Advice for the new person

Sitting at my desk this morning, while herding two crazy dogs and trying to type up an important email, I accidentally upended a very necessary cup of coffee right down my front. I giggled at the memory of someone telling me that my chosen career was, and I quote, “glamorous”.

This is what people think — that I sit down at this desk every day and conjure up some eloquent muse who directs my fingers to “put this word here”, “write about the stars” or some other fart-busting, yet angelic, thing to do. The romanticisation of writing as a career is, I’m sorry, hilarious. This is it, right here:

A deadline is a deadline is a deadline
That means that, no matter what, you need to meet it. This is why the “surprise teas because you work from home” aggravate us. This is why we can’t “just pop out for a quick lunch with the gals” and, honey, our deadlines are — for 99% of the time — not set by us. While we may work from home, set our schedules and the like, we don’t have a boss to answer to. Yay! Except we do have to answer to ourselves, and to our clients. Think of it this way — you have one boss or manager to answer to, and on any given month, I may have ten clients who need my answers. This creates the unique situation whereby — I have ten bosses. You’ll probably pull — at least a few — all-nighters and, if you don’t, well, you’ll never know the beauty of watching sunrise happen while you’re still trying to find a really useful synonym for “obtuse”.

Just add creativity and stir
You are required to be instantaneously creative, all the time, every day. You will need to ferret out a hook, a line but hopefully, no sinker. Those things that sink you will be self-doubt and a lack of curiosity — more on that, later. Now, every single person has a bad day — a drudge day — whatever you want to call it. Your bad days can’t count, and they can’t affect the work you do. It is also exceedingly difficult to be creative over something you either know nothing about, or don’t really care for, but you will have to be.

Curiosity cannot kill you
Your sense of curiosity needs to be piqued 24/7. Yes, all the time. Here’s what always shocks people when they choose to “become a writer” — a lot of the time, you don’t get to choose what you write about. This can be disheartening to a newbie, but it’s part and parcel of the job. It’s the path you need to travel to become good at what you do. But, it’s for this reason that I like niches, although… we also have to go way beyond our niches. With the right kind of push, great clients and good mentorship, you can and do stretch beyond your niche. I started out thinking I was a “parenting” and “health” writer, but nowadays I’m more “technology” and “finance” because they’re actually something I really enjoy and have learnt a lot about. You will never, ever, ever stop learning, because you have to do it all the time.

Consumed by subject
But you’re not just learning about something when you write about it. No, you’ll need to be consumed by it. My friend and a magnificent mentor once called it akin to “creating artisan bacon”. You’ll need to be consumed by the subject, obsessed with the words you create around it and dedicated to a polished outcome. If you’re not those three things, trust me, it will show. Oh, and you’ll research a topic until it is absolutely the only thing you can think about. Page 25 of Google Search Results? That’s where you live.

Criticism
This is the thing about creative industries — from performing arts to wordsmithery — you will be criticised. And, while it may take you a while to get there — you’ll need to learn the difference between criticism and feedback. Divvying up the two is really hard at first, because everything feels personal. Remember how I told you that you would need to be consumed by the subject? Well, guess what? Now you need to detach from it and look at the work you’ve created, from an objective standpoint, just so you can understand where and how you could’ve done better. That’s feedback. When it comes to criticism though, you’ll learn to choose which ones you listen to, and which ones you don’t. Here’s a tip — nobody who likes you, loves you or calls you a friend will ever be your biggest, most appropriate or useful critic. Sorry. Also, Facebook likes or positive comments are very sweet, but they are also just pandering to your ego. You’ll need to keep that in check though, because…

You are only as good as the last thing you wrote
Some people sing a hit pop song; have it rock the Christmas charts and everyone buys their album and discovers that everything on that album — barring the one hit wonder — is complete trash. No matter though because, chances are, they can live comfortably off the royalties of their one hit for the rest of their lives. This is not your future, sorry. You are only as good as the last thing you wrote and, in a world where instant publishing, immediate reading and time-dependent creation are a must… you’re probably going to bomb quite a few times. And you’ll bomb hard.

