As mentioned yesterday before my little excerpt, this weekend has been more than a little busy. We spent the entire weekend visiting family and taking part in various events. We even spent a chunk of time just shopping around with the baby in tow. It was all a good time, and we ended it off with the baby’s first trip to a super-wavy beach (which was a blast), but it finalized in the most exhausted me you could imagine. I slept approximately ten hours last night, and I swear I could sleep at least ten more. But the world moves on, there are more things to do, and so I’ll have to just pretend that I slept twenty hours, okay? Okay.
Health and Body Image Goal
*insert slightly insane laughter here*
I actually probably lost a pound or two over the past four days, because that seems to happen whenever we spend a chunk of time visiting down home, but for the most part I can honestly say that this goal did not even exist in my mind this week. The only exercise I did was dragging the baby around, and the only non-fatty food I ate was the vegetables that we had with our steak on Sunday. And that trend isn’t likely to end for a little while yet because I have a children’s birthday party to go to this evening (sugar sugar sugar), and then sometime over the next week and a half we are planning on a shopping trip to New Brunswick (fast food, fast food, fast food). Wish me luck in not actually gaining a bunch more weight!
I’m a bit up in the air on this one. I didn’t technically do any editing for my zombie apocalypse novel, since I’m focusing on trying to transcribe my notebooks right now. But then again, I’m technically editing as I’m transcribing. The transcribed stuff will likely still be revised and edited further once I’ve gotten everything properly organized into Scrivener, but I am editing bits and pieces as I’m typing them up, so I guess you could say I’ve been doing mini-edits? Yeah, let’s go with “mini-edits”.
1,000,000 Word Goal
I didn’t get as much writing in as I was hoping, because I grossly overestimated how much time I would be able to spend on my laptop while down home visiting people, but I still managed a chunk. By counting my transcribed words (which, I have to be honest, I still feel a little skeezy about, but whatever), I managed to eek out 17166 words. A fair bit of that is also The Artist’s Way exercises and tasks, of which I have many more to do this week, so hopefully next week’s word count will be as good as this one was!
And speaking of The Artist’s Way, I’d better go work on a bit of that while I’ve got a chance, before that children’s party I mentioned earlier. Later!
The first week of The Artist’s Way is all about recovering a sense of “safety”. Miss Cameron fully admits that this week will probably feel silly, even stupid, but that you should push through it anyway because it’s important. The exercises involve writing affirmations (basically sentences that you say to yourself to tell yourself how great you really are), acknowledging your “blurts” (negative thoughts that spring to mind, such as “I’m such a terrible writer”), and facing the demons in your past that have caused you to think negatively. The whole idea, overall, is to face the fact that we all have an internal voice (a “Censor”, she calls it) that shouts negative comments at us all the time, even (and especially) when we don’t deserve it. And generally this Censor is a culmination of all the negativity we’ve had to endure from our peers and elders throughout our lives.
But the exercises aren’t all about facing negativity. One in particular was actually quite amusing, I thought. Basically, imagine that you have five alternative lives to live; who would you be and what would you do? The point isn’t to be serious, it’s to give life to the you that your inner child imagined you might become.
For myself, the answers were immediately clear, because there are five things I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember. Hey, I know, why don’t I share them here? 😀
Imaginary Life #1 I’d be a (successful) writer, as if that weren’t entirely obvious. I would write fiction novels and occasionally publish a book of short stories. I would have a room in my house specifically for writing, with shelves of books on every wall, and a beautiful desk in front of a large, bright window. The desk would house my laptop, and a stack of notebooks and pens, and I would write there all day while sipping hot tea and cafe mochas.
Imaginary Life #2
I’d be a singer/songwriter who specialized in the guitar. I’d write and compose all my own songs and travel the world playing shows and festivals. I’d be on the road most of the time, but when I wanted to rest I’d come back to Cape Breton and play around a campfire with my friends and family.
Imaginary Life #3 I’d be a famous artist. I’d delve into all the different mediums; drawing, painting, sculpting, etc. I would have a room in my house dedicated to art where I would store all kinds of different supplies from around the world, and I’d draw and paint on the walls to chart my inspiration.
Imaginary Life #4
This one might surprise even my closest friends and family, but I would be an actress. I’d do all kinds of things, from movies and TV shows, to cheesy horror movies and voice acting. In particular I would regularly audition for parts in action-adventure movies as the damsel-in-distress who is actually pretty kick-ass all on her own.
Imaginary Life #5
I’d design video games. I would do a little bit of everything, from concept art and character design, to programming and beta-testing. I would want to be a part of every aspect of the process, and I would help to create characters and storylines that draw in the gamer, as well as controls and gameplay that keep the gamer hooked.
#1 is pretty obvious if you’ve read at least one of my other blog posts or have known me for more than five minutes, but the others may be a bit surprising, especially to those who don’t know me personally, so let me explain a little.
