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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
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
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
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
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
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
* 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
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
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
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."
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