Perks of the Day Job

26 May

So you’re not a full-time writer; you have a day job. Do you long to write a bestseller so big that you can quit and dedicate that time to writing? Well, think of the opportunities you’d miss. Not only does your day job keep you fed, the bills paid, and your family insured, it can also provide you with story ideas.

Anywhere people congregate there’s some level of tension and conflict, and isn’t that what we strive for—tension and conflict on every page? 

DISCLAIMER: NONE of what I’m about to share has anything to do with my current co-workers. These people behave with the utmost propriety. Either that, or I’m not in the loop…yet.

With that said, I’ll start praising the day job.

Your day job can help you give your characters careers. My paid and volunteer jobs have helped me understand business, charities, personnel management, information systems, retail, health care, banking, and education. I know how exhausting it is to work 100 hours in one week and, thanks to an unfortunate stint as a dishwasher, I know what it’s like to be fired.

Your day job may give you knowledge of actual crimes. Because I’ve held several audit positions, I know how my villains might embezzle money, how they might cover it up, and how they’re going to get caught. I know where a burglar might hide during store hours so he can ransack the joint during the night, and I know how someone once stole a million dollars with a simple phone call.

Your day job can help you create interesting settings. I’ve travelled with some jobs, so I can describe the intrigue of Washington DC, the desert beauty of Phoenix, and the charm of New Orleans, just to name a few.

You can create composite characters using your colleague’s most interesting quirks. This brings to mind the woman who tried to arrange a divorce for her son, although the son had never actually indicated that he wanted a divorce. There was also the seventy-year-old bank teller that single-handedly foiled a robbery with her stubbornness.

You can give your characters romances, flirtations, and illicit affairs. There are always rumors about this one – rendezvous in the file room (cliché), liaisons at the Christmas party (yawn), a romp in the employee parking lot during office hours (now we’re talking). Or how about the couple (both married, not to each other) who got in on in a conference room, photographed their naked selves and then (here’s where people tend to go wrong) sent the photos to each other using the company e-mail. Imagine the conversation when those two got to their respective homes…“Honey, I got fired today, and that’s not the bad news.”

Granted, some of what I’ve shared are rumors, and the stories have probably been embellished, but they’re still entertaining. And if the stories are entertaining, you can revise them to create entertaining fiction. This way you can have your characters doing things that might not even cross your mind.

So, pay attention, become a good listener, and make room at the lunch table for the person in-the-know. Be thankful for that day job. When you work from home, you’re limited to your own imagination. When you go off to work, you have the benefit of other people’s imaginations too.

Please hit the comment box, and let us know what ideas you’ve gleaned from your day job to use in your writing. But be discrete – I don’t want to out anyone on the blog.


Posted by on May 26, 2011 in writing


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33 responses to “Perks of the Day Job

  1. Anne E. Johnson

    May 26, 2011 at 6:35 AM

    Great post! The main things I glean from my day job are behavioral details about all types of people and language quirks of people from different backgrounds and varying ages.

    • Carley Ash

      May 26, 2011 at 6:47 AM

      Great point Anne. That’s an area where I need to focus – to identify subtle mannerisms that I can then give to my characters

  2. TL Jeffcoat

    May 26, 2011 at 6:46 AM

    Very intriguing post. I’ve met a few “characters” at my jobs. The boss who walks with purpose and is rumored to lay on her back with purpose too. I worked with a guy once who claimed he skinned cats. I didn’t believe him till he brought some polished skulls of cats to prove it. I was disturbed, but then I went home and wrote a character profile designed about him.

    • Carley Ash

      May 26, 2011 at 6:49 AM

      Cat skinner – that’s one of those things that wouldn’t have come from my imagination.

      • TL Jeffcoat

        May 26, 2011 at 7:14 AM

        Same here, but after working with him a few months, I started thinking more outside the box when it comes to antagonists.

  3. Jane McClaran

    May 26, 2011 at 7:03 AM

    LOL! I can recommend a few local employers if you’re interested in REALLY expanding your creative character repertoire. I think I know these folks, but then I guess that’s the point; creating characters to which everyone can relate. Now THAT’S entertainment!

    • Carley Ash

      May 26, 2011 at 7:08 AM

      Thanks Jane. I think you’re right – they’re everywhere if we pay attention. Now I’m off to my day job for more gleaning.

  4. Janis McCurry

    May 26, 2011 at 7:14 AM

    Very funny. The old “truth is stranger than fiction” certainly applies. Where I work, it is youth-oriented and romance runs rampant. Lots of good fodder. Thanks for the great blog.

    • Carley Ash

      May 26, 2011 at 5:13 PM

      This is true. Truth can be very strange.

  5. Liz Fredericks

    May 26, 2011 at 9:42 AM

    Good perspective Carley! Aren’t we lucky that human beings keep coming up with new things for us to write about?

    • Carley Ash

      May 26, 2011 at 5:14 PM

      Thanks Liz. We are lucky, and I love it.

  6. Julia Nelson

    May 26, 2011 at 5:05 PM

    When worked at a newspaper, I got lots of great story ideas. I also got great names off bylines and names for evil characters from my enemies. My slutty characters will have the same name as an editor who continually blocked my promotions. Bitter much? Nah!

    • Carley Ash

      May 26, 2011 at 5:13 PM

      That would be a great day job for ideas! I’ve heard of writers creating characters based on a particular person from their
      past only to 1) kill them off, 2) make them fat, and now 3) turn them slut. Writing is so fun.

