Friday, September 24, 2010

Why John Grisham is Right

Did anyone else catch John Grisham’s New York Times article about the various jobs he had before becoming a massively successful bestselling author? He wrote it in honor of Labor Day, and he described his years as a plumber’s assistant, an asphalt layer and a litigator. The conclusion of the article was that out of all his jobs, being an author was the most difficult.

I loved this article because it made me feel kind of proud of myself. Here I am, doing the hardest job of all! Harder than crawling under houses looking for leaks. Harder than paving roads during a Mississippi summer. I ran right out and told my carpenter fiancé that even though mixing that concrete might look hard, it was nothing compared to hammering out a plot point.

And hey, John Grisham does the hardest job and gets the big loot to boot. I’m doing it for a mere fraction of a fraction of a fraction (I could probably keep going) of what he makes. Doesn’t that make me some kind of writer-saint or something?

And then I had to wonder about my own work history. I’ve had some fairly random jobs, but is writing the hardest one ever?

(For the record, the following are all actual jobs I’ve held. Full disclosure: I was fired from at least one of them.)

Exhibit A. Hotel Chambermaid. I made beds, cleaned rooms, emptied trash, left chocolate on pillows.

As an erotic romance writer, I mess the sheets up and delve into what wild, forbidden things might have gone on in those beds.


(Plus, now I have to buy my own chocolate.)

Exhibit B.
Breakfast cook. Manned the grill, cooked omelets, made home fries. Sent my customers off with satisfied bellies.

As an erotica writer, I have to do more than fill my readers’ bellies. Other parts of the body and mind must be satisfied too.


Exhibit C
. Encyclopedia update researcher. Updated facts, researched news events, wrote articles.

Facts? Hey, make it easy, why don’t you? As a writer, I have to make that shit up!


Exhibit D. TV news promo writer. Wrote teasers for upcoming newscasts. Had to keep people from changing the channel for a full 30 seconds.

HARDER! If I can’t keep people reading my books for more than 30 seconds, I deserve to get fired.

Then again, it wouldn't be the first time.

So John Grisham, I have to agree. Being an author is really, really hard. But I’d still rather do this than anything else I’ve tried.

Of course, I haven’t given plumbing a shot yet.

What about you? What's the hardest job you've done? And the most satisfying?


Meg Benjamin said...

Oh man, I hated waiting tables. Hated, hated, HATED it! I was only eighteen or so and all these geriatric creeps kept reminding me to smile.

Skylar Kade said...

I've held my share of odd jobs, but I think the worst was working in the college mail room. Sort the mail, put it in the 1,040 student boxes, and then ANSWER ALL THEIR QUESTIONS. Like how to address an envelope. *facepalm*

Glad I'm writing instead of doing that, thought the former is WAY harder on the brain.

Anonymous said...

I've worked as a newspaper reporter and editor and communications/PR manager. I've worked for an nonprofit organization, in aerospace, and in health insurance. In college, I worked as a salesclerk for various stores. With the exception of retail, all my jobs have involved writing. But not all writing jobs are created equal. I really disliked my insurance job (stressful corporate environment). I love writing fiction. When I'm on a roll, there isn't anything I wouldn't rather do. Unlike other industries (insurance included), GENERALLY the harder you work, the more successful you become. That isn't often true in writing/publishing. I work very hard for a fraction of the remuneration I used to receive. To me, that's what makes writing the hardest job of all.

Kelly Jamieson said...

I've never had a really crappy job. Even McDonald's was fun for a month, at 15! But writing is defnitely the hardest - when things aren't going well. But when things are going well - when the words are flowing, the story ideas are clicking - there's nothing I'd rather do! I love it!

PG Forte said...

I don't know about hard and easy when it comes to jobs. I really think it's relative. My most physically demanding job (brutal hours, physically taxing, came home exhausted each and every day) was among my favorites.

I'd rather a hard job that i love than an easy one that i hate...especially if I have to spend full days at it.

I'll never get back those days I wasted at unrewarding jobs. And I am grateful for every day that I get to spend writing.

Now, if I could just find a way to cut out all the downtime I still spend waiting on stuff...

Inez Kelley said...

I've done nearly every job under the sun before becoming a full time writer but by far, my longest and favorite(other than writing) was as a 911 dispatcher. I trained hard, the job was extremely stress filled and you only hear the bad in life.

I had people die on me, listen to parents beg me to help their child who is dying in their arms, worried about every officer I sent into a dangerous situation. THAT job taught me a lot and if the pay hadn't sucked so bad, I would still be doing it. I loved it.

I use those raw emotions, when literally noting else matters except THIS MINUTE, to add depth to my writing.

Magdalen said...

I've worked at a shred-burn waste treatment facility (shredding trash so that it could be burned to heat the State Capitol in Albany, NY).

I've conducted hearing tests in a flour mill.

I was an editorial assistant for a statistician.

I've had an office job in public health.

I've been three kinds of lawyer: general litigation, corporate bankruptcy, and court-appointed family law. (I now work occasionally as a mediator.)

Interestingly, writing was the first thing I tried to do. I had to go away for 30 years before I had the skill set to try it again.

Juniper Bell said...

Wow, what a fascinating assortment of jobs we've all had!

Meg, I was a waitress too for a while. I left that one out because I was so bad at it.

Cara, I agree that one of the hardest things about writing is the lack of guarantee of pay. You might do well, you might not, and it's a mystery which it will be.

Inez, your 911 job sounds so intense, but what an amazing set of experiences to draw on as a writer. I don't regret any of my jobs for that very reason, although none of my jobs had the immediacy that you speak of.

Magdalen, I had the same experience as you -- I wanted to write as a youngling, but didn't really have what it took back then. It's funny how life works out!

Skylar, you crack me up about the college mail room. Seriously, they didn't know how to address an envelope??

PG, I'm with you, so glad I don't have to spend hours at a job I detest. That might actually be harder than anything else.

Kelly, you describe perfectly the rollercoaster of writing -- hard some days, a dream on other days. I think I've been having a streak of the former lately. But things will change, I just know it!

Erin Nicholas said...

I've done a few jobs I've hated and a few I love and what I've learned is that there is a definite difference between a career and a job. I love my career but haven't always loved the jobs within it :)
As for writing, well-- it's my escape from the "day job" *G*

Danielle said...

This one might seem lame compared to everyone else but the hardest for me was babysitting. But it was only hard with one couple of kids. I was 17 and they were 14 and 11. It wasn't so much babysitting as trying to make sure they didn't kill each other. I made 25 bucks a week for 10 hours a week of watching the Out of the 25 a week my mom made me pay rent (even though I was going to high school still). So I really made 5 bucks a week. One time the boys (14 yr old was six foot 3, 11 yr old was five foot 11. I am 5'6") got into a fight. Somehow I got in te middle of them trying to stop them and ended up with a black eye. I finally quit when the 11 yr old pulled a butche knife out of the block. I again tried to step in between them and ended up wth the butcher knife against my stomach. Luckily I wasn't cut. But that was the end of that job for me lol.

Juniper Bell said...

Danielle - OMG, what a nightmare! I can't believe you were dealing with that at 17. I used to babysit too but I never faced a situation like that. I'm glad you weren't hurt beyond the black eye. Yikes! I think you take the prize, LOL.