Jobs? Employment? Preparing for the New “Normal”

We’re in a rapidly changing world, and have no idea what the new “normal” will look like. In addition, many people are out of work. And some have gone through two cycles of layoffs/furloughs, now.

Smart people are looking ahead, and covering as many bases as they can. They want to be ready, and in the right place at the right time, when things really start to reopen, and jobs (with good pay) become available.

Here are a few things to consider if you’re at home and hoping for a new or better job in the future.

Can you write?

jobs - employment - new normalShort-term, I’m enthusiastic about writing… mostly fiction, especially short-ish fiction, because that’s what many readers seem to crave at the moment.

There are many resources. Chris Fox is one of the best, as is the Facebook Group he created, 20BooksTo50K. Join it if/when they’re open to new members.

Chris’s Write to Market book is a modern classic. Even if some of the info isn’t entirely new news now, I still tell people to read it to understand the basics of indie publishing.

Also, Chris’s YouTube channel is filled with all kinds of great advice. Just don’t get overwhelmed by it, okay?

Many friends have – like me – been impressed with Neil & Jen Bakewell’s 21-Day Course that takes you from “gee, I’d like to write a book” to actually published in 21 days… if you follow their schedule. (I won’t pretend that it’s easy, but it is something you can do if you have a couple of free hours each day, plus extra time on the weekends.)

If that link doesn’t work, check back in a couple of months. I’ll post a fresh link when the course is open again.

Also, Sterling & Stone provide useful advice, as well.

Can you learn?

So many formal and informal education resources are offering free courses, I can only list a few here.

Ivy league universities and others are offering free courses, and many of them can help you acquire the credentials you’ll need to compete in the new job market. I mean, really, if you’re going to study anywhere (online), why not aim to impress your future boss?

Here are some useful links:

Or, if you’re interested in a creative career, CreativeLive offers free courses every week. They may help you start a fresh career, or build on talents you already have.

Watch trends!

Watch for clues about the future. One way is to read Lifehacker and follow links in their articles. Sure, their articles are useful, but the links can be the real pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow. Choose a topic that interests you, and proceed down every winding path you find. (Some will be better than others.)

Here are some mailing lists that can take you even further.

  • Exploding Topics – weekly trending topics (Again, follow the links!)
  • Wunderman Thompson – quirky, but read between the lines to see interesting developments
  • Non-Obvious Newsletter – another weird, sometimes-fascinating newsletter that highlights very odd things. Some get a raised eyebrow response. Others are more connect-the-dots material. And a lot of them are just blink-blink for me. (Meaning: I do not get it. Are they on the same planet as I am…? <- Rhetorical question.)
  • The Prepared is mostly about manufacturing. I read it anyway. Odd, interesting things turn up among the topics and links.
  • Movements is about… well, movement. In other words, transportation, personal and commercial. Understanding where transportation is going (literally and figuratively) can highlight where the jobs will be… again: literally & figuratively.

I’ll add to these lists as I notice fresh, useful resources.  Meanwhile,  Pocket offers specialized articles, and – of course – Medium can be well worth browsing.

Storyclock Update

In the past, I’ve run straight into burnout by working too much. But even as I write that, it’s hard for me to say “too much,” when I still wasn’t producing books at a steady pace.

More than once I’ve said, “I’m working crazy hours and… getting nowhere.”

And then I found Storyclock.

So, I spent two days this week, reworking my current story outline so it made sense on the Storyclock template.

Storyclock updatesIt was excruciating at times. (I hate editing my own work, even when it’s just a plot outline.)

As I did that, I realized that one reason I’m usually at my desk before dawn is: As soon as I wake up, I’m trying to preserve that right-brain inspiration & creativity.

I want to get as much of my (usually new) story written, before the inspiration evaporates.

I know that when I stop, even with an outline, I’m going to lose my enthusiasm. Then my work doesn’t flow. It shifts into awkward starts-and-stops.

Eventually, the story just seems to quit working for me.

So, I tend to write & write & write, day after day, never feeling entirely happy with the book.

And then I’m in burnout, and the book is added to the “to finish someday” pile I never seem to re-energize. Not really.

But now, with Storyclock, my stories have rhythm and synergy and resonance.

When in Rome…

Here’s an example.

Let’s say my story is a romance between a pilot and a flight attendant. They meet and the romance begins on a flight to Rome.

And, after that, every major turning point in the story – where the acts break (story beats) – they’re always in Rome.

Finally, at the end of the story, both of them – independently – go back to Rome to remember happier times.

And they accidentally run into each other, and confess how miserable they’ve been, apart, and it’s HEA. (Happily Ever After)

So, Rome is the repeating rhythm. And the reader knows – if only on a subtle level – when a scene is set in Rome, the romance makes progress, even if it’s not always smooth.

Everything else is the mundane stuff that happens between the magical moments (and drama) as the romance grows. And most of that probably isn’t in Rome. Not the way I’m writing the story, anyway.

Sure, those everyday scenes are essential, too. In fact, the mundane scenes make a romance seem more real. After all, that’s what real life is like, right…?

But having resonance and symmetry in the story… it makes it easier to write the chapters.

Or maybe there’s another cue. For example, “Okay, each of the Big Moments in this story happen where my heroine meets someone she didn’t know before, and that person connects her with more of her (missing) past.”

