I was chatting to my daughter yesterday and reflecting on the fact that although I’ve had quite a few different jobs in my career; I have more or less been doing the same work, just in different environments.
I started work at 15, straight out of school. It was common in those days for girls to leave school at 15 and go to secretarial college for a year, or get work in a shop or hairdresser. My grandmother went ‘into service’ as a housemaid when she was 11 or 12, and this meant living away from home during the week and returning home on Sundays, her one day off. Younger readers will think this sounds a lot like Downton Abbey, and I guess it was quite similar, except that she worked for a middle-class couple who owned a chain of shops, rather than for the landed gentry.
My mother left school at 15 and went down the secretarial path, working as a typist in an office in Perth before leaving to get married and have children. This was also a common pattern. I didn’t want to be a secretary and as a result I deliberately avoided learning to type when I was at school. I have regretted this decision several times in my career.
I wanted to be a music producer, an unlikely career choice for a girl living in a smallish city with only one recording studio. Employment opportunities in the creative industry were very limited, but I did snag a job as a film editing assistant with a small production company who made documentaries and television ads.
My job involved typing letters, (one letter would take me all morning), doing the banking, getting lunches, and learning the rudiments of film editing.
Film editing is about storytelling. You start with a lot of content (much more than you can use) and you decide (with the director), what serves the story best. Next you decide how to organise the content so that the narrative arc is entertaining, surprising or interesting, or hopefully all three. It doesn’t have to be linear, it just needs to engage the audience and move the story forward. Often a circular pattern involving flashbacks works well.
Looking back, I realised that this sort of work: choosing, sorting, and ordering content has been the through-line of my career. Teaching also involves choosing salient information and arranging it in a way that makes sense to the students, and doesn’t bore them to death. Writing and editing reports (especially evaluation reports) involves deciding what’s valuable and then arranging the content so that it’s meaningful.
Now I’m interested in writing memoir and realise it involves the same set of skills. When you are writing about your life, you need to think about what the important moments were. The critical turning points that changed the course of your life. Then you need to arrange those pieces in a way that illuminates bigger, more universal themes so that your readers can identify with your story. It’s quite hard work, but the principles are the same, so the process is familiar.
Can you identify any themes or similarities in your working life? Are there tasks that you gravitate to, regardless of your role or job description? I suspect that these are things you are probably good at.
Please share your thoughts, I’d love to know what you think.
12 thoughts on “Love your work”
I have had several career paths but my didactic 5 year old “teacher” self frequently comes through, even now as a volunteer at the museum. I love teaching people things. My ability to touch type at speed is one of the few things I ever got recognition for ‘wow, that’s amazing miss!’
I would love to be able to touch type and yes, you are amazing!
My ideas for books come from the life and events of people. There really is nothing else. An example of this is my latest novel, Portals. I was writing a book that I have recently restarted when I saw the George Floyd death on TV. It was horrible and I felt completely helpless to do anything about it. But I did have an option, write about it and I did the book is Portals . I used fantasy which gave me the oppertunity to digress from actual events of the crime, yet still expose it.
I agree that writing is an excellent way to work though your shock, grief and anger, and transforming this to a fictional world gives you even more opportunities to express yourself.
My theme us “helping people” understanding information and giving them the chance to help themselves with guidance material and similar products. Supporting people as they learn to fish :)- Beyond fulfilling!
You are very good at helping people. I can personally vouch for that.
Margaret, I have a master’s in broadcast communications – back in the day, I left book publishing to get my master’s and then went to work for Kodak producing training and instructional videos and other media. At the time, video was becoming big in the corporate world. I’ve never done film editing but greatly admire the skill.
Writing and creating, throughout my career, and editing and project management, are recurrent skills; my last “career”, as a medical librarian, I discovered I love teaching and presenting and one-on-one consultations giving personalized help to individuals…..also loved learning to research the medical literature and sift out the best studies and research, and teaching others how to do this. I’m a stickler for excellent, trustworthy sources (an ethic instilled in me from my journalism and my library science education) and think it is much needed now with misinformation, disparagement of science, etc.
How great that you are pursuing memoir! I’m trying to tackle another draft of mine (although at the moment I don’t enjoy it) and looking for ways to incorporate the through-line skills you write about here in my own work in this new phase of my life. It’s exciting, but it is very helpful to know people my age like you who are working with the same challenges. I don’t think it’s easy and not everyone is doing that….
What an interesting life you have had. I would love to know more about your masters. I think we both enjoy similar challenges, but you are a lot further on with your memoir than I am. To be honest, I’m still at the contemplation stage, wondering if there is any reason to tell my story at all. I know they say that everyone has a story to tell, but I would prefer not to write something that is humdrum.
I would go with your feelings. If you are being pulled, even just a bit, I would explore it and see where it takes you. I don’t think it will be humdrum….things turn out to be a lot more interesting than you might think, you’d be surprised what emerges. My frustration is, once it does emerge for me, making the writing good! Well, that is really oversimplifying the process, I guess….always have to tell myself not to overthink and not to think I now how something is going to turn out, because it never turns out like I expect.
I am slowly working my way through a book on writing memoir and trying to do the writing prompts to see what emerges. I’m not trying to get the words to be good because my biggest problem is self-editing before my words even make it to the page. I tell myself that no-one will ever read it, and that helps take the pressure off.
Really interesting that you used to do film editing. My operational career at the BBC was as a studio manager which involved doing all the practical stuff of getting programmes on the air but when I moved back into television it was as a manager of a large group of film editors! Small world.
Later in my career I worked for the national broadcaster as the manager of the film editing department, so quite similar in many ways!