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Archive for the ‘work’ Category

I’ve been made redundant. It wasn’t really a great surprise. Business was bad and not getting any better. We were not meant to be– you were a stressful, extremely detailed and socially-orientated job that required a great deal of mental exertion simply to get through the day, and I am an introverted, slightly warped nutcase. Given how unhappy I was in the job it’s not a tragedy, but it is rather inconvenient. Still, I’ve left a good working relationship behind, which is important considering how difficult it’ll be to find another job. Finding another job in publishing? Forget it.

My fairly chipper outlook on the situation has faltered a little now that my week of ‘holiday’ has passed and I’ve actually begun the soul-destroying process of updating the CV, looking for jobs, tweaking the CV, applying for jobs, contacting temp agencies, and wondering if I am ever going to find work again. The initial feeling of freedom has given way to stark reality: freelance work is hard to find, and without any contacts will probably be impossible. I have no qualification beyond my degrees and my skill with words, and let’s be honest: loads of people think they are write good. The last job was proof of that.

Again, as when I came back from my period of exile, I must face the possibility of leaving Brighton (over my dead body). I alternate between reminding myself that I found a pretty good gig during the worst time of year to look for work and thinking I will never find another job, oh god, will end up destitute on the street with a sign saying ‘WILL EDIT FOR FOOD.’ To be sure, the job listings in this area are scarce, unless I consider unpaid work a job (I don’t). I will stop myself going on a rant, but suffice to say if you won’t pay someone at least minimum wage to do work for you, I don’t think you deserve their labour. End of.

Anyway, one of the toughest things about being unemployed is finding a way to structure my days. A 9 to 5 gig may monopolise your time and make it difficult to do anything at the end of a day, but it does get you out of bed in the morning. What I need is a reason to get up. Something to be excited about. I’ve been thinking about what it would take to start my own publishing cooperative. I’m trying to think of this blank space as an opportunity to do something different. If only I knew what.

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Everything changes when someone you love dies. Everything is wrong. The unfairness and impersonality of the world become, for a little while, completely irrefutable, and you are left without words. Nothing will suffice. Solemnity feels self-indulgent but gaiety seems frivolous. There is nothing you can do or say or feel that is right. Everything is wrong.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.

Genuine grief makes self-pity look like the pale shadow that it is. There’s no guilt in this revelation, either– just the knowledge that life and love and work and happiness and anything that means anything does not emerge from a cowering anxiety about everything. Death reasserts your priorities.

I’ve lost someone that I love very much. It hurts. And I would slap anyone who said this to me, but it has made me realise that no matter how awful things are, I still have my life. I can still make words, and it is time that I stopped making excuses.

I have to be honest. I have to face the things I try to look away from when I write. I am not invisible. Who I am will emerge in every word I type onto a screen or write onto a piece of paper, and what I have to do, what I must do, is stop fucking apologising for it. It’s a stupid way to write. It’s a stupid way to live. It’s not productive. It’s not meaningful. What could be more tedious than a work that constantly apologises for its own existence? What could be more tiresome than a person who does the same thing?

There is nothing respectable about insecurity. There is nothing admirable about guilt. You can’t pre-empt everything, and it is a pernicious exercise in self-defeat to even try. Stop it, cut it out, and knock it the fuck off. Life’s too short for this shit.

Filing this under ‘advice to myself.’

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I don’t believe in writer’s block. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because, no matter how badly a story is going, I can usually write something, even if it’s just stream-of-consciousness nonsense. The problem, of course, is that I have specific things that I do want to write.

I have three novels in rewrites. Three. All of them roughly finished, but in need of considerable work to make them saleable. I’ve got to finish something, got to polish it, got to get it in good enough shape to send it off to an agent. Tempus fugit. I am ever more aware of the march of time, the lateral movement of my career (such as it is), and the fact that this year I will be 30.

There’s nothing wrong with being 30. I’m not really worried about it, except that I had always sort of thought that by then, I’d have a book published. And I don’t. Not yet. It’s partly an issue of time– not having enough of it to really throw myself into work because of that pesky day job. It’s partly an issue of capability. I just don’t know how to fix some of the things I’m working on, and at this point, I don’t have the luxury of putting them aside indefinitely. I have a deadline.

But everything seems to have ground to a halt. When I sit down to try to work on something, there is only a void where ideas should be. Nothing comes. And I’m aware that the more I worry about it, the more pressure I put on myself and the less likely I am to come up with anything. But time is flying while I’m flailing about. I can’t work dead-end jobs for the rest of my life. I can’t relegate writing to a hobby, something I do in my spare time, because it’s just too damn important. So what do I do?