#2 comes about because I’ve always been a bit musical, like much of my family, and in fact much of Cape Breton in general. We’re a musical region. I took several years of piano lessons when I was young, and then moved on to guitar, which I mostly taught myself. Though I haven’t had time for it in recent years, I’ve always loved playing and singing, and it’s one of the few things I feel like I can do in front of a crowd.
#3 dates back to much younger years, stemming back as far as grade school. I loved to draw, and I’d paper my walls with drawings of my favorite TV show and video-game characters. I was never really any good at the other mediums like painting, but I always used to think that if I just kept practicing and practicing, someday I’d be a great artist. Sadly, art in general is something that went by the wayside for me, as I focused more and more on writing instead. The only thing I’ve drawn in years are tiny sketches of the Ninja Turtles at my daughter’s bequest.
#4 is my little inner guilty pleasure secret. I don’t think I’ve ever, at any time, voiced a desire to be an actress, but I seriously started thinking about it in high school as a result of a Drama course. For one assignment we had to do a monologue, and I picked this really dramatic piece where a girl talks about a death in her family. After I performed it the whole class applauded and told me how awesome I was, so for a while after that I convinced myself that I had real talent and would somehow get discovered someday (despite a lack of any kind of effort on my part to actually pursue acting).
#5 is the most childish of the bunch, in my opinion, because it’s based on a childhood assumption that video games were really easy to make. I figured I just had to learn a bit of programming and off I would go. Obviously I’ve learned a lot since then and know that it takes huge crews to make (most) video games, but I still think it would be an awesome profession to be a part of, if only to see the end result of all your hard work enjoyed by millions.
So there you have it! The five imaginary lives of Tracey Lynn Tobin.
If you had five imaginary lives, what would you be? I’d love to hear about your choices!
Have you ever experienced a thunder storm without the rain? Maybe that’s common in other parts of the world, but up here in Cape Breton it’s not the norm. We usually have torrents of rain coming down for hours before the thunder and lightning starts, but yesterday we had hours of thunder (and possibly lightning, but it was too light out to tell) for hours before the rain started. It seemed odd and unique to me, which is why I bring it up.
Alrighty, let’s get on with it, shall we?
Health and Body Image Goal
Still thinking about striking this goal from the list, but at the same time I’ve been thinking about how to resuscitate it. I do want to be healthier and lose some body fat while I’m at it, but I’ve been expelling some much of my energy on everything else that I can’t figure out how to work this back into my lifestyle. I’m amazed that I somehow have less time and energy while unemployed at home than when I was working 12-hour shifts out West. How does that even work? It doesn’t matter. The point is that what I want to do (once I tie up a few loose ends) is start a three-times-a-week exercise program that I will interweave with three days a week of doing my Zombies! Run! program (which I will have to start over since I’ve negated everything I did before). Currently I’m trying to decide what the exercise program will be. I’m considering taking Jillian Michaels’ Body Revolution and just replacing the cardio days with my running days, but if anyone else has any suggestions for a good three-day-a-week program for women, please share!
I’m happy to report my best editing week yet since I made these goals. My supernatural romance (tentatively called Moonlight) is complete! I just have to do one more read-through to make sure I didn’t make any glaring errors and then it should be ready for submission. I don’t have high hopes for it, but being able to say that I finally submitted a manuscript to a publisher will be a big deal for me. Plus, now that I’ll finally have that story out of my hair, I can move back on to my zombie apocalypse novel, which is the one I really care about. This one is much longer, so it’s obviously going to take longer to edit, but I’m setting myself a mini-goal to have it done by November, because I fully intend on participating in NaNoWriMo this year and I don’t want to have the last chapters of a zombie apocalypse on my mind while I’m doing it.
1,000,000 Word Goal
Good news! My mini-goal was a success! I wrote my ass off last week, and between blog posts, writing exercises, morning pages, and new-or-changed scenes in Moonlight, I wrote a total of 20194 words! That brings me up to a year-long total of 201938! When I originally made this goal I had hoped to be a lot further along by now, but this is still so many more words that I likely would have written had I not made the goal in the first place. That’s like four NaNoWriMo‘s! In one year! I really hope to be able to keep up this pace. It’s become very unlikely that I’ll hit the 1,000,000 words by the end of the year, but if I’m able to hit 500,000 I will still be very impressed with myself and will mark the goal a success.
As a closing note, I want to mention that I’ve begun The Artist’s Way this week, and over the next couple of days I will be trying to complete as many of the Chapter 1 tasks as I can. I’ve accidentally timed my start such that I’ll finish one week before NaNoWriMo starts, so aside from sharing updates as I go, once I complete the program I’ll do a quick review and let you all know whether it helped me in any way toward writing a new book. Look forward to it!
I’ve brought up the Nickelodeon re-imagining of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a couple of times, not only because my daughter loves them, but also because I’m pretty enamored myself. When we first saw it my husband and I were a little bit wary – this was our childhood Nick was messing around with after all – but we soon found ourselves watching the show just as intently as our daughter was. Later we discussed among ourselves exactly what it was about the show that made it so appealing, and we established that it’s the characters. Specifically, it’s all the things about the characters that were lacking from the original cartoon.
