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The Day-Job Muse
by Patricia Misiuk

In my fantasy, royalty checks from my published articles would support my addiction to heavenly hash ice cream and allow me to ditch my day job. But the reality for most writers, myself included, is a 40-hour-a-week punch-in punch-out job.

For decades, I have coped with the aggravations of my "real" (that blasphemous four-letter word used by non-writers) job: the road rage-inducing commute, a bottomless in-box, a barrage of memos and e-mail messages, and other common denominators of the workaday world.

About 15 years ago during a domino-effect day of ergonomic snafus, I had an epiphany: I was wallowing in the mother lode of article ideas. The day-job Muse inspired me to chronicle and cash in on the multifaceted aspects of earning a living.

I first struck literary gold when I wrote about moonlighting as a discount store cashier. Early on, I tuned out Musak Christmas carols, witnessed fist fights over Pound Puppies and confronted customers attempting to pay with expired credit cards. Yet I survived. How? Well, I soaked my feet and drafted a piece about the humorous incidents that helped me defuse holiday stress.

After some tweaking and fine-tuning, I mailed Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Last-Minute Shoppers to a retail trade publication. They accepted my article and paid me more than what I had earned in six weeks of cashiering. The obvious bonus: I parlayed my moonlighting skills into an additional paycheck. That welcome "pay to the order of..." piece of paper motivated me to continue writing about how I spent most of my waking hours: working.

Furthermore my grass-is-always-greener outlook coupled with my job-jumping tendencies have broadened my scope for topics. I have supported myself as a factory laborer, travel agent, migrant worker, house painter, waitress/burger flipper, baby-sitter, bakery clerk, and cashier, just to mention a few. Unstable? Perhaps. But definitely grist for the article mill.

Thumb through any magazine or newspaper, and articles abound about time management, technology in the workplace, and how to dress for success. Instead of rehashing done-to-death subjects, think of innovative links for been-there, done-that aspects of work. Integrate your experience, solicit input from experts, if appropriate, and then write.

A few caveats to keep in mind:

* Don't whine.

Dwelling on the bad and boring days that occasionally torment every working stiff is counterproductive.

* Don't waste the reader's valuable time.

Whether your article makes readers smile or offers surefire strategies for pay increases, make them feel they have spent their time wisely.

* Be fair.

Present all sides. For example, list an employee's and boss's views about raise negotiations. Role reversal, the walk-a-mile-in-my-shoes mind-set helps dispel tunnel vision.

* Emphasize potential for growth, no matter how menial the job.

My recent position, packaging baked goods in a supermarket, was a low-skill, entry-level job. But I discovered a silver lining: I became fluent in quirky bakery-speak and spun it into A Cookie by Any Other Name, an article that was distributed in a work-related web site newsletter.

* Play spin doctor.

The fridge where workers park brown-bag lunches often morphs into an on-site science fair project. Don a gas mask, take inventory of the midday meal contents and an article evolves, often faster than mold. Aim for publication during (and yes, there is such a time frame), Clean Out Your Refrigerator Week.

* Get the big picture, then divide it into doable segments.

An article focusing on office decor would be akin to a piece about World War II. Break it down. For example, a coworker of mine plastered his cubby partition with altered photos of a former (and unpopular) boss. Another aromatherapy aficionado displays scented candles in her work area. See article potential? Sure- cubby interior design to reflect personalities.

Topics abound so keep an idea file- memos, technology, performance reviews, customer service, mandatory meetings- and then subdivide broad topics. Aspects of technology may include voice mail, e-mail, the mountains of paper in a so-called paperless office, and computer crashes.

Arriving at a concrete and focused topic is the first leg in the day-job sale odyssey. The proposal and final article have to find a niche. Did your obedience-school dropout canine accompany you on Take Your Pets to Work Day? Obvious markets include pet publications. Do additional delving- researching the calming effects of fur children- and pitch the idea to a health or family magazine.

Does your workplace offer an on-site exercise room? Mine does and wouldn't you know, it's opposite the junk food machines. Find employees who work out and then refuel at the nearby snack dispensers. Depending on the slant, sports, food, health and medical publications are possibilities for an article.

Don't ignore dot-com markets. Although the Internet may not catapult you from rags to riches, web sites provide outlets for your writing. Your repertoire of published articles can expand in this electronic form of communication.

Some final thoughts. Whether you crank out gizmos on an assembly line or chug-a-lug coffee in a corner office, heed the inspiration of the day-job Muse. Act on the ideas and your name will appear frequently in bylines and on royalty checks. When your game plan succeeds, embrace a self-imposed downsizing of sorts- a part-time job. Better yet, take a leap of faith and add a new career to your resume- full-time writer.

© Copyright 2001, Patricia Misiuk

Patricia Misiuk could have been the sole interviewee for Studs Terkel's "Working." Her jobs have ranged from migrant work in New Zealand to the replenishment of sanitary products in the "Big Apple's" restrooms. When she grows up (she is 61) she wants to be a columnist. She still works at "McJobs" but "writing is what she does."

Other articles by Patricia Misiuk :

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