The most difficult thing for me about writing fiction (other than the time constraints, the interruptions, the laptop-induced carpal tunnel, the unfamiliar and horrifyingly pervasive sense of writer’s block, and the gaping black hole in my brain where things like “grammar” and “punctuation” are supposed to live, that is) is the realization that my memory isn’t just bad, it’s terrible. It seems to me that one of the key elements in being a really good writer is the ability to draw upon past experiences with clarity and intensity, that even if you’re writing pure fiction describing events that never actually happened it’s immensely helpful if you can remember certain aspects of life you’ve experienced firsthand in order to create a believable, solid framework for your story.

Take The Glass Castle, for instance. I mean, even if it turned out that Walls’ book was not based on fact, you’ve got to hand it to her for creating a fully authentic, exquisitely detailed account of someone’s childhood, and a lot of that has to come from remembering what it’s like to be young, right? And if it’s all true, well what the FUCK, how does a person have such a phenomenal memory that they can vividly describe conversations and emotions that happened thirty years ago or more?

I wonder if spending 7+ years writing online has had an effect on how I think about that stuff. When you’re so used to writing down things that are happening at the moment, maybe it becomes harder to dig deeper for the things that require a different access method, you know? It’s certainly affected my patience; I feel like I’m trying to switch from having short conversations to carrying out a terribly long-winded monologue where my voice just drones on and on and ON and oh my god, self, shut UP. Plus, there’s this entirely different concept of having to keep coming back to the story, whether I want to or not—I can’t just merrily toss it out to sea like all the little bobbing bottles saved on this website.

In short, this whole writing endeavor is about a thousand times harder than I had guessed it would be, and dude, I was already operating under the assumption that it would be really damn hard. As for a progress report, I completely scrapped the first 3000 or so words of the story I was starting to write and went back to the drawing board so now I have, like, four paragraphs of this so-called book and it starts with someone with a gun in their mouth. Yeah, I’m not sure either.

Anyway, I have some ideas for where I’d maybe like to take the story and I could use some help from you guys, if you’re willing. I’m looking to talk with people who have worked interesting jobs and wouldn’t mind describing them to me. Anything that’s a little out of the ordinary but recognizable—like, say, a dog groomer, floral arranger, bike mechanic, rafting guide . . . that kind of thing. If you’re so inclined, hit me up in the comments or via email, I’d love to hear from you.

In non-writing news, we’re heading back down to Oregon this weekend for a long holiday at the cabin. I predict lots of whining about the drive, a complete disregard for eating healthfully, and the familiar epiphany that no matter how good of a time you’re having, if the kids are there, it’s not really a vacation.

Whatever you’re up to this weekend, may your fingers be fireworks-injury-free, your crappy food be plentiful, and your family not drive you completely batshit. See you next week!


122 Responses to “One-trick pony”

  1. Debbi on July 2nd, 2009 9:33 am

    My most interesting job was the first one I had out of high school….selling Kirby vacuum cleaners. Humiliating, dirty, stinky, hot, filthy, yucky cannot begin to describe that two weeks of my life! But it did build character…and has resulted in other job offers when I tell people about the experience!

  2. Leah on July 2nd, 2009 10:41 am

    In his former, pre-med life, Simon, while working as a researcher at a multiple sclerosis center, once dabbled in phlebotomy. As part of the training, he had to draw blood from his own arm, and the look on his face when he tells the story makes me go hmmm….He describes feeling sort of high after he did it, like he wanted to do it again, and again, and often. A phlebotamist addicted to self-phlebotamy…now that would be a good story.

  3. Helen on July 2nd, 2009 11:27 am

    I used to pierce ears in a hideous little seafront gift shop, when I was FIFTEEN!
    Also, I used to be a respite carer for terminally ill and very disabled children and babies. Lots of tales to tell.

  4. GingerB on July 2nd, 2009 1:29 pm

    Call on me for criminal court, lawyer stuff, and people staying and doing stupid things. I also know a fair bit about substance abuse and recovery.

    I look forward to seeing whatever you come up with!!

  5. Kasey on July 2nd, 2009 3:03 pm

    I’ve had some weird ones. In college I worked for an “indoor landscaping” company that lent plants to fancy offices and sent people (me) to maintain them. I also worked for a county’s environmental protection division and we conducted fish, plant, and amphibian inventories in the county’s waterways. This included a process called electro-fishing which is just as weird as it sounds. Perhaps weirdest of all, I conducted medical surveys for a pharmaceutical company and I had to ask people questions about the frequency and textures of their bowl movements.

  6. nancy on July 2nd, 2009 6:41 pm

    If juvenile probation officer in Arizona and Alaska sounds interesting – I would be happy to talk.

  7. Maggie on July 2nd, 2009 10:01 pm

    Architect & formal florist employee…unfortunately, I love the job that brings in a smaller paycheck, and, you know, since I went to school for 5 years for the other one, that’s what I’m doing for the moment. While paying the bills and such. But someday, maybe as a part time job I can do when I have children so I can still be home for them, I’d like to have a floral design business of some sort. As an architect I think I’m already programmed to have the sense of balance and color that’s required to make beautiful arrangements…but yeah, first I have to put in the time & pay off the cc debt…

    ANYWAY, TMI, would love to answer any other questions about either profession/dream, if you want something from my point of view :)

  8. Sam on July 2nd, 2009 10:11 pm

    A certain VERY BIG blogger (in popularity, not girth) forgot something major when moving from blog posts to book: It’s a BOOK. Not necessary to WRITE IN UPPERCASE TO CONVEY MEANING. Also? Important to have a storyline that isn’t all over the fucking place because DUDES THIS ISN’t A BLOG POST. So if you know who I am talking about, read her latest book and DON’T DO THAT. JUST DON’T. Otherwise you’ll be fine. I have faith in you.