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It’s important to read in the genre you’re working in and to be aware of what’s influencing you, for one really good reason: you never know who you might be ripping off.

Someone told me recently that something I’m working on reminded them of Raymond Chandler. I’d never read Raymond Chandler, so this seemed odd to me. I started reading one, and I’ll be damned if there weren’t some downright spooky resonances.

I’ve consumed three Chandler books almost right in a row. And I love them, if only for passages like this:

The other part of of me wanted to get out and stay out, but this was the part I never listened to. Because if I ever had I would have stayed in the town where I was born and worked in the hardware store and married the boss’s daughter and had five kids and read them the funny paper on Sunday morning and smacked their heads when they got out of line and squabbled with the wife about how much spending money they were to get an what programmes they could have on the radio or TV set. I might even have got rich– small-town rich, an eight-room house, two cars in the garage, chicken every Sunday, and the Reader’s Digest on the living room table, the wife with a cast-iron permanent and me with a brain like a sack of Portland cement. You take it, friend. I’ll take the big, sordid, dirty, crooked city.

— The Long Goodbye

I have a weak spot for authors who both amuse me and reach down into the back of my brain and pull out the things that I’m most afraid of. To hell with serial killers and zombies, I’m scared of stagnant small towns and feeling trapped. Maybe that’s why I’ve always liked Stephen King so much: most of his horror stories are set in sleepy Maine towns populated by the sort of people I remember from my childhood. I’ve never actually thought about that before. I think King even says at one point that what is scary is not monsters under the bed but the monsters that lurk inside other people.

What I admire about Raymond Chandler (sometimes in stark contrast to Stephen King) is his ability to use a few words to their maximum. There isn’t a wasted word in a Chandler novel, even when he’s using odd similes and metaphors to describe people and feelings. Somehow Chandler manages to make phrases like “purring like four tigers after dinner”* work, whereas authors like Leslie Charteris tend to just sound silly. (The incessant descriptions of how charming and handsome his hero is really don’t help.)

So, lessons learned. Read. Be aware of what’s influencing you so that you can manage that influence. And: it is a good and necessary thing to show your work to the right people. Terrifying, but necessary. An intelligent and interested reader will point out things you didn’t notice with your nose up next to the words. They will sometimes force you to do a lot of rewriting, but that’s the price of making a good story.

 

*Tigers don’t actually purr.

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That’s right, I’m officially employed, so I’m officially one of those evil immigrants who comes into Britain and takes jobs away from hard-working put-upon English people. Now that my dissertation is handed in (thank god), this means two things: I have a source of income, and I spend half my day commuting. I’ve started taking the bus because it’s cheaper than the train, so my commute, from my house to my job, officially takes two hours. Which is ridiculous. A quarter of my waking day is spent on buses.

Of course, my job also means that I get to handle books. Lots of them. Old books. Books that are fifty, a hundred, TWO HUNDRED years old. It’s awesome. Except for the part where it’s a bit tedious. At some point in the near future I will post about the weird, funny, and disturbing things I run across, like the book of limericks that featured a naked man on the front with a huge flower growing up between his legs. They were THOSE kind of limericks.

One of the (few) perks is that I get to take home the books that we throw out. I have a growing stack next to my desk, and I now officially own three different versions of Brideshead Revisited. I’m not letting myself take anything else home until after I move house.

The quasi-direct result of this is that I’m starting to read again (usually on aforementioned bus). Yesterday was Hannibal Rising, the hilariously ridiculous origin story of the world’s most urbane mass murderer, Hannibal Lecter. Thomas Harris’s books are a guilty pleasure of mine. They’re ridiculous, but this one was entertaining enough to keep me up until midnight finishing it. I’ve read Hannibal several times. I think I was the only person who actually liked the (again, ridiculous) ending.

Now it’s Vintage Wodehouse, which has made me laugh out loud several times. Mostly the joke about how it’s a Russian sport to try to assassinate Lenin with revolvers.

And reading always takes me to writing. I haven’t written anything in a while that wasn’t related to my dissertation, and I feel the need to… something that rhymes with ‘need.’ The need to screed? Anyway. Once I’ve recovered from this exhausting week, I’m going to get back on the wagon and work on a couple of things I have sitting around. It’s amazing how taking time away from a piece can clarify things.

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