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Archive for April, 2010

I’m going for a change of pace today. I was reflecting on the unemployment rates around the Western world, and the things I have seen people do to shoot themselves in the foot when applying for jobs.

Some context here – I worked in human resources for eleven years. During that time, I read thousands of job applications and interviewed hundreds of candidates for Australian public service posts. I That’s a lot of applications, and a lot of interviews. From that, I’ve put together ten tips for the job-seeking candidate.

  1. The space on your resume marked ‘Memberships and Associations’ is generally used for listing your professional affiliations – Institute of Engineers, Australian Institute of Project Managers. The Doubleday Book Club does not count.
  2. Listing all the courses you’ve taken since 1967 in a forty-four page document is not as fabulous an idea as it sounds. I’ve got four hundred applications to read, and I’m not interested in the training course you took in preparing punch-cards for a computer the size of the room. Similarly, telling me about the work experience you did in a fashion store twenty years ago is just wasting your time and mine. 
  3. Sometimes it’s best just not to include anything in your resume that includes the word ‘personal’ in the title – unless you were a Personal Assistant. Including ‘women’ and ‘drinking’ under your personal interests does not persuade me to grant you an interview. 
  4. I also do not care about your marital status, blood type or religious views. 
  5. If you are e-mailing your job application, consider what your e-mail address says about you. Receiving a job application from theshadowmaster@evildoer.com is one thing; compounding the perception by actually signing yourself off as The Shadow Master in the e-mail just seals your fate. Your application gets filed in the circular file.  
  6. Following on from #5: If you include your website, check it for appropriate content. Same goes for public profiles on networking sites.  
  7. Cutting and pasting sections from previous job applications may save you time, but please check that you’ve cut and pasted the right bits, and preferably that you have the correct name of our organisation.  
  8. Before you list someone as your referee, ask them what they will say if someone calls for a reference. It amazes me how many referees I surprise when I contact them, and the small but significant number who say things like ‘oh, we fired her for gross incompetence’ or ‘I would never have him work for me again’.  
  9. a.) Job applications for the Australian Public Service generally ask applicants to demonstrate their claims. This usually means providing examples of what kind of documents you have written, teams you have managed, problems you have solved. Just saying ‘I am a good leader’ doesn’t tell me anything. At all. Except maybe that you’re not a terribly good liar.  b.)    Being a Dungeon Master does not adequately illustrate your leadership skills. Find a better example.
  10. Spell-check. This should require no elaboration.

 And here’s an extra one just for Canberra. It’s a small town, and there are only a couple of degrees of separation. If you lie on your resume, you’ll probably get caught out. For the rest of you outside Canberra: the world is getting smaller too, and you never know who your interviewer knows.

Just remember – the recruiter is looking for any excuse to toss your application to the floor. The trick is not to give them one.

(Coming soon – why your interview performance didn’t net you the job offer. )

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I’m planning ahead today – going to have my goals set before the month begins!

This month’s writing goals are:

  • Revise Learning the Runes. I have had some really useful feedback on how it could be improved, and after I’ve done some reading on point of view (a real problem area for me) and dialogue, I’m going to revise the story (done).
  • Try to stay on track with How to Think Sideways lessons. So far, so good, although Lesson 8 is proving more difficult than I expected. (Lesson 8 complete)
  • Finish four assignments from my comprehensive writing correspondence course. So far, I’m tracking ok to finish on time – if I can keep that up in May and June, I’ll save myself some money and get that Certificate! The assignments are: outline of writing goals, book review, short story (max 1000 words) and novel synopsis (800 words). (Writing goals done)
  • I am begging myself to finish my outline for my family history article (if it’s still outstanding by Saturday). (Update: it is)
  • Finish the short story I began writing from an image sent to me by a friend. Try to keep it under four thousand words.
  • Blog posts: one blog on Pearl Sideways for each completed How to Think Sideways lesson. Four blogs on I, Mother of Pearl, minimum five hundred words, at least one on the subject of motherhood.
  • Ten journal pages.
  • Keep participating in the Think Sideways forum.
  • Two letters, minimum one thousand words. (one done)
  • 750 words a day on my novel, progress to be posted at least weekly to the word count meter on PearlSideways.

I would also like to complete a critique on a piece offered at Forward Motion, but looking at my writing workload (and noting I didn’t meet all of April’s goals) I might need to hold that one over until June. But it’s definitely on my to-do list.

