Writer with a Day Job by Aine Greaney

writer with a day job book cover

One of the biggest hot button issues among writers–a constant battle for us–seems to be the never-ending and elusive struggle to find a work-life balance and manage our own writing while working a 9-to-5. Granted, some writers work retail or service industry jobs to earn a living and support themselves and, in most cases, their family–not all writers have what is traditionally considered a career in a corporate environment. Many writers have a string of odd jobs and go from temping to semi-permanent positions. The point is, we all have different ways of going about it, but most of us have realized and accepted that it’s unrealistic to expect that our book sales (or projected book sales in the case of yet-to-be-published writers) are going to afford us the ability to quit our full-time jobs and just write for a living. Many writers, especially those who are fortunate to be full-time writers, have pointed out over the years that they are among the lucky few and not the majority, and that writers need to reconcile themselves to the fact that they will need to keep those day jobs.

A few months ago, frustrated with my inability to a) find a set writing time that worked for me and fit into my schedule and get over what I thought had to be the worst case of writer’s block I’ve ever had, and b) choose a consistent place in which to get writing done, I turned to the web for support on other writer blogs and fora, and while I did find helpful articles with some helpful tips, they weren’t things that I could actively implement, so I reacted with much delight when I found out about the book Writer with a Day Job by Aine Greaney, which contains helpful exercises, chapters devoted to tips on if you’re a morning writer as well as if you’re a nighttime writer, and Aine offers actual, implementable solutions both to common quandaries, as well as responses to common excuses that writers make for why they can’t write, including exhaustion, family commitments and obligations, etc.

She also suggests that writers get into the habit of keeping a daily journal, not so much in the sense of “Dear diary, Shirley that biatch in accounting was so rude to me today. Argh!” But more along the lines of “So, I’ve been considering the scene in Chapter 5 when Amanda and Rick uncover the Bateman dossier and make some starting discoveries. What if…” which I think is infinitely useful, and if you’re struggling for ideas or aren’t sure what to write about, she has some prompts for every day of the week. Don’t knock something unless you’ve tried it, basically ๐Ÿ˜‰ And far from being an exercise in navel-gazing, keeping a journal helps writers have a clearer sense of where they’re going in a manuscript. You can also keep a travel journal and dedicate it to the world in which your novel is set, historical details, period costumes, etc. And what better way to get to know your characters more intimately–and write them more convincingly–than to keep a journal writing in their voice?

Far from being a slap-you-on-the-wrist type of writer’s guide, Aine thankfully abstains from the negative reinforcement that many prescriptive writing books dish out to writers, and says writers need to break the pattern of guilting themselves into asking why they couldn’t write for two hours today and instead re-shifting one’s perspective to smaller increments of time.

Now, I’m notorious for hating mornings. I am absolutely not a morning person, and don’t see myself being able to get up earlier to do some writing, but it does make sense to write first thing before the day’s events have had a chance to sully our mental landscape or clutter it with our day-to-day worries, but some view night-time writing as a way to unwind. In fact, Aine suggests that one of the excuses writers give for not wanting to write in the evenings is because they just want to chill out/relax, and she advises that maybe one can incorporate writing as one’s chill out/relaxation phase.

Of course, the biggest component of making a writing/work relationship to function involves sacrifice. Although every single writing publication and writer blog/website routinely shouts at the top of its lungs about how important an online presence is, and being in tune with social media, which I agree with, there’s an extent to which it becomes useful as a promotional tool but with most writers, I find it reaches a point where it becomes a platform not for increasing their book sales but rather a) whining and complaining about rejections, b) whining and complaining about not having enough writing time when perhaps the issue is that the writer needs to realize that by being online and devoting time to this, it’s taking away from their writing time, c) constantly tweeting multiple times a day about how they’ve increased their word count (this is a personal irritant–some writers find it motivating to track their progress in this way, and if it works for them, I say go for it, but if it’s constantly inundating their twitter/Facebook feeds with “look at how productive I am” it becomes a bit bothersome imho), d) posting negative/sarcastic comments, and the list goes on. I do think it’s important for writers to show their personalities online and not just be robots with automated tweets about buying their books, but again, as with most things, there’s a fine balance.