So with that in mind, here are a few key concepts that I think Nick’s version of the Ninja Turtles can teach writers about creating good characters:
Your characters should BE who you SAY they are.
It sounds obvious, but not as obvious as you might think. A lot of people make the mistake of putting a label on their character, but then doing everything possible to make their character act like the exact opposite of that.
This is the first thing that my husband brought up when we were talking about what makes the new Ninja Turtles a great show: “They actually, you know…act like teenagers.” I realized right away that he was right. If you go back to the original cartoon, later iterations, and even the live-action movies, the Turtles consistently act very un-teenager-like. It’s a key descriptor in their very existence – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – but they’ve never acted as such. The closest they ever resembled actual teens was in the original cartoon, but I challenge you to go back and watch an episode right now. You’ll notice that they act less like teenagers and more like surfer frat-bros.
In the new version of the show, the Turtles embody everything we think of when we remember what it was like to be a teenager. They’re goofy and playful, quick to anger, and constantly getting in trouble. They defy their “father” on a regular basis, get crushes on girls, are cocky and overconfident, and have to take a major beating to learn any lesson. They’re also brothers who actually treat each other like brothers, constantly fighting and bickering, tormenting each other and picking on each other, while also taking care of each other and having each others’ back.
So think about this the next time you’re creating a character. If your character is a religious older woman she’s not likely to be hanging out at night clubs all the time. A jock character isn’t going to seem authentic if you never write him playing any sports. And a teenage character should act like a teenager.
Your characters shouldn’t be clones.
Quick, anyone who grew up with the original Ninja Turtles cartoon, what are each of the Turtles known for?
“Leonardo leads; Donatello does machines; Raphael is cool, but rude; Michelangelo is a party dude!”
Everyone who grew up with the show knows these distinctions. Leo is the stalwart leader, Donnie is the techno-genius, Raph is the feisty grouch, and Mikey is the lovable party guy. Right?
Again, I challenge you to go back and watch the old cartoon. We all know that these are the different personality types of the four Turtles, but if you watch the old episodes you’ll notice that aside from when Donnie plays with a computer’s keyboard or Mikey says, “Cowabunga!” all the Turtles act exactly the same. Raph is in no way any more “rude” than his three brothers, and Leo doesn’t lead so much as he lifts his swords in the air and says, “Get ’em!”
Hell, they even look identical except for the color of their headbands.
In Nick’s version, each of the Turtles have very distinct personalities. Leo is the leader, yes, but he’s also a huge geek who loves a Star Trek-like cartoon so much that he has the episodes memorized. Donnie is the techy, who he’s also gawky, and socially awkward. Raph has anger management issues and is extremely sarcastic pretty much all the time. Mikey is dumb as a brick, but in an incredibly cute and innocent way. And there are lots of little details that differentiate them all, like how Raph’s shell is chipped to show that he’s the rough one, and how Mikey is shorter than the rest to give the impression that he’s the innocent, youngest brother. Hell, just look at them…you can practically see their personalities in the way the new creators designed them:
Remember, even if your characters have a few key similarities, you want them to stand out from each other. They should have their own specific likes and dislikes, personality traits and hobbies. When a reader thinks of a particular character from your book, you want them to be able to picture that character apart from the other ones, to immediately know exactly who they’re reading about.
Antagonists should bring drama and tension to the story.
It goes without saying that The Shredder is, and forever will be, the main villain in the Ninja Turtles universe. He’s their arch-rival, the enemy that relentlessly strives for their extermination.
Also, in the original cartoon, he’s a bumbling idiot who can do nothing right.
I’ll admit that the late 80’s/early 90’s era was one during which most cartoons were a little weak in the drama center. They wanted to be light and fun, without exhibiting too much violence or anything that grumpy parents might find distasteful. But even taking that into consideration, The Shredder brought very little in the way of antagonistic tension to the original cartoon. He was such a pathetic fool that even as kids we knew there was no cause for concern because his plans always failed miserable. And he was a laughing stock, for sure. No kid who watched the original cartoon thought that The Shredder was anything other than hysterically inept.
The new Ninja Turtles, while still designed for kids and careful not to be too violent or mature, has fixed this issue with their villains. The Shredder is angry and powerful, and while his cronies may be a little pathetic, he is absolutely not. In the first episode in which the Turtles face Shredder, they get absolutely pulverized…and that’s the end of the episode. They are able to escape certain death by complete chance, and we’re left with the knowledge that our heroes are currently not powerful enough to defeat their enemy.
Even in a kid’s show, tension makes for good storytelling, plain and simple. Your antagonist needs to bring that tension. You want your readers to genuinely wonder if something horrifying is going to happen to your main characters at any given moment. Without that tension, the story serves no purpose and the antagonist is flat and pointless.
All characters should have flaws.
