Many, Many Hats

Jobs I’ve had, in chronological order:

Babysitter, dry cleaner counter person, pizza maker, office supply sales clerk (never, ever let someone “try out” a fountain pen because it ruins the nib–ask me how I know), pizza maker, steak house hostess (many, many roach stories), misses department sales clerk, gift wrapper, shirt inspector (another dry cleaner), telemarketer (worst ever), temporary services receptionist, candy store clerk, radio station engineer, board operator, and announcer, production coordinator for a tech services multi-media department (basically AV department for giant corporate shows and concerts), sales promotion assistant (lots of incentive programs, binders, brochures–highlights include missing a typo on half a million theme park brochures that made the park look like it was open when it was closed), manager of a retail handcrafts co-op, copywriter/sales promotion freelancer, book reviewer, writer, writing workshop leader, homeschool mom.

It’s a bit overwhelming to look at this list. Of course, it encompasses forty-four years of my life. But the overwhelming bit comes when I think about all the things I had to learn to do those jobs. None were particularly difficult in terms of technology. Early on I learned to do as I was told, watch out for the grabby hands of customers and male co-workers, alike, and spend most of my time observing people and figuring out what they were really looking for. It was at the radio station that things became technically challenging. So I spent many, many hours learning the radio station and studio engineering job, and I loved producing. Also, I was fortunate that the Giant Beer Company bought into Macs for the office soon after they came out.

I didn’t start writing fiction until after I became fascinated with copywriting and spent a lot of time fiddling with copy I had commissioned. When the Giant Beer Company warned of layoffs, I (very boldly, and perhaps insanely) whipped up sample copy for imaginary businesses and appended it to my resume. Sales and advertising copy is, after all, a blend of persuasion, fact, and fantasy. (It was not an effective gambit, but it was a great writing and humility exercise.)

So I broke down and took some post-graduate fiction writing classes, and realized that everything I’d done–professionally and personally–up to that point helped me become a writer.

It makes me wonder about those students who first come into the creative writing classroom at age 18 or 19. What have they done? What have they seen or heard? (Though, trauma is an excellent teacher, as is a dysfunctional family.)

The writing life is perfect for someone like me, who truly appreciates novelty. In the past twenty-five years (particularly the last twelve) I’ve discovered that to be a professional writer, or even a dedicated amateur, one has to become proficient at many jobs, and willing to keep learning and learning.

The latest thing I learned is how to make a .gif of the cover of my upcoming book, The Stranger Inside. Fingers crossed that it’s still giffing when you see it. If you want to make your own .gif, try it here. It’s super easy!

Here’s what this writer has learned to become:

Publisher, production co-ordinator, writer, copywriter, editor, designer, cover designer, photographer, telemarketer, baker (for goodies taken to appearances), mailroom attendant, bookkeeper, trimmer, folder, press release writer, travel agent, contest-fulfiller, social media maven, mailing list keeper, public speaker, researcher, long-haul driver, occasional shameless self-promoter, interviewer, interviewee, panelist, cheerleader, blogger, website designer…I’m sure I’ve missed plenty. Can you think of more jobs that you do as a writer?

Tell us: What in your background prepared you for being a writer? How is your life different?

 

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About Laura Benedict

Laura Benedict is the Edgar- and ITW Thriller Award- nominated author of eight novels of suspense, including the forthcoming The Stranger Inside (February 2019). Small Town Trouble, her latest book, is a cozy crime novel. Her Bliss House gothic trilogy includes The Abandoned Heart, Charlotte’s Story (Booklist starred review), and Bliss House. Her short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and in numerous anthologies like Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads, The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers, and St. Louis Noir. A native of Cincinnati, she lives in Southern Illinois with her family. Visit her at www.laurabenedict.com.

25 thoughts on “Many, Many Hats

  1. Sounds like my job history. Out of high school, I worked at an insulation factory for 9 months in a plant where the dust was so thick I couldn’t see across the room. I joined the Air Force and served for for eight years. I got out for the purpose of going to college and seminary then going back into the Air Force as a chaplain. I worked all kinds of jobs to support my endeavor, including unloading boxcars in an under ground cold storage facility. A cave sweeper in the same facility, further back in the caves. Then a hotel clerk, a railroad yard clerk, a church custodian, a cemetery grounds keeper, pastor of four consecutive churches too small to pay a living wage, photographer, photo lab worker, then a one hour photo lab manager. I finally lost that job when people went to digital photography and the company closed the labs. I never became a chaplain, because I went through a divorce during seminary and had to drop out to find work. I had just enough time to get my education done and go back into the Air Force still young enough to become an officer, and the break after the divorce killed that chance.
    I have used some of this in some of my writing, but I’m still working on my first novel, so it remains to be seen what will influence my work.

