Friday, 19 March 2010

The Perfect Job - John Dougherty

Ask some people to define the perfect job, and they’ll start by describing the salary. Ask others, and they’ll begin with working conditions, or colleagues, or sense of purpose, or flexibility. There are as many perfect jobs as there are types of people; and there are as many types of people as there are... well, people, probably.

So to anyone who’s just dropped by for some careers advice: sorry. Can’t help. Whatever your skill-set, you’d be better going and asking a careers advisor. No, what I’m musing about today is why writing is my perfect job - or, at least, the perfect job for someone with my particular well-defined and carefully honed flaw-set.

For a start, I’m a procrastinator; and I’d imagine there are very few jobs which suit the procrastinator quite so well as writing. When you’re a writer, you see, you start work on a story long before you actually realise you’ve started work on a story. By the time you get round to thinking it might be time to procrastinate, it’s too late. You’ve started work.

Procrastinators - assuming I’m typical of the breed, of course - are daydreamers; and there’s no telling which bits of your daydreams may end up sparking off a story, or changing its course, or providing a resolution, without your having the slightest intention of doing any work. The characters form, the plot builds up, the dialogue begins to whisper, all inside your head and long before you ever consider putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard. It happens while you thought you were avoiding making a shopping list, or doing the washing-up, or paying the bills. And once the story has firmly taken root in your imagination, and is expanding by the day, well, you might as well sit down and tap out a few ideas. It’s not as if you’re actually going to do the whole thing. Not at once, anyway.

And then: well, disappearing down to your shed and writing the next bit is a great way to avoid all those other tasks you’d otherwise have to be doing, isn’t it?

So much for procrastination. But I also suffer from its equal and opposite flaw: a fear of finishing. A dreadful drawback in most spheres of work, I’m sure you’ll agree; but the thing about writing is, you never really finish. Not properly.

You get to the bit where you write the closing sentence, of course; but you never know if that really is the closing sentence. No, you send the MS off to your editor safe in the knowledge that it really isn’t finished yet; that she’ll get back to you sooner or later (later if you have a procrastinating editor who should really have been a writer but never quite got round to it) with lots of helpful suggestions about how to improve it. Finishing the first draft really isn’t finishing the story at all, because there’ll be lots more to do.

Even when you’ve finished the rewrites, in all probability there’ll be more rewrites, and maybe even more. At no point do you send back the re-re-re-re-redrafted work knowing that that’s it, and it’s all done. In fact, the first glimmer you sometimes get that your story is finished is when a package arrives from the publisher containing a book, all neatly bound and illustrated and full of things you’d have done differently if you’d known it was your last chance to change them.

And, really, I sometimes wonder if there’s any personality flaw that writing as a career can’t accommodate. Addiction to tea? Easy. Propensity to get distracted? Almost a requirement, the way I work. Predilection for mass murder and world domination? Not one I suffer from, I hasten to add, but who knows: perhaps if the first edition of Mein Kampf had sold more quickly or won a major prize, its author might have been too busy being lunched by his publisher and working on that difficult second book to remember to invade Poland.

John’s website is at His most recent book is Jack Slater and the Whisper of Doom.


Dolly said...

I always knew all my flaws weren't really that - they were just stepping stones steering me towards writing career :-)))

Julie P said...

Procrastination is definitely in the the job description! There is no better job for a procrastinator than writing, I agree. Of course writers never get a day off or holidays as we are always mulling over ideas for our writing.

Stroppy Author said...

Yes, the perfect job :-) But I can't write just now as I have to invade Poland...

Katherine Roberts said...

If there were no editors or deadlines or people wanting to see it, I would probably never finish anything... it's only the thought that I'll get another chance to rewrite it that makes "finishing" a book possible.

John Dougherty said...

Stroppy, no! Leave Poland alone. Anyway, don't you have a deadline...?

Leslie Wilson said...

I like it, John!

Leslie Wilson said...

I mean the blog, not invading Poland. My grandfather helped do that, and he regretted it. Oh, sorry, no, he invaded Czechoslovakia with the full approval of the British government of the time. He still regretted it.