I also recently read this blog post that chronicles the experiences and suggestions of one writer with a day job that I found particularly insightful. Publisher’s Weekly also recently did a piece highlighting writers who never quit their day jobs, which I found to be interesting. I think we need to dispel this romantic notion of “Oh, if only I had the time, and if I had the hours on end that I need to be productive…” Actually, many writers on blog comments have noted that when they were between jobs or for some reason had an opportunity to write full-time for a short stint didn’t get more writing done. In fact, they got less done and procrastinated more. There’s also a need to dispel another romantic notion of the lone wolf writer, furiously scribbling away in a cabin in the woods away from the civilization and brilliantly churning out manuscript after manuscript and not ever doing anything in support of his or her novels, leaving the promotion up to the publisher.

So much has changed in the past twenty years when it comes to author promotion, and most authors have found that due to a lack of publisher support, they’ve had to take their promotion into their own hands whereas it used to be that the publisher would build an author as a brand (for the top-tier writers, anyway). But that’s the subject for a different post ๐Ÿ˜‰

If you are a writer with a day job and you’re at the end of your tether, desperate to find a way to reconcile your work and writing lives, check out the articles I mentioned, and definitely get yourself a copy of Writer with a Day Job.

Praise for “Do You Need a Social Media Intervention?” post

I was browsing through some tweets this afternoon when I found a link to a post from The Bookshelf Muse, a site that I have referenced on many different occasions for their indispensable entries in the setting thesaurus, as well as the emotion thesaurus, two things that make the site an essential for all writers just by themselves, but they also post tons more useful stuff. If you’ve never visited, now is a great time. The setting thesaurus, as the name suggests, is hugely helpful to writers of all levels simply because it delivers on what its name promises. Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a scene, or about to write it and stuck, thinking “What the hell is there on a beach besides sand and the ocean?” The setting thesaurus is for you; it has all sorts of helpful tips like sounds, smells, and sights that will help make your description that much more vivid.

And the emotion thesaurus is fantastic for when you’re stuck, as well, thinking “Apart from frowning and crying, what the hell happens to people when they get sad?” It has a wide variety of actions to choose from, even more thesauri since my last visit (the ‘character thesaurus’ seems interesting) and the comments sections also sometimes contain useful tidbits.

A post went up this afternoon about social media burnout (click here for the link to the article), something I’m convinced that most, if not all, writers who are trying to build or maintain a platform suffer from. It’s always about how to get known before the book deal. Writing magazines and books seem to have a laser-pointed focus on writers who need to get out there on social media, to be more active, to be on a million different sites in addition to Facebook and Twitter, to blog incessantly, and to let as may people out there know that your book exists.

While there are certainly useful elements of that approach, one of the article’s main points that resonated with me was that it’s better to be good at a few things, i.e. Facebook, Twitter, rather than to try to be good at all of the social media platforms and do a so-so or not so great job at it. The whole point of blogging and social networking is to make yourself seem engaged with your audience and readership, and it becomes very apparent early on if you’re not into a particular medium. Blogs aren’t for everyone. Some writers prefer to post updates on a more sporadic schedule that isn’t set, some don’t like blogging or simply can’t afford to take the time out to do it as often as they would like to, some people are better on Facebook but not so much on Twitter (or vice versa)…it all depends on the individual writer.

But I’ve noticed a growing sense of frustration and malaise as more and more platforms like Google+ emerge, trying to be the next Facebook or the next Tumblr. Writers get fed up and I don’t blame them, because there are so many other things competing for our time and attention, and having to prioritize every day can be a real struggle. The saddest part about all of the time spent on social media and promotions is that it zaps away real writing time. It’s a tricky balance to achieve and one that few writers do (and most of them are, with few exceptions, full-time writers, i.e. they don’t have to worry about the demands of a day job, but most of us aren’t so fortunate and will probably never be).

