How-To Write Your Novel While You’re On the Clock

This is an age-old, time-honored tradition: Writing a novel on the man’s dollar. Yes, you can burn the midnight oil, or work on weekends, or take a few months off to pound out your tome, but there is nothing better than writing the words to that novel that may or may not become a bestseller and make you rich and famous while you’re supposed to be on the job. The lower level the job, the worse your boss is, the more deprave the conditions, the better your words, or at least the story of how your words came to the page, will be.

Plus, it should be noted that if you’re writing while on the job, you are technically being paid, albeit in a round-about, subversive way, for writing! That is no small feat. You are probably making more money off of your writing than most published authors.

Still, it’s not so easy to get writing done while you’re on the clock: there are all those urgent emails that pour into your inbox, urgent calls that light up your phone, and urgent requests from your boss to handle the various urgent issues that pop up throughout the day.

Why is it that in life, "urgent" means someone is in the hospital, but in the workplace, "urgent" ranges from "Meeting time changed" to "Need that report by EOD."?

Whatever… As long as YOU get what’s urgent in the workplace: getting work done on things that are near and dear to your heart: for you writers out there (and aren’t we all working on a novel these days, at least as far as the idea phase?), that would be your novel!

Here then, are some ways to write your novel while you’re on the clock:

1. Show up early and pound out some writing before the start of your day. Technically you’re not on the clock, but it’s a great habit to get into, especially if you have a truly demanding job where it’s hard to sneak in personal creative endeavors. Wait! Keep reading! Sacrilege, I know, to suggest that you show up early to work. But this really is an excellent way to get some writing done without interruption.

2. Or, when you do show up for work, right on time (or the usual few minutes after the official start of your working day), instead of checking your voice mail and email, and then surfing the news and gossip sites, commit to focusing completely on your writing for a solid half-hour. You’re fresh, and have yet to get sucked into or distracted by all the work-related crapola — red-flagged "urgent" emails, obnoxious voice mail messages from co-workers asking stupid questions (for like the third time), and just the usual tidal wave of stress that washes over you at the start of each working day.

Note: There is no better way to start the day than with a personal creative effort — it will juice you up, get your mind rolling, and instill energy that will help carry you through the day. If something crappy does happen during the work day, (and doesn’t something crappy always happen?), the stage you set in the morning will help you work through the negativity.

3. Just like you block off time for meetings and various work-related projects, like the overwhelming monthly report, for example, set aside specific times in your calendar to work on your novel. A half-hour every day, or an hour every other day. List it as "Top Priority Project: NVL" in your calendar. And just like you have to show up at that meeting or work on that report so as to finish it by the deadline, make sure you adhere to your schedule and work on your true "Top Priority Project" at the designated times.

4. Commit to writing a certain amount of words each day while at the office, be it 500 or 1,000 or more. Hold firm that you cannot leave the office until you have fulfilled your commitment. You’ll find a way to make the time — especially if you’re like most worker-bots and like to get the hell out of the office right at quitting time.

5. Just like smokers trying to quit throw a piece of gum in their mouth every time they feel the impulse to light up, every time you open up your browser to check out a gossip site or the blog you are currently addicted to, fire up your word processing program and pound out a paragraph or two of writing.

6. Dread meetings at work? Of course you do. Instead of re-running the Star Wars trilogy in your mind just to stay awake, jot down notes or bits of dialogue for your novel. If you can pull-off writing actual paragraphs in that kind of environment, with someone blathering on and on and on, the most annoying people in the room naturally doing most of the talking, the more power to you. Tip: Look up every once in a while and make eye contact with whoever it is that is talking. All your writing will look like you are simply taking copious meeting notes.

7. If you really, really hate your job, and you find yourself complaining to anyone who will listen, as well as making several calls a day to your significant other bitching and moaning about your sorry lot in life (not attractive!), you need to make a conscious decision to focus not on broadcasting your complaints but to writing your novel. Every time you feel the impulse to complain about most likely the same old shit, that should be the tripwire that sends you back to your desk to write. If you can pull this off, you will feel much better about yourself and your job (and people in the office, as well as your significant other, might actually want to talk to you again.)

8. If you are really focused on doing well at your job, and do indeed do a bang-up, kick-ass job, simply take that same standard for excellence and efficiency and find a way (while you are on the clock) to make it happen for your personal project as well: prioritize time to work on your novel, and when you are working on it, give the words you write the high-level attention to detail, originality and top-notch quality you would an important work-related project.

