Thursday, 29 September 2011

The arrogance of youth

o tempora, o mores...

First let me say if you are reading this, are young and not at all arrogant, this doesn't apply to you. But I bet you can recognise several of your friends. Also, if you're reading this, are not so young and very arrogant - well, welcome to the club.

This post has been inspired by a seventeen-year-old recent member of the Goodreads community. This person, who shall remain nameless save to say he goes by a shortened version of Shakespeare's first name, has apparently never encountered the concept of spellchecking. Neither has he discovered the shift key. Punctuation? Never heard of it.

R u stil wiv me? lmao.

That sort of language, in and of itself, is perhaps excusable. Maybe he missed many years of schooling due to some loathsome and socially embarrassing disease. Maybe he has an old keyboard and the shift key doesn't work. Or maybe he has merely fallen into bad and lazy habits while endlessly texting drivel about American Idol.

What is not excusable is that when it was pointed out to him, gently at first, more scathingly later, that in a group devoted to fiction writing and the improvement thereof, it behooved him to use such basic constructs as sentences; that it was impolite to pour out meaningless, illiterate drivel riddled with errors of spelling and syntax; that complete ideas are often possible even in the most difficult of circumstances; why, what was his reaction?

'i wrt how i wrt lol; lmao; its my ideers thast re impotent.'

When it was mentioned that asking a question like 'how do i publish an e book' showed an arrogant reluctance to do even the most basic of research for himself before asking other people to spend their time on him - same response.

A lazy, arrogant youth with, apparently, precious little to be arrogant about. Maybe he thinks he looks like Brad Pitt.

I have to say he is only the third example of such feckless idiocy I have encountered in three years as a Goodreads member. They generally are self-selected out when they realise it's a site devoted to books.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Why planning doesn't matter any more...

Do you like to plan things? I'm not restricting this to plotting before writing; I'm thinking in a wider, life-skill way.

Recent trends in business, industry and politics seem to me to have announced the death-knell of meticulous planning. Governments do whatever tabloid surveys suggest would be popular without working out consequences. Companies plough on with changes to structure and organization without thinking about the effect on quality of provision or the problems such changes will cause.

Oh, of course. Sorry. We don't have problems any more; we have challenges.

I can see several advantages to not having rigid plans for the future.
  • It's impossible to anticipate every eventuality. Your lovely plan may have to be changed or even scrapped very early on
  • Trying to cater for everything that could go wrong will ultimately lead to paralysis
  • Adaptability and flexibility are vital qualities everyone should possess
That doesn't mean you don't plan at all. You make your plans broad in scope, sketchy in detail. They will guide you along the right lines, satisfy the major thrust of your activity, help you stay on track.

While it's true, in military terms, that no plan survives first contact with the enemy, the armed forces still have plans to get them going in the first place. How to get in, what you do when you're there and how to get out; these are vital elements of every military plan. If they continue to plan, even though they know full well the plan is doomed to fail - shouldn't we do likewise?

Otherwise, we would live our lives like some demented character from a self-help book: 'Ready, fire, aim...'

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Experience not required?

There is a depressing trend, in many organizations in the UK, to put cost ahead of all other criteria when it comes to employing staff.

"Surely not!" I hear you cry. "Unbelievable!"

Believe it. I've seen it happening to a dear friend of mine this year. She is immensely talented, highly qualified, massively experienced, deeply committed and hugely successful at what she does. She also costs quite a bit per hour.

So she's being replaced by a new graduate willing to work for about half the salary. The fact the new graduate will not be legally or even mentally able to do half the things my friend did seems to be irrelevant. The need for these things still exists; that need won't be met unless the organization throws its (metaphorical) hands up in defeat and hires an outside consultant. Who will cost more ultimately than my friend ever did.

It's the underlying messages that worry me. Many employers seem to believe qualifications are more important than experience; that theory accurately reflects reality. This is delusional thinking. Basing decisions on faulty paradigms always leads to disaster.

It's also a subtle form of ageism. Someone with twenty-five years experience in a subject is going to be at least twenty-five years older than someone with no experience in that subject. Let's not forget, young people are willing to work for less than more mature people because they are less convinced of their own worth.

'Intern' is a fancy way of saying 'slave'.

An organization that makes its employment decisions based on cost rather than quality is an organization that is doomed. The demise may be a few years coming, because of the nature of the employment sector it's in, but doom is on its way. The sad thing is, the organization of which I write is only one of many, all of them doing the same thing. I foresee calamitous times ahead for us all.

Remember, you heard it here first.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Schedule your life

Yesterday, I wrote about the follies of organizing your life with absolutes - like I will write for six hours a day. What do you mean - you didn't read it? Go away and read it now.

Go on. I'll wait right here till you get back.

Done? OK, let's move on. We all agree that shit happens, and it happens all the time; usually it happens to us. So we need to take account of it in any planning or scheduling we do.That means allocating a large chunk of time where we do nothing. Most days, something unexpected will crop up and that time will get filled somehow. If nothing goes wrong, great; we have a couple of hours free time to do anything we like. Read, write, watch a sunset, drink a barrel of ale.

Here, in no particular order, are some other things to remember when creating a schedule.