The suggestions outlined in the article are fantastic; it’s not about quitting or completely eliminating things or having to start from square one all over again. It takes time and dedication to build a platform, but the best point of the article was that it doesn’t make sense to put in that much time and promote something that doesn’t even exist yet, and thus can’t be translated into sales (this applies to those of us who still have WIPs and not published novels).

I think that in this age of confirmation bias where people mostly log on to websites and blogs and look only for those posts that support what they already think, rather than getting a second or alternating opinion, it’s refreshing to see articles like this that offer solutions to the daunting and frustrating tone that several books and articles promising to deliver info on how to be a “social media god when it comes to promoting your writing” unfortunately continue to perpetuate.

Don’t get me wrong–social media is vitally important for writers to use as a marketing tool and to promote our work, and it has many benefits when used correctly and to the best of its potential, but as with most things in life, balance is necessary for the best outcome.

Why Vampires Aren’t Cool Anymore

nosferatu-free-wallpaper

Until the advent of the mega-successful blockbuster machine that is Twilight, vampires tended not to sparkle under the sun, nor did they shimmer and radiate, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t look like marble statues. Vampires have become so prolific, so ubiquitous, and so commonly used that very few vampire stories make an impression on critical audiences and readers anymore. I can still recall a time when vampires were considered an author’s “big reveal” and that stories were always cooler when there were vampires involved. Don’t get me wrong–I still think that it’s possible for vampire stories to be cool, but rare gems like “Let the Right One In” don’t come along so often. Fantasy and horror writers who have incorporated vampires in their stories don’t strike me as too worried, primarily because it’s a common assumption that if there’s a vampire in your book, it will sell, something which I think has become a great misconception. Traditionally, vampires have gone through periods of extreme saturation followed by a dearth then followed by another burst of too many titles, TV shows, and films.

There’s no denying that Stephanie Meyer’s series of books (and the film adaptations that soon followed) catapulted vampires into the spotlight more than they ever have been before–I would argue even moreso than the days of Buffy. A string of more Byronic, softer, angstier vampires began to pervade bookshelves, airwaves, and the silver screen much to the dismay of hardcore vampire fans. Recent shows like The Vampire Diaries and True Blood show the softer side of the bloodsuckers, although to the credit of both shows, they’ve put the spotlight on expanded storylines that weren’t in the books, especially in the case of the former, and it’s not completely being lovey dovey 100 percent of the time (although it can feel that way at times, but it is, after all, intended to be a teen drama).

I used to be quite disenchanted with the onslaught of paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and YA novels dealing with the Byronic take on vampires, because I’m a die-hard fan of the 30 Days of Night type of vampires (which was why Daybreakers was such a treat), but I do believe that there are still unique texts involving vampires that come out every so often. Books like Enter, Night by Michael Rowe, which deal with a more unique view of the scary creatures.

People’s tastes have changed. The majority of the (largely) female readership wants the softer, safer, more sanitized version of the vampire, and although this image has dominated the airwaves, screens, and bookshelves of late, my view is that the two camps of vampire fans should both be able to get equal billing. Publicists have certainly caught on to this and will promote a work that will skew more to the hardcore vampire fan audience with assertions that the vampires in a particular book/show/movie they’re pitching don’t sparkle, which comes as a welcome relief to the listener.

But when did this shift occur toward the softer, more sanitized vamps? Some are more than willing to place the blame squarely on Anne Rice, whose Vampire Chronicles series certainly put the fanged creatures on the map, and certainly Rice was the first one to bring us into the heads of vampires, even if Louis de Pointe du Lac presented a particularly angsty, emo, and sometimes whiny “woe is me, why am I such a monster” point of view into the fold. It certainly should be worrisome for a character to reflect on the consequences of what they’ve done, who they’ve killed, what they’ve done to survive, etc, and the hunger that twists the vampire’s stomach and makes them into such fierce, unrelenting predators. But despite bringing the reader into the head of such a creature, it wasn’t until The Vampire Lestat that readers could see how the mind of the monster operated, why they hunt the way that they do, and how it makes them feel in all their glory, naked to the world and unafraid of showing what a true vampire can be.