No one is perfect; not protagonists, not antagonists, not anyone. The original Ninja Turtles cartoon (along with most cartoons of that age) really glossed over this concept. The Turtles were always able to save the day easily because they always knew exactly what to do. They never made anything other than the smallest of mistakes, and lessons were learned with minimal effort. While this can be acceptable for small children (since they think their heroes are infallible anyway), it doesn’t fly most of the time. Characters without flaws are impossible to relate to.
The new Turtles have lots of flaws, and it makes them more relatable and likable because you can put yourself in their position. Leo is the leader, yes, but he’s also a teenager with all the angst and frustrations that the age group is famous for, so he makes mistakes and doesn’t always act like a leader. As previously mentioned, Mikey is dumb as a brick, and he’s constantly screwing up and getting himself and his brothers in trouble. Donnie is a tech genius, but sometimes his gear breaks down or blows up in his face. Raph lets his anger get the best of him and it lands him in lots of trouble.
Even the co-characters have their flaws focused upon. Splinter lets his fear for his “sons” cloud his judgement. April does whatever it takes to look for her father even when her ideas are dumb and dangerous. Shredder has a vendetta against Splinter that takes precedence over everything else and causes him to make poor decisions.
Readers want to be able to relate in some way to the character’s their reading about. If a character is clumsy or shy or a terrible drunk or has a gambling problem or an awful body image, it lets us put ourselves in the place of that character because we feel empathy with them. When a character (mostly likely an antagonist) has really awful flaws, like being a psychopath, it makes us root for their downfall that much more. If a character has absolutely no flaws it makes us wonder “where the hell this perfect person came from and why should I give a rat’s ass about them?”
The characters make the story. Without good characters even the best of plot lines can wither and die. You want your readers to love your characters (whether they’re good guys or bad guys), to care for them, to root for (or against) them. There are a lot of books, movies, TV shows, and video games out there that are sub-par because the creators made characters who are hard, if not impossible, to like. And sometimes we, as writers, have a hard time seeing that our characters are unlikable, because they’re like children to us and our children are always perfect in our eyes. So I beg you to read articles like this one, examine the characters you love from all kinds of different mediums, and ask beta-readers about your characters’ likability. A little bit of extra effort can make a world of difference in creating characters that feel real.
As I mentioned on Tuesday, this week I have a mini-goal to wrack up enough of a word count to bring my yearly total thus far to 200,000. As such I’ve been doing everything I can to get words down. I’ve been blogging (obviously), doing morning pages via 750Words.com, and repairing scenes in my supernatural romance. What I haven’t been doing is writing anything new.
Here’s my problem: since I’ve been home from out West, I’ve only been writing on my laptop. I type a helluva lot faster than I write by hand, so it only makes sense to use that speed. But for months now I’ve been writing in notebooks; thousands of words of long-hand.
Why is that a problem? Well, I have tons of my works-in-progress in notebooks…none of it on my laptop. For instance, I have the first four chapters of my epic fantasy novel on my laptop, then about a dozen chapters in notebooks. So if I want to continue on with that work-in-progress, I either have to skip a bunch of chapters in my Scrivener file in order to move on, or take the time to transcribe all the notebooks onto my laptop
Maybe I’m alone in this, but it would drive me absolutely insane to move on with the story without most of what I’ve written actually being in the Scrivener file. It’s just one of those things. I’d absolutely lose my mind. But on the other side of things, it will take me ages to transcribe everything that I’ve written in notebooks, and that will be time that I could have spent writing something else and wracking up word count. I suppose I could count word
s transcribed as words written, but that feels like cheating, since they’re technically words I’ve already written.
So I leave it to you, fellow bloggers and readers: should I take the time to transcribe, or move on to something else? If I take the time
transcribe, should I count the words toward my word count or not? Your thoughts are greatly appreciated!
Despite the fact that I haven’t yet finished reading Kristen Lamb‘s Rise of the Machines, yesterday I decided to start reading The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. I’m a glutton for punishment, and somehow don’t feel like I’m torturing myself enough if I’m not trying to do eighty things at once. Viva la insanity.
Shown above: Me, almost all of the time.
So the book is meant to be a 12-week program, with each week focusing on a different aspect of creativity (and the resurrection thereof). There are exercises and the like for each week as well, with the intention that you pick and complete about half of those suggested. I haven’t gotten to this part yet because, as I mentioned in an earlier post, there are a number of small sections that occur before the program begins, and I wanted to give some attention to those first.
There are two different introductions in the book, one of which explains how the author came upon the idea of helping artist’s rediscover their creativity. In this intro she talks a lot about a “Great Creator”, which may or may not be God. This put me off a bit at first, but she is actually quite open and tolerant, and speaks about how it doesn’t matter whether you really believe in God or the “Great Creator”, just as long as you can believe in the idea of creativity being something that you can give yourself to. Because of the way she speaks, you can tell that she believes in a higher power guiding creativity, but she also makes it perfectly clear that she doesn’t expect everyone who uses her program to believe in the same thing. It’s a refreshing notion because I’ve heard it said before that atheists can’t be creative because they aren’t spiritual. It’s nice to know that someone as prestigious as Julia Cameron isn’t a bigot. I’m just sayin’.
