Tag Archives: jobs

Side Effects of Writing Fiction

A few weeks ago, Health magazine came out with a ranking of the ten most depressing jobs in America. Writing came in at number five, right after Justin Bieber’s bodyguard and Lindsay Lohan. Reasons cited were frequent rejection, irregular pay, and that moody, creative thing that makes many of us want to eat chocolate and cry.

I understand all of these and yet I still write. I write because I have to. If I don’t, that moody, creative thing will kick in, and I’ll want to punch holes in the wall and knock people’s hats off, then eat chocolate and cry. Here are some other side effects I’ve suffered as a fiction writer. As with anything else, your actual experience may vary.

1. Spontaneous combustion. Attempting to operate heat-generating kitchen appliances while writing may result in scorched pots, wailing smoke alarms and the need to create alternate dinner plans. (See Appendix A, Fire Extinguishers, and Appendix B, Take Out Menus.)

2. Training accidents. Training your roommates, significant others and/or children to respect your writing hours must be done firmly and consistently. As with puppies, inconsistency leads to accidents. Yelling at someone who knocks on your writing room door and says, “I’m going to get the mail” is a perfectly normal response, as you would have figured that out on your own following his or her return with various envelopes and flyers, and still gotten your writing done. (See Appendix C, Training Accidents Leading To Spontaneous Combustion, or Appendix D, Apologies For Every Occasion.)

3. Alienation of affection. You may, through no fault of your own, fall in love with your characters as you write them, and will want to sneak away to spend quiet moments alone with them. This is normal, although your significant other may feel otherwise. (See Appendix D, Apologies For Every Occasion, or Appendix E, Flowers and Chocolate)

4. Antisocial behavior. You may find yourself increasingly reluctant to attend social events, especially those far from home, preferring instead to lock yourself away in front of your computer or notebook. (See Appendix F, How to Feign Illness)

5. Unreliability. Even if you desire to attend a social engagement or agree to pick up a friend at the airport, you might have trouble leaving your characters behind. You may sink back into their world, only to be reminded of your previous commitments by an angry woman’s voice calling you a “douche” on your answering machine. You may then drift back into your room, musing about the etymology of the word, thinking you must write a blog about it soon. (See Appendix D, Apologies For Every Occasion or Appendix G, Brain-Piercing Alarm Clocks)

6. Utter and complete joy. Finding the perfect words, putting them together just the right way, and stringing those sentences together like exquisite glass beads may lead to unexpected feelings of euphoria similar to eating chocolate. (See Appendix H, Does This Mean I’m Cured?)

Having any side effects of your own?

The Health Hazards of Freelancing

Twice during my career, I’ve jettisoned the 9-5 world for the independence and flexibility of freelancing. Twice I’ve had to face the pitfalls of being my own boss: the long hours searching for clients, the pulsating pressure of an hour to go before deadline while my husband is asking me how to make soup, and no colleagues down the hall to vent my troubles to or talk about the latest episode of Mad Men. But one pitfall I hadn’t anticipated was how easily this new stress could take down my health and, if I wasn’t careful, render me pretty much useless to my clients. If you’re new to freelancing, want to work for yourself, or even are a seasoned pro, watch out for these common health traps.

1. Don’t just sit there. Chances are, you did a lot of walking at your old job, and maybe not so much now that you’re working from home. Bodies were made to be in motion, not sitting in cramped positions for hours at a spell. Prolonged sitting, especially in an uncomfortable chair (more on that later) can lead to back and neck problems. Set an alarm if you need a reminder to take regular breaks. Or find some work tasks you can do standing up. I proofread standing up, and look upon it as a welcome break from sitting.

2. Get out of the house once a day. Even though my husband also works from home, I have to bust out once a day, otherwise I start to feel claustrophobic and “outside” of the real world. I’m much more efficient if I’ve had this break, even if it’s only a short walk around my neighborhood.

3. Keep regular hours. Setting regular work hours isn’t just about developing the discipline needed to be a successful freelancer. While you may have to work longer or later hours from time to time, especially when you’re first starting out, your mind and your body function best on a regular schedule. It will help your digestion, your metabolic functions and your sleep. Speaking of which…

4. Get enough sleep. Say you’ve underestimated the time you’d need to finish a project, you’re facing down a wicked deadline and now you’re looking for things you can put off to give yourself extra time. Cut out Conan or Dave, but don’t cheat yourself on sleep. You won’t be the sharpest pin in the voodoo doll the next day, and mainlining Starbucks will only make it worse.

5. Develop a stress-management practice. I like deep breathing. It only takes a few minutes a day, and for me, it’s a reminder to slow down and pay attention to my body. You might like meditation, yoga, or taking your dog for a long walk. Whatever relaxes you (and gets you away from the computer) is best. If you let that stuff build up, it’s like poison.

6. Keep your kitchen stocked with healthy food…where you can see it. It’s so tempting to take a break from a less-than-exciting task (data entry, ick!) and sneak down to raid the pantry. No wonder so many freelancers put on a few pounds at the start. But if there’s a bowl of fruit on the table, or a dish of cut-up veggies in the fridge, you’ll be more likely to grab those than the cookies your significant other insists on keeping in the snack drawer.

7. Get ergonomic. It’s vital to your health and productivity to design a workstation that is efficient and suited to your particular proportions. After your computer and your health insurance (you do have health insurance, don’t you?), your next largest expense should be your office chair. You don’t have to spring for Herman Miller’s latest Aeron, but you need something that’s adjustable and has a good lumbar support. As my physical therapist (to whom I’ve given lots of money because I spent a lot of years in lousy chairs) says, “Your chair should fit your body like a good shoe fits your foot.” Also, put the things you use regularly within easy reach to avoid repetitive strain. And, if I ever see you cradling that phone between your ear and your shoulder, I will come down there and give you a time-out. Don’t think I won’t, either.