9. Take advantage of the lunch hour. Either find a quiet cafe and write in your journal, or write while you eat at your desk. Finding a cafe is preferable — gets you away from your ringing phone, incoming emails, people popping by to talk with you, not to mention that big old stack of papers that needs to be dealt with.

10. Incorporate events and characters from the workplace into your story. Annoying co-workers and your boss will certainly provide loads of ideas. Writing them into your story has the added benefit of helping you mentally deal with their shit in the real working world: you’ll find that taking the time to reveal the absurdities of your workplace in the form of the written word has a soothing effect — it provides a way to take a step back and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Plus, there’s that whole revenge thing: in the pages of your novel you can expose — in a no-holds-bar fashion — the idiotic and petty behavior of your terrible boss and lame co-workers to the reading public-at-large (or at least to the people in your office that you like).

11. When working on your novel, spread out paperwork all over your desk. It will look like you are really busy, and if people stop by to talk with you about something, you can just point to all the papers and say, "I can’t talk right now — I’m in deep." They’ll totally get it, and leave you alone to write.

12. Form a writing group with like-minded co-workers. Reserve a conference room each week and hold your workshop sessions right there during the middle of the work-day.

13. End your day with an allotted amount of time to write — say the last 15 minutes or so before quitting time. It will clear your headspace of the day-job baggage and put you in a writing frame-of-mind as you head out the door. It’s also a great way to reignite your energy level and find your second wind after a long day at work. You can then use that second wind to carry you home and continue with your writing efforts until it’s time to hit the sack and begin the work day, I mean novel-writing, anew.

Be sure to check out the Simple Things You Can Do Right Now to Jumpstart Your Writing Efforts, as well as the Not-To-Do List.

And be sure to also check out the Working For the Man Book:

Order now: Amazon

More details at workingfortheman.com.

52 Projects in MySpace

Continuing my tradition of being an early adopter — on the cutting edge of the internet space, I’ve recently started a 52 Projects page on this new thing called MySpace. It’s this amazing connective community site. You’ve probably never heard of it, but I think you should definitely check it out.

I also figured that starting a 52 Projects MySpace page would help in my effort to spend less time online in front of a computer, and more time out and about.

But seriously, so many people have MySpace pages: SMITH, Glowlab, Josh Kilmer-Purcell, Hillary Carlip, Rachel Kramer Bussel — the list goes on and on. Thought it would be fun to connect on MySpace with those folks, and with 52 Projects readers as well.

An Interview with Dr. Melissa Hope Ditmore, Editor of the Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work

Putting together a book is tough, but when that book is an encyclopedia, the job has got to be so much tougher. So many words, so many entries, so much fact-checking, so… all encompassing. But Dr. Melissa Hope Ditmore has done just that with her years-in-the-making project two-volume Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work, just published by Greenwood Press. A one-of-a-kind reference work about a subject matter that is often seen through a narrow, cliche ridden vantage point, the encyclopedia delves into and explores sex work and prostitution from a full-view perspective: the historical, political, societal, cultural, activist and more. I interviewed Ditmore about her "mega-project" — how it came about, what’s in the encyclopedia, and who it’s for.

How did this project come about? How long have you been working on it?

The Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work was the brainchild of an editor at Greenwood, the publisher. She grew up in Detroit in the 1970s and witnessed pimp culture, especially souped-up cars. Pimpmobiles really stood out for her and may have been the genesis of the encyclopedia! As an acquisitions editor at Greenwood, she inquired after potential editors for a reference book about prostitution and was referred to me by Priscilla Alexander, the doyenne and ally of the American sex workers’ rights movement. Priscilla co-edited Sex Work: Writings by Women in the Sex Industry and I had hoped to co-edit this with her, but her other commitments prevented her from taking this on. An encyclopedia is a mega-project. My opportunity was a triumph of experience over hope: no one who had published a book before wanted to edit such a large volume!

Coming up with the list of topics was wonderful fun. The list is exceptionally rich because of the many entries that were suggested by the contributors. Pulling this manuscript together took more than two years of contact with some of the most fascinating writers and subjects you could hope to meet.

Has there ever been an academic reference book about prostitution and sex work?

