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!

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Eric's Mommy
Eric's Mommy
14 years ago

I’ll drop you an e-mail about my job!

Nicole
14 years ago

I was a lifeguard/swim instructor in a past life. Does thqt count?

Melissa
14 years ago

lol, I know I shouldn’t but I can’t help it! Quit your bitchin, everyone deals with it, bla bla bla :)

You’re going to be brilliant so just finish the book so we can all buy it and tell you how wonderful you are :)

Jenny
Jenny
14 years ago

I taught gymnastics to 2-5 year olds for about 4 years.

Trina
Trina
14 years ago

Have fun! Happy 4th of July! I have worked at a Mexican restaurant (I am not mexican) as a hostess, an Italian restaurant as a hostess, a tanning salon, an orthodontist assistant (as a teenager), I sold cell phones at a large local retailer (hint, “A better way to go!”) then it was office work stuff (for the same retailer) now I am a SAHM. If any of that works let me know.

Anne
14 years ago

I sort of wish my now-career of Tax Accountant was interesting enough to qualify for your “interesting/out of the ordinary” job description search, but I fear to anyone NOT in accounting the job is probably the very definition of boring.

I have, however, also worked in direct advertising production (i.e. I sent out junk-mail), beer/brat seller for events at the American Legion in a TINY town in Wisconsin, a cook at an Italian Deli, and a carmel popcorn/popcorn ball/cotten candy maker at a fair. If any of that could be of use to you, email me! :)

Felicia
Felicia
14 years ago

I teach childbirth classes as one of my jobs. I love it, but I know some people think it’s weird.

Liz
Liz
14 years ago

My husband has held a lot of interesting job and tells great stories: worker in a box factory, cheese factory, and hurdy-gurdy man outside a toy store are some of the best.

Cara
14 years ago

I worked the front desk at a busy vet clinic for a while. I’ve got some STORIES :)

Kate
14 years ago

I was a Production Assistant for one of the major entertainment news magazine shows (and before that, I was a PA a now-defunct soap opera). I sucked at being a PA about as much as anyone can suck at a job (my resume by the time I left included accidental grand theft auto – true story!). That said, I’ve always been surprised at how much of that particular job I remember pretty well (maybe acute shame and self-loathing are more memorable than other feelings? anyway.). Feel free to e-mail if you like.

I admire you for writing the novel! I think it might be one of the hardest things to do in life.

Hilary
14 years ago

Not sure if this falls under “advice you don’t want/need,” but have you considered a writing class with a workshop component? I go to a women’s author festival every year where successful, published authors speak, and almost every single one of them spent time in a writing class where they were able to get feedback and work on their writing with some guidance. Of course, time is an issue, I know. When on earth are you supposed to do this? I admire you for tackling this tough goal, and for always pushing yourself. You’ll get there!

Rhea
Rhea
14 years ago

I sell beer at the golf course while I am FINALLY finishing up my degree, graduate next month!! Anyway there are plenty of stories for me tell, some involving hookers :) Mostly its just freaking HOT as hell (like 110 heat index) and SUPER DRUNK guys that I’m sometimes afraid will take me into the woods…..FUN times I tell you!

Cheri
Cheri
14 years ago

I’ve worked at a few interesting jobs over the years: day camp counselor, 3rd shift IT support for Discover Card, call center for the infamous American Girl franchise, currently I’m a nanny for a 2 year old, which is completely different than the years & years in an office environment. I was a music intern for a radio station once, one of my favorite jobs.

Elaine
Elaine
14 years ago

My first job was decorating, boxing, and shipping king cakes at a donut shop during Mardi Gras, and then I got hired on as a permanent slave doing everything from mixing dough, glazing, working the register, cleaning, and setting up funny quotes on the sign outside. Now I’m in the Coast Guard and while I’ve had a couple boring desk jobs, I had a phenomenal tour on a buoytender stationed out of Hawaii. I was Deck Watch Officer (shipdriver) and we went all over the Pacific and I’ve got stories if you want ’em!

Cheri
Cheri
14 years ago

Oh, also was a supervisor for a building that was rented out for various parties – wedding receptions, baby showers, etc.., lots of interesting stories of crazy people.

Marie Green
14 years ago

Interesting(ISH)/unusual jobs I’ve had: I taught people how to pan for gold and gave tour of an old abandoned gold mine shaft for about 3 summers in the Black Hills, SD, I worked as an “advertiser” and ran the spot light for a Country Music Dinner Theater, wherein most of the musicians were NOT country fans, and I currently work as a doula which is ALWAYS interesting. ALWAYS.