    • Wow, that’s an intense job history, David. You obviously have a LOT to work from. Have you explored writing about your military service/experience?Just curious…

  2. The .gif of your book cover is still working, and it’s pretty neat! I agree, you gotta keep learning in order to be a writer, so maybe lifelong student is another job that you take on when you become a writer.

    • Thanks, Priscilla! I never imagined I would have to learn so much to have a writing career. In the end, I guess no matter what we’re doing, we have to keep learning. What a wonderful thing!

  3. Not necessarily in this order (but mostly) I’ve delivered papers, bagged groceries, mowed lawns, served as pastor to a congregation (definitely not for me—if not for writing that degree in religion would have been wasted), did pulpit supply (better, I’m a good public speaker, not a good pastor), grocery stock clerk, football referee, assistant director of student development at a college (where I ran a men’s dormitory (300 young men—WOW the stories—mothers, do NOT ask what your sons did in the dorms), ran the intramural athletics program, and operated the swimming pool), was an assistant business manager at a small not-for-profit (worst job ever), product refurbisher for an auction house, soccer referee, inventory control, corporate collections, tax preparer, general manager of many tax offices, umpire, tutor, tax consultant, writers group treasurer. I may have missed a few but it surprised me how long the list was.

    • A very long, fruitful list, indeed! As a mom whose son moved into a dorm last week, I’m vaguely horrified. I *did* send lots of cleaning supplies though–perhaps naively, lol.

  4. You bring up an interesting point that I’d never really taken the time to consider. I regularly converse with a group of people that are interested in a ton of different things–they’re actual ‘day jobs’ may not have been numerous & different (lord knows I wish mine had!) but what we all have in common is being interested in a ton of different things (one of the reasons it takes me so long to finish a writing project! 8-0 but regardless of the pile of interests, undergirding it all is a love of learning lots of different things.

    And that surely does come in handy for a writer.

  5. It’s not the number of jobs I’ve had that I fiddle with. It’s what I have learned or experienced in those jobs that are important to me: the feel of being in an 727 operated by the airline with the big smile on its planes that suddenly flips on its side as it passed through the invisible jet stream of a 707 operated by the airline with the big globes on the sides of their planes; walking into a hotel lobby after waiting for airport transportation while dressed in white, standing outside the airport and swatting at the attacks of huge salt marsh mosquitoes (capacity: unknown number of quarts of blood per mosquito) and having the clerk ask, “Sir, are you all right?” because he thought I had been in a fight or a gunfight; dressed in white and having the rental car side slip on a muddy dirt road, wondering how far I’ll have to walk so I can deliver the keynote address later that evening; and like that.

    The jobs: they were so I could feed my family.

    The experiences: they were so I could feed my imagination.

  6. Laura, your cover .gif is cool!

    My resume outside of writing isn’t as varied as yours (bank clerk, legal secretary, retail sales, management, office administration, business owner) but each job taught details that worked their way into stories.

    Perhaps the most helpful experience was retail sales b/c of meeting many people, figuring out who they were, what they wanted, and how to induce them to buy the product I was selling. That incorporated listening, interview skills, psychology, understanding their motivation and resistance, persistence, and a thick skin against rejection.

    Nothing is wasted. Any experience in life can add meaningful detail to deepen the fictional world. It’s what the writer does with those experiences that it’s important.

    Thanks for the .gif link too, Laura!

    • Thank you, Debbie! Do give the .gif link a shot. You can use only a few pics or up to 10, I think. Fun results.

      When you mention listening, interviewing, psychology, motivation and resistance, you’ve just described how to build awesome characters!!

  7. Love your gif, Laura! Maybe you’ll set a new trend for books. Then you can add “trend-setter” to your list of accomplishments.

    I started out with a paper route (and had a frightening experience with a creepy guy who tried to coax me into his car), then went to Brigham’s Ice Cream, my parents’ antique shop, auction runner, paralegal, cosmetologist, salon owner, cocktail waitress, and finally settled in as a writer and all that goes along with it.

    • So many cool jobs, Sue. And you could build an entire career on the the creep who tried to get you into his car. I’m chilled just reading it.

      As to the .gif–I just looked at the lighted windows and assumed everyone else would also think a .gif was inevitable!

