I’ve been employed in some form or fashion since I was fifteen. My first job was in a local restaurant. I worked behind the counter in a nearly perpetual state of awe at the insanely cool people that worked in the kitchen. I went on from there to work—briefly—as a receptionist for a medical company before finally settling in for about five years at various car dealerships answering phones, doing cashier duties, and accounting. Perhaps my two all-time least favorite jobs were when I was waiting tables (although the skill of hoisting objects one-handed above the shoulder still comes in handy) and when I worked as a bank teller. In recent years I’ve engaged in counseling and research, and now I currently work in academia.
So, why does my employment history matter? It has significantly informed my writing. For example, in the restaurant business I was exposed to a number of personality types, tastes in music, and stories about my coworkers’ backgrounds. Many of these individuals were not people I would’ve crossed paths with in my daily life.
Working at car dealerships gave me a whole new perspective on the business. Everyone seems to cling to the stereotypical view of the smarmy car salesman, and while there are unsavory people out there (what field DOESN’T have someone unsavory?), I learned how they are just as nuanced, just as human, as the rest of the non-car salesmen population. Debunking such a long-held and universal stereotype is a great writing boost; this allows us to move beyond the cliché!
When I was a bank teller, I saw some of the absolute worst of humanity. Many (many, many, many) people aren’t friendly to bank tellers, and the particular branch I worked at was robbed. So, I got to experience the subsequent investigation and crisis debriefing, which may creep into a story one day.
But, with all of these interesting experiences, my counseling background has been my biggest asset when it comes to writing. Not only have I been exposed to heart-wrenching tragedy, I’ve witnessed the quiet beauty of resilience. Counseling has given me insight into motivations for behaviors and insight into why we behave as we do in relationships. It’s been a wonderful gift, both professionally and personally.
With each of these jobs, I’ve been able to bring something to my writing—different settings, tones, characters, messages, and plots—and I am certainly grateful to have had to keep my day job.
We can all use our life outside of writing to our advantage. Reflect on what your career experience can lend to your creative work. Even if it doesn’t show up explicitly on the page, how can your vocational background lend nuance to your WIP? Are there any stereotypes you’ve debunked? What humorous situations have you come across? Did anything crazy happen at the water cooler? If you’re experiencing writer’s block one day and need a prompt, pull a situation from work to get you going.
So, you see, keeping your day job isn’t such a bad thing after all!