I’ve worked a lot of jobs. Some of them were okay, others sucked ass. But they’ve all helped my writing. Each one of these jobs has inspired characters, situations, and in one case, an entire plot. I thought it might be fun to go through my resume and detail just what sort of inspiration each job provided. Now, I didn’t include every job, because even I have some pride. I’d rather a couple of them just fall into oblivion where I can forget about them. Also, it’d be a really long post. So here are the main jobs that left me something useful. You might be inspired to go pick up a shitty job for your next book. Or not.
Anyway, the first “real” job I ever had was waitressing. I worked in this tiny little restaurant that was open 24 hours. Oh how I miss scraping chicken wings and poutine from the ceiling. Those drunk assholes were so much fun. We had one guy who asked for a muff burger every day. Every. Day. No, he didn’t get the memo on the expiration date on such humor.
Waitressing is a well of inspiration for dialogue. The dining room in this restaurant had about 15 tables at the most, with only enough room for the waitress to walk through between each, so I heard everything that was said in there. EVERYTHING. Man, there are things you just can’t unhear. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the process of figuring out which customer was talking based on dialect, accent and tone was extremely useful in writing so that the reader could do the same. Also, should any of my characters have to clean dried food from a ceiling, or unclog a toilet backed up by a bag of pot, a tampon, underwear, or worse, I can write the shit out of those situations. For the record, I worked in a few tiny restaurants. None were as colorful as Victoria Place, though. (Yes, I can totally name names. It’s now a Chinese restaurant.)
Cheese Factory: Production
Possibly one of the worst jobs I’ve ever worked was the cheese factory. Snotty floors, freezing rooms where we tried to figure out how to apply labels with gloves on, and the dynamics of a very weird hierarchy of authority, inspired a few characters and taught me how to create tension via relationships. In between the bagging and sealing of cheese products, I absorbed the tension in that hotbed of gossip and back-biting. I also honed my sense of humor. You can only stand at a machine doing a single motion for so many hours before your brain checks out and insanity checks in. I go to that place when I need funny.
Convenience Store: Cashier
I used my years wasted checking items in a shit hole convenience store in a couple of stories, mainly “Dirty Truths.” It was mostly an atmospheric thing, but I also derived a few characters from my customer base. You can find brilliant “extras” at such jobs. While I wasn’t doing any writing at the time, I used to observe the customers and make up stories for each to pass the time. If any of you out there recall me checking your shit at said store, don’t ask what I made up for you. It’s better left a mystery.
Gas Station Attendant
This job was awful. First it was stinky. Second, I didn’t know a dipstick from my own ass. Checking someone’s oil? Cleaning a windshield? Topping up antifreeze and transmission fluid? Pfft. What a joke. While I eventually learned how to do all that was required of a gas station attendant, I first learned the art of bullshitting. Invaluable to a writer.
I miss bartending. Seriously. It was a really fun job. Sure, drunks are assholes and your feet are beyond aching by the end of the night, but I had a blast. Mostly. You see, when I worked at the bar, I was a single mom, recently separated from my husband of only one year. The people I worked with were awesome people, but the folks around town—not so much. A situation like that screams for gossip. And gossip they did. Let’s see, the first rumor was that my ex beat me within an inch of my life and that’s why I left him. Not true. He was just an idiot and we should never have gotten married. The second rumor was that the “boss” was messing around on his wife—with me. And he was a badass hit man running drugs, liquor and weapons for bikers, and his wife was a horrible bitch who only stayed married to him because she hated him and wanted to make his life miserable. Not true. First, the wife is a beautiful person inside and out, and a friend you want in your corner no matter what. Second, I wish my life at the time had been half that interesting. And last, as far as I know, there was no hitting of men or running of anything by anyone, for anyone. But wouldn’t the lies make a fantastic book?
I ended up quitting this job because of the gossip. Hey, I had a daughter and I was on my own. I also had my poor parents to think about (My dad was one rumor away from homicide) and I wasn’t the same badass you see before you today. I was a kinder, gentler soul back then. I couldn’t handle people thinking things like that about me.
What I didn’t know (but learned real fast) was that when one lives in a small town, the more you deny something, the more true people think it is. It doesn’t matter if you can prove otherwise, your repeated denial makes their gossip VALID. And it’s worse if elements of the rumors have some truth to them, because it gives the gossip the flavor of authenticity, which is all a small mind needs to keep going. There was a single grain of truth in that entire web of lies: I left my husband. That was enough.
What did this do for my writing? Two words: Dirty Truths. You’ll see.
Lumber Yard: Jill of all trades.
I began working in a lumber yard as a cashier. Well, it was a home improvement store/lumber yard/storage facility. I worked my way from the cash to inventory. Then I went “upstairs” where I worked in an administrative position. By the time I left there (an interesting story for later) I did all of those jobs. I liked this place, mostly. What did it do for my writing? It made me realize that every relationship is more complicated than it seems and motivation is rarely a single, clear element. It also gave me awesome characters. “In the Bones” has several characters inspired by my time at the lumber yard and a few scenes in it (Audrey owns a Home Hardware and Ryan fixes up an old farmhouse.) are plucked from my own experience.
Oh. My. God. That’s all. No seriously…okay fine. I worked a couple of years at the local Tim Horton’s. It’s a great bunch of people over all, and I do miss the energy of the place sometimes, not to mention the fresh from the oven sour cream glazed donuts…drool. However, you don’t know shit and abuse until you’ve worked a drive-thru window. You have no concept of the assholery out there until you’ve served coffee to Mr. Fucktard at 6 am. This is where I pull many of my jackass characters from.
Kids are an endless source of humor and patience. With writing, you need both. It is during this time that I dove into writing “seriously” and realized I could possibly do this shit. If not for the daycare, I don’t know that I’d have worked up the guts to try my hand at “real” writing. Kids are very inspirational, when they’re not wiping shit and boogers on the wall or ripping your house apart. Also, some of my dialogue was stolen (verbatim) from these kids. Brilliant, I tell you.
For a short time I freelanced for a local paper. Now I write entirely for online clients, but the time with the paper taught me things I didn’t know about small town dynamics and politics. I used all of that experience when writing “In the Bones” and some of it in “The Legend of Jackson Murphy.” It was through this job that I learned what made good atmosphere, conflict and tension. It also cemented my long-time belief that I should never get involved in politics. There would be bodies. Many bodies.
In addition to the creative stuff, freelancing honed my basic writing skills as well. Copy editors have no qualms about ripping you a new one. It still happens and I’ve been doing this for almost four years. You can never edit something too many times.
So, there you go. There’s a bit of every job or it’s “people” flavoring everything I write. In a way, my resume and this town play a huge part in the voice behind my novels. I wouldn’t be who I am without these experiences and these people, right? Hey, Tweed, you done good…I think.
What about you guys? Which jobs served you well in your writing? Were any a complete waste of time? And for my amusement, what’s the worst job you’ve ever done?