In my work with small businesses around the world a couple of decades ago, I noted a number of common failings. As an example of these, in the area of personnel, there appeared to be a point beyond which the individual business person struggled to come to terms with the fact that in order to properly expand he or she had to actively hand over jobs to others and then stand by and watch them perform those jobs with much less competence than he had himself or herself.
Faced with an immediate and very real dilemma, not really confronted or addressed in most of the text books or courses available in how to operate a small business, should one step back in and reassert one’s control over the area one had entrusted to someone else? Or should one continue to lose business while the personnel gradually learned what it was they were supposed to do?
And how does the individual businessman, striving on a daily basis to accomplish a number of tasks (none of which can wait or be put off) manage time so that personnel who need to be trained or at the very least shown the basics of what to do, receive due attention?
These are the questions which churned around in the minds of the majority of Britain’s small to medium enterprise directors throughout the day and night back then, as they probably still do today - and they are all the more disturbing because they do not appear to be written about or practically solved, in the standard texts that the small business person normally encounters.
Any technology, to be worthy of the name, must, above all things, work. The average company director or sole trader has no time for theory - his actual livelihood is escaping from him even as he reads.
Now all of the above applies also to fiction writing, but in a special kind of way.
Shortly after retiring from business consulting, I became a teacher of English Literature and was able to apply some ideas which I had developed from my university studies and from working with small business to this field of education. The common failings were different in character, but not that different: for example, the individual writer (whether a school student or not) struggles to come to terms not with actively handing over jobs to others (at least, not at first) but with being able to view his or her own work objectively; then, if that writer seeks publication, they must engage in fields which seem to them to have nothing to do with writing; their destiny, at first very much in their own hands as they wrote, must then be placed in the hands of others as they wait to see if their work has been ‘accepted’ or ‘rejected’.
The immediate and very real dilemma is not the same as that of small business, but similar: how can a writer reassert his or her control over the future of a work once it has been entrusted to an editor or publisher? Or should one abandon hope and conclude after a few rejections that one’s work must be worthless?
And how does the individual writer, striving on a daily basis to meet word counts and to get things finished, know that what he or she is doing is heading anywhere?
These are the questions which churn around in the minds of the majority of the world’s writers, all the more disturbing because, like the basic problems of all businesses above, they are not covered by the standard texts that writers see on shelves and websites when they go looking for help.
Hard-won experience (rather than philosophising) produced a series of booklets and packs in the 1990s which began to find their way into the business culture of this country back then. During my almost two decades as a teacher, I worked over that material to give writers a hands-on set of tools to get on top of what actually occurs in the writing workplace so that more of his or her production can reach more readers without additional stress. This body of work is growing continually, developing, deepening, and becoming easier to apply.
I call it ‘fictivity’.
That is why my last few years have been very busy. There is a great deal of demand for a common-sense system of understanding fiction, just as there was for the same kind of thing in the business world. Writing fiction does not have to be a totally mysterious process, though it will always retain an air of mystery: it can be mastered.
Please stay tuned for more details.