One of the things that differs across jobs is the degree to which the work is perpetual or episodic. When I worked in retail, one day was more or less the same as the others. Individual customers and their choices differed, of course, and I liked some of them (both customers and choices) better than others. I got held up at gunpoint once, that was a different kind of day. But mostly, I arrived at ten ’til ten, turned on the lights and the music, unlocked the door, and then did retail chores until six, when I reversed the opening sequence and walked home.
Lots of jobs are like that. Resource extraction, factory work, driving, restaurant service, dentistry. The goals are small, discrete, and repetitive; in their wholeness, the patterns don’t vary much by day, by week, or by season.
Other jobs are more episodic. They’re made of big chunks that have phases, deadlines, standards for completion. Writing is like that. The day-to-day experience of moving words around might look the same, but the article or the story or the book has components and progress toward an end state, and a moment in which they’re complete.
I haven’t been around much for the last month, because I’ve been completely immersed in a couple of episodic writing projects. Both clients have the same product to create for their reviewers, and both have the same date of submittal, right after Labor Day. Project management being what it is, both clients were playing catch-up a little during July and August, which meant that I was spending a lot of time helping them along. And college life being what it is, a Labor Day deadline means that their projects are due right when they’re dealing with the return of hundreds or thousands of students. So in both cases, the first half of August was the big push, since they need this project behind them as they get back to their real work of organizing students’ and teachers’ lives.
What that means for me is that one project was deeply immersive and lasted ten months; the other was a quick semi-final review that took a week. And both of them ended this afternoon.
I feel kind of like Wile E. Coyote, running along and suddenly realizing that there’s no ground left under him. I’m not sure what to do without this set of projects moving me forward.
Something will come along soon enough, I know. I’ve been itching for a new character to write a story about, and now there’s time for that fertile soil to grow a new crop. But it just feels disorienting to have worked so hard until 3:15 this afternoon and then have it all go to zero all at once.
Hey, speaking of writing, have a look at the “Books for Free” page of the website and send me a note to let me know what book you want. A novel or story collection in the mail, whenever you ask.