Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Advice I Wish I'd Gotten When I Was 18

I didn't like high school. I got through it by focusing on music and skiing and riding my bicycle. I never had a broad outlook on education. Unfortunately, when I went on to the university, I still didn't have a big picture of education. I tried some different subjects and even went so far as to major in Pre-med (because I was good at the sciences). But that approach didn't take.

I'm happier now as a writer than I've ever been. But I wish I'd gotten focused on this novel business at a younger age. What would have provided a focus sooner? I knew that a broad education was valuable. But when I was young, I needed something more concrete. Something that, for me, would have explained the dichotomy between common knowledge and uncommon knowledge.

It would have helped if someone I respected had said something like, "You can't just hang out and hope a good life or a good job comes along. It is best to plan. And the best plan is to look at all the things you might like to do, and then study the ones that give you uncommon knowledge."

Perhaps that is obvious. But the obvious often escapes me.

The desired sage advice would have gone on with specifics: "The more common your knowledge and skill, the harder it will be to find an interesting, well-paid career. The more uncommon your knowledge and skill, the easier it will be to earn a living in an interesting way."

The advice would have included examples:

"If you become very good at skiing (a somewhat common skill), you can teach it. But you won't be able to charge much or find many takers because tons of people are good skiers. In contrast, if you become very good at brain surgery (an uncommon skill), you can explore some of the most interesting stuff known to man. And you will be in high demand because of the rarity of your knowledge. A bonus is that you'll likely get wealthy in the process."

"If you get very good at waiting tables or tending bar (a somewhat common skill), you can always find a job, which, unfortunately, often doesn't pay well. But if you get very good at being a professional chef (an uncommon skill), you might be able to start your own successful restaurant."

"If you spend a great deal of time watching TV, you'll learn the latest TV trivia and celebrity gossip (very common knowledge), and you will have spent much of your life acquiring knowledge that has almost no value. But if you learn how to write and/or produce those TV shows (uncommon knowledge), you will be able to work in the television field creating the content that so many millions enjoy.

A corollary to creating TV content would be that if you know how to write novels (less common knowledge), you can tell stories about most anything you like and maybe earn a living from it as well and work on your own terms and your own schedule and rarely have to get on the freeway during rush hour."

If only someone I respected had told me that at 18. Oh, well, we figure these things out in time...


  1. Good day Mr. Borg. I continue to very much enjoy your posts on writing. I am pleased to announce that the book I've been working on for over two years is nearly complete! I apologize if this is not the proper forum to ask, but do you have any advice on how to find a good/thorough editor? I have done a cursory search in my local area but I was a bit confused by the results. How did you pick your editor?

  2. Hi Andrew, Congrats on getting close to finishing your book! That's a big deal.
    The best way to find a good editor or three is to get referrals from other writers who've been pleased with their editors. So I would join a couple of writer's groups and ask those people. Also, you can poke through writing sites that I've mentioned like the Northern California Publishers and Authors (NCPA), the Bay Area Independent Publishers and Authors (BAIPA), High Sierra Writers, Tahoe Writer's Works, and so forth. Another good approach is to scan Acknowledgments in books where writers often thank their editors.
    As for my four editors, three are not looking for new business. The fourth may be depending on perusing a sample of your book. If you email me, I'll send you the contact info.
    Good luck!