Do You Have A Resume?

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Have you ever read the bios that writers publish in their work?  Granted you don’t usually get to see the early job histories of your lawyer, your massage therapist or your English teacher, but it seems that writers take on some wacky jobs before they finally get published.  I don’t necessarily mean jobs that seem like they belong n a book – sometimes it’s just jobs that sound so far removed from a writing career that one has to wonder what drove the writer to even take it in the first place.  I’ve dipped ice cream, waited tables in a deli, taught math to migrant children who spoke mostly Haitian French, run a video store that we all believed was a front for money laundering, and waited tables in a Mexican restaurant that specialized in drenching everything with nacho-flavored Velveeta and paid me under the table.  I cold-called businesses to try and convince them they needed more equipment and they should lease it through our company (by far, the worst job.)  I spent a year manning the Service Desk in a mall bookstore, where I had to assist people who wanted me to tell them where “that blue book I saw on the Today Show back in the winter” might be, then moved to a college bookstore, where I had to assist professors who wanted “that blue book we saw at a conference last summer.”  I taught three-year-olds for over a decade, and finally landed in the middle school library (where the children are almost exactly the same, except for being taller.)

In every job, I was able to observe people doing all the weird, kind, tragic, hopeful, selfish, silly, bizarre things they do.  All those idiosyncrasies come from the real-time research of people-watching, and I can now use them all when creating characters in my work.  Writing is a solitary life, so having the chance to see real people behaving in all the irrational ways they do can only imbue my fiction with a reality I wouldn’t have otherwise.  As hard as some of those jobs made me work, I wouldn’t change a thing.

But I tell you, if I can go the rest of my life without smelling cheap nacho Velveeta again, that’d be just dandy.

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4 comments to Do You Have A Resume?

  • I was able to observe people doing all the weird, kind, tragic, hopeful, selfish, silly, bizarre things they do.

    People are so wonderfully inconsistent. It’s one of the things I struggle with writing, because I tend to forget to write motivation in (I’ve gotten much better about it, due to editors reminding me, but it’s not one of my native talents), and in fiction, you have to make it *clear* why Billy Bob has just turned around and done something a hundred and eighty degrees, or even seventy degrees, different from what you might expect. In real life, well, hell, he’d do it because people are wonderfully inconsistent, and real life doesn’t demand plausibility, which fiction does. But I think that’s one of the great things about people-watching. it gives you such a chance to watch the ways in which people contradict themselves. It’s great stuff!

    -Catie

  • Cool post, Misty. I have a friend who writes as a hobby — she’s actually very, very good, but she has no interest in dealing with the craziness of actually publishing. Anyway, she likes to say that everything is grist for the mill, and I think it’s true. My professional experiences have been quite different from yours. I was an academic and before that a political consultant. I’ve also been a camp counsellor and a grocery clerk. But in each job there was something that I could tuck away and use later in a book or story. And then of course there’s parenting, which gives enough grist for any 10 mills….

  • “I have a friend who writes as a hobby — she’s actually very, very good, but she has no interest in dealing with the craziness of actually publishing.”

    I, too, have a friend who writes without any interest in selling it. She works for a newspaper, so she says she sees her name in print all the time, and it’s no big deal to her. She’s an amazing writer, and writes what could be considered fanfic (by a very loose definition), and posts it online, so she’s getting what she needs.

  • *Delurking*

    Why is that mysterious book always blue? I work a library circ desk and we get requests for “that blue book I checked out three years ago,” “that blue book my doctor told me to read,” and “that blue book I just saw on Montel that I can’t remember the author, title, or subject of.” And they always wonder why we didn’t see that episode of Montel. It was just on! 😛

    I have learned more about human behavior from working my various customer service jobs than I did as a psych major. 🙂