On the Importance of Making Things



I’ve been doing some thinking recently about where my life’s headed. It’s given me a bit of a slaps-palm-on-forehead moment, which I’ve decided to share with you.

Three things got me thinking:

  • Our friends rented us a beautiful holiday cottage in Barnard Castle; I didn’t take a laptop and I wasn’t connected. Great holiday and time to think.
  • It’s now six months since I was made redundant. I’ve spent a fair chunk of that time writing and setting up a publishing business (Greyhart Press). Six months seemed a good time to step back and reflect.
  • The third kick was a tragedy, one of those shocks that shake you from complacency and puts perspective on your own life. Science fiction author Colin Harvey died aged 51. I didn’t know him well enough to write an obituary and I don’t want to talk about my connection with him, because that would feel too ghoulish. Suffice it to say he was a great writer and a family man with a big future ahead of him. And now he’s gone. Read his books.

Back in February, after twenty years first writing software and then managing software departments (mostly ‘change management’ — Six Sigma or Scrum anyone?) I was desperate for a break from office politics. Despite a few highlights (like working with the Beard Team) I had thoroughly disliked my job for at least five years. I kept slogging away, getting increasingly stressed out for just one reason: to earn money to provide for my family.

So when my company made me redundant, it came as a blessed relief. I could take a year off to concentrate on writing science fiction, and the redundancy pay would help pay for a few months.

Our Lego

 Just recently, I’ve spent a lot of time with my son over the summer holidays (there has been a lot of Lego building). That’s been brilliant and not something I could have done before, but it’s heavily fragmented my working time. And that has been bothering me because I didn’t do any writing over the summer. Instead I’ve worked on editing books by other authors for release by Greyhart Press in our Fantastic Fall launch. I’d also spent time building eBooks for other publishers. Editing isn’t bringing in any money (yet) and the eBook building brings very little.

 Was I frittering away my writing time before the day comes when I have to get a more conventional job?

At first I thought so.

But that six months of distance from my old job gave me an unexpected answer. In the past fifteen years of work, I’d achieved some results that felt impressive at the time. I did things no one else in the organisation could do; I delivered things that are still important to the business that let me go, but not to me. Not any more. The last achievement that counts is a software product I architected, and for which I led the coding team. That was way back in 1996. That was the last time I made something.

 So am I wasting my time by editing and building eBooks?


 I would have said ‘yes’ a couple of weeks ago but not now, because both activities give me the sense of satisfaction from having built something.

 So, in a couple of months I’ll start touting for business producing eBooks. It won’t earn much and it will eat into the precious writing time that remains to me, but it will give me a sense of satisfaction. Colin’s untimely death has been a powerful reminder for me of the importance of doing more than just earning money.

 My family can’t eat sentiment forever, though. Almost certainly I will need to go back to a conventional job and this is not a good time for job hunting. In happier economic times I’m sure I could get a job with a slightly silly title, such as Software Quality Assurance Manager or Agile Evangelist. But my reflections have told me ‘no’; I should seek jobs that I can look back on in later years and say that I worked on something that counted, that gave me a sense of satisfaction.

 I need to make things.



About Tim C. Taylor

Science fiction publisher and author of the bestselling Human Legion series. I live with my wife and young family in an English village. I am currently writing full time, when I'm not roped into building Lego.
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4 Responses to On the Importance of Making Things

  1. Pingback: A nice problem to have | Tim C. Taylor

  2. Pingback: My books are up for awards… | Tim C. Taylor

  3. James Randall says:

    A man after my own heart.

    Making things is so important to me. Fortunately my job still allows me to make great things (and this year, with an excellent team, I made the best thing I think I’ve made to date). But it’s so important that I make things out of work too, true for the most part it’s still software (and the occasionphotographeraph) but that’s what I’m good at.

    Though unlike you I’ve not got the family thing sussed yet: in some ways a positive (I don’t have mouths to feed other than my own) but in others a negative.

    Great post though. Everyone should make things. Those who don’t just haven’t yet quite figured how important and rewarding it is. In my humble opinion.

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