  8. I love your post, Laura. Brings back memories. I had a demanding energy career for 25+ years before I decided to write my first novel. My passion for writing had been with me since my teen years. I had always been an avid reader.

    After I set my mind to give writing a try, I researched the industry, learned about the craft through workshops, books, & conferences–but mainly, I wrote. Naysayers recommended I lower my standards & try for writing category romance, rather than a novel, but I figured I already had a lucrative job & could “go for it.” No regrets after I sold 3 novels in auction, but I did wonder about whether I should have started writing sooner. I had never thought I could make enough money doing it. My career job afforded me money & asset investments that eventually helped me make the decision to retire early to write full time.

    But all my life experiences seemed a real benefit to my writing. I had traveled a great deal & lived in many states, including Alaska. I soon realized that I shouldn’t look back with regrets over something I didn’t do, but I should celebrate a once in a lifetime success for a passion that is a joy.

    • Your story is amazing, Jordan. I love how you approached it from a career standpoint. What is it with people naysaying a writer’s choices? Even if you hadn’t been (wildly!) successful at the novel game from the outset, you would’ve learned a hell of a lot and gone forward on a slightly different trajectory.

      I had feelings of regret, too, about my career. I’d only published short stories and done reviews before selling my first novel (I had two practice novels before that) at the age of 44. But, whatever.

      “I soon realized that I shouldn’t look back with regrets over something I didn’t do, but I should celebrate a once in a lifetime success for a passion that is a joy.” Perfect.

      • We met as debut authors at the International Thriller Writers conference in 2008. We had a pretty good group & I keep up with a number of authors from that batch. I feel lucky to have met you. Enjoy your success. Well-deserved.

  9. In retrospect, I’ve been in thriller writer boot camp for most of my life.

    My very first job was in telephone sales, selling portrait packages for Olin Mills Portrait Studios. I think I was 16 years old. I didn’t do well. Then I sold magazine subscriptions over the phone for Army Times Publishing Company (which also did Navy Times, Air Force Times . . .) I sucked at that, too, but the base pay was $5,00 an hour which was more than enough to fund my parent-supported lifestyle. That was the summer after my senior year, when I used out WATS line to speak with all of the doctors involved with the JFK assassination. I blogged about that here a few months ago.

    Summers through college I worked at a summer camp, where I earned a reputation of being able to wrangle the incorrigible 11 & 12-year-old boys. (HINT: Most don’t act out because they’re bad; they act out because they need attention. I knew this because it took one to know one.)

    My 15 years in the volunteer fire & rescue service pretty much paralleled my career as the safety manager for an explosives manufacturing company, which led to many more years in the hazardous materials/hazardous waste business.

    Finally, I ended my Big Boy Job years as an executive with a trade association, which is THE business to get into if you want to learn the intricacies of bureaucratic tail chasing while producing nothing of substance.

    Of my 18 books, 12 were written in my spare time while I worked a stressful day job. Through it all, there was no shortage of real-life quirky characters.

    • John, I always enjoy your tales about your past lives. But I still harbor a suspicion that you are/were a secret agent under deep cover. (If I’m right, don’t tell me! I know what has to happen next…)

  10. I’ve had many different jobs as well, but mainly in the customer service area, both in being as representative and a manager and in sales and marketing. I am not sure how that prepares me to be a writer but the sales and marketing may be an asset when it comes to promoting my books in the future. Thank you for such an uplifting post, as usual. 🙂

    • Rebecca! Talk about material. You’ve dealt with customers at their best and at their worst–and undoubtedly a whole lot in between. Think about what access you’ve been given over the years. Your insights will definitely come into play as you write. And marketing savvy is a huge plus! Write, write, write!

      Thank you for the sweet words. xx

  11. I can so relate. I worked as kitchen hand, dish-pig, chef, cleaner, park maintenance woman, retail assistant, waitress on a fancy boat, barista, train hostess, model for a travelling fashion show and solarium receptionist back in the 80’s Sweden. I’ve picked avocados, raspberries and chipped weed on cotton fields here in Australia. After the best job of all as mum I ventured into baby wear design and then teddy bear artistry which turned into a world wide success, yep totally weird before I opened a boutique/gallery. I’ve done designing, sewing, woodwork, websites, failed blogs, gold panning, graphic art, run music ministry, choirs and fashion events. At 55 I’m finally writing.

    • I’m in awe, Charlotte. So much and so varied experience! I bet you have a million stories. Also, “Charlotte French” is the perfect writer’s name. Gold panning and fabulous teddy bears? Very cool!

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