And, with that mindset, and aiming for resonance,  I make sure my heroine meets someone new at each big turning point in the story. Also, I do my best to echo the previous Big Moment in terms of tone and style. as well.

It’s not entirely new to me. If fact, by the third act of the story, each Big Moment is a headspace I’m familiar with.

And I can just let the story flow.

That’s an entirely different game, for me anyway.

It’s sort of like baseball

Here’s another way to look at it. Think of your story beats as if you’re playing baseball. You’re going from first base to second base to third, and then home.

Each of those bases may involve some major tension. Your readers will turn page after page, wondering “will the hero/heroine survive this and achieve his/her/their goal?”

The in-between scenes are just the lower-key steps that take your story from one base (or dramatic twist, or plot turn) to the next.

But each base has something major in common… a cue to the reader (and to me, as the author) about the tone & importance of what’s going to happen there.

… And that structure is how I could write another 1k words this morning (after moving & rebuilding three websites). It was almost effortless. I was able to drop right into the headspace I needed.

I’m still astonished. And pleased, of course.

So, the Storyclock system works well for me. I’m sure there are other ways to craft a plot for the same effect, but putting this on a clock-style wheel keeps it simple. And very visual.

If you haven’t already read my article about Storyclock plotting, here it is: Using Films to Understand Storytelling.

Using Films to Understand Storytelling

Late yesterday, I got serious about trying the StoryClock concept. After watching this video, I saw how the “clock” approach could help me plot stories faster and better. And, so far, it’s definitely helping.

So, I was pretty excited about this. See, I already had notes – with times noted – from when I analyzed “story beats” in films, a couple of years ago.

Understanding Storytelling with Films

But, putting those notes onto a “clock” to see symmetry and foreshadowing and all those good things… I realized I’d been noting the times on the TV screen. (In other words, that line – with times noted – that appears when you pause, reverse, or fast-forward through a show.)

So, I worried that the entire clock could be thrown off by as many as 10 minutes, depending on how old the movie was, and how grandiose the opening titles. (The original “Pink Panther” movies come to mind.)

This morning, I re-watched one of my favorite films – in terms of plotting, anyway – and… wow! I’ve learned SO much since then, in terms of telling a story. Now, the movie looks entirely different.

That movie is Crimson Peak. It’s more stylish than most movies, but I won’t pretend the story is The Meaning Of Life. I just love the layers that del Toro puts into his films.

My original notes started at the seven-minute point, when I noted that the girl’s father gives her a pen, and that’s foreshadowing.

But now, I realize that even before the seven-minute point, there’s a funeral, and a scene that resonates with, oh, at least half the creepy scenes in the movie… and then a specific warning about the dangers ahead.

And the symmetry and foreshadowing and so on… they go on & on.

Why didn’t I put those scenes in my original notes?

Well, until I’d learned more about storytelling, I didn’t realize how important they were.

At the moment, this is pretty cool. A whole lot of “Oh, THAT’s how important those cues are, to have the story resonate with the reader.”

So, if you’ve been writing for a while, or have been studying plotting and story beats, go back and watch your favorite old movies. You may see things that were so subtle, you hadn’t noticed them before.

And, as a writer, that’s important. In many cases, you want your cues and foreshadowing to enrich your story as it unfolds.

In films and TV shows, you may see things you’d never paid attention to, until you looked as a writer.

Recommended Reading

If I were stranded on a desert island with pen, paper, and just two books about plotting, these might be those two books. I recommend owning them in paperback, so you can flip back & forth between the pages, quickly.

Super Structure: The Key to Unleashing the Power of Story, by James Scott Bell.

This may look like a thin, short book. Don’t let that fool you. It’s filled with useful insights.

In 14 steps, Bell explains what happens in every essential moment of a good story. And he explains it clearly.

For me, the biggest discovery was what he calls “the mirror moment,” where the protagonist comes face-to-face to the situation he/she/they have landed in… because they made mistakes. 

Adding that moment in a story can make a major difference in the impact on the reader. It adds to the suspense, as the reader wonders, “Will he/she/they get out of this mess? Was the lesson really and truly learned, this time?”

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need, by Jessica Brody

This explains the story beats of each of 10 basic plots/genres. It’s useful to understand how a romance is different from, say, a superhero story.

It’s more by-the-numbers than Bell’s Super Structure book is, but – especially for those new to plotting – this book is a time-saver. Big time.

(And, weirdly, that paperback is currently less expensive than buying it in Kindle format. But, at over 300 pages, there’s no way I’d want to be trying to flip back & forth through the pages in digital format.)

But… if you’re a new writer and you’re working on shorter fiction (“short reads”), you may want to take a look at How to Write Short Stories And Use Them to Further Your Writing Career, by James Scott Bell. It’s short, so it’s fine to read in Kindle. Also, he includes a lot of additional information about writing & publishing.

(If you don’t want to spend the $3.99 for the Kindle edition, here’s the most important point I learned from this book: “A great short story is about the fallout from one, shattering moment. What is a ‘shattering moment’? Well, it’s like when you shatter glass. You’ll never get the pieces together again.”)

Related Resources

Dan Harmon’s Story Circles (a bit dramatic/gruesome)

Plot Clock (at Fiction University) – a more formulaic approach, for authors

StoryClock products – notebooks, workbooks, etc. And here’s an explanation of how to use the notebook, but the video I posted at the top of this article is better, imho.

Do you know of a similar/better, circular plotting system? Let me know.