Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Work work work. Words word words.

I write for a living.

Hey, I can hear you say, that's great isn't it? I mean, you get paid for writing. Cool! (OK I know you don't all talk like that but you get the gist.) Well yes. I've done a few jobs in my time, catering, office administration, selling shoes, so I know just how mind numbing some can be. And I can appreciate that any job I have that involves writing is the best I can hope for. It beats cleaning out a commercial-standard deep fat fryer any day! But there's writing and there's writing to order. And most of my working life has been spent writing to order.

Back in nineteen hundred and frozen to death I went off to college to learn to be a journalist. It was a great time. I was young, but not as young as some of the people on my course. I'd already made a complete hash of a biology degree that I've since chosen to forget except in a few special circumstances. So I'd lived a little. I'd spent the previous year as a temporary whatever. That's when I sold shoes.

[A brief aside: 'Sold shoes'. Like 'soled shoes'. Reminds me of my O level English course and Julius Caesar. 'All that I live by is my awl' See more here.]

The journalism college was in Sheffield. Wonderful steel town of the North (except I come from further north than that so to me it was the Midlands) with a fantastic atmosphere and an availability of arts events and venues that I had previously not accessed. In fact it had lots of things that I had previously never tried and I had a great year learning and experiencing things and generally living the high life.

We studied law and public administration and shorthand and typing and English grammar (yes - I do know the difference between an adjective and an adverb and if I concentrate I can probably still remember what a gerund is) and a great subject called 'journalism'. It covered everything you can think of. This wonderful subject called 'journalism' was basically the same as the subject called 'life'. It was a wonderful preparation for anything that the newspaper business could demand of me over the next thirteen years while I worked as a reporter. It was also a great preparation for writing stories and novels since then.

I still work as a writer but nowadays I write press releases and newsletters and marketing brochures and I try to make my boss's complicated announcements easier to understand by normal people. I translate the jargon-ridden achievements of my organisation into words that my readership will understand but will still have the same meaning. It's not easy. And it isn't always fun. But it's way better than measuring smelly feet to fit them with shoes!

Postscript: The photo is part of a sculpture called Industry and Genius and it's a monument to John Baskerville - printer.
The stones represent letter punches and the word on them reads "Virgil" because Baskerville's first book was a reprint of the poet's works printed in 1757.
The sculpture is by David Patten and it's in Birmingham.


Ellie said...

It was lovely reading how you came into your writing career!

I went to teacher training college because that was what my parents wanted and I hated it. I droppeds out much to their horror. I wish i'd had the strength of character to have known what I wanted and then done it.

Thanks for suggestions re: naming my MC!

Sandra Davies said...

I sold shoes as one of my summer holiday jobs - worst part wasn't the feet but the manager who refused to let us serve people in turn but hissed at us "she only wants tights - serve the person after her first" - that was when Herman's Hermits were in the Top 10 with a song about a milkman.
Enjoyed this account of your writing development.

BRIDGET said...

Like you I've always (tried) to make a living out of words. Left school at 16 to be an editorial assistant on a weekly, moved on to journalism proper via day release at the London College of Printing but I was never that interested in news story, especially if it meant going out and getting cold...features was much better, that was thinking in ink and going to free-be PR promotions. (This was the days of days of T.Rex and Starship Trooper...)
Don't do anything like that now except for the occasional bit of freelancing...moved over to teaching a few years ago after completing MA in Creative Writing and the publication of my first now I talk about story arcs and creating characters. Not that keen on the lesson plans and form filling but love sharing an enthusiasm for writing with other writers and would-be writers...
Hey! Thanks for the memories

Michael G-G said...

I enjoyed learning about how you came to be a writer.

I'd also like you to know that you were the winner of "Sell Your Novel Toolkit" during my recent blogoversary party. Please send an address so I can ship it to you. (I'm fine with international mailings; I send things to my Mum all the time.)

Thanks for participating over at The Year of Writing Dangerously. It was fun.

Hope to hear from you soon,