Probably not helpful to your story, but there you have it!

Sarah
14 years ago

I was a cage cashier in a casino in a past life. Sounds much more glamorous than it was though, I think it’s the word “cage” that gives it an edge. Really though you’re just locked up all night trying not to fall asleep. But really, if it starts with a gun in the mouth, that kind of job probably fits the bill. Good luck!

She Likes Purple
14 years ago

I worked at Chuck E Cheeses. Might not sound interesting, BUT THE STORIES I COULD TELL.

Julie
Julie
14 years ago

I’m a hydrogeologist – investigating soil and groundwater contamination. One of the more exciting parts of the job involves dynamite.

Elizabeth Joy
14 years ago

How ’bout my job as a novelist?

:)

I have the worst memory in the world, I’m sure it’s worse than yours, and it works really well for me because when I go back to revise my books I don’t have that tunnel vision that’d keep me from seeing where the issues are. Sometimes I’ll read a paragraph with my eyes wide thinking, who the hell wrote that?? Makes it harder when my editor wants to suggest revisions to scenes and I have no idea which scenes she’s talking about, but all in all, it’s served me well.

I don’t know that you need much of a memory to write fiction, really. Memoirs, sure, but fiction comes from somewhere altogether different. When I write about kids (and my last novel was told partially from a 10-year-old’s perspective), I talk to kids to pick up their ways of speaking, and understand the way they think. You probably do the same thing when you try to reason with your own kids, right? You have a pretty decent idea how they see the world.

I think the most important thing is to be able to feel empathy for your characters, put yourself inside their heads and figure out what they’re thinking and feeling, so you can put it on the page, even if you’ve never gone through anything remotely similar. (Like, for example, you’ve probably–hopefully–never had a gun in your mouth. But I’m sure you can imagine how that’d feel…)

Elissa
Elissa
14 years ago

Does working as a psychiatric nurse in a prison count as “interesting”??? :)

Christina
14 years ago

Just something helpful that you probably already do or know but it has helped me to keep a notebook with me. Memories are not always fluid. I will remember a moment of a longer memory with strong clarity because something will happen to me, a scent will hit me or I will see a book/item that I had when I was a kid for example. That is when the memories come on strong and generally those memories will flow out of my head as fast as they come. When I stop myself and write them down for future reference it makes it easier to write. OR just start writing stuff on your blog. Then you can tag it memories or thoughts for book or whatever.

Just find a good place to unload memories I find is the key to writing fiction, non fiction, autobiographical data whatevs. GL!!!!

Liz M.
14 years ago

I was a circus coach/circus director for 3 years, if that’s of any interest. I have also been a barista at a small, independent coffee house and a ballroom dance instructor.

ladybughugs
14 years ago

Sorry, I’m boring. I work in book publishing. *sigh* & *yawn*

Andrea
Andrea
14 years ago

Jobs: nanny, camp counselor for outdoor rock climbing camp, indoor climbing instructor, door to door coupon book slinger, telemarketer, registery desk at babies r us, pet sitter…..e-mail if any of those fit what your looking for.

Maria
14 years ago

How about the life and times of a call center programmer? Dude, I route phone calls. Don’t roll your eyes, it can be very exciting. You wouldn’t believe what some people will say on a recorded line.

Laura
Laura
14 years ago

I had a short stint as a rickshaw cyclist.

claire
14 years ago

I have nothing interesting to give you, i just wanted to comment and say that i’m kind of jealous that these people have had such cool jobs.

I feel really dull now.

Claudia
14 years ago

I understand your frustration. I’m writing novel #3 right now – during my lunch hours – because I can barely hear myself think let alone get time to write. I’m looking for an agent for #2. #1 was written basically to teach myself how to write a novel because the entire concept was beyond me. The key is just simply to write and write and not worry about whether its crap or not (because it most likely is) but what happens, in my experience, is that you have to write yourself to the actual story. Which means, you write a lot of dreck until, hey, this might be something! I have two kids. The oldest is 8 1/2. The second novel took 9 years to finish. The current one is moving along – I’ve gotten 80+ pages done in a couple months. But, that’s just a first draft. I’m not really paying attention to continuity problems. That comes later.

I once worked in a dry cleaning store where I was paid under the table by non-English speaking Koreans. Does that count? Problem is, I don’t remember much about it. I’ve got that same past-memory-loss thing, too. Must be the children. I blame them.

