On the Job Training

All this immersion in writing and meeting other writers has changed my thinking process.  Time, for instance, has taken on a new meaning.  How do I prioritize my time to the best of my ability while at work, so when I come home I can focus on my writing?  How do use my time off and properly divide it amongst projects?  I now think about writing as a second job, and if I want writing to one day be my only job, I need to devote my time and energy to it.

And speaking of jobs, I’ve had a few interesting ones.  I’ll tell you I appreciate every one of them because I like to view the world as being full of experiences.  Everyone has a story to tell, every situation has something you can learn from in it.

Babysitting was my first job, as I’m sure was many a first job for the average teenage girl.  I was even properly trained in a hospital class, learned CPR and carried the number for poison control with me.  The first family I sat for was full of devil children.  They were very convincing sweethearts to start out with, and suddenly the nights would take a horrendous turn onto Evil Road.  Evil Road is where bad things happen for no reason.  For example, one minute the eight year old boy would be vacuuming the living room to help out his mother, and the next he’d be dumping his milk on the floor and stomping his sock feet in it.  Evil Road is where you think the four year old has gone to sleep,  but really she sneaked to her mom’s room and started watching Road House.  Evil Road is where the three year old fools you with her red hair into thinking she is cute and angelic, but really she’s allowed to run around the house like a banshee at all hours of the night.  What did I learn from this job?  Tone of voice.  I learned if you’re going to use the line, “Bryce, stop throwing soup cans at your sister!” you’d better say it with some gumption.

My next job was a little something I coined Cake Pan Dishwasher Extraordinaire!  Sure I was only “hired” cause my dad owned the place, and sure he wasn’t actually paying me on a regular basis, and sure I lost a fair amount of skin cells from the bleach water, but it didn’t matter, I was helping out my Pop.  It was quality time of undivided attention to me.  What did I learn in this job?  The art of dialogue.  I learned if you’re going to have it, it better be good, and two-sided, otherwise your readers may end up putting your story down cause they have “errands” to do.

With all the people skills I was learning, I moved up in the job world, actually getting one that required legal papers and didn’t pay me in cash.  I became a clerk at the local video store.  This is where I got most my training.  I got to know my characters, I mean customers, their likes and dislikes.  I did endless amounts of research, sometimes six films a day, every genre!  I also quickly learned that the video establishment I worked in and loved was haunted and my boss refused to talk about it.  What did this teach me?  Rising action and climax.  The closer I got to learning about the spirit world, the closer and creepier the spirit world got to me.

When I moved away for college, I had to find a job that would help support me and allow for study time.  I found two working in my college dormitory, one as a front desk assistant and one as a dorm housekeeper.  I now know that:

  1. Front desk pizzas can solve any problem, no matter how drunk you are.  😀
  2. College dormitory bathrooms are THE nastiest places on earth.

What did these jobs teach me?  Time management and editing is not beneath you.  If you’ve spent the whole day researching and writing and the only time to clean your bathroom is at 2 in the morning, so be it!  And if the supplies you are given to clean simply do not cut it to take out the stains and clumps of hair information dump of words, then you need to get new tools!

Moving onward and off campus, I joked that I worked “part time all the time” as I juggled full time student with three part time jobs.  I worked as a copy room slave in the English Department, a student worker in the Diversity Center, and as a clerk in a madhouse conglomeration of Gift Shop meets Rubber Stamping Store.  To enlighten you on each of these varying titles, I spent my time in the English Department photocopying lesson tools and handouts, marking grade rosters, and endlessly fixing the jammed copier.  I became quick friends with many of the faculty, who subsequently assisted my writing endeavors to take advanced classes without the prerequisite.  Igniting a dwindling flame of the past, I was one of the “re-founding” members of the Diversity Center, a place on campus where students could go to learn about the diversity organizations on campus.  I spent my winter break working alone in dusty old rooms, cleaning out storage areas and rearranging furniture to give the center life.  Finally, job number three, in which I clerked and did odd tasks the owner hated doing inside a stamping/gift shop store.  I did lots of things like  vacuum the whole place using the small tubular attachment that required you to hunch over and slide the nozzle back and forth until it sucked every fuzz off the carpet (that’s the way Master wanted it).  Once she made me work in the display window on one of the hottest days of summer using a pliers to chip off these old, now caramelized, strips that held tubes of twinkle lights in them.  I was sweating, grunting, and getting slivers of plastic flying at my eyeballs when I looked up to see someone take my picture from outside!  What did this menagerie of minimum wage paychecks teach me?  How to make connections and build a foundation, and how to craft the perfect antagonist!

