location: Wisconsin, USA
Contact:

Post by LoveHistory » Sat February 28th, 2009, 10:26 pm

EC, that reminds me of a line from a movie: (about acting)

Her: Isn't that a pretty insecure profession?

Him: Only financially.

User avatar
Divia
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 4435
Joined: August 2008
Location: Always Cloudy, Central New York

Post by Divia » Sat February 28th, 2009, 11:20 pm

Being a YA librarian def gives me a unique perspective on whats hot in the YA field. I"m starting to wonder if thats not where I should lean. I read more YA books than I do adult books. I also review YA books on my blogs.

I have to say the stress of this year has made writing nearly impossible, but I do have 3 first drafts done. Two YA and one adult book.
News, views, and reviews on books and graphic novels for young adult.
http://yabookmarks.blogspot.com/

User avatar
Richard
Reader
Posts: 96
Joined: February 2009
Location: Albany, NY
Contact:

Post by Richard » Sat February 28th, 2009, 11:35 pm

Wow, Divia! Three books is impressive, especially with that schedule. My wife is an adult reference librarian here in Albany, so I very much respect the librarian mojo for writing. I could not have written my book without her help.
How did an 800-year-old headless corpse transform Venice from a backwater
into the greatest sea-empire of the early Middle Ages? Find out at,
Image

User avatar
MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 3562
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sun March 1st, 2009, 12:00 am

Ah, the day job -- it seems now I have one again. Watching my granddaughter, which does not mesh as well with writing as I had hoped. (Not even posting of forums.) Worth it, though.

I have always written things and told stories. The only childhood Christmas present I can still remember was a used Underwood typewriter. The kind with round keys. As an early Trekkie, I actually re-wrote half the scripts to suit my juvenile taste.

When I was in college, I must admit (not to my credit) that I made the grocery bill writing other student's papers. Although I made them do the research -- I just organized the material into legible form. Sort of 'ghosting'. It was on the edge of the ethical line, but I had to eat...

During my stint in the Coast Guard, I collected character sketches while keeping my writing skills undercover. The wise answer to the question "Can you type?" was to hold up two index fingers and shrug sadly. That way, the CO let me get on with fixing obsolete radars instead of filling out stockroom forms.

And then came my six-year 'career' as a professional student on the GI bill while dealing with one-two-three babies and two stepchildren. Writing papers saved my academic butt, since babies' needs seriously cut into my class time. Now with only one to manage a mere forty hours a week, I look back and wonder how on earth I survived.

Free-lance home design was my next 'day job'. Then came the llamas, and I had to write a book on valuation just to convince the bank to give us a livestock loan. That book led to a short stint as a buyer for some big ranches on the East coast, but it sucked too much time away from the family.

Then a friend turned her home into a shelter for women and children and drafted everybody she could persuade to help. I ended up staffing, counseling, and writing up the guests' court cases (no training, just seat-of-the-pants research). And appeal letters. A ministry is always on the verge of shutting down or not paying the staff. You have to tell a story that works in one page or less. You know if it worked fir the audience if enough checks come in. Oh, and it has to be true. That limits your creativity.

Grant-writing allows for a little more fiction, since you get to indulge in rosy conjecture about how you will spend the money you are begging for.

All this while the llama business morphed from raising to training to taking groups on trips. Storytelling becomes a matter of survival when you have a bunch of Teen Challenge boys in a recovery program out in the wilderness.

Sometime in there, our own home became an informal long-term transition home for aforementioned shelter. More court cases, more grant applications. No fundraising. After all, we owned the house. After seven years of that, the place needed an overhaul and we switched to putting up interns doing postgrad work at the local science facility. They are quiet and pleasant, about half from other counties, and they all have security clearances. An easy way to fill the extra bedrooms. So I suppose that is my other 'day job', unless you want to add raising a couple litters of dogs. And I still design a remodel now and then. Plus I get hired as a speaker several times a year, mostly llama topics, although of late the Renaissance has provided some variance.

Mostly, I write. The house is almost paid off, the kids are launched, and the dh says I have earned it. If I could only get the granddaughter to agree!
Last edited by MLE (Emily Cotton) on Sun March 1st, 2009, 12:02 am, edited 1 time in total.

Post Reply

Return to “The Craft of Writing”