I still have one day left on my April writing goals, so maybe I’ll get that darned article outline completed tomorrow. The power of having a publicly stated goal and the shame of not completing it may outweigh my procrastinating tendencies. (On the other hand, at least I procrastinated doing the article outline by writing other stuff – so not all bad.) I hate having a to do list with items unchecked by the due date though – it’s a pretty powerful motivator. You can bet your life savings that tonight after Little Pearl has retired I’ll be making up the last three journal pages to reach my goal of ten for the month, and then that just leaves the article outline to go.

I don’t know why I’m having such trouble with the article outline. It’s an article I am really, deeply interested in, a subject I’m overwhelmingly enthusiastic about, with lots of stuff that hits my writing buttons. I think some of it has to do with having to re-read sections of a few historical texts to get my facts straight that’s putting me off. Time to get out the index cards and the graph paper for mind maps – nothing is surer to tempt my inner writer out to play. And hopefully tomorrow or Saturday I will update my April writing goals post with one more ‘complete’.

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Illusions

Turns out I’m not the writer I thought I was. Or, more accurately, I wasn’t really a writer at all. In the same way that champagne was a revelation after years of drinking Australian sparkling wine (we make damn fine wine, but sparkling? not so much), I realised that I was a Clayton’s writer. It was no news to me that I read about writing more than I wrote, or talked about it more than I wrote, or scribbled a few pages in my journal each week and called it ‘my writing’. But somehow I felt that qualified me to call myself a writer, if only in my head. 

 

I did these things because I badly wanted to be a writer. I read fast and furiously, and a good book is my second most favourite thing in the world (after family). I wanted to write like J V Jones, Stephen King, Robin Hobb, Juliet Marillier or Sara Douglass.   

But it seemed an impossible dream. I was pretty sure that when I put pen to paper, it wasn’t going to come out like Robin Hobb. I didn’t want to try, and to fail, because I thought that would be way worse than never trying.   

Since I began this blog, and the other actions I documented in my very first blog post, I have come to realise that now I am a writer. Not because I’m published (I’m not), not because I’ve now written a number of completed pieces (although I have), but because I finally understand the need to write, no matter how loudly the Inner Critic is shrieking in your ear, no matter how much sleep you missed the night before, no matter how many social events you’re missing out on to finish that short story or last chapter. Right now, working on my novel and short stories is what’s keeping me sane in a world of dirty nappies, crawling infant and sleepless nights.   

Don’t get me wrong. I love this world – the crawling infant part of it anyway. And I love teaching her through play and role modelling how to talk, eat, interact with others. But I don’t spend all day doing these things – she has to sleep, and learn to amuse herself, and practice all those complicated but repetitive physical movements. And so when I write, it’s the time in my day I can fly with my Muse, solve the tricky problems of plot or character motivation, take a vacation in another world. And I don’t even have to leave home.   

Trying and failing is not a concern for me anymore. What does failure mean anyway? Who decides? For me, finishing is the key. Getting the words down on the screen is what is important. Right now, my writing is about just two things: generating and ideas and word count. In the immortal words of Metallica, nothing else matters.   

I’ll concentrate on voice, style and impact down the track – once I’ve learned how to keep writing, every day, no matter what’s blowing up in my life or falling down. The satisfaction of seeing that word count grow, from writing ENDS after a two thousand word story … let’s just say, it’s been a long time between drinks but I’m making the most of it now.    

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This month I joined Forward Motion, the online writing community run by Lazette Gifford (and previously Holly Lisle). Reading the posts on the forums, I’ve been inspired to create my own monthly writing goals.

My April goals are:

  • Two short stories, minimum one thousand words each (two completed: La-di-dah Delilah, Learning the Runes, one bonus story in progress)
  • Novel synopsis, one thousand words (completed)
  • Three pages of script for one-act play (completed – also completed seven pages of script for TV comedy skit)
  • Lessons five to eight, How to Think Sideways (Lessons 5 to 7 complete, Lesson 8 in progress)
  • Four blog posts for imotherofpearl, minimum 500 words each (completed)
  • Four blog posts for pearlsideways (completed)
  • Ten journal pages (seven completed)
  • Outline non-fiction article
  • Two letters, minimum one thousand words each (two completed)

So why these goals?

Short stories: I struggle to write short stories, but recently a friend suggested an arrangement where we swap images and we each write a thousand word story, essay or poem inspired by that image. I’ve been surprised by the number of ideas an image can generate!