  7. Jamie Sue Wilsoncroft

    May 26, 2011 at 5:45 PM

    This is too funny. You will never guess what I’m doing when I get my story ideas…… grooming dogs. I am a professional dog groomer and I write stories on my spare time and sometimes while a dog is being cage dried( I only do this if they don’t like their face blow dried) 🙂 I have written three books(still looking for an agent) and currently working on three others. Sometimes a story will pop into my head while I’m grooming and I try to block it out because I already have too many stories going but it would keep coming back until I finally give in and write it. Go figure….so I could never quit my day job, I would fear that my ideas would quit coming. hehehehehe

    • Carley Ash

      May 26, 2011 at 6:48 PM

      I bet you meet a wide variety of people in that job too. Congrats on completing 3 manuscripts!

      • Jamie Sue Wilsoncroft

        May 27, 2011 at 1:39 PM

        Thank you Carley. Yes, I have met alot of wonderful people and pets over the years.

  8. Tracy Wilson-Burns

    May 26, 2011 at 6:14 PM

    Great post! It reminds me of some of the *characters* and situations I’ve encountered during my day jobs.

    High school part-time job at an Italian pastry shop. I learned how to box pastries as “suck-up” favors for the Mafia.

    There was the day I was working at a bicycle shop during summer college break when the FBI showed up and arrested my boss for insurance fraud. That was a few days after I was “not arrested” for not skinny-dipping in a pool store’s pool at 2am in the morning; My boyfriend and his friends were arrested, I was let go after my mom picked me up at the station. But the SWAT team with their rifles and dogs was a little scary.

    My day jobs have included situations where a manager in another division physically threatened one of my subordinates; a guy was posting target-practice posters on his female manager’s cube with the heart shot out; suicidal employee with bombs taped to chest was talked out of it; employee sent a bomb to a female employee and it blew up in her face in the parking lot (guy was later apprehended through internal sting operation); and an employee was caught trying to murder his wife–another employee found the poison instructions on the group’s shared printer.

    Yup, grateful for my day job. And thanks for reminding me of all the great stories my life has given me that I’ve forgotten about!

    • Carley Ash

      May 26, 2011 at 6:53 PM

      Wow Tracy…I’m starting to think hanging out anywhere near you could be dangerous…Thanks for sharing. This was amazing.

      • Steph Bochenek

        May 27, 2011 at 9:41 AM

        Carley, maybe we should change where we meet in case any of Tracy’s old friends decide to look her up.

  9. lynn mapp

    May 26, 2011 at 8:36 PM

    Okay, Carley, have it your way. I’m…grateful (speaking through gritted teeth) for that day job, the one that pays the bills and keeps a roof overhead. I really am (teeth unclenched).

  10. Carley Ash

    May 26, 2011 at 10:08 PM

    Hey Lynn. Thanks for checking out the blog today.

  11. johannaharness

    May 27, 2011 at 5:42 AM

    I love this, Carley. What a great spin!

    • Carley Ash

      May 27, 2011 at 8:09 AM

      Thanks Johanna.

  12. P. L. Parker

    May 27, 2011 at 6:56 AM

    I totally agree – I pick up so much every day. Funny comments people make I tuck away to be used at a later time. In my story, Heart of the Sorcerer, I named a slow, plodding male after my boss – hee hee! In my latest manuscript, one of the sub-characters is based on a girl who used to work in the office.

  13. Carley Ash

    May 27, 2011 at 8:11 AM

    I keep a “little black book” where I white all these things down – things I hear, see, smell – helps conjure it all back up later.

  14. Amity Grays

    May 27, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    What a wonderful post. I really enjoyed it.

    • Carley Ash

      May 27, 2011 at 9:39 AM

      Thank you Amity.

  15. Natasha Tate

    May 27, 2011 at 12:56 PM


    What a great make-lemonade-out-of-lemons post! I still cringe when thinking about a book for which I knew both the author and the nasty, self-absorbed “character” she’d “invented.” Gulp! It was as plain as day to anyone who knew both players. So my only caution would be this: make sure that your characters are different enough from the real people who inspired them so that outsiders don’t recognize the truth beneath the tale!

    • Carley Ash

      May 27, 2011 at 3:55 PM

      Good point. I think it’s always advisable to create composites – use multiple people’s qualities & quirks, along with some pure fiction – to come up with our characters. I’ve got a doozy I’d like to use, but also don’t want to hurt that person’s feelings, so I may never get to use it — now all my friends & relatives are going to wonder if it’s them.
      Anyway, thank you Natasha for pointing that out.

  16. Mary Vine

    June 2, 2011 at 9:43 PM

    Good post!! I worked in a behavioral program/school that was held in one of Oregon’s most haunted buildings. I gained a wealth of scary material.

  17. Carley Ash

    June 2, 2011 at 10:00 PM

    Ooh. Sounds intriguing.
    Thanks Mary.

  18. lindacaseauthor

    July 3, 2011 at 10:40 AM

    A day job is important, not only for economic reasons (and for book material) but such job keeps one grounded. A finished manuscript is not like “Field of Dreams”, if you write it, people will come, on the contrary. People will not come until the author has put in several months of hard promotion work, and then still there are no guarantees. So an author needs that cushion, so they do not become desperate. Desperate people don’t succeed as well as those who are secure. So my advice it to keep writing, writing, writing. . .and keep your day job too.

  19. Carley Ash

    July 3, 2011 at 9:21 PM

    Great advise Linda. Thank you. I see myself doing both for quite sometime. I checked out your book, Babylon USA. Sounds fascinating. Good luck with it.


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