New things beckon
You will never stop looking for new things to do though, and that’s a great source of redemption. While you feel you might’ve failed at X job, you get the chance (if you work hard enough and haven’t given up by now), to give it your all on Y job. Once you’ve created and curated that sense of curiosity, you will never stop looking for new things. Thank goodness, because you’d be bored otherwise. And if there’s one thing a creative person should not be — it’s uninterested. Why? Because you will spiral, very quickly, downwards, from there. Your work quality will bottom out, your passion will wither and, suddenly, doing the crossword will seem like a gargantuan task you can’t be bothered with.

You don’t have to write a book
If I had a Rand for every time someone told me “you should write a book!” I would not have to work ever again. Here’s the thing — (1) Book deals don’t just plop past your desk on their way to the spa for a manicure; (2) Book deals are not a guarantee of wealth, never mind income and 3) Not everybody who writes, wants to write a book. Some of us have zero desire to write a book, and that’s somewhat underpinned by the existence of reasons (1) and (2).

Knowing your worth and your place
Starting out, you will write about anything and everything people will trust you with. You’ll be grateful for this, and enjoy it because it is experience and income. Eventually though, you’ll realise that you are good at some things, not so good at other things and downright terrible at even more other things. Like, I can’t write radio scripts (which is embarrassing as all hell for me because, guess what? My dad had a career as a scriptwriter once). The only way you’ll figure this stuff out though is if you try it. I wish for you a really good mentor and an abundance of opportunities to fail, because you’ll learn more from failures than you will from being congratulated on creating a “good” piece of writing. You will come to the point where you know your worth, and your place. And once you do, you’ll work even harder to expand that place. Just a warning though — this will make you feel like you want to shrivel up and disappear, often. That’s okay. But it is hard.

So, while I sit here in my coffee stained top, writing this out, I giggle again at the ‘glamorous’ appearance this chosen career seems to have. Anyone for coffee?

Also published here.

life is… the great editor.

I’ve just finished off my work for the week and am settling down for a little quiet night to myself. But, maybe, just for a minute, I’d like to just write, just for me.

While I was working this evening, I came across my dad’s name while searching for something online. It surprised me (it shouldn’t), it catapulted my heart into the ceiling, and I ended up doing the crysmilesoblaugh that my family members are so very well known for (When we’re happy, we cry. When we’re pissed off, we laugh. When we are many things, all at the same time, we do the crysmilesoblaugh and occasionally stomp our feet). It felt weirdly comforting, for so many reasons.

But it got me thinking. I write. It is what I do, and I don’t think I can do much else with as much glee or intent. The hardest part of writing, though, lies in the editing. So, yes, all you funny people who email me “lyk dis, becuz you wanna be a riter becuz it luks eezi and i am gud at it” (THESE PEOPLE EXIST GUYS!), I’m certain you have some talent, somewhere. But it’s not your writing I’m ever going to look at. I’m probably going to look at where you edited yourself, if you did. Trust me, it shows.

But while I’m here, thinking about writing, editing and all the little nitpicky things I bang on about every day (see Twitter for rants), I realise…I’m not the final editor of my life. Heck, everyone gets edited. And subedited. And then edited again.

I absolutely can create the best story I can. I can fill it with ideas, activities and colour. I can stock it with daytime naps and dreamy sex, love and friendship. I can commit to composing stories that riddle together like cheese on toast and I can depict as much of my story as I want to.  I can edit and sub and scratch out, backspace and delete as much as possible but, I am not the final editor.

Life. Life is the final editor. She’s the one that injects the surprise twists in the tale, kills off characters and gives new ones a grand entrance into the plot. Life is the one that leaps the story ahead when you least expect it and forces you to pore over each word of a sad scene, over and over again. She’s the one that takes the story, shakes it up or she lets it glide along for a chapter or two.

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i found my dad through my work tonight.