  9. Taylor on July 2nd, 2009 10:58 pm

    Not sure if it’s that interesting but I used to help my dad install satellite dishes when he had his own company. I spent time on roofs, crawling under houses and digging a trench. For a summer job it was pretty cool. I also worked in a retirement home as a server and by far the best stories were from working at a hotel as the turn down service girl.

  10. Rachael on July 3rd, 2009 3:40 am

    I worked at a model agency booking models and teaching courses. It is strange how ‘usual’ some of the tasks like taking polaroids of men in their underwear and taking young girls to get properly fitted for underwear becomes. And on the flip side there were the parties where the office water cooler was filled with vodka and the owner would ‘check out’ the models personally in the catwalk room. There were the crazy make up artists and the precious photographers, the gorgeous girls who rated themselves far too highly and the not so gorgeous girls who couldn’t understand why there weren’t booked. Oh fun days!

  11. Alyson on July 3rd, 2009 10:46 am

    At least you have SOMETHING down on paper……eh….hard drive. You are miles ahead of me and hundreds of others out there. Remember, even half-dozen words a day is progress, and you are writing a FIRST DRAFT. After which comes a second, and a thirds, and…..and……and……

    There is no rule that you have to get it perfect the first time.

    As my clever eldest son says: There are two kinds of writers…ones who get it perfect, and ones who make their deadlines.

  12. Gina on July 3rd, 2009 8:10 pm

    Good luck with the writing. I was a National Park Ranger for a few years; my favorite post was living alone on an island at a lighthouse. I gave tours during the day and had the island to myself every night. Yep, I still miss that job.

  13. amber on July 3rd, 2009 8:14 pm

    Wow, that’s a lot of replies!

    *In high school I was the “sample lady” for breyer’s ice cream at the local supermarkets. Let me tell ya, fat kids don’t just love cake.

    *Then I worked as a clerk at a video store. One of my favorite stories to tell about that job was on a super busy Friday night a little boy about 2yrs old kept tugging on his mom saying he had to go to the bathroom reeeeallly bad and she kept saying “hang on honey, we’re almost done.” Couple minutes later I see the little guy scooting around the floor, dragging his butt like a dog with worms. He’d just crapped in the castle in the play area and was trying to wipe his bum. I handed the mom some paper towels and told her to have at it. Little did she know her son saved my Friday night. We shut down early enough that I was able to meet up with some friends for some underage debauchery. Fun, fun.

    *The following year I worked at a tanning salon. One of the most disgusting jobs EVER. Smelling burnt flesh, BO, coconut and the occasion bodily fluid left in the wastebasket starts to get to you after a while.

    I’ve also been a barista & a cart pusher at a supermarket. All in high school.

    After high school and college my jobs were less interesting. I was a volunteer lunch lady at my son’s school and before that was a bartender in a brewery. I hosted Belgian beer tastings there…that was lots of fun. Free beer, mmmmm.

  14. Danell on July 3rd, 2009 8:49 pm

    oooh! oooh! pick me! I was a professional groomer for years before I went to vet school!

  15. Amanda on July 3rd, 2009 10:13 pm

    I have a close friend who was a professional pig inseminator for a UCSF medical reserach grant. I could hook you up with her–she is verbose.

  16. Crystal on July 5th, 2009 1:57 pm

    I was a rollerskating rink manager for YEARS. Never a dull moment.

  17. Mia on July 6th, 2009 7:50 am

    Head of campus security at a small town farm college, oh yeah, did I mention I’m afraid of the dark and the boogieman? Vet tech college learning how to pregnancy check cattle “in the butt Bob”. Ten years as a veterinary technician. “Sir that’s not a tick it’s a nipple.” Currently I’m in human medicine and to afraid of HIPPA laws to talk about that, but email me and I can give you some good stories about security and vet med.

  18. KB on July 7th, 2009 4:03 pm

    Looks like another juvenile probation officer beat me to the punch. But I also write a monthly book review for a local magazine and of course would love to review your novel down the road!

  19. Keziah on July 8th, 2009 9:20 am

    I work as a secretary for a military helicopter repair/overhaul place in Vancouver. its very interesting to see them build blackhawks from the ground up, and the pilots and mechanics here…can you say – heavenly?

    I fell in love with a co-worker, and it ended in tragedy when the helicopter he was flying crashed

  20. danielle-lee on July 15th, 2009 12:18 pm

    I worked for Child Protective Services for 6 years, working with children in foster care, and working with those that had been sexually abused.
    Too much?
    Yeah, I know.
    I have been flirting with writing a novel for a LONG-ASS time. Cheers to you for getting it going.

  21. Jem on August 2nd, 2009 7:08 am

    I don’t know if it’s very interesting, or if you still need help, but I work as a tower host at a tall tower. The most interesting part of the job is when it gets windy, and when we’re driving the service lift (we rotate positions around the tower) things get kinda hairy in there. Email me if you want!

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