Novel synopsis and Script: I’m working my way through a correspondence writing course I began nearly four years ago. If I don’t finish by 10 July, I have to pony up an extra hundred bucks for continued tuition. The course is good in that it has challenged me to write in genres I wouldn’t normally, ahem, touch with a ten foot pole. (Juvenile fiction??? A SCRIPT, for god’s sake?) But without it, I would probably have never finished my novel outline.

How to Think Sideways: I’m really enjoying Holly Lisle’s online writing course. I’m having a bit of trouble getting my head around Lesson 5 (see PearlSideways) but trying to stay on track with the weekly lessons. The biggest change for me so far is the ease with which I’m now generating ideas – and the amount of writing I’m doing, instead of talking about doing.

Blog posts: I find the blog posts, especially for imotherofpearl, confronting –so I have to force myself to do them. It’s the only writing I do at the moment that has a wider audience than Little Pearl and one close friend. The PearlSideways posts are more about chronicling my personal journey as a writer and learning the techniques I need to succeed in finishing my novel.

Journal pages: Since I began upping my writing quota, I’ve found I write in my journal a lot less. I still want to keep my journal (hard to break a twenty-four year streak) so I’ve set myself a very modest goal of ten pages a month.

Non-fiction article: I have an idea for a non-fiction article I want to write for our local family history magazine. It’s a great story and I even have pictures to illustrate it – but it will be the first thing I write that I actually intend to submit somewhere, so I’ve been procrastinating on it for months. Even money says that I get to the end of the month and still haven’t started it J

Letters: I write to my friend in Perth – about writing, family, her life, my life. It maintains a sense of closeness between us even though we live over four thousand kilometres apart.

I’m halfway through the month but not quite halfway to my goals. So this post is a kick up the backside – get writing!

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I’ve discovered there are some amazing people out there in the online community who have developed software for writers and are giving it away for free.

I wrote this week’s blog post with Q10. You can download Q10 for free at http://www.baara.com/q10/. It’s an amazingly simple programme with a heap of great benefits.

  • The text editor is full screen. For writers like me who use a netbook or mini-laptop, any app that uses the full seven inch screen is a definite bonus.
  • The application has the look and feel of a DOS-based programme. It’s simple, controlled by keyboard shortcuts, and doesn’t distract you with lots of bells and whistles.
  • I may be alone in this, but I love how easy the tangerine text is to read on a black background.
  • It has an unbelievably easy to use timer. I’m using Q10 every day to do ten minutes of timed writing, to overcome my ‘IT MUST BE PERFECT’ tendencies.
  • It collects your word count for timed writing (or untimed, for that matter).
  • The resulting file is .txt – compatible with any word processor.  
  • It’s intuitive and unbelievably easy to use.
  • It’s a portable application, so you can install it on a USB stick and use it any PC. 

Have I sold you on this yet? Did I mention you can have it for free?

Simon Haynes, author of the Hal Spacejock series, has developed a piece of software that can either be used for outlining or writing your entire novel. It’s called yWriter5 and again, unbelievably, it will cost you nothing. Ever. (I suspect Simon is a fellow West Australian, as he is published by the wonderful Fremantle Arts Press). yWriter is a far more sophisticated editor than Q10 but looks very easy to use.  Simon’s site has a very simple introductory video tutorial that will give you an idea of the functionality offered by his software. 

I’m also currently trialling Liquid Story Binder for free, although this costs for registration. However, unlike more commercial trials, the LSB 30 day trial is really for 30 days – so if you don’t use it on Day 2, you still have 29 days remaining on Day 3. This is a product that’s quite popular amongst the students of the How to Think Sideways course that I’m enrolled in. I love that it has mind mapping capability, that it is also small enough to run from a USB drive, and that it has a full screen mode option.

It takes some effort to become familiar with the different features, and it’s less intuitive than yWriter5, but has more flexibility and scope to do a lot of interesting and obscure things. This makes it ideal for tailoring to your writing needs, no matter how strange – but you’ll have to invest the effort up front. Check out this blog for awesome video tutorials on LSB – the software will be far less intimidating after you watch these.

Lastly, I’m looking into trialling Writer’s Café, another piece of writing software about which I’ve heard good things. The trial again is free but registration for Writer’s Café is a bit more expensive that for LSB, even with the great exchange rate for the Aussie dollar. Stay tuned for my final verdict in Writing Software Part II.

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