Then the book moves on to talk about some “basic principles and tools”. Specifically, the author talks about two tools that she is absolutely adamant that we use on a regular basis, throughout the program and forever on afterward.
The first tool is called “morning pages”. I’ve seen these discussed on other blogs and websites, but this is the first time I read about them from the person who created them. Put simply, “morning pages” are three pages written each day (preferably first thing in the morning). It doesn’t matter what you write about, and actually it’s better if what you write about isn’t “real” writing. Rather than focus on prose, for example, morning pages should focus on whatever is in your brain that needs to get out. For all intents and purposes, it’s a diary with a minimum page requirement. The idea is to get all the nonsense out of your brain (even if that nonsense is nothing but negative thoughts and whining) so that it’s out and gone and it can’t bother you while you’re working on your real writing (or drawing, or acting, or whatever your art may be).
I’ve actually been doing morning pages for a while now, though not on a daily basis, which Julia Cameron insists upon, so I’ll apparently have to work on that. I’ve also not been doing the pages freehand, which Cameron suggests. I’ve been instead using 750Words.com, which was actually created for this exact purpose. The webmaster of this site also read The Artist’s Way, and after determining that three pages of his long-hand worked out to approximately 750 words, he created the site. Though I occasionally do enjoy writing longhand, I prefer to utilize 750Words.com because of the speed factor. It takes me a heck of a lot longer to do three pages in longhand than to type it out on my laptop, and time is something I’m all in favor of saving. With that said, I’ve signed up for the August Challenge on 750Words – the challenge is to do your 750 words every day for the month, so hopefully that will be motivation to make sure I do my “morning pages”.
The other important tool that Cameron insists upon may be a little bit more difficult to work in. It’s called “Artist Dates”, and simply, they’re dates with yourself. That’s the long and short, really. You have to take an hour or two, once or twice a week, and go on a date with yourself. Go for a walk, go to the beach, go bowling…just go do something fun and/or relaxing, with the caveat being that you have to do it by yourself. No spouses, no kids, no family or friends of any kind. In the book Cameron talks about how you will resist doing these dates, how you will find every excuse in the book not to do them. She’s definitely right. If even half of her readers are the tiniest bit like me, there are a lot of artist’s out there saying, “Are you kidding? I can hardly find the time to bathe by myself, never mind taking myself on solo dates every week.”
And yet Cameron insists that these dates are important, if for nothing other than keeping yourself sane. I can see her point; how can one be creative if one can’t even find an hour a week to do something fun by oneself? That’s not saying that I’ll do them, but I’ll make an effort, if Cameron thinks they’re that important.
So it’s with those two “tools” in my mind that I move through the rest of this week. Starting this coming Sunday I’ll read the “Week 1” chapter and start working on the exercises. If those exercises happen to involve writing of any sort, I’ll share them on this blog. Here’s hoping that the book will help me as much as it’s supposedly helped many other artists!
Have you read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron? How did you find it? Did it help you “rediscover your creativity”? Do you have any suggestions for someone just starting the program? Please share!
Tuesday again, and time for some accountability. Are we really 30 weeks through the year? Wow…time flies when you’re having fun I guess. 😛
Health and Body Image Goal
I’m starting to believe that I should just strike this one from the list. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, but I just can’t seem to find the time in the day for exercise. Okay, that’s a lie; I could find the time, but it would come at the expense of something else. Likely that something else would be playing video games, which is one of the only things I do these days to relax. Excuses excuses, I know. Anyone want to be my motivation? Give me a good kick in the pants?
I didn’t get as much done on my supernatural romance this week as I was hoping (you’ll recall I wanted to be finished by the end of this month), but I did get a bit done, so that’s better than nothing. I’m thinking now that hoping to be finished by the end of the month was a little ambitious. I’m actually only about halfway through the story. So my new hope is to finish by the end of August. That should be enough time, I believe. I can’t wait to be rid of it, to be honest. Not because I don’t like the story, but because I’d like to be able to set one of my stories aside and say “THIS IS DONE” and not have to worry about it anymore. Well, I’ll worry about submitting it to a publisher, but that’s a whole different kind of worry.
1,000,000 Word Goal
As with above, I didn’t get as much done this week as I was hoping, but it was still pretty good. I ended the week with 10,794 words worth of blog posts, new words for my supernatural romance, and morning pages (which we’ll talk about tomorrow). This past week has brought me up to approximately 181,000 words total for the year, so I have a mini-goal for myself for this week. I’m going to try to write what I have to write to bring myself up to a total of 200,000 words. Think I can do it? I think I can. Wish me luck!
