Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Different Jobs, Different Skills

Recently I found myself in a completely new situation - a hospital, to be exact. Among other things, being confined in one place with not much to do and nowhere to go forces you into a lot of quiet thinking time (when people are not poking holes in your arms or machines aren't beeping!). And also quiet observation time. You get to see and hear stories from people that you mightn't otherwise come across, let alone have time to really listen to. And you get to see people hard at work in an entirely different profession.

A remark by my doctor stuck with me for a long time. He said, "In here, everyone has to do things by the book. Whoever comes along after needs to know exactly what came before." He was referring to records kept of medications and treatments, of course. But it started me thinking about how different our jobs are. In the hospital, it's vital that everyone does things exactly the same way. In the writing world, it's the kiss of death. Editors are after something original, the fresh, different new voice. If we all wrote the same way, we'd end up with a pretty boring bunch of books out there.

But the other side is also true. In medicine, sometimes it's a sudden insight or inspiration (maybe even waking up in the middle of the night) that can shed light on what seemed unsolvable. In medical research, no doubt it can be the same. For all the plodding through experiments, a flash of inspiration can provide the breakthrough. And in writing, for all we want to create something original and different, we still have to be proficient at the rules of grammar (so readers can understand us clearly), and we still have to be professional in how we submit and present our work. That way, we are taken seriously.

The key is to know when the rules are helping, and when they are hindering. Free writing with no punctuation or grammar can break through a writing block. Flowery paper and scrolly writing in a submission letter will make you look like an amateur. A deadline can be overwhelming for one writer and stimulating for another. I know with historical fiction that the line between providing a rich background and being over the top with my factual material is a thin one indeed! What rules help you? Which ones hinder you?

8 comments:

Bronwen said...

It's taken me a long time to get over the get-it-right-first-time curse. A friend (rather graciously) suggested that it might be a product of a science background, rather than the equally likely explanation of my being a control freak. Write stuff, then edit is a much better way of doing things.

Also, I loves me a short deadline with the promise of dosh at the end. Nothing makes me concentrate more than an income.

Sherryl said...

Yes, us control freaks do have that curse, but it does make us better at getting our grammar right!
Income? What's that?

Snail said...

Income? What's that?

Someone told me about it once. I'm not sure I believe them.

Bren MacDibble said...

Oh no, Sherryl! Why did you have to go be poked and prodded by doctors who inadvertently gave sage writing advice?

Tanya Cunningham said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tanya Cunningham said...

Being a RN, my perfectionistic side is pretty strong, maybe more than just "a side" of me, and I have had to work on just writing when doing a first draft. I am trying to save the perfectionist in me to the revisions and am not always successful. I'm sorry you had to be hospitalized. I hope everything is better now. :)

Sherryl said...

Bren - I had some body parts removed that were giving me great trouble! (Does that inspire a SF story for you? :) ) Not an easy decision and I'm hoping things improve from here.

Sherryl said...

Tanya, we do have to leave that perfectionism in another room during the first draft, don't we? Someone once called it the editor sitting on your shoulder and you have to knock them off!