This is the first reference work devoted to prostitution and sex work, despite the huge variety of academic and mainstream writing on sex work. Sexologists Vern and Bonnie Bullough published History of Prostitution in 1964, and Prostitution: An Illustrated Social History in 1989. These great resources are very different from the encyclopedia. The most obvious difference is that the encyclopedia has content addressing the last twenty years, including sex worker activism. The wide variety of voices in the encyclopedia is just not possible in a smaller book with two authors.

Who is the encyclopedia for?

Everyone should have an opportunity to read it. Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work is meant for a general audience. The writing is clear, there is no jargon, and the topic has universal interest. Most readers will probably be students because reference books are usually library resources. But everyone is a student of human nature and sexual activity!

I wonder how many people will find it not in a public library but in the private collections of their favorite sex professionals. Sex workers proved to be enthusiastic readers of the encyclopedia as soon as it became available. The positive response has been overwhelming, demonstrating the need for this book.

What are some of the entries — entries that would be good examples of what one will find in the encyclopedia?

No matter who you are, something in the 342 entries will interest you! There are people, history, places, health issues and more. Some of the entries that I recently re-read are Hip-Hop, Habsburg Monarchy, the film Midnight Cowboy, and World War I Regulation. The religious entries always engage me, especially the early Christian ascetics the Desert Harlots. Sacred whores indeed!

The entries on people include many familiar names: Paul Cezanne, Emma Goldman, Annie Sprinkle, Victoria Woodhull, and Emile Zola. But the encyclopedia also offers opportunities to learn about fascinating people you may not have heard of, for example, the Renaissance composer Barbara Strozzi, the medieval Chinese martial artist and courtesan Liang Hongyu, convicted madam Regine Riehl, and Network of Sex Work Projects co-founder Paulo Longo.

The 179 writers include the novelist Tracy Quan, who wrote about Opera, and popular music critic John Holmstrom, who wrote about Rock Music. Renowned scholars include Helen J. Self on Britain’s Street Offenses Act, Jo Doezema on Abolitionists, Heather Montgomery on Child Prostitution, Thomas Steinfatt on Trafficking Propaganda, and Stephanie Budin on the Ancient World. Advocates

Greenwood produced this beautifully. Illustrations abound, including Daryl Hannah as the automaton prostitute in Blade Runner, depictions from the Kama Sutra, ukiyo-e prints, and scenes from sex work venues in Amsterdam, Bangkok, New Orleans, and New York.

Are there political issues with a reference work like this? Could you see libraries NOT take the book because of its subject matter?

Yes, this has already come up. One contributor said that her local library, which was a university library, hesitated to order it. It is, after all, the only encyclopedia featured on Fleshbot. The library needed reassurance that Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work is a serious work that belongs in its collection and ordered the encyclopedia after she showed them the press release and excerpts that are on the website.

It’s priced more for the reference/library market, right? It’s more than normal book buyers are used to paying for a book… if someone can’t afford it, how might they go about getting access to the book?

The encyclopedia is an unusual book with an unusual price. Most readers will find it through their libraries. Request that your local library — whether that is a public library, a university library, a school library — get the encyclopedia. You can make it easier for your librarian by bringing a printed copy of the order form, and, if necessary, the excerpts offered to reviewers. They are available from the online press kit.

Any chance you might create an online wiki around this work?

What a great question! The encyclopedia would be an enormous resource for someone creating a wiki about the sex industry. I don’t see myself taking on such a technical project. I would like Greenwood to produce a cd-rom of the work, which would be more affordable and portable. My next book will be smaller!

More information about the Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work.

An Interview with Julie Blattberg,author of Backstage with Beth and Trina

Not Beth and Trina. That’s illustrator Wendi Koontz on the left, and author Julie Blattberg on the right.

First, I promised not to mention any details of the backstage "experiences" author Julie Blattberg may or may not have had with Vanilla Ice, David Lee Roth, Jon Bon Jovi, and Madonna.

Now that that’s out of the way, I can let you know about Julie’s very cool new book, Backstage with Beth and Trina (illustrated by Wendi Koontz). It’s a colorful, sexy adventure story about two rocker chicks who are determined to get backstage and, well, party with the band. But this book goes beyond the visual and ventures into the realm of scents. How does it transcend the normal confines of the picture book? By reaching back to the tomes of our youth. That’s right: Backstage with Beth and Trina is a scratch-and-sniff adventure. But the scents in this book go way beyond strawberry and banana — we’re talking beer, cigarettes, leather and latex. Beth and Trina are rocker chicks, after all. I interviewed Julie about the new book. What follows are her on-the-record responses.