Let me start off this post by asking a question: how many of you can recall at least one birthday, Christmas, or other present-giving holiday where you were disappointed by a present? Maybe you got the cheap knock-off version of the thing you really wanted, or maybe you got something that was way outside your age range, or maybe you got something completely different from what you’d asked for because what you really wanted was deemed somehow inappropriate. Or maybe, just maybe, you got something completely random that you didn’t want, and all you could think was, “Geez, does anyone even pay attention to what I like?”
Now here’s the thing. I’m not suggesting that kids shouldn’t be grateful for the presents they get, because they should, and it really peeves me when kids are ungrateful little brats. I’m also not suggesting that parents should break the bank when it comes to presents…if you genuinely can’t afford it, then your kids are just going to have to deal (and again, be grateful).
But I am saying this: for the love of god…pay attention to what your kids like.
I bring this up because of my “jobs I’ve had” post a few days ago. Mentioning my previous positions at various department stores reminded me of something I dealt with a lot while working retail: clueless parents. I can’t count the number of times I got questions from parents who had only the basest inkling of a concept of what their child wanted as a present. For example, once I had a mother come into Zellers and ask me for help finding a game that her kid wanted. She said the game was called “Mario”. I had to bite my tongue to keep from screaming as I asked her, “Which Mario?”
A brief discussion thereafter revealed that not only did the woman not know which one of the dozens of possible “Mario” games she was looking for, but she didn’t even know which video game console she was buying it for. She knew that her kid had a “Nintendo”, but not which version, and at the time N64 was still booming, while Gamecube was wracking up new sales. Each system had a plethora of “Mario” games, so I had absolutely no way of advising this woman as to what she should buy. In the end I practically begged her to go home and ask her kid about the game again.
Now seriously, folks…it’s one thing to get a little confused when you find out that there are multiple games with similar titles…but if you don’t even know which system you’re buying it for? Sorry, but you must have your head lodged firmly up your back-end. I know there are lots of parents out there who don’t know a damn thing about video games, but how can you honestly not even know which console(s) your kid owns? Is there really not enough space in your brain to commit the words “Gamecube” or “Playstation 3” or “Gameboy” or “XBox” to memory?
I don’t mean this post to torment parents who are a little out of touch with video games and toys and the newest gadgets. We can’t all know everything about everything. But this is your child (or children) that we’re talking about. Is it really so hard to pay a little bit of attention to what they enjoy? The toys they play with? The TV shows they watch? You have no idea how many times I watched parents struggle over a wall of action figures because they had no idea which superhero they were actually looking for, or how many times I’ve watched a parent pick up some random toy with a look of bewilderment on their face and ask me, “Do you think my kid will like this?”
You have no idea how many returns I’ve seen after a holiday, during which the parent grumbled that they’d, “Apparently got the wrong thing.”
Really, I swear, it’s not rocket science.
Yes, there are an outrageous number of options out there and sometimes it can be a little overwhelming, but you know what works? Ask your kid questions. If your kid is playing with a bunch of dolls, ask them what their names are and which ones they don’t have. BOOM, gift idea. Simple. Direct. Almost 100% success rate. Or you know what else works really well? When your kid asks for something specific, take ten seconds to really listen to what they said. The “Mario” game fiasco above could have been easily rectified if the mother had paid attention long enough to hear the full name of the game and, ideally, write it down so she wouldn’t forget. Bada bing, bada boom.
We can’t all be super-parents, and no parent has a 100% grasp on everything their kid is into…but that doesn’t give us an excuse to be ignorant. Your kids have as much right as anyone else in your life to have your attention long enough for you to be able to buy them nice presents without begging a bewildered sales clerk for help. It’s not difficult. It just takes a little bit of effort. Aren’t your kids worth a little bit of effort?
After stumbling across this post from lazylauramaisey I started thinking about all the jobs I’ve had over the years and I thought, hey…why not share?
Papergirl for the Cape Breton Post This was the first job I ever had and believe it or not I think it was one the longest ones I ever had. If I’m remembering correctly, I started the route in the eighth grade and didn’t quit it until I went to college. Sometimes my mother would drive me because the route was a few streets away from where we lived, but a lot of the time I walked as well. It wasn’t a bad job for the most part, and at Christmas I got some pretty nice tips, but there was this one family I spent five years wanting to strangle. They were as rich as any family can be in Cape Breton, and it was like pulling a crocodile’s teeth trying to get my payment out of them. They would actually look out the window – right at me – and then not answer the door. My first “customers are idiots” experience.
Cashier at Zellers
For those who might not know, Zellers was a Canadian department store, much like Walmart. When I was in high school I got a job there for the Christmas season, working cash. I absolutely hated it for two main reasons. One, I was still pretty shy in high school and the job forced me to talk to people all day. Two, there weren’t enough support staff. A major flaw at Zellers was that sales were rarely properly programed into the registers, which resulted in a lot of customers loudly proclaiming, “That’s not the right price!” as I scanned. The thing is, people would do this all the time whether the item was on sale or not to try and cheat the system, and the only way to combat it was to call a “floor-walker” to go find the item in the store and prove what the actual price was. During the holidays calling a “floor-walker” was tantamount to insanity…it was so busy that chances were they would never get to you. So when my line-ups started getting super-long and all the customers started getting super-agitated I just stopped calling for help all together and overrode any price the customer’s told me was wrong. I probably cost Zellers a lot of money that holiday season, but in my defense, they should have hired more damn people.
