Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The WAW System

Why Novelists Make Such Terrible Employees

By Bethany Maines

I once had a job as an illustrator for a physical therapy software company and at some point my passive-aggressive boss sent me an email that said, “You sure type a lot for an artist.” A statement that is, let’s face it, entirely accurate, and also lead to the development of my stealth typing technique. I can’t blame her for being suspicious. I had a set number of illustrations I needed to create each day and after I awhile I figured I could do the minimum number in about half a day and I also figured that finishing my novel would go a lot faster if I did it while I was at work. I called it “Working” At Work or WAW. It must have been amazing how I consistently managed to hit my minimum, and no more, day after day.

I would have felt more guilty except that I strongly suspected my boss had mental health issues, and she already didn’t like me since the day I accidentally blurted out my true opinion on the names of her children. Note, dear readers, that when someone says that her children are named Rainbow and Chrysalis because she wanted names that she “could never say in anger,” you should never respond, “Well, your first mistake was thinking you’d never want to.” Actually, just in general, you should probably engage your brain before speaking – email and let me know how you manage that. I’ve never quite figured it out.

At any rate, I did not keep that job forever (just far too long), but the WAW System served me well from that day to this. Or at least it did up until this year when a friend and I opened our own graphic design business. Suddenly, writing a novel on The Man’s dime is not quite so appealing when I am The Man. Suddenly, WAW means “Whaaaawww, I don’t have enough time.” Suddenly, I’m only four chapters into my latest manuscript. Or to be more accurate, not so suddenly. It’s been months. It’s not like I don’t know what happens – unemployed actress Tish Yearly visits her ex-CIA agent grandfather and ends up investigating a murder. It’s quirky, it’s charming, it’s got a beef cake Sheriff’s deputy. I even know “who done it” even (always crucial in a mystery), and yet, I’m still stuck on chapter four because someone thought doing all the graphics for an 2500 person, black-tie, fundraising event that takes place at our local zoo THIS FRIDAY would be a good idea. Oh, right, that was me. Damn. Ok, but after Friday, it’s all writing all the time. Ok, maybe after Saturday. Some sleep would be nice.


  1. Very good post, Ms. Maines!

    I never realized how much of the WAW-walk I did at my "regular" job until I left it to write full-time.

    The personal business I did during work-week hours alone sucked up so much time. I never noticed it was getting sucked until it felt like it was coming off of my own personal clock.

    Add to that the writing I did, as they say, "left-handed" during the 8a-6p, M-F slot and it adds up to stealing from the companies that employed me. Yikes. Not fun to realize you're a thief, but a little more calming to realize nearly everyone else is, too. ("But, MOMMMMMM, all the other kids get to do it!")

  2. Here's hoping you get some sleep, Ms. Bethany! (Personally, I find sleep very mysterious and elusive...kind of like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.)


  3. I, too, stick foot in mouth way too often. We are kindred souls, Bethany. (I have an example at the ready but there's no need to bring it up again, is there?)

    I, too, am the Man here at Maggie Barbieri Editorial Services, a company that takes on way too much work and has to deal with India in the dead of night way too often. I have no answers for you on this one. Somehow, we all manage to get our work done and our books written and I don't think we get enough credit for that. Maggie

  4. Thanks Maggie! I'm finding it difficult to put my foot down and say "No, this is writing time." I need to get a better balance. :( But, yes, we will go on - books will get written!! And... India? Do I even want to know?

  5. Great post, Bethany! I too was once nailed for excessive typing while designing television ad campaigns. I believe that's where I turned to freelance and the no-boss-over-my-shoulder jobs!

    Hope your graphics go well and your writing even better!

  6. HA! I specifically picked a name for my son I could easily yell in anger.