  • Avoid averages. We may work 48 weeks/year, 37.5 hours/week, which equals 1800 hours, or an average of 5 hours/day. However, we don't work five hours/day on the days we go to work.What with actual work, and travelling to and from, most people have nine hours or more taken out of their life on workdays. Similarly, we don't work any hours at weekends or during holidays - at least not for our job. We may work for ourselves, but that's a different matter.
  • The converse of 'avoid averages' is 'be specific'. So do it. Be specific. Your schedule should reflect reality. If you leave for work at 7:55AM Monday-Thursday, that's what should be in the schedule.
  • Keep it real. If you've always had your evening meal at 19:00 hours, keep it like that. Why change anything you don't need to? You'll only upset yourself and those around you.
  • Avoid ideals. By that, I don't mean become a person of dubious morals. I mean you may approach an ideal state of being occasionally, but normally you're like the rest of us: flawed, weak and undependable. It may be your ideal to run half marathons before breakfast, avoid alcohol and eat a high-fibre five-a-day diet while paying your bills on time and never cheating the Government. It may be your ideal, but if you try and live it, you'll end up mugging some poor sod for his bacon sandwich.You know yourself. You know you'll never do what you'd like to do. You can, however, do something towards it.
  • Think small. Never mind exercising for two hours a day. Start with fifteen minutes a few times a week.
  • Symmetry is great. Don't distort your random life trying to achieve it.
 I'll share my schedule with you now, and explain why I chose various options. It's a good schedule. It's good because it can be done and I can stick to it.


But if all you're doing is creating new stuff for two hours every evening, when does the editing and proofing and so on get done?

Good question. Notice that schedule is weekdays. At weekends, I work for 8 hours on Saturday and 4 hours on Sunday. That's the rewrites, line edits, proofreading and so on. So it's about 24 hours per week in total during term time. During the 13 weeks of holidays, I'm writing or editing for about 40 hours per week.So, in my nice relaxed way, I'm still managing as much time writing per year as I am doing paid work for other people.

Which is nice.

Notice the work/life balance? I'm in bed for eight hours a day, working for eight, and having eight to myself - writing, eating, exercising, chilling out. Better than a busy-busy-busy timetable, don't you think?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Think small

Traditionally, motivational gurus and self-help enthusiasts encourage us to think big. 'Dream on a grand scale' they advise us, and 'reach for the stars'. They pour scorn on the old advice not to set your sights too high.

But are they right? If you set high standards and challenging targets, do you risk overwhelming yourself before you even get started?

I think so. Let's consider a typical person developing a new daily schedule to fit in all the things they want to do, in addition to all the things they need to do. Let's even assume they have the luxury that all these things actually fit into a standard twenty-four hour day. The alternative involves emigration to a planet with a slower rotational period.

Wow! I have an entire four hours a day free. Well, I've long been meaning to start an exercise programme that'll convert me from a couch potato to an Olympic athlete in two years, so that's two hours a day. That leaves two hours per day for writing.

Two hours? That's not very much, is it? You won't be producing two books, two screenplays and twelve short stories a year just by writing two hours a day, will you?  

You're right. OK, let's see if we can't economise a bit. I can cycle to work, which is as quick as using the car and takes care of the exercise as well. And no-one really needs to sleep for eight hours; six would be fine.That gives us six hours a day free to write.

That's more like it. Six hours a day is about 6000 words. Assume we take Christmas day, New Year's day, two birthdays and the summer solstice off, that's 360 days a year times 6000 equals 2.1 million words. Also assume that you have to write about 360,000 words to produce a finished standard novel, 100,000 for a finished screenplay and about half a million for the short stories, blogs and everything else: that means we can produce our two books, two screenplays, twelve short stories, our weekly blog and still have time for our new mammoth epic fantasy series, one giant volume per year!  Sorted!

Great. I'll just produce the daily schedule now...

Yeah, right. I'm sure many of us have devised schedules like that. I know I have.

Guess what?

It won't work. Ever. Oh, you might be able to stick to it for a few days, with a Herculean effort of willpower, but it's unsustainable for medium or long periods. Worse, it will leave you with a learned aversion to cycling and writing which may last for the rest of your life.

So what's the matter with the schedule? 

Let's take a typical day. It's winter. You really want to leap out of bed at five to write for a couple of hours, don't you? It's cold and dark and wet outside, and it's not too sparkling inside. But no, you do it. Well done you! Except it won't be two hours writing, because it takes a small but measurable length of time to get up, get dressed and switch on the PC. So, it's about 1 hour 50 minutes. Already you are ten minutes adrift.

You can wash, dress, cook and eat your breakfast in an hour, so that's OK. You pull on the wet weather gear and cycle off to work. In the rain, into the headwind; with the lorries throwing icy, muddy spray in your face as they thunder past with an inch to spare.

You get to work. It's chaos. Network systems have failed and major new orders have to be filled. You have to work through your lunch break and stay until six in the evening to get things done. Cycle home, picking up a puncture on the way.

Now it's official. You're knackered. You need to eat, your wife is getting dressed up, there's a bill to pay and already it's way past seven. The upstairs tap is dripping, your better half expects you to go out with her to that party you were told about a month ago and you're getting a stinking cold.

Looks like there'll be no writing tonight, unless you stay up till three in the morning. If you do that, you'll have two hours sleep before it starts all over again. Your wife wants to snuggle in bed and if you refuse yet again, you'll end up with pneumonia, divorced and sacked because you keep falling asleep at work.

I know, because I've been down that route, if not all the way.

Next time, I'll share how I now produce a schedule that has a good chance of working, but for now, remember this: shit happens. In fact, shit happens daily.

You need to have periods of time that are actually left free to accomodate these unexpected little crises. You need to allow time for snuggling with your nearest and dearest. You need time to read and watch films and TV dramas to analyse how other writers handle things well (or badly). You need to get enough sleep.

Oh, and two hours writing a day? That's what Stephen King does, and he seems to have produced a fair amount over the years.