Monday, April 28, 2008

Getting away from yourself

Over at Writing for Performance, the marvellous Robin Kelly has linked to a great online article which identifies ten different tendencies exhibited by the self-employed. The ten bosses are: the perfectionist, the ‘done is good enough’, the devil on your shoulder, the workhorse, the innovator, the technophile, the guilt-tripper, the workaholic, the scheduler and the friend. Read the article and then ask yourself, which inner-boss are you working for?

I certainly see aspects from many of these archetypes in my own natural behaviour. When I was writing my first few novels, I considered a single draft plenty. Worst still, I resented any suggestion that rewriting would improve the published book. That inherent need to finish and move on still exists, a 'skip to the end' tendency I've learned to ignore over nigh on eight years of freelancing. Meeting deadlines is a necessary discipline for the self-employed, but quality trumps quantity in the long run.

Three years ago my dissatisfaction with the fit-for-purpose mindset drove me to step back from becoming a fully fledged hack in favour of a better way. Just because something's your natural tendency, doesn't mean you can't do something else. I often find exercising a chore, and would prefer to be entertained than sweating and straining. But I know exercising is good for fitness and general wellbeing, so I try to get 40 minutes exercise three times a week.

Doing a screenwriting MA forced me to abandon my 'done is good enough' default setting. I now embrace rewriting, I'm eager to learn, to find the better way of telling a story - whatever the medium. I don't produce nearly as much work as I used to do three years ago, but I believe the work I do now is better. More quality, less quantity. I've stopped taking on too much work, desisted from snatching everything offered to me like a greedy child.

Of course, you have to find a balance between doing less but better work and just doing less work. With broadband and BBC iPlayer and all other manner of distractions, bunking off is always a temptation. But my guilt-tripper tendency doesn't allow that to happen too often. If nothing else, regular bills, standing orders and direct debits are motivation to get back to work.

The best motivation I've found is working on a story you love, the joy of tinkering with the different parts, finding how best to make it purr. My dad was a mechanic for years, and both my brothers are dab hands at things mechanical. Alas, that gift eluded me [although I used to have a knack at fixing photocopiers when I worked in an office]. My talents are better suited to finding what's wrong with a story, where the plot or characterisation is misfiring.

Of coure, that's easier done on somebody else's story than on one of my own, but if I give myself enough time to think - let my subconscious mull over the problem - a solution will emerge. It's amazing how often I fixed a story issue while taking a bath. Honestly, I should be taking three baths a day, I'd be rich by now, even if I did have fingers that permanently resembled prunes. Right, my inner schedule tells me it's seven o'clock time to move to the rest of the day. Onwards.

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