Renee
Renee
14 years ago

two words: Lunar Seismologist.

lisa
14 years ago

I’m 34, and at last count I’ve worked about 18 different jobs! Part of that is because I am a freelance photographer & designer & photography teacher, and seeing as none of those things are especially profitable, I always have at least one gig on the side.

By far the wackiest job I had was a “Dresser” for one of the 2 actors that make up the cast of “A Tuna Christmas.” This was a production at Actors Theatre, one of the few things my hometown of Louisville, KY is famous for, other than the Kentucky Derby, Louisville Slugger bats and bourbon.

In 2005, I quit my day job to freelance full time, and things were pretty lean. I saw an ad in our local alternative newspaper for the position. I went to a performing arts high school, so I have experience being a “techie,” a common term for people who work backstage at a theatre. Even though it’d been 12 years since I’d actually been a “techie,” I was hired.

If you’re familiar with “A Tuna Christmas,” two actors play all the characters in the play, and the play is known for its quick costume changes. I was assigned to the small skinny actor with another girl, and two other people were assigned to the moody, fat actor. The dressers were to place all the costumes for the show at various places backstage, strategically folded, gathered and arranged so we could get them on the actors fast.

The actors would burst backstage between scenes and the dressers would literally tear the clothes off them, stuff them into new ones and send them back onstage. Each costume change took mere minutes. It was kinda crazy. Me and my partner thanked our lucky stars that we were assigned to the skinny actor, because not only was he nicer, he was a lot easier to strip!

dregina
14 years ago

I’ve been a sheep-herder, a professional dog walker in NYC, and a nurse aide on an Alzeheimer’s unit….

Jaci
Jaci
14 years ago

I run farmer’s markets, something I have done since I was 5 years old. Okay, to be fair, I wasn’t running things back then, I was driving my grandfather insane by being in the way and absolutely zero help. As an adult, I am managing two smaller farmer’s markets on my own as well as a huge market (20,000+ customers per week) in Baltimore, MD. Considering my family can and has been described as the Soup Nazis of produce, if you want stories, I have stories. Most jobs you get in trouble for fighting with the customers. We get in trouble for being too nice for too long.

Cari
14 years ago

I was a massage therapist. Most of the time pretty ordinary, but there are always stories of strange or pervy or bitchy clients, as well as the overweight and unshowered, and the hairy-backed with acne.

Then there was my former male colleague who was charged with third-degree sexual assault for having “relations” with two clients on the massage table. Ew.

Heather
14 years ago

Summer job experience: Making dashboards and components for Chrysler Minivans, working in a bacon manufacuturing plant (in a room called the “microwave” but was so cold I had to wear a sweatshirt), making ceramic fireplace logs, working in an optomotrist office, working at a grocery store in the bakery, working in a nursing home kitchen, working in a greenhouse starting plants, working an Elks fish fry on Friday nights, working in food services for a University, working in admissions and student services for that same university. The rest of my working life was spent as an assistant to an Executive Vice President who was an ex-Marine and would flip you off if he didn’t like how the “f***ing org charts” looked. Hmmm, no wonder I like being unemployed and staying home with the kids now…

Charese
Charese
14 years ago

Hi Linda!
I’ve worked at a homeless shelter for the past almost 5 years. I’ve held many jobs within the organization, and I am currently in charge of one of our housing programs (which houses families and single men and women).

I also put myself through college (6 years) doing respite care for a family whose son is handicapped. He suffered a brain injury as a toddler and needs 24 hr. supervision. It was one of the most difficult and most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had.

In 2000, I worked as a camp counselor at a camp in Minnesota (I’m a born and raised SoCal girl) for children with ADD, ADHD, and SED (Severe Emotional Disturbance). It was easily the most difficult job I’ve ever had.

I also spent a Summer working at our local zoo. I did hair-wraps (those thread things you weave into little girls’ hair) and rice-writing (where you write someone’s name on a grain of rice and make a charm out of it).

Whew. I think that’s it. If any of those are something you’d be interested in knowing more about, feel free to email me!

Melissa H
14 years ago

Wow, folks have had some interesting jobs! I work as a fundraiser and have had past stints has a house painter, cook for a fraternity and ticket salesperson at the county fair (not a carnie!). Unfortunately my memory isn’t great but email if those are jobs of interest.

Good luck on the novel!

Nic
Nic
14 years ago

I was a wedding planner.

