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What You Do

My utter infrequency in regards to posting lately (you can read a kind of explanation here) has probably gone largely un-noticed, or at least in relation to the sheer anxiety I have felt about not keeping up my side of the bargain of being a contributor. Luckily there are so many great contributors here that I shouldn’t fret so.

As I face the prospect of leaving my longest-held job for the unknown, I am (as always) intrigued by what writers do for a living and how it impacts their writing. I know a lot of writers who usher this away saying it doesn’t, but I know that’s impossible. There’s no way to go to a real job day in and day out and not have it infiltrate your creative endeavors in some way.

So, here are some jobs I’ve had and how I see the impact they played or continue to play on my writing. (Beyond writing about the jobs themselves, which I do with some frequency regarding most of them).

Gas Station Attendant: This job forced me to deal with people, strangers, all day, something I had managed to avoid until that point. Beyond teaching me how to let go of my brain and just be myself in terms of talking, I think it impacted my writing considerably, especially in terms of hearing dialogue. Being good at talking to people doesn’t always translate to being able to write good dialogue, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Construction: My time doing construction in the Arctic has really come to define a lot of my writing endeavors. My love of my home state of Alaska was already intact, but once I learned to put people and situations that I had come to know so intimately down on paper in a fictional manner it changed my writing forever. This job taught me the importance (for me personally) about real life and it’s translation to art.

Managing a Children’s Bookstore: I have written the least amount about this job in terms of my poetry and fiction, but probably talk the most about it since it’s my current situation. While there have been great aspects of this job, there have been a lot of frustrations, too, and those taught me the importance of not always taking myself too seriously (this is a lesson I seem to be re-learning to greater degrees with some regularity). I’ve learned to take my brain away from the heavier stories I write and play around. As a way to balance things. Without this job some of the stories that have gotten the most attention would never have been written. (Some of them were written while at work and frustrated and were  a way to give myself a chuckle and relax a bit).

What do you do?

What have you done?

How has it helped, hindered, or otherwise impacted your writing?

  • Ryan W. Bradley has pumped gas, changed oil, painted houses, swept the floor of a mechanic's shop, worked on a construction crew in the Arctic Circle, fronted a punk band, and managed an independent children's bookstore. He now works in marketing. His latest book is Nothing but the Dead and Dying, a collection of stories set in Alaska. He lives in southern Oregon with his wife and two sons.

6 thoughts on “What You Do

  1. Yeah Ryan, I think the jobs we have really shape us and our writer. Like you I’ve had a bunch, but probably working in a mental health crisis shelter was the most important (and most important in terms of the job and responsibilities). Yes the stories, but people who had nothing, who were homeless and rejected by society cried to me, they needed help. I miss it, I’d rather work with people than a computer any day.

  2. I think it’s sort of important to have outside jobs at least for some of one’s life. The whole idea of wanting to “just write” at, like, the age of 25 baffles me. And I think I was guilty of that sort of thinking at the time. I mean, what are you going to write about? “I went to college”. Or, “I went to high school.” Now, both subjects can be – like anything- great, great subject matter, but some perspective on them is usually necessary, and that means distance and other experiences, usually. I spent seven years waiting on tables and bartending, 3 or so years (off and on) working in publishing, I stayed home and raised two sons, I worked in grocery stores in the “meat and dairy” section, I worked in halfway houses for the mentally ill (one story based loosely on the experience, “Cleveland Circle House”, is forthcoming in Fiction Magazine), I was a receptionist at a modelling agency, I babysat, I helped out a private detective for a while- and so on.
    Now, of course, one can say “what about Proust” and that would be valid. And frankly, most people accumulate enough interesting life experience by five I guess. But I’m grateful for all the jobs I’ve had and not one of them took away from my writing- only added to it. And not really related to writing- but more to just, life– bartending was by far and away the thing I was best at, and the job I loved the most (aside of childrearing).

    1. thanks, paula. i was totally of that attitude, too, probably, until i got kicked out of college at 20 and had to start working for real. the more i did so the more i saw the value in it, even if i didn’t really want to be going to work.

      and child-rearing is like two jobs. or more! i think becoming a parent/parenting has a huge effect on writing as well!

  3. Ryan, this fascinates me too. I think Paula is spot-on: jobs equal life which equal meaningful writing. I know writers in their forties who have never had an actual job, and they keep churning out the same stuff (shhh…don’t tell them I said that).

    Right now, I work 2 1/2 days a week at a giant healthcare corporation. My job is to compile reports of all the stuff that goes wrong in 200 hospitals, and OH-MY-GOSH there are some stories there. In a way, I feel like writing stories about people’s unusual misfortunes makes them less meaningless, because to the company they’re just reports, you know? But they’re about lives, people, feelings.

    Time-wise, I’m really fortunate. My husband John is a professor and a writer, and he works the other 2 1/2 days a week. We alternate childcare and write during naps, etc. We both understand the importance of writing time, so we make sure it happens for both of us.

    I’ve been a maitre-d’, a hostess, a waitress, a customer service representative, a contract negotiator, a purchasing assistant, a bookkeeper, a sales associate, a secretary, a pizza-maker, and a receptionist. Maybe other stuff I’m not remembering.

    1. thanks, katrina! i’m glad there are a few of us out there fascinated by it!

      your setup with your husband sounds so nice! and it’s always a major plus to have a spouse or partner who understands the importance of writing time, etc. i feel very lucky that my wife is so supportive of my writing, and even though she encourages me to take time whenever i need, i like to stay up late on the weekends and do it when everyone is sleeping so that i can be there to aid in the care of our overly rambunctious 21 month old!

      i didn’t list all my jobs. it’s not a super long list, but a lot of them were much shorter term. i also was the “bitch” in a mechanic shop, which meant i did a lot of sweeping and handing of tools to mechanics… also re-parking semis, which taught me that i never ever want to drive anything that’s that big again. and i painted houses for a while.

      i sang and played guitar in a punk band for a few years… but didn’t really make money…

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