“Waitress” at the Marine Atlantic Ferry Terminal I put quotation marks around waitress because I didn’t really serve the food, but I did sometimes serve ice cream. It wasn’t a bad job, but I had an idiot boss who would rather us wash down the same tables fifty times than stand still and do nothing for five minutes when there were no customers. I offset my annoyance by constantly filching Rice Krispie Square treats.
Also, once, my boss demanded that I stay late, even though legally I couldn’t drive that late (I was still a new driver with a restricted license). It was my first run-in with opposing an employer. I told her that I’d happily stay late if she paid my fine when I got it. She ended up sending me home.
“IT Specialist” at the Coast Guard College
This was a work term for my university program, and I can honestly say I didn’t learn a damn thing. The job mostly consisted of things like replacing the batteries in the TV remotes in the residents’ rooms. The one challenge I had was when the speaker at a meeting was having issues getting his computer to work with the overhead projector…that was the first time I’d ever seen a Mac computer, but damn it, I got it working.
“IT Specialist” at Cape Breton University Another work term, and twice as useless as the first. This is the university that I actually attended, and they created the job just to have something available because they were having absolutely no luck finding work terms for the students in my program. I had almost nothing to do for this entire term. I spent most of my time transposing a huge map via this huge electronic drafting board, which wasn’t part of my job…it was just to pass the time.
“Floor Walker” at a different Zellers
This was the first job I got after my future husband and I moved in together, and I hated it so much worse than the first Zellers. I mostly wandered around replacing merchandise that people had moved, or straightening up clothes that people had unfolded, but those were the “good” parts. The bad parts were dealing with customers, who at this particular store seemed to be twice as idiotic as others I’d dealt with in the past. I remember this one particular lady brought in a flyer the day before the sales were to start, and absolutely demanded that we give her the sales prices that day because one of the graphics on the flyer said, “Come in and enjoy our great sales today!”
A-Little-Bit-of-Everything at a Nova Scotia Liquor Store As far as customer service goes, this was one of the better ones. Everyone in the store did a bit of everything, so I’d be on cash one day and replacing stock another day, unloading new stock the day after that. But the best part was the drive-thru. Yes. I worked at a liquor store with a drive-thru. It was completely idiotic because legally the customer had to receive their liquor, pull forward, get out, and put the liquor in the trunk. It was just…foolish, honestly. But whatever. I enjoyed working the drive-thru. I particularly liked working it with this one other girl about my age. We would trade off on working the window/cash and actually running for the order. I enjoyed running for the order. It was also quite humorous because you can’t imagine how many customers we got who drove up to the drive-thru speaker with no idea as to what they actually wanted. I’ve gotten orders such as “uh…some kinda rum?” and “this thing in a blue bottle…I have no idea what kind of liquor it is”. I also had more than one traveler from another province beg me to let them take a picture of me handing their order out the drive-thru window. I don’t blame them. Leave it to Nova Scotia to have drive-thru liquor stores.
A-Little-Bit-of-Everything at Walmart
Yes, I did eventually end up at a Walmart, only because the liquor store just kinda…stopped scheduling me in. Anyway, I started in an actual store, doing more floor work, but what I was really hired for was a large group that was set to “build” the new Walmart that was going up. We put the shelving together and arranged it properly, pieced the cash register area together, put up all the signage, and eventually stocked all the shelves. It wasn’t a bad gig for brain-dead work that you could zone out during, but I hated it for one reason: the manager. Never have a met such a stone-cold witch. The best example I have against her is when she refused to let my young coworker have the afternoon off to go to her cousin’s funeral. Apparently “a cousin isn’t a close enough relative”. I was so disgusted that when I got the girl alone I told her to take off and I’d cover for her. She didn’t because she needed the job to pay for school and was scared she’d lose it, which just made me that much more disgusted. When I finally left that job it was all I could do to keep myself from slugging that manager in the face on my way out.
Customer Service Rep for Sirius Satellite Radio
…which is a nicer way of saying, “call center punching bag”. I activated people’s radios, took payments, resolved issues with accounts, and helped them troubleshoot issues with their radios. By way of explaining what this job was like, I beg everyone this: if you ever get a Sirius Satellite Radio, listen to the rep who is activating it for you. I lost track of the number of times I asked, “Does your radio have a clear view of the sky?” and received a “Yes!” only to find out later when the radio wouldn’t work that they were really in a parking garage or in the middle of their apartment building. It was all I could do not to scream bloody murder at some people.