Erin
14 years ago

I’ve been a wall painter, an Irish dance shoe fitter, a house cleaner for some very rich individuals (for about two months), and a newspaper editor.

birdgal (another amy)
birdgal (another amy)
14 years ago

I was a wildlife biologist (in a few states, usually in bumfuck) for a while and have been bitten and shit on by various birds and small mammals, stuck my hand in arm deep mud to find turtles, braved death-defying slopes for a salamander, and dodged poisonous snakes :). I still traipse around the woods for my job, but it’s usually around roads as I work for the state DOT–though the stuff you can find on the side of the road can be pretty interesting as well (like ‘bridge porn’!). If you want more, just shoot me an email!

ElizabethZ
ElizabethZ
14 years ago

The best I have for you is:

Counselor for an extended day program at an elementary school for the 1st-3rd graders.

Caretaker at a small group home for mentally and/or physically disabled adults.

Both were pretty interesting jobs actually.

Ashley
Ashley
14 years ago

My job is to fire people from their jobs…literally. I help companies plan staffing reductions, structure severance packages, and execute the event.

If that tickles your “interesting job” fancy, let me know!

Amy
Amy
14 years ago

I’ve had a lot of jobs, but none seem so interesting as the rest of your fan base! Most interesting had to be bartender in a dive bar where we sold bait out of the back when the bait shop nextdoor closed. Nightcrawlers for night crawlers! Wasn’t what I envisioned after graduating from college, but I lost track of myself after my father died and made some not-so-great decisions. Made it back, became an RDA (dental assistant) and have been at a dentist owned insurance company for the last 8 years…help dentists when patients sue them!

Have a great trip…I’ll trade you, we’re just staying home. But we are going out to dinner Friday night and watching a performance of Firebenders. If you’ve never seen fire dancing it is AMAZING! Now those are people you want to talk to. How do you get into dancing with fire for a living?!

danielle
danielle
14 years ago

I wish I had some insightful wisdom regarding overcoming writers block or writers insecurity. But I don’t so, yeah…

I spent most (all) of my career as an architect. Do you want an cynical viewpoint or an inspirational one? I can serve up both.

Emily
14 years ago

I personally can’t offer any excellent writing advice, but I will strongly recommend to you a book called “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott. It’s a veritable fountain of wisdom about overcoming the pain and suffering that goes along with writing (fiction and non), and I’ve found it supremely helpful as an aspiring nonfictioneer. Plus, I’ve never known another instructional book that uses the word “fuck.”

Stephanie
14 years ago

I was a pickle packer at a Vlasics factory one summer. Not interesting, but damn, not many people can say that!

Artemisia
14 years ago

Happy 4th! Hang in there with the writing. I am so impressed that you have the guts to start down a blank page and type, in the first place. That is awesome. Really.

I have always felt that it pays to pay attention to the process of creation, too. Interesting patterns of thought, assumptions, etc. show up in the actual process. These observations often lead to some of my most unique ideas (in academic humanities writing, for whatever the hell that is worth).

I used to be a roofer when I was in college. I also managed a catering crew. I don’t know if those are the kind of “interesting” you are looking for, though!

Corina
Corina
14 years ago

I know my former life as a junior associate at a ginormous law firm doesn’t count as interesting, but perhaps my current career as a part-time front desk person at a family owned yoga studio/boutique/spa in a small resort town does? Wrangling massage therapists, yogis, and oblivious yuppies fascinates me more than it probably should.

EG
EG
14 years ago

Obviously your readers will be a goldmine, but for anyone else who is interested in learning the juicy bits of a wide variety of jobs, I HIGHLY recommend the book “Gig.” It’s a collection of essays about random peoples’ jobs (from Walmart greeter to porn star), and they are fascinating.

http://www.amazon.com/Gig-Americans-Talk-About-Their/dp/0609807072/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1246481023&sr=1-1

Deb
Deb
14 years ago

Remember the movie BIG with Tom Hanks? I was a dancer on the big floor piano at FAO Schwartz in NYC for a year. There were two of us per shift, one played the top “hand”, the other played the bottom “hand,” all with our feet of course. We did 2 shows every hour and in between would let people on the piano in small groups to play. We always started with Chopsticks and Heart and Soul because they were from the movie, but our repertoire also included Bach, Beethoven, Strauss, Mozart, pop music, and seasonal favorites like Jingle Bells. We had headset microphones and did a little patter with each show. We also had a code system we used to communicate with our fellow worker when dealing with the public. Such as Code 10 for Pushy Mom, Code 99 for I Just Don’t Care, and since they had to take off their shoes before getting on the piano, Code 5 was for Stinky Feet.

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