Wow, I’ve really learned a lot about writing from my past jobs.  And I know I’ll never be done learning, which is a good thing.  What are you learning about your writing process?  What are you battling against?  What helps you?  What can I do to support you?  Tell me, I really want to know!  Good luck everyone and happy writing!

17 responses

  1. I believe that if you don’t learn something new every day, you’re not really living. I struggle with time daily. Noise is also an issue for me, especially at home…my computer is in our living room (I don’t use a laptop…I hate them).


    1. It’s definitely a message I want to live my life by. Have you ever read the book The Holy Man by Susan Trott? One of my favorite quotes is “If you look on everyone you meet as a holy person, you will be truly happy.”

    2. That’s a great quote, Jess…I’m not familiar with Susan Trott.

  2. Unabridged Girl | Reply

    Great post, and such a great outlook on life! 🙂 I admire you.

    Also, I think we’ve all experienced the Evil Road with babysitting. Ack. -.-

    1. Then you know I didn’t make any of those scenarios up. Real life is sometimes better than the story. lol.

  3. This is the great lesson that should be taught everywhere: If you’re a writer who’s not writing, you’re probably gathering material for writing. All experience feeds into the work we create, and not always as a literal regurgitation. I’ve lost count of the people who expect me to write a play about being a greeter in a Home Improvement store. Well, I won’t because I’d be fired (They have a clause in their contract that even covers social media, hence not naming the company), and I don’t need to. I’m meeting new characters every day, hearing life stories from my co-workers that influence how I create my own characters, seeing conflict and resolution on a micro scale (two people in the break room) that might broaden into a bigger story.

    So, you helped by reminding me of all this. And by being my 100th commentor, by the way. Would you like a free copy of my e-book? Do you have a safe email address I can send it to?

    1. Woohoo! I don’t have an e-book reader though yet. Do I need one?

      1. Nope, it’s a pdf, so you should be ready to go.

        1. Cool, my email should show on your comments section of the dashboard. Looking forward to some reading!

  4. I struggle right now with writing pieces that pay me $15 at most, knowing full well that this type of work won’t make me rich and will simply be deducted from my weekly unemployment checks. Motivation is a bit lacking these days, you might say. I’m trying my best to look at the bigger picture.

    1. I think the biggest thing is that you’re still writing. I’m telling you from being out of it for awhile, it’s SO daunting starting over again. So please keep writing! Think of it as the first $15 investment in your dream career!

  5. I have no tips on how to make time for your writing. I am the worst procrastinator.

    I do agree that life provides all kinds of material for our writing. Sometimes I don’t even realize it at the time. It gets absorbed and percolates until it gets spit out in some other form. Great how that happens!

    Your part-time jobs in college brought back memories and made me groan. I was a receptionist at the Psych Services Center during a time of extreme emotional well-being on campus, it seems. No one ever came in. I had no one to “recept.” LOL.

    Here’s what it taught me: I am not cut out to sit for long periods of time doing nothing. It absolutely sucks every ounce of creativity from my cells. I’d rather be hustling all day at work, tired but exhilarated that I got stuff done.

    College bathrooms…another groan.

    1. You have no idea! And I did so much of the cleaning after my late shifts at the desk, just cause it was quiet and I could be in and out, but some nights, I saw some gross things. lol.

  6. Wow! Working for your dad is probably the best. You get to spend time in his work playground where you could tell everyone who your dad is. 🙂

    1. Yah, and there’s lots of frosting eating breaks! lol.

  7. I think one of the most valuable skills of a writer is to understand and empathise with as many points of view as possible, and so doing everything from cleaning bathrooms to rubber stamping will prove important in the end, even if at the time it was simply something you were doing to pay the bills 🙂
    C-C xxx

    1. I wholeheartedly agree. Thanks for stopping by!

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