So, while Louis may have introduced the concept (or at least made it a point of focus), I don’t think that Rice is squarely to blame, and while I do think it’s not that unreasonable to assume that Stephanie Meyer must have picked up at least a few of Rice’s vampire novels, I don’t think that reading those served as a direct precursor to her own Twilight novels.

And while I certainly think that the first time I saw a vampire sparkle was in the pages of Twilight, I also think that paranormal romance and urban fantasy novels have been introducing the “romanticized vampire as love interest” well before Meyer. Look at Buffy and her relationships both with Angel and Spike (although, to Joss Whedon’s credit, when they went into vampire mode, they looked and acted like beasts, something that satisfies hardcore vampire fans), or the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter books by Laurell K. Hamilton, whose vampires, most notably Jean-Claude and Asher, could easily have been taken from an Anne Rice novel in terms of the way they look and their emo sensibilities, particularly in the more recent entries into the series.

The books that line the fantasy and romance shelves now are a reflection of readers’ desires for male vampire leads like Angel and Spike, and they dredge up a certain amount of nostalgic attachment to be sure, but when one examines the most popular male vampire leads today–Bones from Jeanine Frost’s series, or Erik from the Sookie Stackhouse series to name a few–they go back to readers’ desires to see handsome, charismatic, noble vamps who are fierce when they have to be but ultimately crumble in the arms of their respective female love interests.

All that said, even though vampires have lost their edge and most hardcore vampire fans (myself included) consider them to be uncool, the “hardcore” dangerous vamps still definitely have a place on screens, shows, and in books and they’ll continue to have a readership, even if the readers who crave Byronic vamps outnumber us. The important thing is that both types should be made available, and both camps can say “to each his or her own.”

Thoughts on “Let The Right One In” (2008)

Let the Right One In (Lรฅt den rรคtte komma), based on the novel of the same name by John A. Lindqvist, is a creepy film. I still remember the praise it received years ago (and continues to receive), because it’s so dark, so chilling, so innocent, so off-putting, and made with an aesthetic that favours art and storytelling rather than fast-paced commercialism and trying to get blockbusters to appeal to tween girls and their mothers. It’s all about audience. The Twilight films are geared toward the more commercial, mass audience and Let the Right One In is more of an art-house film, something that takes its time with pacing and establishes a story rooted in our worst fears but also our greatest hopes in a way.

While I do think the film deserves all the praise that it received, I’m not sure Hollywood needed to do its own remake called Let me In, which I have yet to see, but I’ve heard that it’s also a faithful adaptation. Still, like most devotees of horror cinema, I seldom think that remakes of a European or Japanese version of a film are done well. In any case, I enjoyed watching this film, especially as the ending surprised me.

Sympathy is such an interesting thing. It’s also one of the toughest–and most critical–things for any writer to establish, whether writing a screenplay, a novel, or a short story. In this case, the audience’s sympathy should go to Oskar and Eli, the young protagonists of the film, one a twelve year-old schoolboy tormented by Connie, and two other accomplices who, despite the fact that they’re unwilling, still go along with what he asks them to do and put Oskar through a lot. The other, Eli, has been twelve for the past two hundred years, something that the film doesn’t explicitly acknowledge (she refers to having been twelve for a long time). She’s not a girl, as she insists, but a vampire, and all she wants is another kid to play with, to keep her company, and to ignore the fact that she lives off human blood and that all other food makes her sick ๐Ÿ˜‰