What about you? If you work for yourself, what strategies do you use to stay healthy?

Have You Hugged Your Proofreader Today?

Every glamorous profession requires its share of trench workers. For every Kate Moss wannabe strutting down the catwalk during Fashion Week, there are dozens of people toiling away behind the curtain to make sure she doesn’t fall on her pretty face. For every Lady Gaga kicking butt and wearing meat on tour, there are legions of roadies, carpenters, lighting designers, costumers, drivers, and caterers making sure everything goes right and everything ends up in the right venue.

In publishing-although some segments are more glamorous than others-one of the most unsung heroes is the proofreader. Writers write their dreams, literary agents and editors help turn them into novels, but if the proofreader slacks at his or her job, a book becomes difficult and sometimes impossible to read.

But maybe you think proofreading is an easy gig. You’ll get to read all day, right? While proofreaders do get to read their projects (one hopes, anyway), it’s not really reading. It’s scanning; it’s analyzing. It’s akin to taking a Renoir and teasing it apart into brushstrokes, color, and light. Still, for every masterpiece, you’ll get an apprentice’s first project. For every New York Times bestseller, you’ll get a dozen textbooks, legal briefs, or reference manuals. You might get projects so dull, you’ll be fighting sleep in your chair. Which, if you work from home, may not be so terrible, but in an office, is not your supervisor’s preferred way for you to spend your time.

Proofreading is hard, physical work. Imagine spending your entire day, day after day, combing through manuscripts line by line, word by word, hunting for misspellings and missing words, when our human eye is trained to take in chunks of words and therefore skip over missing words and misspellings! Even if your posture and ergonomic set up are perfect, our spines were not designed to be sat upon for hours, our bodies were not meant to be still for such long stretches, and our eyes – especially the eyes of someone over forty – do not like maintaining a constant focus. Many proofreaders develop chronic neck, shoulder, and upper back problems. Now that many proofreaders have abandoned hard copies and red pens for the seeming ease of the computer, the strain just moves to other parts of their bodies. Eyes, in particular, don’t like hours of staring at monitors that reflect light, which was a problem e-reader manufacturers had to contend with in their earliest stages. Scientific eye studies show that we blink less when we look at a monitor, so those who proofread at the computer can end up with dry, stinging eyes.

So next time you dive into a book that reads like smooth, single-malt Scotch, thank the author, the editor, the agent, and the publisher, but don’t forget to thank the proofreader. Preferably with a shoulder massage and a bottle of eye drops.

Who are the unsung heroes in your profession?

(PS: One of my goals for 2011 is to blog more. Rather than just fretting about it or making endless attempts at first paragraphs that go nowhere, I’m starting right now. I will be posting on this blog as daily as possible for all of this coming year.

I know it won’t be easy, and some posts might plain suck, but it might be fun, inspiring, awesome and wonderful. Therefore I’m promising to make use of The DailyPost, and the community of other bloggers with similiar goals, to help me along the way, including (gasp) asking for help when I need it and encouraging others when I can.

If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments and likes, and good will along the way.)

Best And Worst Jobs of 2010

As if you didn’t already know where your job stacks up against, say, that dream you always had of ditching the suit and tie and becoming a lumberjack, a ranking of the 200 best and worst jobs of 2010 was just compiled and released by CareerCast.com.

The rankings reflect the stress, employment outlook, working conditions, and salaries of each position, among other things. Actuaries fared the best, followed closely by software engineers and computer systems analysts. So, apparently, it’s relatively safe and lucrative to sit all day staring at computer screens, although my physical therapist and ophthalmologist would probably disagree. Physically demanding jobs often performed under less-than-optimal conditions came out worst, like welders, dairy farmers, ironworkers, and, sorry to say, lumberjacks. But ranking #200 were roustabouts (typically someone who does all the stuff no one else wants to do, like hang off of oil rigs or put up circus tents.)

Actors came in at #164, although if CareerCast.com spent more time in Hollywood, they might want to add these jobs in their best and worst categories:

BEST:

1. Anyone on Charlie Sheen’s payroll is having a good year, although some jobs are less savory than others. I imagine it’s easier to be his dealer than his public relations agent. Or his housekeeper.

2. “Butcher” might not have rated very highly with CareerCast.com (#190), but one particular butcher did well…Lady Gaga’s designer, Franc Fernandez, bought twenty-five pounds of flank steak from his own butcher to make this juicy little number. And, like any good red-carpet design, the knockoffs are already flying off the menu.

3. Lindsay Lohan’s sober coach. According to Lindsay’s dad, Michael, strongly in the running to keep his daughter away from the influence of “those Hollywood types” is Iris Martin, who was once Bill Clinton’s therapist. Because that worked out so well…

WORST:

1. Hands down, 2010 was one horrific year for TV star Heidi Montag’s plastic surgeon, Dr. Frank Ryan. After performing ten procedures on the celebutante in one month (November 2009), Montag publicly expressed her deep regret and her scars. In her interview with Life & Style on December 2, she said, “People have fewer scars from car accidents than I have on my body.” In one of those horrible Hollywood twists of fate, Dr. Ryan died in a car accident while texting back in Auguts. He was sending a Twitter message about his dog.

2. Having anything to do with Mel Gibson rates lowest on the list. Seriously, not even Jodie Foster will talk to him anymore.

3. It’s apparently also a bad year to be Kanye West’s media trainer.

I hope 2010 was a great year for you. Have a safe, healthy, paparazzi-free and prosperous 2011!