So when I found my dad through my work tonight, I remembered. I’m in a stage of my life now where I *know* he’d enjoy it so intensely. Not just as a grandparent, not just as my dad. But as my greatest sounding board. I wish for him, when I have to edit my own work (which is, lovely reader, all the time). I wish for him when I need a question answered and I want someone to explore a peripheral idea with me. I wish for him, because he’d understand the nuances I want to explore. I want to call him up, fight with him over a sentence I love and he hates, have us slam the phone down on each other in frustration and then laugh about it all again the next morning.

I remembered, all too strangely tonight, of the days I’d work away at essays for University, and he’d edit me. I giggled to myself over how I would secretly send him articles I wrote for my first “proper” corporate job, and he’d edit them, and then send them back to me, so that my boss would receive beautiful work, each time (I was a silly 22 year old then, and mostly insecure about everything). I want to juggle angles on stories with him, and find a little hook to hang my coat of words on.

But I can’t do those things anymore. I haven’t been able to for nearly 9 years now. I’ve had to learn to find his voice within myself, and use the critical but kind guidance to cross out lines that don’t work. Sometimes I can’t find him, and I want to throw my hands in the air and scream: “It’s shit! It’s all shit! I should go be an accountant or something!”

I can’t do that either though, so I must pummel through and keep looking for his guidance somewhere, for life is the great editor and she, she needed me, my siblings and my mom, then, to start writing our own stories.

Just like all editing that happens though, if you look really carefully, you’ll still find the remnants of the original story. That punchy word, that funny little phrase or the great perspective that makes you think long after you’ve finished reading. So it’s that, that is my rebellion against life. Even though she edited my dad out of this world, I can still find him, somewhere, in my words, in my work, somewhere in my head.

You might be the great editor, Life, but I am still the one who writes this story. My dad taught me that.

 

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I miss him every day.

 

last night

last night i sat down, and for the first time in years, wrote a letter by hand.

i realise this morning, that it needs some serious editing (and deciphering – gah, my handwriting is atrocious), but the important point here is that i had forgotten how liberating and good it is to write by hand.

somehow, it just makes it a little more me.

says she sitting behind her laptop, typing out this blogpost.

i heart sweets

Dear Sweets

i heart you. i stalk you daily, in fact, but you don’t know and then today you say:

“why isn’t the whole world reading your blog, seriously????”

and i guess the inner narcissist within in me says

“because people are dumb”

thank you darling

as for the rest of you, visit Sweets NOW or else i will throw my stapler, shoes and a banana at you. (i have phenomenally good aim when irked, trust me on this score)

Oh, and I’ll make you sit in on all my meetings that i have to go to AND I’ll make you do karaoke with me. (trust me, i’m bad)

(btw, sweets, the name of your blog is actually one of my fave sayings. SWEET ASS is the way forward!)

reason 5749750934 why i love south africa

thanks matt. this is me ‘stealing your idea’ pah. AND i’m giving you props too. sheesh. sometimes… smirk.
in fact, i’m just gonna copy and paste the conversation. it’s just a whole lot easier:

zmatt says:
Pretty comes tomorrow

Cath says:
wah.

Cath says:
HER NAME IS PRETTY

zmatt says:
yes !

Cath says:
(dead)

zmatt says:
and she’s an amazon

zmatt says:
huge !

Cath says:
WAH

Cath says:
dont worry

Cath says:
i went to school with a girl called virginity

Cath says:
she had three kids by the time we finished school

zmatt says:
i saw a guy on tv once…he was a witness to a murder

zmatt says:
his name was evidence

zmatt says:
i shit you not

Cath says:
WAH

Cath says:
slays me

Cath says:
anne saw another the other day

Cath says:
shit was what is it

Cath says:
YES thats it

Cath says:
Modify

Cath says:
his name was Modify

Cath says:
and theres a guy who works for special assignment

Cath says:
His name is

Cath says:
Godknows

Cath says:
I shit you not

zmatt says:
whahahaha

zmatt says:
i am going to write a “book” starting today sometime (maybe)

zmatt says:
on all the random shit in my brain

zmatt says:
so i don’t forget it.

Cath says:
thats why i blog