The jobs we work

The jobs we do become the stories we write. That old axiom, “Write what you know,” might as well be “Write what you’ve done.” I’ve been thinking about that as I work on an essay about setting in fiction, because part of that essay talks about how the places I’ve worked become places in my fiction. But the place is just the noun, and today I’ve been thinking about the verb, the work I’ve done in all those old jobs. That’s partly because people have been asking me lately about the places I’ve worked, and partly because some writers I know have been talking about their working backgrounds on Facebook.

I’m also reminded of Grant Snider’s excellent cartoon “Behind Every Great Novelist“:

novelist-blog

 

So I decided to make my own list.

This list is in the order I first worked the job. Some of these overlapped, and a lot of these I came back to again and again (teaching and writing and editing, for example, all three of which I’m still working on now). So read the list in terms of when I first started a job. (Incidentally, my first job — babysitting — I started when I was twelve.)

A few of these are also actually volunteer jobs (church construction, the dog mascot, some of the telemarketing gigs, the newsletter editing), but it was hard work that I took seriously, so on the list they go.

Also, some of these (the church construction, the grocery store gigs, the lawn mower gig, the restaurant job and the work at various senior centers) have made their way into my fiction. But some I still haven’t written about yet. I should. Maybe that will become a writing exercise for me: to work through this list and write about every job I’ve done.

Anyway, here are the jobs I’ve had since I was 12.

  • Babysitter.
  • Assistant on a church construction site.
  • Maid.
  • Full-service gas station attendant and gas station grocery stocker.
  • Grocery store bagger and carry-out. Grocery store janitor.
  • Dancing dog-costumed mascot for an animal shelter’s thrift store.
  • Lawn mower.
  • Telemarketer.
  • Prep cook, then cook, then assistant manager at a small Italian restaurant.
  • Movie trailer statistician.
  • College tutor in writing and languages (first in French, later in English).
  • Assistant to a church minister; bible study teacher.
  • Interim editor of the Lifestyles section of a city newspaper.
  • Teaching assistant, then teaching fellow.
  • Cook in a senior center/Meals-on-Wheels program.
  • Petsitter.
  • Cook in an assisted living center, where I also doubled on basic nursing duties (diaper changes, shaving, lifting in and out of wheelchairs) for the male residents.
  • College instructor in writing and literature and technical communication.
  • Production editor at a national literary magazine. (Then another. Now a third.)
  • Full time writer.
  • Private tutor in writing and literature, once for a 9-year-old homeschooled girl.
  • Newsletter editor.
  • Literary contest judge.
  • Publishing author.

 

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5 thoughts on “The jobs we work

  1. Excellent idea! I write fantasy and science fiction, so not too much of my boring work goes into my fiction, but maybe some day.

    It is great to see that last one on there. Congrats!

    1. Thanks! And I still think the things we’re familiar with can find their ways into our fiction regardless of genre. Might be hard to do that with fantasy and sci-fi, but it’s not impossible. I have a kind of speculative story, for example, about a near-future foodie craze for recycling people by selling donated human meat, and while I was never a butcher, I sliced my share of salami on a wheel slicer at the Italian restaurant. That slicer found its way into the story. 🙂

  2. “…And I still think the things we’re familiar with can find their ways into our fiction regardless of genre…”

    That goes some way to expressing what I was going to say. So far, apart from all my poetry and short stories – I have completed three novels. None of these have any direct relevance to my everyday life (one day I might actually write a novel about being an auditor, but not right now, thank you very much!), having been about ancient/20c Rome, an alternative universe inside an outer-London school, and a vampire hunter in New York. If we only wrote *strictly* about what we knew, there would be no historical fiction, fantasy, or whatever. However, what I have always done is to show in my characters a set of emotional and psychological traits that are familiar to me first hand, and that should be recognisable to readers. History and fantasy depend on being able to get and convey a sense of an unfamiliar culture and mind-set; however, it is still possible to use emotions and reactions that are familiar to us, in order to have the necessary interpellation. Balancing the universal with the culture-specific is possible – I’d say essential – but not necessarily easy. In that much, yes, write about what you know.

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