“Refreshing” is often a word that gets associated with this work, and with good reason. I sympathized with Oskar, of course, but also with Eli, because even though she’s a vampire and not really a child besides the fact that she inhabits the body of one, there aren’t any gratuitous transformation scenes. The blood that’s shown is done so in a sparing manner, which increases the film’s impact. It’s not about “Oh dear Lord, there’s a vampire child in town and she’s terrorizing everyone! How can we stop her? We, the townspeople, have to find out where she lives, barge in there, and kill her!” (of course, one of the men tries to do just that, finding the girl in her makeshift coffin, a bathtub), and it’s not “Oh, this poor girl is so in love with this boy and all they want to do is be together, even if it consumes both of them!” It’s not a Harlequin romance, and the “love” they feel is more along the lines of companionship, as they are so young, and their interactions, despite their kiss and Oskar’s assertions that he wants them to “go steady,” don’t carry the connotations of a deeper lingering sexual desire that fuels every Twilight knockoff out there.

But the aspect I found connected me the most to Oskar was his experience being bullied, even if the other two boys in the bully, Connie’s, crew weren’t comfortable going along with it, one of the particularly remorseful boys going so far as to cry as he whipped Oskar in one scene, which begs the question–if they didn’t want to bully Oskar, why were they going along with Connie’s demands? Did Connie’s older brother, who, it should be noted, bullies his younger brother but somehow seems to love and defend him, force the other boys into participating in Oskar’s torment?

Eli counsels Oskar, advising him to “hit back.” When he protests that there are three of them, she tells him to hit back even harder. A few scenes later, on a school outing to a lake, he does just that and does what most of us who have suffered through bullying would only dream of doing. It’s not relevant to the plot whether he gets suspended or expelled from school, but we do get to witness a scene in which Oskar’s mother frantically pleads with the boy’s father (they’re separated) to talk some sense into his son. Still, one can hardly blame the poor kid for striking out the way he did. As children we’re always taught that for every negative action, there is a consequence, usually punishment or that something bad will in turn affect the wrongdoer. But bullies seem to have an immunity to consequences. Either they don’t care, or they get a slap on the wrist because of who their parents are. The point is, they always seem to get away with it. Certainly, that’s been my experience with the bullies I dealt with growing up.

They cause physical and emotional damage. Scars that never fully heal. Of course, there comes a point when we’re forced to move on, and it becomes clear that nobody really gives a shit about the effects that bullying has had on us with the exception of close loved ones.

I found this film to be powerful because it explored this often painful territory. The story is told in a way that makes it seem wonderful, because it shows that there is hope for Oskar and that the pain will stop for him, but Eli doesn’t exactly lead a charmed life. When she can no longer rely on her adult helper for fetching blood, she has to do it herself, which does a lot of harm. Oskar knows this, and eventually realizes that she’s a vampire, but despite the fact that he has his reservations, as any normal person would, he still wants to be with Eli all the time and doesn’t see a killer. He just sees his best friend, and the girl who cares for him the most, even going so far as to kill for him. Granted, he does get pretty shaken up when a few drops of his blood land on the floor and she laps them up like a cat, but like any other child, she’s hungry, and needs to eat, even if her dish of choice is fresh blood.

Another aspect that differentiates this film from other works of vampire fiction is that it’s missing a sense of feeling an obligation to explain an origin story. We know from the movie’s promotional blurbs that Eli has been 12 for more than 200 years, but we never get an explanation of how she became a vampire, if she was born as one or if someone sired her and if so, who (and why/how). We never learn if there are other vampires, although we do see that she can turn others into vampires if the victim doesn’t die. And we don’t learn where she came from, or why she speaks Swedish ๐Ÿ˜‰ But these unanswered questions give the work more freedom in a sense, because it allows the work not to be forced into a corner, constrained by the limits of vampire mythology or cliched plot points we’ve seen thousands of times before.

If you haven’t see “Let the Right One In,” I urge you to do so. It’s an exercise in originality, but also just a compelling story told in a unique way with characters that have complex motivations and are well-developed. The work really touched me in a way that few films do, and it was a delight to have a story that mixes the innocence of a child’s world with the darkness of a vampire’s in a way that doesn’t come off as comedic or schmaltzy and overly romanticized.