Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Hardest Job in the World

Okay, so the title of the post may be debatable. Certainly there are people in all sorts of professions that will argue that their job is the hardest. I've been exposed to a great number of jobs in my almost (cough cough) years here on Earth and even have practical experience in a wide variety of them. Hell, I had a job where I was promoted to cleaning toilets. Some of these jobs have been difficult.

Image courtesy vectorolie at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/
There are some jobs that are done by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide and there are some jobs that only a few people in the entire world are taking on. Are the jobs in the latter group harder? Not necessarily. The job might be in an extremely remote area, or there may not be any need for more than one or two of these people, or it might be a nice-and-easy but really horrible job.

The hardest though? Well, from where I sit (currently my couch), one of the hardest jobs in the world - if not the hardest - is the one performed by the people who have accepted the challenge of creating something new. These are the people who will be bringing you the next big thing for some industry or the greatest thing since sliced bread for your home. Some will be saving the world and others will be writing the novel that our children's children will be reading in school.

For obvious reasons, it's the last item on that list that spawned this week's post. With my first novel just into the re-writing and editing stage I suffer from no grand delusions that students will be discussing my work in their English classes any time soon. However, that's not going to stop me from trying. The problem, and this is where the task becomes increasingly difficult, is that there are only so many stories that can be told.

Sure, there are a couple dozen genres and probably a hundred sub-genres to choose from, but how many different stories are there?

There's the love story, the overcome diversity story, the bad guy makes good story. The coming of age story, the war story, the who done it story. The robbery, the life lesson, the superhero.

Image courtesy vectorolie at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

There are only so many stories to tell. The challenge is in telling them differently, and the hardest challenge is in creating a brand new story from scratch - the story no one has ever told before. Great works of fiction have been created by doing the latter (being the first at anything noteworthy has a way of leaving a lasting impression), and certainly any of what we would call "the classics" today are great examples of doing the former, and doing it remarkable well.

But how?

There's a great post floating around out there that quotes 23 famous people who have written famous things. These folks give their "expert" advice to the aspiring writer. There's some good stuff in there and throughout many of the quotes you'll find an underlying theme: do it your way.

Great writers seem to acknowledge that:

  1. the only way to be a writer is to write; and 
  2. every person is different. 
Therefore, every person who wishes to become a writer, must not just commit to putting words down on the page, but must commit to doing in their own style and with their own voice. They must take those parts of themselves that make them unique: the personal experiences, dreams, fantasies, and challenges - and they must create something new.

Blake Snyder wrote a great book on screenwriting that I'm currently reading. In "Save The Cat!", he breaks down every movie ever made into one of 10 genres. That's it. Ten stories. Ten stories with thousands of variations. He also tells a story about how the studio heads are always saying the same thing: "Give me the same thing, but different."

It sounds so simple, but as it turns out that's the hardest part. 

~ Andrew

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