How did you come up with this idea? When did the scratch-and-sniff element come into play?

I’d been working for a publisher of children’s books for a few years, and it occurred to me how unfair it was that kids have all of these different books with fun formats — scratch-and-sniff, lift-the-flap, glow-in-the-dark, and so on. I thought about existing formats and wondered what could be done for grown-ups. Around the same time, I was photographing a lot of rock bands and concerts, and thought I could do something cool with music. The brainstorming led to the characters, which led to the rock club setting, and the rest, as they say, is history. Rock shows are full of…interesting smells…

How much testing was done to get the smells just right? Any misfires that didn’t make it into print (and scent)?

My favorite part of the process of having this book published was a meeting requested by my editor: "Can you come downtown this week? The swatches are in." The two of us sat in her office scratching and sniffing scent samples, suppressing giggles when staff walking by overheard phrases like, "This doesn’t really smell enough like vomit," and "I know what we can use for the condom!"

The one aroma that we couldn’t quite get was Jack Daniel’s. But everyone knows what that smells like anyway, right?

Are you Beth, or Trina?

What do you think?

How old were you when you first tried to get backstage?

My first success story: High school. INXS. Jones Beach, NY. A friend of mine was infatuated with Michael Hutchence (R.I.P.) and HAD to get backstage. Despite our best efforts to sweet-talk security, it was time to give up hope…until an angry guy stormed out of the backstage door, due to a "situation" we overheard. He saw three forlorn-looking girls on the sidelines and did the right thing: He gave us the backstage passes that he and his friends could no longer use. We got backstage, had underage drinks with the band, and talked about mundane things like popular movies and restaurants in Manhattan.

Any tips to getting backstage?

Get a job in the music business. Or (and I hate to say this), if you’re a girl: get a boob-job, wear lots of makeup and little clothing; crying works, too.

What’s the soundtrack for this book?

The soundtrack is the self-published debut album of a hard rock / heavy metal band of undetermined origin. There are so many talented singers, writers, and musicians out there, trying to make it in the highly competitive and somewhat shady music business. The headlining act in BACKSTAGE WITH BETH AND TRINA is not one of those bands. Instead, imagine a cross between Whitesnake, Cinderella, and Def Leppard; take away half of the hair product — and half of the charisma; and turn the amplifier up to 11.

Will there be further adventures for Beth and Trina? I’m pushing for a catfight…

Further adventures are in the works. And rest assured — there will be guitars and there will be long hair involved. Now what do you suppose a catfight would smell like, Jeff?

Visit BethandTrina.com | Check out their myspace page | Buy Backstage with Beth and Trina

Speaking of Writing

I posted the other day about Charles Bukowski over at SMITH (continuing with the theme of the stories we do not tell), about how Bukowski didn’t hold back in his writing, that he put it all out there with his words.

And I mentioned it here at 52projects.com a couple weeks back, and in the post over at SMITH as well, the poem "So You Want To Be A Writer?" by Bukowski. I really recommend that you track down a copy of that poem.

This line in particular offers up some excellent insight on the subject of holding back, of perhaps being afraid to tell a story, or the whole story:

“if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.”

I do that all the time. I’m always asking other people to read my stories (especially my wife) — not necessarily for critique, but to see if I should put the story out there…

Anyway, you’ll notice at the SMITH post that I offered up a free copy of Bukowski’s Factotum to the first ten people who posted a relevant comment (at SMITH). Five comments have been posted so far, so five free copies are still available.

9/11

Have you written down the story of your 9/11 experience, your memory of that day, your thoughts and feelings?

I was in New York that day (though not near the World Trade Center), and I’ve read so much about it, seen so many images, watched so many news reports and documentaries and movies, and talked about it a great deal, with friends, co-workers, family — and yet, I don’t think I’ve ever written anything down on paper about that day. I need to do that.

It’s the events and experiences that are sad or frightening or horrific that are usually the hardest to process with the written word, mostly because you just don’t get started — you avoid it. But once you do get going, the words just flow, and they are often the most revealing and profound words that you write, they dig to the core and lead to a deeper understanding.

Put the date at the top of the page, and start writing…