Also, occasionally, the Sirius system would screw up and double- or triple-charge people. This made for some very interesting conversations. One man with a trucking company had purchased three radios with lifetime subscriptions (approximately $500 each) and been triple-charged, making his bill jump from $1500 to $4500. He was extremely calm and polite while I fixed the issue. Meanwhile a few years later I got a customer who had been double-charged his $15 monthly bill and he completely lost his mind. I actually hung up on him three times because he wouldn’t stop swearing and calling me every name under the sun. Pleasant!
Instrumentation Maintenance Tech at the Paper Mill My first “career” job, which is what I trained at university for. This job taught me first and foremost that I knew nothing. I may have spent four years and a crap-ton of money becoming a technologist, but my first few months at that mill taught me that school means absolutely bupkiss without experience. I really had no idea what I was doing, and my older and much-more-experienced coworkers didn’t let me forget it. Within my first six months I burned myself on several steam pipes and once managed to spray myself with hot condensate. It’s really quite amazing that I have any skin left. Oh yes, and lots and lots of 120 volt shocks. You’d think I would have learned to wear my gloves, but…no.
Maintenance is an interesting beast. You learn a lot – because you have to – but it can be very stressful because you have to keep the plant running. When the plant is down it’s losing money every minute, and that’s directly correlated to how fast you can fix something. I didn’t really realize just how stressed out this job made me until long after I’d lost it (when the mill shut down and was sold).
Commissioning Technician on the Kearl Lake Project
My first (and so far only) job out West turned out to be an excellent one. I had a good contract, good coworkers, good (for the most part) bosses, and good work. Sometimes it was hard work – particularly in the middle of winter when you’re outside in minus 40 degrees Celsius – but it was interesting work with very little stress. Since we were still building the plant there was no big scary rush to get things going like right goddamn now!!! I also got to experience the job both from the field and from the control room, which I think taught me a lot. All in all I can’t complain about this one. It was a good job with good people and I made a lot of money to pay off lots of debts and bills. Yes, after ten other jobs, I finally hit one that didn’t make me want to murder the world.
Writer!Okay, so it can’t really be considered a job until you’ve been paid for it, but it sounds better to say that I’m currently working as a writer than to say that I’m currently unemployed. 😛
My eighth grade English teacher told us once that by the time we were thirty-five we would have had up to ten different “jobs” and possibly one or two different “careers”. I didn’t believe him at the time, but there you have it: I’ve had 11 different jobs, only two of them part of my career as a technologist, and one unpaid “job” as a writer. Amazing. Has anyone else had a varied string of jobs like mine? Please share!
I’ve been talking a lot lately about Kristen Lamb‘s Rise of the Machines. And I’m not likely to stop anytime soon because every time I get a minute to read a bit more I end up finding something I want to talk about. It’s just that good. 😀
Today I read a short chapter that invites us to establish which type of writer we are…Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter. Spring writers are the young ones with tons of time, almost no responsibilities, but not a lot of experience. Fall writers are older so they have lots of experience, and they have few responsibilities because their bills are probably paid off and their children are probably grown up. Winter writers are of advanced age, meaning they don’t have a lot of time left to make their writing dreams come true, but the time they do have can be 100% devoted to writing, and they have tons of experience.
I fall firmly into the category of Summer writer. In fact, I fall so firmly in this category that I found myself nodding enthusiastically as I was reading Kristen’s description. Summer writers are still fairly young, but they’re old enough to have gained a bit of worldly experience. At first it seems like an ideal time to be writing, but there are other problems. The biggest problem facing Summer writers is that they are in the most responsibility-laden era of their lives. Summer writers have day-jobs, children, mortgages, car payments, student loan payments, chores and errands that need doing. Summer writers can’t always find time to write because they have to dedicate many of their waking hours dealing with day-to-day career and family issues. Summer writers may be fatigued because they’re run off their asses by household requirements and children keeping them up at all hours of the night.
Summer writers, to put it succinctly, are bogged down with copious amounts of stress. They’re young, and they have experience, but they have no time.
Currently I am experiencing a slight reprieve, as my job out West recently finished and we’ve paid off enough debts that we don’t have to worry about money for a little while. Regardless, a lack of time is still my biggest complaint. On a daily basis, as the sun wanes in the West, I chastise myself for not writing more, and promise to do better the next day. But the next day I find a million other things to do, or the baby has a bad day, or I didn’t get any sleep that night so I’m completely knackered. And so when I do get a few moments when I could be writing, I instead find myself reading or playing video games or watching movies in bed (and trying not to drift off while doing so).
I’m not trying to give myself a pass or anything; I don’t get to just blame all my troubles on the fact that I’m at a particular period of life and I don’t get to whine that I can’t write because everything else is in the way. But I can say that there are challenges, and that I’m definitely not alone in having to deal with them.
No matter the season, all writers have struggles that they must work through, and as a Summer writer, I invite all other “Summers” to struggle with me. We have families and jobs and responsibilities, but we also have writing, and we have each other. We can do it, come hell or high water!
What season are you? What struggles do you fight with because of the time of life you happen to be in? Please share! I’d love to hear from you!