Philip Brewer's Writing Progress


Tuesday, 19 March 2002

It's been a good couple of days. I've gotten some stuff done at work. I've gotten a couple of positive comments on the story I sent to the Clarion 2001 critique group. I spent some time having fun with Jackie.

I was actually a little discouraged at work. Stuff that had been working broke for no apparent reason. But then it started working again. I have no idea why. Perhaps it was a network problem. Still, I'm happy enough in retrospect, even if I wasn't particularly happy at the time. That would be a sad way to live whole one's life, but it's okay now and then.

I remember sometimes when I was a school child waking up not wanting to go to school, and then realizing that it was a weekend and I didn't have to. That was one of the best feelings ever.

In my first job after college I went through a period of being unhappy. (Looking back on it, I realize that I was showing some symptoms of depression, although it never got so bad or lasted so long that I should have been medicated or anything.) The stuff I found most interesting (Unix hacking) was really a sideline there. When things got tight, they cut all that work. Then they had a big layoff.

What a relief that was. I remember waking up the next Monday and thinking, "Wow! I don't have to go to work!" That was great. It wouldn't have been great for long, but finding another job turned out to be easy. I was unemployed for only a few weeks. But they were great weeks. I exercised. I read. I lived frugally. I woke up every morning happy that I didn't have to go to work for that stupid company any more.

I ought to be able to use those feeling in a story: The misery of a worker unhappy in his work but going in to the office everyday anyway, the short-lived, edgy delight of a worker freed of his unsatisfactory job, the long-lived comfortable satisfaction of a job that challenges without frustrating.

I read the Steven King book on writing over the weekend. It's an intriguing memoir. It's also pretty good on the basics of good prose for fiction. I'm not so sure about his prescriptions for story. King apparently writes in an "organic" fashion, where he doesn't craft his stories. He just puts characters in situations and then sees what they do. That can work. I guess, if you're Steven King, it can work great. I'm not sure how useful of a prescription it is for other people.

One thing King talks about is how people like to read about work. I've observed the same thing. Work is a very big part of people's lives, but a lot of fiction just glosses over work as something people do.

Characters in my stories often work. But it's easy to do it wrong. One of the things that Bruce Holland Rogers talked about was giving characters problems to solve--but that the ordinary problems of their job aren't usually enough. The problem needs to be bigger than just accomplishing a task or earning a living. But it can make a story much richer if the character needs to manage the activities of daily life at the same time as solving a bigger problem.

Fortunately no big problems for me to solve, just the ordinary activities of daily life.

Jackie and I watched "Romancing the Stone" this evening. That's always been one of my favorite movies. I especially like its realistic depiction of the writer's life.


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